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One of my favorite characters is Buzz Lightyear, so I’ve adapted his famous line for the title of this post.  A while back I had some posts on witnessing, and I’ve been forced to give the subject more thought as the due date for a course project looms near.  I’ve written a study of Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8, and how the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to move toward its fulfillment in three decisive episodes—what I’ve called the “Three Pentecosts”—at Jerusalem (Acts 2), Samaria (Acts 8), and Caesarea (Acts 10).  I plan to post the entire document in the “for what its worth” department of my web site once I put the finishing touches on it.  I would like to go ahead and share part of my conclusion here, especially as it relates to being Jesus’ witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”

We may doubt whether the disciples who heard Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8 understood at the time what it meant to go “to the ends of the earth.”  They certainly had no idea how they would get there.  They embarked on a process of discovery as the Spirit prompted them and they responded in faith.  At different stages, they may have thought of Caesarea, or Antioch, or Rome, or Spain as “the ends of the earth.”  But when they reached there, they discovered that the ends of the earth lay yet before them.  The conclusion of the book of Acts is open-ended.  Paul is prison at Rome, but he’s preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God “boldly and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).  He’s doing what he’s always done as a witness of Jesus.  

So the mission of the Jesus’ witnesses remains open-ended today.  “We are still discovering the meaning of ‘all the world’ today” (Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church).  We are still discovering new “ends of the earth.”

We are discovering unreached people groups, the ethnē who Jesus commissioned us to disciple.  Sometimes they are small groups, cut off from the witness that may surround them, but yet be incomprehensible to them because it has not been translated into their language and in terms of their worldview.  Sometimes they are large groups who have not heard the testimony because of political barriers, or because Christ’s witnesses have been too intimated by walls of religion, culture, and tradition.

Through tragedies such as the genocide in Rwanda, we are discovering that not all nations that have been “christianized” have been “made disciples.”  A new, authentic testimony for Jesus is needed in such places.

We are discovering how far Western Europe and North America have moved from their Christian past, if in fact they were ever truly made disciples.  Disciples of Jesus find themselves in a cross-cultural situation, in which they are called to be faithful witnesses—understanding, living in, and relating to the dominant culture, but ever wary of its seductions.

We are discovering that global mobility has brought “the ends of the earth” to our doorsteps.  The cities of the world, in particular, contain a host of large ethnic communities.  Many members of these communities are isolated from Christian witness that may be geographically near but, linguistically and culturally, is as far away as “the ends of the earth.”

When I went to live in New Zealand for three years fresh out of college, I was about as far away as I could be physically from where I was born and raised.  Often since arriving in Africa, I’ve felt that I was at “the ends of the earth.”  But there are thousands of disciples here in Africa who are just as commissioned as I am to be Jesus’ witnesses.  If you’ve seen the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, you’ll remember the little bushman who takes the Coke bottle to the “end of the world,” to get rid of this thing that had caused such disruption in his little world.  What does going “to the ends of the earth,” mean to the Watchi people?  What does “the ends of the earth” mean to you and God’s calling for your life? And what does it mean to me, as I await God’s next calling?

 

My apologies to those who have been checking here but not finding anything new.  Well, we have been under some health stress lately. Two weeks back I had a bout of malaria. I took some medication and thought I had gotten over it when I was feeling better. Then, last Wednesday, after our visitors left, I started feeling bad again. This time the malaria count had gone up. I felt bad and was unable to get out of bed for 3-4 days. Only yesterday did I feel good enough to get out of bed. I had my blood tested and I still have malaria. I am not sure what I’m going to do. One doctor suggested that I go on quinine. Another suggested that I hold on all medication and just take doxycycline for a week to give my liver a rest. I am pretty discouraged as I just do not have the energy to do anything.  I just feel tired all the time.

 

But God is faithful. I read a passage in Lamentations 3:17 onwards and derived great encouragement from it. The writer says, ”I have been deprived of peace (health, in my case); I have forgotten what prosperity is (in my case, good health).  So I say, my splendor is gone, and all that I hoped from the Lord. I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them and my soul is downcast within me. (In my case, I keep feeling that I’m not going to get over the malaria, so I’m downcast.)  But the next verse says, ‘Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’”    It was as though God was speaking directly to me; he will give me the strength to get through this.  

 

October 19, 2005 Posted by Picasa

October 19, 2001 Posted by Picasa

Our family celebrates October 19 as our annual “Family Day.” We choose this day because it is the anniversary of Jonathan’s placement with our family, although the actual adoption was not finalized until several months later. The day, however, isn’t just for Jonathan, it’s for the whole family. We celebrate belonging to a family, and October 19 is the day that God brought our whole family—such as it is now—together.

When we discovered that we weren’t likely to give birth to any more children after Jeremy, we began praying about adoption and looking into different options. At first we considered Chinese adoption, but the legal hurdles of pursuing it from Africa proved too daunting. On our furlough in 2000, we contacted a number of agencies, but nothing positive seemed to pan out. Only after returning to Benin, where we then lived, did we contact Agape of Central Alabama, located in Montgomery.

The social worker who contacted us was too new to know any better, having just changed jobs from foster services to adoption. Buddy Renahan turned out to be a blessing as he walked us through the process of applying for the adoption. When all the paper work was complete, we waited.

After several months, we had almost given up on being contacted, and then one day, shortly after our move to Togo, we received an email, just asking us to give an update our new home so our home study could be updated. At that point we hadn’t even moved into our new home, still waiting for water lines to be installed. But we were optimistic. About a week later, on September 28, 2001, we received another email from Buddy just checking in and, by the way, there was a little boy that we might be interested in.

We immediately wrote back and confirmed our interest and soon received email photos. Jeremy was three at that time and when he first saw the photos, he pointed to the computer screen and said, “That’s my baby brother!” He kept wanting to go back to have another look.

That night we spent about three hours on the phone to the States, first talking to Buddy, then to family, then to our church to say, “We’re coming to America!” There were some formalities we had to wait on, but on October 17 we boarded a plane to the States, arriving in Atlanta and driving to Birmingham the night of the 18th, and by the morning of the 19th we were in Montgomery and held Jonathan in our arms for the first time. My whole family—parents, sisters, in-laws, nieces, and nephews were all present, as well as the good folks from Agape and the foster family who had been taking care of Jonathan since his birth. After an emotional yet joyful placement ceremony, we headed to Johnny Ray’s for some Alabama BBQ.

I’m amazed that it’s already been four years, but at the same time I can’t imagine life without Jonathan or any other member of our family. God has blessed and stretched me beyond anything I could have previously imagined by making me a husband and a father. There’s no way I can be worthy of or adequate for this honor, except by his power and strength.

As I take special pause today to be thankful for my family, be sure also to say a prayer of thanks for yours—both those who are family and those who are “like family”—and drop me a line to tell me about them.

This morning I read Greg Taylor’s post about a tough question that his son asked, along with Sara’s comment warning against the temptation to give kids “pat answers.”  It reminded me of a conversation I had with Jeremy this week.

I’ve been reading 1 Samuel with Jeremy and Jonathan.  It’s been encouraging to see their interest—Jonathan’s most-requested song has long been “Only A Boy Named David.”  One night this week, as I as trying to get them into bed so I could collapse, one of them asked, “Daddy, can we read the Bible?”  How could I say no?

Well, even an action book like 1 Samuel isn’t without its theological mysteries.  We got to the part about Saul being afflicted by “an evil spirit sent by the Lord.”  I hoped they wouldn’t notice that part.  I wasn’t so lucky.

One day after we had read that, Jeremy said – “Daddy, that’s not right.  God doesn’t send people evil spirits.”  Humm….

I didn’t really have a good answer.  I did tell Jeremy that we shouldn’t say that the Bible isn’t right, we should just say, “I don’t understand that part.”

The children’s Bible that we’re reading from actually did have a comment.  It says that God sent the evil spirit to punish Saul for his disobedience.  Maybe, but there’s one part where Saul has resolved to be nice to David, invites him back to his house, and then the “evil spirit sent from the Lord” returns and Saul hurls a spear at David.  Saul was trying to be nice; why couldn’t that spirit leave him alone?  I don’t understand that one either.

I don’t understand …

Is it okay to say that?  Do we have to have all the answers, or can we acknowledge that some of God’s ways are just beyond us, and still hang onto faith even though we don’t always have understanding.

I think it was Anselm who defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.”  The operative word here is “seeking.”  We may or we may not find, and faith doesn’t always depend on understanding, but rather seeks it.

In the past, I’ve been guilty of a kind of gnosticism – thinking that salvation was based on understanding, rather than on faith.  I don’t want my sons to grow up thinking like that.  I want them to embrace faith, while they seek understanding.

In my last post I mentioned the excitement that was in the air in Lomé on Friday, as the country’s eagerly anticipated match with Congo on Saturday drew near.  Hawkers on the street were selling yellow t-shirts, banners, and scarves announcing everyone’s support for Togo’s “Eperviers” – the Hawks.  The atmosphere was quite festive and everyone seemed confident of victory.  In fact, only a tie was needed to send the Hawks to next year’s World Cup tournament in Germany.

Saturday I knew the game was in progress but I couldn’t find it on the radio, so I went online to see how it was progressing.  My heart sank when I saw that, 60 minutes into the 90 minute game, Congo was ahead 2 to 1.  To be honest, I don’t give a rip about the sport that the rest of the world calls, rather appropriately, “football.”  But I do care a great deal about the people of Togo.  It hurt to see so many of their hopes dashed by political developments earlier this year, and a loss in this match just seemed like it would be a nail in the coffin of disappointment.

So I did something that I don’t think I’ve ever done before – I said a prayer for a win in a sports match.  I prayed that God would turn the match around and that Togo would win.  Now, I don’t think God concerns himself a great deal with the outcome of most sports matches.  But I do know he loves the people of Togo.  I also know he loves the Congolese just as much, so I just had to trust him to work out the best out for everyone concerned.  But I was rooting for Togo, so I let him know, and asked him to do the same.

Internet access hasn’t been great, so it took me a little while to learn the results.  When I did, I saw that Togo had scored at 66 minutes of play, to give them the needed tie.  Then, they scored again at 70 minutes, to win by 3 goals to 2.

It seems that the authorities anticipated that the celebrating might get out of hand.  I don’t know about the rest of the country, but the electricity in Tabligbo was out last night from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.  Everyone said that they were trying to contain people’s party spirits.  It was probably a good thing.

I know that a win in soccer is in no way the answer to a people’s need for hope.  But it is a small grace to lift their heads.  I pray that they’ll continue to look up – look up so high that they see a hope that can never perish, spoil, or fade, and that they will inherit God’s kingdom.

Yesterday Maureen and I had to go down to Lomé, Togo’s capital, for a doctor’s visit – no sickness, just getting Maureen’s medical certificate for her U.S. visa.  There was a lot of excitement in the air as Togo prepares for their soccer match against Congo this afternoon.  Even a draw will assure them of a first-ever place in next year’s World Cup tournament in Germany.

Lomé is located south west of our town of Tabligbo.  It’s tucked into the southwest corner of Togo, nestled between the Ghanaian border and the Gulf of Guinea.  We can enter and exit Lome either from the north or from the east.  Normally we use the northern road because it is a little shorter.  Yesterday when we left Lomé, however, we needed to make an stop along the eastern route, so we headed out that way.

That road takes us past the port, which is usually a congested area.  Yesterday was worse than usual.  As we got into the port area, traffic stopped—and stayed stopped.  I was trying to figure out of I could do a u-turn, skip my errand, and take the other road out of town, when I heard sirens.  A long motorcade of government vehicles—Mercedes, BMWs, Landcruisers, police motorcycles, and military vehicles began to move through.  Once they were through, I assumed that traffic would begin to move.

It did, but only as traffic along the two-lane, two-way road, fanned out so that there were four lanes of cars all heading east.  We were stuck in the middle as traffic quickly came to another standstill, blocked by who-knows-what some distance ahead.

We were rather comfortable sitting in our air-conditioned car, but after a few minutes those sweltering in taxis began to climb out of their vehicles to access the situation.  I noticed one tall man who got out of his own car to have a look.  He walked behind our vehicle and then came back and tapped on my window.  Warily, I rolled it down and he told me, “We’re going to make a U-turn.  I’m having the people behind you to back up, you turn around, and we’ll make room for you to get out.”

I followed his instructions and, after a three or four point turn, managed to get off the road, around the traffic and took an alternative route out of town.  Others followed me, and so there was at least a way for those who needed to get out to do so.

“Now that,” I told Maureen, “is leadership.”  Instead of resigning himself to sitting in snarled traffic, or succumbing to frustration and road rage, this man assessed the situation, worked out a solution, and led others carry it out, to everyone’s mutual benefit.