(This post was written on Sunday, but lack of internet access has me posting it on Tuesday.)
As I sit in Nairobi on a warm, sunny afternoon, the sun hasn’t yet risen back home in Houston. What has been a day filled with encouragement and hope for us here hasn’t even begun for most of our friends and family back home. And yet, in just a few hours, many of them will be worshiping God like we worshiped him this morning half a world away.
And back at Trinity Vineyard, a poorly-kept secret will finally be made official. Melody, Lucy and I, along with our “baby to be named later” are moving to Kenya! That’s right, the cat is finally out of the bag and it’s a big one. To be honest, there is a combination of anxiety and relief at this announcement. Anxiety because such a big change in our lives, the life of our church and the lives of our family and friends will bring with it many questions – some of which we can’t really answer. Relief because after nearly two years of prayer, conversations, more prayer, trips and even more prayer, our plans are no longer a secret and we can begin speaking openly about the incredible vision that God has placed before us.
When you decide move away from everything and everyone you’ve ever known and to set up house in a developing nation 8000 miles from home, it is not a decision made lightly. For us, it is a decision that has been inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit – something so far beyond ourselves that it’s hard to really fathom all of the ways in which God is orchestrating this.
Though we have had our fair share of risk-taking endeavors, this is by far our greatest adventure yet and the more we say “yes” to God, the more he confirms that we’re headed in the right direction. Even our 3 year old little girl – currently crashed out in a jetlag-induced heap on her bed – seems to understand that something big is happening here in Kenya and that we are to be a part of it.
For those of you who don’t happen to attend Trinity or who just slept in this morning, here’s the skinny: Over the past 2 years, God has made it very clear to us that there is an overwhelming need for a new kind of church in Nakuru, Kenya. Nakuru is a growing, thriving city that is only just beginning to really come into its own and, as such, is beginning to attract people from all over the world who are either hoping for a financial windfall by jumping on this train early or who are just being made aware of the incredible needs of the poorest in the city.
As these international business people, relief workers, missionaries and others move into town, they represent incredible potential for use in God’s Kingdom. Whether here on a business assignment, out of humanitarian compassion or by a clear call from God, these “expats,” as they are commonly known, are here. And yet, the church that they need – the life-giving community that will serve to encourage, challenge and care for them – is missing. The organism that could bring them together and combine all of their strengths, skills and passions currently doesn’t exist.
As such, many expats, including missionaries, in Nakuru don’t go to church at all. Sure, there are churches they can attend – churches led by incredible people who are doing incredible work among the Kenyan people – but there is no church where they feel like they belong culturally. It is our desire to plant just such a church.
Imagine, if you will, taking the very best of our current church, Trinity Vineyard, and transplanting it to Africa – transplanting it just as these people have been transplanted. Trinity Vineyard Church Nakuru will seek to be an answer to the dilemma that missionaries have faced for centuries: How do you pour yourself out day after day helping people, when you have no one pouring into you? The answer: You don’t. You can’t. You have to have somebody investing in you.
Successful long-term workers are often sustained by hard-working sponsors and sending churches back home, but even in the best of scenarios, love and support from thousands of miles away is often inadequate when faced with the daily challenges of living, working and serving in Africa. The only way to thrive long-term in this environment is to have a supportive community and a powerful connection to God. And community happens best when we’re all in the same room. Part of our call as a church, then, is simply to “be there.”
Our hope is that Trinity Vineyard Church Nakuru will be a place where people can be continually finding God and growing ever closer to him, a place where they can find friends who can support and encourage them and, ultimately, a place where they can find life in the midst of all of the brokenness, pain and need – to be refreshed spiritually, relationally and emotionally and then sent back out to continue changing the world.
I suppose you could say that Melody and I feel called to “care for those who are caring for others,” but the mission is truly greater than that. We believe that God’s desire in planting this church is the same as his desire for all churches. He wants to see as many people as possible moving their lives in his direction – getting closer, loving more and working more intentionally for his Kingdom. Our particular calling to the international community in Nakuru is simply one expression of this universal desire.
We are excited to be embarking on this adventure, but there is much work to be done before we pack up and move eastward. First of all, we need to complete the adoption of our second child. For those who know us and have been following our adoption journey, you know that we are nearing the finish line on this one. We hope to travel to The Republic of the Marshall Islands sometime this summer to bring home our little one.
On top of that, there are plans to be made, vision to be cast, partnerships to be formed, more trips to be taken and, of course, money to be raised. On the church side, there is plenty of transition to be made as well as Melody and I continue to bring others along to offer leadership in some of the areas where we’ve been serving.
In short, it’s a lot! A lot of work, a lot of change and a lot of challenge. But as we were reminded at Trinity a few weeks ago, healthy things grow, growth brings change, change brings challenge, challenge leads to trust in God, trust in God leads to obedience and obedience leads to more health. For us, personal growth and the growth of God’s vision for us is now leading to change and challenge. We ask that you would pray for us as we trust God to work out the details and as we try to obey his calling and direction in our lives.
For those who like to think about timelines, we’re aiming for a move sometime in mid-2014. Some days, that seems like an eternity from now. Others, it feels like it’s just around the corner. Through it all, we know that we have the support and encouragement of incredible family, friends, our church community and our amazing Vineyard family of coaches and leaders.
We will be filling in more details over the coming weeks and months, but that is it in a nutshell. We are excited to see what God wants to do in and through us in Nakuru and we believe that the best is yet to come!
Several weeks ago, a friend of mine challenged herself to memorize Hebrews 12. Not only that, but she invited several of us to join her in the challenge as a way to encourage each other. I decided to jump in, having not memorized any lengthy passage of scripture in many years. I wasn’t sure if I could do it or not, but, alas, by the end of November, I had the entire chapter memorized and, for the most part, I can recite it today with only a few hiccups here and there.
One of the verses that I had difficulty processing in Hebrews 12 was verse 14:
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)
Unlike most people, the peace thing doesn’t really intimidate me. I am typically able to live at peace with people. The troublesome part is when you combine the ideas of holiness and peace – especially in the way that we are instructed to do in Hebrews. You see, the holiness that is called for here is not just personal holiness, but a corporate holiness. This kind of holiness requires, among other things, that we help to correct the unholy behavior of others. That is where the whole peace thing gets more difficult.
Have you ever been forced to confront someone about sinful behavior? Maybe it was something “big” like adultery or something we might consider a more minor offense like, say, gossip. Whatever the case, such confrontations are never comfortable and have the potential to be explosive. In those instances, how in the world are we supposed to live at peace with everyone?
Well, first, I take some comfort in the words, “Make every effort,” which acknowledge that sometimes peace may be out of reach. After all, peace between two parties depends on a desire for peace from both parties. I can only do so much. The other person has a part to play, too. However, upon further reflection, I’ve realized that my part in that effort is actually much larger than I initially thought.
You see, I’ve come to realize that there is a lot of groundwork that goes into living at peace with everyone. Part of the “every effort” that we’re supposed to make involves all of the conversations, energy and time spent investing in relationships long before any confrontation. Making every effort to live in peace means that I must first establish a baseline of love, support and trust with this person. They have to know that I am for them and that I see them as created in God’s image and that I love them like a brother or sister. That takes a lot of work.
However, it is only through this kind of groundwork that we can live in peace with someone while also confronting them. I heard a story recently of a friend who was, in a very loving way, shown a few ways that he was hindering or could potentially hinder his organizations ministry objectives – the things they all agreed that God wanted them to do. It wasn’t a laundry list of why people didn’t like him or how bad of a leader he was. It was simply an acknowledgement of a few weaknesses and blind spots that, if he and the organization were going to be effective, he would need to be aware of and work on.
Now, I don’t care who you are, that kind of stuff is hard to hear. But at the end of that time, he said that his response was not anger or even insecurity. Instead, it was love – not only love, but recognition of the fact that those who had confronted him were doing so out of a place of love and great admiration. Their list of things he was doing right and ways he was contributing to the team was a mile long, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as beneficial if they had stopped with the good stuff. Instead, they were helping him become a better leader and a better person by showing him some things that he may or may not have even recognized in himself.
At the end of the day, theirs was a call to holiness – not regarding issues of deep sin, but issues of attitude, communication and leadership – and their approach was one built on a foundation of love and respect, the groundwork of peace. The result is that my friend was able to both be called to holiness and to live in peace with those around him. It takes a lot of work to get there, but it is what we are called to do. Not making that effort to live in peace actually calls into question our desire for holiness.
Paul was a very careful student of people. In one of his most famous passages, he spoke of becoming all things to all people in order to win some to Christ. Learning what makes people tick (and how to address them in such a way that they will hear you) was one of Paul’s specialties.
He used that gift when writing to Philemon. Philemon had a slave name Onesimus – a slave who perhaps had run away or otherwise left the service of Philemon and had somehow come to join Paul. And, like so many others, he had helped Paul in a time of need and had become like a son to him.
However, Paul had a problem. If he continued to invest in his relationship with Onesimus without writing to Philemon, he risked damaging his relationship with Philemon should Philemon discover that Paul and Onesimus were together. On the other hand, sending Onesimus back to Philemon was somewhat of a risky proposition. Philemon may not have had much love for Onesimus, depending on how they parted ways.
And so, Paul, using his extraordinary gifts, writes to Philemon a letter which, while acknowledging Philemon’s position, nevertheless urges him to pardon Onesimus of any wrongdoing and to accept him back, not as a slave, but as part of the family. Paul is quick to point out that Philemon does have a choice in the matter, which, no doubt, kept Philemon from getting too defensive as he read. Then he makes his plea:
So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. (Philemon 1:17)
How could Philemon say no to that? If he says no, then, by extension, he doesn’t consider Paul a partner. If he wants to show Paul honor, then he must welcome Onesimus back. Paul here has managed to tell Philemon what to do while simultaneously telling him, “I’m not telling you what to do.”
Paul’s plea is persuasive and passionate. It appeals to Philemon’s sense of justice and to his personal feelings toward Paul. Ultimately, though, this letter is not about Philemon. This is a letter about Paul’s desire to see his friend find freedom.
Today, very few of us have friends who are slaves – at least in the traditional sense. We do, however, have friends who are enslaved by debt, enslaved by work, enslaved by addictions and any number of other things. Like Paul, we should be passionate to get our friends out of those situations. And, like Paul, we may have to use some tact to make that happen. But whatever we need to do, it will be well worth it. The reward – seeing a friend living in the freedom of Jesus – is certainly worth any price.
There’s not really much to comment on here. God really hates idolatry and he hates lying. He is particularly harsh on those who lie using his name. I guess that should serve as a stern warning for those of us who are in ministry. The only thing worse than deliberately misleading people is to do so under the name of God, Jesus , the Holy Spirit or the Church.
Of course, the history of the Church is riddled with its share of swindlers and crooks. In some ways, that’s almost a given when you consider the sheer number of people who are and have been a part of the global church over the years. In any large group, there are bound to be some bad apples. But it goes deeper than that.
You see, I think the reason that theses crooks seem to pop up in the Church ties directly back to the issue of Godly authority. As humans, we really want authority. We want to be in charge. We want to be “the decider.” And when we realize that we have very little actual authority (we have authority over people, maybe, but little else), some go looking for ways to obtain more authority – even if it’s phony.
Enter God. God is the ultimate authority and so, invoking his name as your source of authority is very effective. If you can convince your listeners that the words you are speaking came directly from God, they are not only more likely to follow you, but they are more likely to hold you in high esteem. After all, a messenger from God must be a pretty important person.
And so, someone who is good at convincing people with their words or who is good at telling people what they want to hear can go far in life by claiming to speak on God’s behalf. Of course, this is not God’s desire. In fact, in Ezekiel 13, God tells us how he’s going to deal with these false prophets and the people who entice them to say flowery things.
He say’s he’s going to take matters into his own hands. He’s going to “eliminate the middle man” and answer these people directly. Unfortunately for them, I don’t think they’re going to like his answer. The Bible tells us that God is not mocked and these passages show us that if you try to mock him, you’re going to be in trouble.
And so, as a leader in a church, it is imperative that, first and foremost, I speak for myself. And second, if I ever feel like God desires to speak through me, I better be extremely humble in such a role and I better be 100% sure that the words I’m speaking are from God. Otherwise, I might have to get up close and personal with the side of God I would rather not see!
Kenya 2012 – Day 8
Safari Day! After our safari, we spent a few minutes at the baby house and I got some pictures of these awesome kids.
I can’t get my Facebook Gallery to work here, but you can access the pics by clicking on the link below: