What The Heck Am I Doing?

Proverbs 16:3,9
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans…
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.”

I graduate in basically three weeks. I keep worrying about life and how to dedicate my time. What to pursue primarily. Whether to work in the non-profit sector or business. At what pace I want to (or even can) grow my business. Should I momentarily take a break from Zima as I figure out the rest of life? What if I make the wrong decisions right now? Am I even supposed to stay in the US? Or am I supposed to be in Africa asap? Should I even work in the non-profit or business sector? What if I just work in ministry as a pastor or something? I could definitely see myself as a pastor. Should I look for some openings in that? Am I even qualified for that? I studied Global Development, not Theology… And then would I be able to leave my church for ministry in Africa at some point in the future?

Again, where does Zima lie in all of this? It’s really hard to start a business. I don’t feel adequate. I don’t feel like I know how to do this. But God can carry it if he wills, right? What if it isn’t his timing though? Then again, people are depending on me, on Zima. So many people across the developing world are already seeing hope and opportunity in Zima. And we’ve launched sales and operations. We can’t just put it on pause, can we?

Basically, over and over and over I enter into self-doubt throughout my day. I don’t know what to do or how to do it. But I read this passage and I find a certain peace.

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans…
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.”

In my heart, I plan my course. I plan it over and over in a million ways. Sometimes I wish I had several lives to pursue several different careers and life paths. In one I’d be a missionary. In another I’d work my way up the corporate ladder. I’d have to use one life to pursue my passion for music and another to dedicate the time and practice to be a professional soccer player. Yet another life I’d spend as a pastor and author. Another I’d have to pursue would be life in the Air Force.

I know that the career I desire above all is to impact Africa through business and development and use that as a platform for missions, but as I approach graduation and begin applying for jobs and stuff, it’s really hard to see how I’m gonna get from A to B. I plan and plan and plan, trying to figure out how I’ll do this. But this verse reminds me that, hey, you really aren’t gonna be the one to make your life happen. If you’re committed to God through it all, he’ll carry you where he wills. And where he wills is better for you than anywhere else that you can be.

So Lord, here I am, committing it all to you. I’ll do what I can, but you take it and run with it. My prayer for myself and for the rest of you finding yourselves at different crossroads in life is that God will establish your steps and that you will find peace in that. As we try to “do life”, remember that God’s sovereign and has got your back. In fact, he created you for exactly whatever it is he’ll be guiding you to. So don’t worry too much about it. God’s gotcha. I promise, he’ll establish your steps.

This Is My Future

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Before I tell you anything more, you need to see this video that my ministry partner took of me in Kibera today. This video exemplifies so much of the joy and fun that I experienced with the youth and community leaders in Kenya today.

Let me tell you, today was my absolute favorite day in Kenya so far. Beyond that, it was one of the most joy-filled days of my life. It began simple enough. This morning I walked down Ngong Road (the street I live on) to join a friend for breakfast. Later I joined a bunch of other missionaries for a prayer luncheon sort of thing at a Chinese restaurant (American guy, Chinese restaurant, African locale. Awesome, right? Lol). Side note real quick: First off, fellowship over food is like my favorite thing about Christian it culture. I’ll always love food and fellowship. Haha. But even better than the food was the opportunity to see the diversity of God’s people serving in Kenya as foreigners. There were missionaries from across the globe: Hong Kong, South Korea, Brazil, England, Ireland, and the US. I love that. Honestly, until reading the book Kingdom without Borders a few years ago, I was of the typical naive understanding that most missionaries are white middle class Americans. But today, I got to see the diversity of God’s missionary body firsthand. I loved that. 

Now comes the part of my day that rocked my world. My ministry partner Jason and I went from the luncheon to a special event being held for youth at a school in the Kibera slum. We went there with our friend Patoh (his name is Patrick, but he goes by Patoh). One more quick side note: (sorry, there is just so much to tell you!) Patoh is one of the most fantastic men I have ever met. I will tell you more about him in a later blog post. But what you need to know right now is that he runs an organization called Spur Afrika. The organization gets its name from its purpose: to spur Afrika (Swahili spelling) into growth by empowering people as entrepreneurs, equipping leaders within communities, instilling moral lessons in children who have grown up in the slum without parents to guide them, teaching children and youth valuable skills and abilities, encouraging a culture of learning, and providing avenues for people to lift themselves out of poverty, among other things.

Anyways, this event with Patoh was the highlight of my day for sure. His organization was facilitating a part of the event in which teams from schools were competing in debates. The hope is to incentivize learning in public speaking, argumentation, and critical thinking. Other things going on in this event included dance offs and just plain fun dancing, soccer games, and volleyball games. During the afternoon, Patoh took me and Jason aside and introduced us to a few members of his team that we hadn’t met yet, Nikoh and Bob.

Talking to Patoh and Bob is part of what got me really excited. As many of you know, I have spent the past 3 years of my life studying Global Development at SPU. Today was my first chance in my life to really apply and utilize what I’ve learned and that excites me so much. From our conversation we decided on some various tasks that Jason and I might be working out alongside them and for them, helping them to increase the influence and growth of Spur Afrika. I told them some strategies that they could potentially use in microfinance (or savings action committees), in grant writing, and overall structure/strategy. The organization is still fairly young, so it seems that I might be able to really contribute a lot! I cannot even begin to explain how excited I am to be working with these guys. This work really will make a difference. With this, my presence here at this moment and my connection and contact with them even when I’m back in the US can help to actually empower people and provide opportunity in the midst of poverty. It is so fantastic to finally have opportunities to truly apply my education in development (before I’ve even graduated)!

In addition to this moment of realizing that I’m really stepping into my career and future in a way, I also got to dance with/in front of Kenyans, as you saw in the video above. This was so fun. Between speeches they would play some hip hop and students would come out and dance, sometimes having dance offs. Jason told Patoh and Bob that I love to dance (which yes, I do). As soon as he told them that, they were ushering me out, “Really? Go! Go dance! Go on!” Haha. So, I went on out and did what I could, in front of maybe two hundred Kenyans. No lie, it’s impossible to feel like an uncoordinated mzungu (white guy) when all these Kenyans are shouting and cheering. Besides that, even if I sucked I could just give the excuse, “Oh, yea, that’s just how everyone dances in my country.” Hahah. It was so funny, fun, and just overall fantastic. After that, some youth came up to me and taught me some Kenyan dancing and then asked me to teach them some mzungu dance moves, so I showed them the Spongebob and the Running Man. White enough, I think. Haha. The day was filled with so much laughter, dancing, and joy. I certainly hope heaven is something like that.

On our way back home through the slum, I couldn’t help but feel the beautiful energy of the life around us. Children dancing and playing in the streets, adults sharing conversation and laughter, food sizzling and bringing wonderful smells, the sun shining bright, and, just, the presence of life. Over the past few days, it has been hard at times as I’ve seen the degree of poverty and heard the stories of death, sickness, and despair facing so many in the slum of Kibera. I’ve wondered at points, “What can I even do in the face of such drastic, widespread, and systematic poverty? I’m here for a little over one month. Is there really anything that I can do for anyone?” Honestly, poverty, true poverty, is a hard thing to encounter. Guilt, despair, and overall sadness can take root if we let it. But today was a reminder that there is life in the midst of the suffering. There is joy in the midst of poverty. And there is light in the midst of darkness. It is not I who will make a difference anyways, it is God and his use of myself and the people here who desire to see real, holistic change take hold in Kibera for the impoverished of Kenya. The people like Patoh, Nikoh, Bob, Edu, and others will be the agents of change. And they will see a better Kibera. I am confident of it.

Today was beautiful. I cannot exaggerate how wonderful it was. This is my future. In days to come, both far and near, I will experience and share the love of Christ and many joys, sorrows, adventures, struggles, and more with the people of Africa. God will be with me through it all and I look forward to my future in this land. I wish I could share each moment I’ve experienced with all of you. Hopefully this blog does just that, at least to some extent.

The Most Difficult Love

I’m going to be vulnerable right now. I’m going to tell you something that God has put on my heart for myself to hear, but that I feel he wishes for me to share. Now, read this closely and carefully, or you will most definitely get the wrong message. I absolutely hate when people misinterpret what I’m trying to say, so pleeeease try not to do so.

But here, this is my confession: It is sometimes extremely hard for me to love God.

It’s not hard for me to like Him, to adore Him, to serve Him, or even to worship Him, but it’s honestly difficult for me to love my Creator with every ounce of my being. To add to the irony, it is often easier for me to love people than it is for me to love God. We love because He first loved us, yet it’s easier for me to show His love to others than it is for me to show that same love to Him. It’s crazy. And upon the beginning of my introspection, this discovery didn’t make much sense to me. I’m here in Africa right now with the purpose of serving and loving God and others. Yet, even in my ministry, I find it easier to minister to others, to display God’s love to the people of Nairobi, than to love God as He loves me. Despite my entire mission here being to glorify God, to live intimately with Him is still a struggle that surpasses many others in difficulty. When Jesus told us “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” he knew that we were going to face a powerful struggle just to walk with Him. Following Him can be much harder than merely following His ways. So I’ve been thinking about this. And I’ve realized some stuff.

Love is meant to be constant, thoughtful, intentional, and relational.

First of all, a loving relationship with God is different than any other loving relationship. And we should address it as such. The closest thing to it is the analogy of a romantic relationship, as shown in Hosea and countless places in Scripture in which we as the Church are referred to as Christ’s bride. A reality that many of us know is that romance, ironic enough, is filled with a more difficult love, despite being perhaps the richest love we can experience with another person. I wonder, is this because it’s more demanding? Is this because it encompasses more? Is this just because along with more opportunities to love also come more opportunities not to? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s all of those. I mean, you can cheat on a spouse, but you can’t cheat on a friend. Yea, I think that the more all-encompassing a love becomes, the more challenges we will face to its integrity. I think this fact has a role to play. A romantic love is not one that is called to action on occasion. Rather, it is meant to be constant, thoughtful, intentional, and relational. It’s a love that lives and permeates everything. In the words of DC Talk, “Love is a verb”. We don’t try to refrain from actions that would hurt our significant other just because they’re wrong, but more because of the hurt that our actions would bring them. And merely not hurting them isn’t enough. If two people in a relationship never do anything wrong, it can still be dead. We also need to be active and intentional in our love to keep a relationship strong. All of this applies to our relationship with God too. The reality that we face in our human relationships also extends to our relationship with our Creator.

We can’t just follow God as a teacher of morals, we need to walk with Him as our intimate Maker too.

To add to the struggle in this relationship though, our entire beings, our biology, our flesh (as Paul put it), is against God and His ways. Survival of the fittest, self-interest, human nature, it all dictates that we follow our way, not God’s. Even in religious spheres, we find ourselves wanting to do things in very specific ways that we’re most comfortable with. In the social sciences, this human nature is acknowledged by many (regardless of religious belief) as something that we all must overcome, but it takes on a new dimension when we think about this nature’s potential impact on our relationship with our Creator. Luckily enough, Christ has given us a new nature, capable of acting beyond our fleshly instinct. But we still have tendencies to revert back to our old nature.

Sadly, when we pursue the desires of our old ways over his, we aren’t aiming to hurt him, yet that’s often what happens. “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30). We should be aware of that. To sin against God (and all sin is directly against God), given the analogy found in the book of Hosea, is to cheat on him. It’s tantamount to betraying a spouse and the intimacy of that kind of relationship. It’s really crazy. But loving God and not sinning against Him is so much more than just not doing things. It’s about actively doing things too. You could be getting all the morals right, but still be missing the message behind the morals. We have to make sure not to just follow God’s way in our religious beliefs, but to follow God’s way in our life and relationships too. We can’t just follow God as a teacher of law, we need to walk with Him as our intimate Maker too. Dang, this love thing is complex!

It’s easier to display God’s love than it is to bask in it.

But it sure is rewarding. I’ve always found it ironic that so much within us tells us that we have better things to do than pray in God’s presence, get into Scripture, or spend time just…in relationship with God, when those very things are the most fulfilling, joyful, and peace-bringing activities we can engage in. In fact, that’s what’s at the heart of Christianity itself. In Matthew 22, Jesus says “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Everything in our faith stems from these two commandments. If we learn to be consistent and make that our lifestyle, it changes things for us. Yet, how easy it is to forget that joy, that peace, and that fulfillment. It’s crazy. It’s easier to go out and display God’s love than it is to bask in it. But the most difficult things are often the most rewarding. How greatly that applies here. I challenge you today to take a second to thinking about whatever you’re doing for God, to pause in your worship, service, or adoration, and reflect on whether you’re really loving God or not. I challenge you to pause as I had to do and make sure that you aren’t merely living a life for God, but that you’re living a life with God.

As you try to live out a life for God, don’t forget to love Him in the process.

Metaphorically, are you the person who’s buying their kids anything and everything they could ever want, yet who never spends time in relationship with them? What those kids want most isn’t the stuff that they have plenty of. What they want most is their parent’s love. Those toys and goodies mean nothing if the parent giving them is nothing more than a stranger. So don’t be a stranger with God. He saved you to reconcile you to Him, not to just get you to do more stuff in His name. ‘Reconcile’ is a relational word. Remember that. Let us together strive to live out this difficult, but incredibly rewarding, relationship of love with God. As you try to live out a life for God, don’t forget to love Him in the process.

I’m In Africa!

Wow. I’m actually here. I keep re-realizing that I’m finally in Africa. For the first time in five years I’m actually back in the place that I feel God ultimately calling me to in my career. Every time that I re-realize that I’m really in Africa, that I’m really here on this adventure, I honestly can’t help but get the biggest smile. I love it. It just feels me with the greatest joy. I love Africa and I seriously can’t wait to begin my career here whenever God allows that.

So, right now I’ll tell you a bit about the start to my time here in Nairobi. Working with Africa Inland Mission, I’m with a pretty diverse group of people from all over the world. It’s been pretty neat interacting and talking to people from Canada, the UK, Germany, and other parts of the US here in Kenya. Right now I’m at a guest house going through orientation and training in Nairobi before going to our ministry location elsewhere in the city.

Some things about my experience in this temporary living situation:
I have an awesome British roommate who is thoroughly entertaining. His name is James King. He told me this morning that he has the most biblical name. There is the book of James, the books of First and Second Kings, and the King James Version of the Bible. I must say, he does have a good case made. Hahah. In conversation today and last night I have learned the following phrases from him (and more):
The Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys – The French. This one made me laugh soooo hard. “We whipped the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys in the Battle of Agincourt.”
Risk it for a chocolate biscuit – If you wanna risk something for a big possible gain. “Yea, the bloke decided to shoot on goal instead of pass to a teammate on his free kick. I guess he wanted to risk it for a chocolate biscuit.”
Lovely jubbly – You might use this expression about a drink or food that you really enjoyed. “That dinner was just lovely jubbly.”
I could murder that – If you really ‘fancy’ something. “Oh I could murder that pint of ale. It was so good.”
Yea, this guy is pretty great. Haha. He’s going up to serve in the north of the country though, so I won’t be with him after today. But my time with him has been fun.

I’m also rooming with my ministry partner Jason Lambert (from my mom’s land down south, Georgia). I think we’re going to get along really well. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems we have some really complementary strengths and characters. We move into our place tomorrow. We’re super excited to just start living life alongside the guys we’ll be ministering to. Jason’s interested in working in business with a positive social impact, so it’s been cool hearing some of his hopes for that since it’s a common interest of ours.

During our training, the missionary’s kids were out in the backyard playing. He mentioned that they were chameleon hunting. As soon as he said that, I wanted to go out and chameleon hunt with them! Who wants to study cultural sensitivity when you can be chameleon hunting with a 6 and 8 year old!? Lol. What’s funny here is apparently Kenyans are like deathly afraid of chameleons. They look at PJ (the missionary) like he’s crazy for letting his kids play with chameleons. Apparently there are some beliefs that they’re incredibly venomous. There is also a proverb/belief type thing that once one bites your hair it will never let go. Was pretty funny to me. I’m sure we have pretty funny fears in the U.S. too though that foreigners don’t understand. Who knows what they are though. Lol.

I had tea today with a German woman ministering in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (where I’d like to work in my future). The first awesome thing for you to note in that sentence is the tea part. We have a morning and an afternoon tea every day here. IT’S AWESOME! I feel like I’m in Hobbiton having first and second breakfastes. Pippin and Merry would love it here. (I dearly hope you understand my Lord of the Rings references…Lol) But besides that, I was able to speak a little bit with her about the DRC. I was able to actually learn from someone who has seen the damage done by rebels and the LRA firsthand and who has seen things improve in some ways from previous points. I was also able to discuss some development things I’ve studied and hear what she sees a need for in the society and what the failings in the area have been. Toni (the German) has been in the DRC for over 30 years. She was there when it was still Zaire. This time was awesome. Toni was awesome. God is awesome.

Ultimately today, in the words from LEGO Movie, everything is awesome. I’m so grateful that God has brought me here in this moment and that he used you people to supply my every need in preparation for this trip. Life is good and, I must say, I am incredibly happy. This is most definitely where I am supposed to be right now.

Expectations

I’ll begin this blog with a bit of a status update for you all on my progress towards my soon approaching departure for 1.5 months of ministry in Nairobi, Kenya. God has been so incredibly good. Two and a half months ago I had about $5000 to raise for this trip. When I reached my original deadline on May 2nd, I was only at $1500. Needless to say, I was incredibly discouraged. I went to God that day with my frustrations and just vented to Him. “Yea God, sure, I trust you. It’s having to depend on your people to give that scares me. I mean, I guess you could just make the money appear out of nowhere if you need to…Technically…Since you’re God. Meh.” That was my prayer.

But God reminded me that He is the God of miracles and the Lord of His people. He will use those who are willing. He will do incredible things with them and will always meet our needs. That day, I received an anonymous donation of $500 with a short note. “May God bless you and use you this summer. All things come from God!” That was exactly what I needed that day. And God knew that. He used a beautiful heart to meet my needs. He does that stuff. But he took me to my limits first. He made me reach to Him in desperate prayer. He stretched my faith far. He grew me. That’s what life is all about. Growing alongside God and doing what we can to help others do the same. Over the next few days, thousands of dollars poured in from other hearts seeking to be instruments of God’s love. Now I am merely about $200 away from my end goal (and that’s after a rise in ticket costs lifted my expenses by about $500). Holy crazy, God blessed me with his people.

What I took from this experience was the beginning of an understanding of what it means to really trust God and to be a part of His Body. I began to realize that he will test us, take us through trials, and grow us in everything. I was reminded that God really does work all things out, and that His people are instrumental in Him doing so. This is what it means to be the Church, to be the hands, feet, arms, eyes, and ears of God’s Body. This fellowship and support of each other and the way we come through for God’s work in the end no matter what. However many problems and faults we have as the Body of Christ, we’re still His people and God will still use us. I was reminded of that. And that’s incredibly important for us to remember. It can be easy for us to just see all the faults in God’s Church, but we need to be celebrating the joys of being a part of God’s Kingdom here on Earth. We need to be appreciative of the place that we have this Body, this Kingdom, of our incredible God and Leader. We are all in this together, like it or not, and we need to depend on each other. We need to trust each other. We need to confess to each other and find refuge in this beautiful Body. The role of the Church in Scripture is one of the things that sets the Body of Christ apart from all other religions. It’s beautiful.

Today in my devotional, the author had some things to say about our expectations within this Christian life. My expectation when I began this journey was that God would meet all my needs with maybe a bit of a struggle; that this would be a fun experience that would give me a peak into my future career in missions and development in Africa. My expectation was that God would grow me, but I didn’t think I’d be pushed to the limits I have, especially before I’m even there in Nairobi. But our expectations rarely seem to line up exactly with God’s plans. Check out what the author of my devotional had to say about his time in ministry in Sudan:

“I found it discouraging that language leaders weren’t interested in saying the sinner’s prayer after two years of life on life with them. Neighbors were kind and hospitable, but not ready for a Bible study. Thoughts of Why am I here? and This isn’t what I signed up for started rapping in my brain…Why was life such a struggle? Why couldn’t I be content and satisfied?

Because I’d forgotten that it was my part just to obey, that Jesus is my just reward-that he can do as He sees fit with me, my family, and the work in Sudan…And only Jesus makes it worth it.

I didn’t expect God to bring me all this way to change what He saw in me. But he has. I needed Sudan more than Sudan needed me, and I didn’t expect that. I thought God was bringing me to Sudan to change Sudan…

What do you expect dying to self will feel like? Do you think it will be pleasant? Painless? Problem free? Do you expect people to understand, support you, praise you, clap for you? Do you expect the devil to cheer and every demon in hell to yield to your noble aspirations?…Or do you expect God to wring the self out of you in a painful and lengthy process using circumstance and shattered expectations-and then surprise you with how good it feels to have His image stamped deeply onto yours?”

It’s our part to obey. It’s not our responsibility to save souls, to change lives, or to bring revolution in society. God’s got that taken care of. When we assume responsibility for things like bringing the money needed, saving people, changing people’s attitudes and hearts, when we assume responsibility for doing anything other than loving God and loving people, we burn out. Taking on God’s responsibilities is an easy way to realize just how merely human we are and a surefire way to burnout and despair. But just saying, Here I am God. Do your thing, that takes so much less. That’s actually doable. Just trust God in what He’s doing. He won’t call you to failure. There is some purpose behind all things that God does. Now, not all struggles are even necessarily from God. We live in a world where evil is a very present reality. But “God uses all things for the good of those who love Him”. Remember that. Stop worrying and just live. Just love God and try to trust that He’s got all this stuff covered. 

Trust God. Ironically it’s one of the hardest things to do in life, but also one of the hardest things to live with a lack of.