Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Last Sermon

On Sunday, August 10, 2008 I preached the following sermon at the Kaufman Church of Christ. I never got an opportunity to preach part 2. This is irony defined - particularly the Eugene Peterson quote at the end. It's almost as if no one in the audience heard a single word. Please take the time to read - and enjoy:


Scripture Reading: Psalm 51:1-17
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

- How many of you have taken a trip recently where you have had to pack a bag and check it with an airline?
- How many of you have done that and your baggage has taken a different trip? You went to Chicago, but your bags went to Hawaii – for no good reason other than the person who checked you in was in a bad mood or they were having a bad hair day or something?
- Now, how many of you have taken trips to other countries where you had one or more connections before your final destination?
- And it is a terrible thing to wonder, “Where are my bags?”

- This happened to me on my last trip out of the country. This was not a complicated return route – nothing like going to Zambia – I went to Zambia one year, and this was the route: Dallas to London to Entebbe in Uganda, to Nairobi Kenya, to Harare Zimbabwe, to Lilongwe Malawi, and then we drove over the border into Zambia!!!
- But my last trip wasn’t like that - we checked our bags in Johannesburg, picked it up in Washington, DC, went through customs, and then handed it over to the TSA people to recheck onto our Washington to Dallas flight – and it was at that point that my luggage got lost. After all those crummy airports in all those crummy African countries, my bags got lost in Washington!

- Because we only had 30 minutes to do all this – not that I mind this kind of pressure – I can run through an airport with the best of travelers – completely undignified – sweat pouring off me, shirt half tucked, shoe laces undone – clutching my little Ziploc bag with fluids and gels in 3 ounce containers, yelling “1 more, 1 more for Dallas!”

- We made it onto that flight, and we got to Dallas right on time, but one of my bags did not – b/c the customs people, and the TSA people, and the United Airlines people, at 6:30 in the morning, just didn’t seem to have the same sense of urgency that I had.
- So here I am at DFW airport, the last person left watching that baggage carousel go round and round and round, still wearing the same clothing that I’ve had on for two days!
- So now, my dream, and the dream of thousands of travelers, especially now b/c you have to pay more, is to say, “NO,” when asked, at the check-in, “Do you have any bags to check today Mr. North?”

- But you know the problem, don’t you? None of us can make a trip without baggage of some kind.
- So a lot of travelers only take a small carry on bag and they pretend that they’re flying baggage free.
- Now this idea may work on United Airlines, but it will never fly in real life.

- And unfortunately, through the years, people have come to think that in the church you better not have any real baggage, and if you do, you had better keep it tucked under the pew in front of you so no one can see it because baggage is embarrassing and cumbersome.

- I have heard the welcome and call to worship at some churches extended this way: “Come in here and leave all your problems and struggles outside.”
WHAT? WHY? That’s nonsense! God is not interested in a phony plastic sliver of 1 hour of your life – He wants it all!

- And what I would like to do today is to invite you to claim your baggage because if there is any place in this world where people ought to be able to come in and say, “I have baggage,” it ought to be around other people who claim Jesus as Lord!

- So here are some things to keep in mind:

1) All of us Have Baggage
- There is not one of us who doesn’t have hurts, difficulties, hang-ups, or bitter disappointments lurking somewhere in our lives - and some of it stinks to high heaven, but we’re taught to walk in here and pretend like we have no baggage – that’s why we have “church clothes.”
- I remember getting my first 3-piece suit when I was only 6 – it had a clip on tie, and that’s what I wore to church – and now I understand that there are mental “church clothes” people put on – at home at 9 o’clock it’s, “Hurry up woman, turn out that light, put that down, will you kids get in the car – daddy, you’re speeding! Hush up, I’m teaching Bible class!”

- And the whole family arrives with their hair standing on end, ready to kill each other, and then the door of the minivan opens, and it’s “Hello brother Roy. Good morning Charles, how are you? Fine, Fine – Come on kids, put your baggage away, it’s time for Bible Class.”

- That is an insidious thing because pretty soon people really start to think that church folks have no baggage, no problems, our kids are perfect, everything is peachy, we’re the best dressed people in town, and the preacher stands there with weapons-grade perkiness, and that can’t be real!

- Which is why we learn a very important thing about ourselves in a short letter John wrote to the Ephesian church (Read 1st John 1:8-10):
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

- If you claim you have no baggage, who are you deceiving? God? No! You deceive yourself!

- When you say, “I have sins, and here’s what they are b/c this burden is too heavy to carry,” it’s wonderful to hear God say, “Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest.”
- But this is where we run into a big problem:

2) All of us Learn Early to Hide it Well
- You remember the story, don’t you? A man and a woman in a garden. Eve eats the fruit, and then Adam does as well, and now they have both sinned, but I always wondered, “what’s the deal with the fig leaf cover up?” I mean, it’s not like they’re at the mall. They’re married! They’ve seen it all before!
- But isn’t it interesting that humanity’s first reaction to sin was to cover it up and try to hide.

- But you know how the story goes – and it’s the same today.
- You cannot come here on a Sunday morning wearing your little fig leaf and hide from God – you are only deceiving yourself, because you’re not fooling the rest of the people here.

- And I know what so many people think – “If you saw my baggage you wouldn’t want me in your church, you wouldn’t welcome me into your Home Team.”
- And listen, I can sympathize with those feelings, and when you admit that, you learn something about grace – you learn that you can’t have it until you know you can’t live without it!

3) Pretending Like we don’t have any baggage doesn’t make it easier to carry
- Because that feeling of constantly having to dodge and cover up is oppressive and impossible to keep up.

- I remember one Sunday morning – Holly was fixing her hair, and I had some free time – now don’t ask me why, but I was wrestling with the cat on the living room floor!
- Well, the cat bit my nose!
- Now we’re about to leave for church, I have to preach, and I have a bloody gash on my face! That was the day I discovered makeup! Base. But I was stuck with it, because I had to put it on again that night, and then Wed. night until the scratch was healed.

- Once you cover something up you have to keep covering it up, and soon you’ll be too scared to go camping with people because they might see you without your makeup!
- We live in a world where people value authenticity, and can spot a fake a mile away.

From Eugene Peterson:
The churches of Revelation show us that churches are not Victorian parlors where everything is always picked up and ready for guests. They are messy family rooms. Entering a person’s house unexpectedly, we are sometimes met with a barrage of apologies. St. John does not apologize. Things are out of order, to be sure, but that is what happens to churches that are lived in. They are not show rooms. They are living rooms, and if the persons living in them are sinners, there are going to be clothes scattered about, handprints on the woodwork, and mud on the carpet. For as long as Jesus insists on calling sinners and not the righteous to repentance – and there is no indication as yet that he has changed his policy in that regard – churches are going to be an embarrassment to the fastidious and an affront to the upright.”

- In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus offers this invitation:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Christians and Divorce. Part 2.

Over the course of my ministry in three separate churches, I was surrounded by people who needed answers to questions raised by divorce and remarriage. Divorced men and women asked me to conduct their weddings, having been denied in other churches. Some deacons had been divorced and remarried. Should they be thrown out of church leadership? We would lose people I considered some of the most spiritual in the church, people with exemplary Christian homes and marriages. Of course, I never dreamed that someday these hurts and hang-ups would affect me so personally. So, what does the Bible really say?

The New Testament presents us with a problem in understanding what the text says about divorce and its real-world implications. Jesus seems to say that divorce is allowed only if adultery has occurred: “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). However, this has been interpreted in different ways. Most Christians say that Jesus allows divorce only for adultery. Beyond what Jesus says, Paul also allows divorce. He permits it for abandonment by a nonbeliever (1 Cor. 7:12-15). Yet some, including myself, have found this teaching difficult to accept, because it seems so cruel in certain situations. It suggests there can be no divorce for physical or emotional abuse. As a result, some Christians ignore this teaching or find ways around it. For example, when Jesus talked about “adultery,” perhaps he included other things like abuse.

But does the literal understanding of the text mean what we think it does? If you read the texts like a first-century Jew would have read them, those confusing passages make more sense. One of the most dramatic shifts centers on a question the Pharisees asked Jesus: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” (Matt. 19:3). A few decades before Jesus’ time, rabbi Hillel had invented a new form of divorce called the “any cause” divorce. By Jesus’ time, this “any cause” divorce had become so popular that almost no one relied on the literal Old Testament grounds for divorce. The “any cause” divorce was derived from a single word in Deuteronomy 24:1. Moses allowed divorce for “a cause of immorality.” Rabbi Hillel and his disciples argued that anything, including a burnt meal, could be a cause! They said that the text taught that divorce was allowed both for adultery and for “any cause.” In Texas we call this a “no fault” divorce.

Another sect of rabbis (disciples of Shimei) disagreed with this interpretation. These opposing views were well known to all first-century Jews. And the Pharisees wanted to know where Jesus stood. “Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any cause?” they asked. In other words: “Is it lawful for us to use the ‘any cause’ divorce?” When Jesus answered “no,” he was condemning the newly invented and rather chauvinistic, “any cause” divorce. Jesus agreed with rabbi Shimei. It meant they couldn't get a divorce whenever they wanted it - there had to be a lawful cause. It also meant that virtually every divorced man or women was not really divorced, because most of them had “any cause” divorces. Matthew summarized the whole debate in one sentence: Any divorced person who remarried was committing adultery (Matt. 5:32), because they were still married. It may not be obvious to us, but their first readers understood clearly what they meant.

Within a few decades, however, no one understood these terms any more. Language and cultural contexts often change quickly. The early church, and even Jewish rabbis, forgot what the “any cause” divorce was, because soon after the days of Jesus, it became the only type of divorce. It was simply called “divorce.” This meant that when Jesus condemned “divorce for ‘any cause,’” later generations thought he meant “divorce for any cause.” Confused? Look at the quotation marks – these are vastly different phrases.

Jesus was simply rejecting a faulty Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament. Also, Jesus didn't reject the other ground for divorce in the Old Testament, which all Jews accepted. The church eventually forgot the other cause for divorce, but every Jew in Jesus' time knew about Exodus 21:10-11, which allowed divorce for neglect. Exodus says that everyone had rights within a marriage. If these were neglected, the wronged spouse, usually the wife, had the right to seek freedom from that marriage. In later Jewish and Christian marriages, the language of covenant became more formal, such as “love, honor, and keep.” In other words, the vows we make when we marry correspond directly to the biblical grounds for divorce. In Jewish life, and all of Jesus’ teaching took place within that context, anyone who was neglected, in terms of emotional support or physical support, could legally claim a divorce. According to Paul, this includes abandonment. In 1st Cor.7 he says that the abandoned person is “no longer bound.”

When we put all this together we have a clear and consistent set of rules for divorce and remarriage. Divorce is only allowed for a limited number of grounds that are found in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament:

Adultery (Deuteronomy 24:1, affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19)
Emotional and physical neglect (Exodus 21:10-11, affirmed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7)
Abandonment and abuse (included in neglect, affirmed in 1 Corinthians 7)

Couples list these biblical grounds for divorce in their marriage vows. When these vows are broken, it threatens the marriage. As in any broken contract, the wronged party has the right to say, “I forgive you; let's carry on,” or, “I can't go on, because this marriage is broken.” While divorce should ideally never happen, God allows it (and subsequent remarriage) when the marriage vows are broken. Victims of broken marriages can see that God's law is both practical and loving. Trust me – this is a painful truth that I have learned the hard way.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Christians and Divorce

Note: This and other posts may cause people to say that I have too much of a vested interest to be objective. The only thing I can say is that I may have a vested interest, but that doesn't make it less true. If truth is measured on a sliding scale of subjectivity, then nothing can ever be true. The fact that I have a vested interest only means that I have struggled with this issue with both my head and my heart.

Many religious people believe that for the past generation, America has been in a moral decline. Whenever conservatives describe this decline, they include the high divorce rate, along with crime and out-of-wedlock births, as prime examples. I believe they are wrong. Dennis Prager tells a story that happened to him when he used to moderate a show called “Religion on the Line.” Each week for two hours the guests were a Protestant minister, Roman Catholic priest and rabbi (different ones each week), as well as representatives of virtually every other faith. One night, the topic was divorce – “What is your religion's view on divorce?” The Protestant minister spoke against divorce and noted that, “people get divorced too quickly.” The priest then said virtually the same thing, and the rabbi agreed. After each spoke, Dennis asked the minister if he knew anyone who had divorced. “Well,” he said, “my brother is getting a divorce right now.” “And do you feel that he is getting divorced too quickly?” Dennis asked. He then explained that his brother and sister-in-law had tried counseling for many years to no avail, and that their home was a deeply troubled one. Dennis then asked the priest if he knew anyone well who had divorced. He responded that his mother had divorced many years ago. “Do you feel that she divorced too quickly?” “Not at all,” he said, adding that the divorce liberated her from a toxic relationship. Dennis then asked the rabbi if he knew anyone well who had divorced. And, sure enough, his parents had divorced many years earlier, and he was convinced that it enabled him and his mother to become happier people because the home was so depressed. This scenario is typical. Whenever people say, “People get divorced too easily,” they mean “other people.”

Of course, many divorced people should have stayed together, just as there are couples who stay together who should get divorced. But social conservatives look foolish when they say that except for adultery and spousal beating (and many reluctantly agree to this because it is not “biblical”), no one should get divorced and that the divorce rate necessarily exemplifies a society in moral decline. It is simply not true. A truly bad marriage is like life imprisonment, and innocent people do not deserve such a punishment. Second, it only takes one person to divorce. Assuming that all divorced people sought their divorce is as untrue as it is unfair. Fifty percent of marriages may end in divorce, but only fifty percent of those wanted the divorce. Third, when there are no children involved, a divorce's cost to society is minimal. Furthermore, I believe it is far better for society to have people marry and divorce than never to marry. When people marry, they tend to mature, and society desperately needs grownups! Fourth, regarding children and divorce, the effects of divorce usually depend on what happens before, during, and after a couple divorces. By far, the worst consequence of divorce is the large number of fathers who voluntarily or involuntarily (because of selfish ex-wives) leave the lives of their children. When both parents stay thoroughly involved in their children's lives, sharing physical as well as legal custody, the adverse effects of divorce can be minimized, and depending on how bad things were prior to the divorce, a child's life can actually improve. Divorce doesn’t screw kids up; screwed up parents screw kids up!

Let me be clear. I believe that most marriages should never come apart; that every good marriage has periods of alienation and anger; that people must ride these tough waves and try to improve their marriage. But I would not lump divorce statistics with crime and out-of-wedlock births as a barometer of social pathology. There are simply too many exceptions to the rule that people get divorced too easily. Like the clergy on Dennis’ show, I feel that almost every divorced person I know (including myself) deserves sympathy more than contempt. Let's vigorously promote good marriages but have no more knee-jerk condemnations of divorce. It is these condemnations, more than divorces themselves, that are made too easily.

PS: I have purposefully left out textual arguments concerning divorce. This post makes a societal point, not a textual one. However, remember my golden rule for interpreting the Bible: Scripture is supposed to make you smarter and kinder. If your understanding of the text makes you stupid and less kind, you are wrong! That principle applies especially to texts like Matthew 19. Be kind and compassionate . . . and smart.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Can You Sin on a Deserted Island?

Some time ago ACU professor, Richard Beck posed the question, “Can you sin on a deserted island?” I became weirdly fascinated with this question. Much of my thought here is borrowed from the discussion on his blog.

Most people I’ve spoken to say yes. Examples I've heard are: You can kill yourself. You can harm the environment. You can lust. You can blaspheme God. But these examples are a little forced. I suppose you can run around cutting down trees and killing monkeys, or commit suicide, or fantasize about someone not on the island, or even scream things at God. But these things don't seem to be typical “sins,” and I can get quite a theological argument going about the ethical meaning of “sinning in your heart.” At what point do thoughts become sins, and what gradation of sin? Further, if you saw this behavior on the island, I doubt your first thought would be, “That is a sin.” You'd probably think that the person went crazy, and thus it weakens any categorization of “sin.”

But now, let's imagine that there are two people on the island. Can you sin with another person? Now we can imagine all kinds of sin: Lies, stealing, violence. The whole point of the question is to make this painfully obvious: Sin is a social event. I think one of the worst mistakes in theology is to consider sin to be only, or even primarily, a God/human issue. The island question is trying to point out that if it is just you and God, your sin repertoire is pretty anemic. But sin categories abound when we find ourselves in human community, when we see sin as a human/human issue. In other words, God's judgment against sin is judgment against human-to-human infractions.

I think this is what Jesus was getting at in the Sermon on the Mount. Before you offer your sacrifice to God, first be reconciled to your brother, then come offer your sacrifice to God. It's also the theme in 1st John - you can't say you love God when you hate your brother. Love your brother first and then you can say you love God with authenticity. If you wander through life thinking there's a rift between you and God, that focus leads to guilt, shame, and religious paranoia. But if we see sin as a human/human rift, then I can focus on reconciliation that I can actually do something about! Before you go to church, ask, “Is my brother offended by me?” Because if he is, what's the point of going to church?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Healing Power of Laughter?

Humor is powerful. It can heal or it can cut like a razor. One of the best episodes of Seinfeld has Jerry’s dentist, Tim Watley, convert to Judaism and then tell Jewish jokes. This offends Jerry, not as a Jew, but as a comedian. Consider these three jokes (borrowed from Richard Beck’s experimental theology blog):

1. Why was Helen Keller such a bad driver? Answer: Because she was a woman.

2. What is great about having Alzheimer's on Easter? Answer: You can hide the eggs and look for them.

3. What does an Ethiopian chicken look like? Answer: Ethiopian chicken? What’s that?

Good jokes are highly compressed, which demands that the listener fill in a lot of background assumptions, values, and beliefs that make the joke work. If the listener cannot fill in this background he doesn’t “get it” and the joke fails to produce laughter. Last month I was on a flight from Nairobi to London when a woman sitting next to me sneezed. I turned to her and said, “You’re soooo good-lookin.” She laughed, but others sitting near us did not. If you don’t “get” a joke, no amount of explaining makes the joke suddenly funny to you. You can’t explain a joke into being funny. You either get it, or you don’t. This feature of a joke - its demand for you to supply the background information - makes jokes a form of community building. When someone likes our jokes we’ve found a soul mate, a kindred spirit, someone who sees the world the same way we do. People are attracted to people who make them laugh. This is the joy of laughter and humor. But there is a dark side. This feature of jokes also makes them forms of exclusion.

Take the three jokes above. All three are compressed and require you to fill in backgrounds and stereotypes. The Helen Keller joke works only if you share a stereotype about women drivers and know that she was a blind and deaf mute. The Ethiopian chicken joke only works if you know that country has a long history of famine and if you understand certain livestock and agrarian patterns of east African cultures. Those shared stereotypes and knowledge make the jokes work. But what if you didn’t know any of that? Does my explaining this to you make you laugh? No. If you have to have a joke explained to you it only intensifies your feeling of exclusion. Getting it or not getting it immediately marks insiders and outsiders. No amount of explanation will offset the realization that you were “too stupid” to be an “insider.” Also, if a joke is a stereotype then the joke adds salt to the wound. Some of you (women) might have found the Helen Keller joke offensive. Why? Because as a woman, you are excluded by the joke and offended by the negative stereotype that functions as the mechanism of exclusion.

How about the Alzheimer's joke? Is it funny? It all depends on who makes the joke. If a person suffering from Alzheimer's tells the joke then we see the joke as funny, because it is a form of dark humor. An Alzheimer's patient has a right to tell this joke because he is an insider to the world of the joke. If told by an outsider (me), the joke is mean. This is why black comedians can use the “n” word and white comedians cannot. It's a matter of insiders versus outsiders. Jokes are boundaries. Jokes mark off a space of shared attitudes and experiences. A joke is compressed because it functions as a kind of test. Do you share my view of the world? Are you with me? Are you an insider or an outsider? This is why jokes are both wonderful and wounding. They are wonderful when they are shared, but jokes wound when they exclude people and use stereotypes. Jokes become contested when outsiders attempt to enter the space before gaining the consent of the insiders. This is why the ethnicity of a person telling an ethnic joke is vital to understanding the nature and function of the joke. Jokes are complex and morally treacherous (eg: All in the Family). They bring us together and force us apart. Jokes are serious business!

Friday, April 17, 2009

What Does This Mean?

I saw this video in church a month ago. So, what does it mean? What do you think?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Boma Update

I have spent the better part of a week recovering from the trip to the Sudan. This week I will be editing a video that will be disseminated in a number of places. Soon my blog will return to its original purpose: questioning traditional thinking on everything concerning religion, politics, and popular culture. I will continue my involvement with the Boma project. Please check (and bookmark) the Partners in Hope web site (www.partnersonline.org). Under the Ministry tab you will find a blog link, as well as Twitter and Facebook feeds. Please stay involved in this project with me. As things unfold there will be a great need for all kinds of support!! For now, check out some of these pictures from the trip. Take note of the wreckage of a U.N. transport plane that crashed on the muddy airstrip a couple of months ago.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Back Safely!

I just got back into Nairobi tonight (Wed). I feel tired and extremely DIRTY! The Sudan is like nothing I have ever experienced in Africa! Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw and experienced over the past 6 days. It is wild beyond anything I imagined. There is a vibrant community of NGOs and other aid workers (mostly American) operating from Nairobi, Loki, and into southern Sudan. I have met so many other Americans and some Europeans who are working here. The UN World Food Programme has a warehouse in lower Boma. We transported tons of US AID up the 3500 ft climb to our compound in upper Boma. I don't know how we got that truck up that mountain, because it is dishonest to call that rocky trail a road. Owww! Right at the end of the muddy airstrip we saw the burned out remains of a UN plane that crashed a few weeks ago. That's what you want to see when you are coming in to land! I spent 6 long days up on that mountain. What did we do? We had meetings (negotiations) with the area chiefs, we made bricks, helped with construction of the second set of classrooms, conducted a pastor training workshop, trekked to several villages with a 60-pound generator to show "The Jesus movie," and maybe most important - we spent the afternoons sitting under the mango trees drinking tea. And then there's the truck getting stuck in the mud halfway up the mountain. We had to go dig it out. But we won't talk about that right now :( On Saturday the Murle tribe had a strange chest-thumping partnering dance - kind of like an ancient mating ritual. Seeking adventure, I joined in. When someone told me that I may have to take a Sudanese woman home, I ran back to the compound and hid away! We were in an area of the Sudan controlled by SPLA rebels. I managed to befriend their commander, "Chief Lino." It would have been awesome to pop off a few rounds of his AK47. I asked, but he said no. He did offer, however, that any of his soldiers would come to my aid any time. Nice! On Sunday we went for a walk to check out the old airstrip on the far side of the plateau. A few hours later we ran into a de-mining team from the UN who informed us that we had been walking through an area with landmines!! That's too much danger. Good thing we are off that mountain and back in the relative safety of Nairobi, Kenya.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hello Nairobi

It's just past 9am on Thursday March 12. Yesterday's travel wasn't too rough, though transferring from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 at Heathrow was a sticky mess!! I have never seen so many people packed shoulder to shoulder in my life. I did run into the South African baseball team though. What are the odds? We arrived at Jomo Kinyata Airport in Nairobi at about 10pm last night. When you step off a plane in Africa there are very distinctive sounds and smells that are really familiar to me, and always bring back a flood of memories - both good and bad. Your senses are immediately assaulted with a feeling like "It's still 1975 around here." And then the slowness begins! NO ONE is in a hurry here - ever! But, TIA. (This is Africa) That's part of the charm I suppose.

I have just enjoyed one of those leisurely African breakfasts at a missionary compound called "The Mayfield House." African slowness means you get to sit around and drink lots of coffee and talk. I just met an American woman over breakfast who returned from the Sudan yesterday. Her MAF charter flight had to detour to pick up 5 people who had gunshot wounds from a raid on a tribal village close to where we are going. So, I am scared and excited - but mostly excited!

We'll spend today in Nairobi, and then we leave at 6am on Friday morning for the Sudan. Please keep us in your prayers. The adventure begins :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Goodnight, and Good Luck

I'm about to leave for the airport. I'll be flying from Dallas to London to Nairobi to Loki to Boma. Whewww! I'll stay in touch as best I can while I am away. Please keep me and the mission in your thoughts and prayers as the Sudan is not a safe place to be right now. I return to Dallas on March 26. Goodnight, and Good Luck!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Back to Africa!

I’m going back to Africa, but I need your help. Please read on . . .

I love Africa. In many ways Africa is still my home. I was born in Africa. I lived in South Africa for the first 20 years of my life. The sounds, the smells, and the tastes of Africa are real to me. The people are wonderful. They are full of joy. They are welcoming and hospitable. And yet most of Africa is a continent without much hope for its people. Extreme poverty is not a cause but a result of Africa's problems. According to Genocide Watch, since 1960 about 9 million Africans had been killed through genocide, mass murder, and targeted starvation. The Sudan, in particular, is a nation in turmoil. Northern Sudan is Islamic, southern Sudan is Christian and Darfur in the west is an area of continual genocide.

A group of Sudanese church leaders met in 2004 to formulate a plan to begin the process of restoration in the lives of their people after more than two decades of devastating war. During this meeting, an organization was founded – The Sudan Evangelical Alliance (SEA). SEA exists to offer financial, educational, and spiritual support in order to bring new life and hope to the people of the southern Sudan.

When asked to prioritize the needs of their people, the local leaders of SEA said that giving their children a better life through education was at the top of their list. After some investigation, the SEA identified an isolated and impoverished tribal community in southeastern Sudan called Boma. A majority of the people in Boma are presently trapped with little hope for a better future. There has never been a functioning school or church in Boma. After meeting with the tribal chiefs and sharing with them the desire to help build a school, their response was to give 52 acres of land for this project. With two classrooms completed, “Faith Learning Center” opened for kindergarten and first grade in January of 2008. Work has begun on the next phase of additional classrooms which will house a secondary school. The school building project also serves as a workshop for training local Sudanese men to gain skills in brick making and construction. After developing part of the land as a farm, each household in Boma was provided with seed to plant corn using farming techniques taught them to raise their own food. The first harvest in Boma took place in July of 2007 amid much rejoicing. The school itself will have a farm from which students will be fed and the surplus sold to help pay teacher's salaries. Parents will work at the school and farm as payment for their children attending. The SEA hopes to be sending teams of medical personnel to begin training in community health issues and initiate the process of opening a clinic in Boma. While all of this is taking place, the teachers, staff, and volunteers will be sharing the gospel with the people not only in word, but also in loving actions.

Each aspect of the Boma project is designed to train the local people with the skills and knowledge that will enable them to independently operate the school and farm. When sufficient progress has been achieved in Boma and the school can stand on its own, its operation will be turned over to local leadership. (Please watch the video below)

So, how do I fit into all of this? One of the organizations supporting the SEA’s Boma project is Partners in Hope. Their goal is to raise funds to build an orphanage and boarding facility close to the school. As the school grows this will be a necessity. Since I have taken survey trips and medical missions to Africa as part of my work with the East-Reach mission in Zambia, I have been asked to take a trip to the southern Sudan in order to meet with local leaders, villagers, and children. My task will be to assess needs, get my “hands dirty” with construction and farming, and return to the U.S. with information to assist in raising the funds needed for constructing an orphanage. I will be departing on March 10th, and will return on March 24th. The total cost for this survey trip is $3000. This covers airfare to Nairobi Kenya, a charter flight to Boma, lodging, food, and travel visas.

If any of my friends and readers would like to help with this effort, I would appreciate your thoughts and prayers for safety and success. If you are able to, I would especially appreciate your financial assistance. Any amount will help. If you are interested in being a part of my new and exciting opportunity to spread hope in a very dark part of Africa, please contact me soon. My email address is: charles@partnersonline.org. You can also contact Ryan at Partners in Hope. His email is: ryan@partnersonline.org.

God bless you, and Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika (God bless Africa).

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Run, don't walk, run to see this movie!