My Second Meaningful Encounter at One Simple Old Stoplight

Yesterday, I had my second meaningful encounter at one specific stoplight in Seattle. Some of you know about the time I was blessed by a stoplight that skipped me three times and allowed me to talk with an incredibly kind homeless man, reminding me that things we view as inconveniences are sometimes God’s way of telling us to slow down and look around.

Yesterday afternoon, I met a man named Doug at that stoplight. I pulled up and saw a homeless man with a sign that summarized a life-changing episode, saying, “Laid off, now homeless, need work.” I looked around my car to see if I had anything to give him real quick. Nope, nothing. Then I remembered that I had some extra snacks that my boss let me take home from work today.
“Hey buddy,” I called and signalled him over. “How’s it going?”
“Eh I’m alright, how about yourself?” he replied.
“No complaints here. Hey, what’s your name man.”
“Doug.”
“Hi Doug, I’m Christopher. I just wanted to let ya know that I’ll be praying for ya. Also, I work at a cafe and have some snacks from work here. Would you like them?”
“Uh, sure,” he said, seeming kind of startled. He probably didn’t expect to encounter a guy with a little pink cardboard box offering some strange looking South African treats.
As I handed him the treats I told him, “You know, I was almost homeless once. Just last year.”
“Really? What happened?” he asked, obviously surprised.
“Lost my job, just like you. I was just kinda lucky that my parents and roommates could spot me money for my rent for a couple of months. I understand how difficult of a time it can be though, not knowing where your money for life will come from. You’ll be in my prayers man.”
Doug then reached into his pocket and pulled out the white slip that I’ve included a picture of.
“Here, these are thank you notes of sorts.” After he said this he took a bite of the spinach and feta roll I’d given him. “Wow, these are really something! Thanks!”
His face lit up just a bit and suddenly my insignificant gift was actually worth something. I hope I brightened his day at least a little.

After that my light turned green and I had to drive off, but I would like to try to do a little more for Doug. You see, his note shows that what’s happened to Doug could really happen to any of us. He has a degree in CIS and has had work his whole life. Right now he’s just hit a hard time, as many of us will at some point. So I need your help. If you know of any opportunities for work for Doug in CIS somewhere, please let me know. Or if you might know anyone who might know someone, please share this with them. Help me to make Doug’s day even better.
God bless you all.

Persecution

Per·se·cu·tion
pərsəˈkyo͞oSHən
noun
hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs.

As Christians, why does persecution surprise us?

Why does it anger us and bring us outrage? Why do we demand to be treated better, often see our persecutors as opponents unworthy of God’s grace, and even sometimes retaliate or call for retaliation? Were we not told to expect this when we signed on with Christ? (2 Timothy 3:12) Were we not given directions in advance to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? (Matt 5:43-48) Peter even says not to consider persecution “as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12-19). So why does our reaction to persecution of the Church today look so…well, typical? Predictable even?

My fellow Christians, God has a call for us. He is calling us to shower the world with Christ’s love. He is calling us to respond to persecution of ourselves and fellow believers not with hate or disgust for the persecutors, but with support for the suffering. Dare I say it, he is calling us to respond to the persecutors themselves with love and empathy for these lost people. He is calling for us to graciously accept anything and everything that the world throws at us or the rest of the Church. He is calling for us to turn the other cheek, to offer our tunic to those who rob us of our cloaks, and to surprise the world with how incredibly different we are. He even calls us to enter persecution knowingly and willingly.

Today, the Christian church is facing persecution of various degrees.

Tens of thousands of Christians were recently forcibly evicted from Mosul in Iraq, Christians across Syria are suffering at the hands of extremists, Christians have been imprisoned recently in Iran and Sudan, the Church continues to be persecuted to near elimination in North Korea, and Christians in Nigeria are suffering at the hands of Boko Haram. Overall, Christianity is illegal or physically dangerous in about 51 countries of the world. Persecution of a lesser degree has happened in the West, with some seeing certain political actions as persecutions of the Church and with parts of Europe being seemingly hostile to religion altogether. So yea, we’ve got some tough stuff going on. But let me tell you, we can use that hostility to turn the world on its head.

We’ve just gotta respond in a way that would turn heads.

Jesus says some pretty awesome stuff in chapter 5 of Matthew. Something he says about persecution specifically that’s always stuck out to me is Matthew 5:11-12, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

Wow. Be glad about persecution? What? Um, Jesus, you do understand what persecution is, right? It kinda sucks… Huh, maybe he just doesn’t understand what persecution is like… Or maybe, just maybe, He plans to use our persecution to save others and to glorify His name.  In all honesty, I think many of us Christians today often respond to persecution in much the same way that anyone else would. We avoid it, detest it, and get angry about it. We march in protest, shout about our rights, and overall demand to be treated right. I can’t blame ya. Everyone deserves justice, yea? Everyone deserves to be treated fairly, yea? Isn’t that what Western society, democracy, and the modern world is all about? Equal rights for all and such gooshy stuff?

But what if we took a more humble approach?

What if, instead of spending time marching for our rights that are infringed upon, we spent that time ministering to the needs of those infringing on our rights? What if we considered others as more important than ourselves? (Phil 2:3) What if we chose to be wise not in the world’s way, but in God’s way. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18.

I will say, it is crucial and absolutely called of us as Christians to stand for justice. And we are meant to oppose wrongdoing and evil. But I believe we should oppose evil itself. Oppose the Evil One, not the ones he has deceived. Make it your priority in life to reconcile the lost to Christ, even when they persecute you or others. Let your heart break for those stuck in hatred rather than also being driven towards hatred by their actions. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12. Trust me, God will judge those who allow themselves to be instruments of evil and do not turn from their ways. No condemnation from us will even make a difference in the end.

But for us, love, above all things, is meant to emanate from our lives, absolutely regardless of anything going on in the world around us. I call you to pray for the persecuted, but to pray for the persecutors just as much (if not more). We can change the world through Christ, but we must consider ourselves nothing for the sake of others first.

Counting our lives as nothing for the sake of others.

About a century ago, a band of brave souls became known as one-way missionaries. They bought tickets to the mission field without the return half. Instead of suitcases, they packed their few earthly belongings into coffins. As they sailed away, they waved goodbye to everyone they loved and all they knew, knowing they’d never return home. They gave up everything to leave for near-guaranteed persecution. One of those missionaries was A.W. Milne. He set sail for the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, aware that the headhunters there had martyred every. single. missionary. before him. But guess what. Milne didn’t fear for his life because he had already died to himself. His coffin was packed. He ended up living among the tribe for 35 years, sharing Christ and His love with people who had previously horrifically killed many of his brethren. When he died, they buried him in the middle of the village and inscribed the following on his tombstone: “When he came there was no light. When he left there was no darkness.” I wish to see more people thinking like that today. Counting our lives as nothing for the sake of others.

See the world as God sees it.

I hope that we can all come to see the world as God sees it, a place full of people desperately in need of their Creator, beloved and beautiful, and in need of healing over their brokenness. In Ezekiel 18:23 and 27 God says, “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?…Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live…if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life.” I encourage you to do all you can in your life to help people turn to God and be reconciled to Him, so that their incredibly valuable lives will be saved.

I will leave you now with the passage of 1 Peter 3:8-18. This passage summarizes beautifully the focus that God hopes to see in our lives.
“8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
    and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”

This Is My Future

Image

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.

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.