“I shined the light, and the man fell down”

david and violetThis is David, along with his wife, Violet, and four of their six children. David is a pretty big guy. Our two oldest boys were testing his strength this morning, and they found it amusing that he could pick up 13 year-old Jonah with one arm and hold him in a seated position on his bicep.

I’m not sure how long David has been a part of our fellowship…maybe six months? He and Isaiah somehow became fast friends when Isaiah was overseeing a bunch of guys (including David) as they dug a local fish pond. In fact, the effort to communicate with David (who speaks very little English) was what made Isaiah functionally fluent in Swahili.

David had been living somewhat far away when he responded to the message of the Kingdom and was baptized. That, combined with the fact that he struggles with reading (as far as we know), made for a slow process of discipleship. At one point, the church elders had to address a significant issue with him, but he showed sincere repentance and one of the next steps was a willing move to a location closer to the fellowship so that he could grow stronger spiritually. He lived right across the path from us for a while, was forced to move, and then found another place across the main road. There are several brothers who live near each other there, so it’s a great way for them all to mutually encourage one another. The accountability has also been good for David.

One thing we’ve all noticed about David is that he’s a really good Dad. His children obviously love and respect him and he’s cared for them well as his wife has recently struggled with illness. However, Isaiah (who spends a lot of time at David’s house) did report that David has a bit of a temper when the children misbehave.

Sunday at our communion meal, a large group of about 20 adults ate together and then were encouraged by our brother Sam to examine ourselves in preparation for sharing in the body and blood of Christ. This is always a quiet and introspective time and although public confessions are encouraged, they are somewhat rare. Such a thing is just not a part of African culture. This week, however, was an exception. Many stood to confess and share their struggles and ask for prayer. David was one of them–the first time he’s publicly shared during our fellowship meal.

The night before, he had been sleeping at his home farm some distance away. He still has a house there, which has a sleeping mat and a few other things in it because he stays there when it’s time to plant or harvest beans or maize. Although a vacant house is usually an invitation for robbery or vandalism, David’s brothers live close by so there have thus far been no problems. However, on this particular Saturday night as David was sleeping, he reported that he was awakened by some unusual noises outside the house. He went out with his spotlight and found nothing, so returned to bed.

Some time later, he was abruptly awakened by some more noises. Though nothing obvious, he knew it meant trouble. He said that he got out of bed and stood by the window. (His house is a mud-and-stick construction with one window and one door, which is typical in our area.) Soon, water began to seep in around the window and he guessed that there were three men outside trying to break through the wall and enter the house. He simply waited quietly in the dark with a fimbo (a straight club with a large round ball on one end, which can easily finish someone) and a flashlight in his hands.

Eventually, one of the men worked his way in, leaving his two friends outside. David reported that he struggled internally; his strong reaction was to beat the man and cause the robbers to leave. (You must understand that here, robbers don’t just come to steal and then quietly leave. In the face of any opposition, they typically have and use machetes or knives to defend themselves. It’s kill-or-be-killed, since any robbers caught in the act are typically subject to vigilante justice, often having petrol poured on them and a match lit.)

However, David said, he had “another voice” telling him not to follow his natural reaction. Instead, he quickly positioned himself in front of the broken-through wall and shined his spotlight in the face of the intruder. In his own words, he “shined his light, and the man fell down!” He told the man, “You will not get out of here!” and tied his hands together. He then called his brothers, and the men all stood watch until morning, when it was determined that the man was a neighbor and should be freed without repercussions. His friends had already fled.

I wondered, if David had not sinned against the man, why was he standing to confess? And then he admitted that he felt that his feelings of anger were sin and he was asking for forgiveness and prayer.

After the Communion meal, we talked as a family. Marc wondered aloud if, when David said, “he shined his light and the man fell down!,” that was an African way of confessing that he had turned on his flashlight and then beamed the guy in the head with the club. (This is not a big stretch if you understand the differences between our Western-style of communication and their Eastern style.) So he sent Isaiah to David’s house to “confirm.” As it turned out, David did, indeed, refrain from doing harm to the man, choosing instead to “love his enemies” and “not resist an evildoer,” as Jesus had commanded. The intruder, expecting to break through the wall into an empty house, was probably just greatly surprised to find that he was not alone. Given David’s size, I can understand his reaction.

With the struggles we sometimes face in the lengthy and difficult process of discipleship, David’s testimony of this weekend stands as a great encouragement not only to us, but to our entire fellowship. It demonstrates the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of Jesus’ teachings and God’s upside-down Kingdom, and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us walk in that truth, even when our flesh would prompt us to do otherwise. Join me in praising God and in praying for David and others in our fellowship here who are striving to enter the narrow gate and follow the path that leads to eternal life.

“How are you Loving your Neighbor?”

2014-07-31 10.44.18

Peter’s recent baptism

During our Sunday morning fellowship, all the men are free to share  as the Holy Spirit leads.The interactive service is usually encouraging, often interesting, and sometimes just l-o-n-g. In African culture, wazee (old men) are respected, and since our church boasts many of them, it’s not uncommon for all of them to feel compelled to say “something.” This week, one of our newly-baptized wazee, Peter (I think he is about 80 years old), sang us a worship song, which brought a smile to my face.

However, mostly I am still thinking about what Nashon shared…wish I had a picture of him to show you, but the fact that we don’t might tell you something about how shy he is. Marc sometimes takes him along for assistance with translation, and if he’s struggling with words or if something strikes him as humorous, he often gets a hard-to-control case of the giggles. Nashon is (I think) 23 years old, which here in Kenya is still considered a “youth.” (A youth can actually be as old as 30!) But his challenge to all of us during this week’s fellowship showed a wisdom that perhaps even the wazee would envy (though I’m sure they would never say so).

Many spoke about loving one another this week (must have been a Holy Spirit theme) and I don’t think I could even summarize all of what Nashon had to say, but really, it was only one statement/question which made me think, and perhaps even challenged me:

People find it easy to love someone who is far away. But you, how are you loving your neighbor?

And isn’t it true? When we lived in America, it was “easy” to send money to this cause, that person…all good, and certainly something we should all do. I’m not knocking financial giving. But at the same time, I could be challenged to love those closest to me in practical ways (even my family members) when I had to see all the attitudes and behaviors in them that I didn’t like, deal with situations that weren’t easy or comfortable, and see in myself all the areas needing improvement as a result.

How often do we all willingly give or do things for others who are “far away” (i.e., perhaps not intimately involved in our lives), but neglect to really love (in word and deed) those closest to us? Why is it that others so often see our good sides, while we “let it all hang out” at home and let those we’re supposed to love the most see us at our very worst?

As a fellowship, we got back together at 6 PM for our communion meal. Our brother  Sam opened up the fellowship by sharing a bit, and I don’t know if he meant to continue on the morning’s theme, but he also talked about loving others and wondered,

If someone went and talked to your neighbor, what would he say? Would he say that you are a Christian?

It’s true that we all will only stand before God in judgment and that no man can know another’s heart…but at the same time, a tree is known by its fruit. The people we are closest to are the ones who should be witness to our “fruit.” And they are, whether it be good or bad.

You, how are you loving your “neighbor”? If someone went and talked to your neighbor, what would he say?

On Feeling Like an “Outsider”

Recently we got a chance to visit with a fellow missionary family here in the Kitale area, which was a great blessing. During the course of our  conversation, I was asked if (now that we have been here in Kenya for almost two years), we feel like we have really “integrated” into the community here. My answer was mostly no, but I’ve been thinking about the subject off and on ever since.

In one sense, I think we have integrated as much as we possibly can. Local children no longer chase after us yelling, “Mzungu, Mzungu, how are you?” everywhere we go. Our children are no longer harassed by constant attention (stares, poking, prodding, and pushing) when they are out and about in the neighborhood. I am blessed to see our yard full of smiling and laughing brown faces in addition to the eight white faces of our children on most afternoons. Even better, I like to hear the back-and-forth conversation in Swahili as the children play. Even Enoch (age 2) has picked up an impressive little vocabulary. I laugh when he asks his friend Nila, “Taco nini?“. What he really means is, “Unataka nini?” or, “What do you want?” but of course he’s only two…and he doesn’t understand that everyone is giggling at him not just because he’s adorable, but because taco is a bit of a crude word in Swahili.

Crowds of kids no longer line up along our fence and stare for hours on end; it’s only during school vacations when children visit from farther-away places that we can’t name each and every one of our little guests.  And we no longer welcome a seemingly unending stream of adult visitors who are trying to figure us out. Most people know who we are and why we are here.

Hosting a home fellowship is a small part of our “mission” here, and it’s really just a means of showing people how it’s done so that more local home fellowships will be birthed; we have little interest in spear-heading a mzungu-centric “church.” Our first attempt at house-churching attracted way too much attention–too many people, all committed to other local churches and not coming out of much beyond curiosity–or a desire to garner the favor of the wazungu. But even that has changed; now the majority of folks come for the purposes of fellowship and discipleship and we rarely have visitors  who don’t sincerely want to know more about the Gospel of the Kingdom and what it means to live as a follower of Christ. So even in that regard, I feel a much greater sense of acceptance and effectiveness.

We have different ways of doing things, all oddities to our neighbors and the subject of much conversation at first: we don’t really like ugali; we homeschool; we don’t really believe (as most people here seem to) that it takes a village to raise a child and children should be seen and not heard; we are certainly more technologically advanced than most folks around here; and of course, we have a larger house and more possessions than almost everyone we know. All these differences have, for the most part, been slowly accepted as a part of who we are and, though we are obviously different, we’re no longer viewed as “outsiders,” as much as we were at first. We’ve been welcomed, accepted, and, as much as is possible, integrated into our community.

On the other hand, there are ways in which I don’t think we can ever really integrate. Learning Swahili has been a struggle and, though most of us can follow a simple conversation and make small talk, it will be a long time before we’re fluent enough to hold a meaningful conversation. This is particularly difficult when it comes to ministry and fellowship/discipleship. Relying on translation is a necessary discomfort for me; I know I am missing out on so much in the development of relationships and greatly wish that there was better integration in that regard. We would be much more effective for the Kingdom if circumstances were different but I trust that God can work through us even with our limitations.

As well, there is  much that we cannot culturally comprehend, as we have a very Western mind-set and and ingrained lifestyle that is very different from what is normal here. We’ve learned, and continue to learn, much about communication, realities of life here, and ways of doing things; but without first-hand experience we often find ourselves, by default, on the “outside.” I don’t know if we can ever really overcome these differences, any more than we will cease to be an oddity simply because of the whiteness of our skin.

But in spite of the awkwardness and the discomfort that are the inevitable outcome of so many meetings and conversations, I have hope. I know that God can use us in spite of our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). I trust that it is His work that is being done and that there is much more being accomplished than what I can see with my own eyes. And I understand more and more what it means to be “in the world but not of the world” (for example, John 15:19).  Hebrews 11 speaks of those who walk in faith as people who confess to being “strangers and exiles on the earth,” and the Apostle Peter urges us to live as examples to those around us, because we are “aliens and strangers” here. Feeling, in some ways, not totally integrated into our community here, just reminds me of how God wants me to view my citizenship here on earth. In many ways, a certain level of discomfort is good. The seemingly unending self-assessment that we go through as a result of the many cultural differences is equally beneficial.

Truthfully, sometimes I feel like it would be easier to go back to America–where we fit in better, and where relationships would be more natural and more effective for discipleship. I don’t think we will ever totally “integrate” here, but maybe we aren’t meant to. We’re being stretched, we’re growing, and we will accomplish whatever is God’s will for us to accomplish while we are here.  As with everything, we trust that God is working all things for good and for His glory.

More than “church”

Being part of the Body of Christ means more than just meeting Sunday-to-Sunday. We’ve long known that, experienced it in our home fellowship in America, and have only prayed for it here. It has been greatly encouraging to see our little fellowship flourish during our Sunday meetings…but this past week, we’ve seen the Holy Spirit at work, enabling all of the brothers and sisters here to function as a true body of believers. Unfortunately, it took some trials and struggles for everyone to see it, but God is just that good–even when bad things happen.

For example, it came to Silas’s attention that Patrice has been going to stay at a neighbor’s house every time it rains (and that’s a lot during our current “rainy season!”) But Patrice has had health issues and lack of work which made it financially impossible for him to repair the thatch. He finally came into some work and Silas took charge with some “tough love” (because apparently he knows that Patrice isn’t always wise with his money).  He commandeered Patrice’s earnings, put his punda (donkeys) and cart to work, and went to town with Patrice to buy some iron sheets. Henry, our neighbor, got involved, and eventually a plan was made to not only re-roof but re-build Patrice’s house. Of course, Marc got involved, buying nails and bringing his tools so that the convening group (which included Patrice’s unbelieving family members) could all pitch in and help. (You can see some of the photos on Marc’s Facebook.)

Sam lives in the center of our village, where the road is going to be widened and many shops are threatened with extinction, including his. The day came this week when action was forced; Sam needed to demolish his shop and so did many of his neighbors. Isaiah got his schoolwork done in record time early one morning so that he could bring all of our tools to town and help out as many people as possible. (Of course, doesn’t every young man long for the opportunity to demolish stuff?) He and Sam worked together on his shop and one other before illness got to Isaiah. He’d been feeling a little under-the-weather in the morning and by noon couldn’t do any more, so he unfortunately had to come home. But, according to Sam’s testimony at church this week, not before a surprised crowd of piki drivers and other bystanders and all noted that the mzungy had come to help, free of charge. Apparently, it caused quite a stir. We pray it would be a testimony to God’s glory!

On Friday afternoon, Isaiah had just crossed the road to go visit Silas at his shop when he heard that Charles and Ester’s son, Benja, had been hit by a piki. (Benja is only 6 and a frequent playmate of our kids.) The driver immediately brought Benja to the hospital and came back for Charles, who was working right next door building the Sweazy’s house. Isaiah called me and asked if he could follow with Silas, so they came and got Marc’s motorbike and some money (just in case it was needed). I convened the children and we all sat down to pray. Amazingly, the piki driver stayed until treatment was finished and paid the bill himself (this is highly unusual for Kenya). We praised God for that provision, and for the unity of the body in response to the emergency. We also are thankful for answered prayer, as Benja lost a tooth or two (which are still baby teeth, anyway) and suffered no more than a very fat lip and a couple of other bumps and bruises.

Not more than hours later, Ester herself fell ill in the middle of the night. She asked her oldest daughter and a neighbor to get Pastor Masika (Henry) because Charles was at work (he is a night watchman). In her testimony today, she related that she was shivering violently and unable to walk. She had severe shortness of breath such that she could barely talk. Henry spent quite some time with her praying, and Ester reports that she felt a great relief of burden as a result. After he left, she was able to sleep in peace. However, the next morning, the symptoms returned. Getting her to the hospital was a cooperative effort, as there isn’t much available at 6:30 AM and when Charles and Silas tried to put her on a piki they found it impossible, since she had no motor ability whatsoever. To get from her bed to the door, she had crawled on hands and knees. Marc called a contact in town who had a car, but due to the road-widening it was unable to be moved. He then called Sam and asked him to go to the stage (where cars and bikes convene, waiting for passengers), and ask one of the cars to come pick up Ester. He was on his way, but before he completed the errand Silas ended up hailing a car that was driving by and was willing to bring them to the hospital. Funding was provided to meet the emergency, Marc put out a prayer request on FB (to which many international brothers and sisters responded), and we prayed as a family. When they arrived at the hospital, Ester was given an injection (not sure of what) and she says after a very short time she began feeling healed. The doctors could find no physical explanation for her serious illness, so they simply sent her home. And she came to church praising God this morning! We trust that her “mysterious” healing was the work of God, and give Him thanks!

Seeing the unity of the brothers and sisters here is just awesome. Each person is contributing to the needs according to their gifts and abilities, anxious to take part in the Body of Christ in love and service. One day this week, for example, Silas and Patrice came to cut and stack the remainder of our maize harvest, since Marc’s schedule was pretty full with travel and teaching. Patrice also happily stopped over here a couple of times (after a full day’s work on the Sweazy house) to fix some maize stands that had fallen. It has been a great joy to see, and participate in, what God is doing through Kingdom community in Kenya.

Taking inventory with your eternal security

I stumbled upon this video on facebook and it really got me thinking. It made me think about how secure I should be about my salvation. It made me consider that my life should reflect Jesus’ character moment by moment. It made me repent for all the false hope I had planted in folks throughout the years through “easy-believism” evangelism methods. Most of all, it made me consider the multitudes of friends and family I have that have misplaced security in their salvation.

It also made me consider my complacency with sharing the truth. I know that hell awaits many of them–yet as the video states, we have a culture that disdains correction. We have a Christian culture that relishes their eternal security when the evidence of faith is lacking. Hell is real, and destruction awaits many unassuming “believers.” They believe with their mouths but deny Him with their lives.

All church-goers are convinced they are going to heaven. Their complicit pastors and other Christian leaders have told them so. Reminds me of the movie Shawshank redemption where everyone is “innocent.” Every inmate held steadfast to their innocence regardless of their guilt.

All cultural “Christians” are convinced they have in their hands the “ticket” that will get them through the gate (the “magic prayer”). However, there will be tremendous remorse when they stand in judgment and realize that the ticket they possess is not accepted.

Scripture tells us to examine ourselves. Please watch this video (in 2 parts) and listen to what it says. It is the truth. Repent and align your life with the Word.

Here is a short video in 2 parts:

Here is a longer video by Paul Washer for those who have time. It’s important enough to “make” the time.

A good video explaining simple church

What Is Simple Church? from Expectation Media on Vimeo.

relevance

I received a great article on relevance and ministry. This was my comment to the article.

We struggle to become culturally relevant with the noble intent to reach more folks for Christ, yet fail to recognize that Christ and the Apostles never made such attempts. Inasmuch as Christ engages gentiles and Paul “was all things to all people” in efforts to engage the people they ministered to, the practices and standards of the Church were never altered. Paul made clear in his epistles that the practices he modeled and taught were applicable to “all the churches.”

As a result, our noble efforts have completely backfired. Instead of Christ’s Kingdom reshaping our world, the world has reshaped the Church. Look at divorce. When society thought it taboo, the church did too. Now society shifted, we see that divorce rates among professing Christians actually exceed atheists. We also see racism and slavery. The church was re;relative silent on these subjects, lagging behind the world’s condemnation of such ills.

In all these things, our western mindset drives us to plan and institutionalize our way to fix the symptoms (social ills), yet Christ NEVER said to engage the culture in this way. His Kingdom is a different kind of kingdom–one of the heart. His solution was simple–“make disciples teaching them to obey ALL His commands.” He knew the world would be changed if we followed His simple, yet clear instructions. The Church has become IRRELEVANT at impacting our society because of our basic disobedience. If we would do what He said, and not focus on the myriad of attempts to solve society’s problems our own way, we would have the impact we all so desire. Yet in our pride and arrogance (again, with noble intent), we think we know better than our King. I pray we repent and return to the simplicity of the Lord’s teachings so that we can become as relevant as the early church was–the few folks without money, buildings, seminary training, and our deep theology, completely turned their world upside down.

 

A Story with a Lesson in Leadership

In preparing for the leadership training I will be doing in Kenya, the Lord gave me a story that has relevance in our body. I shared this with my church. You may wish to do the same. Here it is.

Why are we here and why do we assemble? What is God’s purpose for the church and what is the role of leadership? Well, Jesus taught with stories, and I believe the Lord gave me a word-picture that really spoke to me. It may speak to you as well.

I look outside today and see snow—a stark reminder of the frigid winters in New England where I grew up. Oh, it makes me look forward to Spring all the more as I see the white symbol of coldness covering the landscape.

The snow and accompanying coldness also conjures up images of Narnia under the White Witch’s dominion. The deep freeze holding their world hostage as they awaited Aslan’s coming Kingdom.

The imagery made me think of the role of a shepherd and the response of the church. It made me think of the local body trapped in the wintery storm of this world, under Satan’s dominion. The shepherd eagerly seeks the Kingdom, and leads the church through the snow, carving a path in the frigidness. Yes, he is the one who gets snow in his boots, must expend the most energy, and feels the greatest burden for ensuring that the trajectory is right, the path is safe, and that no one is left behind in the cold. He listens to the vision given him from the Word and the Spirit, and guides with tender care, setting an example where and how to take each step. When he steps on thin ice, his foot gets wet, and he changes the trajectory to keep the others safe. When he approaches a steep incline, he walks around to gentler slopes. He pushes down the snow banks to clear the way ahead of the others.

Yet, a peculiar thing happens along the way. Others become unnerved at the shepherds leading. Some become envious of the presumed glory of walking in front. They fail to count the labor and sacrifice required of it. They assume the role upon themselves, choosing to latch onto the “glory” of position and fail to lead at all. Those who assume the role out of pride, envy or ambition fail to see the Kingdom vision—and lead people in dangerous paths or even in circles—sometimes claiming it is the Spirit’s leading.

Others choose not to walk at all, and build a snow fort, just big enough for the current membership, and with a wall tall enough to keep others that don’t look like them out. Yet others choose to make a snow man and go sledding to just enjoy the coldness of the world, failing to recognize that they are just sojourners in Satan’s wintery dominion. Yet, even others get in a snow ball fight, and decide to leave the path altogether—leaving a wake of disunity and pain.

The shepherd is careful to not carve the path and then double back and push the followers along it, claiming authority from above. Rather, he persuades them—edifying, encouraging, and yes, rebuking—with the Word in love, always putting the vision before them. For there will always be those who want to build a fort, those who want to play, those who leave the path, and aspiring shepherds who have a path of their own. It is an unnecessary burden to blaze the trail along the Lord’s trajectory and look back and see the four camps holding the sojourners on the Kingdom’s path back from the vision, yet, this is the lot of the shepherd.

The moral of the story—the vision—that is the Kingdom, is the destination of His churches. Understand that the church is sojourning together, towards that goal. The Bible admonishes to “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) This is not mindless submission, but rather being persuaded by their wisdom, by their example, and by the Kingdom vision.

Shalom,
Marc Carrier
http://www.valuesdrivenlife.com/

Ps. All pastors and ministry leaders are invited to get a FREE e-copy of my new discipleship book at http://www.valuesdrivenlife.com. Here are some testimonials.

Remembering the Persecuted Church: Must-Read Post

The persecuted church is closer than you think. Here’s a wonderful set of posts for you to check out:

www.wearethatfamily.com/2008/08/getting-to-know-persecuted-church-part.html

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