Free from Worry

If you’ve followed Enjoying the Surface for any amount of time, you’ve read enough of the posts here to see that there are strong themes on worry, anxiety, fear and the like.  These are struggles familiar to me, as well as those that I find are familiar to my fellow man.  To be human requires struggling with issues of control, or the lack of it, and that is sure to bring upon a healthy dose of worry.  To be human also requires recognizing that our worries can only be met in Jesus as we abide in Him (John 15).

Leave it to Pastor Jon at Restoration Church to pack a 1-2 punch on worry from this Sunday’s sermon, where He urges us to push into Jesus as worries come our way.

Interacting with the Face of Poverty

The internet, media and ease of worldwide travel have amazingly shrunk our planet over the past 50 years. No longer does one need to take a ship to get to outer Mongolia. Missionaries traveling to sub-Saharan Africa no longer pack their goods in a coffin as they did some 200 years ago (now, more than likely, they would lease a portion of a shipping container that would meet them several weeks after their own arrival by air). More and more, the internet is used to connect people through online venues like Skype, Facebook and the soon-to-vanish Tokbox.

Still, our times of face-to-face international travel does leave us wondering how to help our ever-expanding global community deal with issues of poverty. Jesus put little boundary on His idea of who our neighbor really is—calling humankind to help out any neighbor in need as His story of the Good Samaritan showed that we can even cross, ethnic, religious and cultural lines in this help.

Writer Kevin Salwen for The New York Times has an article on this very subject for today. How do we assist those in need as we travel internationally? Faced with such a situation myself in Salima, Malawi, I encountered a young boy, roughly 12 years of age some 4 years ago. This boy came up to the small bus I was traveling in with some other Westerners and very readily said, “Give me money,” to those of us sitting near the windows. I was shocked, and a bit appalled. How had this kid learned to go up to complete strangers and ask such a thing? Seeing this situation through my own cultural lenses this Malawian boy was in the wrong or was at the end of his rope and in some desperate financial straits to ask a complete stranger for some coin. I learned later through a great book on this subject that a general rule of thumb in sub-Saharan Africa is that soliciting funds from strangers as this young man did is completely the norm.

In Kevin Salwen’s article, I appreciate his desire that we continually seek the greatest good as we encounter these scenarios. Oftentimes, it is a sticky situation. In the case of the young boy in Salima, I ended up not giving him anything because we saw that the purpose of our trip was not to alleviate the poverty of roadside beggars, nor was this young man, to my knowledge, part of the community we had come to work with. It seemed right at the time to say no to his request which would, hopefully, direct him to other places of income generation, while not setting up the next mzungu (foreigner) up for an obligation to give a handout. Were I to have had a greater amount of time on that trip (which we Westerners continually are in need of and forget that so much of the non-Western world is on a different time schedule!), it would have been great to connect this young man with an income generation trade program, many of which exist in Salima. But in our brief 30 second encounter to refill on petrol, I can only hope that my action with him assisted him in his poverty, albeit hastily and briefly.

In his book Walking With The Poor, Bryant Myers (former president of World Vision) talks about the importance to remember in any encounter we have with poverty that poverty is not simply a measure of the amount of money one has in their pocket. Poverty, Myers asserts, is more a measure of broken relationships, one’s relationships with their community, their Creator, and the earth around them. To put this in my own Western context, the homeless man in the middle of the street is begging for food or money not because he is financially poor, but because his relationships with the three aforementioned entities have been marred. And if we ask ourselves how rich or poor we are in this context, we’ll most likely get a far different answer than the balance told to us by the ATM machine. For all we know, the young man I encountered during my petrol stop in Salima, Malawi, might have indeed been one of the richest men on the planet!

Too little hospitality? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Much more than what is advertised in a recent commercial for an Italian restaurant, hospitality is the sharing of life with one another. Being hospitable people ourselves (at least we think we are!), my wife and I have known about hospitality, or so we thought. We had an opportunity to see just how far the hospitable rabbit hole goes in the past month.

Now all of us followers of Jesus long to have the life that Luke described about the early Church in Acts 2: “now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all as any of them had need” (v. 44-45). You know, mi casa es tu casa and the whole bit. But it’s definitely something to learn more about.

Months ago, an opportunity presented itself for us to go to a conference on my wife’s specialization of her field of study at school. In Boston no less, one of her favorite cities. Seeing a good thing when we saw one, we began to make plans to go. But at $250 a night for a hotel (that being the cheapest of hotel options), the trip began to look a bit too pricey for our budget. Thus began our search for finding someone to stay with while on our trip. As it turned out, a friend reminded me that another mutual friend lives in Boston, with whom we could stay or perhaps could connect us with someone in her network. The latter happened, and these someones actually needed housing while they were visiting LA last month. So, we had the opportunity to house them and then they got to reciprocate.

Just finishing our time with them, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that the spectrum of hospitality continues far off into the sunset—that is, there’s a lot to learn about opening your home up, helping one feel comfortable, while also learning that there’s a lot on my end in learning about how to not feel like a burden. While our time in Boston has finished with these new dear friends of ours, my journey on learning this continues, as I’m traveling the East Coast for the next couple of days, staying with other friends. I’m writing this having spent some time with a buddy in Jersey (which is much nicer than Hollywood would have you believe, as they don’t all say “badda-bing, badda-bang”).

When done right, the Church is an amazing community. And it’s been a real joy to live life with new friends this past week. It’s a bit of the picture I think Jesus had in mind when He called us to “love one another” (John 15). May each of us this week look for ways to practice hospitality this week, perhaps a phone call to one we’ve not talked with recently, a note of encouragement for an old friend, or an extended hand of generosity to a stranger.

Rwanda, Burundi expel Human Rights Watch workers in crackdown on criticism ahead of elections

Today’s news reports that “Rwanda, Burundi expel Human Rights Watch workers in crackdown on criticism ahead of elections.”

As many of you know, Jenn and I have spent some good time in Rwanda. This country that is near to our hearts, and its neighbor Burundi, both have their second elections since their genocides in the 1990s, which is raising a few concerns. See today’s Associated Press story for more. This news is not a good sign. Let’s be in prayer for those in Rwanda and Burundi as they prepare for the elections.

Confessions of a Time Management Weenie

Practically speaking, one day recently was a complete waste. It started early for a time of prayer with friends. This was followed by yet another meeting with another friend. And then one more time of hanging out with some friends who just had a beautiful new baby (By the way, there are so many cute new babies around us these days!). From here, I went with my wife to her office and talked with a colleague of hers. Then, both of us ended our evening again enjoying conversation with some other colleagues over dinner.

An entire day of conversation. Practically meaningless. Nothing accomplished other than deep conversation with dear people.

Yet relationally robust. While my day was indeed not filled with tasks completed of checklists nor power lunches with those in-the-know, it was definitely fulfilling. It was a day to learn more the importance of Paul’s prayer to the church at Ephesus, that out of the glorious riches of Jesus they would be strengthened “with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (3:16).

It’s days like these that remind me of the important things—a new baby’s coo, deep conversations with old friends and new, and taking time to let the details go aside. May each of us be willing to set aside the task list for awhile and focus on things that really matter, things with eternal value—people, relationships and connection of souls.

Lessons from the Garden

Recently, I’ve participated in two events that I wanted to share with all of you ETS readers–this past week’s The Journey retreat with The Leadership Institute and a wonderful Garden Tour at our home to help raise scholarship funds for our church’s women’s ministry.

Both are relatively different, yet there was a common thread through them both of God’s goodness. We’d known of both events for quite some time. The past couple months have involved slowly getting the yard ready for visitors–pruning this plant here, sweeping that corner there–and an internal excitement about sharing our passion of gardening with yet-to-be friends.

Early last week, I left for The Journey with a bit of apprehension. Still, while the yard was generally ready to go, part of me was ready to stay home to ensure every detail was covered. And yet it was during The Journey that one of my colleagues taught a lesson that made a big impact. He reminded us of Jesus’ teaching of the parable of the vine in John 15, a passage I tend to be in at least weekly. My colleague said that early in his Christian walk, this passage freaked him out–specifically “every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (v. 2). Why would a good Gardener prune branches that were healthy? I instantly thought of my garden and all the work we’d been doing these past few weeks. My colleague continued on to talk about how God the Father, before we were ever born, with a great and passionate love for each one of us, prepared a place for us in His garden, knowing where He wanted to place us so we could be the most fruitful. I’ve done that with each of my plants in the yard when they were just little seedlings, figuring out which side should face out, repositioning them in the ground just so so they could flourish. God the Father does this with us as well, and it brings me joy to know this great truth!

As each of us lives out our day today and the rest of this week, may we be mindful of this great fact: we are where we are because God is aiming to teach us something, something about ourselves, about one another, about Him, that we may have His life abound in us all the more. Amen.