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.
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.
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.
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.


#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.


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.]