lost in translation

It amazed me in Africa that the language barrier was not as thick a wall as I imagined. So much can be said with a smile and a greeting. So much more than I at first thought.

But there are some things that don't come through clearly. We were in the American embassy's recreation center in Ouagadougou when I saw a sign for a "Flag Big" and "Flag Small." I was excited, seeing as how I was looking for a Burkina Faso flag to buy. I told Alfred (Alain's brother and the manager of the facility) that I was excited and wanted to buy two big flags. He was happy to oblige, and sat us all down in the lounge in front of the TV and turned on the sports channel while he went to the back for the flags. Here's what he came back with.

We laughed really hard, and I think Alfred was a little embarrassed when he took them back to the icebox, but I will never forget the day I asked for a flag and got a beer instead.

A bit of advice: when in Burkina, ask for a "drapeau" not a "Flag."


thoughts from a "pasteur de jeune"

God is good. On the plane ride to Africa, during the overnight flight I was sitting next to a man from India and an American who grew up in Togo, west Africa. We had many discussions, but the most helpful thing was "when you go to Africa, don't give them a fish... teach them how to fish." What are the chances that the two who needed to advise me were the two who sat next to me?

God is good. Our culture shock is minimal, because Alain and Kara translate everything, get us the things we need, and know the church and local pastors.

God is good. Even though many pre-trip plans were made, most of those plans were changed. And the motto of every good mission trip is "be flexible." And we are.

God is good. We have internet to update those who are praying for us back home and talk to our loved ones.

God is good. And even though we feel overwhelmed when we see the great need of those around us, we praise the God who loves all and rescues those who call on him.

God is good. He brought everybody to this place that He wanted to bring. And all He wants to accomplish, He will. And we get to be a small part of that.

God is good.

Click here for more Facebook pictures.


I Need Africa More Than Africa Needs Me

Africa. I have wanted to experience it for quite some time now, and I'm not sure why. I think God has been preparing me for "such a time as this". I do know that He has clearly spoken to me and Marion from the beginning about the fact that He wants us there. And He has provided every step of the way.

First Baptist is taking a trip to Burkina Faso in west Africa. The trip will be during the week of Thanksgiving, and we are excited about what God will do in us and through us.

But we need your help. If you read these words, then I am asking you to pray. Prayer is what can make or break everything Christians do. I am convinced that churches who don't plan to pray will plan to fail. Prayer can bring drought and bring rain and can change anything.

Sometimes it even seems as if God is waiting to see how badly we desire Him as measured by our prayers. Why would so much depend on prayer? Blaise Pascal says God does it because He gives us the "dignity of causality." He wants us to be involved. How great is His mercy!

For the next two weeks, I will use this blog and a Facebook group to keep the needs of this trip before folks who want to pray for us. Hopefully there will pictures and maybe even a guest blogger or two. But don't misunderstand. Your part in this endeavor might mean the difference between an expensive fun church trip or a mighty movement of God among His people.

Daniel 2:20-22
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.


summer camp and vomit

"As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly."

If you have worked with teenagers for very long at all, then you know all about the post-camp spiritual high. In my context, there is a Neshoba County Fair in late July, and it is always a week or two after youth camp. I have conversations with students every year who feel close to God at camp, but fall into partying and drinking and sin of all kinds at the Fair. One church in our community (at the students' request), is planning a youth trip during the Fair this year to avoid its pitfalls. I think that is admirable (didn't Joseph run from the temptation of Potiphar's wife?).

So how do we deal with the world, when dealing with the world means being tempted by sin? There are a few things to remember.

Sin is fun, but not for long.
Being drunk leads to hangovers. Sex often leads to disease, loneliness, or unexpected pregnancy. Smoking is murder on the lungs. Drugs are both addictive and deadly. So why does anyone sin? Because it's fun. It's not the smartest long-term move, but it is still fun. See Hebrews 11:25.

For the Christian, sin brings a feeling of guilt.
It's the Holy Spirit's way of helping us to see right from wrong. See Isaiah 30:21. It also helps to remember the oh-man-I-should-not-have-done-that feeling of frustration BEFORE we choose to do wrong.

We need to be "in" the world but not "of" the world.
We live here, of course. But we don't have to be like everyone else! See Hebrews 11:13-14. This world is not really our home; heaven is. And we should be spreading God's love (which leads a person away from sin) all around while we're here while not letting ourselves be dragged into sin. See Jude 1:23.

It's not okay, but it can all be made okay.
Hebrews teaches that blood must be shed for sin to be forgiven because it is such a violation of God's holiness. But God is so very eager to forgive us. He's just waiting with open arms to tell us that everything is going to be okay. See Colossians 2:13-14 and 2 Peter 3:9 .

Remember, God loves you and so do I. Have fun, but take Jesus along with you!


Love them like Jesus

It is not often in youth ministry that you see any kind of fruit. The students you love on are in the stage of life that is between childhood and adulthood. They are growing, whether they like it or not, in many ways. And sometimes you can't tell if their parents taught them something or if they learned it in youth group. You can see if that mature decision was because they are growing up or because they saw you do it.

But there are rare moments when a kid tells you that your love actually made a difference. I'm sentimental by nature. I keep almost every single encouraging card ever mailed to me. I save text messages that make my day. I save emails that warm my heart. (And I read them on bad days.)

The other day, a student told me that my unconditional listening and understanding was me being exactly like the Jesus I was claiming to follow. I was deeply honored (but I didn't cry! I swear!)

Later, I worried that I hadn't said enough. After all, my Jesus loves me, but loves me too much to let me stay the same. Maybe I should have said something more to challenge this student. We were agreeing to disagree on some things, and I was much more interested in listening than talking. Also, he taught me several things, too.

My point is that I wonder if he was right. Was I being like Jesus by being loving and accepting? Or would Jesus have been more challenging?

I cannot know for sure. I just hope I continue to point in the right direction -- the direction of Jesus. I don't think it's helpful to judge. See Matthew 7:1. But I do think love is both accepting and challenging. See Ephesians 4:15.

Like I told this student, I will always believe there is a truth out there. I think it's imperative that I be accepting of everyone no matter where they are in their own understanding of the world. But I pray that I help others go further rather than remain the same. And I hope I point in the direction of Jesus!


prayer and fasting

So I did a study on prayer and fasting for our students.  I thought I'd share it further.  Here's the sheet we passed out.

Prayer and Fasting: A Guide 

There are a few guiding biblical passages that are important as you fast and pray. 

2 Samuel 12:22-23 David replied, “I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, ‘Perhaps the Lord will be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 

2 Chronicles 20:3 Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. 

Esther 4:16 Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for the three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. 

Matthew 6: 16-18 [Jesus said,] “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. 

Matthew 9:15 But some day the groom [Jesus] will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. [Jesus was assuming we would start fasting after he went back to heaven!] 

Do’s and Don’ts 

Do… fast from food and pray when you would normally eat. 
Don’t… use fasting to lose weight. 
Do… drink water or juice while you fast. 
Don’t… get dehydrated! 
Do… talk to your parents about what you’re doing. 
Don’t… brag about fasting to seem spiritual to others. 
Do… start small and begin to fast from only one meal at first; then begin to fast for more meals at a time. 
Don’t… try a forty-day fast unless you’ve been fasting regularly for awhile. 
Do… fast. 
Don’t… neglect this important part of your Christian life.


where have i come from?

So we went on vacation suddenly and unexpectedly during Spring Break. We visited the town I was born in - Yukon, Oklahoma. I know, I know, I'm an Okie. I moved to Mississippi when I was six or seven, and I remember very little about my birthplace. The few memories I have are vague.

My connection to this town has always been that I really wanted to see it and relive those childhood memories. I'm a bit sentimental like that. I've visited the sites of houses I used to live in here in Mississippi, and enjoyed reminiscing. I even have an empty bottle of root beer that I drank on the morning I turned sixteen, as I watched the sun rise over the Pearl River. When my parents asked if we wanted to go to Oklahoma, I jumped at the chance to see my birthplace.

It was fascinating to have fuzzy things in the back of my brain become real in front of me. The fuzzy memory becomes sharply real. The house in which I lived, the elementary school where I went to kindergarten and first grade, the ditch in which I played, the field on which I played soccer.

The surprising result of this trip was after I returned home. Now, I have no reason to go back. The only two things that give me reason to go back are the wonderful Gooch family that we stayed with, and the Oklahoma Sooners!



facebook status. such a small thing. yet so very interesting.

i was receiving so many comments on my facebook status that i thought i'd jot a blog about it. at our church, we did a true love waits study with our students for four wednesday nights in a row.

let me quote myself on the parent letter i sent out.
We live in a sex-saturated culture. It's in advertising, on TV, the subject of movies, in the lyrics of music, and all over the internet. The world says if you love someone or if you feel like it, just do it. God says something different. He says that sex is what makes marriage a special relationship, and that sex belongs only there. But with the world pulling so strongly in the wrong direction, how do we resist the temptation?
i believe very strongly that our students need the positive message of what God created sexuality to be. of course, the responsibility for this topic is borne first and foremost with the parents or guardians. the problem is that the average parent feels very uncomfortable with this topic. as a matter of fact, the feeling is more properly not discomfort but terror! it became a habit of mine early on to discuss this topic with students at least annually. this supplements the teachings of parents, which is what youth ministry should do at all times. as a matter of fact, one parent once asked me when the next true love waits study was coming, because she didn't want to talk to her son!

however, when i mentioned doing this study on facebook, one youth minister friend texted me and said he knew two different youth guys fired for doing such an event. and i also know folks who have taken much heat for discussing this sensitive topic with students. one of the things i have noticed, though, is that most of those problems lie with communication, not with the topic itself.

step 1: run it by the pastor and staff (check)
step 2: run it by the student ministry team (check)
step 3: divide into age-appropriate and gender-appropriate groups (check)
step 4: led by trustworthy adults (check)
step 5: offer an alternative Bible study led by an adult for all those who choose not to participate (check)
step 6: send a parent letter to every youth parent who's ever stepped foot in your church (check)
step 7: require permission slips be signed by parents before allowing students to participate (check)
step 8: have a parent meeting to allow for discussion and questions and concerns (check)

and every single student and even some visiting students participated! parents were overwhelmingly supportive, and the students were very grateful that we talked about these issues. went off without a hitch! (so far!)

the facebook discussions involved various positions about parental responsibility and church involvement and the importance of such a thing. some comments were funny, too (thanks, angela, louis, and stephanie!) i am glad that this topic sparks conversation. it's an important issue.

too important to leave to satan.



One of the interesting things about Facebook is that it connects me to folks I haven't thought about in years. In recent months, I've connected with several old friends. As we play catch up, we find out each other's stories since we've seen each other last, and more often than not there is a sad story they tell.

One such story was a marriage, children, job changes, divorce, and drugs. My response was one of empathy. As I reflect on the circumstances of others, I see myself. We are all needy. And not marginally so. I'm so screwed up, and I feel so unworthy to serve my loving God.

A difference between those in the church and those without seems to be honesty. Can I talk about my struggles with those at church? What would happen if I did? Thankfully, there seems to be a movement in American Christianity towards a more honest kind of community of believers. Blogs and other technologies seem to be ways we put ourselves out there more publicly. Thank you, Lord, for the chance to be honest with myself and others. Thank you for accepting me as I am.

I hope God keeps me working with real people like those at FBC Philly. Not church people. Real people.