Friday, October 17, 2008

Reflections from Malawi

It is Friday morning, October 17 here in Lilongwe, Malawi. I'm half way through my 7th trip to Malawi in the last three years. This morning I am once again at the Korea Garden Lodge where the internet connection is slow but fairly reliable, waiting for Theresa Malila to pick Debbie and I and another couple up for a tour of 2-3 villages that are ready for a partner to walk alongside them as they work to transform their communities.

Every time I travel to Malawi I am confronted by disparities, oxymorons, poverty, joy, God, evil, hope, despair, faith, hopelessness -- and I could go on. I am here with a team of 19 people -- some of whom have never been outside the USA, others who have been here before and others who have traveled with me to other nations.

As I reflect on the last week, here are some of the things that come to mind.
  • In a nation where per capita income is US$180 a year, gasoline costs US$6.88 an American gallon and milk is US$8 a gallon, while you can buy a bottle of Coke for twenty-five cents and 5 litres of water for about US$3. That means you can't afford to buy gas or milk -- but you could afford Coke. Does that make any sense?
  • Food costs have gone through the roof -- partly due to the rise in fuel costs, but largely due to the policies of the government of Malawi that is getting praise in some circles for the job they have done in improving food security (the only people who believe there has been improvements are people who have money). A bag of maize (the staple food here) has gone up from about US$4 to US$40 in the last year. Tell me how that is helping the 70%+ people who live on less than $1 a day.
  • God is at work among the poor in Malawi. On Tuesday I was with a group of pastors, traditional leaders, an HIV Support Group and some Home-Based Care volunteers in the Mgona area of Lilongwe. Mgona is home to about 50,000 people. 50% of the population of Mgona are orphans and vulnerable children under the age of 15. Mgona is at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. The people who live there are considered trash. In the last 3 years I have been in Mgona many times and there is change beginning to happen. God is at work! Faith is growing! Hope is on the increase! I listened as pastors and traditional leaders spoke of how God has changed their lives and how they hope to see their community transformed. I heard stories of hope from people who were HIV+ and who only months before had been given up to die. I was humbled and blessed. I saw God at work! It was my turn to speak and all I could think of was what a privilege it was for me to be among these people -- people who others think are trash. I felt the urging of the Holy Spirit to say that one day people from across Malawi and even the world will come to Mgona to learn from them. God wanted to make them leaders and they should continue to seek Him, trust in Him and follow Him and He would be faithful. It sounded so foolish standing before this group of people who have no socio-economic power, no political power and no visible way to make anything happen in their lives -- yet I believe it to be true.
  • Yesterday I was in the community of Chilombo listening to a youth choir composed of about 40+ teenagers. They were singing about how God had changed their lives. Each of these teenagers had been involved in a Reach4Life (R4L) study group. They had been reading the R4L New Testament and had turned from a life of promiscuity and alcohol and drug abuse to a life of sexual purity and hope. I heard a girl of 15 or so tell us about the fact that she used to get her worth by having sex with men -- but now, because of the Gospel, she understood that she had value. She now respected herself and her life has turned around. Another young man told about how God had saved him from a life of alcohol abuse. Here, in a rural area of a small tiny country, in a community with no running water and no electricity God was moving. Such joy and hope! Malawi has a future if we can continue to influence the youth.
  • From there we went to a well that had been drilled as a result of money raised at a funeral of a friend. The well was providing clean water for 5,000 people ( I drank the water and it was GOOD). Sunday we dedicate it the well and place a plaque near it in rememberance of Dave Barr -- a good man. Fresh, clean water -- I take it for granted. Once again I grew in appreciation for what I have been given in life and my desire to help others was strengthened.
God seems so close here in Malawi -- often closer than in the USA. I'm so glad that I have the opportunity to come here and meet God. It makes life worth living. I have to figure out how to meet God at home -- I know it can happen -- it has in the past -- I know it will in the future -- but whether I am in Malawi, or in Turkey or Indonesia -- somehow he seems closer to those who are poor and oppressed than He is where we have power and wealth.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

To the Centre or to the Frontiers?

Many years ago when I attended the School of World Mission (now the School of Inter-Cultural Studies) at Fuller Theological Seminary Dr. Paul Pierson told us that God is always working at the fringes - rarely if ever is he working in the center of power. In fact, as you study the historical development of the world Christian movement you discover that God brings renewal to the church and renewal to a society by working on the fringes of the church and the society. Change rarely, if ever, comes from centers of political, religious or economic power.

Makes you wonder about all the "hoopla" of the current presidential election where both parties claim they will bring change and renew Washington DC. Somehow, I think not.

But, I digress.

This evening I started reading a book that was given to me by a Korean missions leader. The book was written by Paul Choi and is called "Global Spiritual Mapping". Not sure yet if I would recommend it, but he made some powerful statements in one of the early chapters that reminded me of what Dr. Pierson taught us back years ago.

Here are a few quotes:

People want to live in the center of the world's power.

Once people seize power, they struggle to hold onto that power in fear of losing everything that thye obtained with it. They take shortcuts and shamelessly flatter those with greater power, but in the end, their lives come to a ruin.

People are constantly moving toward the center because they see the power there. They say they can change the world by becoming succesful in the center. Yet that is not God's way. You cannot do anything at the center . . .

God does not work at the center of civilization. God works in the margins, the frontiers.

You cannot change the world at the center. If you want to govern the world, go to the center; but if you want to transform it, go to the frontiers.

When we go out to the frontiers, the center is affected.

History beings anew in the frontiers. When one frontier becomes the center of civilization, the cneter of history moves to a different frontier.

History makers do not go to the center. They go to the frontiers to discover new plans for the future. New history begins there.

Food for thought -- don't you think -- especially in the light of the fact that it seems that so much of the American church longs for the halls of power, longs to be part of the center of civilization. Yet Jesus started his ministry not in Jerusalem -- not in the center. He started His ministry in Galilee of the Gentiles -- far from the political, religious and economic center of Palestine.

Perhaps we need to look for God in the fringes where He often resides -- and stay away from the center, where He often appears not to be.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Does God Live in Istanbul?

This morning as I was eating breakfast in a restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey I watched as literally thousands of people passed before me on the busy streets of this city of 15 million people. I drank my coffee and watched the frantic scene in front of me. Some of the people walking by were dressed very conservatively -- women with headscarves and men in their working clothes. Others -- mostly younger men and women -- would not have been given a second look in any city in Europe or North America. As I watched the parade of people I wondered how many of them ever had the opportunity to hear the Gospel in a way they could understand. My guess -- very few of them.

You see, Istanbul is in Turkey -- a country of 74 million people. In this vast nation only about 3,000 Turks are followers of Jesus. Which brings me back to the question -- Does God Live in Istanbul?

The answer to that question is a resounding YES. On Sunday morning I was privileged to attend a standing-room only worship service in a Turkish church in this city. The 100+ believers were crowded into a small building. The worship was exuberant. The joy was palpable. The preaching passionate. It was a wonderful worship experience -- and after the service people hung around talking, eating lunch together, and sharing their lives over a cup of chi or coffee. I knew that God was in Istanbul!

As I talked with some of the people yesterday morning I discovered that one man has been on trial for 18 months because he led 45 people to Christ and planted a church in another city. His wife and 2 small children are obviously concerned. The man who took the offering is a former communist who was tortured by police for 2 weeks. Story after story emerged of people who are following Jesus despite challenging circumstances.

Yet there was a deep sense of joy in this community of Christians. The same joy I have seen among believers in Indonesia who are planting churches among unreached Muslims - or the poor descendants of Mayan Indians in the mountains of Guatemala, or among those living in poverty in the middle of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Malawi. It seems to me, as I travel around the world, the God's presence is especially close to those who suffer and who hunger for Him.

Is God in Istanbul? YES HE IS! But how will the 15 million people in this world-class city know that He is there and He is not silent? How can we in the west walk alongside the our brothers and sisters in Istanbul and the rest of Turkey as they live out the Gospel in this nation?

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Limits of Power

I would encourage you to watch this interview with former US Army Colonel Andrew J. Bacevich (now a professor at Boston University). Bacevich identifies three major problems facing our democracy:
  • the crises of economy,
  • government and militarism,
  • and calls for a redefinition of the American way of life
Watch with an open mind.

The Limits of Power

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Saddleback Civil Forum

Last night we watched Rick Warren interview both Barak Obama and John McCain on a variety of issues. Before the interviews I fully expected Obama to do much better than McCain, despite the fact that I suspected the audience would be more sympathetic to McCain. I was quite surprised by what I observed.

I felt that Obama often did not answer questions directly. He seemed rather uncomfortable in the setting and often gave long answers that didn't always answer the questions directly. While I hold similar positions to Obama on many issues (but not all), I was disappointed by his performance.

I was quite surprised by John McCain. He was funny, articulate, succinct and answered questions directly -- which forced Rick Warren to ask him additional questions. I was quite impressed with McCain's performance despite the fact that I disagree with him on several major issues (healthcare and taxes to name two of them).

Did this debate have any impact on how I will vote in November? Perhaps -- at a minimum I walked away from watching the interviews with a much more favourable impression of McCain than I had before.

I wonder about one thing however. Can either of these men make a difference in how politics happens in the USA? I am rather skeptical that they can. Both parties are slaves to lobbyists, big business, labour unions and special interests. We'll be able to see that first hand in the conventions coming up.

Politics is not the answer to the challenges the USA and the world faces. The answer lies in a church that understands how to serve. A church that understands the influence of "power under". While there is a growing realization that influence comes through service, too much of the evangelical/charismatic church still is too enamoured by political leaders and by concepts of "dominion" and the idea that Christians deserve to be heard and have the right to special status in our supposedly Christian nation. I do see some glimmers of hope out there, but I suspect it will take many years before we truly understand that discipling a nation comes from living like Jesus.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A Common Word - A Discussion Between Muslims and Christians

A friend of mine recently was at Yale University for a meeting of Christian and Muslim leaders. His observations and comments can be found here.

Monday, June 09, 2008

It's Been an Interesting 4 Days

The last 4 days have been interesting -- and not necessarily in a good way.

A week ago I received a letter from Janus indicating they weren't going to keep managing 403b accounts and that I needed to do something about that. So I went to my financial advisor and discovered that unless my employer has a different 403b plan, or I quit, I may end up having to take the money out and pay a ton of taxes. HOPEFULLY we can find a solution -- we have a few months to do that.

THEN, on the way home, I was slowly down at a stop light when I was hit TWICE by the car behind me. To make a long story short, a young guy hit a car at 45 mph. That car hit another car, driven by an 86 year old woman - and she hit me twice. Fortunately nobody was hurt to any degree. But 2 cars were totaled, and I have about $1,500 damage on my Ford Ranger. So, when I get in touch with the insurance companies, they tell me that if the guy who hit the 3 of us doesn't have adequate insurance, I may be stuck with getting little or no money for the damages on the Ranger. So, now I have to deal with that.

THEN, today I flew to Chicago to participate in COSIM. There are 67 organizations and churches represented here and the focus is effective international partnerships. It has the potential to be really good.

WELL, I started out this morning at 4:00am. Got to the airport on time and we boarded the plane as scheduled at 7:00am. The plane was to depart at 7:30. We had the honor and privilege to sit on that plane until 8:45am before it took off. Then, arriving in Chicago about an hour late, we then had the privilege of sitting on the plane even longer while they looked for a place to park it. Flying is so much fun!

So, I went to get my rental car -- and there were 20 people in line in front of me. So, I got to wait even longer. But I must give KUDUS to the good people at Avis who passed out ice cream bars after about 20 minutes for all of us standing in line.

So, I finally get my car (a Ford Focus - which is much improved over the older version) and started driving to my hotel. Well, there was a ton of construction, so I missed my turn-off and had to drive 10 miles down the road before I could get to a place where I could turn around and drive back. It was a toll road, and when I found my exit again, I had to pay the toll -- which I was more than willing to do. Well, I didn't have the right change, and there was nobody at the toll booth -- so I now have to figure out how to pay the toll -- because they took a picture of my rental car and if I don't pay in 7 days, I get fined.

Traveling is so much fun.

So, those are the highlights of my last few days.

How were your last few days.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Random Thoughts on March 30, 2008

1. Yesterday I was involved in a memorial service for Dave Barr. Dave died of stomach cancer at only 70 years of age. Dave and his wife Janet have a heart for the world -- having spent time in China, Thailand and Africa over the past 5 years. Dave was a wonderful man with lots of integrity and a heart for God and people. When news of his passing became public Janet received scores of emails from people all over the world who had been influenced by Dave. I'm glad that before he died he knew how much people appreciated him. This has also been a comfort to Janet.

2. Debbie and I are leaving for South Africa and Malawi on Wednesday. I'll be back on April 14 -- Debbie returns on April 19. This will be our first trip together since 2001. I'm glad we can do this together. This is an important trip for us personally and for the work and partnership we have been involved in over the past 30 months.

3. On an increasingly less important subject -- the Phoenix Coyotes will not make the Stanley Cup playoffs this year. BUT -- there is lots of reason for optimism. Solid goal tending and some great rookies (Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Dan Winnick, Craig Weller, Dan Carcillo, Joel Perrault, Keith Yandle, etc.) make me believe that in the next 2-3 years the Coyotes will be a force to be reckoned with. Gretzky is doing a good job coaching these young guys. It should be good. While I'm disappointed they didn't make the playoffs -- I have genuine hope for the first time in a number of years that things will get better for the Coyotes.

4. The Suns traded for O'Neal -- and the team has changed. O'Neal is playing better than expected. Steve Nash has definitely lost a step over the past 3 years, but is still a terrific guard. Stoudamire has really upped his play since O'Neal showed up. The Suns are good -- but I'll be shocked if they win the championship. With the age of their key players -- I think their window for winning has probably closed.

Well, that's about all for now.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Back to Malawi again

On April 2 Debbie and I leave for South Africa and Malawi. This will be my seventh trip to Africa (and Debbie's 3rd) in the last 30 months. This will be our first mission trip together since 2001. We are excited!

Debbie and I have been captured by Africa and by the opportunities to walk alongside African churches and ministries as they bring hope to those infected and affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Check out the link below to get more information about our trip and how you can help us get to Africa.

Thanks so much for your prayer and your help.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Yes We Can

Check out this great little video based on Barak Obama's speech entitled "Yes We Can". I found it quite inspiring.


While I have a lot of political thoughts swirling around my head, I have been reluctant to publicly state what I think. I have narrowed down my political choices for the fall of this year to the following two individuals.

Republicans - John McCain
Democrats - Barak Obama

I believe both of these men have more integrity than most politicians out there, and that they are not afraid to tell us what they honestly think (even if we may not agree, or their party does not agree). We need more people like that.

Monday, January 21, 2008


On Sunday, January 20, 2008 Barak Obama spoked at Ebenezer Baptist Church. I found it to be a very moving speech - much of it surely is inline with Kingdom purposes.

Like many of you who may read this blog, I have a tendency to cynicism. Obama is trying to become the Democratic Presidential nominee. He is speaking in a church. One could imagine that this speech was crafted for this particular audience. My hope is that is not the case. I have listened to both Barak and Michelle Obama, and they genuinely seem to be people who have a heart for the poor and the people of this country.

I would encourage you to read the speech. You can find it here:

  • MLK Speech by Barak Obama