As much fun as it was gallivanting through the London streets, I confess: I breathed a sigh of relief as Bill and I boarded our final flight.  This second red-eye (from London to Nairobi) proved a little more true to its name.  (Excitement?  Nerves?  Vertical tilt?  Let’s just say it was thrilling to hear our flight crew announcing arrival in Nairobi.)

Getachew (far left below), our in-Kenya co-host (along with Alison Barfoot, next photo) met us on the other side of customs.  They took us for an American breakfast and then directly to our guest house to nap.  (Do these guys know how to welcome foreigners or what?!  Their gracious hospitality during every moment of our stay continues to blow my mind!)

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After a nice long nap for recovery (I’ve never been good with that “don’t sleep jet-lag recovery” strategy), Bill & I spent the afternoon swapping life-stories with Alison & Getachew.  One of Bill’s friends/seminary classmates, Mueni, (who lives in Nairobi) stopped over for about an hour of conversation.  (We’ll get more time with her next week.)  In the evening, the entire crew (minus Mueni) met up with my dear friends, Luke & Lillian (and, of course, their three beautiful children).  It was a wonderful reunion of old friends and new–an easy and delightful “first day” on the ground in Nairobi.

Things are beginning to ramp-up.

Today, Bill & I woke up early to join Mueni and her father, Motava, for the 7 a.m. Anglican service in downtown Nairobi.  It was fun to see that part of the city; the morning’s liturgy was beautiful.  We returned to our guest house just in time to depart again w/Getachew and Alison for church at Evangelical Victory Church (EVC).

The rest of today was spent in worship and fellowship with folks from this congregation.  They are an amazing faith-community, located in the Kairobangi slum neighborhood of Kenya.  (We’re told this is the second largest slum in Kenya, after the more infamous Kibera.)  EVC is known as the “church on the road” because of it’s position (you guessed it) … smack in the middle of a road.  There has been some tension with the Kairobangi leadership/government? (no surprise) and the church is under pressure to relocate, but … where?!img2008-11-16_0024

Literally thousands of people gather together for Sunday morning worship.  The children’s services are so large … EVC now hosts them as separate early morning events (plural form here, since the number of children in attendance requires several gathering spaces).  Then it’s on to Swahili/Women’s Fellowship services (9-11am), corporate worship (11am – 2:00pm), and — finally — the EVC youth servcies (4-6pm).

Several of the pastors/workers we’ll be serving together with during our conference (beginning tomorrow) spent the day with us.  (One of whom is Pastor Woche, pronounced “ho-chey” … sort of!)  Many of them have been working with this EVC congregation for years.  They describe this church as the “missional engine” behind the ministry happening in N/NE Kenya.  (The work Bill & I have traveled to learn about and – in some small way – support.)  Each of the stories we hear continues to increase my own (1.) disbelief in God’s power/goodness (how can it be that God has done this?!) and (2.) sobriety that I have been invited here, to join in fellowship with my brothers/sisters.  (Today at church, we heard testimony from a young man who accepted Christ two weeks ago.  Part of a rebel militia group, he had for years lived to seek revenge for his brother’s murder, claming the lives of many … until God transformed him through the Gospel of Christ.)

This evening, the conference leadership team we’re a part of met to discuss our specific “plans” (always held loosely here) and the conference participants themselves.  The stage is set for significant ministry & training.  Please be in prayer for traveling mercy (we’ll spend 5-6 hours in a jeep tomorrow; many of the conference participants will have been traveling for days).  Pray also for the cultural translation that needs to take place in the coming days.  (Five different languages were employed in today’s service at EVC, if that gives you any idea; the conference will involve even more diverse – and strategic – leaders.  I’m told nine out of the ten tribes listed as “unreached people groups” in N. Kenya will send representation to our gathering.)  Pray also for the reconciliation of Christ to find full expression as we all gather.  (Many are coming despite long-standing tribal grievances … to say nothing of the cultural/economic/social diversity inherent in our group.)

Only God can assemble, equip, bless, and use a group like this.

Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4

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the countdown is on …

November 10, 2008

In less than three days, I’ll be boarding a plane for Nairobi, Kenya.  My friend/colleague, Bill Gorman, is joining me for the big adventure!  Together, we’ll be exploring the prospect of more long-term partnership (what it might look like for folks from my community here in KC to engage in collaborative-relationship with our Kenyan brothers & sisters).

One of the most exciting things about my travel is a reunion of sorts with one of my grad-school classmates & his family: Luke & Lillian Jaoko.  We became close friends during my years in Chicago.

Here’s Luke with his youngest, Sheenah (born during our last year of seminary).  My roommate & I broke with all cultural-sensitivity and threw the Jaoko’s one big-phat-baby-shower.  (Complete with the competitive relay: “cell-phone-on-your-ear, baby-on-your hip, laundry-basket-in-your-hand … hanging-clothes-on-the-line.”  My team kicked-butt.)  But I digress …memory-card-1-pictures-045

Luke & Lillian: two of the most heroic people I will ever meet.  I’m incredibly honored to know them; ecstatic about our reunion.

Sobered by the many other heroes I will be meeting in the coming weeks.  (I’m dousing myself in Ephesians 4 these days; praying some of it will somehow get down deep inside me.)  Your prayers for God’s gracious work in and through me are coveted …

surely we can change

November 3, 2008

Because tonite I need to believe it …

imagination & creativity

October 29, 2008

I’m teaching a session on God’s design — as it relates to imagination & creativity — this week.  My preparatory study has been exhilerating.  (More in a future post?)

I’ve stumbled upon a new on-line acquaintance (I hope to make friend): Gregory Wolfe.  (Have you met him already?)  Mr. Wolfe is saying some things I think Jesus’ followers need desperately to hear.

I was indicted by his article Art, Faith, & Stewardship of Culture with [his] reference to “unwitting disciples of Karl Marx” and delighted by his article In God’s Image: Do Good People Make Good Art and the correlative concept that creativity is a constant invitation to virtue.  (Of course, both of these bits need badly the thoughtful and nuanced context provided with their respective articles in full-length.)

It’s so encouraging that some fellow sojourners are using their creative gifts to engage with our wide-world … in many of its dimensions.

The whole creation will be set free from its bondage to decay, to share the liberty of the glory of the children of God. And are you and I not going to work for that in the present? We won’t build the Kingdom of God by our own efforts in the present; it remains God’s gift by his grace and by his power. But we can produce signs of the Kingdom in love and justice and beauty and healing and fresh community work of all sorts, internationally, locally, all over the place. And thereby celebrate the whole biblical story, the whole biblical story.

–N.T. Wright, The Christian Challenge in the Postmodern World

So anyway, the top six critiques aimed at Christians are as follows: they’re judgmental, hypocritical, sheltered, antihomosexual, too political, & proselytizers.

Whether or not the research/polls reflect actual experiences Christians have had with non-Christians (or vice versa), these findings constitute the need for some important conversation.  Reality or mere perception, the fact of the matter is that something underneath all of this is shaping the perspective of our culture as it views the Christian (sub-culture?).  Some form of Christian externalization (i.e., Christian-expression) is giving way to objectification (fixed beliefs/systems/structures), such that ALL of us (Christian or no) smile and nod (frown?!) knowingly at the one-dimensional “Christian” taking stage.  (It must be said: that Christian isn’t exactly lauded amongst either saints or sinners.)  Something seems to have gone awry …

I think one of the most important questions raised during last night’s lecture was addressed to Christians in the room: how do you (intentionally or unintentionally) reinforce such common (mis)perceptions?  (Implicit here: how do you wish to be known?  How are you working for/against that?)

Also thought-provoking: what are the unique challenges & opportunities associated with these reigning perceptions (about “the Christian”)?

As I pondered these questions, I settled on three different “ways of being” I think Christians ought to further explore.  They involve our approach to: our language (how might we encourage & host the most important questions about our faith?), our proximity (how might we be more present — or more meaningful in our presence — in spaces not yet transformed by God’s redemption?), and our fear (how might we release concerns about our own [spiritual, physical, emotional] safety & well-being in order to follow Christ in faith and obedience?)

Our approach to all of the above feels tenuous to me.  Pitfalls, I suppose, exist at every turn.  (Beyond that, isn’t such arbitrary analysis [such as I’ve undertaken here] wrong-headed from the start?  Who ever thinks she’s become that [judgmental, hypocritical, sheltered, antihomosexual, critical, oober-evangelistic] Christian?!  Better to simply get on with the business of being who God’s called you to be, no matter the perceptions?  After all, it may be only your pride pushing you to be a Christian of the other kind.)

I dunno.  (Much.)

But I do know I tried (just a little more) to be (just a little less) “Christian” when tonite over dinner I found myself in discussion about homosexuality & politically incorrect humor.  Waving back the cigarette smoke, I sat and wondered at the grace that made Jesus the unlikely (unChristian) hero of the one & only Christian story.  May that Jesus be born in me.

Nathan was found abandoned outside of a mudpit-latrene last year in Rwanda.  After a bit of time in the hospital & police custody, Nathan was given into the safe-keeping of New Hope Homes (a home for abandoned children in Rwanda).  This is where Nathan will stay until Anthony & Leslie bring him home later this fall.

Anthony & Leslie shared this brief story with our faith-community earlier today.  It was so honest & heartfelt.  (There wasn’t a dry-eye in the room.)  My favorite line came from Leslie who said something like, “we have had fears about this: can we love Nathan like we love our other three girls?  can we handle another child under 4 years of age?  can we thrive as a bi-racial family?  how will I do Nathan’s hair?  But we have chosen to believe that these concerns pale in comparison to the great gift God is giving to Nathan & our family in bringing us together [Jt’s paraphrase].”

I’m so grateful God has given to our congregation a life-sized illustration of what it might mean to care for the least of these …