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Last week I received a two year old copy of Christianity Today magazine.  It had been sent to our old post office box in Benin – who knows when it arrived there? – and finally was forwarded to me in Togo.  On the cover was a picture of U2’s Bono, and a lot of the article dealt with his indictment of the church for failing to respond to the AIDS crisis.

Two days ago I got a call from my teammate who was about to leave on furlough.  For the last few years, he has been buying anti-retroviral drugs for an AIDS victim that we know.  The man has shown incredible improvement while taking the medicines.  Making these drugs available to AIDS victims is the least we/the developed, affluent, healthy world can do to ease the plight of people with AIDS.  Anyway, my teammate called to tell me that the man’s wife is now showing symptoms of AIDS.  Would it be possible for me to help buy medicines for her just until he can get back from furlough?

As soon as the conversation started, I knew that that God was speaking to me, giving me an opportunity to act on what I had just been thinking about, thanks to the Bono article.

Now I see Greg Kendall-Ball’s post on poverty in Rwanda, that just happens to be followed by the suggestion to check out Bono’s DATA organization and the One campaign – the first time I’ve heard of either one of these – programs aimed specifically at relieving poverty and addressing the scourge of AIDS in Africa.

So this makes three times within the last week that God has thrown the challenge of AIDS in Africa in front of me.  I am not the savior of Africa.  But I want to do something – something that will make a real difference.  Sure, I can buy medicines for one woman – less than $25 per month with current subsidies.  What about the millions of others?  Any ideas?

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Before I get into today’s thoughts, I want to make sure you know about John Mark Hick’s blog.  I just discovered it and have been blessed from reading his insights.  His May 13 and 14 insights on the “Christian Affirmation” are helpful in describing what at least some of the signers were not trying to say.  His more recent posts have dealt with some more personal issues, living with the losses in his life, remembering both with pain and joy, and continuing to experience joy in the present.

This paradoxical existence – living simultaneously with sadness and joy – was reflected with what I saw in the Togolese Christians in our Sunday worship.  For them, the poles that are held in tension are more accurately described as despair and hope.  I thought it was extremely biblical that these competing feelings could find a voice in the same worship service.

One man’s prayer was particularly touching.  He prayed about how nothing seems to work out right for the Togolese, how things that they put their hands to fail, how they never seem to be able to get ahead.  Although he made no political references in his prayer, I could not help but feel that his prayer was at least in part occasioned by the frustration that many of the people in our area feel about the breakdown in the political process.  But he could have had other things in mind – insufficient rains, problems of debt, family jealousies – any one of the scores of problems that are a part of everyday life here.

But then there was hope.  Hope symbolized by the birth of a baby  to a couple in the church.  This couple – Toglo and Alice – married later in life, and have just been blessed with a son.  They are both dedicated servants of God, and I was thrilled when they decided to marry, and so proud that God has blessed them with a child.  This was the baby’s first time at church.

During the singing time here, different groups will come to the front and parade around the table, lifting their hands and rejoicing.  This Sunday, one of the young men in the church spontaneously took the baby from the arms of the mother, and held the baby up as he marched his parade of joy.  It was an occasion of joy, not only for the parents, but for the whole church.

To their credit, this church didn’t change its Sunday program the minute the missionary unexpectedly showed up.  They went ahead with their normal speaker, but they did invite me to give a word of encouragement and a blessing for the parents and baby.  I spoke from Job chapter 19, where Job reaches one of lowest points of confusion, bordering on despair.  He even says, “It is God who has wronged me” (v. 6, 8-12).  Ouch!

Not only does he feel that God is against him, but his friends and relatives have turned against him as well (v. 13-22).  Feeling unjustly forsaken, he longs for some way to argue his case in a way that his words could never be erased (v. 23-24).

But then, in spite of it all, he is able to look beyond the pain, the disappointment, and the despair to declare, “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last.  And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God!  I will see him for myself.  Yes, I will se him with my own eyes.  I am overwhelmed at the thought!” (Job 19:25-27, NLT).

Now I know there are some translation and interpretation issues with this passage, but I think the overall message is clear.  Against hope, Job dares to hope that somehow, someway, somewhere, everything will be set right.  This is not just pie in the sky, but it has its focus in a specific person – a Redeemer.  Now I don’t think Job had a clue who that Redeemer is or how he will set things right.  But I do.  And it is my confidence in that Redeemer that enables me to encourage my brothers and sisters who struggle with despair to continue to hope – and to take confidence from the signs of hope, such as the birth of child, that declare that there remains a future.

There is a Redeemer
Jesus, God’s own Son
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah
Holy One.

Thank you Oh my Father
For giving us your Son
And leaving your Spirit
’Til your work on earth is done

(Words by Melody Green)

 

As she’s walked along life’s road’
O’er mountains high and valleys low
My bride has seen so many places
And brought a smile to countless faces

She does not ask for many things
For fancy pearls or diamond rings
She’s been content to follow me
‘Cross continents, o’er raging seas

Just one thing is all she’’s asked
And so I grant her sole request
“Just a poem” is all she’d say
When asked what she’d like for this birthday

Just a poem — a simple rhyme
Can lift her soul to heights sublime
I’m no poet, that’s plain enough
But in some way, my words have worth

Not worth in money, silver or gold
But just because I love her so
I don’t deserve her, I never could’ve
Except for grace, I never would’ve

Maureen and boys on Mother’s Day Posted by Hello

Reuters AlertNet – BENIN-TOGO: Refugees continue to flow into Benin, fleeing persecution

I guess I never really announced on this page that we made it home to Tabligbo last Saturday. We thank God for a safe trip, and we are happy to be home.

Everything appears to be calm here. We traveled to the capital city and, except for more military checkpoints (I was only stopped once), things appeared much the same. One businessman told me that things were back to normal, but the workers at the hotel pool where we went for a swim said that the hotel, the nicest in the country, was empty.

People are going about their everyday lives, but they are fearful. People live so close to the edge here that they can’t put life on hold to protest. Follow the above link to get more details on what is happening.

You are probably like me. As soon as something new grabs the headlines, I quickly forget about the last crisis. But please continue to pray for the country of Togo.

Just picking up on my reference in my previous post to the Newsweek article, someone asked me yesterday, “What if it had been the Bible?  Would/should you protest?”  (This discussion was based on the hypothetical supposition that the initial reports of the Qur’an being flushed were true.)

I thought this was a good question, because I have come to appreciate a lot of things about my own faith by comparing it with other faiths, particularly with Islam.  Christians need to understand that Muslims do not perceive the Qur’an in the same way that we Christians, at least most of us, perceive the Bible.  Yes, both of us consider our sacred books to be the Word of God.  But for Christians, there is the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, which the book points to.  The book is not an end in itself; without Jesus, it cannot save.  Defacing the book can never destroy the Word.

For Muslims, on the other hand, the book is all they have.  To them, it is their salvation.  Muslims regard the Qur’an in much the same way that Christians regard Jesus.  For us, the Word of God is incarnate in a person.  For them, it’s in a book.  The paper and ink hold sacred significance.

So perhaps a more parallel question would be, “What if Jesus was flushed down the toilet?”  Would/should we protest?

Well, in a sense, he was.  “He was despised and rejected,” spat upon, tortured – you can’t get much worse treatment than that.  And yet the instrument of torture has become the universal symbol of our faith.  We wear it with pride.  What a scandal!  Jesus even willingly accepted such treatment.  “He could have called ten thousand angels.”

This points to another contrast with Islam.  Because of the way that Jesus embraced suffering and because of the lifestyle he taught, we expect mistreatment.  That’s the norm.  “All who live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  We do not expect to be in control of the structures of society.  If we can have a voice, that’s great.  If we don’t, well, that’s normal.

Muslims, on the other hand, expect to dominate.  That is the norm for them.  Muhammad never taught his followers to “bless those who persecute you.”  They are incensed by any perceived insult because, to them, it violates the way things ought to be.

So before we get all indignant the next time someone insults our faith or threatens our values, let’s remember what the norm is and ask a big “WWJD?”  “Father, forgive them ….”   

 

 

The latest Newsweek debacle is a sobering reminder of the power of words, and the immense responsibility that lies on those of us who would speak publicly – and especially we who dare to speak publicly for God.

Over the last few days, I’ve seen numerous references to a statement called “Christian Affirmation” – an effort by several leaders within the Churches of Christ to make a statement about some areas of concern in our movement.  I’ve read both positive and negative reactions.  I’ve appreciated the spirit with which the dialogue is being carried out.

I’ve had several reactions to this document, both on a gut level and a few others based on more sober reflections.  But I’m still not sure what I make of it.  So I’m going to do what Newsweek should have done and keep quiet, because I’m just not sure.  I’m not sure because I can’t find clear statements from Scripture on some of the issues raised.  And when that happens, if I remember correctly, one of the dictums of our movement tells me that I should just keep quiet.

Parkers and the Koonces “in exile” in Ghana. (Don’t feel too sorry for us.) Posted by Hello

Jeremy celebrates losing his first tooth the same week as his 7th birthday. Posted by Hello

My apologies to those who may have been checking this page looking for an update. Last week we weren’t able to do email and this week we’ve been enjoying the West Africa Missionary Retreat too much to write.

We are doing well and enjoying our time here in Ghana. Our plan is to return to Togo at the end of this week. The security situation seems to be much improved, though there is still a lot of tension in the country. At last count, over 22,000 Togolese have fled the country out of fear, mostly because of voicing their desire for democracy. There are still reports of nighttime abductions of local people by men in green uniforms. Please pray for the people of Togo and for those who are living as refugees.

Here at WAMR, we’ve enjoyed hearing our visiting speaker, Shawn Tyler, a missionary in East Africa. Shawn and his wife Linda served in Kenya for thirteen years and have been at their current ministry in Mbale, Uganda for ten years. In today’s session on missionary burnout, Shawn noted that, “Most of our spiritual mountains turn out to be cliffs, very easy to fall off of.” How true!

In their pitch for long term missions, the Tylers noted that our “work yourself out of a job” mentality may be based on a faulty model – a business model in which our primary objective is accomplishment, getting bang for our buck, etc. Perhaps a more appropriate model would be a family model, where commitments are lifelong though roles may change. (I hate it when people step on my toes like that; we plan to return to the States next year.) We are birthing spiritual children. As they grow, their needs and our responsibilities change, but they will always need us to be available. How true that is! I turned 44 years old last week, but I still draw great security from being able to talk to my folks on the phone. Somehow just having that connectivity gives me a sense of stability.

A funny thing happened on Mother’s Day. As I was expressing appreciation to my wife, I asked our son, who just turned seven, “Isn’t she just the best mother in the world?” He remarked, “Maybe not the best, but I love her.” That total honesty reminded me that this is what family is all about. We acknowledge that we are not perfect, that we all have faults, and sometimes we’re not “the best,” but we are committed to each other and love each other despite our faults.