Thursday, December 16, 2010

New Eyes

We have had a volunteer team here at Angel House for the last week. They went back to Nairobi today and will probably be back in the US before I find an internet connection with which to post this. They did a great job this week of helping some of the younger children that were falling behind in school catch up with individual attention. They also helped paint the secondary school that opens this January. However, one of the most interesting things about having a short term team here is the perspective they bring. Being able to talk with them as they experience so many new things all at once helps remind me of the things I used to find interesting, shocking, depressing, and joy filled. It is this ability to have your eyes continually opened that I most miss about being new to Tanzania. It is probably about the only thing I miss about being new to Tanzania. It is good to be reminded to not take the children for granted. The ability to be around, play with, instruct, and be in community with the kids at Angel House is a blessing and one I would miss if I were not here. When you see them every day you sometimes forget that, but it is good to be reminded as we see people blessed by them for the first time. It is also good to be reminded that we are not yet were we need to be. You can often times grow complacent with things the way they are when it feels like it is taking forever to change them or that they will never actually change. It is hard when you feel continually tired to find the energy to go against the grain where and when it is necessary in order to continue to improve the lives of those around you. To be reminded that we are far from finished is a blessing that I have found with short term teams. And certainly with the ones safely on their way home. Thank you Cari, Elizabeth, Anna, Amy, and John.

Sometimes though, you get a reminder all your own. One day while they were here I was taking out my trash. We have a place outside that we put it and then it is burned. It is not a good system, but it is what we have right now and I still produce a tenth of the trash that I did when I lived in the states so there is some comfort there as well. This particular time though two of our neighbors kids saw me. They started asking for what was in the bucket. I explained that it was trash and dirty, assuming that they thought it was something other than trash. Unfortunately I was wrong. They did want the trash…in fact they fought over it after I had dumped it in the trash pit. I cannot adequately explain my shock that someone I live across the street from would be interested in what I am throwing out as trash. This was a reminder and eye opener all its own that we are still a long ways from paradise, we are still a long ways from being fully part of the community when I do not know the conditions of my neighbors well enough to know they would be happy with my trash. I have 50 wonderful kids to work with at Angel House and I have had a great week of seeing them through new eyes, but we are still waiting for a new heaven and in the mean time there is still a long way to go.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

“Generosity depends on our readiness to open our hearts for the needs of others and to share what we have with them.” –Life Application Topic, Wesley Study Bible, p. 1416

This past month we have brought in three new children. Kikwete, named after the current President that took office in 2005, and his sister Neema. They came to us through the local District Commissioners office. The two children were left in the rain at the police station after their caretakers decided they no longer wanted them. Kikwete is not more than five years old and Neema is no more than eighteen months. She has been a new experience for all of us as she cannot talk or use the bathroom by herself. She is in need of constant supervision.

Two days ago we received wonderful children’s blankets from St. Paul UMC in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The children of the church had put the blankets together during their VBS this past summer and then shipped some over for us. I handed out eight of these new, soft blankets and told them where they were from and that I wanted to take their picture with them. After the picture, Kikwete asked “do I have to give it back?” At that moment I realized how hard it is to explain what a “gift” is and that “no,” he did not need to give it back. Things such as love and gifts from people that he has never and will possibly never meet are extremely hard to explain.

I am reminded of how hard it is for a pastor to explain the gifts of love, grace, and forgiveness to his/her congregation. “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). We as instruments of God and caretakers for fifty children must explain that a blanket is a gift from other children and that they do not have to give it back. We as Christians cannot give back to God what He gave to us, but we are to give to others in the same manner. For it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much and the one who had little did not have too little” (2 Corinthians 8:15).

Six of the children with new blankets.
Neema happy because she has something of her very own.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Angel House Choir and CD Release (written by Holly)

Angel House has been worshipping God with song and dance in a beautiful way for a long time, but not until April of this year did we form an official Youth Choir. The students recently recorded a CD that we think our Grassroots family and friends will really enjoy. Twenty of the older students have been practicing together since April under the direction of Samson, the worship pastor from the local Lutheran mission church. It was a wonderful adventure to travel up to the recording studio in Nairobi, Kenya to make the CD...not only did they thoroughly enjoy the process of recording, but their minds were opened to new horizons as they experienced life in the big city and in a different country all at once. Upon our return to Tanzania, we held a CD release party at the orphanage and invited friends from all over town to come join us. The Tarime District Commissioner was our guest of honor for the day, and several church choirs from around town joined us and offered their own praise as well. Countless people who had not reached the property until now were able to come visit and see where the children live and the site of our new school that will open mid-January. It has been an excellent six months, and we look forward to our friends and family in the states hearing their beautiful Swahili songs of praise.

If you would like a CD, they are now available for $10 each, which will include shipping. Checks can be made out to Grassroots Ministry (choir CD to be written in the memo line) and mailed to Grassroots Ministry, c/o FUMC, 220 S. Main Street, New Carlisle OH 45344.

Proceeds from the CD sales will go towards books for the new school.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Experience Dignity

When I was working as a youth director it was always amazing how in tune with the youth culture the business world was. They want to sell products and they spend a lot of time and money (more than the church) understanding youth culture and then figuring out how to manipulate it. If you wanted to know what youth wanted you really just needed to watch the advertising aimed at them. It was pointed out at a youth leaders conference that we met once a year to learn about the up and coming while the marketing groups met three times a year to do the same thing in their field. So…I have learned to pay attention to advertising to understand what people at least think that they want and I think there is one company in Kenya that has hit the nail on the head. Easy Coach’s motto is “Experience Dignity” and they are a bus company that operates in Kenya.

I think the thing most lacking in Tanzania and possibly most of East Africa is dignity. This is because there is a cultural system in place that sends a continual message that whatever you have has been given to you. You have not earned it, you do not deserve it, but because of the benevolence of those above you, you now have what you need or at least what they think you need. This system most likely had roots in the colonization of this part of Africa and has most definitely been continued by many non-profits and NGOs operating in Africa, both faith based and secular. However, I have seen it even within the Tanzanian culture where NGOs are not involved. If you are given a job it is not because you are qualified but because you know someone that was able to get it for you or because of the richness of your employer. If you are able to attend higher education it is because the government has extended that opportunity to you. This mind set is present in the vocabulary and posturing of almost everyone I have heard talk about it. Most things in this culture are phrased in terms of being gifts and this has now become the mindset of not only those giving the gifts who want to feel important, but also those receiving them so that they have been conditioned to wait patiently until someone decides they are worth giving something to. I have written before about this, but I think I have now developed a more concrete desire of what I would like to see changed. I would like to see people “Experience Dignity.” I want to see people enter into the partnership of work where the employer benefits from the skills of the employee while the employee benefits from the business or organization of the employer. I want to see the bright students of this generation be able to take pride in their thoughts, ideas, and possibly even vision for the future in a way that allows them to step up to the stage of higher education with the attitude that they have earned it. I want to talk to people who can describe the benefit they will bring to an organization as if it was their ability that gave them a right to be there instead of the hand out of a boss. The World Bank did an international survey once that focused on the causes and effects of poverty. Most of the poor people they interviewed said that they thing most lacking in their lives was not stuff, but dignity and equality in their society. I think it is pride that has given America its place in the world and I am interested in seeing what would happen to Tanzania if the people could “Experience Dignity” in their community’s and the country could “Experience Dignity” within the global village that is becoming closer and closer every day.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


We have all heard that from the mouths of babes comes truth, but I sometimes wonder how much we also pay attention to their actions and how often their actions are a reflection of our actions. On the grand scale of global conflicts most people have decided that violence is a complicated thing. We work diplomatic solutions while at the same time use the excuse of determent to feel better about housing large amounts of weapons that can kill more people than currently exist on the earth (which might be a bit excessive even in the name of security). The majority of the church both Roman Catholic and Protestant, at least in the Western world, has developed a complicated theology of justification for conflicts involving whole countries. This is a theology that has required the brains of great thinkers like St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. I think this complexity of thought has muddied up the waters of understanding violence. I also think my generation has a hard time focusing on violence in a real way because we grew up as part of a nation at war, yet whose daily lives have been largely unaffected by said war in the major ways that wars usually affect a country (the notable exception being families and friends who have lost loved ones as part of the fighting and will never forget that impact of the war…I am one such person).

In the last month a little child named Chacha has taught me a lot about how our actions can often be perceived by others. He has also taught me how simple it is to understand violence without the complication of the Just War Theory and nuclear armaments. Chacha is three years old, yet seems to have the mind of someone much younger. Since we work with orphans it is not uncommon for the full story of their lives up to the point of entering Angel House to be unknown. Chacha is one such child. Since Chacha’s communication skills is one of the things that has remained underdeveloped setting boundaries and discipline have been major problems for the staff. One of our steps of discipline after verbal instructions and discussion is a physical reminder. This is not beating, but can be anything from physically removing the child from a situation to a small spank to get the message across that an action is not good. This is used possibly more in Chacha’s case because communicating verbally with him almost never works. Chacha’s response though is the most interesting thing. He often times does not understand that he is in trouble or that he is doing anything wrong. He does not seem to have much of a sense of what a discipline system is so his response is often to spank back. I think this is a very telling response for a child that often acts on instinct more than any kind of fore-thought. He already knows at a young age that physical violence of any kind elicits a physically violent response. He is not old enough to understand that I am an authority figure whom he should respect or he does not have the forethought that I am bigger and could end up hurting him more than he can hurt me. He just goes on the instinct that you respond to violence with violence. I think this shows how much some things are a learned response and how much violence is being learned everywhere in the world. In fact earlier this week another child was crying and Chacha at first hit the other child and told them to be quite. He was much smaller and this didn’t hurt the child, but it was still disturbing. I came up seconds later and tried to sooth the child instead of using the “I’ll give you something to cry about” method. Chacha came up right behind me and copied my behavior of soothing. He, like most children, repeats what he sees. Children learn violence from abusive parents just as smaller communities learn violence from bigger, more powerful, abusive communities.

Chacha is also Kuria, one of the most violent tribes in Tanzania, one of the tribes most likely to fight with others and most likely to fight among themselves. This is a tribe whose members have learned violence as a way of life for generations. This is a tribe for whom I would say life has a different value than it does for most of us from the West. My hope with Chacha is that I can develop different, more intentional means of communication and discipline that can teach something besides violence. I often have the hope that a same simple, yet hard solution can also be found on the world stage.

Much like a scientific formula, violence on one side is always somehow balanced by violence on the other side. You can add more chemicals and more elements to change the makeup of the formula, but violence will still always equal violence. What we need is a new formula not a more complex formula, a new way of life instead of more of the old way of life, and a path that follows the person of perfect love and non-violence instead of the raising of the value of a death over the value of many lives.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It Ended Up In the Hole

My current time in Tanzania with Angel House has been a time of growth. Grass Roots (the organization over Angel House and the rest of our ministries here) is in a time of growth. We are building a secondary school, developing our staff to better take care of our kids, and even looking at different partnerships within Tanzania. All of this development is prompting me to step into roles and jobs that I have never done before. There is a lot of on the ground learning going on. One of the lessons I am learning well is patience.

Earlier this week the student bathroom that was the farthest along in the construction process decided it did not appreciate what its foundation was doing for it. The bathroom decided to fall in. I am sure that the rain and newly poured cement adding a lot to the weight of the foundation helped contribute to the fall. I also know that the fall contributed to my stress level as it sets our construction of the school back on the timeline. I have encountered many such setbacks, stalls, and roadblocks since we have been back. And unfortunately I am not a patient person by nature. Every time I find myself up against something that threatens to derail “our” plans once again I am reminded that what is often the most important thing in any situation is how you respond to it. It is easy to grow frustrated and it is easy to wait for someone else to figure out a solution. What I have learned to be more difficult, but worthwhile is to gather the right people around you and work together toward a solution.

I was reading in the Gospel of Luke about Jesus going to the temple and reading the passage in Isaiah that outlined Jesus’ ministry and named him as anointed by God. This was the verse that proclaimed that Jesus came to give sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and release for the captives. What most caught my attention in that passage though was that Jesus was simply doing what he always did. The opening few verses say that Jesus went to the synagogue as was his custom and that he read from a scroll that was handed to him. This was the day to announce in his home town the start of his ministry, yet this day was also just one in a string of faithful attendance to the place where he had grown up worshiping his father. This big day in his life was not altogether out of the ordinary. That is something I struggle with. I struggle to have the patience to do the day in, day out work awaiting the big days, even if the day in and day out are what make those big days possible.

I am learning patience. I am learning to deal with setbacks. I am learning to be constructive in slow, patient, steady ways so that someday the announcement can be made, on a day like any other, that it is the finally day we have been waiting for.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. ~Romans 12:12

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Haven of Peace

I was able to travel to Dar es Salaam last week for the first time. Dar is the capital of Tanzania and I was excited to be able to visit the obvious hub of much of what happens for the whole country of Tanzania (though for additional information there is also an administrative capital in Tanzania). Dar es Salaam means “Haven of Peace” and was named by some of the first Arabs to make it down this far into Africa. Now, I understand that Dar has developed a lot since the first Arabs came, but it was not what I would consider peaceful. It was on par with most big cities I have been to in that it was crowded and noisy. For Dar you have to add very, very hot because it is close to the equator, but also at sea level right next to the Indian Ocean so there was no relief from the heat due to altitude like there is in Tarime. Despite some discomforts I remained very excited about going to Dar.

My excitement lasted about 4 hours into an 18 hour bus ride that it takes to get there. This bus ride included Tanzanian gospel music videos, a Michael Jackson concert series, WWE wrestling, and Mike Tyson highlights. From there on out the task of simple transportation seemed to rule the trip with two 18 hour bus rides to get to Dar and back as well as several hours a day in city buses going from government office to government office. All that being said the trip was well worth it and fairly enlightening.

I was able to meet several government officials on the national level that will be able to continue to help our work here with Angel House and the soon to be opened school. Anna, our supervisor, went with me and we met with people in the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, Gender, and Children which over sees the Social Welfare Department, and people in the Ministry of Health about bringing doctors into Tanzania to help with free medical care. We were also able to meet with people from the Bishop’s Office of the United Methodist Church here in Tanzania. I am working on something like a local pastor’s certificate to be able to help with the church here in the Tarime area.

I enjoyed seeing a more developed part of Tanzanian closer to the center of what is happening in the country. It was a good glimpse of what is possible in Tanzania if we can only bring some of the best that Tanzania has to offer to the area of Tarime.

It was a productive trip which involved a lot of business. I hope to someday be able to return and experience a little more of the richness of the capital and less of government offices. Though some highlights of the trip included the ripest of oranges from street vendors and Mountain Dew something that has not made it to our side of the country yet.

I am thankful for safe travels and the deepening of relationships in a beautiful country.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

School Supplies

Liz and I don’t often use the blog for this, but I want to update you on our major project for the moment and if possible ask for some help. We are currently building a high school that we hope to have open in January. When I say we I mean the fundis (construction workers), general contractor, several missionaries, Angel House staff as needed, and more government employees who need to check off on the process than I care to think about or list right now. We are about 1-2 months out from having all the buildings complete and are also working on interviewing for a headmaster who will then help with the hiring of teachers who will then help with the registering of students. We are very excited as the buildings have taken shape on what used to be vegetated land (pictures below). We are even more excited to think about the learning and shaping that will take place in the classrooms this upcoming year as students we already know and those we have yet to meet will enter classrooms with hope for their future...and maybe a little dread over some exams.

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that we are at the stage where we need to start filling up the classes that have been built. I am talking about desks, tables, chalkboards, hopefully some white boards, bookshelves, etc. Much of these things we can and need to purchase in Tanzania (it helps the economy). If you are interested in a list of things that we need sent over let me know. I will leave you with one more example and some instructions.

A desk is $50 to make...we need 180 of them. Ready. Set. Go.

You can donate over the internet with the button on the side of this page. Any money we receive for the next few months will go to school construction. If you need a tax write off send a check to Grassroots. Instructions are at under the how to help section. Make sure to mark it as school supplies.

This is the second to last shameless plug for a while. Thank you for indulging me.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

When the Poor Aren't Poor Anymore

So what do you do when the poor aren’t poor anymore? This may sound like a funny question, but seriously...most people in non-profit work are really good at relief type work. We are good at giving money, collecting supplies, giving out food, handing out medicine, and moving on to the next needy person without a meal. What is the next step though? What do you do with people who aren’t in danger of missing the next meal, but still live in awful conditions with little money or chance of making much more. In my situation what do you do with orphans that are well feed, well clothed, have good shelter, and are going to school, but who will one day have to make it without food, clothes, and shelter from Angel House. What do you do when the orphans are better clothed and in some ways better off than many in our community, even though you know they may not always be? What do you do with people who are no longer poor, but only because of what you are able to give them?

Now don’t get me wrong our kids still don’t have the “stuff” that compose so many American’s standard of living, and some of our younger kids still hoard food because they remember how awful it was being hungry. However it has been a long time since one of our kids missed a meal and they certainly don’t consider themselves poor. Many of our older children have dreams of their futures which is something many other children in our area don’t have. If there is one thing poverty takes from someone it is hope for a future with opportunity. So what do you do?

That is a question those of us who work at Angel House are asking and hopefully have some good thoughts on. We can continue to provide for basic needs until we die and there will still be poor people. Actually based on research done in developing countries by organizations really good at giving a LOT of money and resources poverty can sometimes increase... just ask the World Bank. With that in mind we have a vision of relationships that allow dreaming to happen with the people we are helping so that they can give input and make decisions about what is really needed after the stomach is satisfied. We hope that these ministries done with people can bring needed resources to the whole community and allow the bar to be raised for the economy, but more importantly the spirit and dignity of people. We have a hope for our children to become leaders in their communities so that our children who have learned how to dream can pass these dreams onto others. I think it comes across the best as a goal of “transforming people so that they can transform their culture.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Lessons We Learn

Patience is not my strength…as most people know. Last week, Holly and I took nineteen of the kids and four other adults to Nairobi for them to record a CD. The kids had an amazing experience. They tried new foods, saw new fashion, different structures, and had the fortunate (or unfortunate) experience of riding Nairobi public transportation. To brag a little bit, they all cleaned up after themselves. Our children received many compliments from the staff of the hostel because they cooked their own meals, washed their own dishes, did their own laundry, and did not leave the place looking like a pig sty. Where our children rose above the norm, the adults staying at the hostel did not. We became very annoyed by many things within the first 24 hours we were there and had to remind ourselves that we have amazing children that were enjoying themselves. The second night of our stay, 48 ministers (I am not going to disclose the denomination) arrived and we were quickly kicked out of our rooms. We slept slumber party style in the dining room, outside of the chapel, while the ministers had an all-night prayer service that ended only two hours before they arose to eat breakfast in the room we were sleeping in. They had hired cooks and when they were finished eating they would simply leave their dishes to be picked up by someone else. Little did they know, or maybe they did, that our children were waiting on those same dishes to eat their own food. Some nights it was 9 pm before they ate!

To say the least, this was a stretch of my patience. I was so angry because our children got the raw end of the deal. What I learned was that many of them did not care. They were just happy that they were experiencing something that most people will never get to experience. The children taught me that there is so much more to life than comfort and that we are extremely blessed to have these wonderful children in our care. Many missionaries go into the field with the expectation of making a difference in the lives of others. To much amazement, it is usually the exact opposite. It is them that make a difference in our lives.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What Kind of Helping Hand Is Really Wanted?

He has a strong back, a strong heart, a strong mind, and is very rare in Tanzania or I think anywhere in the world. Yet the longer I am in Tanzania the more I am starting to think that there used to be many, many more Mwita Maswies in Tanzania. Many Americans that come to Tanzania, even those that love living and serving here, have the idea that Tanzanians have a beggar mentality, that they just want to be given everything in life. I think this is misrepresenting what many outsiders see in Tanzania.

The other day Mwita, Anna, and I were walking to our house in town and two men that we passed told Mwita and Anna to ask me to buy them a beer. I am kind of used to this by now so I don’t worry about it, but Mwita was highly insulted that his countrymen would stoop to asking someone else to buy them something they so obviously did not need. He was upset to the point of stopping and telling them everything that was wrong with their request. If you are white and have been in Tanzania long enough you are just plain used to having people ask you for everything from money, to a job, to a beer. However, I don’t think it was always this way or that it is part of their historical culture, I think it has been learned.

Having done some reading on the subject and having lived in Tanzania for a little time you start to understand better what living a life of survival means. I think that Tanzanians have been living a life of survival for so long that they have forgotten what it means to have hope or respect for themselves. They ask because if you don’t ask you won’t have it. It is sad to see these strong people, most of whom work 6-7 days a week at more than one job, feel like their only way to get ahead in life is to have someone give them something. And because of limited resources often times a helping hand of some kind is the most reliable way to get ahead. I think the biggest casualty of poverty besides the death of children is the hope that hard work equals a decent life. The results of poverty in Tanzania look much like the entitlement found in the US when many times it is not the same at all. In the US some people feel like they have the right to be given something, in Tanzania they ask with a humbleness of knowing it is a gift. If people are given something in the US it is their right, in Tanzania they never stop thanking you. If people are refused something in the US it is the “end of the world”, in Tanzania they accept it and move on. Now these are generalizations and not universal truths, but they can be applied on a large scale.

Mwita is strong and strong willed. There are many times he will not ask or asks very humbly. He has great pride in his country and treats every visitor to his country or his home with the utmost respect giving them whatever he thinks they need even if it means he goes without. He also has the mentality that it is better to die strong than to never try, yet that is what many Africans have been doing for far too long...dying no matter how hard they might try.

I think many Africans would be very happy not having to ask for things any more, I think they would be very happy discarding the thought that every foreigner they see has more money than they themselves do. I think they would be so happy to have a future of hope instead of despair where hard work paid off and meant more opportunities, not more disappointment. The equation of the American dream doesn’t work here and I think that understanding that would be very insightful for many who want to help. The idea that education and hard work means you will do well in life just doesn’t compute in Tanzania and they are smart enough here to know that. I pray that I can be a part of the solution to a new equation for Tanzania where work ethic equals hope and opportunity.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Our Second First Week

So I am writing this more than a little late, but hey, better late than never right? Liz and I are back in Tanzania. Arriving the first time and returning have been two completely different experiences. We have settled in quickly and have loved getting back into the swing of things. Activities like swimming, tutoring, and playing soccer with the kids is just as much fun as before. Feeling automatically useful because of the knowledge of how things are run has been refreshing versus the stress of figuring out where we could possibly fit in. All in all we are definitely glad to be back. We are happy to see that our love of the kids and their love of us is still just as strong. We are also happy to see that some things have changed, like the school that is on its way to completion in the same spot that was an empty field when we left.

I think the thing we are most excited about is the sense of living in the present. We are no longer preparing for something like we have been all summer. We are here, doing what we have for 3 months only been preparing to do. And we will be here for the next year, finally we feel settled in and ready to start the slow work that produces true fruit. Pray for us, but don’t feel too bad for the return to the land of cold showers and no air conditioning because we feel so blessed to be back.

Here are some of the kids and their goofiness that we missed, along with a sunset for good measure.

Edward showing off his strength
Derrick with Mwara's helmet

Sunset from the backporch

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Temptations of the World: The Air Conditioner

Last part of a three part blog about the temptations we face that we may not even be aware of.

The last post talked about my temptation for recognition and greatness. In the end this is really a temptation of self-interest. Greatness is what is important to me. As Liz and I have travelled we have talked to many different people at many different points of their faith journey and there was another common temptation that people kept talking about. Another temptation of self-interest that I think many people are not even aware of, but that keeps us from fully following God as he intended us to. That temptation is comfort.

Many people have said that they could never do what we do. The travel, the stepping out of a familiar place and culture, the lack of creature comforts are all reasons we have been given for people not being able to do what we are doing. This is the temptation of comfort, the temptation to make sure we are comfortable and then only within that comfort zone do we do ministry for God. Now I want to clarify that not everyone is meant to do work in a different place or culture (aka overseas missions). I genuinely think that most people are meant to do ministry in their own communities with their neighbours and friends. However, that is not the reason most people gave us and if I had to guess I would say that many people even within their own communities only do ministry within their comfort zone.

This temptation of comfort is the first temptation of Jesus. The temptation to turn stone into bread was the temptation for Jesus to satisfy his own needs right then and there no matter what they may have meant for his future ministry. This is a dangerous temptation because when we give in to the desires for our own comfort we sink deeper into a pattern of us first and others second. This is dangerous territory because I have seen the difference even just a little makes in the world. The saying, “Live simply so others may simply live” is not far from the truth in some parts of the world, including the US. What are we willing to endure so that others know their lives matter...or even so that they have lives? What are we willing to do without so that others may have enough...or better yet as much as we have? The radical challenge of Jesus is to put others first. This means that we are not only called to give so that others will have enough it really means we are called to give so that others have more than us. That one is hard, that one is a challenge for everyone I know including myself. As Mother Teresa aged she also developed really badly deformed feet. This was not because she was getting older though, it was because every time the Sisters of Charity received a shipment of shoes she would find the worst pair and those were hers. She was not even satisfied to wait until everyone else had taken theirs (we often do that hoping that someone will notice and leave us a better piece of the pie since we waited) she went through them all before anyone else and grabbed the worst pair. This is giving up comfort for others so they will not only have enough, but more than we ourselves have.

As Christians our ultimate example of love is supposed to be Christ on the cross. I think he got there because he unconditionally loved the “wrong people.” Some of us look at him, shake our heads in awe of his greatness, determine we could never do that and walk back into the air conditioning. Some of us look at him and want to join him on the cross, where the greatness is, when we are supposed to be taking care of his mother who is standing and weeping as she looks at her son. My challenge would be to pray, find your great temptation, and take real steps to live more for others than for yourself whatever that may mean in your life as you are living it now.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Temptations of the World: The Fog of Africa

This is a three part series on the temptations we experience that keep us from reaching out to others in positive ways.

In the first part I talked about Jesus’ trials that occurred during the end of his time in the desert. The three trials were different, but all pointed toward putting ourselves first, of taking care of ourselves and giving in to our desires no matter how noble they are at the time. We all face those temptations, most of us every day of our lives. They are sometimes hard to recognize and look different for everyone.

My great temptation is a temptation of greatness. Many people have given Liz and I reasons they could never do what we are doing (more on this later), but most of their reasons are non-issues with me. Lack of electricity, water, air conditioning, and a future of certainty are not worries of mine. What I am not saying, however, is that I am temptation free when it comes to returning to Tanzania. My struggle in returning to Tanzania is that what I do here will not be well known by people in the US, at least not in the ways I would like it to be. This is a hard admission to make to myself let alone others, but that is my temptation. I am afraid that the distance and lack of reliable communication will create a fog over my actions in Africa. I am afraid that stepping out of a field of ministry I know a lot about into a field of ministry I do not know as much about will mean not having the authority of knowledge and recognition that goes with it. Let’s face it, you don’t get recognized for doing mediocre work in our world, at least not the recognition I am talking about. This desire for greatness finds it basis in good reasons. The more people who know me, the more influence I have, and the more help I can provide...right? What I have found is that regardless of my intentions, temptations are temptations and when I act out of a desire for self-fulfilment I am getting in the way of the work God has for me to do.

I recently read a book that has helped me see the value of a slower, steadier, less glory filled life in fulfilling my calling as a disciple of Christ. The Wisdom of Stability by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a book that talks about many of the specific temptations I face in wanting to move on and move up with my life; the book makes more sense out of the dangerous understanding that staying in one place too long is boring, and not good for your career. This mindset leads to the quick, easy fixes that we tend to love, but ignores the longer term, longer lasting solutions that many people need, certainly the people in Tanzania. My temptation is the last temptation of Jesus, the one to rule even if it means an allegiance that will eat us up inside; success at the cost of an allegiance to busyness, expediency, self-interest, self-glory, or parasitic relationships. I am facing my temptation. I am returning to Africa with an idea of slow, non-glory filled solutions to real problems that affect real people, my new friends and family. Hopefully friends, mentors, and God filled encounters can keep me on this path no matter how tempting another one might look.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Temptations of the World: Jesus’ Trials (Part 1)

Liz has written several posts lately about the fruit of the spirit. This is a group of characteristics that are the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working on us to the set-apart children of God to the world. The fruit of the spirit is evidence to ourselves and to the world that we are touched by a power greater than ourselves. However, that is not the only power in the world. Acting with equal fervour, if not equal strength, is the power that introduces temptation. Temptation is insidious, and while it can be resisted with the help of the power of God, it still manages to wiggle its way into many parts of our lives.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he had a time of preparation. His time of preparation was brought to a close by a time of temptation in the desert. He was tempted by the Angel of Lies with some of the greatest temptations we face. They are so dangerous for the simple fact that we often don’t even perceive them as temptations. They are temptations that we all face almost on a daily basis. If Jesus had given in to any of these temptations his ministry would have been radically changed, if not ended before it started. Giving in would have been putting himself above God’s kingdom or at least above others. He was tempted to turn a stone into bread so he could eat. He was tempted to jump off the height of the temple so angels could save him. He was tempted to accept from the Angel of Lies the power to rule the world as Jesus saw fit, instead of accept from God a radically different kind of power. These are three great temptations that represent many of the temptations that we all face in our daily lives, even when we don’t recognize them as such.

These are temptations that people face when stepping out to do work that is more about other people than themselves, to be a part of building God’s kingdom both at home and abroad. The temptation to provide what you want and need, whereas fasting may allow you to see other people’s needs more clearly. The temptation to prove your own importance by showing how much even God thinks of you, when humility allows others the first spot in line. The temptation to do things your way, with your power (because naturally you have everyone’s best interest at heart), when the way of community, interdependence, and the gospel provides deeper, longer lasting results. These are temptations that have the potential to take us deep into ourselves, but far away from the needs of others even while we are trying to help them. At one point in time we may have started down the road of even these temptations with many good intentions, but in the end we always end up being derailed by self-interest. Turning stone into bread for others results in us wanting more for ourselves. Bringing glory to God results in celebrity Christians. Our being in charge even when we desire a greater good results in dominance by leaders who require the subservience of others whereas the Bible calls for the first to be last, and promises that the weakness of some will shame the supposedly strong. When we travel far enough down the path of our temptation we will find ourselves acting not out of love for others, but out of love for ourselves and our comfort which is a way of operating that God does not list as a characteristic of his kingdom.

Jesus was able to resist these temptations because he recognized them for what they were and because he knew what was most important. As I step out into a continuation of my vocation, but in a completely different place and context than I have trained for I pray that I will have the strength to be weak and the wisdom to be humble. I pray that the comfort of my neighbours will be more important than my own and that my western mindset will never bar me from completing the task at hand – the task of being a part of the kingdom of God where ever I may be in the world. I pray we recognize our temptations for what they are and see God’s work, instead of our own, in our responses to others.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Few Words of Thanks

“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Generosity is the last Fruit of the Spirit that I am going to write about. This summer has been an experience of a lifetime as we have witnessed hundreds of people as they expressed generosity. In May, Eric and I began our American tour by flying into Nashville and speaking within the first 48 hours off the plane. We have been in Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Arkansas speaking throughout May, June, July, and the first three weeks of August. We have experienced the birth of my third niece, birthdays, family vacations, and many other wonderful things. This summer has been a spiritual journey for the both of us as we have prepared financially, emotionally, and spiritually to fully rely on God. We have never been so incredibly vulnerable. Churches have opened their doors to us and have helped us experience worship in many different ways. Individuals have opened their homes and given us a place to lay our heads, food to put in our hungry stomachs, and sometimes even clothes. We could not have accomplished anything this summer without these wonderful churches and people. We would like to say “thank you” to everyone that has helped us and nurtured us.

I have attached a few pictures of the people that showed us extreme generosity.

Eric and I with Becky Camp at Perryville UMC

Eric with his father, Rodger, and Linda Perdue 

Liz with her parents, Bill and Linda Buchanan

Our other family...the Allisons. Never thought I would have such a large family!! It is great!

Liz's brother, Matt, sister-in-law, Melanie, and Liz's two lovely nieces, Ada and Nora

Dan and Joy Weathersbee opened their home to us more than once.

The Brandons: Kevin, Rebecca, Ellie, Stephanie, and Chelsea...Liz's best friends

John, Suzanne, Isaac, and Sam Wehner...they provided us with a place to lay our heads and fed us.

Tad and Nick sitting at the SigEp house. Eric stayed with them a few nights while Liz was in AR.

Nancy, Will, and Jake Nanney...they picked us in the middle of the night when the car was struck by lightening.

Eric's sister, Elizabeth, brother-in-law, Benjamin, and niece, Emily. They have done more for us that fits on this tiny space.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ice Cream, Pringles, and Milky Ways...OH MY!!!

Galations 5:22, 23 “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

When talking about self-control there are multiple things in our lives that we must consider. Many of you know that I love food…that is no secret. Food is quite possibly my greatest weakness. While in Tanzania for four months I lost over 20 lbs. and while in America for only three months I have gained all of that and more. When we first arrived in Tennessee back in May I tried to tell myself to wait and not get carried away with the variety of food that would be available. I have obviously failed to reach my goal. Self-control is not one of the fruits of Spirit that I hold very well. I have to work hard to not buy the Milky Way when we are in a gas station or the bag of Flammin’ Cheetos in the grocery store. People have asked us what they can send in a package if they find the money to do so. I always respond with…FOOD!!!

How are we to have self-control in the society that we live in? What do you struggle with controlling? Do you need more self-control towards food, watching t.v., playing on the computer, sex, or gossiping?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Little Acts of Kindness

Over the next little bit I am going to post blogs based on a few of the Fruits of the Spirit that I have experienced this summer. I have not always acted as though I have these Fruits but I pray that they help all of us to reflect on our lives and the way we act towards others. Galatians 5:22, 23 says, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Eric and I walked into the optometrists the other day waiting on his father to get contacts. There was a worker that was obviously stressed to her limits while her coworkers were criticizing her work. They were telling her all the things she did wrong and how they had to fix her mistakes. She left the room only to go into a small room and break into tears. My heart broke for her as I remembered being a new employee a few times and not knowing what to do. I remember the feeling of not being able to do anything right and getting so discouraged. Like me, she obviously strives on encouraging words and positive criticism instead of negatively charged words.

Eric and I leave two weeks from today to join the ministry of Grassroots again for a minimum of one year. Working with people in Tanzania is no different than here in America. We still have to recognize each person’s strengths, weaknesses, those things that help them succeed, and those that make them fail. Whether we are in America or in Tanzania, kindness is still a fruit of the spirit that we should strive to have. Eric and I left the optometrist office only to turn around two minutes later. I walked in and found her in the small room filing papers. I knocked on the door and she whipped around. She had this look on her face that said, “What else have I done wrong?” I told her that I simply hoped that she would have a good day. Her shoulders fell as she began to relax and then turned around quickly as tears filled her eyes.

I did nothing special. I simply told someone that I cared. My challenge to myself and to you is that we all tell someone that we care and that we show kindness to those that are in pain, whether it is emotionally, spiritually, or physically.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Few things in this world make me overly anxious, it’s just not in my personality. One of the things that does, however, is having a deadline to meet and not having any clue how to make sure that everything is in place by that day. That is the situation that Liz and I now find ourselves in. We have set a date for returning to Tanzania, but have had difficulty in raising the funds needed to return and live for a year. To be honest, right now we have enough for the place tickets and...the plane tickets (thank you to the people and churches that have provided that support, plane tickets half way around the world are not cheap). This anxiousness is what was going through my mind when we entered St. Paul United Methodist Church in Fort Smith, AR. We had been invited to speak at their Wednesday night dinner and program that they have once a month. Naturally the food was good, but Liz and I both were having trouble focusing. We stood up to share what went on at Angel House the four months we were there and why we think we need to return.

The experience that followed was humbling to say the least. Not only were our experiences and stories well received, something that feels good because they are such a part of who we are, but there was a response in the group present. The follow up questions showed real interest and then to wrap up the associate minister stood up. He started them passing the hat, actually a hat, a baseball cap, and then did something that we have not had done for us at any other church we have spoken at. The group came up and prayed for us. It was a blessing to see God doing something in that church that we felt only marginally a part of, because His actions were so clear that night. It was...humbling and reassuring. Humbling to be a part of a movement bigger than we are, humbling to be used to move people, and reassuring to know that a church can still act like a church and send us off with the thing we need the most, prayer.

Thank you St. Paul for participating in that experience with us and for the support you showed. Thank you to all the other churches and individuals who have also responded as we have shared this summer. Thank you to a God big enough to move mountains and small enough to allow us to be involved in it.

What makes humility so desirable is the marvellous thing it does to us; it creates in us a capacity for the closest possible intimacy with God.
-Monica Baldwin

Thursday, June 10, 2010


In “Leading a Life with God” Daniel Wolpert does a good job comparing secular and church organizations. His conclusion is that churches look too much like secular organizations and not enough like churches. He uses Jesus as his model. He pointed out that if you look at Jesus’ ministry you will not find him forming boards, looking for buildings to occupy, or trying to invent the perfect ministry program that can then be duplicated at satellite campuses the world over. Jesus does ministry that fits the place, time, and needs of where he is. When he needed a food ministry he asked God to bless some fish and feed 5,000. When he needed to spread the word he sent his disciples out by twos with little, though specific instructions. When he wanted to preach a boat worked just as well as anywhere else for a pulpit. His focus was on God’s kingdom and not the sustaining of a program, name, or denomination.

This week Liz and I are at the Arkansas Annual Conference of the UM Church. The focus for this year is Imagination as the conference as a whole works on looking toward the future. This is a great focus, but I know from experience the resistance to change in the church and those that cannot look beyond what was, in order to see what can be. It prompts me to ask the question, what are we afraid of? Why do we have a commitment to buildings and programs? Is it that they are too comfortable and too much like home (Jesus was homeless by the way)? Do we create a “winning” program and think so much of ourselves that we think it should last forever? Does the appropriately sacred idea of an eternally faithful God make us think that nothing in the church itself should ever change?

My vision for our kids at Angel House is a world without fear, one based on faith and hope. As a church I cannot help but think that we would be better served, and more importantly would better serve God, if we could let go of what is comfortable and step out in faith that God will lead the way. To leap is scary, to go without a well supported business plan can create anxiety, and the idea of having to rely on others can make a type A, independent person like myself more than nervous. Just this past week I had to rely on others to house and transport me after my car was struck by lightning and I ended up stranded in Jackson. It was uncomfortable, but also allowed the connections of dependence that can so enrich our lives if we let them. Our lives should be lived openly and unafraid as we strive to create space for God’s kingdom without the worry of maintenance, but with only the hope of life.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Light and Darkness

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5
As we have been speaking at different places since our return from Africa we often get a response of awe. People say, “I could never do that” or “It is amazing what you guys are doing.” To be honest this is usually the most awkward part of any presentation. Only because Liz and I see what we are doing as perfectly normal, at least as far as our faith in concerned. Now I don’t want to downplay the struggles of mission work or other people who have sacrificed much to do mission work. However, the only thing I see as special about what we do is that we wholeheartedly follow our calling or vocation in life, which granted not everyone does. It is really that simple though, not always easy, but yes, simple.

What has really impressed me during our time back though is the multiple ways in which the people we have encountered have been lights during our travels. Friends that have sat, listened, and provided good advice. Family and friends that have given us lodging, food, transportation, and been helpful in a dozen other ways as we live as nomads in the land of our birth. People have even gotten involved in helping us raise funds and awareness about Angel House. People may be amazed by what we do, but I am constantly amazed at the number of different ways the light can break through the darkness, where caring wins out over self-interest and interest over apathy. I am amazed and very thankful, because even a small project like Angel House needs a lot of people to make it work and the things Grassroots Ministry is looking into doing in the future will take even more involvement by different people and organizations. This is something that at times makes me very nervous, but after the last few weeks, I have a greater feeling assurance than ever before that the community of people who will really end up making the differences in the world have, are, and will step up, unafraid of the darkness because of their belief in the light.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It is Not About Me it is About Him

It is sometimes amazing for me to think about the differences in the lives of my different family groups, friends, and youth groups that I have worked with over time. To think that I have had youth freaking out because they didn't have the latest cell and others that have never experienced the joy of an automatic sliding door. I know friends that have stood in line for hours for movie tickets and others who got unbelievably excited about watching a movie on a 17.5 inch computer screen with 45 other kids. "can we watch another one?" They ask. I am blessed to know lots of different kinds of people.

I have asked God before how to talk about the world and family we found in Africa to people in the US, but my new question has become more how do I minister to both groups. What does the nuts and bolts of the vision for Grassroots look like and how can I be genuine to the possible ministry in the US that comes about because of the connection with Grassroots. This was my question last night when I was reminded that it is not about me it is about God. That is the common denominator that should answer all of those questions. God is who is important and if I can follow his lead and minister his way in Africa then things will work out. If I can point to His glory and His desire to see people loved and taken care of then there will be genuine connection here in the US with a ministry of God's. That is and should be the connection, the beginning and ending point for it all. That is how it should be done.

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." -Galatians 2:20

Monday, May 24, 2010

Your Young Men Will See Visions, Your Old Men Will Dream Dreams

I am currently reading Follow Me to Freedom a great book written by Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins. I am reading this in a time of some rest and a lot of reflection. Liz and I have fairly well settled back into American culture even though we realize at least this time around that we are only guests and will soon be returning to the culture of Tanzania. We are also staying busy traveling and sharing what Grassroots Ministry and Angel House are up to. However, these few months will also provide space for reflection, vision casting, and dreaming. Of looking around at a nation that has a lot and wondering how much of this do we really want to bring to Africa, even if we had all the resources we wanted (which we don’t).

One of the challenges given in the book, which I am still working through, is that leaders have to have a vision and that you cannot expect people to follow a leader with no vision of where God is leading. Incidentally this is a great time for us to clarify more what the vision we hold for Grassroots is in regards to our personal roles. My vision is to teach our kids that they don’t have to live in fear of the world because there is nothing in this world that Christians should truly fear. I do not think we will ever be able to create a world without threats of danger, at least not soon, but we can give them the education, confidence, and spiritual grounding to help them enter the world without fear. Most if not all of our kids were taught early on to fear. They were taught to fear abuse, hunger, and the absence of affection or acceptance. They learned to look around and fear what they were likely to face as adults based on the great struggles of the people they lived with.

Fear is their default setting as it is the default setting of many people in this country as we are often faced with the shock of the very disasters and sense of mortality that we try to insulate ourselves from. We want to start with providing a safe and loving environment for the kids of Angel House, a place where they can experience, possibly for the first time in their lives, an absence of fear because in order to understand what it means to not fear you have to experience a time of comfort without fear. There is also a confidence and hope found in faith that I pray our kids find. It is not something that can be given to them by me, but I can extend an open hand that can guide them to that place; a place where they learn to rest in the one that can truly expel their fears and protect them in the future.

In the end we hope that our kids grow into adults who are ready to lead their communities, who can enter the world with the confidence and daring needed to bring new ideas to their culture. We have kids who understand what it is to fear and suffer and because of that have great compassion. They have the capacity and I hope that maybe in them can exist a world without fear, a world that can grow as they grow and spread as they reach out into the world with God in their corner and the memory of a safe place securely in their minds.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I had heard mixed reviews about the movie Avatar before we left for Tanzania. I almost saw it in theaters, but could not quite find the time in the busyness of getting ready to leave. I saw it yesterday and it did a good job of giving words to what I have felt since coming home. In the movie humans from earth have found a way to psychically connect with a biogenetically engineered body that looks and moves exactly like the aliens they are trying to connect with. The humans are put in this machine that facilitates the connection. While in the machine their body is still and they exist in the body of the “avatar.” When their avatar goes to sleep they reinhabit their own body. The same person, same mind, same soul exists in two different bodies and effectively two different lives on the same planet and physical plane. The point of the story is the journey of one of the humans in falling fully into the life of his avatar.

This may seem like a weird description of returning to the United States, but it fits. I have not experienced the culture shock that I expected. I did not flip out the first time I walked into a Wal-Mart and the food choices do not seem overwhelming in the least (surprising after months of rice and something for most meals). I do however feel like I have two different lives in two different paces on the same planet. The differences between life in America and life in Tanzania are so different that it is hard to connect the two, it is hard for them to both be real to me at the same time. I feel like when I got on the plane to come here I left a body back in Tanzania that will be there ready to be inhabited when I get on the plane to return (maybe someday I will be able to determine which one is the avatar). It is possible that this problem of identity is my way of dealing with culture shock considering I have been back on US soil for less than a week, but the differences are staggering and hard to reconcile. Take the story of Chacha for instance…

Chacha is the last child that came to Angel House before we left to come back to the US. Unlike many of our children he has a father still, however his father lost most of his arm in a mining accident. In our part of Tanzania once a person is disabled to that extent their only viable option the majority of the time is to beg for a living. When I first met Chacha’s father he had two sons a 3 yr. old and a 5 yr. old. When I saw him again three weeks later he only had a 3 yr. old. The older son had died from malnourishment and medical problems, both things his father didn’t have enough money to do anything about. The day he brought Chacha to us he stayed for Sunday morning worship and then left. Chacha screamed and cried for hours and the father looked like he wanted to. It was a loving relationship of father and son, but the father realized that the only way for his son to have a future was for him to stay at Angel House.

This is how things work in Tanzania. In the US he could have found a vocational retraining program that would have helped his learn a trade that only needed one arm. He could have found a job that was not as intensive on the manual labor side. He could have found assistance for his children for food, housing, and medical care. Here in the US there are options, in Tanzania there are not. Two worlds that exist on the same planet.

I hope that I can bring the two lives I live together. I hope that the resources of one can meet the problems of the other.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

God Gave You Two Ears and One Mouth For a Reason

There were once twins, two boys born at the same time from the same parents. As they grew up they found that life was not as easy as they thought it should be. They found out that they did not have all the answers, did not always know what to do, or how to face the situations that came up in life. They were very lucky though, in their village was an elder who was very wise. People even came from other villages to ask advice of this elder and they had him right there to ask questions about their problems or even just listen to what he knew of life. As the boys grew older people noticed that even though they looked exactly the same, had the same parents, were the same age, that they were growing up differently, one was growing in wisdom while the other one continued to make foolish, childish decisions even though he was growing into a young man. If you knew them you would know however that the difference was in how they asked questions of and listened to the village elder.

The foolish boy would come and sit at the feet of the village elder, he would tell the elder about his life, his challenges and his happiness. He would tell him everything going on and even ask very good questions of the elder, but when he would finish one question he would only pause for a short time before moving on to the next one. If the answer did not come immediately then the boy thought that it was not coming at all and he moved on to the next question or situation. The few times that the elder was able to speak to this boy he frustrated the boy in that he did not just tell him what he wanted him to do, instead he would tell him stories from the elder’s own life, or he would give him a task to do that to the boy did not seem to have anything to do with his problem at the time. The boy was frustrated with the elder telling stories or giving out tasks that did not help him with his problems. The boy continued going, but also continued to not learn or grow from his time with the elder.

The second twin, the one that was growing wise also went to the elder but he approached him differently. He would also tell the elder about his life, his challenges and his happiness. He would tell him everything that was going on and ask him questions. In this way the two boys were just the same. The wise twin though spent more time with the elder, because instead of just talking and talking and talking he listened. After he asked a question he paused to hear what the elder would say. After telling the elder about his life he would pause to watch his face and see the approval or disapproval given by the elder’s facial expressions, expressions that he had learned to read after years of watching the elder. And the stories, the boy loved the stories of the elder as much as he sometimes worried about the tasks. The boy dwelled on the stories given to him and found in each one multiple pieces of advice and wisdom on how he should act in life. And the tasks…the tasks were always hard, but when he did them he grew and often learned how to handle the various challenges in life. As he grew his wisdom became evident in that his times with the elder started to have as much to do with him as they had to do with other people in his life.

So the two boys grew up, one wise and one foolish because one had learned to not just talk to the elder, but to listen and be with the elder. This story is very similar to how we approach God in prayer. Prayer is about being with God. There is talking involved as we let him know about our happiness and worries, God wants to hear about our lives, and our requests for his help for ourselves and others do not go unheard, but just as in sitting with the village elder there is more to prayer than just talking. If we do not learn to listen we will not grow closer to God, we will not learn about who God is. If we do not listen to and think about his stories or obey when he gives us a task we will not grow in Godly wisdom. We have the ability to talk to the creator of the world, because he chooses to listen, but we will not grow closer to God and more like Jesus if all we do is talk.

What is good for us is that God left advice even on prayer in his stories and place of wisdom. I want to talk about some advice that the Bible has on prayer and on talking to God.

-Matthew 6:7-8 The first boy kept talking and talking and talking and he never learned anything from the elder. The second boy told the elder what was going on, but then stopped talking and just listened. This part of the Bible says that we are to let God know what is going on, but that our prayers are not more special just because we keep talking and repeat the same things over and over again. We must talk, but we also must at some point stop talking.

- More than just not talking though we must learn how to listen to God, we must recognize his voice when we hear it. 1 Samuel 3: 2-10 In this story God does not speak until Samuel recognizes that it is God speaking. His voice can be heard in many places, from the Bible, to Godly advice of elders, to our own lives and creation and direct prayer. If what you hear matches what you know of God and what you read in the Bible than it is probably from God and you can always ask other Godly people to help you know for sure.
- God’s voice is often heard pointing out what he is already doing in our lives or things that God wants us to be doing, just like the elder that gives a task. Matthew 6: 9-13 You pray this many Sunday’s. It asks us to put God’s will first by being a citizen of his kingdom as well as shows us that he acts in our life by helping us resist temptation and providing daily needs.

We have a daily opportunity, every minute of every day to talk to God the creator of the world, that loves us so much. Please take that opportunity and pray to God and in prayer also listen and learn how to recognize God’s voice in prayer and in your life. There is a proverb in English that God gave you one mouth and two ears for a reason, because you are supposed to listen twice as much as you talk. I think this is the most important when spending time with God. He is the ultimate village elder and you will not find better wisdom than when you learn to listen to God.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.