The Darkest of Night

I recently returned from my second trip to the continent of Africa.  One of the things that I noticed about Africa is that it is a very dark place, both physically and spiritually.  In this darkness, I also noticed great beacons of light, piercing through.  Beacons of hope for a people living in what some people have considered ‘the dark continent’. 

Last summer, I traveled to the middle-of-nowhere, Uganda.  In the Agule sub-district of Pallisa, Uganda, our team of twelve random college students helped out at the Agule Community Health Center, working and helping out wherever we could.  We got to know the nurses and the doctors, working alongside them, treating Malaria, diagnosing patients and (for me) trying to stay out of the way.  We worked around the clinic, helping out with the construction of the new ward where we could. 

It was there that I first saw how dark Africa could be.  Each night, with the lack of artificial light, the land would be plunged into darkness.  A complete and utter darkness that seemed to reach out and grab at us as we laid down to rest beneath the shelter of blankets and mosquito nets.

Spiritually, it was dark.  I felt the darkness reaching out, almost alive and breathing.  It was more than a presence in the night, but something darker. 

We talk about spirits and demons, almost with a laugh in our voices, but I have felt their presence there in Uganda. 

The night that I came down with symptoms of Malaria, I was up late reading the Word of God.  After finishing up the chapter I was reading and praying for the clinic, I said ‘Amen’.  Almost immediately, it felt like someone or something reached out and grabbed me.  That whole night, I couldn’t stop shaking.  I couldn’t sleep, so I prayed. 

Some people have told me that it was just the Malaria, but they didn’t feel that icy hand of darkness creep in.  They didn’t feel the darkness that entered, trying to stop my words.  They didn’t feel the presence that shook me to the core, that grabbed ahold of me and refused to let go. 

It was there in Uganda that we heard the stories of the witch doctors, the power that they held through fears and through the beliefs of the people.  We heard stories of human sacrifices, children kidnapped and blood spilt. 

We asked ourselves what would drive people into such darkness.  And then we looked around. 

This past summer, I spent three months aboard the Africa Mercy, two and a half of those docked in Lome, Togo.  It was there that I saw the darkness again, in the faith of tribal worship and the influences of Voodoo. 

We heard stories of children sold by their parents for sacrifice, to be taken advantage of by a primitive faith.  We saw the influence of tribal worship creeping into the  Christian faith, influencing the perception of the church. 

Togo was veiled in darkness because of the influence of Voodoo and the tribal faiths that surrounded us.  We saw it on the streets, in the market place, in worship and in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. 

We heard stories of Voodoo priests, much like the witch doctors of Uganda, kidnapping children, making human sacrifices and forcing children into the sex industry.  We heard of ceremonies that were beyond our darkest imaginations, curses against others and the possession of demons, openly accepted by participants. 

Many people claim that Africa is the ‘Dark Continent’ and part of me agrees with them.  In the movie Blood Diamond, they claim that God left Africa a long time ago, and while many will agree with them, I cannot. 

Even though I have seen and felt the great darkness that consumes the land of Africa, I have seen redemption.  In the darkest corners of life, I have seen the greatest beacons of light shining out as hope. 

In Uganda, we saw men and women serving a community, not because of good pay or job benefits, but because they loved the community and want to see it improve.  We saw warriors who fought for each and every life that they encountered, through tender hands and kind hearts.  I felt their healing touch as I battled Malaria and came through stronger than before. 

I had the opportunity to work beside college students that had a passion and fire that burned brightly for these people.  I saw missionaries, pastors, priests who brought truth to a country that was consumed by superstitions, lies and fear.  I saw these beacons of light pierce the darkness that covered the land. 

In Togo, I saw a passion in the people that could not be explained.  It felt like they were fighting to find the truth, to escape the old ways of tribal practices and Voodoo worship.  There were beacons of hope throughout the land, in the missionaries that served them, providing for their needs, to the pastors and church workers who were reaching out to the orphans and the children of the street, taking them in. 

I saw more stories of redemption, of sacrifice, and of love in Togo than anywhere else I have gone.  Though we were there to serve the people of Togo, the crew of the Africa Mercy had people ministering to and praying for them. 

I have seen this darkness in other corners of the world.  I have seen in here in the states, but I have only experienced it firsthand in Africa.  To say that Africa is the only place where darkness hides would be a great deception.  It resides anywhere that people are fighting for God, for when God moves, so do the agents of darkness and the workers of Satan. 

The darkness resides in each of us too.  Learn to fight it.  Learn to be a beacon of light for others.  For in the darkest of night, we see the greatest of lights piercing through. 

God Bless and PEACE

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Surviving and Living

While aboard the Africa Mercy, we would get into some interesting conversations.  While visiting Kpalime with a couple of the crew, I got into a conversation (or argument) about the difference between surviving and living in the world.  Is there a difference?

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he [Jesus] was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God'”

 – Matthew 4:2-4

When this verse was brought up, my first response took my friend off guard.  “But you can survive on it.”

Throughout history, we see people survive on bread and water.  In old jail cells.  Throughout the Holocaust.  Bread will allow your body to keep working, our heart continuing to pump.  We won’t have that much strength, but we can continue to survive.

Though we can survive, can we actually live on just bread?  If we have no strength, can we actually live?  Can we do anything other than sit there and breath? 

There is a difference between surviving and living.  Each of us survive.  But do we truly live? 

We go through life, thinking we are living to the fullest, but really, we are just surviving because we go day by day, hoping that everything works out.  We put our trust in money.  In ourselves.  In our relationships.  In everything but what really matters.

The Word of God sustains us and allows us to live.  To actually live, rather than just survive. 

With God, we have so much more, spiritually, physically and mentally.  We enter life with a whole new mindset, that gets us through the day, looking forwards to something bigger, but yet learning how to bring that love to the present moment. 

Living is more than not dying.  It is experiencing something that cannot be put into words. 

Recently, I’ve been watching Discovery Channels “The Colony”, in which a group of people fight to survive in a post-apocalyptic setting.  They barely have enough food not to starve to death, but you can see the effects of them barely having enough to get by.  They lose weight.  They lose tempers.  They loose their sanity (slowly, but you can see the effects).

While they are surviving, they are not fully living.  They are fighting for each and every day, but they do not have the strength to look farther into the future, because they are not physically capable of living. 

We are just like them.  Surviving from day to day.  No hope.  No peace.  We are incapable of living unless we give our lives over to something bigger.  God’s word, Holy Scripture, is the bread of life and what sustains us. 

So, are we really living?  Or just surviving?

God Bless and PEACE

Silent Angels

We all look for miracles and signs of wonder from God.  It’s in our nature.  We don’t want to believe until we have proof of something greater than us, so we ask Him for proof of his existence.  We demand that he show us His will before we act.  We ask for fleeces.  We request His wisdom.  To hear His voice in our life.  We want something BIG. 

As the crowd increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation.  It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.  For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.” 
 – Luke 11 29-30

God has already given us the greatest sign, the death and resurrection of Jesus.  As Jonah was swallowed by the whale and spit out after three days and three nights, the Son of Man was killed, buried and then raised again on the third day.  There is no greater sign than this.

But yet, we still ask and demand that God shows us signs. 

Is it that we still don’t believe that he exists?  Is it that we don’t want to believe?  Do we lack the faith?  Are we human and just want solid proof, rather than second-hand information? 

We want to feel God in our lives.  We want to have a first-hand experience with God. 

Looking back over the past four years at Anderson, my trips to Honduras, Spain, Uganda and Togo, and the two summers that I spent doing Summer Staff up at Young Life’s Saranac Village, I asked God hundreds, if not thousands of times to show himself to me.  They say hindsight is 20-20, and along with realizing how much I asked, I realize that God showed me himself hundreds, if not thousands of times through the small encounters of life and in living. 

There are silent angels watching over us.  We meet amazing children of God each and every day.  We share their stories, their lives, and in each encounter with another person, we encounter God. 

With each breath we breathe, we get another opportunity to live in the presence of God.  Each one is a blessing that we so often over look.  In these small moments, God reveals himself hundreds of times over and over again.  In the mist of the morning rising over the mountains.  In the stillness of a lake, reflecting the view from above.  In the sunlight piercing the clouds.  In the downpour.  In a childs smile.

We ask for signs and wonders, and we overlook them each and every day.  These silent moments that take our breaths away.  In the chaos of day-to-day life.  God is revealing himself to us, yet we refuse to allow ourselves to see him. 

Just something to think about….

God Bless and PEACE

Where Have All The Warriors Gone?

I’ve seen a growing trend among the youth of this generation and the older generations that came before us.  I see it in the way people act while I’m living between adventures.  I see it in the eyes of friends that have ‘grown up’ and become ‘more mature’.  I’ve seen it here in the states, on the missions field, and at times, in the faces of strong Christians.  It is a falling of warriors into the ways of the world. 

I returned from the missions field less than a month ago and I have seen the fire of my own heart fade.  The passion is still there, the deep burning of embers, but the flame, the actions and the spreading had been smothered by the indifference of society and the neglect of remembering who God has created me to be. 

I admit, I have fallen many times in my life.  I stumble.  I am far from perfect, despite what people say about me.  I have passion that drives me, and at times gets me into trouble.  At times I forget the man that God is calling me to be.  I believe we all do. 

Everyone stumbles.  Everyone falls.  Everyone forgets. 

I’ve heard it said that the thing that makes someone stand out isn’t that they stumbled and fell, but they got back to their feet and continued on.  They say that this is what defines Heroes.  I say this defines warriors. 

Unfortunately, I have seen smaller and smaller numbers of Christians rise again after falling in their walk of faith.  To many warriors have put their swords and armor up on the mantle and called it quits.  To many Christians stop reading the Word of God daily, relying on the wisdom and knowledge of this world to keep going.  To many stong souls stop living, choosing rather to survive day to day. 

I’ve seen this in friends that once stood shoulder to shoulder along side of me.  I’ve seen this in the youth, as their passion has been buried under the watchful eyes of the elders.  I’ve seen this in the older generations, as we would rather enjoy traditions and the way it’s always been done, rather to embrace the burning faith that God has passed along to us.  I’ve seen it to many times in those around me, and I’ve seen it in my own life. 

Each and every struggle that has been put into words, and then some that have not been expressed here, I have dealt with.  I’ve seen spiritual droughts.  And I’ve seen the devastating floodwaters rising. 

The fire burns in each of us.  When we became Christians, through a sudden transformation of a life or through a gradual process we received faith with an open heart.  In that moment, wherever you were in your walk, God placed in you a flame.  An ember that burns.  This is faith.  This is the Spirit of the Warrior.  Anyone who has ever called themselves Christians, Followers of the Way, or Disciples of Christ has this flame.  We have smothered it.  Society has smothered it.  Our actions have smothered it. 

The ember is still there, burning inside our hearts.  Constantly calling us to be something more.  God is calling us back to our feet.  He is calling us to be more than followers, but to be warriors for him. 

He has given us the passion, let it consume everything you do. 

God Bless and PEACE

Thanks is an Understatement

Dear Family and Friends,

I want to thank you for your physical, financial, and spiritual support in my past three months of serving with Mercy Ships aboard the M/V Africa Mercy in Togo, West Africa and on the sail down to Durban, South Africa.  Without everything you guys have done, none of these adventures would have happened. 

I arrived in Lome (pronounced low-MEH), Togo on the first of June and was instantly surrounded, greeted and accepted as family aboard the Africa Mercy.  The friends I met while serving there are more than friends, but brothers and sisters, a family aboard the ship.  I could go on and on about the individual people that influenced my time aboard the ship, they each hold a special place in my heart. 

Picture thanks to Roses

In my three months of service, I was part of the Stewards Department, more specifically, part of the Dining Hall Crew.  Between setting up early and serving everyone food and the enormous amounts of cleaning and social interactions, being part of the Dining Hall team was difficult, but satisfying work.  There were times where I struggled to smile and be friendly to my fellow crew members and those working alongside of me, but through those struggles, I learned to rely on God’s strength and not my own.  I couldn’t have made it without him.

While it was difficult, one of the best parts about working in the dining hall was being able to greet and talk to every single crew member as they came through the serving lines.  I got to know all types of people from around the globe and from every walk of life.  I also got the privilege of working along side some amazing children of God.  The members of my team got the privilege of putting up with my early morning greetings and my abundance of energy.  I will never forget those that I served and served along side of.

Picture thanks to Roses

While most of my time and energy went into working in the dining hall, I did get the opportunity to depart the ship for short periods of time.  When I did leave the ship, most of the time, I headed into the heart of town and into the market.  It was here where we, the crew of the Africa Mercy, were constantly harassed by street vendors shoving their crafts into our faces and asking for ridiculous prices.  After my first experience in the market, where i shoved a guy for trying to drag me away from the rest of the group, the vendors and Rastafarians gave me the nick-name of “Body Guard” which they shouted every time they saw me.

I also got the opportunity to travel up to Kpalime (pronounced pal-eh-MEH) for a weekend with a small group of crew.  It was there that I sat for hours and watched the ‘djembe maker’ hack and carve out a drum from a log.  It was an amazing opportunity to watch this man work long hours and create his art.  It was extremely special in that I purchased one of the djembes that went through the transformation that weekend. 

In the last couple weeks of my stay with Mercy Ships, things got a little chaotic as the ship prepared for the sail down the coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope and into Durban Harbor for repairs.  After saying sad good-byes to almost half the crew, we departed Togo and headed out to the open seas. 

As the Africa Mercy is a converted Danish Railway Ferry, its flat bottom design, high bouancy, and high center of gravity makes sailing in the open sea a little difficult.  While we rocked and rolled the whole trip, and at one point hit some huge swells, almost every single crew enjoyed the sail as much as I did.  We crossed through the Cape of Good Hope and the southern most tip of Africa on smooth seas and in fair weather. 

While the last bit of my stay was a little rough, the ships stay in Durban is highly needed.  As the Africa Mercy goes into dry-dock for hull repairs and new generators, many smaller projects on and aboard the ship will take place over the next four months.  While things still need to be worked out, I have learned from the crew of this amazing ship to place everything in the hands of God, he will provide for our every need and knows when to say no to our wants.

Picture thanks to Tom Bradley from http://www.tom-bradley.com
 
It was a blessing to serve aboard the M/V Africa Mercy for the past three months.  The lessons I learned while on ship will stay with me for the rest of my days; Lessons of love, community and trust.  I know i will always have a family away from home, through the crew of the Africa Mercy. 

Again, I thank each and every single person who made this opportunity come together.  Thank you for your constant support, whether it is/was financially, emotionally, physically, or spiritually.  It made this trip and adventure a journey of a lifetime.  Thank you for your constant prayers for strength and perseverance, patience and trust.

May God bless you for all your support in this venture!

God Bless and PEACE

Blinkers and Traffic Signs

When I drive, I like to know what is going on around me.  When driving down the road, I like to know that the traffic signs are correct.  If there is a sudden turn, I would rather be warned ahead of time.  I also really enjoy it when people around me use their blinkers before veering over into or out of my lane.  Like road signs, blinkers keep everyone else aware of the constantly changing road conditions. 

On the road, drivers need to be aware of everything around them, from the direction of travel to the other cars and drivers on the road.  Signals and road signs help keep everyone aware and safe along the journey. 

When journeying with God, he provides road signs.  Other people who you encounter on your journey choose whether or not to use their signals.  With both the signs and signals, sometimes we see them, other times we just completely miss them. 

The road signs God shows us may be obvious or blatant, but they may be slight and a little hidden.  In my life, I’ve had everything from ‘Do Not Enter’ signs with blinking red lights to turn signals hidden behind overgrown leaves.  Sometimes they are bold statements that jump out at us, something said by someone that just sticks with us, a dream that continues night after night and stays with us during the day, or a feeling that is undeniable.  Other times the road signs can be as subtle as a whisper in the dark, a movement in the corner of your eye, a flash of light in the distance, or a group of friends, a community moving in a direction. 

Other people can be signs from God, but they also have their own journeys they are on.  Most of the time we don’t slam into one another, the traffic accidents of life.  Sometimes as we travel, we turn, we swerve, we switch lanes, sometimes we even slam on the breaks or switch roads all together.  Like all drivers, every once in a while we decide to use our ‘blinkers’ and warn everyone else of our travel intentions. 

In traveling alongside and on the same road as everyone else, we must learn to adjust to everyone else on the road.  Sometimes you must react to someone elses sudden adjustment to their journey.  Sometimes, we react to them before they move, because they send signals telling us what is going on.  We pick these signals up from conversations and from actions.  Sometimes we pick them up, other times we don’t.  When we pick up on these signals we can react quicker than when we don’t see those signals to the last moment, or when we don’t see them at all (or if there are no signals). 

The road is where God is leading us.  It has never been about a destination, but the journey that God leads us on.  He is guiding us, so we don’t get lost.  We travel with hundreds, if not thousands of people on the journey. 

Pay attention to the traffic signs that God has placed along your journey.  Watch for the signals of those around you.  Do this, and you wont get lost and you wont crash in your journey with God. 

God Bless and PEACE

Reflections of the Past

Nine years ago, our country came under attack.  Extremists brought the battle to our front steps and put the horrors of war in our own back yard.  Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost, physically, spiritually and emotionally.  The effect of this attack was felt across the nation, across the world and across the minds of a generation that has been dragged into this war. 

In the times we live in, we are surrounded by anger and hatred.  As Christians, how do we forgive those who have taken the lives of our mothers and fathers, our friends, our brothers and sisters, fellow country men. 

I have seen to many Christians and churches shouting messages of anger and hate through the way they talk, hold themselves up, and act.  We have pastors who incite violence by threatening to burn the Koran.  We have brothers and sisters who refuse to acknowledge those of another faith.  We have scripture that tells us to love our neighbor, but yet we spit in their faces by denying them forgiveness. 

I’ve heard people blame the whole Muslim world for the attacks of September 11th.  I don’t believe that.  We cannot blame a faith for what individuals do with it.  If we are to say that all Muslims are to be blamed for these terrorist attacks, then shouldn’t all Christians be to blame for the hundreds and thousands of attacks in Ireland over the past century?  People manipulate faith to fit their agenda of violence.  Muslims and Christians alike. 

We cannot blame the Islamic faith and religion for what a certain group of individuals did.  I have known many Muslims who were and are outraged by the violence of the extremists.  I have friends of the Islamic faith who had family and friends who passed away these attacks.  I know others who are serving in our armed forces over in Afghanistan and Iraq.  To say that all Muslims are to be blamed for the attacks of 9/11 is not only ignorant, it is wrong. 

While I have tried to keep my political opinions out of this blog, there is one issue of faith that has made international news.  The so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” 

Almost two and a half years ago, I got the opportunity to travel across southern Spain with a group of art students for class.  While there, we got the privilege of seeing many places of faith, from grand and decorative Catholic Cathedrals to small and sparse Jewish synagogues.  One of the greatest places that we got to see  was the Great Mosque of Cordoba.  This building was fascinating in its architecture and in its history.  It was built by Muslims, Christians and Jews, all working together.

I bring this up, because they lived in peace.  When one needed help, the others provided because that was how they lived.  That is how we, not only as Christians but as human beings, should live.  In harmony with one another and, in effect, with God. 

When I first heard about the proposed building of a mosque a couple blocks from the site of the World Trade Centers, I didn’t think anything about it.  In fact, I support it. 

Before rocks and stones are thrown at me by hundreds and thousands of directions, let me explain.  In having an Islamic Cultural Center near the heart of Ground Zero, we show the world that we can rise above anything the extremists can do.  We show the world acceptance and forgiveness, love and compassion.  These are things all Christians should strive for, not just within yourself and with God, but with others around you. 

If it were up to me, on the sight of Ground Zero, in the midst of the memorial, there would be a place of prayer, open for all faiths and religions.  Christian or not.  Why?  Because it shows that we not only forgive, but we accept those of different faiths. 

We are a generation that has been scarred by hate, indifference and anger.  Yes, the attacks of September 11th, 2001 were a tragedy and we should never forget the heroes of that day, those still with us and those that passed into death.  But it is not enough to not forget, we must forgive.

Forgiveness is the beginning of healing, and until this generation and this nations heals, we will only be hurting each and every year. 

God Bless and PEACE