Here is an ancient quote: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself…” The quote was first written over 3000 years ago. Guess who wrote it?
It wasn’t Muhammad or Buddha. Both of those men wrote ancient sayings, but they can’t claim ownership to this quote. It wasn’t Confucius. He was born almost fifteen hundred years after the quote went into print. Any ideas? You may have guessed it by now. It was Moses. And to be completely accurate, Moses only wrote it down because God told him.
It’s interesting, but many Christians today do not know these two verses are in the Bible. Probably because they are found in the Book of Leviticus, a part of Scripture that doesn’t get much publicity these days.
It’s an easy quote to understand. It doesn’t contain any tough theological words requiring deep, mystical interpretation. However, it does carry some pretty hefty social, economic and safety implications…especially in the 2018…in America.
Who is the “foreigner?” Three thousand years ago when Moses first penned the words it was a stranger who moved into the community and was not from anywhere local. Today, we call this person an immigrant. However, the title “immigrant” does not completely define all the foreigners among us. Let me explain.
War, genocide, ethnic cleansing, political purging, civil war, prejudice, and hate crimes are just some of the tragedies that can cause a person to flee their native country and seek a safer life in a new nation. This person is not called an immigrant. He or she is called a refugee. Refugees never choose to leave their native country. They never choose to walk away from family, careers and friends to start over in America. They are forced to leave and invited to the United States by the federal government.
Famine, poverty, unemployment, lack of educational opportunities and unethical governments are some reasons a person may choose to come to the United States. When hardship or lack of opportunity compels a person to leave their native country and come to America, it is a choice they are making. No one is forcing them to leave. The individual must still do the painful, scary thing of leaving family, friends and everything normal to go to a land with more opportunities. He or she applies for a visa, receives the visa and enters the United States legally. This person is an immigrant.
Refugees and immigrants aren’t the only foreigners among us. There is a third. They are called illegal immigrants. An illegal immigrant is a person who enters the United States without a federal invitation and without a visa. It could also be a person who once had a visa, but remained in the country after their visa expired. This “foreigner,” the illegal immigrant, is the one that gets most of the headlines. Unfortunately, most of the time, all three groups are simply called immigrants. Because of this, all three groups receive the negative press that is really intended for one.
So, who is the foreigner you see? Is he or she a refugee, immigrant, or illegal immigrant? When God spoke and Moses wrote what we now call Leviticus 19:33-34, was the Almighty taking into consideration the political and social challenges we are currently enduring?
Here is the rub: As a Christian today, am I expected to fulfill the instructions of this 3000-year-old quote? Maybe I get a pass on this instruction because it is old? Maybe I can ignore it because it does not take into consideration the economic challenges it creates? Maybe I can reject it because it doesn’t speak to the safety issues it creates for the nation I love?
The answers to these questions are not easy. God knows this. I’m sure the emotions that stir within me when I think about this Biblical instruction are the same emotions Moses’ first audience had. The world has changed, but people really haven’t.
What does God want me (us) to do? Let’s talk about it next time.
My time in Kenya is coming to a close. I am thankful for the many moments that have revealed the presence, goodness, faithfulness and power of God. Those moments are hard to communicate to others. Many of them truly are “You had to be there” moments. They are the words that are not spoken between team members yet everyone knows what is being talked about.
I would like to try to explain a moment that took place two days ago. It was powerful and humbling all at the same time. Several on the team felt the proverbial goose bumps, but I knew we were experiencing the power and presence of God in a unique way.
Our training consists of participants who are from several different places. We have students from north, central and east Kenya, as well as students right here in Nairobi. We have a lady from Egypt and from Burkina Faso, a couple from Uganda and a man from South Sudan. Throw into the mix 7 people from 3 states and the recipe for organized chaos is complete.
With that many cultures, ethnic barriers, religious practices and educational differences in one place at one time, the training could either be a powder keg getting ready to explode or a beautiful mosaic. Imagine taking pieces of several different puzzles and trying to put them together to make a picture. Not only will the colors of the individual pieces not match, but also the pieces themselves were not made to fit together. That is the Ancient Promise training in Kenya.
I have left out one ingredient. The most important one: the Holy Spirit. Only the presence of God and His work in us can move and arrange the pieces together without crushing or forcing the edges together. I look for those moments. I embrace them, pray for them and rejoice in them. The melding together of people united in Christ is precious.
The moment it happened in such a powerful way took place when John was teaching a lesson from Discovering God Together. Due to all the people in the room, the limited teaching resources of this environment, and the goal to engage everyone in the lesson’s activity, John went off script and pulled everyone together. He called them out of their seats. He made them stand close together and close to him. He called on different students from different parts of the world to share what they had learned from God’s Word. As the students shared, they discovered they were all-seeing the same truth that is revealed in Scripture. In that moment all the barriers disappeared and each person realized God speaks one truth to each of us in spite of our differences.
Those of us not leading the lesson immediately recognized God was showing himself. We stood in awe as God filled the tin building we meet in. John was truly in his element. It was clear God had uniquely created him for the moment we were watching unfold. I don’t know how long it lasted…maybe 30-40 minutes as the activity continued to unfold, but when it was over we all knew something special had just happened.
Unintentionally, when the activity was over and the class broke for tea, the rest of the team bum-rushed John. We were all patting him on the back and expressing our amazement at what God had just done through him. Suddenly, we realized he needed some space. The moment was overwhelming for him. It was as if all of his life experiences, challenges, victories and disappointments had come together to put him in this place for the task at hand. He was humbled by the presence of God as he silently wept and praised God.
It was the moment.
Sundays are always exciting in Kenya. In previous years our team has been small, but this year is different. Because of this, we had 4 people from our team preaching in 4 different places. It was encouraging to hear how God worked at each place.
Curt, a pastor from CA, preached at a church in a nearby village. At the church, there was a lady in attendance who was 106 years old. She is the pastor’s grandmother. Her husband, who was a leader in one of the indigenous cults, told her on his deathbed to never leave their religion. That was years ago.
Her grandson has faithfully loved her to Jesus for years. Last month, she prayed to receive Christ. Sunday was her first time to attend a Bible preaching, Bible believing fellowship—the church her grandson serves. The church was electric and ended with Curt dancing with her. I wish I had a picture to show you, but I wasn’t there.
Another one of our team members, Diana, was asked to preach at a church that has mixed doctrines. The church believes a little of the prosperity gospel and other misinterpretations of Scripture. She received the invitation to share knowing that the whole truth of Jesus had probably never been proclaimed. Twelve people prayed to receive Christ and the pastor confessed the church needs to start preaching the real truth of the Gospel.
The other two-team members who had the privilege of speaking were Robbie and myself. She and I both spoke to congregations whose pastors have been through the training we provide. These two churches needed encouragement. It is not easy being faithful to Gospel in this place.
The church I spoke at has about 25 members. John and I went there together. We spent the first hour singing…well, really, listening to them sing. The second hour was devoted to special music, the offering and the preaching of the Word. Before I spoke, John was asked to speak to the church. He did a wonderful job of encouraging the people and reminding them that God has a purpose for their lives and their church.
After he spoke, it was my turn to share God’s word. Preaching in Kenya is challenging on many levels, but one added dimension is preaching with a translator. Basically, I would share the message a sentence at a time pausing at the end of each sentence and letting the translator do his thing.
I saw no public decisions. There was no outward display of God moving in any particular way, but there was a sweet spirit shared among people whose only thing in common was faith in Jesus. Somehow, that was enough.
I recently shared I’ve been reading and meditating on Revelation. Don’t get excited, I don’t know who the anti-Christ is and I don’t know when the world is going to be forced to where the number 666. To be honest, I really haven’t made it out of the first chapter. It is rich.
Before John shares all the images of the future, he says this about the people of God:
All glory to him [Jesus] who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father.
“He has made us a Kingdom of priests.” I’ve got news for you…that’s not just the professional preachers and pastors. That’s any person who calls upon name of Christ and has received His grace.
Priests don’t always have a glamorous job. They don’t always get noticed or thanked. God’s priests don’t always speak in front of crowds. Sometimes they don’t even use words at all. His priests don’t have an age requirement…or a gender requirement…or a denominational requirement…or an educational requirement.
However, this Kingdom of priests share some common qualities. They all love Jesus. They love Him so much that they keep His commandments, and when they mess up, they confess their sin and get back to living for Him. They are not loners and they are not ashamed of Jesus. They are willing to make sacrifices for God and their love for others proves they love God. They pursue faithfulness over perfection; love instead of criticism; and generosity takes the place of self-preservation.
It is these qualities that allow people from all nations to come together and experience the presence of God together in the same place. We don’t have to like the same songs…we don’t even have to speak the same language. God’s Kingdom of priests share a common relationship with Christ. That relationship creates an unspoken language that bonds them together through the Holy Spirit.
I am fortunate that I don’t have to come to Kenya to experience what I am trying to describe, but I’m also thankful that I can.
 Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Re 1:5–6). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
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.