Thursday, November 20, 2014

Entering the Latrine: The Barrier of Otherness

Behind the scenes of "How to Use the African Pit Latrine", Kampala
"First, you must enter the latrine." -- Wilbur Sargunaraj

Isn't that always the way forward? First thing is to get in there. To abandon all that holds you back and the voices which insist that this isn't the place for you.
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I felt awkward when Pamela handed me a menstrual pad.  She had made it herself along with what seemed like thousands more.  She explained that they were made from all-natural materials, were eco-friendly, could be washed and reused for up to a year, were leak-proof, and life-changing. "You should take some home for you wife as a gift," she added without a tinge of satire.

I fumbled the OPAD, as the product was named, in my hand nervously and asked her how these pads were impacting the lives of girls in Uganda.  Pamela explained that girls from poor families and communities couldn't afford to buy disposable pads and suffered from teasing at school due to the inadequacy of traditional menstrual rags which leaked.  As a result, girls tended to miss an average of 5 school days per month (best-case scenario) and many would drop out of school altogether.  The OPAD was a simple solution -- cheap, durable, hi-quality, reusable, transformational -- and Pamela's little operation was beginning to lift up a generation of young women. [Special Note: I'm please to announce that Trinity will be adding OPADS as a new partner.]

Transforming mission looks like this.  It may be simple.  It will be uncomfortable.  It will involve stepping across the threshold to enter a place that a normal person -- even a normal you -- would not ordinarily want to enter.  It's not the kind of thing for which respectable folks line up and it probably doesn't resemble the mission trip that First Baptist Whatever goes on every year.  It's the best kind of "cutting edge" -- the uncool kind.
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I've been trouncing around Kampala these last few days with my friend, Wilbur, and my sister, Gloria, shooting footage of African latrines, dancing boda-boda drivers and rapping baristas.  My companions have (and not only on this trip) modeled well for me what it means to break barriers and to enter the world of the "other".  Actually, I am finding it difficult to get this idea out of my head.  Could it be that the most serious problem we have as humans or specifically as the Church on mission is the ancient barrier of otherness -- to cross that most uncomfortable threshold (Acts 10:25, 28)?

But if I can do that-- if I can enter the world of those who are different than I, then I have the chance to truly understand them.  Inside, I can hear their stories, appreciate their gifts, and become familiar with their struggles.  Inside, I can discover how to bring the Kingdom to bear in their unique contexts and how I can fight alongside them in their particular battles against a broken and fragmented world.  Outside, I'm not sure what I can do.

Anyway, I am still pondering.  I invite you to do the same.  I also invite you to start breaking some barriers and to experiment with entering the world of the "other".  You might be very surprised with what you find.
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Now for some Pit Latrine action! I had a blast holding the camera for the latest "Supercall Solution" with Wilbur Sargunaraj.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.



Friday, November 14, 2014

#ssseastafrica begins!

Having just enjoyed a New York style slice (yes, a Chicago boy can appreciate certain NYC charms), I'm about ready to board my overnight flight which will ultimately land me in Kampala (by way of Brussels and Kigali) and thus start the Simple Superstars of East Africa journey-- three weeks of work, prayer, conversations, filmmaking, concerts, brainstorming, and more with the incredible people that make up the #ssseastafrica (2014) team.

Perhaps I'll talk about each of them as the trip progresses. For now, I'm so grateful for those whose generosity has made the trip possible. You can still give by going to our website. And be in prayer for myself and teammates Gloria, Wilbur, and Talargie as well as the many friends we'll be working with along the way.

I'll do my best to keep updating the blog. But connect with me on Twitter and FB as well.

For now, I look around the Newark airport and like so many US airports I see its workforce full of immigrants from around the world. West Africans, Nepalis, Ethiopians, Mexicans, Iraqis, Indians and others cooking, cleaning, driving service vehicles, pushing wheelchairs, running shops. Invisible people with thankless jobs and incredible stories. I love the people on the move. I love being around them. I have nothing insightful to say about them just now. Just ... I love them and I'm glad the Lord has taught me how to see them.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Palestinian Resolution Exposes an Illinois Baptist Blindspot


This past week I attended the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association.  Some of you are probably wondering what the heck such an event entails, but please, muscle past.  I want to skip the discussion of what we Baptists do when we hang out and move right on to a specific resolution that was passed regarding the Palestinian Church.  

A resolution* was passed calling upon Illinois Baptists and churches to be active in ministering to Palestinian children, to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian Church as a whole, to pray for government officials and other leaders in Israel and the West Bank, and to pray for Palestinian people in general.  Nothing at all is objectionable in these resolutions.  However, as I listened to the hurried process, I couldn't help but think of how blind we are.

Just the night before during a corporate prayer meeting, it had been mentioned that Muslims outnumbered Southern Baptists in the state (not that there aren't other evangelicals) and I happen to know that my denomination will very soon lose the only missionaries we have in Illinois who are exclusively focused on reaching Muslims (not that there aren't a few other workers ... just a few though). And yet, this resolution was entirely focused on the Palestinian People in Palestine. Consider the following:


Palestinians in Chicagoland

  • Population Estimate: 85,000
  • Palestinians are primarly located in Chicago's Southwest suburbs including Bridgeview, Oak Lawn and Orland Park. They are predominatly Muslims and may be the largest Arab diaspora in Chicagoland.
  • While there is a portion of the Palestinian community that is traditionally Christian, there are very few evangelicals and no known churches in Chicagoland intentionally seeking to reach Palestinian Muslims. New Engagement/Planting Efforts Needed: 80.

Our research team has estimated that as many as 80 new gospel engagement/church planting efforts are needed among the Palestinian diaspora in Chicagoland. It stands as one of the greatest evangelistic needs in our state and yet it was entirely ignored by a well-meaning resolution committee and a ballroom full of Southern Baptist leaders.  I suppose a few others may have considered this but the proceedings were rushed along very quickly.  There was really no time to call our attention to the diaspora peoples.  After all, we couldn't possible sacrifice our precious Common Core or Concealed Carry discussion time.

Followers of the Lord Jesus, may we not be blind to the presence and continued movement of diaspora peoples among us.  The endless migration of peoples from one end of the earth to the other and back again is perhaps the most impressive human force in the world today.  The least reached people groups on the planet have cousins in Toronto, siblings in Toledo, and classmates in Taipei.  The extent to which we do not notice is an important measure to revealing just how out-of-step our churches, mission agencies, and denominations may be with the leading of the Lord of the Harvest.  In 1974 Ralph Winter chided the global Church for our people blindness.  His prophetic challenge is just as appropriate today.

[*NOTE (Nov. 11, 2014)- In light of some of the feedback I have received, I want to emphasize that I did support the resolution that was presented.  It was a good one and, for someone like myself that is so passionate for the nations, perhaps the most important.  I'm actually quite grateful that it was brought forward and regret that we didn't have more time to consider it.  So, actually, I mean no disrespect to any individual or group associated with the resolution or even the program procedures.  My use of the first-person, plural pronouns in the article is intentional.  This is a self-critique of my own "tribe" because as I travel around the world speaking, teaching and writing and challenging all manner of evangelical groups to address their blindness to the presence of diaspora peoples among them I do no want to be guilty of pulling my punches within my own family.  As the prayer meeting at the Illinois Baptist annual meeting reminded us so well, certain things should simply not be and I believe that 2000 years is long enough for peoples to be without the gospel especially here in Chicagoland where we have the ability to take it to them. I am grateful for the strong responses that this article has generated and pray that the Lord uses it to not only lead us to greater engagement among Palestinians (here and there) but among all peoples.  As always, I appreciate my readers and my respectful critics.  My we ever be as iron sharpening iron on our way to the Master.]

Saturday, September 20, 2014

On the Road: "Simple Superstars of East Africa"



I am thrilled to publicly announce one of the biggest trips thus far in the history of Trinity International -- "Simple Superstars of East Africa"!

Coming in November, a handful of Trinity teammates will be traveling to Ethiopia and Uganda with our dear friend, Wilbur Sargunaraj for what is sure to be an busy and fruitful several days of work.

The highlights and goals of our trip are as follows:

  • To host 3-4 "Simple Superstar" community concerts feat. Wilbur Sargunaraj to bless children and families impacted by poverty, HIV/AIDS in both Ethiopia and Uganda.  Local leaders from our ministries Goh Bright Future and Endiro will help us facilitate this.  In most cases, these concerts will include free meals for members of the community.
  • To investigate opportunities for potential international or local workers to "MoveIn" to needy communities as well as to secure part or full-time employment.  The need for more laborers in this mission field is critical and we hope this trip will enable us to develop concrete plans for mobilization.
  • To record multiple short films and music videos which will highlight our East African children's work, raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges presented by global migration, and to honor some cool aspects of East African life and culture.  Films will be used specifically by our East African ministries (Goh Bright Future and Endiro) to raise awareness and to mobilize prayer and laborers.  The diaspora short film will be premiered at Manila 2015: Lausanne Global Forum on Diaspora Mission
  • To study more carefully diaspora South Asian Hindu and Muslim populations especially in Uganda and opportunities to minister among them.
  • To facilitate greater collaboration between our Ethiopian and Ugandan ministries in order to share best practices and resources.  We hope to see more church planting result in Uganda and more self-sustaining mission practices in Ethiopia.
Financial Needs for the Trip [GIVE NOW]:

We need to raise a large amount of money in a very short time in order to make this trip possible.  The team that is going will include myself along with teammates originally from India, Bhutan, Ethiopia and Uganda.  It will be a fantastic, multi-cultural team.  Here is a breakdown of the costs:

Air Travel (5 persons):      7300
Community Concerts:       2000
Lodging:                             500
Vehicle Rental:                   400
Sound mixing/recording:    Donated
Video recording/editings:   Donated
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Total:                                   $10,200

Raised thus far: 10.2% ($1050)

That is a large amount of money that we need to raise very quickly.  Please give your gift of support today.  We have well over a thousand people who follow our ministry, pray for us, and have been blessed by our work in the past.  If everyone gives even a very small amount, we will be well on our way.  Give now here!

[Note: Your gifts of support are made to Trinity International Baptist Mission a licensed 501c3 charity. Your donations are fully tax deductible and you will receive a giving record. Our online giving is secured by PayPal.]


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Knowing the Migrant Savior

("Turn to Clear Vision", by C. Lorance)

I'm thinking about what it means to "know Christ".  

I think we (Western, evangelical types) tend to mean by this a kind of emotional and intellectual adherence to certain theological positions/statements.  Maybe even really loving those truths and singing songs about them and stuff like that.  But, the Incarnation and Crucifixion were more than mere theological realities ... they were lived experiences of Lord Jesus.  The migrations and the sufferings of the Savior are a part of who He is (kind of a big part) and I am wondering if "knowing" Him in these things is even possible for the perennially comfortable, albeit theologically orthodox crowd who has never known the loss of displacement, the pain of culture loss, and the agony of physical torment.  Is there a sense in which one who knows nothing of orthodox confessions of faith or acceptable theological systems may nevertheless "know" something of Jesus, and that quite intimately, because they too were a migrant and they too suffered?  

Look at the Crucified Foreigner, pierced and bleeding impossibly far from home.  Does he look more like a suburban evangelical shopping at the local Lifeway for just the right Jesus fish to stick on his late model Camry or rather like the Syrian Muslim woman who was survived rape, torture and an impossible trek through the desert to bring her children to the relative safety of a refugee camp in Jordan?  I'm not saying that she knows enough about the Savior.  I'm just saying that maybe we don't either.  I'm just saying that perhaps there needs to be a bit more give and take in mission than we tend to allow for -- that the objects of our proclamation may themselves have something important to proclaim about Christ which we ignore to our own peril.

[Oh yeah, I'm blogging again.]