Thursday, March 3, 2016

NIGHT OF NETS: A United Nations Summit Reflection

I found myself in a very unfamiliar place. We were on a 12th floor balcony looking over some of the most famous sites in the world lit up on a Sunday evening in Washington DC. The United Nations building space was filled with mounds of expensive food and drinks, and we had recently been in the same small room with one of the most famous global athletes in history and President Obama’s National Security Advisor.

As I moved from conversation to conversation in this fascinating, intimidating, and surreal social environment, I stood by myself for a moment and thought of a small village in Zambia where the darkness of that night did not feature famous lighted monuments, gourmet food, or well-dressed famous and powerful people. However, the time I spent in Kakolo Village and the friends I made in this forgotten African community was without a doubt the reason I found myself on a Washington DC balcony at one of the elite addresses in the modern world. These 2 seemingly completely different places and peoples were, in fact, surprisingly and divinely connected in my story, a story that is still being written with new chapters and characters…

While in DC I told several people the story of how Bono’s words at Wheaton College in 2002 shifted my life and career trajectory in a disturbing and beautiful way. The last 15 years have been featured a massive learning curve about global poverty, economics, health care, and cultures for me as a classically suburban evangelical Christian. I’m about to take my 8th trip to sub-Saharan Africa with my family and a bundle of overexcited college students. My mind and my heart are bent to know about, to care about, and to respond to global issues like HIV/AIDS, extreme poverty, sex trade, hunger, and a parasitic disease called MALARIA.

It was a surprise to be invited by the United Nations Foundation NOTHING BUT NETS campaign to share my story, our small Christian university’s story with some of the people most concerned about malaria at their annual Champions Summit. And yet it was incredibly natural to talk about the people we know, the places we’ve been, and the plans we’ve pursued in trying to deliver life-saving bed nets to people in Zambia whose lives are holistically impacted by the bite of a mosquito. The profound opportunity we have been given by our God to help eradicate malaria in NDOLA, ZAMBIA and even the entire beautiful continent of Africa has become the invitation I just cannot say NO to despite all the other invitations and responsibilities that daily come my way.

Our little trip to DC with friends and CU students I love was another high point in our journey pursuing justice and restoration in our world. Cornerstone University was a seriously unlikely guest at an event filled with people who had vastly different life experiences, beliefs, and lifestyles. But the power of a grander vision, the hope of a compelling mission, and the calling I believe comes from within each human being bearing the image and heart of a God who has created everyone to flourish and be fully alive as His beloved people makes connection and relationships with people from very different places.

After learning from global experts and advocating before members of Congress on Capitol Hill, our final night of our DC excursion was spent at a Starbucks near our Georgetown neighborhood hotel. It was another dream session for our Night of Nets initiative and here’s what I came away with as we invite the Holy Spirit to continue to grow our vision for being instruments of hope and healing through the transformational power of a bed net given in Jesus’ name:

1. Until God tells us otherwise, we continue to feel called to focus our energy and resources toward helping to end the suffering malaria still causes in our world today

2. There’s still more room to invite more stakeholders on our CU campus to join the Night of Nets campaign in new and deeper ways going forward. It may very well bring unprecedented unity and passion and purpose to our community.

3. We long to see more campuses join us in providing life-saving bed nets through campus events. Our audacious target is to have 100 schools join the Night of Nets community by 2018.

4. We will continue to provide bed nets to an amazing network of churches through our Jubilee Centre to help reduce the devastating impact of malaria in Zambian communities. These nets are a vehicle for physical healing & deeper connection with the Body of Christ distributing them.

5. We will also continue to partner with the work being done by World Vision and Nothing But Nets as they distribute millions of bed nets to refugees & those at most risk in sub-Saharan Africa.

6. We will pay special attention to the resources our own government is putting toward global health concerns like malaria and plan to advocate for increased funding for the highly effective President’s Malaria Initiative program in the coming years as we continue to see malaria being eradicated from more and more communities and nations in our world. The multiplying economic and community impact of this disease being wiped out is gigantic.

7. Our hearts continue to break for those still affected every day by this disease (pregnant women & children at greatest risk). We will spend even more time praying for healing & protection & comfort as we call out to God to end this health crisis & gain victory in the fight against malaria.

Night of Nets is a simple idea that leverages the incredible power and influence of sport in our culture and world to do something good and transformational in the lives of others. I love the fact that the games we love to play and attend can be catalytic in harnessing the resources and voices of a generation that cares deeply about making the world and the daily lives of its people more like God intended them to be. We are joining athletes like Stephen Curry and teams like the Detroit Pistons in sharing how you can make a huge impact with very little—

The journey from Pennsylvania Avenue to Kakolo Village seems unimaginable in many ways. But our creative God has made the path straight and beautiful for so many folks from Grand Rapids and Zambia alike. We will both sleep under them in Zambia once again this June, the love of Jesus makes even stronger our strings, our nets that connect us as we pray and dream and create and serve and work for the end of malaria in our lifetime. I do believe…the best is yet to come…CHIP


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