Thursday, December 19, 2013

IMMANUEL; We Drive A Lot (for Christmas)

We started this trip on August 5th. At about 5:30 in the morning, 8 of us (my tribe of 6 plus two friends) packed it up into our five seat Land Cruiser and hit the road. If you've read our blog, it's likely this story might sound familiar. Really, driving is one of the major subplots to our life. Its up there with ministry, children, and pizza. But anyway, back in August we kicked this trip off, and now it's just about to begin...

That day, we drove 20 hours in a 21 hour and fifteen minute window. We made a 20 minute lunch stop, two gas breaks which included potty time, and one official bathroom only stop. The trip started on a road in Kigoma, brought us past the salt mines of Uvinza, through the forest outside of Tabora, and over a very long stretch of nowhere and dust that somehow actually leads to Dodoma, Tanzania's official capital. Amazingly enough, the roads were suddenly nice when we hit Dodoma at about 6 pm, but the timing wasn't. As darkness fell and we pushed forward 6 1/2 more hours to Dar Es Salaam, the hazards were worse on the tarmac than they had been on the dirt.

The trucks and buses were out of control. As we passed ruins of wrecks and burned up semis, we watched truck after truck barrel toward us on the one lane road. Who knows how fast they were going. No one cares. Most of them are compromised in some way - there is no such thing as inspections or quality control. Every truck you pass is a risk for a broken axle, catastrophic tire blowout, or is driving past shining one high beam right in your face while encroaching two feet into your lane. It's survival of the biggest, baddest, and brashest. Our SUV is small potatoes, even with the giant bull-bar. At about 11:30 we passed about a hundred cars lined up behind a giant overturned cotton truck. It was an eighteen wheeler on fire. We were not going to wait. We would have been sitting ducks. About an hour past that there was a giant mob riot beginning outside of a nightclub. As we passed we were flagged down and asked to stop, and that was never gonna happen. It was the sitting duck thing again.

Needless to say we survived. There were moments it felt like that might not be the case, and I would definitely not do that again unless I had to (not in one shot at least). The truck took a few beatings. The kids - there were 5 under the age of 11 - did remarkably well. I don't know if I could have made it that long in a car ride like that except I was driving. I had a seat all to myself, even if it meant I had to pull my grip-locked fingers off the wheel when it was all over. Pulling into Dar at 1 in the morning is an interesting feeling. Especially with a car loaded with gear and luggage and a family of wazungu (white people) inside. It feels like you have neon lights flashing on you. We did at one point. The truck originally came to us with purple LED ground effects. Seriously.

Dar was a 2 day nap, with hustling for car parts and last minute travel items sprinkled in between. The flight to Turkey was a short 10 hours, but with the layover in Istanbul we had a 15 hour travel day. But who cares about that...that's the luxurious kind of travel that we love. And Turkey was incredible. Preaching to a church that now represents what is left of the Body in Ephesus was humbling. Seeing the ancient city and the church John the Apostle built there was an honor. Working alongside our family and sharing time with them in their world for the first time in years can't be aptly described. But it was so fast. It took about 16 hours to get from Izmir airport to JFK. The jet lag wasn't too bad.

Being in NY is always a blur. Family. Churches. Friends. So much history and work awaits us in NY it seems months fly by as moments. And then we were on the road again. Four hours to Jersey. Then ten hours to Savannah. Six more hours on the road to home. Our night in the hotel was good. We were almost in our own beds. Did I mention how great the kids did? I mean really, some people have trouble getting their kids through Wal-Mart. On some days, that's us. But so far I have documented about 70 hours of actual travel time and if 3 included crying kids I'd be surprised.

I'm not sure why this blog is all about driving and cars and plane flights. Probably because that's all it feels like sometimes. I mean, since we've gotten to Florida 4 weeks ago, we've put another 2,500 miles on the car. And those were the non-travel weeks. This week we'll put another 1,200, then next week it's off to Wisconsin. Then Minneapolis, Dallas, Houston, and back to FL - with a flight to California in between. By the time we go back to NY by way of VA and MI there might be another 2,000 miles on the odometer. But hey, some of you might be wondering what the point is? Why am I rambling about all this? Isn't this the life we chose? Isn't exciting to get to travel? Isn't that the price of admission???

Yes is pretty much the answer. But here's the thing: The scope of this is bigger than ever before. That's the nature of growth. Our family is bigger. Our work is bigger, both here and back in Africa. Our commitments and obligations are bigger. Our capacity is bigger. But our days are not. Time has not changed one bit believe it or not. As we add days to the schedule, the schedule stays just as long (or short) as it was yesterday. It just always gets fatter and more bloated. Those are never words I use to describe healthy things. Needless to say it makes more and more sense to me that the Lord seemed to say two things to us as we began this season. Joy will be your strength  and REST. That was all we kept hearing and all we felt as we made the turn back toward America.

We had so much ground to cover. And we are covering it. We have been very busy, but we haven't been rushed. That has been the key. Nikki and I are learning something about time this year. It's something we have taken for granted in the past. Time with our family. Time for our kids, Time with each other. Most importantly, we are learning something new about time with Him.

Everything submitted to Christ is alive. Or, if it isn't alive it gets redeemed. That means the actual value is applied to it. Even trash is worth something. There was a cost associated with it. If you burn it, it can be used for energy. When it's buried, that value is suspended because we have no access to it, and over time that paralysis can lead to true erosion of value. But the point is this - with God EVERYTHING is worth something. And that worth is eternal. Apart from God, the true value of anything cannot be applied. Our actions apart from God only lead to things that decay. Our lives apart from God are left as memorials, but in God they continue to grow, and create, and live more perfectly even after physical death.

My point is this: God has led us to a place where all of the work, all of the ministry, all of the travel, and dollars, and effort spent doing on God's behalf can only be worth something when they happen as a part of our relationship with Him. We have all heard the idea that riches are worth nothing if we can't share them with someone. Well what good was a life of sacrifice and service for God if we didn't share our love with Him daily, didn't hear His voice, and never exchanged words and thoughts of love with Him? It's not enough for us to sit at a dinner table with our families, in the house we built for them, over the steaks we provided, if we don't spend time looking each other in the eye and sharing our hearts. It's no different with God either.

So this season, as we run the race, as we stand in the gap, as we drive around the country, visiting people and churches along the way, one thing we will not miss are the moments, each and every day, where we love on God, let Him love on us, and do the same with each other. Because there - and only there - can joy be our strength. Because Christmas isn't about telling stories about hope, and tales of a savior. Christmas is about meeting that savior, about how the story of God giving Himself to us is simply an open door for us to meet Him personally and share a life with Him filled with peace and good will toward men.

In the business of your life, in the bustle of the season, don't forget to be present. Because being present is the greatest gift you can give your kids. Being present, being God With Us,  was the greatest gift He ever gave us.

Immanuel is the present.









Sunday, September 1, 2013

Coming Into Focus (Even Through A Cloudy Lens)



A few months ago, we featured our base manager and lead translator, Ibrahim, in our newsletter. We began to tell his story - the story of how he came to work with us, his heart for the Gospel, and how he loves the people we are here to minster to. There is no doubt how important he is to what we do and no way to explain how we have come to love him.

As this season here in Tanzania has taken shape, certain things have gotten clearer and easier for me to see. We have reached eight different villages so far this year - several of them multiple times - and in three of them the ministry has taken a step past the first stage of reconnaissance and evangelism. In our lead village, Kama, discipleship is firmly rooted, and the church there is not simply growing, its foundation is hardening like the setting of a concrete slab. With our first annual Pastor's Retreat, we hosted four pastor's families, that's four pastors now established in villages across a 175 mile route, either on their way, or just beginning to cultivate a reproducing indigenous church. The growth is there. Maybe not as fast as a technologically enhanced and multimedia fed American church plant can grow, but the growth is true and organic. The infrastructure is developing. Two of our pastors now have dirt bikes, and with the roads consistently improving throughout the region, so is their access to each other and more people. And in Kama, an actual church building will be completed in the next year, at the current pace.

But even with all of this beginning to take on a shape that's more than just a strategic plan for the ministry, what is coming into focus more than anything else is both encouraging me and challenging me. For me, this will never be about how many churches we plant. It will never simply be about how many salvation prayers are born from the Jesus Film village crusades. For me, this will always be about the Ibrahims.

On the heels of our Pastor's Retreat, I am amazed at what God did. Four pastors and their wives, all of which have a basic Biblical foundation at best, and all of which have an extremely limited understanding of discipleship as a process, came together and really received what was taught. As we painted a picture of discipleship in light of God's master plan for creation, we went deep after cultural bondage like the oppression of women and the lack of servant leaders. With open minds they engaged as we taught Jesus as not only the key to interpret every aspect of life, but also as the preeminent example of how humility - and not dominance or success - is the true expression of the power of God. We taught that freedom, and not religion, is the function of the church. I believe it sunk deep. I believe the Lord will use this time as a marker in this movement. But still, as we came to a close, it was evident there is so much work to do here.

Over and over this week, we could see how many fundamental truths were missing from the basic construction of their theology. These men who lack nothing in passion for, or commitment to the Gospel, are standing over gaping holes in their understanding of what it looks like to take the personal soul revolution of salvation to the nation-changing revolutions of the Body of Christ living before a nation on the altar of sacrifice. It would be arrogant, to say the least, to pretend I could tell you the exact way church planting should unfold for a people group brand new to the Kingdom. To say that would discount the place of the Holy Spirit in being the teacher and guide and presume that I can see the future and the past through more than just a vague lens. But what I can tell you is that it will follow the patterns of Jesus Christ, the God become man, who bent so low beneath us as to break himself on a cross for the sake of love. I can tell you that if you strip all of the planning and programs away, if the concepts of lowering ourselves beyond the boundaries of our cultural or personal traditions aren't worked into the very framework of our churches, then they are condemned to collapse before the paint dries.

On the final day of the retreat, I laid before the pastors a chance to boldly stare down an ancient adversary. In one of our worship sessions, as the Spirit spoke about releasing gifts through each other's blessing, I saw the husbands washing their wives' feet and then anointing them. I saw them releasing their wives into the place of honor and trust Christ has for his bride, and publicly proclaiming their partners into a role right beside them in raising their churches, not the half-step behind they dare not walk past. And after I went first, praying over my wife as I washed her feet, Ibrahim translated and then took the lead to minister to these men that all we were doing was what Jesus did with the disciples just before he was crucified. And predictably - if not with a hint of disappointment - none of them followed. They didn't have to wash feet because God does the same thing through them if they stand over their wives and lay hands on them. 

And herein lies the keys that Ibrahim, and others like him, will hold. No matter what I do, no matter how awesome God moves through us; our team, and our family will always be Wazungu. We will always be white, always be missionaries, and always be one cultural, biological, or one ancestral degree removed from these pastors. And unless the Holy Spirit tears this wall down in a sovereign move (which he may), we will always be one small excuse as to why what we do, or the way we do it, doesn't totally apply to them. But as the fire grows inside of Ibrahim, and we hear him say he feels the Lord calling him to plant the next church in a village alongside these guys, it is evident why he is so close to us and why we are investing so much in him. What began as hiring a tool to help us accomplish our task here in the hopes that he would grow while that happened, has morphed into an all-out blitz to see Ibrahim realize the fullness of Christ so he can be released into the mountains with a fire that will erupt into the atmosphere of the entire Tongwe/Pembwe tribal nation.

When a Tanzanian pastor and his wife finally overcome the traditions and bondage of their own history, everything will change. There will be no more us and them. There will be no more excuses or ways to reinterpret the move of God because it applies differently to different people. Then, and maybe only then, will people start to be totally accountable to what God is doing and saying. 

Make no mistake, in no way am I saying I don't believe God is doing a mighty work in and through these pastors. God has aligned us with them for a purpose. I have been in their villages to plant and water seeds, and I have seen the fruit of the Gospel. But the more time we spend together, the more clearly I can see the walls. And the better I am coming to understand the battering ram God is fashioning in Ibrahim and his wife. I am infinitely hopeful for these pastors because there is no end to the hope I have in the Christ who is leading us. But the way I see my victories are changing. No longer do I measure by how many people respond to altar calls, or challenges of faith and humility.

I am learning to measure my victories in the Ibrahim's God allows me to walk with; in the one truly changed person that I am privileged to serve, to lead, and to encourage. I am learning to measure my successes not through how many come and sit on the hillside and are fed in the miraculous moments. It will never be how many I reach that matters to me, but whether or not there is even one like Ibrahim. I will have succeeded if there is just one who dares to step forward in a room full of pastors, with their higher position of respect - in a culture that esteems that above all else - and challenge them to honor their wives and their Lord with a sacrifice their culture doesn't understand. I will have succeeded if I obey the mandate God has given, and if I can show just one to do the same.

With the 2013 ministry season now shifting for us from Tanzania to the States, we are encouraged to see years of work have begun to bear fruit. We are thankful that as we have been faithful to plant and water seed, the Lord has - just as his Word says - been faithful to bring the growth and maturity in many places. But above all else, we are excited that we can see someone like Ibrahim daring to put into action what he is learning, and what we are trying to live out before him. Because it's not us that God is truly preparing to release into those darkened mountains with revolution. We are simply stoking and guarding the flame. It's the Ibrahims he is going to send to light the fuse. And personally, I am glad I have a front row seat.




Sunday, July 28, 2013

Witches, Wonders, and The Dead Walking! (Otherwise known as A Day At The Office)

    So before we get rolling, it is important for me to state that the contents of my posts may not seem normal, may not happen everyday, may not even be believable - and may, to some, seem like a stretch. But I have to admit that what you see here is part of a very regular way of life for us, and it's becoming more and normal for us the longer we are here. Working in Africa is a blast. Seeing and experiencing the amazing people, places, and natural wonders are incredible. But there is NO DOUBT that the most invigorating, life-giving, uncontrollably awesome things we encounter are the things that God does; things both big and small, things both miraculous and mundane, but things altogether out of our control and which ALWAYS make this life worth living...

An Expedition Distilled


Sunday. Get up early. Finish packing the truck, run through the (still mental) checklist. Set the GoPro, make sure the music's working, and use the toilet.
Ten minutes down the road, GoPro needs adjusting. Tim broke the car door. We're just getting started. By the way, how's the new truck feel? Is the suspension ok? How do the brakes feel? Figure it out now. We're just getting started.
Power's good. A/C's cold. Been a few hours, and the roads aren't that bad. Just make it to the first stop. There's a restaurant and a hotel. Last night of sheets and a pillow...
Up early again. Truck did great yesterday. Luggage is still there, and gas mileage was awesome. But now it's time for the unknown. We'll hit the villages today. If we can pass. We heard the road was bad. There might not even be a road (earlier than we expected). No sweat. This is what we do.
The road is bad. 2 river crossings, a couple of gnarly ditches, and the bamboo shoots are wicked. It's alright, we got tires. I have good eyes on the road. I've got an awesome team. The bent tailpipe won't kill us. The crack on my bumper is cosmetic. And Tim's broken door handle...

It's always a relief when we make it to the village. The truth is, we never really know. Everything is exacerbated out here. The difficult terrain and shoddy roads. The stress on the truck. The stress on us. The effort to get food, water, and just about anything you could need. But when we land, in itself it feels like an victory. But we're just getting started.

Camp gets set up in a few hours. Dinner gets cooked in a few hours. Greeting the elders and bathing and setting up for the seminar tomorrow takes a few hours. Wait. We only have a few hours. It all gets done. It always does. But we need to keep room for the Holy Spirit...to introduce us to a witch doctor from a neighboring village. His granddaughter is sick, and he wants to see our guest doctor. Hmmm...God just opened a door for us to be invited into this guy's village. Sweet.
Early mornings just got earlier. The roosters - hundreds of roosters - begin at about 4:45 am. There's a really weird one that sounds like Howard Dean running around. If I find him, he's dinner for sure. Time for devotions. Granola with powdered milk for breakfast. That's a great bush meal.


Seminar starts at 9. We've got 4 sessions a day. Keeping villagers engaged in a class all day will be a new challenge. After 5 hours we're on the move. We have a new village to visit today. We have an appointment with a witch doctor.
90 minutes is a short hike. It was a brisk hike. We walked past leopard poop. I wish we saw the beast. I really wish we did. The villagers with us didn't. But we made it, and the stage was set. That's how things go when God sets us up with meetings like this. The baby was doing better already. She pooped in my hand as I held her. And her grandfather invited us back to his village just before he let us pray over his family in the name of Jesus. This is what we live for.

The hike back is faster than the hike there was. We're fighting dusk now. It's kind of fun to follow these guys through the grass and trees knowing they're really uncomfortable being out at this time. The leopard tracks we want to stare at are clearly not entertaining these guys as much as us. It's ok. I'm not too anxious to get back to cooking dinner and bathing and gearing up for tomorrow in the dark. The river is freezing when the sun's not up. Oh well.

Another morning, another serenade from the insane rooster and his choir of obsolete animals (the UN estimates 7 billion people have cell phones - which means they have alarm clocks). Today the seminar really gets moving. We go from lessons to interactive sessions today. There's another village to visit, and some of the witch doctor's family lives there too. Wow. Favor is going viral.
It was pretty amazing how well these guys got it. I didn't know what to expect. From our ability as teachers, to our students' ability to get comfortable in a classroom setting they aren't used to. But they got it. By the end, were even about a dozen that we certified to teach these classes. Even cooler, in the Foundations of Faith sessions, so many stepped up and were eager to pray.

Even with all of this going well, there is that one piece that we are always looking for. We're always waiting for the moments when the Holy Spirit does something you didn't have on the itinerary. Like the meeting with the witch doctor, for instance.

I Have A Spirit...

On the second night of our seminar, while dinner was being cooked by half of the team, Javen and Caitlin went to walk the village with some of the elders. There was an old lady, obviously sick, curled up under a mango tree, alone. She was cast off, it seemed; it's a strange scene, an elder not being cared for, disrespected, and all alone.

As they knelt to talk with her, it was quickly apparent that there was more wrong than just sickness. The old lady was almost unresponsive. She mumbled in vague recognition that there were people talking with her. Her words were unintelligible and she struggled to even look up and make eye contact. But there was a point where Javen addressed her assertively and as he and Caitlin began to pray with her, he gently demanded that she explain what was wrong with her. Her reply was "I have a spirit." And so was born an opportunity.

Opportunities are not so clearly set before us. We choose the direction. Here was an opportunity to pass by. Here was an opportunity to hug her and pat her on the shoulder and feel good about giving her a few minutes of precious time. Here was the opportunity to take a stand in spiritual authority. And there was the opportunity to listen and obey. Javen and Caitlin are good at choosing the latter.

The next day, the rest of our team showed up. My family was with me in the village for the first time. Steve and Donna arrived to setup the next phase of building the village church. They brought cookies. And a few extra tools and gifts. Like discernment. And sensitivity. One of mom's (Donna) greatest gifts is her ability to detach from everything, look someone in the eyes, and minster compassion. She pounced on the "opportunity" as soon as Javen and Caitlin shared it.

As mom knelt to speak with the old lady under the mango tree, it was hard not to notice the group of guys mocking. They were hanging out and drinking, not doing particularly much with their day, but found it funny someone would try to talk to "the crazy lady" again. For mom that was just fuel for ministering the love of Christ. And after ten minutes, after getting this women who we were told was mute and unable to understand, engaged in a conversation about the love of Christ, the doubters were paying attention. "God wants you to have peace," Donna told her. "He wants to spend the end of your days with you knowing who he is, knowing joy, and knowing you'll be with him one day," she went on. And after praying together with her, Donna turned to the small crowd.

She told them that they didn't know how long this old lady would be with them. She told them that they all knew what the search for peace was about and that they would see this woman would have it. She told them that her presence, for however long they would have it, was a gift. It was no more than 2 weeks later that the woman passed. But not before a great change occurred. For the time she had left in this life, she was different, she was at peace, and she shared her joy with those who had written her off. People were amazed at what had happened. And when our team returned to the village, just as her funeral was taking place, the history of her departure was changed forever to point at the mercy of Jesus Christ.

And even the mockers knew it.

That is how God sets the stage to move in people's lives. But you cannot miss the opportunity. Sew seeds - the right seeds of faith, and hope, and love - every chance you get.
        






Saturday, May 25, 2013

Expedition 2013 Kick Off!


The rains are just beginning to subside, so there is no hope yet for a truck to get down South in to the villages. However, with a dirt bike, we can make it. And so, make it we did...

Over hills and mountains.


Over rivers and streams.


We made it to the village headquarters of The Body of Christ Church in Tanzania - a new church organization formed with the help of your support, by village pastors - with the vision of seeing the unreached regions of Tanzania changed by the Spirit of God. This week our task was to greet leaders and assess where things are at for the villages as we get set to begin our season. We welcomed the awesome news that a new pastor was placed in an unreached village, and he will be a part of the pastor's retreat we host this year, with special guests Mike and Anna Dow ministering.

We will also get to do a seminar for the young church in this new village, as well as show the Jesus Film there for the very first time.

The end of the rains always brings stories of hardship, and one of our outreaches will be to a village where 196 homes were destroyed by swollen rivers flooding, costing two people their lives. Our goal will be to simply love and pour out blessings on them in their time of rebuilding.

All in all, this was a great start to the season, even if John wrecked (at least temporarily) the new bike we got; laying it down on cheese-grater rocks will do that. At least the sprain and minor burns were the worst of it for John. The bike will be fixed in no more than 10 days.




Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lukas The Lion Hunter

There is an ancient Maasai legend that tells of a warrior who would eventually have an encounter with God. Along this warrior's journey, he faced many things that were strange and supernatural, but each was a test of his character. At each juncture, the warrior was given a chance to choose immediate satisfaction and worldly blessings, or if he resisted and persevered in his pursuit of God, he would receive a blessing only God could give.

As this warrior pressed on, he passed by the temptations of worldly power and chose to sacrifice for a greater reward. Eventually, the warrior met his destiny and was invited into the presence of God, where he was rewarded with flocks and herds of God's livestock. He no longer had to raid and fight for his provision.

However, upon his return home, his brother saw all he was given and decided, against the warrior's counsel, to try to go and get the same blessings from God. In his own strength this attempt was futile, and as he chose instant gratification and worldly blessings along his journey, he was eventually rejected by God and sent home. All he kept were the things he had accumulated on his journey, namely, a sword, an ax, and other weapons. In the end, this brother - prideful and ambitious - was condemned to continue in a life of fighting to survive, and would not be blessed with the abundance only God gives.


This year, we have had the pleasure of hiring a young man named Lukas as one of our gatekeepers and guards. Lukas comes from a Maasai family in Ngorongoro, an area of northern Tanzania famous for its breathtaking landscapes, wildlife safaris, and Maasai villages. It is, as the Maasai believe it to be, God's country.

Lukas is an incredible young man. He has qualities unusual to many Tanzanian people groups (as do many Maasai). He is tall and athletically built, he is industrious and hard-working, and to this date we have seen him to be a man of principal and character. Not to indict all Tanzanians, but these are cultural characteristics often lacking in this impoverished African nation. And as a Maasai man, he is often treated by his own countrymen as an outcast or an unwelcome stranger. But even in barren lands there are diamonds in the rough to be found.

Lukas has told us many stories of the Maasai rites of passage, of his village life back in Ngorongoro, and of his family and their plight. We have asked why he is here, how he got halfway across the country to Kigoma, and what he wants out of life. With every story we are told we have been impressed by a young man working hard to support his aging mother and young siblings, and who never has asked for anything from us besides what he has worked for already.

Recently, in an evening worship time our family and team was having, Donna felt it heavy on her heart to invite him in and to pray over him. She had said she saw him being washed by the presence of God, and felt as if there was something the Lord wanted us to know in regards to Lukas. So we responded to the prompting of the Spirit, and Lukas joined us for a time. As the time unfolded, we felt led to ask him if there was anything he was concerned about.

For the next 30 minutes  Lukas told us about his mother. She is raising four young children alone in a poor village in Ngorogoro, and fighting a chronic illness of some 15+ years. As her eldest son, he has spent the last several years bearing the burden of trying to work to support her and get her what is at best shoddy medical care. He is indebted to friends, family, and neighbors for the help they have offered him, to the point that his burden is virtually impossible to overcome with the finances and work he is able to get. Again, his story came with no hint of a request for our help. All he wanted was work so he could take care of his own business. Needless to say, our hearts broke for him and we began to seek God about how to help.

In the culture we live in, the need for money is constant and urgent. Everyone we know needs money they simply cannot earn. Almost everyone we know here is one bad accident, or one serious fever, from a catastrophic event that could render them helpless or handicap them for years to come. Many are so desperate that simple disease or injury begins a chain reaction that culminates in a senseless death. But nonetheless, even in spite of what we have, we simply cannot answer with money all of the time. It's not only unrealistic to try to fund the solution to every problem we are presented with, but it often backfires into an unhealthy reliance that further decays a person's ability to create solutions of their own.

In any case, we are here for one purpose - building people - and we are willing to use whatever means we have to do that as the Spirit of God leads us. With Lukas, we felt we needed to try and get his mom some real medical care - to at least once get a clear diagnosis of her problem and be able to help him make a real plan that could lead to some sort of improvement.

Last week, Lukas began a journey home to get his mom, place his siblings in the safe care of some neighbors, and bring her to a doctor here in Kigoma from the U.S. We are praying that this Maasai man has an encounter with God on his journey, and meets a God whose loving kindness is overwhelming. We believe that Lukas, who already calls Jesus his lord, would get to see the goodness of his God in action. As a man whose tribal culture sees character, humility, and perseverance as noble traits worthy of God's reward, we hope he sees the hand of God move in this moment in a way that his own nobility could never deserve, and that the free grace of our awesome God is actually looking for ways to reach into his life at every turn.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Over The River And Nowhere Near Granny's House...

Let me tell you a story. 

I think you might laugh. I hope you don't cry. But no matter what happens, I hope you are ready for the ride! By the way, I did both - laughed and cried - and sometimes I got the two confused and let them both out together. It's all good.

THURS JULY 5, 2012: Tanzanian DL officially issued; I can drive motorcycles and non-commercial cars and light trucks. YES!




 DAY 1, SAT JULY 7, 2012: (Left to right) The Three Amigos - Javen, John, and Ibrahim gear up, load up, and ride off on two 150cc motorcycles for a 320km trip over dirt roads, mountain trails, rivers, and whatever else the compass brought us to when our coordinates no longer landed on paths. Pay attention to the smiles...




About 2 hours into the ride we hit the Malagarassi River crossing at Ilagala. Do these bikes swim?




Um, you guys look like you know where you're going, do you mind chatting for a while with the lost white guys? BTW, I have an Advil if you have a headache.




Ahhhh yes, Herembe. The animated signage reminds me of Orlando... 


...I am so glad that this sign was posted on our way back from washing our faces in the lake. Makes total sense. STOP AND READ THE SIGN BEFORE GOING FURTHER.




One of the disappointing things about the trip was that the gas stations didn't have a nacho cheese spout. 




Javen makes it look so smooth. He is an easy rider.




Some guy tried to tell us this was a ferry crossing and we needed to pay to load up his boat and cross this river. Seriously, I am just kidding.




That bottle is called a LifeSaver; it is an awesome water filter. After drinking from some of the rivers we passed, the fact that we are still alive leads me to belive it worked. 




That's another way to cross a river.




DAY 1, 8 HOURS INTO RIDING: I  must say, the pictures and videos we have don't tell the full story. These trails were at times 50 degree slopes with loose shale or stones. We carried between 50 and 90 lbs of dead weight each, plus I had a rider on the back. So that scream wasn't just heat stroke.




The truth is, Ibrahim got off the bike for many reasons. 25% of the time it was because I asked him to. 25% was because the 150cc go-kart couldn't safely handle the load. 50% was plain fear that I was gonna kill him trying to ride him through some of these trails.




DAY 1, 12 HOURS AFTER DEPARTURE: We made camp at Lubilizi Village. The ride score like this:
JOHN - 2 falls, 1 lost foot pedal, 1 mangled foot brake, and 1 nasty knee scrape. JAVEN - 0 falls, 0 damage.




DAY 2, 1 HOUR INTO THE RIDE: If this is how things are gonna go today, HELP! Again, must I remind you that this video was filmed on a bending 50 degree mountain slope with loose rocks -on a 150cc bike! Stop laughing!




This river crossing means we are close - AND - that I probably should have put the camera down and helped these guys.




I can handle this, no sweat!




DAY 2, 8 HOURS AFTER DEPARTURE: We have made it to Kamabwinsofu - and this man is helping me piece the bike together.




Peter, the makeshift mechanic's son, had a large ringworm on his head. We treated him before we left and are anxious to see the results...




DAYS 3 - 4, IN THE VILLAGE: Javen and Ibrahim takin' a minute to kick it with Bato.




These kids loved our bikes. Can you believe these little toys even had spinning wheels!




This picture was from the last expedition where our team left the village with their first copies of complete Bibles! Nothing like getting into the Old Testament just before some discipleship & teaching sessions...




Now this was fun. First, get your butt kicked by a rooster (see the bloody knee). Second, apprehend the rooster and tell it all sorts of things about Genesis Chapter 1 and how God gave you dominion to rule over it. Third, exact revenge on the rooster and use what remains of him to provide a feast for the Pastor and his family. Redemption.




The utilitarian approach.




The payoff! Chicken in peanut sauce and beans in Sicilian lentil soup over rice...




And this is why we came. Teaching and Q&A about Jesus, walking with the Lord, and the Bible. We even had the women included (progress).




Praying together always rocks. The questions ranged from "what can we eat?" to "when do we repent?" to "how do I walk with Jesus and have 2 wives?" Good thing Mitt Romney wasn't with us.




There is something about worship that transcends language. And the drums are really cool.




DAY 5, 5 HOURS AFTER LEAVING THE VILLAGE: Up to this point, the picture taking was sparse; probably because of the slew of uncool and time-killing things that we encountered. First, 90 minutes into our ride, my gear pedal fell off because I forgot to tighten it before we left. Lost an hour easy there. Then, about 45 minutes later, I wrecked the bike doing about 25mph and used my face to soften the fall (another hour gone). That wasn't the best move, since it resulted in a concussion, temporary disorientation and memory loss. At least Javen got to use the skills we learned as wilderness first responders to keep the situation calm and under control. www.SOLOSCHOOLS.com if you wanna learn too...




Yep, still alive. BTW, notice the slight changes to the smile?




Good thing they made an underwater bridge out of small, uneven boulders. For a minute, we were wondering why that made any sense at all!?




We made it!




DAY 5, 10 HOURS AFTER DEPARTURE: We are camping tonight in a village we have never been before, with a family that welcomed us so warmly!




Dude made us a nice fire. I am delirious.




DAY 6, 2 HOURS AFTER DEPARTING (and only 4 hours to home!): Are you serious!? NOW! On top of a mountain! Ten minutes from the nice road!!!




Gotta say, I am gonna talk to God about the fly thing when I get to Heaven. Seriously, not on the top ten list of best creations in my book.




DAY 6, 5 HOURS INTO THE TRIP: Yeah the first genius way to patch the tire didn't actually prove too genius...At least we moved 20 minutes further before all of the air escaped again. By the time this finished, we lost 5 HOURS ON FLAT TIRES! 

It is here we end our story. With about 5 more hours of riding we cruised home in a single shot fighting leg cramps, headaches, butt chaffing, and darkness. But we made it. All for 2 days of Bible teaching and Q&A. It was a blast. 

And well worth it. Can't wait to do it again. After I update my life insurance.


To learn more about John & Nikki and TNT's ministry around the world, please visit our website:

If you wish to donate, please click this DONATE link and follow the giving instructions.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Always On (African) Time


     One of the things you are forced to deal with quickly in Africa is the fact that clocks and watches serve an entirely different purpose on this continent than they do in the Americas. As American children are nurtured into a life of productive citizenship, we are taught the clock, like the bank statement, has the power to administer cosmic justice in your life which can leave you out of a job, without a meal, or sleeping on the couch. If we miss the clocks's call, we are subject to a wrath directly proportionate to the time we have stolen from that cold, ever-ticking harbinger of judgment.
     Forget culture shock. In Africa you experience something more like a step into another dimension - a visit to the twilight zone where things seems like they can and should operate normally, but simply don’t. People wear watches because they’re cool and they fit around their wrists and should simply be there. Clocks hang on walls just because every office needs a clock to be an office, right? “Hours of operation” is a  loosely used figure of speech which alludes to the idea that someone works here rather than serving the logical  purpose of telling you when they will work here.
     No one is exempt from this unwritten African law.
     Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found a way to levitate over this chasm of perspectives. As best we try, our ministry gets sucked into the quagmire of whenever. Commerce has been swallowed by the beast. Government - as anyone could well imagine, never had a chance. And so we prepared to set out for our last village expedition into the Southern Mountains, with a plan to spend time with the pastor who has been standing for Christ in a village with roots deep in witchcraft and ancestral worship.
     We were looking forward to getting out to the village and walking with Pastor Moshi, talking with the men he is leading, and getting to look deeply into how the Gospel is taking root and where strength is needed. This village will be the epicenter of a move of God that burns throughout some of the most remote areas of Tanzania. And we were ready to hit the ground running, arm in arm.
     But there was one minor detail that needed to be ironed out. In recent months, the Tanzanian government has been cracking down on "work" activities by non-residents or visitors. Ministry, regardless of whether it is volunteer or for profit, has been deemed a "work related activity," and so we would have to wait on proper permitting. The good news was these permits are a one day process. The bad news was that based on the African clock, one day events can happen repeatedly  - in this case for ten days straight - and still fall reasonably within the prescribed time for the job.
     Oh, but Thank You Jesus  for being eternal, and for not being led by time. You know Romans tells us that "God works all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose." Good thing we are in business for him, because the only way waiting ten days for a one day permit seems reasonable is if God was orchestrating something special in the background. You see, there is a residency permit in Tanzania that allows you to live in the country for 2 years, to take part in "work related activities," and for the most part act as quasi citizen of this fine nation. And at the end of our ten days of African clock-watching, those of us new to the team all had a form of this residency permit. Never mind that it is valid only for 3 months because we were leaving back to America in that time. Never mind that in order to apply for residency permits in Tanzania you must be outside of the nation's borders - we never stepped off Tanzanian soil and still were permitted. Never mind that approval for residency sometimes takes up to 12 months. We were approved in 10 days! And now we're in the system. Sweet deal.
     In case you don't already know, let me tell you how things go with the God I serve. He is pretty much awesome. Every time he does something it is more incredible than I expected. Every time I am ready to describe what I see him do, I am blown away by the ways he moved that I didn't see. Even in my pain and trouble, he has been closer than anyone I have ever known. And yes, even in the midst of this African time-warp bureaucracy, he was there. He was there from the immigration office in Tanzania, all the way through our 2 day, 16 hour drive to the village. He was there as we crossed makeshift bridges in the truck, with the trailer in tow. He was there as we drove over spike-like bamboo shoots. He was there as we pulled into the village and met not only the budding church, but also as the drunks and castaways came to see what all the buzz was about.
     He is always there. He is always there and always doing something awesome we don't see. In this case, by the time we left the village, nearly three weeks after we began the process of permitting and waiting, he had prepared for us and Pastor Moshi a wonderful platform to move into the next phase of our ministry. With help from Moshi and a passerby who happened to come through the village while we were there (thanks, time-warp) we identified 5 new unreached villages which we are setting out for in the coming days. The village's biggest maker of alcohol gave his life to the Lord and publicly shouted to the village that he was turning from his addiction to Christ while we baptized him. Then the former king took his place as a son of God and did the same.
     According to my Google calendar, this trip ran a little late. I'm glad God obviously doesn't sync his calendar to mine.
     What a trip.




Email AFRICANFIVE@gmail.com to receive this newsletter.