"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." (Romans 12:1, MSG)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Foto Friday - Y-Malawi, Day eleven: Liwonde National Park

Before I left for Malawi, I bought an all-in-one camera lens so I would have the ability to shoot wide-angle landscapes and zoom close on subjects in an instant. As I packed my camera bag, I dreamed about what it was going to be like to see God-created African wildlife in their native surroundings.

It was an amazing experience to be sure.

What I could not have known at the time, however, was how desperately I was going to need the time in Liwonde National Park to decompress and process all that I had seen and heard during my time with the people of Nkhoma/Chilenje and the Y-Malawi ministry partners. Those nine days in the mission field had left me undone in ways that I could not have expected.

When reviewing my shots from the safari for this blog, I was strongly reminded of the overwhelming feelings of God's peace I had while encountering God's creation in the "warm heart of Africa." I share these photographs with you from a place of deep gratitude for such a God-filled, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The African crocodile is a fair bit more frightening than the American alligator.
Hands down the best shot of the safari!
Elephants are one of Africa's "big-five" game animals. The adjective that best describes my impression of these animals is "majestic."
Who doesn't love a baby elephant?
I find this photo particularly fascinating- elephants, crocodiles, and hippos quietly existing together in one place.
This crocodile was prehistoric in its proportions. I could have reached over the side of our boat to pet it - but would never have dared to do so.
The zebras were shy.
So were the kudus. It took me all afternoon to get a shot like this.
The sunsets were breathtaking.
Knowing that there would not be any light pollution whatsoever in the night sky, one of my hopes for the trip was to shoot the Milky Way. I had no idea that the Milky Way would actually be visible to the naked eye! It looks almost cloud like - the detail you see here is brought out in processing. This is the riverside cabin where I stayed at about 9pm. I didn't stay out in the dark very long - especially after my compadre, Will, spotted a large crocodile lurking in the bush about 10 yards behind us.
Well, we're almost at the end. My next post will conclude the Foto Friday series of my time in Malawi!

Mulungu akhale nanu (God be with you),


Monday, December 7, 2015

Foto Friday - Y-Malawi, Day ten: Liwonde National Park

After the long days spent in the mission field with the Y-Malawi ministry partners, our team boarded our bus and traveled south from Nkhoma for a retreat in Liwonde National Park to pray and dream together about how God might be calling us to join the work of Y-Malawi. On the road, I captured this through the windshield that is one of my favorite scenic shots from the trip.

We made our way to the Shire River, where a guide named Danger (yes, Danger!) took us by boat to where we were staying. Along the way we saw fishermen and caught our first glimpses of African wildlife. I struggled a bit with finding my groove shooting photographs from a speedboat but managed to capture a few shots.

Nestled along the Shire River, Liwonde National Park in Malawi offered us several incredible opportunities to observe African wildlife up close in their native surroundings. These shots are from a brief, late afternoon safari we took on our first day.

Up next, more Liwonde National Park when the wildlife photos go up a notch.

Mulungu akhale nanu (God be with you),


Monday, November 30, 2015

Foto Friday - Y-Malawi, Day nine: World Vision

Our ninth day in the mission field of the Nkhoma/Chilenje region of Malawi was spent with World Vision.

World Vision is Y-Malawi's largest partner and the primary source of funding to the other partners. Members of Y-Malawi partner churches sponsor nearly 6,000 World Vision children in Nkhoma/Chilenje. Because of these sponsorships, entire communities are being transformed in amazing ways:
  • Malnutrition reduced from 51% to 26%
  • Positive HIV testing reduced from 55% to 21%
  • Access to safe water increased from 21% to 68%
  • A 107% increase in children enrolled in primary school
These are just a few of the statistics but they speak volumes about the way hearts and lives are being changed in Malawi every day! Glory to God!

A primary purpose for our trip to Nkhoma/Chilenje was to facilitate meetings between World Vision sponsors and their sponsored children. Two members from Trinity were able to meet their children for the first time since beginning their sponsorships more than three years ago. It was a heartwarming experience to say the least.

Every time we arrived in a village for a visit, we were welcomed by not only the sponsored family but the entire community. Nearly every greeting included singing and dancing.
Janet brought a lot of fun things for her child to enjoy.
The entire village watched as Janet gave her gifts.
Janet was given a tour of the family home.
In addition to the gifts for the child, Janet brought the family gifts of necessities like maize, rice, oil, soap, etc. Here the mother is reacting to the gift of rice. She told Janet that they eat rice only once a year as part of their Christmas celebration, making the gift of rice a very special treat.
Janet received this clay bowl as a gift from the family.

Barbara's visit was very similar to Janet. She brought gifts for her sponsored child and the same staples for his family.

One particularly moving experience of the day happened on Debbie's visit. Debbie first visited her sponsored child in October 2014 and couldn't wait to visit again.

Their happy reunion.
While visiting with the family, Debbie learned that they had lost their home (a mud hut) earlier in the year during a rainstorm. So, the child and her mother were sleeping on the kitchen floor of one of their neighbors. They literally had nothing left. The mother had expressed her sadness that she was unable to return Debbie's kindness since she had nothing to give. Hearing this part of their conversation, one of the neighbors went to their home and returned with a chicken for the mother to give to Debbie.

Now for the rest of the story...

While petting the chicken on the bus as we made our way to the next visit, Debbie asked the World Vision representatives traveling with us about how much it costs to build a home for her sponsored family. The World Vision rep said materials for a brick home with a tin roof that would best withstand the elements cost about $300. Debbie then asked about the labor, since her sponsored child and her single mother would not be able to do it on their own. Labor to build the home would be about $100.

Now, before Debbie left for Malawi, she had friends and family give her some money to take on her trip. Debbie confessed that this bothered her somewhat, as if they were trying to "ride on her coat-tails or something." The amount she had been given? 


Debbie made what is known as a "Gift Notification" through World Vision, designating the $400 specifically for the purpose of building her sponsored child and her mother a new home.


So, what about the chicken? It would have been rude for Debbie not to accept the gift. Still, she couldn't bring it home either. At the next village, Debbie asked the World Vision rep to find the family with the greatest need so she could give them the chicken. Debbie also made the family promise not to kill the chicken for one meal but to allow it to live and become an ongoing source of sustenance for them.  

It was an incredible experience for me to see how $39 per month is truly being used to change hearts and lives, not just for the children but their entire communities. Before going to Malawi, my family sponsored two World Vision children already - one in Ethiopia, the other in Malawi (sadly, in another region so I was unable to visit). We've sponsored the children for years but never had any personal interaction with them, by letter or otherwise. I was so moved by how much good the sponsorships do, that I came home wanting our family to sponsor another child - specifically in Nkhoma/Chilenje. I also wanted to give the people of Trinity the same opportunity.

So, we contacted World Vision and secured additional sponsorship forms for children in Nkhoma/Chilenje. On World Communion Sunday, 150 of those children were sponsored at our three worship services, taking the number of children sponsored by Trinity to around 350. Praise God! 

My family chose a little boy named Promise, who happens to share my birthday. Now, Lenora and I have our own children here at home (two daughters and a son), plus three sponsored children in Africa, two girls and a boy in honor of ours.

If God has been piercing your heart for the people in Malawi and you are also interested in sponsoring a child, please let me know. I have a few forms left for children in Nkhoma/Chilenje. There are still more than 4,000 children on a waiting list so every sponsorship matters. Pray about it!

Up next, the beauty of God's creation in Africa - I'll be sharing some shots from our time on safari before heading home!

Mulungu akhale nanu (God be with you),


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Word for the Everyday - Witness

The response to what happened in Paris on Friday, from Christians on both sides of the political spectrum, is running rampant as the dust settles. And, I am deeply saddened by the rhetoric I have seen on social media today, especially with regard to the refugee situation and what role we should or should not play here in America. Rhetoric that has become normative and far too familiar.

My dearest friends, the scandal of our Christian disunity is heartbreaking.

So, now more than ever, I am clinging to the words we pray during Holy Communion: "By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world."

I have also been reminded of some exegetical work I did in seminary on Romans 12, verses 14 through 21. This is my own paraphrase of the passage, which I've shared on this blog before, but I feel compelled to offer these words once again for our prayerful reflection:
14 When persecution comes, be a blessing people.  Pray for your persecutors, rather than curse them. 15 Do not be emotionally detached from your neighbors, especially those who do not yet know the righteousness of God. Celebrate with them when they are celebrating, mourn with them when they are mourning. 16 Your life together should be permeated with oneness.  Stand in solidarity with the lowly and disadvantaged in your midst; once again, (I cannot stress this enough!) do not think yourselves more superior to others. 17 Do not answer evil with evil.  Instead, whenever possible, be proactive and consider a response righteous before God and a watching world. 18 I know that there will be times when it seems impossible, but you should make every effort to live in peace with all of your neighbors, regardless of their race or creed. 19 My dear friends, never play vigilante and take matters into your own hands. Leave it to God to be the righteous judge; for it has been revealed to us in the Scriptures, ‘Vengeance belongs to me and is mine to dish out, says the Lord.’ 20 No, if you’re going to play any part at all, you should ‘feed your foes when they are hungry and give them drink when they are thirsty; this lovingkindness may change their hearts and lead them to turn away from their offensive behavior toward you.’ 21 The only way to avoid being overcome by all the evil in the world is to always respond to it the same way God has...with love and generous goodness. 
If our witness, our Christ-like examples of everyday living, is the primary means through which people come to know the love of God through Jesus Christ, then our thoughts, words, and deeds must reflect what the apostle Paul exhorted us in these verses.

Anything less requires our confession, which we also pray during Holy Communion: "Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

There are no easy solutions to the problems we are facing in the world today. Regardless, we Christians can and must do better with the way we witness to the love of God through Jesus Christ. The world is watching. 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in your thoughts, words, and deeds for these days, take these words to heart: "The only way to avoid being overcome by all the evil in the world is to always respond to it the same way God has...with love and generous goodness."

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Foto Friday - Y-Malawi, Day eight: Sunday worship, Nkhoma Youth & Chief's Ministry

Day eight was our second Sunday on the ground in Nkhoma. The day began with the privilege of worshipping in a small rural church led by one of the young people from the Nkhoma Youth Department.
Taken inside the church before the service.
As always, the children gathered with great curiosity about the "mzungus," or "white persons." This is one of the few times I saw a child with a toy.
Following the service, we went to another building nearby to meet with a group of young people from the Nkhoma Youth Department. The youth gathering began with worship in song - the singing in Malawi is something I will never forget.

After the singing, some of the youth who had attended the church service put on a skit based on my sermon. I had preached on one of my life verses, the passage that is the inspiration behind this blog.
"So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you." (Romans 12:1-2, MSG)
The skit included them simply sharing what they had taken away from the sermon but with the addition of one funny element. One of the young men was portraying my father and the great pride he felt because of my preaching the Word of God.

The skit.
Two of the youth who were part of our group, Will and Kylie, then shared their testimonies with the Nkhoma Youth.

After the gathering, we played with the local children while we waited for the bus to pick us up and reconnect us with the rest of our group.

Like everywhere else, there was a child watching from the sidelines.
From here we traveled to another village where the Chiefs Ministry had gathered for worship. They honored us with a lunch of chicken, vegetables, and nsima (maize) in the home of the group village leader.

After lunch, we spent time with the villagers. We watched the men play football (soccer) and the women play net ball (basketball). Some walked to the nearby market while others simply shared fellowship with our hosts. 

Knowing I had only a couple more days left to shoot photographs in Nkhoma, I explored a bit.

I shot this behind the long drops, or outhouses, of all places. It is a good representation of the terrain.
This is how they fire their homemade bricks.

Another young man on the sidelines.
I loved seeing the excitement of this toddler about the buzz of activity going on in the village.
Something I found quite touching was the display of affection between the boys in Malawi. You would often see them unashamedly holding hands, like the boys pictured here, as a sign of their brotherly love. 
One of the last shots of the day from the bus. This man is laboriously pushing a load of charcoal on his bike uphill so he can sell it at market.
Up next, World Vision!

Mulungu akhale nanu (God be with you),


PS - At the beginning of last month, we had three amazing worship services where we were joined by John and Lori Gash from Y-Malawi for a reunion of the Florida team and together we lifted up the work God is doing in Nkhoma/Chilenje. Here's the best part - 150 additional children were sponsored through World Vision that very morning! Thanks be to God! If God has been piercing your heart for the people in Malawi and you are also interested in sponsoring a child, please let me know. I have a few forms left for children in Nkhoma/Chilenje. There are still more than 4,000 children on a waiting list so every sponsorship matters. Pray about it!