Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Monday, November 14, 2016
This old body, yearns for yester year
Fourth of July hotdogs, Coca-Cola n’ beer
This America smells, good n’ plenty
Image of peace, well-being and safety.
Transmuted visions, of nostalgia now come
Black and brown brethren, express aplomb
Newness arises, America are we keen?
Tell me my sister, are we so mean?
The new body dazzles, diets and dialects,
The old body tattered, dreams found wrecked.
The new body bold, invites us to play
Are we so dogged, turning away?
This old body, Rusted has arose
Machiavelli, stares down his nose
What have we created, what will we leave?
Help us old body, new body to cleave.
Thursday, November 3, 2016
At a seminar we attended recently on trauma healing, one of the topics we addressed was forgiveness. Participants in the seminar came from 6 continents (all but Antartica!), with exposure to a rich diversity of cultures and experiences. Different voices in the room contributed suggestions as to what forgiveness is, or is not. For example, forgiveness IS:
- a choice; an act of the will
- An ongoing process – sometimes it requires repeating
- Acknowledging the wrong that was done
- Not holding the wrong against the person who did it, but rather hoping for their good!
And forgiveness is NOT:
- Saying the right words
- Brushing it off (e.g. “it was nothing, don’t worry about it.”)
- Forgetting (we can forgive some things that are impossible to forget)
- Without Consequence
- Necessarily reconciliation or restored trust
Sharing the results of our small group discussion about the impact of trauma
We looked together at several Bible passages that discuss forgiveness, and the rich discusssion through our diverse cultural lenses converged on recognizing our natural resistence to forgiveness. When something bad happens to us or we are hurt, we not only have that pain to deal with, but often also resentment, anger, guilt, and bitterness. We look to God for the gift of being able to forgive (Matt. 6: 14-15), and choosing to forgive thwarts Satan’s plans to divide and corrupt us (2 Cor. 2: 10-11). One participant from India shared the quote “unforgiveness is a poisonous pill that we take hoping the other person will die.” Think about that – amazing how twisted our thinking can become and the negative impacts that we inflict on ourselves when we are not able to be free of unforgiveness.
Bob and another participant (face blurred to protect identity) demonstrate how hard
life can be when we are ‘tied’ to another person through unforgiveness
Just a few days after the seminar, I experienced the ‘poison’ that unforgiveness can be. We were travelling in the car, tired and getting on each others nerves. Bob said something that struck me wrong, and I retreated into silence and hurt, an angry and defensive argument raging in my head. While I prayed and deliberated how to share with Bob how I was feeling, the frustration and hurt continued to stew. Bob opted to take a nap while I drove, and normally when that happens my introverted self is more than happy to be quiet with my own thoughts. But this time I could not be at peace, and found the hurt and frustration to be rather unpleasant company. After Bob woke up, I finally pulled over, shared how I was feeling, and we apologized and forgave each other. The words “I forgive you” are not magic, but they symbolize that concious choice to release the hard feelings, the responsibility we place on the other person for our hurt and pain…and the emotional release is significant. I am grateful that in this example that I only struggled with that pain for a matter of minutes, and not days or years, as some people have to do!
We are excited to see how God has been using the healing and reconciliation seminars in Congo. We are hopeful that this seminar we attended on trauma healing will deepen the ways that we can engage with people in those seminars and also broaden how we can minister to people who have experienced trauma. Specifically, we hope that the caretakers in the Ditkemena (Hope) program for street children could be equipped further in how they minister to children who have all gone through painful experiences of abuse or rejection. Pray with us for wisdom and the right opportunities as we return to Congo in January.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Since early July Kristi and I have been on the go! We have visited 36 churches, 2 presbyteries, actively participated in 6 conferences, trainings and gatherings, travelled to 17 states and slept in 39 beds. We have given our presentation 25 times, I have preached 13 times, and we have shared with all types of groups in various ways. Not surprisingly perhaps, with all this activity, at times we have hit lows, feeling tired and wanting to be finished, yet we press on.
Significantly, in the midst of this busy schedule of travel and speaking, Kristi and I have been blessed by the ways we have been received, welcomed, cared for and loved. It often feels like we are stepping into holy ground as we stay with families and spend time with churches. Just this last week we stayed with a family whose 96 year old matriarch, Dee, made sure we ate sliced apples in the afternoon and waited up for us like a mother goose when we were out at the movies. On Hilton Head island, our hosts, Charlotte and Steve White, welcomed us into the life of their community as we enjoyed together live music and comfort food cooked for all on a gorgeous fall evening. We also visited my friend Colin from High School whose family prepared a “Low Country Boil,” a fun/informal meal of shrimp/potatoes/corn and a few other things tossed in for good measure. In Birmingham, Marty and Leland Keller treated us to dinner and the symphony with their close friends. In Johnson City, Tennessee, we spent hours on an enclosed sun porch with Jerry and Sally Nagel in their home, sharing stories and enjoying good fellowship. In Albany, Georgia, members of First Presbyterian treated us to the Waffle House where we enjoyed lighthearted conversation but also had meaningful dialogue around local issues tied to race and injustice. In Beaufort, South Carolina, Corky cooked us delicious meals three times in the span of less than 24 hours, then he and his wife grabbed our hands and prayed deeply for us as we departed.
These are just a few snippets from our travels – many more stories could be told! Indeed, we have been welcomed with open arms. We have been fed well, our needs have been tended to (even laundry!), and we have felt the warmth of God’s people. Not having a home here, these families visited have given us a temporary home, welcoming us into the family rooms and intimate places of their lives. For that, we cannot adequately express our gratitude. God has given us grace and strength for the journey, and He has done that through the hands and feet of His people.
** Note to all who hosted us but who were not mentioned in this specific blog post, please know that we appreciate all you did for us! We cannot and will not forget you.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
This past week, violent clashes erupted in Kananga, the city that where we live in Congo. A militia group from the tribe near Tshimbulu who experienced an attack a few weeks ago that we described here came to Kananga, and attacked the airport and fought with military. A reuters article this week reports that the death toll was 49 people. Many of the tribal militia were using machetes and clubs, and there are many people wounded. The situation seems to have calmed down, although schools are closed this week and the atmosphere remains tense.
For us, one of the most concerning aspects of this was that the center where the children in the Ditekemena (HOPE) program live is very close to the airport where the attack took place. In the midst of gunfire, the caregivers took the children into the woods and surrounding homes to hide for a couple of days. They have now been moved in a few different groups to homes closer to the center of town. In the midst of the attack, their food stores at the center were looted and they will not have funds to resupply for at least a few weeks. Please pray that local churches in Kananga will be able to help to provide food and care for the children in this midst of this crisis.
Please continue to pray for peace in Congo, and for successful resolution to this particular conflict. We think of all of our colleagues and friends in Congo, and pray that even in this turmoil, they would know and live out God’s hope and love. We grieve that so many areas in our world are experiencing tragedy and fear right now. We pray Psalm 62:1-2 for our friends in Kananga and these hurting people and places all over the world:
“My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
Monday, September 19, 2016
As we are moving towards an interesting and polarizing November election here in the United States, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which also has a scheduled November election, is moving closer to the brink of chaos and upheaval. The President, Joseph Kabila, finishes his second and final term on December 20th, but all signs point to him clinging to power and not stepping down from office. Opposition groups are raising their voice, and it feels like there is not even enough political goodwill to move a chair from one side of the room to the other. The government planned and hosted a “national dialogue” with opposition groups, but the opposition chose not to participate because their demand for the release of all political prisoners had not been sufficiently met.
Today, Monday September 19th, planed political protests have transpired in Kinshasa, the capital city. We have viewed images of smoke from burning cars and tires, alongside angry crowds. Most schools and shops are closed in Kinshasa, and most people are staying home to avoid unrest. According to a recent BBC article, 17 people have been killed, including 3 police officers, one of whom was burnt alive. From the US State Department website, we have learned that the US Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Tom Perriello, was physically blocked and verbally threatened at N’djili International Airport after ten days of seeking to promote dialogue amongst a wide range of actors in the current political impasse.
Right now it is difficult to know what the short term and longer term picture of Congo will be. In a recent article, the International Crisis Group, an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict, contends that what is needed in DR Congo is a firm but nuanced political approach. Though frustration with the lack of will by the Congolese government to move forward regarding the democratic process is understandable, what is needed are international actors and partners who are able to provide a consistent stance which provides open communication channels with all parties, including the government, the opposition, and civil society groups, helping all move towards a peaceful transition of power in line with democratic principles.
Please pray with us for a peaceable path forward for the Democratic Republic of Congo. While we may be caught up in the wiles our our own election cycle, eventualities feel much more grim for people who live in a land we have grown to love. Thank you!
Monday, September 12, 2016
A few weeks ago, a conflict erupted between a tribal chief and government military near the city of Tshimbulu, about 70 miles from Kananga. Many people were killed – the estimates range between about 30 to more than 150, including both military and civilians in the village. Homes and schools in the village were destroyed, and many people have fled. As people fled the violence and families were separated, many unaccompanied children were brought to Kananga and temporarily housed in the Kananga jail (which is already overcrowded and has deplorable conditions). Several organizations, including Ditekemena (or the Hope project for street chidren) were asked to temporarily care for some of the children while they await reunification with their families. This conflict did not make the international news, and we did not hear of it until a few colleagues told us. If you want to read a local French report, it is at http://www.radiookapi.net/2016/08/13/actualite/securite/kasai-central-le-chef-kamwina-nsapu-est-mort-dans-les-combats-contre.
If you have been following the progress, of the 23 children originally with the program since 2014, 11 children have been reunited with their families, one new child was added, and now 13 await reintegration with families. The process is slow as they seek to provide follow-up and adequate support for families who are welcoming back their child. When this recent crisis arose, the CPC (Congolese Presbyterian Church) leadership agreed that Ditekemena could temporarily care for these displaced children, but the program is already stretched thin with resources.
Would you please pray for all of these children, for them to know God’s love and provision in the midst of this crisis. Pray also for Pastor Manyayi and the other caregivers, for discernment, love, and sensitivity as they care for the chidlren and look for the right situations for all of them. Ditekemena is in need of funds to care for these children, including for food, education, and the process of placement with families. If you would like to help wtih financial support, you can do so by either sending a check or donating online. Please read through all the steps to ensure it gets to the right place.
To donate online: 1. Go to http://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/e864116/
2. Choose the option on the right (give to Presbyterian Community of Congo)
3. When you enter the payment information, there is a ‘comments’ section.
In the comments box, enter “CPC/Ditekemena program for street children”
4. Let us know that you have donated so we can alert our colleagues in Congo.
To donate by mail: 1. Write a check to Presbyterian Church (USA) or Presbyterian World Mission
2. Put “E864116 – Ditekemena” in the memo
3. Mail it to: PO Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
4. Let us know that you have donated so we can alert our colleagues in Congo.
Monday, September 5, 2016
For the sports minded reader, you will be aware of the current controversy surrounding the Forty Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick. For others, you may have heard headlines and are wondering about this particular controversy. In short, during the San Francisco Forty Niners preseason games this year, Colin Kaepernick has refused to stand during the national anthem, most recently taking the knee at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. This behavior, as I understand it, wasn’t even noticed for the first game or two. However, when it became apparent that Kapernick was not participating in this patriotic gesture, he began making public statements defending and illuminating his actions, being the public figure he has become. What he has told us is this, “There are a lot of things that need to change…One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards” (this quote taken from this CBS news article by John Breech, September 2nd). Carter Evans of CBS This Morning quotes Kaepernick as saying that he, Kaepernick, will not stand up and show pride for a country that oppresses people of color. As you can imagine, this particular action by Kaepernick has touched a sensitive nerve in our current milieu regarding racial injustice, brought to the fore by public awareness of specific instances of police brutality over the course of the last two years, an awareness now perpetuating national concern and debate, an awareness also forging movements such as Black Lives Matter.
As you can imagine, the response to Kaepernick’s actions have been as charged as the current national struggle and debate over this important issue have become. On one hand there is great outrage, many believing that Kaepernick has chosen the wrong venue and wrong method to express his political views. On the other hand, other people believe that Kaepernick has a right to express his views in this manner. Even President Obama has weighed in on the issue, saying that it can be thorny in relation to the military, but also defending Kaepernick and his right to voice his concerns through this gesture. Some are openly sympathetic to Kaepernick. At Qualcomm, fellow Forty Niner Eric Reed also took the knee while Seahawks Jeremy Lane remained seated during the national anthem on Thursday. This action was met in San Diego with grave defiance and anger. Kaepernick was booed from the time he ran onto the field until he was pulled from the game at the beginning of the second half. Chargers fans were relentless, writes John Breech, booing him on all 34 plays of which he saw action. “While Kaepernick has made a silent protest, it was amplified in San Diego which is a big military town,” notes CBS correspondent Carter Evans.
As a person of faith, I am seeking to digest and understand this current situation in light of the public good. Public Theology is “lived theology,” seeing God at work in the midst of the marketplace of ideas while seeking the general Shalom (Peace) of God for our communities and nations. It has become painfully obvious to me that our nation is at a flashpoint, perhaps no less revealing and painful as that of the Civil Rights era. This year Kristi and I have spent time reading works by Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and W.E.B. DuBois. Through these readings we have heard the deep cry of our black sisters and brothers for equality and justice. We have heard public laments that ravish heart and soul. Unlike any other period in my life, I have felt a deep empathy and pain for these Americans sisters and brothers who have been largely left out from the American dream and not given a slice of the American pie. Worse yet, it seems that there has been little done in the way of genuine healing and reconciliation between our races. We seem to live in parallel universes, one zooming ahead, the other left behind.
Listening to the voices of these black sisters and brothers, I feel remorse and shame, yet I also feel inspired. These voices from the margins of our storied past need to rise and give rise to a greater national consciousness of what it means to be American in the truest and purest sense. Perhaps giving rise to a greater national consciousness is precisely what Colin Kaepernick seeks to help us achieve. While not standing at attention for the national anthem may feel anathema to some, perhaps Kaepernick’s failure to stand is a prophetic gesture towards helping us identify our failings and seek a greater future, together. Does standing during the national anthem make one a patriot in the truest sense? Maybe there are nuances around this issue that should give us pause, encouraging us to listen to the message and not get hung up on the method of protest. After all, what makes us noble and good is not the act of standing during the national anthem, but rather seeking in all earnestness to achieve the ideals by which the flag and the nation have sought to embody, and if we are failing to do so, we need faithful and responsible citizens to tell us so. Indeed, if we are failing to achieve our ideals, only the harsh and uncomfortable act of public lament can wake us up from the dream that all is well when all is not well. We need to listen to the voices from below and from the margins to know this truth, and perhaps Kaepernick and those who are kneeling with him are trying to show us the way.
Prophets of old in the Biblical witness made public demonstrations of lament. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. Isaiah went around naked for three years. Noah built an ark. Jesus, a Jew, lamented over Jerusalem and even prophesied destruction over a city and a nation who had fallen away from true worship and righteousness. We need prophets, brave men and women who will stand tall and courageous, willing to weather the boo birds, telling us that we can become better. If we stop to listen to the message and graciously permit the chosen method, perhaps we will comprehend that Colin Kaepernick has something important to tell us. Maybe we can actually stop and listen, and in doing so perhaps new paths towards a better future will open before us. Colin and crew, for the record, I am listening.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Lessons learned from life on the road:
1. Make sure my digital watch is on the right time zone so that the alarm doesn’t go off at 4AM.
2. Regular exercise – even in irregular places and times – is a great boost to help us stay sane.
3. Bob can pack for a whole month in a carry-on suitcase.
4. Mcdonalds has great cheap smoothies…and they are ubuiquitous.
5. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I lay there for a few minutes, working out “where am I? And how do I get to the bathroom??”
6. Routine is very helpful for making life less stressful; but it is all about perspective. Even when each day is in a new place, I appreciate the little pieces of life that are consistent, like brushing my teeth or praying with Bob, which help me to create a ‘road routine’ in my mind.
7. We can do a week of lunches on the road with a loaf of bread and a package of ham and cheese. That way we can find a park to stop in for lunch instead of a fast-food restaurant. Being around some ‘green’ and being able to take a short walk is so refreshing during a long drive.
8. Audiobooks are a wonderful thing! We just finished listening to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – a timeless classic. And the best part - you can check out audiobooks digitally through Overdrive with your library card!
9. Friends are a wonderful life-giving blessing. We try to connect with as many as we can while we are traveling. Even when we feel tired and time feels tight, we always feel refreshed and grateful for a conection with kindred spirits. Thank you, to our friends old and new, who make this journey sweet.
Saturday, July 30, 2016
This month of July Kristi and I have been on the road. We have had fun, hiking in Pennsylvania, seeing Shakespeare performed in Louisville, sitting under the stars near the Allegany mountains, attending a Pirates/Brewers game in Pittsburgh, eating Handel’s ice cream near Youngstown (OH), speaking in various churches across Ohio and Pennsylvania, and being fortunate enough to attend two significant conferences, one in Louisville, Kentucky, and the other in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.
This last week Kristi and I attended the New Wilmington Mission Conference, held at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. It is our second time to participate in this one hundred and eleven year old missions conference, the longest running mission conference in the United States. I have been impressed hearing over and over how people feel drawn to come back to this conference, feeling loved and accepted, empowered to fulfill God’s calling. Having representative missionaries and nationals from all over the world, we have received insight into events and God’s work across the world, ideas and realities which transcend the news conveyed by the manifold news services, delivering only in sound bites, delivering non-nuanced and under-informed interpretations of global realities. For instance, a pastor from the Czech Republic informed us how Christians in his homeland have “stood” their ground in response to the stranglehold of communism, “walked” forward against oppression and injustice, and “helped others to run,” empowering sisters and brothers in Ethiopia and other countries. Lesser known stories like this one are voiced and inspire us to greater commitment and service.
Kristi and I and others hosted “the Africa Game” at the NWMC,
helping children and others understand the challenges
children face going to school in Congo
Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather, colleagues who serve in South Sudan
taught each morning at NWMC, inspiring all delegates to
greater faithfulness and service to the Living God
Saturday, July 9, 2016
Our colleagues in Congo have written recently with updates about the Bible subsidy program, which continues while we are in the U.S. this year. So far this year 155 Bible have been sold in Kasai at the subsidized rate. There is a gathering every April of lay leaders (elders, deacons, women and youth leaders), and people come from all over Kasai for that gathering. Our colleague Pastor Mukenge was able to bring 2 boxes (56 Bibles) to that gathering this year, and people from very rural regions who were overjoyed to finally have a Bible. Susanne Meta was one of those people, who said that she had a Bible, but it was so tattered that it was missing the first 2 books in the Old Testament and the last several books in the new Testament. She is a leader in the women’s ministry, and said that having a Bible will help her when they gather for Bible Study and worship.
Another colleague, Pastor Mboyamba, was teaching a seminar in June at the pastoral institute in Bulape, a rural village far from Kananga. He encountered Pastor Mafuata, from another rural village, who described the dire lack of Bibles in their village. He has a Bible, but it is old and ragged and missing many pages. Sometimes when he is preaching, he finds a song in the hymnbook that resembles the passage he wants to preach on, and uses the song as the text since he does not have that part in his BIble. Pastor Mboyamba felt so moved by his plight that he gave Pastor Mafuata his own Bible, trusting that he could get another one when he returned to Kananga.
We are also thrilled to report that more Tshiluba Bibles are coming soon to Kasai, thanks to some generous gifts in the past few months from individuals and congregations, including the women’s Bible study at Grace Church,First Presbyterian Church in Pontiac, IL, and members of the Jesus House ministry in Bloomington, IL. In Tshiluba, there is a common proverb that says “kamue, kamue, wa ba dikumi”, which means that 1 by 1, our little pieces put together become something significant. While one person alone might not feel they can make a big difference with this need, when all of our little pieces get put together, God’s Word is getting into people’s hands all over the central Congo. David says in the Bible “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Ps 119: 72). May that delight in God’s truth be true for all of us, including our brothers and sisters in Congo!
Saturday, July 2, 2016
Two weeks ago today I attended the American Society of Missiology’s annual conference, this year held in St. Paul, Minnesota. The American Society of Missiology (ASM) describes itself as an inclusive, diverse and professional association comprised of Independent (Evangelical, Pentecostal), Conciliar, and Roman Catholic communities of the Christian Church. ASM officially began in 1973 with the intention of being an organization which would promote scholarly research, discussion, publication, and teaching in the field of mission studies. ASM currently describes itself as the ecumenical, professional association for mission studies in North America, including more than 600 academicians, mission agency executives, and missionaries in a unique fellowship of scholarship and mission. While attending the annual gathering, I also learned that in the last five years ASM has moved in the direction of including more young people involved in mission and has become more sensitive to the need of promoting the significant role of women in mission. This year’s gathering reflected these changes.
Every annual gathering has a theme, and this year’s theme was “Missiology and Public Life: Mission's Constructive Engagement with Societies, Change, and Conflict.” Plenary addresses were given, along with papers submitted and presented on a host of topics as diverse as “Race, Justice, and Participation in the Mission of God” to “Public Religion, Faith, and National Politics.” One of the plenaries was delivered by Sebastian Kim, who serves as Chair of Theology and Public Life at York St. John University in the UK. The title of his address was “Mission’s Public Engagement.” He made the point that theology is inherently “public” and available to all, and helped us to think about both the private and public components of our faith traditions. He also named the tension in missiological thought between salvation and liberation, encouraging the expansion of mission to be both evangelistic and socially minded. He poignantly stated that Public Theology often focuses upon the world, while Missiology focuses upon issues related to mission. He inferred that there needs to be stronger correlation between the two.
The night previous Gregory Leffel who serves as 2016 ASM President and directs One Horizon Institute gave an address entitled “The Missiology of Trouble.” His presentation was equally thought provoking. He touched on issues related to modernism and post-modernism, and then framed a new sociological construct he labelled “Metamodernism.” He first highlighted our American society’s strong tradition of liberalism, liberty and liberality. He then skillfully dissected the current state of affairs as the Left is in tension with the Right, both sides reflecting different ideals from people to property, communitarianism versus individualism, and democracy in relation to free market domination. He introduced the idea of “metaxis,” which seeks to integrate two contrasting elements, finding a coherent organizing structure or idea to help us think about and address the pressing issues of our times. He made the point that “Public Missiology,” a new term submitted for thoughtful reflection during ASM 2016, is essential to accomplish the work of ‘metaxis’ in finding things that unite us while respecting differences. I have to confess that I had to have my “A-game” on to follow some of the highly technical jargon and head spinning concepts both speakers espoused. I did my best, and was even able to offer a somewhat lucid question to Sebastian Kim regarding how to stand in solidarity with colleagues and friends, encouraging public engagement in the context I serve in Congo. Dr. Kim along with others gave me some helpful food for thought.
As part of ASM 2016 I actually presented a paper as well. The paper’s title is “Faith and Politics: Rwanda, a Case History.” I was quite nervous about presenting and spent lots of hours preparing. Thankfully my paper presentation was well received and I was greatly encouraged by my facilitator, by fellow presenters, and by those who came to listen and learn. Honestly, I felt quite empowered and felt like maybe I actually fit into this body of mission-minded scholars and practitioners. I was also able to connect with and make a few new friends, as well as connect with former professors and classmates from Fuller Theological Seminary. We had lots of fun conversations around meals that were both light hearted but also cut deep into our own personal histories, hopes and dreams. I felt so edified participating in ASM’s annual conference. Praise God for such a thoughtful group of people seeking to bring glory to God and expand His Kingdom here on earth!
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
The precarious roads, the staple foods, the local food market – it is hard to communicate what these aspects of life in Congo are like if you have never been there. Sometimes we joke that Congo and the U.S. are almost as different as going from the earth to the moon!
One resource we recently created is a photo book that attempts to answer some of the “Frequently Answered Questions” about life in Congo. We use pictures (and text) to try to answer questions like “what do people eat?” or “what is a typical day like?”. Click here to see it online. If we get the chance to visit you, you can see it in person. And if you like it so much that you want to order a copy for yourself or to use in a Sunday school class/church, you can also order a copy from the link above.
We are getting ready to hit the road! We look forward to visiting churches and connecting with people who have been supporting us in various ways. We want people to know how we have seen God at work in Congo and help churches and individuals to connect with that work. To that end, we are updating our blog, creating a few handouts, and trying to find ways to convey what is going on in Congo.
What do you think of the book? What tools help you understand and connect with what God is doing in a far-away place? We welcome your input and suggestions!
Friday, June 10, 2016
There is something therapeutic and healing that happens, basking and glorying in the wonders of wilderness, God’s glorious and untamed creation. Last month Kristi and I had the privilege, along with Jim and Sherri Bertolet (Kristi’s parents), to visit Glacier National Park. We arrived in West Glacier, Montana, by train from central Illinois. We arrived before the major tourist season, beating the crowds. It was a bit cold and rainy at times, but the marvels of the place were beyond expectation. So many times I would gaze upward, with neck craned far back, drinking in the deep beauty and wonder of a place beyond description. I would meditate upon God’s glory and goodness, simply giving thanks. Enjoy a few of our pictures taken, along with a soul stirring poem by Henry David Thoreau.
finding fulfillment in lake below
by titanic, monolithic uprisings
serving as the glorious backdrop
the wavelets stirring at Two Medicine
At the same time that we are explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable.
We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the site of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic figures, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thundercloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
Henry David Thoreau
Thursday, May 19, 2016
One thing that I was craving as we headed back to the US this year was worship. Everyone knows that Congolese people have a gift for music, and worship in the CPC is energetic, passionate, and can last for hours. And we appreciate, enjoy, and join into their worship. But just like eating ‘comfort food’, there is a special feeling when you get to be in corporate worship with familiar songs in a familiar language. I have been brought to tears several times this year, enjoying the presence of God during worship in a church service. It is one of the things I am most grateful for during this year that we have in the U.S.
Through a series of connections and divine coincidences, we ended up worshipping at the Jesus House last week, a ministry and church community in Bloomington. In this mid-size, middle-class, Midwestern city, the West Side of Bloomington is an enclave where drug addiction, poverty, crime, and sexual exploitation wreak havoc on people’s lives and destroy families and generations. The Jesus House sits in the middle of that section of town, a light and source of hope for people caught in the vicious cycles that poverty, drugs, and abuse generate.
When we walked into the Jesus House on Sunday morning, a small group about 30 men and women of all ages, sizes, and colors were in the midst of a Bible Study. As they transitioned into the worship service, more people filled in the room. One older woman coaxed a few other women up to the front to dance to the worship. The hunger for Jesus and the joy of being in worship was evident on many faces. Seeing people dance, or kneel, or cover their faces as they sought out the presence of God reminded me of worship times in college, when I and my friends could worship God without all of the inibitions I have picked up in the years since.
During the message, Tom spoke about seeing and treating other people as “holy ground”, because they are made in the image of God. He highlighted a few individuals present and celebrated them, and reminded everyone that God looks on the inside, not the outside. In the midst of that message, I recognized my tendency to label people or make assumptions about their lives or their past. As I fought my stereotypes, I was reminded of the beauty that I was seeing in the lives of people who were not physically beautiful by the standards of this world…but they knew that Jesus was full of love just for them and that they could delight in His presence.
One of the things that connected us to the Jesus House was a memoir I read recently, Tattooed by Jesus (you can read my review at that link too). The book describes the chidhood of Bonnie Lentz, living in the same neighborhood where the Jesus House now sits. She experienced the lure and the bondage of drugs, the pain of abuse, and the battle with poverty as her family struggled through the daily challenges of life. After a long and arduous search for freedom, peace, and meaning, Bonnie found Jesus. Her life is a powerful testimony of the power of God’s grace and salvation, made more palpable becuase she and her husband continue to serve and reach out to people ‘on the margins’, in desperate need of the same transformation.
Monday, May 2, 2016
On Tuesday morning, April 5th, Kristi’s birthday, we learned of the passing of Walt Gerber. Walt had faithfully served as senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC) for 29 years. Even though MPPC was and is a large church, our family has always known and thought of Walt as our pastor. My Mom has often said that when Walt spoke and preached, it was as if he was speaking directly to her. I think that many people felt the same way. During his pastorate, church membership quadrupled.
MPPC, with Walt at the helm, has had a profound impact on my life. It is here that I was nurtured in the faith as a child, as a youth, and then baptized as a young adult. It is here that I was on staff for two years, receiving the call to the pastorate. It is here that I was ordained as a PC(USA) teaching elder (pastor) by the Presbytery of San Francisco. MPPC supported me while serving with African Evangelistic Enterprise in Rwanda, while I studied at Fuller Theological Seminary, and even now MPPC (now called Menlo Church) continues to generously support our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. MPPC and Walt Gerber have been central to my faith journey.
On the 1st of April Kristi and I jumped back in the saddle, serving as PC(USA) Mission Co-workers after having taken a three month Personal Leave of Absence. We are stateside, based in Bloomington, IL, until the beginning of July when our whirlwind of travel begins. The week of Walt’s passing was our second week back to work. We had been feeling some restlessness and excitement in getting back into our work groove. However, that Tuesday afternoon, after hearing of Walt’s passing, I could not fight off the idea that I should travel to California for the Memorial Service the following week. Although the timing felt bad, I could not imagine not being there. After discussing the idea with Kristi, wrestling with the idea in prayer, speaking with my parents in California, it became clear that it would be best for me to go. I bought my tickets.
At certain junctures in one’s life, one feels a sense of liminality, a sense that one is on the threshold of something new and different, looking back but also looking forward. Going “home,” out to California for Walt’s Memorial, created such feelings in me. I was able to drive along familiar routes, see old friends, be with family, step back, albeit briefly, into a life that was once so familiar. It was like fingering the pages of an old, beloved book, remembering and noting the always deepening story. I felt like I was able to reconnect with myself and my life story. Throughout the week, each time after having some special experience, my Mom would invariably say, “Walt brought you back so that you could have that special experience!” She was right. I owe this special trip to Walt.
And then the big event transpired, the actual Memorial Service for Walt. We had been told that 2-3,000 people were expected. My Mom and I arrived an hour early but only found seats two thirds of the way back in the sanctuary. Family and friends, former pastors and leaders and staff members of the church flew in from all over the country. Local members and friends of the church and family were present. It was like a giant family reunion, everyone coming back to honor someone held dearly, also reconnecting with an important part of their own story.
The actual service was an event one cannot adequately justify with words, but only treasure by experience. Some described the funeral “as one which we had probably never experienced anything like before.” Their words ring true. There was plenty of laughter, but also times of hushed holiness, acute moments teeming with poignancy and depth of feeling. Half a dozen former pastors who had served under Walt’s tutelage spoke with candor, opening up their hearts, sharing how Walt had stepped into their lives and stories, encouraging them and loving them. Scott Dudley, now serving a church in Bellevue, WA, shared how Walt helped him discern his call away from the professorship and into the pastorate. Walt “changed his life,” as Walt did for countless others.
Walt’s children also spoke. They shared deeply from the heart about a father who nurtured them and loved them. Paul, the youngest son and a friend of mine, shared so openly and candidly about his father and their family that it felt shocking, breathtaking, yet truly resonant with the transparent life Walt himself had walked before us. Paul shared how the last few years of Walt’s life were a “Job like” experience, suffering from physical and emotional ailments, including family trials, two back surgeries, a rare blood disorder which led him to a near death experience, post traumatic stress disorder, vascular dementia, and feeling abandoned and betrayed by his family as they wheeled him into a nursing care facility. Yet, in the midst of all this emotional and physical trauma, Walt was able to say, “God is in charge.” Paul concluded that he himself is 100% sure that God is proud of Walt’s resolve to believe in the goodness and mercy of God, even during Walt’s suffering of mind, body and spirit at the end. I am so thankful for the ways the Gerber family welcomed us into the heart and hearth of their lives, pulling back the curtain, allowing us to witness their joy and their pain under the backdrop of the goodness and mercy of the Lord.
Reflecting back on my own experience of Walt Gerber, it is crystal clear that his pastoral leadership cultivated a culture and a place where people experienced the grace of God and felt valued and loved. In the process of making the decision to return to California for the Memorial, with tears in my eyes at our breakfast table in Bloomington, IL, I said to Kristi, “Menlo [and Walt] has done so much for me, they have believed in me. For that reason I need to go.” Those same tears found a bookend at the Memorial Service as Paul bravely shared the suffering his father faced in his waning years, suffering which indeed reveals true faith and abiding hope.
My life is indelibly webbed into the story of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, and the life of Walter Woodworth Gerber, and for that, I am eternally grateful. Psalm 56 ends with these wonderful words, words which describe and complement Walt’s life and story -
For you have delivered my soul from death,
and my feet from falling,
so that I may walk before God
in the light of life (Psalm 56: 13)
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Yes! We are emerging from hibernation, refreshed and preparing for our travels later this year to supporting churches and individuals around the U.S. If you would like us to come your way, please let us know!
For the first time in several years, we experienced the barren, beautiful, cold of winter in the Midwest. It was kind of a shock to the system for our bodies that have gotten used to Congo’s temperate climate. We anticipated the start of spring and delighted in the early signs – flowers pushing up through the cold ground, buds on the trees, and the grass turning bright green. We appreciate the bright colors, and the new life of spring is so much more after enduring the cold dark winter. Yes, I know this winter was relatively mild, so we didn’t have it too hard!
Now that we are “re-engaged”, we look forward to updating you here more frequently about life, ongoing ministry in Kasai, and other events. We also have a newsletter coming out soon that should catch you up from our long silence. Stay tuned!