So, we talked about the incredible lesson that God is teaching Abram here. God encourages Abram by telling him that He is his great reward. Abram responds in frustration that God's promise will have to be fulfilled through his servant, now that Lot is gone. After some persistent prodding by Abram, God hesitantly tells Abram that his descendants will come from his own seed and shows him the stars as a metaphor for his future descendants. We are told that Abram trusted God and God responds by telling him that he will also acquire a chunk of real estate. Abram (maybe thinking this is too good to be true) wants some form of collateral to hold God to His word.
Again, I think we see Abram being human here — wavering and struggling between trust and self-security.
God responds by setting up the covenant agreement and passing through on Abram's behalf as well as His own. This incredible statement on God's behalf serves as a reminder of God's character, His patient love, and His reckless pursuit of the redemption of His creation.
But there's something that's not right in the story.
What about verses 13–16?
Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
What's that all about? I mean, the content is true and useful, but it doesn't really fit, does it? Kind of “kills the mood”, in my opinion. And what in the world just happened that provoked that kind of response from God? Why has this simple interaction with Abram resulted in all of those promised descendants suffering in Egypt for 400 years?
I'd like to use Abram's story to make some observations:
God got Abram out of Egypt (chapter 12), but He still has to get Egypt out of Abram. You see, Abram brought a lot of things out of Egypt. Gold, silver, livestock, many forms of wealth — and servants. One of those servants is an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar. Abram is going to take God's inside information about the descendants coming from his seed — the information that God didn't seem interested in sharing — and he's going to try to write his own future from his own perspective. Obviously, with Sarai being barren, Abram must need to procreate with someone else; so he and his wife decide to pursue a family through their maidservant, Hagar. Abram brought some of Egypt with him (quite literally) and now we have a significant problem on our hands for the next few chapters of Genesis.
There are consequences to our actions. We have mainly been showing how Abram is a man of great trust. But even his moments of struggle have consequences. Not only does Abram bring material goods and physical possessions out of Egypt, but he also brings a mentality out as well. He's been affected by the lure of self-security and self-production. He's going to write his own future. Not only does God have to get Egypt out of Abram's descendants, he has to get Egypt out of Abram's heart. The ways of the empire run counter to the ways of God's peace.
Sometimes we don't need to have the answers. God didn't seem to want to share His plan with Abram, because of the possibility of what Abram would do with too much information (combined with his limited perspective). I think there is a huge lesson for us in the story of Genesis 15. There are moments in our lives where we feel like shaking our fists toward the heavens and demanding answers from God. And there are also moments where God won't tell us the answer, because if we knew it, we'd misuse the information and screw up the story that God's trying to tell through us.
Abram HAD to know how God could possibly be his great reward. So God gives him a peek into His plan and Abram takes that little slice, writes all the rest of the chapters in his head, sleeps with Hagar, and writes the wrong story.
And so God, in His great patience and love, says to Abram (in my own words), “Here is my promise. And here is my collateral. And here is me showing you my selfless love for you, again. But, know that we are going to have to deal with this ‘Egypt in your heart’. The only way for me to get Egypt out of you and your children is to let you go back to Egypt and have all the empire your hearts could desire. I'll let you have empire until you're sick of it. I'll let you get it all out of your system; and when it's all gone — when all you want is Me, again — I'll bring you out.”
You see, when we put our trust in the “Egypts” of the world, it matters. Whether it's a nation, a political party, a paycheck, a retirement fund, an education, or a benefit package — when we put our faith in empire, it does something to our heart. There are consequences to our actions. God has to work to get our own “Egypt” out of us.
And it's hard sometimes when we don't have all the answers. But sometimes, we wouldn't want the answers, anyway. And so we look to the future and we remember the past. We remember that we stand on the shoulders of great men like Abram and we try to learn from their stories. We try to learn in order to write better stories for our descendants.
We try to learn to trust the story.
To trust that God really did love Abram and had his back.
To trust that God really does love us and is for us, too.
And we look to a future that is unseen and unknown and we set sail with obedience, trusting in God's way, knowing that we already have everything that we need, knowing that we are free to look out for the barren woman, the outcast child, the homeless veteran, the hungry, the alien, the orphan, the widow. We set sail knowing that we are free to lay down our lives for others, trusting our security to God and not to the empire.
Because God is up to something in the world.
He's tiptoeing through the back alleys looking for orphans.
He's comforting the widow and sustaining the hungry.
He's tucking in His robe and running to greet prodigals.
And it brings Him great joy to restore.
And there is so much to do.
And He's still looking for partners.
Join us next Monday, June 24th, for a grill out at Tommy’s house (directions) at 6:30PM. Food and drinks will be provided but you’re welcome to bring a friend!
We’ll eat, shoot some hoops, jam in the garage or just kick back and relax.
Day 13 is actually our last day in Kenya, but I want to also talk about “Day 14” as the symbolic day of the many days that now come for the group participants, POST-Kenya. Will this trip really make a lasting difference in our lives?
As I worked to develop the “Impact the World” curriculum over the past three years, this was a recurring question by those interested in my research: How can a program of study promote long-term, lasting, life-changing results? I’ve given a great deal of consideration to this question, and I have some important insights to share with you in this regard. But, before I do that, I almost forgot…we need to briefly revisit Day 12…
We spent the evening on a safari drive through the Nairobi Game Park. We were pretty fortunate (blessed?) to see the variety of animals that we did on just a brief 3-hour drive. It started with seeing this…
And then, a group of 7 (or possibly 8)…
Yep…lions are one of the Big 5, and so is this…
But not this…
Nor these (but they are my favorite!)…
And these are pretty interesting as well…
Praise God, for His amazing creativity.
OK…now on to Day 13…
It’s Megan’s Birthday today, so we took her shopping at the Maasai market, where there are lots and lots of hand-crafted goods. I told her to walk around the market, and when she found something she wanted, to let me know, and I would negotiate a deal.
Interesting, but she said she really enjoyed buying some small gifts for friends, but when it came to buying something for herself, she was feeling a little uneasy. We had been talking so much about responsible consumption over the past two weeks, she was now questioning if she really needed, or wanted, to buy something.
This type of struggling and wrestling during, and after, a cross-cultural experience is not unusual at all. Such experiences typically cause us to begin asking questions about our behavioral patterns–questions that may have never even occurred to us in the past.
Megan and I spoke together about how we, as humans, need to consume to live. We can’t simply give up consumption, but we do want to make choices that glorify God.
In the end, Megan decided she wanted a drum for her birthday. A drum is a tool that she can use to tangibly glorify God as she uses it for praise and worship, and for simple enjoyment. And she could buy the item directly from the producer, blessing them in the process for the talents that they have been given by God. These are things God desires from our consumption.
And, just how it should be, Megan enjoyed connecting relationally with the producer of her drum. Check out her purchase experience…<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/68272147″>DSCN0457</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/impacttheu”>Impact Campus Ministries</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
This is one example of the type of new ideas that young people will begin to experience through “Impact the World.” They will begin to see the world from a new perspective, and begin to ask deeper questions about God’s desires for our lives, and how He has created us to be in relationship with others–to be our “brother’s keeper.”
Day 14…So how do we make these new lessons that we have learned really STICK over the long haul?
Here’s the key…3 essential pieces need to be in place in the lives of young people, and I believe that the “Impact the World” experience will be the incentive a young person needs to take the necessary steps toward ensuring the presence of these Big 3…
- Knowing “THE Story” and “THE Author”…We all need to recognize the Grand Narrative that is being told, and the Author who is telling it. When students recognize that they have an eternal part to play in God’s Story, they have taken their first step toward leading a life of spiritual depth.
- Living life with mentors who successfully find their place in the Story…Young people absolutely have to live life alongside of mentors who know The Story, and who are living their lives fully invested in The Story. These mentors give tangible evidence that God is indeed at work in the world, and that He has a plan for their life.
- Living life in the midst of Christian community…Students need to not only develop personal relationships with mentors, but they need to live life within the context of a Christian community (I need to define exactly what I mean by this, and I will, in the next post). Only in community do the lessons learned from the mentors take on deeper meaning and, as these lessons are practiced in community, become firmly cemented into the character of the student.
I’ll give some final reflections on these items in my next post. But, for now, enjoy a few more images from Kenya…
We can almost sense God's joy as he reacts to Abram's faith, trust, and obedience. The story begins with God approaching Abram, celebrating his victories.
"Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."
Can you sense God's excitement? I can see God fist pumping the area, saying, "YES! That's what I'm talking about! Way to go!" And knowing that Abram has to be confused and afraid, God says, "Don't be afraid! I am your great reward!"
But Abram is in no mood for religious talk. (Ever been there?)
In the Hebrew, you can sense the frustration of Abram in his response:
"O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?"
Abram says, "Are you kidding me?! I just gave up everything! You are my reward? How can you possibly reward me? I have no future. And not only that, but what I do have is going to go to my stinking servant, since I will not have any descendants!"
Abram can't see what God is up to. We rarely can. Our perspective is so limited and so finite. Our perspective calls us to question our hope and it challenges our perseverance. Abram is frustrated — understandably so. How could he possibly see any way out of this situation that will lead to God fulfilling His promises? I can resonate with Abram in this story. Even when God blesses me with the strength to live by faith and trust His story, I still find that I can be so frustrated by what I can see and how hard it is to trust.
And apparently, God isn't too interested in providing answers at first. If you notice the next verse, it starts with "And Abram said…" In the Hebrew, if there are two adjacent statements made by the same person and they both begin with "____________ said…", then it is assumed that there are two different conversations taking place. If it were one conversation, the second "And Abram said…" would be unnecessary. Therefore, if Abram asked the original question in verse two, he apparently got no response from God.
And so he asks his question again; this time, more pointed and with a little more 'umph'.
"You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir."
Abram cuts right to the point. He has a question and he wants an answer.
And so God (in my opinion, hesitantly) shares His plan with Abram. He tells Abram that his descendants will come from his own loins. And so, Abram trusts God (Wait, what!? That's no small matter, but we won't deal with that here; it was worth mentioning) and then God widens the promise some more to include the land as well. At this point, Abram starts looking for some collateral to hold on God's promise. And God tells him to go and get a heifer, a goat, a ram, a pigeon, and a dove.
So Abram gets the animals and cuts them in half and arranges them opposite of each other.
Does that seem odd to you?
God didn't tell him to do that.
Abram knows exactly what to do because this is a common practice in the world of covenants. They are setting up what is called a bloodpath covenant. This is a covenant sign that is often used in Abram's day to signify a betrothal (engagement) covenant. Those very animals are used, cut in half, and arranged opposite one another on opposing slopes. Here is a picture of what the covenant looks like:
The arranged halves create a path of blood in between the animals. I will use the example of a betrothal to explain the ceremony. As the two parties agree to the marriage, the lesser party (in the example, this would be the future groom; he is asking the father of the future bride to marry his daughter) dons a white robe and then passes through the path of blood. As the blood splashes up on his white robe, the symbolic statement is, "If I mistreat or abuse your daughter, you may do this in my blood". After this, the father dons a white robe and passes through the blood path, saying, "If I do not supply you with a virgin for a daughter, you may do this in my blood".
It's the collateral covenant that allows for the parties to be held liable for their promises.
God sets up an engagement covenant for Abram.
Now, whose move is it? Who is the lesser party? Abram is, obviously.
But Abram doesn't pass through the halves. In fact, he chases away the vultures. What does that tell you? This ceremony has been set up for some time.
But Abram knows that he'll never be able to keep his end of the covenant. He won't be able to live obediently for God for the rest of his days.
If Abram's little toe hits the bloodpath, he's a dead man.
And so God puts him in a deep sleep (the same sleep He put Adam in, by the way) and, while Abram is greatly distressed and troubled, Abram sees a flaming torch and smoking pot pass between the halves. Now, fire and smoke always symbolize the presence of God (think the pillar of fire/smoke). So what does Abram see?
God is passing through the covenant halves — twice.
God passes through the halves on behalf of Abram.
In other words, "Abram, when you fall short, I will cover your shortfall. We will pay for it in my blood."
That's incredible. And every Christian immediately sees Jesus in this story.
But I would make this point. It's not just that this story is a foreshadowing of Jesus. It's that this is who God has ALWAYS been. God has ALWAYS taken our sin on Himself. God has ALWAYS covered our shortfall. This is who God is. There is no "God of the Old Testament" and "God of the New Testament". He always has been the same God.
His message has always been the same: "I am God. I love you. I am for you. I will fight for you in spite of yourself."
"Just trust me."
* While some of this material has come from the teaching of Rabbi David Fohrman (particularly paragraph 8), a bulk of this material has come from the teachings of Ray VanderLaan. The picture used in this blog post was acquired through the site linked within the post and high-resolution versions can be purchased from there as well. Another fantastic treatment of ancient covenants can be found in Sandra Richter's book "Epic of Eden" (InterVarsity, 2008).
As you (hopefully) saw from my previous post, Day 9 was a big day…a rewarding day, to say the least. After spending time with the kids at the school in Chokichok, we made our way back to the town of Lodwar (about a one hour drive through the desert), ate some lunch, showered, and headed toward the Lodwar airstrip as we set our sights on our return trip to Nairobi.
But before doing so, we stopped at a local shop to purchase some hand made Turkana baskets. Gabe was pretty proud of his purchase…
And he should be. These baskets are beautiful. They are made from palm leaves, using roots and other natural elements found in Turkana for the colorful dye. It takes hours upon hours of work to make one of these baskets.
Yet, in most cases, the baskets are only sold for $1 or $2.
Part of the “Impact the World” experience is about serving the needs of the poor, for sure. But another huge part is taking advantage of being away from our “home culture” in order to do some personal reflection on our own life choices. Here is one such example…
Often, Americans make their consumer choices on the basis of the relative price of the item being consumed. We shop around, looking for the best price/value, even going out of our way to save pennies, paying little or no attention to the working context/conditions of where the good was produced.
On this particular day, however, we had an opportunity to reflect on the living conditions of the producers of these baskets. Now, with a new perspective, a “fair” price takes on larger meaning. We were all willing to pay more for our items, knowing the amount of labor that went into the production process. Gabe, and the rest of the group, walked away with some amazing treasures, feeling good about spending the funds to provide for an equitable exchange.
We had the same sort of experience back in Nairobi, at Missions of Hope International. We actually met people who were making the goods that we were purchasing. Knowing the bigger picture has a way of making us pause, and reflect, asking questions like: “As a Christian, am I responsible, in any way, for the well being of the producer of the things I am consuming every day?”
Think about it…how much is this basket really worth?
Or this hand-carved stool?
Or this walking stick?
Or this bracelet?
These questions take on new meaning when we have the opportunity to see life from a different perspective…from someone else’s shoes…
This is part of what “Impact the World” is trying to accomplish…
new perspective = new life choices
After making our purchases, we said “see you again soon” (kianyuun nabo) to our Turkana friends, and we boarded our flight back to the big city of Nairobi.<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/68104254″>MVI 3555</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/impacttheu”>Impact Campus Ministries</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
A harsh, yet beautiful part of Kenya…
Once back in Nairobi, we took advantage of some travel time, and some “cushion” in our schedule, to reflect on the things we had experienced in Turkana…
The “Impact the World” program utilizes activities that engage the participant at multiple levels, mind (intellect), heart (emotions), and strength (physical ). These various activities work in conjunction with one another to capture the student at a deep level, penetrating the soul. This is how Christian discipleship was meant to be done.
Jesus used a similar method, engaging his disciples at every level of their being.
Nope, I’m not Jesus. But I sure do want to imitate him as closely as possible.
DAY 10…After a great night of rest, we are ready to head to the town of Narok, in the heart of Maasailand. We were all pretty excited to see yet another part of Kenya, and the work of yet another ministry: AfricaHope.
Narok is about a 2.5 hour drive from Nairobi. The views were spectacular…
And we used the time to study together, read Scripture aloud, tell stories, and to simply enjoy the blessing of the day.
Still no phone signals…
DAYS 10-12…Our hosts at AfricaHope were incredible. Our time here offered us the opportunity to slow our pace a bit, and to talk with people. We listened to Rose recount the struggles of her people–the devastating results from the presence of AIDS among the Maasai.
We also enjoyed the opportunity to sit and talk with a local businessman. This was extremely helpful for the group as they gleaned new insights into Kenyan culture. By this time, they were asking well-informed questions.
We also had a few minutes to donate some physical energy in service to AfricaHope. Well done, Gabe!
And as we headed back to Nairobi, we realized that our time together was quickly coming to a close. Only 2 days left…Which I will tell you about, tomorrow.
Seeds can take an incredibly long time to grow. Even when all of the conditions are perfect; good soil, sunlight, warmth, and moisture, seeds won’t grow into plants overnight. Working with college students often takes the same amount of patience. Growth begins under the surface where it isn’t immediately seen.
When we pursue, model, and teach Christ in community on the American campus we are planting seeds. As we model what the pursuit of Christ looks like we begin to teach and equip students to pursue, model and teach in the same way, encouraging them to plane seeds even in the youthfulness of their own spiritual growth.
The curious thing about planting is that sometimes we sow seeds and don’t realize it. When we make a lifestyle of pursuing and modeling Christ, we have the opportunity to allow our actions to speak about who we are. New friendships may pop up in the unlikeliest of places apart from church and ministry. Those are the times when you know God has brought people into your path for a reason.
Tagged: Campus Minister Musings, Campus Ministry, Relationships, Spiritual Growth
Before I move on to the long-anticipated day 9, I should point out that most of the group had all been looking to this portion of the trip with a bit of angst. Our plan this night was to sleep out under the stars, at Erus’s house/hut. This is ALWAYS the best part of any trip I make to Kenya, and I was looking forward to sharing this experience with the group. But, like I said, some of the group was a bit nervous.
Perhaps the nervousness came from the “Big 5″ topic that I had been discussing. No, not the big 5 safari animals that you may have heard about (the lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo, and rhino)–the 5 most dangerous animals in Kenya are the highlight of any safari drive. Rather, I was speaking of the “Turkana Big 5 S’s”…
The snake (sand vipers, puff adders, cobras, etc.)…
the hunting spider…
the sand flea…
and the mosquito (my least favorite of the 5).
But before laying down to sleep, we decided to take a drive to Lake Turkana. It was nice to relax a bit, and cool off in the water.
It was news to me, but you can actually vacation at a resort now at Lake Turkana. This hut (boma) is available for $250/night. Any takers?
After our short stay at the lake, we returned to Erus’s house, and settled in for the evening under the stars. I think Megan is praying for protection from “the Big 5 S’s.”
Just making sure…no phone signal.
Though the ground was a bit hard, I’ll never complain about an opportunity like this. And they didn’t either…
We woke to this…
And to the presence of a snake…but Megan’s prayers worked. God is good.
Day 9 had arrived…the day we had been looking forward to with great anticipation. This was the day we were to meet the students of the Chokichok primary school. Impact’s staff, students, alumni and “friends” had raised funds to provide school uniforms for 45 students. We were anxious to meet them, and to deliver some additional school supplies that we had purchased with excess funds. I think the kids were eager to meet us as well.
Here is Erus’s son, Bill, dressed early and ready for school…
What did we find? In comparison to the MOHI schools, this school was WAY behind. Only three teachers, for 6 classes. MOHI had 14 teachers for 14 classes at their school in Lodwar, plus additional administrators. The facilities were sparsely furnished, with very few desks and inadequate supplies.
Many of the classes met outside, on the ground…
And, unlike the other schools we had seen in Nairobi, there was no food available at the government-run Chokichok school for the kids. Some of the kids walk 3-5 miles to attend school. They won’t come to school if there isn’t any food for them. That is why you see some of the students not in their uniforms…they had not been attending the week that measurements were taken for the uniforms due to the food situation. They were measured this day, however, and will receive their uniforms soon.
But, the issue remains…the government consistently does not provide adequate supplies and staff for the school.
Our visit provided a little bit of “hope” for the administrators and faculty of the school, as well as the parents and volunteers and students.
But it’s not enough…we can do more. Jeff and I (with God’s leading) are working on a plan to help Impact Campus Ministries become more involved in making an impact in this small corner of the world. We will use social media tools to inspire and mobilize our staff, students, alumni, and “friends” to work together to make an IMPACT. Here we are…taking a step in that direction…
I believe in the power of educating a child. It can literally change a life. A life like Albert…
Albert is a young man who once had very little hope. He received an education, and now has a good job. Just a few months ago, he was married. His life has purpose, and meaning, as he works for a ministry that provides child sponsorships for other students.
I’m talking with MOHI, asking them to consider adopting the school in Chokichok. The community members are also praying this will happen. Here I am, getting ready to head back to Nairobi, talking through some thoughts with Mary Kamau.
Would you please pray that God would open a door to “hope” for these kids in Chokichok?
We learned a great deal during the first 5 days, and with our jet-lag far behind us, and our minds fully engaged, we were ready to take a GIANT step forward…to TURKANA, to be exact.
I used to live in Turkana (2000 thru 2004), serving as a missionary to the people of Turkana. Since returning back to the USA in 2004, I think I have made about a dozen or so trips to visit my friends in the northern desert of Kenya. It is a hot, dusty, arid place, sometimes harsh area. But I love it!
Day 6…We boarded our plane in Nairobi and prepared for the short, 2 hour flight, to Turkana…
We experienced a bit of culture shock while on board (seat assignments are generally ignored on these flights). It’s OK though…we were flexible and enjoyed the ride. We stepped off ready to go, and into the 100+ heat of Lodwar!
Since it was somewhat late (4pm), our only agenda item that day was to meet our hosts, and settle into our guest house (St. Teresa’s).
We made friends everywhere…even at unexpected times, like washing our hands before dinner. No Megan, we are NOT in northern Idaho anymore. We are in AFRICA!
Day 7…MOHI also has a school in Turkana (just outside of Lodwar) that they recently started. We wanted to check out this new work, because Impact Campus Ministries is especially interested in partnering with MOHI in Turkana. The kids at this school don’t get a lot of visitors like they do in Nairobi, so they put on quite a display for us. Great food…
The hospitality was simply amazing, everywhere we went. Many of us Americans demonstrate this is a lost art in our culture…
Next, Mary Kamau, Executive Director of MOHI, personally led us on a tour of all 14 classes! Again, everywhere we went we witnessed students who were absolutely thrilled to be at school, and to have the opportunity for an education. Quite humbling…there is so much we tend to take for granted these days.
Incidentally, we did not anticipate even meeting Mary and Wallace. We know they are extremely busy. But, the day before we left for Turkana, they made sure that they met up with our group to greet us (they had been unable to do so prior to that time). I, somewhat jokingly, but also with much hope, asked Mary and Wallace to join the group on our trip north…
Mary was amazing…leading the way as we danced with the children!
After our tour of the classrooms, the entire school held an assembly for us! They danced, sang, and even performed a skit, in English. The skit demonstrated the importance of respecting parents, and the dangers of sexual activity.
Quite a lot of fun, talking to a group of energetic young kids!
But they enjoyed listening to Megan talk much more.
We also spent some time that afternoon visiting the Turkana Bible Training Institute. This is where I used to teach. I’ve written some of the curriculum that is still being used today. My brother, Erus, now helps to administrate the school. He helped me produce the curriculum, or maybe I helped him.
We took time to pray for people along the way. These moments were the best!
Day 8…We headed out Sunday morning to attend a worship service in the village of Chokichok. I was back “at home” behind the wheel…
I was scheduled to preach. Like all good preachers, I got all the mileage I could out of one sermon. I preached, again, on “hope.” But this was the message I definitely felt inspired to communicate every opportunity that God provided. The house was absolutely packed…
What an honor. Erus is more than a friend, more than a ministry partner. He’s my brother.
After church, we distributed some of the school uniforms that the staff, students, and alumni of Impact had provided for the students in the village who attend the local school. The following morning, the kids would be at the school in their new uniforms. They were pretty excited.
The church members showered us with gifts, and smiles. It was great!
And as we looked to the end of this incredible day, we set our sights on a quiet evening, sleeping under the stars of Turkana, at Erus’s house (his son, Bill, leads me to the house).
Yes…everyone was a little bit afraid of SNAKES!! For good reason, I suppose. We DID find this in our house…
But, I’ll tell you more about that, tomorrow.
The Kenya trip was everything I had hoped for, and even more. And as I reflect on all that happened, and the best way to communicate many different things to you, I can probably do no better than to share a lot of pictures, and a few comments.
The team, made up of myself, Jeff Vanderlaan, Eric Wright, Sarah Koutz, Megan Palmer, Emme Bozone, and Gabe Buhler, met up in Amsterdam. No problems with connections, and we all arrived safely in Nairobi together on the evening of May 18.
Day 1…we were off to church in Nairobi, where I (Bill Westfall) preached a sermon on “hope” (a dominant theme during our trip).
Afterwards, we visited with our new friends.
I also had the privilege of eating lunch with some of the leaders of the Community Christian Mission Agency, and CMF missionary, Joe Cluff, to discuss their desires to initiate a missions movement of Kenyans to “unreached” areas of Kenya and bordering countries. They later asked me to be a part of their board. Seeing this organization take hold is a dream come true for me.
Day 2…We visited New Life Homes, a ministry that rescues abandoned babies. They give first priority to HIV+ babies.
Only recently, when my good friends adopted a boy from Russia, did I realize how important it is for babies to receive human interaction and affection in their development. Suddenly, just spending a day hanging out with babies means so much more having this insight.
I think we all felt pretty good after that experience (and pretty much EVERY experience)…though I was exhausted.
Days 3 to 5…We spent with Missions of Hope International, in Nairobi, learning what makes them so effective at what they do (check out their mission statement), restoring hope, sharing Christ, and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform communities!
This is how they do it…they love people…
They inspire dreams through providing a good education, and sharing the Good News of Jesus…
They go to “the least of these”…those with no hope, who need encouragement…
They ask those who have been greatly blessed (like me) to share what they have, and to “champion” (my word) a young life…
They empower the nationals to make a way forward in their own community…
They are changing lives, and transforming communities, one day at a time…
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Abram makes it back "home" with his household — and a large amount of wealth he didn't have before — and begins to resume the work of tending his sheep and trying to be a blessing to those around him. It isn't very far into the next story before we have Abram's shepherds mixing it up with Lot's shepherds. There is much Jewish discussion that surrounds whether or not Abram and Lot were actually having a personal dispute that is then manifested in their shepherds or whether it was something that started and escalated with the shepherds themselves.
Nevertheless, we have a new problem on our hands. As the Text puts it, "the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together…" Hmmm. Could it be that Abram's lack of trust in this story has caused some additional far-reaching problems as well? His "success" in providing for his future has actually failed him with his extended family relationships.
But there is much more at stake for Abram in this squabble than just some family drama. Why has Abram brought Lot in the first place?
When Abram set out from his father's household, God had told him that He would bless Abram and that he would become a nation that would bless the rest of the world. But the problem is that Abram has married a barren wife. How will he become a nation? And so Abram acts with this reason and logic and he brings Lot along; he envelopes the orphaned nephew into his patriarchal household and brings him along for the ride, assuming that his household expansion will come through the lineage of Lot.
But now we have a problem. Abram and Lot are having household issues. And Abram cannot let Lot go without letting go of the only resource through which he sees God fulfilling His promise.
But has Abram come out of Egypt as a new man? We said that Abram cannot let Lot go without letting go of the only resource that HE SEES…
"Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers."
And Abram lets Lot choose which land he desires (something that Abram clearly has the patriarchal right to do), and he takes what's left. Now, that statement that Abram makes is striking for a few reasons.
First of all, the comment about "we are brothers" immediately reminds us of the first time we saw two 'brothers' in a field shepherding sheep. Cain and Abel was a tragic injustice of the highest degree that came as a result of them not being able to trust the story. Instead, however, Abram reverses that trajectory of humanity and once again shows that humanity — made in God's image — has the ability to make the right decision.
Second, considering the term 'brothers' is somewhat problematic. With a cursory reading of Genesis, it seems as though Abram has a really difficult time discerning his relationships with his immediate family. He marries his niece, calls her his sister in the next story, and now refers to his nephew as his brother. Now, even though we've already explained the use of the Hebrew within a patriarchal culture and how this really makes cultural sense to the reader, it is almost impossible not to notice the parallel between this story and the last one. Genesis 12 was a story about Abram calling a niece a sister who wasn't really a sister; Genesis 13 is a story where Abram calls a nephew a brother who really isn't a brother. I even heard a rabbi teach that the stories should also be connected in tandem by the reference to "the Canaanites [and Perizzites] were living in the land at that time", what he said was an unnecessary detail (it seems like a weak link to me, but I'll let you be the judge). It seems as though these two stories are supposed to be seen as one. So…
Finally, what we see here is Abram learning a lesson, leaning into the story, trusting God, and pursuing what's right. Again, Abram proves himself to be the Father of Faith, returning to his original form of building altars and pitching tents. Again, Abram sees himself as the mobile unit and God as the steady anchor. Rather than stand in their pastureland fighting over rights, Abram seeks to be reconciled to his 'brother' and lets him choose. And in this act alone, Abram lets his only understanding of God's promise walk off into the eastern horizon.
This is Abram saying, "OK God, I've learned my lesson. I know that things don't work out the way I have planned. So, even though Lot is the only way that I understand You could come through on Your promise, I will pursue peace with my brother. Coming through on Your promise is Your problem."
In case you're not quite as impressed by this move as I am, consider Genesis 14 in light of Genesis 12–13. Lot falls into hard times when Sodom is captured and Abram is forced to go after Lot and rescue him. Upon Abram's unlikely, God-aided victory, he then turns around and at the admirable request of the king of Sodom, gives back all of the people — INCLUDING LOT! Abram continues to make a stand on his belief in God and His ability to deliver on His promises. I know that I would have had a hard time not reclaiming Lot as my own, thinking that God had brought him back to me.
But Abram consistently decides to pursue what's right. He builds altars and pitches tents. He follows the way of faith and of selflessness. He puts the future in God's hands and trusts the outcomes to Him. Abram's job is obedience. God's job is blessing.
And God will bless him. But it certainly won't be the way that Abram saw it coming…