My first trip to Kenya took place in 2005. At that time I was the pastor of Agape Baptist Church located in Pinson, AL. Agape supported a missionary who was located in Nairobi. He was a young man who had grown up in the church and was working with Y.W.A.M. (Youth with a Mission).
One night while walking back to his apartment in Nairobi, he was attacked and beaten. Agape decided to send me to Kenya to encourage and spend some time with him. I spent 10 days walking through Nairobi with him. He showed me both the pretty and the poverty of this large city. It was on that trip that God expanded my capacity to love the people of this country.
One day while with him, he took me to Nairobi’s City Park. It is famous for one thing: monkeys. At this park, the monkeys are like pigeons at a city park or seagulls at the beach. They run freely through the park and swing through the trees.
The monkeys are small and gray, not like the big browns you might see at the zoo. They’re cute—and they are not afraid of people. In fact, they expect the people to feed them peanuts that can be bought from one of the many vendors at the park entrance.
I had a funny and scary thing happen to me that day: one of the monkeys bit me. I’ll never forget calling Cherry and telling her I got bit by monkey. I thought it was funny. She did not. I’m pretty sure the movie Outbreak had just been released in movie theaters which is the story of a man being bit by monkey that had a disease that killed millions of people. That was 13 years ago.
Saturday, I went back to Nairobi’s City Park. One monkey in particular approached me. He had a warm look of familiarity to him. I can’t say for sure it was the same monkey that bit me, but he seemed pretty comfortable with me.
I am glad to report he did not bite me. I think once was enough for him and me.
In 2012 civil war erupted in the Central African country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Thousands of people had to flee from their homeland leaving behind family members, homes, careers, friends and anything else that made their lives feel normal. Most of those refugees have remained in Africa resettling in Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. Several thousand have been invited to countries around the world including the United States. Two of these refugees have found their way to Grace Bible Church: Jean and Joseph—brothers.
Jean discovered I was coming to Nairobi and asked me to take an iPhone to Patrick, his cousin, who also fled DRC and is living in Nairobi. I told him I would be glad to do this, but I cautiously warned him I might not be able to find his cousin in a city of almost 8 million people. He said to me, “Pastor, I will give you his number. You will be in Nairobi. He lives in Nairobi. You will find each other. God will make a way.”
I was polite. I smiled. I took the phone, but inwardly I was accepting the fact this request was probably a lost cause. I believed I would not find Patrick, and in doing so; add more disappointment to a person who has already suffered so much.
After being here a couple of days, I reluctantly asked Pastor Paul (a pastor here in Nairobi) to call the number Jean had provided. Surprisingly, Patrick answered the phone. Speaking Swahili, Pastor Paul shared with Patrick who I was and what I was attempting to do. I saw a big smile on his face and just like that the phone call was over.
Paul told me Patrick lived one kilometer from where we are meeting and that he would come to us on the next day. Early the next morning, Patrick was the first to arrive. I greeted him and he began speaking with me (he speaks English). He explained to me how he and Jean had found each other in Nairobi after fleeing the DRC. He shared how he missed his cousin but was happy for him because he now lives in Akron, OH. I gave him the phone. He thanked me over and over again.
As we talked, I discovered that Patrick is a worship pastor. He stayed for the conference on Tuesday and then asked if he could come back. He shared how he had been praying for God to send someone to teach him so that he could understand God’s Word and share it with others. After attending, he was convinced God was answering his prayer.
I know my words in this blog cannot fully convey the awe of this event. Who would have ever believed that I would even find Patrick much less get to spend 2 weeks sharing God’s Word with him? I didn’t.
I’m so happy for Jean and Patrick. They can now remain connected to each other in a world that separated them.
Political leaders and natural born citizens of stable countries many times do not see refugees as people. Instead, they see them as a problem that needs to be solved or a burden that is too risky to accept. I am fully convinced God sees them as people who need new friends, new homes, new careers and new families. Ultimately, He sees them as souls who need love, hope, healing and salvation.
It was an honor to be able to help Jean even though I believed it was an impossible request. Once again, I am reminded that I am a man of little faith when God calls me to join Him in what appears impossible.
The first day of a conference in Kenya is always the most challenging. I have nerves to deal with, new faces looking at me with anticipation (which creates a sense of pressure) and all the logistics of materials and introductions. When I introduce myself it is important that I use certain words and leave specific words out. For example, I must say that I am born-again instead of calling myself a Christian. The word “Christian” in this part of world comes with baggage. It is also good for me to not mention any particular denomination because denominational barriers are very real here. If someone were to perceive that I favored a denomination not of their choosing, they would leave without ever giving me a chance to share God’s word with them.
On top of that, there is always the concern of simply not connecting. No one in any culture wants to spend several hours a day for two weeks listening to someone who they just don’t understand. I try as hard as I can to not use American terms or illustrations that will not cross cultural boundaries.
Monday, I wasn’t alone in feeling this pressure. John was feeling it to. However, I want to report to you that your prayers for us were answered. We connected. No one left. We are learning names, taking questions, sharing information and cautiously letting more and more of our own fences down. God’s Spirit is powerful and is overcoming every obstacle. It is humbling and exciting.
Warren did not come to teach, but it is great watching him connect with individuals and share his own personal stories as God opens the door for him. He is here to investigate the possibility of bringing a construction team, but Monday there was a need for him to use his skills without a team.
We meet in a tin roof, tin walled building. When it gets warm outside, it feels like the conference is taking place in an oven. A fan needed to be installed so the stifling air could be stirred. Warren volunteered and then proceeded to climb an OSHA approved ladder to hang a fan with rope. Yes, you read that correctly…ROPE! It was awesome.
Our greatest challenge so far has been the weather. For the past two days heavy rain has fallen for a couple of hours in the afternoon. It is so loud under the tin roof that we have to stop the conference and wait for it to pass.
The primary road to get to the church is a dirt road…well it was dirt. The last two days it has been mud and large bodies of standing water. Twice we have gotten stuck at night returning to our hotel.
The first night God provided an angel to push us out of a puddle that electrical wires had fallen into. I’m not talking about a metaphorical angel. We were stuck. None of us were getting out of the van. We sat there praying and making awkward jokes to break the tension of the moment. Pastor Paul, our driver, then tried one more time to move. We did. It was a small miracle.
The second night we got stuck our van sunk down to it’s frame. God provided 5 strangers who pushed our van to freedom. It was a comical moment full of laughs. It was great hearing 5 men speaking Swahili all sharing their own opinions to free the van. We could tell none of them were listening to each other. They all wanted to be in charge.
Warren, John and myself were all willing to get out the van and push. It would have ruined our shoes and probably our pants, but God brought along strangers to do the dirty work and give us a laugh at the same time. God is so good. He takes care of us and meets every need.
Saturday was a difficult day. It started with the rare privilege of getting to sleep late. I then got to eat a breakfast that someone else prepared. I spent the rest of the morning connecting with an old friend, fellowshipping with current friends and making some new friends.
The sun was shining brightly. The high was about 78. Our personal driver picked us up at the hotel and took us to Koinonia Pentecostal Church. It is at this facility we will be spending our week. We then ate a lunch that someone else prepared for us, went to Baba Martin’s house (he is the man responsible for our care) and met his wife. We then went to the mall.
Getting to the mall was the greatest hardship of our day. Really, it was comical. We stuffed 8 people into a 6 person van, plus one person’s luggage. Let’s just say by the time that 20 minute ride was over we all knew each other a little more than we really wanted to. At one point I reached into my pocket to get my phone only to discover I had taken John’s phone from his pocket (that really didn’t happen…but we were that close).
To make matters a little more interesting, there are no smooth roads in Kenya. Nairobi streets are the birthplace of potholes. We bounced around in that van constantly saying to one another, “Oops. Excuse me. Sorry about that.”
Don’t worry though. We quickly overcame the anxiety attack of too many people in our personal space by eating an ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery (conveniently located at the mall). Once we finished our cool treats the universe was back in order and we could look at each other without blushing.
In Kenya plans change. That happened today (Sunday). To start with, I did not share a message today. The church I thought I was going to share with was unaware of my presence. Fortunately, I found out about this before I went to the church. That spared me any awkward moments when I did arrive there.
The man who did preach did a wonderful job. He preached on Gideon and God spoke. It was a wonderful experience for the whole team. After leaving the church, we were introduced to another organization that ministers to women called H.E.A.R.T. Click here and check out their ministry.
Tonight we will have our first official team meeting. Tomorrow the conference we are leading will begin.
Airports are interesting. I guess I should say the people in airports are interesting. I see all kinds here. There are the business types…determined faces that communicate, “I’m on a mission get out of my way.” Then there are the families. Honestly, I think it is a requirement to fly with small, cranky children. The parents of these temporarily demon possessed little people look either tired or embarrassed. Everyone hopes they are liberal with the Benadryl.
I can’t help but notice the individuals who look like they just woke up and came to the airport in their pajamas. I’m looking at someone right now. It is obvious they have not looked in the mirror to assess last night’s damage. And of course, there are those who are on the other end of the spectrum; dressed like they are going to a fashion show…or are a part of a fashion show. I’m having fun watching. I know God loves all these people; and thankfully, He loves me too.
John and Warren, my two companions on this trip are great. Apparently, American Airlines thought John was one of their pilots. He got called out in the terminal. He assured them he was not a pilot and they bumped him to First Class to apologize for their mistake. Warren and I ended up at the back of the plane with all the other average people on the flight.
We have had no real issues getting to Kenya. I have learned that from now on I will not be packing any food in my carry-on luggage. All 3 of us got pulled, had to open our bags and let TSA do their thing. My TSA agent hand checked all 12 of my Cliff Bars to make sure they were not C-4. Warren’s Twizzlers were suspect and John’s spice gum-drops apparently didn’t look so innocent on the x-ray machine.
We made it to Kenya on Friday, July 27. We are 7 hours ahead of all the good people who live in EST zone. We found the rest of our team: Debra and Simone are from AZ, Robbie, Diana and Curt are from CA, and Ken is from CO. Ken will be leaving today (Saturday), but the rest of us will start teaching/observing/serving on Monday. I have been told that some of us will be attending a Southern Baptist church on Sunday and I have been asked to share God’s word. Please pray. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, many things get lost either in translation or because of cultural differences. It is one of our biggest challenges.
We will spend today getting acclimated, resting, getting to know one another and making a quick run to Kenya’s version of Wal-Mart. John and Warren say hello. Thank you for all the prayers. I will send updates as often as I can.
I always experience mixed emotions when I’m preparing to leave for Kenya. Part of me is thrilled to serve the wonderful pastors on the continent of Africa, and part of me is distressed. I know my departure stresses Cherry…and that creates sorrow for me. She is super-supportive, but being a single parent in my family for half a month is daunting (we both have admiration and respect for those who have to do it full-time).
When I’m experiencing the anxiety that comes with international travel, I turn to God’s Word to find peace. God is always faithful when I come searching and it has been no different this time. What’s interesting is the encouragement comes from an unusual part of Scripture. I didn’t find a promise in the Psalms or a nugget of truth tucked away in one of Jesus’ parables. Nor did His word to me come from one of Paul’s famous missionary journeys. No, God provided peace from the Book of Revelation.
It’s a mysterious book. I’ll be honest: I don’t read Revelation that often. It’s not because I’m afraid of its message. I mostly don’t focus on these precious passages because I feel their topics, and the debates they create, are above my pay grade. Maybe that is simplistic. Maybe you might even think it’s irreverent, but I’ve found many other parts of Scripture that are much easier to read. I tend to gravitate towards them.
In spite of these personal feelings about Revelation, I recently have been drawn to it. I did not get far into it before something jumped off the page and I felt that still small voice say, “Slow down…don’t read over that too quickly.”
In the first chapter, before God shares all the fantastic images that make our imaginations swirl, the writer introduces himself…
I, John, am your brother and your partner in suffering and in God’s Kingdom and in the patient endurance to which Jesus calls us.
It is as if John realizes He needs to introduce himself before he shares the images of things to come. Like the calm before the storm, he takes a moment to let me know that he is a safe person (my brother in Christ) and is invested (partner) with me in all the highs and lows that are about to be revealed. He sums up those highs and lows with three categories important to my life as a follower of Jesus Christ: suffering, God’s Kingdom and patient endurance.
Almost all of my life’s circumstances can fall into one of these categories.
Suffering. I hate the idea of it, but life has plenty of moments filled with pain, sorrow, disappointment, broken dreams and failed plans. John is reminding me that if I am going to follow Jesus, I am going to suffer; but even if I choose not to follow Him, I will encounter discomfort. Suffering does not come as a result of following Jesus. It comes because I am alive.
I can’t avoid it, but I can choose the reason why I suffer. I can suffer for my selfish plans or I can suffer because I am following Jesus. One option brings regret the other brings reward.
Leaving my family to make disciples of Jesus is a type of suffering. It comes nowhere close to the heroes of faith who have lost so much. But, as I read the whole Book of Revelation, I discover the temporary suffering of separation (or even the risk of international travel) brings rewards—to my family and to me. I find God’s peace in knowing this truth.
God’s Kingdom. My life is building something. It is either contributing to God’s eternal Kingdom or it is constructing a sand castle that will disappear at the next high tide. It all depends on what I perceive to be the purpose of my life. Do I exist to please myself? Or, am I on this planet to join God in His agenda?
John reminds me I’m born-again to partner with him, and countless others who have come before me and who will come after me, to pursue the completion of God’s Kingdom being built. I find comfort in this. I find purpose for the suffering I endure when I keep this perspective. It means my life has eternal significance. It’s not just a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. God has invited me to join Him, empowered me to work beside Him and gives me a direction to aim my life.
Patient Endurance. Yes, there are moments I will suffer for following Christ. Yes, my life is purposeful and eternally powerful for the glory of God. However, I can’t make my suffering end when it comes and I can’t accomplish the goals God lays before me on my time schedule. I must join John in patiently enduring. What does that mean? It means I must wait for God.
Honestly, this takes the pressure off. If I’m obeying Christ and I start suffering for Him. It’s on Him—not me. My suffering is not due to selfishness or sin. All I can do is wait for Him to remove it, work through it, show His power in it or give the reality of His presence while enduring. All I can do is wait.
The same principle holds true when it comes to building His Kingdom. God is asking me to do things that I can’t do without Him. Therefore, there will be times when I all I can do is wait for Him. He will have to do through me what I can’t accomplish in my own strength. That means it’s all on Him to get it done. My part is to patiently endure.
Suffering, building God’s Kingdom and patiently enduring…you don’t have to go to Kenya to do these things.
 Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Re 1:9). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Prayer is supposed to be a user-friendly activity. When done, I should know something good has happened. However, sometimes I find it difficult to feel positive. The issue is with me—not God.
I realize I can pray anytime…anywhere…about anything; but when I really want to focus, I have discovered I need a quiet time. A time in the day when the statistical chance for an interruption is reduced. For me, the best time is in the morning before anyone in my family wakes up.
I have also learned I need a comfortable place. A place I have designated for the purpose of praying. My favorite spot is on the couch in our game room.
Last, I need a designated amount of time. There is nothing wrong with praying on the move, I do it all the time; but for me to feel spiritually healthy I need some days within each week when I have a designated time to pray. I’ve learned the optimum amount of time for me is 30-45 minutes.
Even if I get my personalized-focused-prayer-time-checklist checked, I still encounter some problems that make my prayers seem…well…like a waste of time. Here are my 3 most common obstacles:
Part of the activity of prayer is to mentally stay focused and communicate with God. I can’t make Him speak to me, but surely I can be disciplined enough to speak to Him. These obstacles mess with me and I need a plan when I run into them.
While reading the Bible, I had a thought that turned into plan of action. Here are the verses I read:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.1
This was my thought: I will study this prayer and use it when my mind will not focus. In other words, when my mind is busy, wandering or blank; I will by default use this prayer and let it be the focus of my prayer time.
As I began to study this prayer, I learned the meaning of some key words:
– “love may abound” – I need God’s love in me to grow. I need more unconditional love for others.
– “knowledge” – Random love for others is not enough. I need to know how to love others the best way.
– “discern” – I need to know what is best to love in others. It is not a choice between good and bad, but between good and best.
– “pure” love – I need a sincere love for others with selfish motives filtered out.
– “blameless” love – I need a love that will not cause others to stumble.
So…when I’ve marked off my personalized-focused-prayer-time-checklist and my mind won’t cooperate, this is an example of what I discipline myself to pray:
Lord, I need Your unconditional love to grow inside of me. Who do you want me to love on Your behalf? [He generally brings someone to mind. I focus on them and continue to pray] Lord, how can I love them the best way? Show me what to do so that they might be attracted to You. [I let God guide my thoughts and give me creative ideas or subtle nudges…I continue to pray] What do you love about them Lord? Show me how to love them so that the best You put in them is developed. [Again, I listen and let Him guide my ideas between what is good and what is best] Teach me to love this person with no selfish motives. [It is here God points out what needs to change in me.] Please don’t allow my actions to cause them to stumble. [Here I am counting on God to let my love be received in a way that accomplishes His purposes].
If you are struggling to stay focused during prayer, I encourage you to try this. It works for me.