Wednesday, December 01, 2010

You did it!

We recently asked a number of you to step up to help make it possible for Lisa to make her first visit to Sierra Leone and ... YOU DID IT! Lisa and I, along with our friends Andy and Abby Walker, will visit Sierra Leone this month. The primary goal of the trip is to get everyone more oriented to the country--shops, schools, culture, food. Lisa and I are especially concerned to find an adequate place to educate our children once we relocate to Sierra Leone sometime in the future. In addition to this, however, we'll serve at an orphanage, work in a clinic, I'll preach, and we'll spend some time with pastors and ministry leaders in a time of fellowship and mutual encouragement. All of this has been made possible by your prayers, encouragement, and support.


I want to share part of an email I recently sent out to those who stepped up in especially big ways to make this trip possible (it's worth repeating for those of you who've already received this):

Yesterday Lisa shared something with me that I knew I had to share with you: "If you want to go fast, go by yourself. If you want to go far, go with others." ... My friend who has done a lot of mission work in Africa likes to ask this question: If a tiger and a lion were to get into a fight, which one would win? Answer--the lion. Why? Although tigers are bigger they work alone, but lions always operate in prides. ... Team takes time. It requires patience and faith. Mushrooms spring up overnight; oak trees take a lifetime to grow. We don't just want to be a flash in the pan, here today and forgotten tomorrow. We want to make a LASTING IMPACT in Sierra Leone. We want to grow an oak tree. "If you want to go fast, go by yourself. If you want to go far, go with others." We want to go far so we are "going with others"--with you!

I've said before that organizations don't change the world, people do. Chris Chandler can't change the world. But with a team of committed people, we can transform Sierra Leone together! We are privileged to serve the people of Sierra Leone and we deeply appreciate those of you who sacrifice in serving alongside us. So thank you for being a part of our team, our "pride"!

To get everyone in the spirit of Sierra Leone, here's a short video clip of a wonderful African worship service I experienced on our first trip in a village called Kenema ...


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Connecting

Last month I asked you to pray that we connect with the Sierra Leone Refugee All Star Band in December.

Well you prayed, and God did even better than what we asked for.

We found out that one of the band members--Jahson Bull--was visiting Flagstaff in October. So Andy flew me up to Flagstaff, we picked up Jahson, and he ended up staying at Andy and Abby's house here in Phoenix for a couple of weeks. In the time we spent with Jahson, we found out that the majority of the band members are Christians! Thank you, Lord, for prayer answered beyond our meager asking!









Friday, October 01, 2010

Sierra Leone Refugee All Star Band

September has been a wonderful month! Many positive things are happening. Allow me briefly to share just one.

During Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, many people were displaced as refugees in neighboring Guinea. Life as a refugee is "bana" (this Krio word means "difficult"). Refugees live in hot tents, are away from their families and communities, and are uncertain about when their lives will return to normal.

Out of this situation, a man named Reuben decided to start making music to lift people's spirits. He and a small band gathered up what they could (like a hubcap for a cymbal) and started playing. This is how the Sierra Leone Refugee All Star Band was born. A musician visiting Guinea discovered Reuben and his band and offered to help them out. Since then they've cut 2 CDs, made a DVD, and are now on tour in the US. Now comes the neat part ...

A couple of weeks ago, I had been thinking about Reuben and his band and decided to lend our Sierra Leone Refugee All Star DVD to Andy and Abby Walker (you know, our friends going to Sierra Leone with us in December). But before they had a chance even to watch it, they flew to Chicago to visit Andy's brother Rob and to see a Dave Matthew's concert (yes, I'm jealous!). A few days after they returned from Chicago, Andy's brother texts him and says, "You're never going to believe who I'm hanging out with right now ... the Sierra Leone Refugee All Star Band!" Now, how cool is that?!? I'm told that the band will be in Sierra Leone in December while we're there. Please pray that somehow we might connect with this fun, hope-filled band in December.

When we step out on faith as Andy and Abby have, our God does amazing things.

REMINDER: Sunday, October 3rd we are fasting and praying for our trip. Please join us.

Now for the good stuff! Click here to experience the music of Reuben and the band: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSgY6n_ek_g

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Prayer


In this brief post, I am simply asking each of you to take a moment to pray for the following:
  • Plans for our trip to Sierra Leone in December are coming together nicely. Praise Jeezus!
  • Pray for our friend Fodie Konneh who will host us during our trip. Health is a big issue in Sierra Leone and he has been struggling lately with his health.
  • Ask the Lord to provide Lisa and I with the right house soon in a good location (Phoenix is just massive).
  • I have been praying regularly that God would raise up for Leaders 4 Life a fantastic board of directors. Will you join me?

(Sierra Leonean children praise God at the opening of their school built by Bethel World Outreach and S.A.V.E.)

I am utterly convinced that God responds in powerful ways to our prayers. Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him" (Mark 11:23). While I don't fully understand what Jesus means by this, I do know that prayer was central to Jesus' life and ministry. E. M. Bounds once wrote this: "What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer."

Let's pray together and see how God responds!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

A Widow's Offering

A fortnight ago (that's 2 weeks for us Americans), I received the two rings below which were accompanied with a letter. It read: "I haven't met you, but I feel like I know you with all your parents talking about you and your family. ... It sounds to me like you are a wonderful servant for God and helping others. Please accept these 2 diamond rings that were my husbands'. ... Thank you for making a difference in the lives of others."


This note and these rings come from a friend of my folks who is a widow. We are continually amazed at the people God brings into our lives and the ways in which He provides. Although we've never asked for a single diamond ring, the Lord continues to move in the hearts of his people in this way. What a blessing and encouragement for the people of Sierra Leone who have lost limbs and loved ones over diamonds.




Please pray for our mission trip in December. Lisa and I, along with Andy and Abby Walker, will be on the ground for 8 days in Sierra Leone just before Christmas. Pray for safety, guidance, and that the Lord would use this trip for his glory. Please also pray that Lisa and I might get ourselves into a house soon!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Foundation, foundation, foundation

When you're talking real-estate, the mantra is, "location, location, location." When it comes to studying the Bible, "context, context, context" is the rule. But with leadership, another word comes to mind: foundation.

I'm a consummate dreamer and I'll never apologized for that. As much as anybody, I love to imagine a better world or a grand vision. I dream big. But over the years, I've realized more and more that in order to actually make those dreams come to fruition, there are a lot of challenging, concrete tasks which must be accomplished. For some, this transition from dream to reality can be a vision-killer. I've seen it time and again: a friend wants to plant a church or start a business, but after a few years of frustration, exhaustion, or both, the dream fades and those good intentions become just that, good intentions. Some people may even get their plans off the ground, only to sputter out a few miles down the road. I know this well because a few of my dreams have been sacrificed on the altar of hard-cold reality. I'm sure we've all had those experiences.
But I'm beginning to learn. Two key factors to actually creating a dream and carrying out a vision have hit home with me lately: foundation and relationships. The two are actually intertwined. When I say "foundation," I think stability, consistency, faithfulness, strength. Builders of buildings know this well. Without a strong foundation, what is built will come crashing down in the face of adverse weather (just read Matthew 7:24-27).

(A budding friendship: Andy and Abby Walker are going to Sierra Leone with Lisa and I in December.)

Foundation has a lot to do with relationships. The stronger my relationships with those around me, the stronger my foundation for leadership. Organizations do not change the world, people do. The ability of an organization to be effective is directly related to the quality of relationships among the people in that organization. As you think of where you work, live, or serve, ask yourself, "Do I honestly trust those around me to come through for me and can they trust me to come through for them?" If not, why not?

The best indicator of the level of a relationship is "the honesty test." I once heard a pastor tell his friend, "If you're not willing to be honest with me about my faults, then I don't want to be your friend." Whoa! That pastor has a serious thirst for honesty. Do you have people around you who can--no, will--speak truth into your life in order to benefit you? Do you have people who are willing to tell you the tough things about ... you? I have a few friends like that and I cherish them. Proverbs 27:6 says, "Trustworthy are the wounds of a friend, but many are the kisses of an enemy." Max de Pree, CEO of the Hermann Miller and one time chair of the board of Fuller Seminary, says, "trust multiplies with truth." Even bad news shared between friends can strengthen relational bonds. Good relationships also help us weather the difficult storms every leader inevitably faces. Of course, gentleness is required to speak truth effectively into another person's life, but let's not sacrifice truth so we can remain comfortable.


It's easy to become impatient when working towards a dream. I know I've felt this way in building Leaders 4 Life. But if we want our dream to actually become reality, and even to be better than we could imagine (Ephesians 3:20), we must be patient. We must be patient in building those key relationships and the rest will more easily follow. I remember what former President of Princeton Theological Seminary Tom Gillespie once told me. He told me he had raised more money in the last 5 years of his presidency than the previous 15 years combined. Why? Relationships. He had built strong relationships of trust with his donors over all those years.

So when I feel I want my board formed yesterday, more trips to be made to Sierra Leone more quickly, or I'm frustrated that we're not "up and running" already, I have to be patient and remember: foundation, foundation, foundation!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Global Liberation

Many of you will remember a couple of years ago when I preached at Paradise Valley Community Church (PVCC) in Phoenix and began receiving diamond rings in support of our mission. (See: http://leaders4life-sierraleone.blogspot.com/2008_05_01_archive.html) Since moving back to Phoenix over a year ago, we have made PVCC our home church. Besides getting to listen to our dear friend Frank Switzer preach each week (Frank and I studied for the ministry together in both college and Seminary), and getting to be a part of a community that genuinely cares about and is deeply involved in mission, I have the opportunity to preach at our church now and again. This past month I was asked to share with the congregation about Global Liberation. (For those who didn't get a chance to listen, you can download the message here: http://www.paradisechurch.com/explore/messages/audio/677.mp3).





(Frank and his wife Jackie ... yep, God called THEM into ministry!)





As a part of the message, I shared briefly about our mission to Sierra Leone, the war over diamonds, and how we had received diamond rings at this church when I spoke two years earlier. After the second service, a woman from our congregation came up to me with tears in her eyes and said, "I've been carrying around ten small diamonds from a broken marriage and now I know why." She then handed me a small plastic baggie with the diamonds you see below.




We are amazed, affirmed, and humbled at all that God continues to do. God has already done so much and yet we realize that this is just the beginning!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

It's like hacking through an overgrown jungle ...


As I've talked lately with missionaries who've done extensive work in Sierra Leone, I've learned just how challenging ministry there can be. I knew the roads were rough, the toilets didn't flush (if there was one at all) and that the electricity was spotty (although I've heard it's much better now). But more than those things, one of the biggest obstacle seems to be the obliteration of a solid network of missionaries in the country due to the war.





Before Sierra Leone's war, if there was a white person in the country he or she was a missionary. The country was neatly divided up, with Anglicans working in this area, Wesleyans in that area, and so on. But the 11 year civil war drove most of the missionaries out of the country or severely limited their work inside the country. Ministry is done in, through, and by people. No people means no ministry. These missionaries once provided "well-worn paths" so-to-speak. If a person felt God's call to Sierra Leone, he or she could get connected to some of the missionaries already operating in the country and get a head-start by learning the ropes from some seasoned veterans. Today, this is just not the case. It's like hacking through an overgrown jungle. We have to cut our own paths and that takes time, effort, and persistence.



To complicate matters, after the war a host of non-government organizations (NGOs) flooded into Sierra Leone. Today if you see a white person in the country he or she is most likely not a Christian missionary but rather someone working with an NGO, many of which are not Christian in orientation. The mission of most NGOs is not to make disciples of Jesus Christ, but to provide much needed material aid. Their presence is a blessing and a curse. The missionary in Sierra Leone (or Sierra Leonean pastor, for that matter) has much more material aid at his or her disposal than before the war. However, working with organizations which are not gospel-centered can prove to be a great temptation to center one's ministry entirely around such material aid rather than around the gospel.



So we are forging ahead, cutting a new path. This overgrowth is part of the reason things will take longer than usual than is the case for missionaries in most other countries. We have to create a network of ministry partners basically from scratch and figure out the best ways to operate in the country with less help from those who've gone before. Part of this path-cutting will happen as we take some initial trips to the country. We hope to travel there during the dry season this winter. We are taking a small team and a couple of friends have even already graciously offered to pay for our flights! There are also some other very positive funding developments happening which should come to fruition in the coming months. So things are happening ... slowly but surely we will hack our way through this jungle and accomplish that which God is calling us to.



Blessings and may you feel the presence of Jesus' resurrection this Easter season!

Monday, March 01, 2010

" ... as of first importance ..."

For the past two years I have expressed our desire to build a hospital specializing in prosthetics, create an educational orphanage, and build a seminary to train pastors in Sierra Leone. Whenever I have shared this vision, I have inevitably gotten the question, "What will you start with first?" I have to confess, I haven't had an adequate reply to the question of "What's first?" But my thinking has developed significantly regarding "what's most important," and I expressed this in part when I recently wrote about my strong belief in the power of the gospel to change the human heart (see: http://leaders4life-sierraleone.blogspot.com/2009/07/i-believe-in-gospel.html). In this post, I want to elaborate on the theme of the gospel and answer the question of "What's most important?" or "What's first?"

Paul's first letter to the Corinthians expresses perhaps in the most concise way in all of the New Testament what "the gospel" actually is. Paul says,

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died
for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised
on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and
then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the
brothers at the same time, most of them are still living, though some have
fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of
all he appeared to me also, as one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV).
I have rehearsed this passage in my mind many times over the years. But it wasn't until recently that a little phrase Paul uses here struck me as crucial to understanding the place of the gospel in Paul's mission work. Paul says that he passed on the gospel to the Corinthians, "as of first importance ..." In first Corinthians, Paul deals with the many issues and problems which the Corinthian Christians had. There was controversy in Corinth over virtually everything: sexual immorality, marriage, money, lawsuits ... they even fought over who was the better preacher! But after speaking to these items at length throughout this letter, Paul reminds them of what is most important, what is foundational, what is "of first importance." He reminds them of the gospel by way of a sketch of what he first preached to them. The preaching of this message took first priority in Paul's mission work. It is what he did when he first came to Corinth and he reminds them that their priorities too should be centered in the truth of the gospel.


I have friend who has done mission work on the Thai-Burmese border. After preaching to them from Galatians for some time, they asked my white friend, "When are you going to give us some money? We need a generator." His response was, "This message is all I have." Another (white) missionary friend of mine recently gave a group of Sierra Leoneans a Bible Study to work their way through. Their response was, "All we get is Bible, Bible, Bible. When are you really going to start helping us?" What I think both groups were saying is, "This Bible stuff is good and all, but it's not tangible, it's not practical, it's not as important as things like food, clothing, and generators." When one considers the admittedly difficult situations in places like Burma or Sierra Leone, one's knee-jerk reaction is to offer help, to give, to alleviate the suffering. I know that has been my initial response.


We naturally tend towards the practical, material things of this world. We ask, "How can I make a living?" We worry, "What if I lose my job?" And in many places in the world people wonder, "Where will my next meal come from?" Jesus too suffered the poverty and hunger which many in the world face. Yet Jesus speaks directly against the mindset which is focuses upon the things of this world. Matthew 4:1-4 says,

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the
Devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written, 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (NIV)

Jesus teaches that food and clothing is not all that is required for us to live. There is something far more important than having our material needs met. Again Jesus says in Matthew 6, "Seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness and the material needs will naturally follow." Paul likewise counsels the Christians at Colossae, "seek the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not upon the things of the earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

In dialoguing with missionaries who've spent many more years in Sierra Leone than I, the one question I often ask is, "What is the greatest need in Sierra Leone that is not being met?" What I have discovered is that the material needs are so vast in this, "the most underdeveloped country in the world," that there are already hundreds of NGOs and ministries seeking to address these needs. Hospitals have been built. Experts in prosthetics have come. Seminaries have been created. Orphanages have taken in the fatherless. And there is, of course, much more to be done. But with all of this aid and help being funneled into Sierra Leone, one would think that this land would have been well on her way to recovery today--eight years since the end of the war. So why has Sierra Leone remained at the bottom of the human development index?

It is, I think, not a coincidence that the one area many missionaries indicate that is extremely lacking in Sierra leone is the preaching of the gospel and good solid teaching from the Bible. Could it be that in all of our providing material aid that we have been focusing upon the opposite of that which God says we should focus upon? So what is the most important need in Sierra Leone, Burma and everywhere else in the world? What should come "first" in our mission work? The gospel. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, God asks us not to focus upon the things of this world, but to focus upon the things of heaven. And oddly enough, God says, the material needs will follow.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

You're building a what, Noah?

Noah must have gotten some strange stares as people discovered what God was calling him to do. "You're building a what? Hey man, don't you know we live in a desert? Why don't you dig a pool or something?" I'm guessing that the only response Noah could give to those who questioned why he was building a boat was, "God told me to."


(A broken down barge in Sierra Leone which once carried people from Lunghi to Freetown.)

As I've explained our vision for Sierra Leone to people over the years, I've gotten some blank stares and cock-eyed looks. I remember once, after explaining with enthusiasm our plans to one African gentleman, he said with more than a hint of sarcasm, "Interesting culture in Sierra Leone" before he walked away in disgust. Another man, this one a white Anglican minister and scholar from South Africa, asked if by going to Sierra Leone I had a death wish. I couldn't help but smile and ask him how he deals with the numerous murders in South Africa where he lives. So I've learned not to expect others to understand why we're doing what we're doing. If others cannot see that God loves all countries and all peoples or that he has overcome death itself so that the Christian has nothing to fear, these are hangups between them and God. But as for us, we're building a boat.

(A smaller boat locals use to cross the same stretch of water.)

In the movie Master and Commander, Captain Jack Aubrey had to deal with a lot of morale issues. Faced with a battle against the newer, bigger, faster Acheron vessel, and frustrated by a streak of the worst luck they'd ever had, the men were loyal but fearful. They often raised their eyebrows when Captain Jack told them to steer the ship through huge swells or when he refused to quit after their ship took heavy damage in an early battle. I'm sure many of Captain Jack's sailors would've quite were it not for the fact that the boat was their only way home!

In many ways, starting a mission can be very similar to building a boat in the desert or commanding a battleship against great odds. To many, attempting to transform a place like Sierra Leone makes little sense, takes too long, or is just way too risky. Others may be on board but are wary of the journey ahead or frustrated by lack of a clear navigational route at present--loyal but fearful. But in the end, Captain Jack proved his leadership intution was right as he defeated his opponent and took the Acheron--the great Goliath of the sea. And Noah built an ark and saved humanity from utter ruin because, no matter how crazy people thought he was, God had told him to do this.

Question: What if you could see the destination before you started the journey? Doesn't a picture of the Hawaiian islands tempt us to book a vacation there so we can see it for ourselves? If you could look into the future and know that a certain stock was going to skyrocket, wouldn't you invest? If you had the assurance that your unpleasant job was going to lead to promotion after promotion, wouldn't you be apt to stick around? The reality is that God calls us to trust Him and step out on faith even if it might cause us pain, embarassment, or put us in a position of uncertainty. Noah trusted God. It may not be easy to trust God, but when we do He never fails to deliver us and accomplish what He calls us to.

The planning process for Leaders 4 Life is progressing steadily and nicely. And while it may seem a slow process of chipping away piece by piece, while it may at times even seem like a foolish endeavor to press on when there's not cloud in the sky, we must keep our hammers moving because God has called us to build this boat and only He knows when the rain will come!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Looking Ahead

Today we mark the 2nd anniversary of Leaders 4 Life. Year two was a quiet year of transition as Lisa and I moved from Scotland to Phoenix and I completed my PhD. The upcoming year should be an exhilirating journey. We will be developing a strategic ministry plan to guide us through the foreseeable future which will include some small trips to Sierra Leone hopefully in the near future!

As we look ahead to what is sure to be an exciting and challenging year, I am reminded of a simple but profound truth. At our church in Phoenix, Paradise Valley Community Church, we have been in a series of Sunday morning messages based upon the Gospel of John. The series is called, "What no man can do." The basic premise is that God is in the business of doing things that we mere mortals cannot. (You can even hear me contribute to the series here: http://www.paradisechurch.com/explore/messages/audio/601.mp3) As we mark our 2nd anniversary, I am keenly aware that if we are to accomplish all that we need to this year and in the years to come we will need God's direction, power, provision, and supernatural blessing. We cannot do it in our own strength; it is beyond us. Engaging in God's work requires, rather, that we rely upon God to do "what no man can do."


(Above: First photo I took in Sierra Leone. A boy sleeping on the Ferry.)


Acquiring such other-worldly direction and power can only come by pleading with God that He would stretch out His hand and do the miraculous. So I would ask you to join me in this prayer: "Father, only you can do what no one in heaven or upon the earth can do. We fervently ask you to restore and redeem Sierra Leone and, in your grace, allow us to contribute to your work in this country. We ask for wisdom, direction, and humility for those who will serve as leaders of this ministry. Father, please guide me in how I might most fruitfully contribute to the redemption of this country that you love. In Christ's name we pray. Amen."