Sunday, July 31, 2011

Yes, I'm a doofus

So yesterday I was reading, hanging out at home, and kind of watching a movie. Kind of. I was barely paying attention, but it was on. The movie was an old espionage thriller, Clear and Present Danger starring Harrison Ford.

Well, I got a phone call and hit the pause button. It's a wonderful invention on a DVR, right? When you need to talk, you can hit the mute button to silence the TV, or you can just freeze the whole dang thing. I froze it.

After I was done talking to my dad on the phone, I look back at the TV and saw this:

And at that point I had a total brain spasm. I stared at the screen trying to figure out what had happened. It appeared that my TV screen had become a computer monitor. And what was that message about? Was my computer printing something? What was the "Clark file"? And most importantly, how the heck did my computer suddenly gain the ability to use my TV as its monitor?? It's not rigged for that.

I should be embarrassed to admit that some 30 seconds later or so, I figured it out. Of course (as I'm sure all of you know) that was not an image from my computer. The "TNT" logo in the corner should have been a pretty decent hint, no? Anyway, I just happened to freeze the movie at the exact moment that it was showing a computer monitor from the movie.


So I still don't have a way to connect my computer to my TV as a monitor. It would be really cool, especially to watch games on ESPN3. But I'm not there yet. Despite my goofy brain freeze yesterday, yes - I will have actually hook something up to make that happen.

Oh well........

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Stott, 1921-2011

It was my junior year in high school. My YoungLife leader approached me not long after Christmas and asked me if I wanted to be part of a discipleship group. What would it involve? Scripture memory. Weekly meetings. Accountability with friends and my leader. And weekly reading assignments. Those assignments included the book pictured at the left: Basic Christianity.

I cannot remember a book that better summarized the essentials of my faith - the beliefs that are common to true Christian faith. Through the course of the book, Rev. Stott walked through how Christ was the perfect expression of God, visiting the earth. Then, using the Ten Commandments, he showed how all of us fall short of God's perfect standard and thus are desperately in need of reconciliation. He then explained what Jesus accomplished on the cross to bring us back to God. Finally, he showed us how we should respond.

Yes, this book outlined the basic gospel, the good news that brings us all back to God. In YL, we use this basic outline to share Christ with kids. Although I can't prove the timeline (it predates me), I suspect that it was a factor in the development of the Four Spiritual Laws pamphlet.

John R.W. Stott died yesterday at the age of 90. What a legacy he leaves for us. I was reading tonight about the great things Rev Stott did to shape the evangelical church in the 20th century. He was such a leader and his influence on me stands beside other 20th century greats like J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis, Jim Rayburn, Bill Bright, and Billy Graham.

Thank you, John Stott. I look forward to meeting you in person one day, when we both stand in the presence of our Father. Yes...thank you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ethiopia 2011: The future

In the days since I returned from Ethiopia, I've posted a series of pages based on what God was teaching me there. So far, the topics have been:
And so now I close the series with a look toward the future. Because how can you walk so close to the heart of God and not have your future changed?

And indeed it has changed. God continues to draw me to this part of the world and I sam convinced that this phase of my life has a mission related to that. At the the same time, I continue to have a heart for young people - the same part of me that led me to be a YoungLife leader for 30+ years.

This trip cemented my love for the people there, and especially for the children whose homes I visited. Also, God taught me alot about the dynamics of a young team by putting me with this particular team. I don't know the path that God has for me, but there are certain things about it that seem to be clear:
  • I am to continue my sponsorship of Brouk and Hagersaw. I pray that God will life them up and give them a full sense of his presence.
  • I need to be a constant voice for those who can't be heard above the shouting of our busy materialistic world. I want to constantly let everyone I know how important it is to love "the least of these" (Matthew 25:31-46) - the widows, the orphans, and the disenfranchised.
  • I want to stay in touch with my new friends from the team, just as I did with many of my 2010 team. God keeps expanding my circle of friends, and I am grateful.
  • God willing, I will return to Ethiopia. Right now, I believe God wants me to find a way to lead a team of young people, merging my two passions for ministry. I have some ideas how that might work, but I think it would be wise to share the details of that if and when it becomes a reality.
I'm excited about the future. Because I know who hold the future. Can't wait to see what he has in store.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ethiopia 2011: Our awesome team (aka my new family)

I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. (John 17:21)

For the second straight year, I approached the counter at the airport not knowing the people I was going to spend 24 hours a day with. Starting with a 15 hour flight. Last year, it was just my niece Brooke that I had met face to face; no one else. This year she wasn't with me, but I did know my team leaders Jesse and Angela - they were with me on last year's journey to Africa as well. As you have seen from previous posts like this one (or this), last year's team jelled in a way I could not have dared hope for and I have gained lifelong friends. Could lightning strike twice?

I was skeptical. When 25 people are thrown into difficult conditions and spiritual warfare, it would be very easy for it to bring out the worst in everyone. For us to get on each other's nerves. But more importantly, 2010 had set the bar so stinkin' high, how could anything live up to it?

25 people. From four different states. Two married couples. Five children. A group of 17 from one place, mostly teens. A single traveler from West Virginia and one (yes) from Alabama. How in the world would this group mesh?

I think you know the answer. But you can't possibly understand the depth of the answer without having experienced it yourself. This was one of the most amazing groups I have ever been a part of, and that is saying something. I saw fountains of compassion and love flowing from our team to the children of Ethiopia:

And we had so much fun during down time, just getting to know each other better:

And with such  diverse group and such difficult circumstances, I never heard one bit of griping about anything. That is the Holy Spirit living in us.

It is so hard to single out a few memories from such a rich week, but here are a few things that stand out to me:
  • A bone tired group heading out to an orphanage only hours after landing, and pouring their love into the children from what little energy they had.
  • Dan leading our team in teaching English to children. I don't know how we could have done it without him.
  • Carley's tears as she talked about the child she had grown to love one afternoon, and how hard it was to leave her. They came from deep in her heart.
  • Countless hours playing Quelf, Signs, and other apparently meaningless games. Meaningless? Nah - God, as he so often does, used fun to bring us all closer. God's like that.
  • Eric encouraging us to share something God had done in our lives during the day's activities.
  • Marc leading us to pray without it having to be at "meeting" times, helping us all to remember how we were dependent on God and not our own strength.
  • The fun times at meals. Like playing "two truths and a lie" with my table at the pizza place. Or laughing with Ashton, David, Katie, Kaili, and Carley about the way the food came out at Kaldi's. (How 'bout that cheese sandwich, Kaili? :))
  • Ashton and Emily both giving me handwritten notes of encouragement, one in the middle of the week and one at the end. What a boost!
  • An awesome time of prayer we had after the power went out Thursday night. I will never forget that.
  • Staying up with friends 'til 4:30 am our last night, just because we didn't want it to end. Friends who didn't even know each other a week earlier. How awesome is that?
Yes, God was moving and not just during our official ministry times. He was drawing a group of his children closer together. Because he loves us that much and he wants us to love each other. And yes, because it made us better ministers when we were working - because the Scripture at the top of this post is so true: when the world sees us loving each other and living in unity, it is proof that Jesus really is the way.

Jesse. Angela. (Little) Jesse. Marc. Michelle. Eli. Abby. Bekah. Melanie. Kyle. Dan. Emily. Larry. Eric. Stacy. Ticka. David. Ashton. Carley. Katie. Kaili. Maddie. Sarah. Chelsea.

What an amazing group of Christ-followers. And my brothers and sister forever.

Next post: The future

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ethiopia 2011: The home visits

As we moved toward the third day of our time in Ethiopia, we were preparing for the opportunity to visit the homes of some of the children in the community. As I mentioned in my last post, in a very short amount of time a program has been developed to send over 200 children to a boarding school where they have a chance to break the cycle of desperation. Our team was ready to split into teams and go to the homes of some of these children.

The visits were going to be particularly special for me, because I was going to the homes of two children that God had placed in my life through the sponsorship program. I got to meet up with them the day before the first visit, and it only raised my anticipation. I cannot begin to describe what it was like to see their excitement and anticipation, knowing that they were going to host a few of us in their homes. They could not wait, and neither could I!

What was it like when the time came? The atmosphere was the same in both homes. While the conditions were not anything we could imagine without going ourselves, there was joy and thankfulness for the fact that God had found a way for the child to go to school. In one case, the boy had spent five years of his life the same way: he would get up early in the morning and try to beat other children to the city dump (only a few hundred from his home). The mission? To get food for the family - food that had been discarded by more wealthy people throughout the city. Needless to say, every member of that household was grateful for what God was doing in his life.

I have so many moments to remember from the time with these kids. Trying to communicate through the language difference. Hagersaw teaching me to count in Arhamic. And teaching me other phrases like "thank you" and I love you". Spending the whole last day there with Brouk, talking, and them playing soccer with him for almost an hour. Finding out that both of them had an amazing year in school last year. And then, unfortunately, how difficult it was to say goodbye.

I gotta tell ya: the home visits and the time I spent with these two children were worth the trip. If we had done nothing else, I would have been glad that I made the trip. While I am praying for the entire community (and indeed the country), there are now two children who have a special hold on my heart. Oh how I pray that God would work in their lives and give them the chance to glorify him. May the Lord take care of the physical needs of them and their families, and lead them to a place where they can proclaim his love.

This happened all over the place. I watched as so many young people from America got close to children from the dumps of Ethiopia. In the evenings, hearing about the love that was developing between our team members and the children was the kind of thing that gives you chill bumps.

When it came time to leave the last day, many tears were shed. How difficult it is to leave people you have come to love. God willing, I hope to go back as soon as I can. But more about that in a future post.

Next post: Our awesome team

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter: It was over too soon...but so worth it

(Note: This post is a break from the series on my recent trip to Africa.)

It was one year ago. I was walking out of the movie theater, having just seen the latest Harry Potter flick, Deathly Hallows, Part 1. For at least the second time in that same situation, I said to my niece Macy, "I'm going to read all the books before the next movie." But as the series was coming to close, this was my last chance to really do it.

I knew that if I were going to get the full enjoyment out of the finale, I would need to follow through. For you see, I had seen the previous movies, but not necessarily in order, and definitely with no sense of the story thread. Or the themes it was addressing. This was a shame, because I'm such a fan of epic stories that are told in installments. In fact, as I walked out of that theater I was only two months removed from the end of the best epic story ever told on television, LOST. So I was starving for something to fill in the gap. And so I began reading.

Well, I finished just in time - last Monday, three days before the midnight premiere of Deathly Hallows, Part 2. I had already bought my tickets to the midnight show, so it was imperative that I finish. I did.

What I found as I read the 4000 or so pages was everything you would look for in a epic series. Characters I grew to love and others I hated. Human drama and fantasy adventure. Themes that are embedded in the very nature of life: Love. Revenge. Good vs. Evil. Enduring friendships. The importance of self-sacrificial love. Family. Dealing with grief. Destiny vs. free will. Doing the right thing in the face of adversity. And even sacrificial death and resurrection as an instrument for defeating evil.

And, as an extra bonus, an extremely rewarding ending for such a long story.

So there I was at midnight last week, sitting in a movie theater with hundreds of my closest friends. (I think the theater was using all 16 screens.) I sat there with a sense of anticipation, and also a sense of regret. I wished that I had started reading years ago, so that I could have experienced the unfolding of the story over time as it was intended. But I was gratified that I finally knew this wonderful story and that I was about to see its conclusion portrayed in what I knew would be a powerful movie.

I was not disappointed. As the crowd sat there in silence on the edge of our seats, the story unfolded in a masterful way. Just the right mix of action, humor, and drama. The best part of the whole story is 100 pages of the final book, and the movie got to that point early enough to do it justice. We saw the courage, the determination, the heartache, and the ultimate battle in all its glory.

The story is now told, and I'm glad I finally jumped in with both feet. Wish I had done it earlier, but that's water under the bridge. Better late than never.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Some friends of mine are on a mission trip to the Ukraine. I'm following their trip blog so I wanted to give all of you the same opportunity.

Just go to this link and, if their post isn't on the home page, click on the Ukraine Student Team link.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ethiopia 2011: Does visiting make a difference?

Throughout the Scriptures, we see God's heart for the poor, the disenfranchised, and especially the orphans and widows. A small sample:
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:18)
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. (Psalm 68:5)
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27) 
Thus, it is the mission of Visiting Orphans (VO) to arrange for team after team to make international visits, loving and caring for children just because they need to see God's love through us. Other missions focus on digging wells, building shelter, and other manual labor. Those are vitally important. But so is this work. And the story of the community where we visited is a great example of the fact that it does make a difference.

I made my first visit a year ago, and God's movement was already well underway. Here is a short video (embedded from having already been posted on YouTube) that will convey it better than I ever could:

So God was beginning to use local believers, and then he began to lead outsiders in. To provide what God knew they needed. And to let us be part of his work.

Between January 2010 and my summer visit last year, VO began to bring teams to this community. From that, he has:

  • Led several to invest their lives there full time,
  • Raised up even more local believers to be leaders in the community,
  • Began a summer program to expose the kids there to loving instruction and Bible teaching,
  • Through sponsorships, given many of the children an opportunity to go to school in an environment with three square meals, a bed, and needed discipline.
And so I returned, and saw the results. Five days of spending time with these children, and seeing the difference that God is making in their lives. There is no way to go and not be changed. Yes, as always, God knew what he was talking about. Visiting makes a difference.

Next post: Home visits

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ethiopia 2011: The second time, how was it different?

As I headed home from Africa on July 10, 2010, I knew I would be back. I knew it, because I knew I had to return to a particular community in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This place:

This kids in this picture live in a community by the city trash dump. Most of them get their food by racing the others to the food dumped there. When I arrived there one year ago, we worked with a program that was just underway to try and make a difference. We were only there for a day and a half but it captured my heart. I knew that God wanted me to be a part of making a difference there somehow. Not because he needed me (he doesn't, he's God), but because he loves us enough to let us be part of his plan. So, among other things, I signed up as a sponsor for a new program giving kids an opportunity to overcome their circumstances through boarding school.

I didn't know how, but I knew I had to stay connected. So when I had the chance to return for a week with the same team leader, I jumped at it. Last week, I was able to spend a week there. I expected it to be  different but I didn't know how. Here's how:

First, my eyes were more prepared for what I saw. I was afraid that might result in complacency (I've seen this before), but instead my heart broke in a new way. I was able to see beyond the shock value of the poor conditions and into the beautiful, beautiful hearts of the people there. They are so filled with love for their family and open to love toward strangers like us. Every day they deal with problems that we cannot even imagine, but you can tell that they know God loves them.

Second, five days is so much better than two. We were able to see the same kids day after day and the joy of pulling up on the bus each day grew as the week wore on. We got to know many of them by name, and they loved teaching us some of their language (and laughing at how we would mess up). Of course, that made leaving unbelievably difficult. Many tears were shed on the last day. Here are some pictures where you can see just see the joy of our team as they spent time with these kids:

(For alot more pictures, check out this link to my pictures on facebook.)

Third, the progress over just a year's time was amazing. This will be the subject of my next post on the trip.

Finally, spending time with my sponsored children and meeting their families was worth the trip by itself! Again, I will post about this with more detail later.

So how was it different? It was different because I had the beginnings of a vision when I arrived. It was different because of the benefits of spending more time there. And it was different because I could see the progress of what God is doing there.

But it was also the same. The same God loves them now like he did a year ago. The same need exists for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. And the same command from God remains: Go!

Next post: The progress since last year

Monday, July 11, 2011

He's baaa-aack

Well, I'm back from Ethiopia and recovering from the jet lag. It was an amazing week and I have so much to share - especially since I wasn't able to blog while I was there. I will be posting piecemeal over the next few days, and instead of a day-by-day account, I want to share according to various topics:

  • The second time: how was it different for me?
  • The progress since last year in the community where we worked
  • Home visits
  • The awesome team I was privileged to work alongside
  • The future
I might have a random post on another topic sprinkled in, but these are the ones you can look for related to Africa. Soon.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Africa, Part Deux

As I sit here in an Atlanta hotel room, I can hardly contain my anticipation. A mixture of emotions, no doubt - excitement, joy, compassion, determination, love. Even nostalgia. Tomorrow morning I leave for Africa, back to the same area I was at one year ago tonight. Yes, it's Part Deux. (I shamelessly stole this blog title idea from my friend Tommy...specifically, this post from today.)

I don't know what to expect. What happens when you go back to the same site, one where God grabbed your heart before? Do you pick up right where you left off? Is there a new passion that will hit from out of left field? How will it be to meet and pray with sponsored children?

You know, while those thoughts run through my mind, none of them matter. Because it's not about me. It's about what God wants to do in the lives of the fatherless in Africa. I am blessed, blessed, blessed that he has decided to include me.

And so I am ready. If I get good wireless access, I'll try to post some while I'm there. If not, I'll update after I get back.

Let's get it going!