Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why I Keep Doing Global Simulations: A Refugee for a Week Reflection...

This week is a pretty quiet week on the campus where I head to work every day...most of our students are home working or traveling or sleeping...and several of the staff I work alongside of in Student Development have the month of July off...I'm busy doing lots of prep and details and planning and thinking as we head toward late August and the rush of another school year at CU...

One of the things capturing my time is getting programs and materials ready for our first year experience program welcoming new students to campus...we've actually created a summer reading program and it focuses on the biography of a former refugee and "lost boy" from Sudan named Lopez Lomong whose story led him from unthinkable experiences in Africa to running on the US Olympic Track and Field team...

Our curriculum will highlight the issue of genocide this year and one of our goals is to engage the needs of refugees even here in Grand Rapids, MI as we learn and become more aware of what is happening in our world...and in partnership with our admissions team our Terra Firma coordinator Kristie Neff helped to create what we call REFUGEE FOR A WEEK...it's simply an invitation to the class of 2018 to join us in living a bit differently for a week so we can have just a taste of what life was like for Lopez and millions of others in our world...it means wearing the same clothes a couple days in a row, not spending money, forgoing a shower, sleeping on the floor, and choosing to not use your cell phone or car for a day...

It seems a bit goofy perhaps but I love what it says to our new students and what it does ultimately for me and anyone else who chooses to participate in this "global simulation" from July 6-12...

I've thought again this week why I continue to design, promote, and participate in these type of activities as a follower of Jesus who wants to see God's Kingdom break forth in every place and people community in our world today...

I have done a host of these over the last decade of my life...doing the classic 30 Hour Famine in partnership with World Vision for several years, personal fasts/prayer times, eating like I live in a village for a day, electronic/media boycotts, and even a week last summer with our family trying to limit all kinds of things in terms of food choices, purchases, activities, and more called SEVEN...

I am honestly always open to these and figured I would share with you why as a middle-aged guy I often join with more idealistic and creative students to live differently than the American norm, if only for a short period of time usually...

*It is healthy for me personally on many levels--I find myself desperately needing to have life be more simple, less material-driven, and frankly less focused on me thinking and pursuing all the things I want that I might not need...there's an attraction and a beauty to life without some of these things that make it more complicated and confusing sometimes even in the midst of having plenty...

*It produces gratitude and grace as I am reminded of my reality versus the reality of the majority of people in our global world...not in a guilt inducing way, but rather in a way that causes me to consider what the world ought to look like for every child and human, and often I am reminded that the world isn't always how I want it to be or how God intends it to be for many in every part of the globe...and that I am invited by Jesus to help change that reality as I become fully aware...

*Choosing to identify and remember the lives and needs of global friends does help produce in me a deeper compassion that ultimately stirs my passion to care to the point of doing something, to help get food to those who have none, to provide clean water rather than having kids drink out of a dirty puddle, to provide a bed net so people can actually sleep rather than fear the mosquito that can end their life, to help bring the love of Jesus in word and deed to those who pray every day for God's provision and hope to their lives, families, communities...

Here's a photo from my recent trip to Zambia with some amazing CU students with our incredible Zambian friends...they are why I have to keep making ways to connect with our world...because even though my office is covered with pictures from Africa and I truly call many Zambians close friends, the world I live in every day can make even me forget...forget that there are refugees who have so much to offer like Lopez to our world...so I will keep doing the simple things on a brochure we created so one day my African brothers and sisters can make the world so much more like God wants it to be simply because they were invited to and given a voice in our world that we all need to hear...

http://terrafirmacu.com/refugee-for-a-week-a-global-simulation/


 

Monday, July 7, 2014

JESUS' TRANSFIGURATION: On Earth as it is in Heaven--MATTHEW 17

I loved resonating so deeply with these familiar words from NT WRIGHT in a daily devotional from the Park Forum:

"What the story of Jesus on the mountain demonstrates, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, is that, just as Jesus seems to be the place where God's world and ours meet, where God's time and ours meet, so he is also the place where, so to speak, God's matter -- God's new creation -- intersects with ours. As with everything else in the gospel narrative, the moment is extraordinary, but soon over. It forms part of a new set of signposts, Jesus-shaped signposts, indicating what is to come: a whole new creation, starting with Jesus himself as the seed that is sown in the earth and then rises to become the beginning of that new world." 

A FINAL SUMMARY: In other words, in the transfiguration of Jesus, God is showing us that he is taking charge -- right here on earth -- and that we should pray for that to happen, recognize it in our midst and long for its completion.

http://theparkforum.org/2014/07/07/843-acres-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven/

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

5 Ways to Make an Impact by Chris Marlow

Serving and engaging the needs of the global poor has become one of my life's great passions...and I've often wrestled with the huge question of how you do that which I am called to pursue well...and here's a really solid list that serves as a strong framework from our friends at Catalyst:

1) Pray Deeply
Transformation starts from within. When the burden for the materially poor grips your heart, the best action step you can do is to pray. Pray for light to shine and darkness to be destroyed. Pray that God would give you wisdom and use your gifts to make a difference and pray that God will comfort those who are suffering. We simply cannot forget that the battle is not flesh and blood.
 
2) Seek Wisdom
As I travel the globe, my heart breaks often. I see so many people who love God and love people do work that actually may damage the people they are trying to love. Why? Because we have not sought wisdom. We do not understand the depth of culture or the complexity of living in a developing country. Sometimes our passion to "go" is what ruins our ability to see communities transformed. Passion can often get in the way of wisdom! Seek wisdom from key leaders on how to love and serve well. 
 
3) Dig Deep 
A shotgun approach to extreme poverty is a sure fire way to not get much done. Ask yourself: what area am I passionate about? Is it orphans, water, anti-trafficking, or job creation? Who is doing that kind of work and how can I help them? There are a few ways to engage with groups that you care about:  
Give:  Money moves the mission forward.  Be generous! 
Human Capital: You have gifts, passions and talents. How can you leverage those to make an impact? Do it. 
Longevity: Find a few organizations you love and stick with them long term. 
 
4) Activate Your Tribe 
Become a storyteller to your family, friends, co-workers and network. Ask them to be involved. Folks have a desire to make a difference. We asked our tribe to tell the simple story of Garage Sale for Orphans. (https://www.helponenow.org/catalyst/) We've raised $300,000 in the last two years and we hope to raise another 1 million in the next two.
We need 1000 people to say "yes" to throwing a garage sale party. 40 kids have been rescued from trafficking, orphans have clean water, and homeless Haitians now have homes and jobs--all through this initiative. Can you join us as well, and become a part of the 1000? You see how simple that was? We would have never been able to make that kind of impact, had our tribe not told our story — it makes a huge difference! 
 
5) Run The Race And Do Not Quit
It is not a sprint. True change takes a long time. I have seen so many passionate "do gooders" burn out quickly as they get frustrated with the reality that changing the world is a slow and steady approach. Pace yourself, keep your main focus on your relationship with God, surround yourself with people of wisdom, find an organization or two and dig deep, activate your tribe and prepare for a marathon, and, little by little, you will see the beauty of transformation.
 

Monday, June 9, 2014

LESSONS I LEARNED FROM LEADING ANOTHER TEAM TO ZAMBIA...

I've been home from Zambia for 3 weeks now...and I've done some reflecting on the trip as a whole in addition to all the global issues and needs we saw...here's a few key ideas that emerged as I've thought about the trip as the leader and facilitator...it reminds me of the power and impact of these trips...and the way they change all of our lives as we go forward...

1. It’s our passion as a leader that grabs students

2. Relational engagement invites participation

3. Students will chase hard a compelling vision

4. We need to be personally around people who inspire us and share in our biggest plans and dreams

5. God wants to use a generation of students outside their normal worlds and concerns for Kingdom purposes

6. Sharing our God stories multiplies their impact

7. God has something extraordinary for each of us

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

REFLECTIONS ON MY AFRICA TRIP: Broken Bottles--SHAUNA NIEQUIST

I've now been back home for a couple days after this most recent trip to Africa...this piece from Shauna Niequist in her book COLD TANGERINES communicates many of the feelings and questions and blessings you experience...and then must wrestle thru...the tension never stops for me...and the joy is a blessing from above...I'm so different and perhaps more who God wants me to be because of my time with the people and places of Zambia...enjoy this read...it moved me...

Four years ago, I went to Africa with my mother and my brother and a friend of ours, who is the president of a relief agency.  We went to Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia, and it freaked me out. It unnerved and unraveled me, seeping into my dreams and my thoughts the way a particularly evocative movie or song does. Africa is nothing if not evocative. It’s a place of such unimaginable beauty and dignity and expanse and possibility, and such unfathomable suffering and despair and disease and decay. It is at once so alive and so wracked by death, so powerful in its landscape and physicality, and so powerless under the weight of famine and political upheaval and disease. Its intensity scared me and overwhelmed me, and I feel like I wandered through many long days there, stunned and tired and unable to digest what I saw and heard, and more specifically, what I felt inside myself.  And even now, four years later, I’m still piecing together what happened in me and what was happening around me in those cities and villages.

 
I wasn’t ready for Africa. I have been to lots of other places, but I wasn’t ready for the chaotic jumble of people and homes and music and muddy winding paths through the shanty-towns in Nairobi or the huts in the Ugandan bush, tiny huts in the middle of a binding, parched expanse that went on as far as I could see. I wasn’t ready for the hospitals in Zambia, where I cried and hid my eyes as much as possible, where the smell of death and the cries of people in extreme pain rang out over row after row of rusted beds with dirty and bloodied sheets.

In the most disorienting change of venue, I flew from Zambia, through Frankfurt, back to O’Hare, and on to the Caribbean for a family vacation. I wish I could say that I wasn’t seduced by the smooth deck and bright white sails of the boat we stayed on, that I couldn’t swim in the perfectly warm navy-blue water because I was so overcome by the horror of what I had seen. I’m ashamed to say that wasn’t the case, and even more ashamed to say that I was glad to be there, glad to no longer be in Africa. I almost tried to let the warm salty water and the soothing wind wash away the smells and sounds of Africa.

I wanted away, out from under what I had seen and felt. I talked about it a little bit, but it was so hard to explain, and so hard to go back into those places inside me. I didn’t know how to tell my husband or my friends that Africa had done something bad inside me, had demonstrated to me a part of myself I didn’t know I had. For one of the first times in my life, my beliefs and perspectives bowed and flattened under the weight of my experience. Before I went there, I wanted to invest myself in the healing, in some small way, of Africa. But when I was there, I just wanted to leave, and I was ashamed and surprised by that part of myself.

I wanted to shut my eyes and stop seeing the images of starving children. I wanted to sleep at night without smelling the scent of smoke from open fires and the sounds of guards’ heavy footsteps outside our doors. Everyone I know, it seems, wants to go to Africa, wants to volunteer for a few days in an AIDS clinic or an orphanage. And that’s good. It’s a good impulse to want to see it with your own eyes and to want to be a part of the solution. I encourage them to go and recommend organizations and churches to connect with, but inside myself, I whisper to them, Be careful. You will be haunted by what you find there, and you won’t be able to wash away what you’ve seen and heard. You will see things and hear things, and then you will be responsible for them, for telling the truth about who you are and who you discover you are not, and for finding a way to make it right.

I had to make things right in two ways. I had to do something personally to make things right in Africa, because now I knew too much and couldn’t erase the images and sounds that had embedded themselves in me, like seeds planted in a garden. I had to make something happen right there, which is both enormously daunting and shockingly simple. Daunting because of how massively tangled the roots of the issues have become-it is about famine and sexual violence and patriarchy and racism and economics and medicine, and when you think you’ve knit together the magical solution, one pull on one string unravels the whole thing and leaves you with a mountain of new questions, while the clock ticks away lives by the dozen. And then again, shockingly simple, because there are such good, smart people doing such courageous, good, smart things, and what can be done with tiny little bits of money is just dazzling.

Also, though, and more difficult, I had to make things right within me. I had to confront the person I found on that trip, the one who wanted to fly home the first night and pretend the whole thing was not real. That’s the trick, I think. That’s why actually getting on a plane and going there is dangerous and very important. Because I could not forget about it, as desperately as I wanted to. I had to clear away space in my mind and my heart, spaces previously occupied by easy things--groceries to buy, albums to download, people to call--and replace them with the weight of Africa, a heavy, dark thing to carry with me, something under which to labor, something under which to tremble. Because once you see it, you will never be able to un-see it, and once you see it, you will be responsible for it, and for the self it reveals back to you.

Somehow on that trip, I grew softer and harder in unexpected places. But more than that, I’ve grown since that trip, because there is a new thing inside me, however thoroughly I tried to escape it. Africa has grown like a stubborn stalk in the soil of my life, despite my resistance, despite my fear and selfishness.

It took some time, after the trip. It took some time for me to want to talk about Africa, to want to read about it again, to want to hear about it at church. But I saw it, and carried it with me, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t un-see it, so all I could do, it seemed, was enter back in, in an entirely new way. I will never recapture my naïveté, my idealism about what magical solution might just bind up all the broken pieces. But I practice listening, learning and praying. I practice telling the truth about myself, the truth I was too proud to admit four years ago, that I’m scared and that when faced with death, I cried, instead of rising up like a nurse or a prophet. I hid my eyes. But I don’t anymore.

The baby growing in my belly as I write has brought my memories of that trip into focus. What was distant and abstract is now bursting into my field of vision in sharp relief: mothers could not feed their babies. I understand that now in a way that I did not, could not, then. My own mother has said that AIDS in Africa will be addressed and eventually healed by mothers. Then, I thought she meant women in general, possible mothers, I guess. But the non-mother-me who took that trip didn’t get something that the mother-me does now. Everything looks different--Africa and my own neighborhood and my own belly and the pregnant bellies I saw there, others carrying babies who will be born hungry and live hungry every day of their lives.

There is a food truck that comes to our neighborhood twice a month. A wonderful local church sets up the truck in their parking lot, and people line up around the block for potatoes and formula and apples. Our house church volunteers sometimes, unpacking the food and packing it into the laundry baskets and bags and buckets that our neighbors bring. I’m silenced every time, watching women just like me, carrying babies they love the way I love mine, tucking onions and corn and juice into baskets, because without the food truck, they would not have enough food for their children.

What happened in me on the other side of the world is working its way through my life like yeast through dough, right in my neighborhood. I help feed people on Thursday afternoons, a tiny thing, but one that is important to me, because once you see something, you can’t un-see it. I saw the women in that line with their babies, and I can’t un-see them. And I don’t want to.

One night in Africa we climbed to the highest point we could find, through waist-high bushes and bramble and thorny underbrush, and when we came to the top, we looked out at the sun setting across a majestic and regal land, land that had been given and taken and stolen and drenched with blood, but land that at that moment was glowing with the softness of the fading sun and the rich purples and greens of harvest time. The property on which we stood was walled on all sides, and the top of the wall was spiked with broken bottles so that no one could scale it without being cut on the glass. We stood inside the wall, and the broken bottles glinted in the sun like sparklers, keeping people in, keeping people out, twinkling and beautiful, and at the same time, embedded with violence and division, and in those two things, those twin natures, lies Africa.

 And in Africa I discovered my own twin natures, extending to me two hands, one holding terror and despair and one hope, and day-by-day, I make my choice. There is hope for Africa, and there is hope for me, and for my neighborhood, for the shards of broken bottles that puncture and divide us all.

Monday, May 5, 2014

ZAMBIA TRIP #7 BLOG...

Tomorrow I head with a fantastic team of 19 from Cornerstone University back to Zambia...it's trip #7 for me to the place I now call my second home...

And I am so excited to see and catch up with close Zambian friends, play the best soccer, distribute bed nets to help end malaria, care for and be cared for by poor who are rich in spirit, worship in the African church, have our hearts broken together and get to know better my friends from CU, join in a  church building project, and visit the Kakolo Village community that has changed the direction of my life over the last decade of life since my first visit...all in all, traveling to Zambia is one of the greatest joys and privileges and change agents in my life...and I am forever grateful that God has connected us in a most surprising way...

I'll be blogging at: www.cuzambiatrip.wordpress.com

Would love to have you follow along and pray with us over the next 2 weeks...

 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter, Zambia, and the Upside Down Kingdom

I’ve been thinking and processing lots in the midst of an always frantic and event filled Spring in our family and the CU campus…and in the midst of that I think I am ready to offer a raw and open and authentic reflection as I approach THE day on the Christian calendar and THE trip that once again promises to change my life…so here goes:

As we approach Easter tomorrow I am always overwhelmed at the massive impact the resurrection of Jesus has had and continues to have on both a personal and corporate scale…

In just a couple weeks I head back to Zambia again for trip #7 to a place that is so very far away but has become a place I visit more often than spots just a car trip away from Grand Rapids…

Over the last decade of trips to Zambia I’ve watched communities and the lives of so many dear Zambian friends literally be transformed and changed through the power of a Savior who renews and restores and gives life and hope to that which seemed to be broken and without the possibility of a different future…

I’ve seen heaven come to earth in the most unexpected dirty and dusty roads and fields and thatch huts and soccer pitches and school classrooms and medical clinics and clean water well sites and wooden church benches…and the power of the Gospel of Jesus who is no longer in the grave has before my eyes conquered death and brought resurrection in both body and spirit to places in Africa where dreams have become real and true for people with remarkable faith and perseverance…

This transformation has taken place perhaps even more surprisingly in the hearts and minds and lives of people like me who have had the privilege of traveling to a different culture and world that literally has flipped our lives upside down…and allowed the reality of Easter to do what it was intended to do all along in our lives—to turn us into people who love freely, choose good over evil, experience joy in serving another instead of fixating on our own wants and needs, and free us from a life of materialism, arrogance, and fear because of what Jesus has done on our behalf…

The death and resurrection of my Savior and Lord has become more that just an event to be recognized and a reality I offer intellectual assent…it has become a yearly and sometimes daily reminder of the preposterous idea that everything is now different and all things are indeed being made new because I’ve seen HIM alive and on the move and doing miracles in African communities and American student lives over and over and over again…

And in 2014, I once again find myself a different person with dreams and ambitions and in reality the ability to accept and revel in a very different life experience and path than the one I can imagine if Jesus hadn’t stepped into life on earth and connected me with people on the other side of the world where together we experience the joy and hope of Easter despite our differences…

Let me explain what this has looked like for me over the last several years, even the last week in more concrete detail:

A week ago I spent Saturday morning on our Cornerstone campus running in and helping along with some students to host a 5K run for clean water in partnership with Living Water Intl, an organization I deeply believe in and former partner in seeking to help funds new wells in global communities with desperate need for the water that brings life and health and the ability to do much more in life…

At the same time some of my friends were running in another 5K race on the other side of Lake Michigan back at our former church home Willow Creek to help make education available for kids in Zambia, which seems like about the best idea in the world in my opinion given that much of my life has been invested in the pursuit over the last dozen years…I loved getting tweets and texts with their pictures even as I posted several from our CU run at the same time…I am a gigantic fan of Willow's amazing Celebration of Hope campaigns...

Now you should know that the comparison of these two runs caused me to actually experience some serious internal tension and struggle…mostly because of how very different they looked and were in the results and outcomes…

Our little run struggled to get 40 students out of bed early on a Saturday morning despite on campus publicity efforts and raised about $1000 towards the construction of a new well in Africa…while Willow Creek’s run featured almost 4000 runners and most like raised about 100 times what our race did in terms of funds for the education of Zambian kids…

To me, it looked like the classic case of one of the largest and most influential churches in the world compared to a small Christian university’s student justice group trying to pull off the same kind of event…and the results were probably what most people expected them to be…

But if I am honest, the very visible differences in these two events didn’t settle as easily for me…and strangely enough brought up all kinds of feelings of disappointment, discouragement, and doubt on a warm spring Saturday in the Midwest…

Several years ago I actually interviewed to help give leadership to Willow’s global efforts and I couldn’t help but do the comparisons in my mind where I would have been the one running the 4000 person event instead of allowing a group of students to try with limited success to draw our own small crowd of runners to a race course marked out in chalk on our campus sidewalks…

And once again I started fighting the inevitable self-doubt and fears that can easily attack me as I enter the second half of my fifth decade in this world:

Have I “failed” and not “maximized” my gifts and potential because I am part of a run with 40 rather than 4000? Did I not have what it takes to truly become the kind of “leader” who is one of those known and followed and published and podcasted and asked to speak at Q and Catalyst and the Global Leadership Summit when I once just assumed that I would be on of those figures now “IN” as part of the evangelical subculture? And why would I have chosen to come to and so deeply invest in a workplace that doesn’t have national pull or recognition when measured against other schools, churches, and organizations that I’ve hung around for a good chunk of my life?

It is this tendency to compare, this bent toward measuring up, this deep desire to have a platform of influence and impact as a leader that often brings these kinds of questions and doubts and feelings of failure to my otherwise optimistic and positive and hopeful outlook on life…

I can easily make things become all about the bottom line, all about the economics, all about the size of numbers, and all about the public praise and notice received…and this tendency can turn my moments of reflection into ones filled with more angst than is healthy and more worry than is necessary for one like me who is ridiculously blessed and remarkably cared for by family, friends, and our God…

And then these moments like last Saturday of insecurity and discontent run into Easter…into the reality that as a friend who works alongside me often reminds me the Kingdom that Jesus brought via His incarnation and established forever through His resurrection carried with it a new and different economy…a Jesus economy that I first truly saw and experienced in a forgotten village in Zambia where I found joy and laughter and sport and mercy and grace and life among the poor, a people who love Jesus and His people and world in an upside down way…

Easter for me this year marks the reality that soon I will again be in sub-Saharan Africa helping to stop malaria’s impact and reveling in the way that the community there embraces us like family…and together we will affirm and celebrate what Jesus has done and will continue to do as the Risen Redeemer of all people and all things…

I know that even though it may not look to those who are watching from afar or even to myself some days that I have become and am doing things that are good enough and big enough in my life and work, I am able to experience the peace of Christ and enjoy that I still get to be part of Jesus’ work in student lives, have brilliant and compassionate friends awaiting my arrival in Zambia, and know in my very soul that what God has called me to do in the place He’s clearly led me does matter to Him and to His Kingdom…whether 40 or 4000 run in a race to help change the world…whether I self publish or make the NY Times bestseller list…whether I work at a university with the highest of ACT scores or a bunch of first generation college students…whether I’m invited to speak at national conferences or teach a first year experience class cohort…and whether my global initiative saves millions of lives or gives individual families a bed net that they’ve been praying for…

The resurrection flipped the world and all of our lives upside down…and the upside down Kingdom life is indeed the best for me this Easter…

JAMES 2:5…Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?