Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Life is like dominoes...

I haven't really blogged much in several days. I guess the internet has been a lot more spotty than I was hoping. I hope you've been praying anyway- even if you're not sure of exactly what's happening, I'm sure God will fill in the gaps.

I've been thinking about poor people today- there are a lot of them here in the city. Often, when I tell people that we work in Africa, southeast Asia, and Latin America, people will ask whether we serve the children. Especially the poor children. When I tell them that we don't, I often feel that I need to justify that. How could we POSSIBLY work in places like Africa without directly responding to the needs of millions of AIDS orphans, along with the millions of other children who are literally dying from the effects of poverty?

It's not that we don't care. I care deeply. On this trip, I've been reading, "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision. I highly recommend it. Stearns powerfully communicates the needs of the world, along with the Bible's call to respond to those needs. If you've ever been in the developing world, you've faced the sights, sounds, smells- life-wrenching poverty up close.

So why don't we do something about it?

We just teach them to be better leaders. And we teach them about what it means to serve with the heart of Jesus. And how to teach the word of God. But we don't feed them....

We've discovered that funny things happen, though...those local leaders begin to BECOME the answer for the poor. They begin to compassionately care for those in poverty around them. They read God's call to care for the poor, and they begin to actually do it. They reach across divisions of tribe, religion, and geography. Soon, we see THEM become God's answer. As we encourage and support our "partner ministries", small answers begin to spread like wildfire.

Church leaders in southeast Asia learn about God's challenge to Jonah, and begin to respond to the needs of those different from them.

Our partners in Kenya form programs to care for children in areas where the infant mortality rate is more than 20%.

Tribes that have hated each other for centuries begin to work together, which means that food, water, and other essentials are more effectively produced and shared.

And there's more....

There are three of us "Americans" on the training team for this trip. We're not doing anything about poverty. But we're training a couple of dozen leaders, who are training hundreds of others. Some of those are training others...and so on....

The three aren't doing anything about the poor...but the hundreds are doing a thousand little things. One person influences the next...one domino knocks the next one over. The next thing you know, society is being transformed. So maybe we're really doing a LOT about the poor.

Just thinking out loud on that.

Today (Wednesday) is my last day of training. My partners will be here through Friday, but I'm boarding a plane back to Chicago early Friday morning (I have to be at the airport at 4 am....aacckkkk...). In a couple of days, I will have switched worlds, and I'll be telling a few hundred people about my trip at our annual banquet. Please pray that I'll finish strong.

Pray that I'll influence a domino or two today...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Religious Freedom

We've been doing our training in a church. From the American perspective, it's more of storefront, with the pastor living upstairs, and the church meeting in his "living room" downstairs. In this country, there are "registered churches"- they have agreed to be under government supervision. They still do some great work, but everything they do must be approved by the government. Even their pastors must be approved (or even appointed) by the government. By registering, the church gains some freedoms- they don't have to hide their activities, or worry about being suddenly shut down. But the registered church also loses something signficant- the freedom to operate with God as their government.

I've been trying to imagine what would happen if the US government tried to "register" the churches in this way. I know that there are certain restrictions already, and I'm aware that we sometimes worry about how that may become limiting. However, the church in America still enjoys an incredible amount of freedom. The contrast is striking.

Our training location is not registered. That means that they are much more able to follow their conscience, and to obey what they believe God is calling them to do- regardless of what the government's opinion might be. But it also means that we try to keep our comings and goings very discreet. Too much attention can be very dangerous. Many of these pastors have already served some jail time for their ministry.

Our trainers represent both the registered church and the illegal church. They work together well, and seem to have a healthy respect for the struggles that they each face. The Kingdom of God is apparently able to focus on their common calling, rather than judging each other for the difficult choices they have made. And I'm realizing that there may not be any "right" decision in this kind of situation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I'm not worthy...

I don't know how many missionaries have ever quoted Wayne and Garth in their blog from southeast Asia, but "I'm not worthy". (If you don't understand that reference, you need to study up on mindless 90's movies. Maybe google "Wayne's World".)
As part of our training sessions, we "interview" the TNTers about the people that they are training. You see, we train fairly small groups. Usually around 10-15 people (TNTers). The small group allows us to really go deep, discussing, wrestling, and even disagreeing quite a bit. You can teach/learn a lot more in that kind of setting.
The real magic happens AFTER we leave- when the TNTers go all over the country, training others. Here in the capital city, things are fairly easy. It's a city of 12 million people, so no one really bothers with us. But when the TNTers pass it on to other leaders (who often pass it on to others...), things are harder. The settings are more difficult. The demands of travel into remote tribal areas are intense. And the persecution they encounter is REAL...
I'm not worthy...but God has given us the opportunity to pass along what we know.
The picture you see here is "James" and "Roland", training a group of church leaders and pastors. Groups like that are happening all over the world. How cool is THAT?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fascinating things, everywhere I look.

We just finished our first full day of training. It went really well (more about that later), but I wanted to post this picture first.

This is a restaurant I saw today. You're probably wondering why I posted it. Well, the restaurant down the street serves chicken, and it has a chicken on the sign. This restaurant has a picture of...um...I guess that's a black lab. Draw your own conclusions. Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

We had a full day of training pastor-trainers today. These men (and one woman) travel all over the country, training others. We're only working with a few, but they're impacting hundreds of others. And those hundreds impact thousands. I love the math.

The few (and the hundreds) are telling people all over the country about Jesus. They're starting churches in tribal areas where there are no churches. They're distributing food to starving widows. They're training leaders in the neighboring country, where the soldiers sometimes kill pastors just for being pastors. And all in a country where the church faces severe persecution. It's a privilege to be part of this.

I guess eating dog isn't the most interesting thing happening in this city. (And I didn't eat at that restaurant, by the way...)

Monday, November 2, 2009

I'm here...

It's Tuesday morning here, which means that it's early Monday evening in Chicago. Had a pretty tame 15 1/2 hour flight to Hong Kong, then a 2 1/2 hour flight to V. Got in last night about 10:00. Now I have to start being pretty careful about what I say- security reasons.

We start training today. A few of the guys can't make it until tomorrow, because a tropical storm went through the central part of the country yesterday, knocking out some rail lines and flooding some roads.

I'm leading two sessions today- material that I haven't taught before. Pray for clarity and effective translation.

I'm hoping to post a few pictures if I can make it work.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Persecution is "normal"

I'll be boarding a plane for southeast Asia in two days. Less than two days, actually. More than any other place I've been, I'm finding that people have a WIDE range of reactions to this trip. Top three reactions:

1) "I was over there during the war." This statement is either followed by "...and I never want to go back", or "...and I'd love to go back sometime". There's rarely any gray area between those two reactions. Regardless of history, I hope you'll be praying that God will work.

2) "Ewww....they're communists, aren't they?" It's true- the new visa in my passport says "Socialist Republic of ...". There are technically constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, but they're meaningless. The communists there (and the rest of the world) have never been very comfortable with Christianity. In some places, they have a "live and let live" attitude. In other places, Christianity has been outlawed and Christian leaders have become the target of violence and imprisonment. But communists need Jesus, too.

3) The logical followup to #2- "Is that safe?" I'm not quite sure how to answer that question. In a sense, we're not safe when we drive the roads of the United States. But I realize that I'll be in a nation that has the 6th highest persecution index in the world. The real danger isn't to us- they generally just kick Americans out if they don't like what we're doing. The greater risk is for the pastors/leaders we're training. They are consistently placing themselves in harm's way, as they faithfully serve. That's why you won't find the name of the country "- so this blog won't show up in random web searches. As I get ready to board my flight at O'Hare, I'm keenly aware that I'm dependent on God's protection and provision.

Monday, October 19, 2009

If your faith isn't global, you're missing out

The world is big.

OK, so that's not really news. If you've ever played w/ Google Earth, you've had some of those "big world" moments. If you've ever travelled internationally, you've probably wished the world was a little smaller (unless you can afford to fly first class- those seats look soo good when I walk by them).

God is bigger.

Again- not really news. But I think we often forget that. We tend to downsize God. Think about the God of the Bible- spoke the universe into existence, knows us in our mother's womb, works all things for good, etc. In Him we live and move and have our being. That's big.

Now compare that to the God we often experience day-to-day. It just seems that God might be a LITTLE BIT bigger than we've let him be.

If you'd like to expand your view of God, here's a thought: "The size of a person's perception of God is often directly related to the size of their faith-world" If your view of God is limited to small things, you'll experience him small. If your view of God is global...world-sized...transcendent...omniscient, you'll experience Him BIG. And yet, He'll still be in the small things as well.

That's one of the reasons to engage with what God is doing around the world. If you worship a God who is primarily active in your neighborhood, you'll have a neighborhood-sized God. But the God of the Bible is bigger than Peotone or Altoona or (insert the name of your town). Working with Leadership Resources, I've been privileged to see first-hand a GLOBAL God. He's working all over the world.

But he's not only working on a global scale. He's also working in Peotone...and Altoona ...and (insert the name of your town here). If you limit God to the small things of life, you miss His bigness. If you begin to discover His bigness, you DON'T lose the small things.

I challenge you to open your eyes to the world. Discover how God is working all over the place. The wider you open your eyes, the bigger your vision of God will become. And I don't know about you, but I want glimpses of that BIG God.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pentecostals and cultural stress

I just spoke at chapel for the Assemblies of God Bible college. 250ish highly motivated students. I love speaking to pentecostals- when I preach, they preach back. You know that I get enthusiastic when I speak to US suburban calvinists (is anybody awake out there?). Imagine what happens when a few "amens" come back at me. I spoke to them about luke 15- the overwhelming, unconditional love of God. Good stuff, and it really seemed like God was working. Thanks for your prayers.

After about 10 days, I really start to feel cultural
stress. Nothing feels completely comfortable, and it's tiring to navigate linguistic and cultural obstacles.

Tomorrow (thurs), we travel back to Dar es Salaam. Friday AM, we leave early to fly to London, and then home, arriving in Chicago early Sat aft.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

finishing strong

I'm getting ready to speak tomorrow at Dodoma Assemblies of God Bible college in Dodoma, Tanzania. I've spent most of the day traveling through the countryside, passing numerous small villages. The students i'm speaking to will be serving in villages just like that - many of them already are. So the question is, what can I possibly have to say to them? I've lived a sheltered, privileged US life. I'm tired after 9 days of travel and ministry. And yet, i'm confident that God has brought me here. Please pray for me that I would find direction and strength (and that I would speak slowly enough for them to understand).
Whenever I approach the end of a trip, it's a dangerous time. I'm emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. I miss my family. I'm ready to go home. But I need to finish strong...

Monday, March 9, 2009

reflections on Nairobi

I've got 30 minutes before we meet w/ the leadership of the Tanzanian Assemblies of God churches. But this is Africa, so it be a couple hours. I'm excited about our opportunities in TZ, but I want to reflect on Nairobi for a second.
There seems to be a general estimate that 750,000 people live in the Mathare slum. Unemployment is about 70%, and those who have jobs rarely make more than 5-10 dollars per week. Schools are horribly equipped,and hope is nonexistent. A typical 20x20 shanty houses 6-20 people. Raw sewage flows through the narrow alley streets.
Outreach Hope Churches (a series of indigenous Kenyan churches) and the Mathare Valley pastors fellowship have invited us to train pastor-trainers in the Mathare Valley. We're still working out the details, but it's an amazing opportunity. These are pastors and church leaders who will lead churches that proclaim hope in Jesus, teach the Bible, offer education, counsel families and more- all in one the difficult places on earth. They are my heroes- Oliver, Joseph, peter, wallace, and many others.
We're supported in this partnership by Parkview Church in Orland Park, IL. Parkview pastor Tim Harlow arrived w his family during the training. He was very encouraging. Without our US partners, and our in-country partners, we couldn't do any of this.
Gotta run.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

next : Tanzania

We had a great time in Kenya - more on that later to

The slums of Nairobi are mind-numbing, but good things are happening.

Off to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania now...

next : Tanzania

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hope in Mathare

They estimate that 600,000 people live in the Mat hare slum...in an area of less than 2 square miles. They live in tiny shacks, packed like sardines - as many as 10 people in a 12 x 12 shack. Others are squeezed into 5-10 story highrises. No one really knows how many people there are in Mathare. But the material poverty is no more striking than the lack of hope. But I've been meeting people who are bringing hope to Mathare- they're called "Mission of Hope". Almost 3000 children are being educated (and loved) in their schools.Social workers are helping to mend broken families. And in a hundred other ways, this christian organization is BEING the church. It's a huge task, but the community is being impacted one life at a time. And we get to be part of all this...more on this later

Thursday, March 5, 2009

different side of the world, same cause

Whenever I travel internationally, I'm struck by how different things are - food, culture, weather, language...you name it. And yet, as I meet people, I realize that we all have so much in common. Today, we met w/ Oliver and Joseph, two Kenyan pastors. They work together in an effort to raise up leaders and start new churches. As we talked, we realized that our hearts were in tune, and that we were very much on the same page. I'm from small-town Iowa, and I live in suburban Chicago. They serve in one of the poorest slums in the world. But we found common ground in a common mission.
Tomorrow, we'll be finishing preparations for teaching. I'm also preparing to preach sunday morning.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"Planning" things in Africa

We arrived in Kenya on time Tuesday night. Doug Dunton, LRI Director for Africa, is with me, but his luggage is somewhere else- not the way we planned things. This morning, for no reason, I woke up @ 4 am...not the way I planned things. We are here to start up a second group of pastor-trainers in Kenya. However, there have been some "bumps in the road"- not the way we planned it. I had all these cool plans to blog, but I have no wireless - not the way (get the pattern yet?)

Fortunately, we have discovered several ways in which GOD has prepared the way for us, far better than we could have planned it. You see, in Africa, nothing goes the way you planned. But EVERYTHING is guided by the plans of our great God - and that's much better.

Tomorrow, we'll be meeting with some key church leaders, continuing to prepare for this weekends training. This group has great potential to impact 100's of thousands of people in the Mat hare slums. Thanks for praying!!

"Planning" things in Africa

Sunday, March 1, 2009

And one more thing

If you're following along, please let me know. I really enjoy hearing from people- and it lets me know if anyone is actually READING my musings. You can write me on facebook, via email at mmorris@leadershipresources.org, or by commenting on the blog.

Getting ready to leave for Africa

I'm trying to get everything done before I leave tomorrow for Kenya and Tanzania. This is a challenge for several reasons- 1) I've never been to Africa before, and it's always a little more difficult to pack for somewhere new, and 2) I just returned from Oaxaca, MX eight days ago. I've been running around catching up on office work, and preparing for a new trip at the same time.

I'm optimistic about the potential for internet access on this trip, so I'm going to give blogging a shot. I've never blogged before, so I'm hoping you'll find this interesting. It will also give you a chance to take an "inside peek" into the ministry of Leadership Resources International. If you know of anyone who might be find this interesting (either on facebook or on the web), feel free to pass the link on to them.

Hopefully (and improbably), I'm hoping to finish putting together a "snail mail" newsletter that the office will send out while I'm gone. Don't waste your time checking the mail, though...there's a lot to do to get this project done.