Saturday, November 20, 2010

Too much to say, too little time

I'm leaving for the airport in 4 hours. I have time to blog, but I don't know where to start. I have a list of 11 different things I could write about, but they each seem like a big chunk to tackle. That's one of the challenges of blogging on these trips- far too much to say, and far too little time (not to mention the random nature of internet access).

I think I'll just give you a few quick thoughts. Hopefully (maybe....I really intend to...) I will write a few more "reflection entries" after I'm back in the States.

1) There are a million things about life in the United States that we take for granted.
2) People in different countries have different taste in food....VERY different taste in food.
3) Africa is beautiful- at least all the parts I've seen.
4) It's a mindboggling privilege to do God's work in places like this.
5) I love my family.
6) The more I travel, the less I think I know...
7) Long flights and layovers are a pain in the hinie...
8) God is good.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Let's Use Every Tool in the Box.

I've had a few people ask me about yesterday's post- "Are you anti-crusade?" or "Do you think that large rallies are bad?"

Let's be clear about this. I am NOT opposed to those things. God has used them extensively all over the world. As we travel to other countries, I love the opportunities we get to speak to large groups.

I'm simply saying that there is a deeper methodology needed IN ADDITION. Unless the work is increasingly done: 1) by the nationals, and 2) in a manner which will multiply it's impact, we can't win the battle. Even the people who lead the large meetings agree- they realize that there is a great need for strong local churches with local leaders.

In fact, I've rethought my math from yesterday. I said that, using large rallies, we could reach the entire nation of Ethiopia in 500 years. That's not right. The actual situation is much worse. Because the population of Ethiopia is increasing by approximately 6,000 people per day. We'd have to reach that many JUST TO KEEP PACE.

So here's my suggestion- what if Christians around the world committed themselves to the Great Commission, and we used every tool at our disposal to pursue that goal: large rallies, pastoral training, compassion ministries, etc.? We know that our God is powerful enough to accomplish it. Let's join in, full-hearted and full strength. I wonder what would happen...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Do the Math!

Someone asked me recently, "Why don't you guys do big crusades or rallies when you're overseas? You could impact a lot more people that way."

That sounds like a good question, doesn't it? This week, we are working with 21 people. In a country of 84 million. Not even a drop in the bucket.

What if we did a big crusade, and could reach 500 new people EVERY DAY?!?! THAT would be huge. Yes, it would. And I'm not critizing that approach. God clearly uses it.

But do the math: if Americans could be that effective (I could never understand why we think that WE can reach a country better than its own people can), we would have to hold a similarly effective event every day for the next 500 years to reach everyone in the country. And that wouldn't even deal with issues of helping people to grow and mature.

But we're working with 21. If each of them train 10 (which is a pretty low goal, honestly- they usually train more than that), that's 210. And if they each train 10.....and they each train 10....and so on, and so on....

How much impact could 50,000 trained pastors have in a country of 84,000,000? They could be meeting with people one-on-one. Teaching. Training. Discipling. Counselling. If each pastor works with 100 people, they would impact 5,000,000 people .

It would take the crusades about 27 years to reach that many. And there would be no trained leaders to teach...and train...and disciple...and counsel.

I love crusades. Maybe there's something exciting about small groups, too....and I get to be part of it all. Wow…


And one more thing- for those of you who are praying for me, and for those who are helping to make this possible financially…. YOU'RE PART OF IT, TOO!

Monday, November 15, 2010

What’s Been Happening

In case you're wondering, we've been without internet access for several days. I wrote the "What Would They Do Without Americans?" on Saturday night, and have been holding it on my computer for two days. In the meantime, life has continued to happen.

Here's the quick summary:
On Saturday, we wrapped up our training in Asela, Ethiopia. It's been an amazing time. This is a cooperative effort of a dozen different denominations, all working together to minister holistically in their communities. Their work includes poverty response, agricultural education, economic development, pastoral training, and church planting. All of this is a full-hearted effort to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ and how it impacts people's entire lives.

This training has also been done in partnership with Joni and Friends. They have a desire to minister to the needs of disabled persons in developing nations. We were part of the training they held for pastors, challenging and equipping them to reach out to the blind, the deaf, the lame, etc. Then we served a "banquet" for several hundred disable people in the community. Hard to describe this experience. It's hard enough to be handicapped in the US- can you imagine what it's like in a desperately poor nation, where many people believe that your disability is a curse from God, or a result of a demonic possession? I'll post some pictures.

After driving to Addis, we had several amazing meetings. We spent hours with the leadership of our in-country partners. It really looks like this training is going to be passed on to literally hundreds (thousands) of pastors and church leaders all over the country. One of our TNTers will be training 28 teams of three workers. Each team will be going to a different region of the country, where they will be passing on the training in the local area.

We have also been spending time with a new friend from Kenya, who came to "spy on the training" (his words, not ours). He leads an organization that is working in Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, and Uganda. He's recently been asked to begin working in Malawi and india. His organization is in the process of training 10,000 pastors, and they have helped to plant hundreds of churches. He is going to pass the LRI training on to everyone of the pastors they train.

Think about it- those are just TWO of the guys we're training! There are about 58 others. They each have their own story, and they don't all plan to impact 10,000 others. But when you begin to multiply the numbers, it's amazing. What if each of the TNTers trains 10 others? That's about 600. And what if they pass it on to others…and they pass it on to others. We have African church leaders telling us that TNT has the potential to have a deep impact all across this continent of over 650 million people.

I don't know if that's true, but I do know one thing- if it happens, it's clearly GOD who did it. LRI is just a bunch of average (or maybe even below-average) people. Maybe God is using us, because it will make it obvious that it's a work of God, and not a work of men.

What Would They Do Without Americans?

It's interesting to be an American in Ethiopia. We get so many different reactions. The children are thrilled to touch you, and large groups will gather around you, hoping to touch your hand for just a few seconds. It can be almost overwhelming- at one point, I was holding hands with more than a dozen children at the same time. All the while, they're saying, "hello, hello, hello" over and over….and over….and over… I could be critical of their English, but their English far exceeds my Amharic.

The reaction of those that we're training is intriguing. First of all, they're grateful for our willingness to come from the United States to work with them. Because 90% of the pastors in Africa have received no formal training, they are extremely hungry for ANYTHING we can bring them. However, there is also a certain skepticism. Unfortunately, there has been a tendency for westerners to come to Africa with an attitude of superiority and paternalism. "Just think how fortunate you are that we have come all this way to show you the RIGHT way to do things." We have often (unintentionally, I believe) given the impression that the African church needs to look like us- our clothes, our songs, our style. Instead of focusing on basic Biblical truth, we have brought so much baggage that the African church has often become a photocopy of the US church, only with darker skin and less use of multimedia…

Unfortunately, that cultural phenomenon has tended to distance the average African from the gospel. Christianity is seen as a European/American faith.

Don't miss the irony of that- as I sit here in Addis Ababa, I'm only a few "globe inches" from the birthplace of our faith. Christianity, at its heart, has a much stronger historal/cultural connection to Ethiopia than it does to the United States. The gospel first came to Ethiopia long before Columbus (or even the Vikings) even THOUGHT about coming to the new world. And yet, we have often effectively created an artificial cultural distance between the people of Africa and the white-skinned, middle-class Jesus that we have sometimes created.

That is why, as we teach, we seek to be "fellow-learners" with the TNTers that we're training. When we study the Bible, we're simply bringing tools. I often explain it using the "give a man a fish, teach a man to fish" expression. Rather than teaching them the Bible, we want to teach them to study the Bible FOR THEMSELVES. Then, as they become familiar with the study tools, we sit down and wrestle with the Bible together as equals. It's very common for an African, with a 6th grade education, to have insights far exceeding my seminary-training mind.

However, there is another reaction that we sometimes get- usually from leaders. To quote one of our partners in West Africa, "Here is what I love about LRI- after you do your thing, you LEAVE!"

What did he mean by that? He meant that the African church (and in many parts of the world) needs to be primarily led by Africans. Too many places in the world, missionaries have fostered dependence, rather than indigenous leadership. One our primary goals as a ministry is to serve churches around the world by helping them to become both STRONG and INDEPENDENT.

What would they do without Americans? Very well, thank you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Things I would NEVER do in the US…

I finally have internet access after 3 days. Yay! We've had three great days of training here in Asela, Ethiopia. We'll be wrapping up tomorrow (Saturday), and then heading to Addis Ababa on Sunday. I just posted some pictures on facebook, for those of you with access.

One of the interesting things about international ministry is the opportunity to see other cultures. Even though I've led quite a few training sessions on "cross cultural understanding", I never fail to be surprised (and stretched) whenever I travel overseas. I've experienced three clear examples of this in Ethiopia (actually, probably more than three, but these three spring to mind).

First, I've experience some cross-cultural eating experiences. Most meals in Ethiopia feature "injira"- a tortilla-like food made from fermented grain mash. It's completely unlike anything I've ever seen in the US (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. A traditional Ethiopian meal doesn't involve silverware. Instead, you rip off a piece of injira and use it to scoop up a saucy combination of meat/veggies/spices. I decided to jump into the deep end right away, so I had injira my first lunch in Ethiopia. We were at a restaurant, and I ignored all the more comfortable western-ish foods on the menu. I ordered Doro Wat, a specialty consisting of a thick spicey sauce along with injira. I didn't realize quite how hot it was until I felt the sweat running down my neck, and my teammates asked me why I was turning red. Once I washed down the aftertaste (about 2 days later), I decided that it wasn't too bad. I may try another helping of Doro Wat on this trip.

Secondly, I drank…brace yourself….COFFEE. Yes, I know…most of you are asking, "what's the big deal?" I have only tasted coffee a handful of times in my life, and have never really cared for it. When Julie and I got married 21 years ago, we both decided to continue our "non-coffee-drinker" status. In fact, we jokingly said it was our secret wedding vow. However, I've always said that I would drink coffee if it was socially/culturally necessary. I've been offered coffee many times in many countries, but it always seems to come with alternatives (usually tea).

But now I'm in Ethiopia- they discovered coffee here. I said that they "invented" coffee, but my teammates reminded me that GOD invented it. Either way, if there's one country in the world where coffee is a likely cultural mandate, it's Ethiopia. I quickly found out that many (most….all?) lunches and dinners are followed by a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The beans are roasted by hand over hot coals while we eat, accompanied by a strong incense- all performed on a floor covering of palm fronds. (You can see a picture on facebook) It was obvious that a polite refusal would be impossible…

So I drank some coffee. As I remembered, coffee tastes like liquid tar (not that I actually know what tar tastes like). I decided to put in a spoonful of sugar. Tasting it again, I discovered that it now tasted like sweetened tar. Another spoonful (these are NOT large cups) allowed me to finish the drink.

I know that some of you are thinking, "it must not be good coffee". My teammates assure me that it's extraordinary. So I have to ask all you Starbucks-addicted coffee heads out there…WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!?!

I suppose I'll drink it a few more times while I'm hear. Pray for me- I'm not all that nervous about terrorists or African stomach flus. It's the coffee that I'm worried about…

My final cultural stretch was…um…how do I put this? Perhaps I should start by explaining something about Ethiopian culture. Ethiopian friends hold hands. Sometimes you'll see people talking and holding hands…gender doesn't matter. It gives them a sense of connection with their friends.

I think you can see this coming. As I was walking a few blocks through town after a break in the training, Limut came up to ask me a few questions. We had talked previously, and his English is pretty decent. As we began to talk (here it comes), he took my hand. My initial instinct was to jank my hand away. Fortunately, my brain moved faster than my reflexes. To pull my hand away from a friend would have been to reject his friendship. And that's not exactly the impression we're trying to give these amazing men and women we're training.

So I walked through the streets talking to Limut, holding hands. Feeling awkward (at least I was…he probably didn't give it a second thought). It was probably 5 minutes, although it felt like about 2 hours. To be honest, I was quite glad when we arrived at our destination, and my hand was grabbed away by a wall of orphans saying, "hello….hello….hello…."

It was a little bit easier when Teshome held my hand today. But, in case you're worried, I won't be initiating any handholding….

When you travel, you join their culture….and it's not always easy…and often not very comfortable…

I'm hoping to have more internet access for the rest of the trip, but I'm not promising anything. Be checking on the blog for stories about our visit to the orphanage.

Thanks for listening. I appreciate your prayer!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Getting There…

I'm writing in the back of a van, driving through the Rift Valley in Ethiopia from Addis Ababa to Asela. I arrived here last night at 2:25 AM, and got to the guest house at 3:30. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to sleep (because my body thought it was 5:25 PM). I finally drifted off around 4:15, only to be rudely awakened by my alarm at 7:15 for 8:00 breakfast, and a 9:00 departure. I don't have a lot of deep thoughts, so I thought I might just give you a step-by-step account of my trip so far. I don't know how interesting the blogosphere will find it, but I'm confident that my wife and kids will enjoy it. (By the way, for you Facebookers- it doesn't look like I'll have much access at all. I'll probably be limited to one hurried posting each evening.)

I found myself at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago at 7:00 Sunday night, waiting for a 9:01 flight. That was a hard transition, because 4 hours earlier I was watching my son, Ben, perform in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at Peotone High School. The show finished, and I had too little time to finish packing, load the car, and head to O'Hare. It's always difficult to leave, but this trip left very little time for adequate goodbyes. The sense of disconnection from my family can be pretty significant, especially if internet access is limited (which it might be on this trip).

The flight to London was about 7 hours (I think….I drifted in and out of sleep about a dozen times). I have heard so many missionaries who seem to have intense evangelistic conversations on overseas flights. I always seem to find myself next to people who have no interest in conversation of any kind (and, to be honest, I sometimes feel the same way). I saw the last hour of Toy Story 3, and found myself glancing around to see if people saw the tears welling up in my eyes.

Had a semi-stale deli sandwich in Heathrow and boarded my flight to Addis Ababa via Amman. This is the first time I've ever flown through the Middle East. I wasn't sure what to expect. In the United States, we get a little nervous when someone Middle Eastern gets on the plane. This flight was 80% Jordanian. I watched Toy Story 3 again…

The pilot from London to Addis gave us a running commentary of all the wonderful places we were flying over (The Mediterranean, Cyprus, Damascus, etc), but it was night, so it all looked a lot like Nebraska to me…

(writing at 9:30 PM now) We drove south from Addis Ababa to Asela today, starting at 6,000 feet (about 50 degrees Fahrenheit), dropping down into the Rift Valley (about 90 degrees), and back up to Asela (about 60). The countryside was beautiful. For some reason, I always expect the temperature in Africa to be 90+. My hotel room will probably get down to 50-something tonight. Not complaining- just interesting.

Tonight at supper, I drank coffee for the first time in years….possibly the first time since I got married 21 years ago. I don't really care for coffee, but I've always said that I'll drink it if it's "culturally necessary". Apparently, Ethiopians have a post-supper "coffee ceremony" whenever they guests over. They tell me Ethiopian coffee is some of the best in the world. I still don't like it…

We had supper at a church in Asela, along with a few pastors visiting from Kenya. They told us some interesting (and disturbing) stories about the increasing tensions between Christians and Muslims in Kenya, which has traditionally been a very "Christian" nation. I'll write more about that when I get a chance.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), we officially start our training. Pray for us!