Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Few More Dreadful Pics

Not gonna lie, it's nice to have my guitar back!

Jammin' to a song I wrote in Africa.

And then some carols on Christmas morning!

Dread Me

On my last day in Africa, I did something that I had been wanting to do for a long time...I got dreads! Now, they're still a work in progress (it can take several months for dreads to actually lock in), but I'm digging them so far. The best part was after I put them in, when for the rest of the day anytime a black guy saw my dreads, he would give me a thumbs up or yell, "Hey, my Rasta brotha!" Even the lady at the check-in counter at the airport told me she loved them! Apparently getting dreads = immediate solidarity with black Africans!

The "before" shot.

The "during" pic.

All done!

From the back.

So what do you think? Do I pull it off, or is a buzzed head in order? Leave me a comment!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Brunch

Here's the whole clan finally together again for our annual Christmas brunch. This year seemed extra special...

Back Home Again

Well, I've been home for about 5 days now. It's been great just reconnecting with my family this week, and in some ways with them it feels like I was never gone. This coming week, then, I will slowly start the re-entry into my life here, as I'll begin reconnecting with lots of old friends. If that includes you, call me up, and lets hang out!

Getting lots of love from the Edison clan at the airport.

Meeting my new nephew, Wesley James, for the first time!!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Finals Days in SA

Well, I'm finally getting a chance to breathe and just relax in my final week here in SA. After VAC Camp, I drove six hours down to Pietermaritzburg to spend a few days with some good friends, Josh and Jamie Quarandillo and family, as well as an old high school buddy, Andrew Myers, who is interning with the Qs for the next nine months or so. The past few days have been filled with lots of sleep, some reading and journaling, and endless hours of Nintendo Wii sports tournaments with the Q family...just what I needed. Tomorrow, then, I'll head back up north to Vereeniging to stay with my host family here in SA for my last few days, before flying back home on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

I've got lots more to share about VAC Camp this past week, as well as some of my other experiences and thoughts from this year, but for now I'm just going to try to enjoy my last few days with some people I love, in a country that I have grown to love. Looking forward to reconnecting with many of you soon!

Monday, December 14, 2009

God is Moving

The Spirit is moving here at VAC Camp in ways that I've never seen before. It's insane. We've seen many kids come to know Christ, and many more who have had major breakthroughs and experienced freedom from bondage, a freedom that only Christ can give. Much more to come later, but for now just keep praying. We have one more day left, and I'm excited to see what God has in store for us next!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

VAC Camp: Day 1

VAC Camp started yesterday, and nearly 300 young people from the Joburg area showed up at Camp Eden. The theme for camp this week is "Power," and we are diving into a power-filled life in the Spirit that so many Christians seem to be missing these days.

In the opening session last night, I walked through the entire Old Testament with the youth, focusing on the POWER struggle between God and man. Beginning with the first temptation in the garden--"...you will be like God..." (Gen. 3:5)--and the cycle of sin and rebellion that has plagued humanity from that point forward. Still today, I think our greatest temptation is that we want to be God--or at least "god" of our own lives. So we search for this power within ourselves, only to be perpetually frustrated by our inability to live a power-filled life. Only be surrendering and plugging into the power of the Spirit can we truly live power-filled lives. In conclusion, I had everyone pray this simple prayer: "Holy Spirit, show up in my life this week." I'm convinced that God wants to break through in powerful ways in the lives of these young people this week, and I'm convinced He met with us last night!

Please continue praying:
  • that God would transform the lives of these young people this week.
  • that the Spirit would fill Mthawelanga and me as we continue to share God's Word over the next four days.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Re-Orientation and VAC Camp

There's a good chance you won't hear much from me for the next couple weeks. Tomorrow I head back to the J-Life headquarters at Camp Eden for a week-long "re-orientation" (that's what they call it around here--we would say "debrief") with the 2009 J-Life trainees. It should be a great time of reflecting on what God has done in our lives and ministries this year, as well as an awesome time to reconnect with many close friends with whom I went through four months of training at the beginning of the year.

Next Friday, then, begins "VAC Camp." J-Life is hosting about 250 young people from several churches around Johannesburg for a summer camp at Camp Eden, and I'll be one of the speakers at camp this year. I'll be splitting eight sessions with Mthawelanga Nkonzo, a super-gifted worship leader and youth pastor from Johannesburg. He will speak in the morning sessions, while I will speak each evening for four days. Our theme this year is "Power," and we'll be taking a look at what it means to live by the power of the Spirit. I've learned a ton over the past month or so as I've studied this topic, and I'm excited to share what God has laid on my heart for the youth. As VAC Camp approaches, please be praying with me that God would make clear the words He wants me to share to these young people, and that I would simply get out of the way!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Huntin' for a Job...

Well, I'll be home in less than three weeks now--that much I know. What I don't know is what exactly I'll be doing once I get home. I'm planning on hanging out in northern Indiana for a while to spend time with my family and friends. However, odds are I'll be back on the mission field sooner rather than later--hopefully within the next year. So I guess the big question is: what will I do for the next year?

Being a person whose life has revolved around youth ministry for the past several years, my heart is definitely in investing in the lives of young people. Unfortunately, a year (or less) isn't really an ideal amount of time to get plugged into full-time youth work. It's really not fair for any church, and it's especially not fair to the young people. This puts me into kind of a tough spot. I certainly don't want to "waste" a year of my life just hanging out and waiting for God to reveal His next big plans for my life. After such a stretching year this year, the last thing I want to do is spend a year getting comfortable and not really pouring myself into young people, which is clearly God's calling on my life. But I also realize that I can invest in people's lives no matter where I am and no matter what I "do" vocationally.

I've considered even just doing some substitute teaching. Sure, the pay's not great, but it's a chance to hang out with young people every day, and it's obviously an extremely flexible job--I can just work whenever I want to work. Other than that, I suppose I can get some other job in the "secular" world--maybe work as a waiter or something. I think it would actually be kind of cool to be out in the "real world" for a while and really get a chance to be salt and light.

Most of all, I'm just praying now (and you can be praying, too!) that God will open up the right doors for me and make things clear. And who knows...maybe He will use you to show me the right door? I know that most of my readers are friends or other people involved in ministry in some way--or both. If any of you have a great job idea, feel free to let me know! Like I said, I'm not sure a full-time youth ministry gig is the best option for me right now, but I'm not totally ruling that out, either. Besides that, as far as ministry goes, I think I can add value to a church in the areas of worship and/or missions. I have a passion for worship through music and have been leading in that capacity for several years now. And, obviously, missions is my life and passion as well. Other than that, as I said before, I'm more than open to any job ideas you might have in the secular realm as well.

Okay, my shameless plug for myself is finished. Leave me a comment here on the blog or shoot me an email at ackosmo22@aol.com if you have any thoughts/suggestions. But, most of all, just keep praying that God's hand would continue leading and guiding me in every step I take in life, and pray that I would be sensitive to His leading! Thanks so much to all of you who have been praying faithfully!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Did You Know That There Are Penguins in Africa?

While down in Cape Town in October, we stopped by Boulders Beach in Simon's Town, which is famous for, of all things, PENGUINS! Yep, believe it or not, there is a small population of penguins who find their natural habitat in the Western Cape of South Africa. The Western Cape is actually known for its less-than-tropical weather: high winds, cool temperature, and FREEZING water along the coast. The best part about this particular breed of penguins is that they're called "Jackass Penguins" because they sound like braying donkeys! Ha! Enjoy the pics....

Penguin Crossing: not something you see every day...especially in Africa!

I present to you: the Jackass Penguins!

I call this one "The Godfather" because he (she?) looks old and wise. It's also the ugliest penguin I have ever seen! I think there's a reason this guy didn't get called for the cast of Happy Feet!

Chillin' with the penguins.

One big happy penguin family.

I picture the penguin on the left with a New York accent saying, "Whaddya lookin' at, pal?"

Another sign you just don't see everyday!

How crazy is that?! Penguins in Africa?! Who would have thought???

Monday, November 30, 2009

Spreading Christmas Cheer

A couple weeks back, I was at a mall in Johannesburg with some friends, where I ran across Santa's Workshop. Unfortunately, Santa was nowhere to be found, so I decided to spread a little Christmas cheer myself!

All I need is some white hair and a pot belly, and I think I'd make a darn good Santa Claus!

My friend Wayne didn't seem to notice that I wasn't the real Santa Claus! I think he might figure it out when his Christmas wishes don't come true...

Blogging Error

For those of you following my blog via Google Reader, you've probably noticed by now that I prematurely posted my third installment in the "Faith, Hope, and Obama" series. Essentially, it's the same post from "Part 2." Hopefully I'll get a chance to actually write the third installment in the next few days, although there's much to do here and my time is running short. Anyway, my apologies....

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Carols by Candlelight

Last night, our church hosted a "Carols by Candlelight" service. It was pretty awesome. There were probably 150 or so people there, both from our church and others from the community (Our church itself is quite small...around 50-75 regular attendees). Everyone brought their own blankets and picnic baskets, and we shared a meal together. The children performed a short Christmas musical that was written by one of our church members. Then we all lit candles and sang Christmas carols together. It was a pretty neat service, although it was a bit surreal. I've never celebrated Christmas in another country, and there was something about the 80 degree heat that made singing Christmas carols feel a little bit out of place! I'm excited to be home a few days before Christmas to celebrate it the "right" way! By the way, has it started snowing back in Indiana yet? I hope so!!!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Consumerism Day

I think it's safe to say that there's not another day in the year that I hate more than Black Friday. Mostly, I just hate what it stands for. It's the exploitation of the impoverished world, in order to feed our own gluttony. It's the ugly monster that is American consumerism, rearing her razor-sharp teeth, ready to devour anything (or anyone) in her path. She's a beast...and she's ugly.

I'm trying my best not to be judgmental here. I mean, I love great deals as much as the next guy. But seriously, does anyone else find it appalling--and maybe even downright sacrilegious--that America's national day of consumerism falls the day after Thanksgiving? Could there be two more polar opposite days sitting side-by-side? I mean, I understand the cultural rationale as to why this day falls when it does. Once Thanksgiving is over, the entire country turns its attention to Christmas. But still, it's as if, collectively as a nation, we are saying, "We sure are thankful, but we're not satisfied!" Gross...

I wonder...how many more Black Fridays will America see before--like every other great empire throughout history--we literally consume ourselves to death?

I wonder...what would the world look like if Christians were as passionate about celebrating the birth of Jesus as we are about getting that new XBOX360 or Plasma HDTV that the world has convinced us we "need"?

Most of all, I wonder if days like today make God cry...

***Special note: If you're a Christian and you participated in Black Friday today, please don't feel like I'm judging you. I've done it once myself, and I have plenty of Christian friends who take part in the "festivities" of the day. At the same time, I'd encourage you to take a minute or two and think about the things I've said. A challenging perspective never hurts, and if you've grieved the Holy Spirit in any way by your actions, He will show you. I'm just trying to get us to think a little bit...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Correction

While Operation Christmas Child is a great cause, it has just been pointed out to me that the deadline has already passed to send gifts for this Christmas. I'll try to remind you all again in about eleven months!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Operation Christmas Child

My friends and fellow youth ministers Phil and Michelle recently made a difference halfway around the world by rallying their youth around a cause: Samaritan Purse's Operation Christmas Child. You can read about their experience here.

Basically, you (and all your friends) fill up shoe boxes with Christmas gifts for impoverished children around the world. Samaritan's Purse, then, throws in a booklet telling the children about Jesus in their own language, as well as a 10-week discipleship course. It really is a great cause.

Earlier this year, in Namibia, I actually got to see a shipment of these Operation Christmas Child boxes come in. That particular shipment came from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. We helped load the gifts into a local warehouse owned by a Christian company. Later, we helped disperse the boxes to a local pastor, who then passed them on to the children who really needed them. I was really impressed to see how organized the whole process was, as well as how much the people involved in the process seemed to really care about the kids. So, if you're looking for a way to make a difference in a child's life this Christmas, check out Operation Christmas Child! It's a very worthy cause!

Our group loading boxes in Namibia.

Monday, November 23, 2009

One Month From Today...

...I will be stepping off a plane in South Bend, Indiana! I'm excited and nervous to return home after such a long time away.

I'm excited because...

...I miss my family a lot. I've got a new nephew to meet for the first time, as well as one other nephew and two nieces who have grown up a bunch and need to get reacquainted with their uncle! (I hope they recognize me through all the hair and beard!!!). It will just be great to have the whole family together for Christmas.

...I've got tons of friends back home that I can't wait to catch up with. So many of my friends are great at challenging/encouraging me, and I can't wait to get re-energized just by spending time with them. I'm sure the first month or so back will be absolutely crazy just trying to find time to see everyone!

...I miss American sports. I fell asleep during a cricket match yesterday, and rugby always just reminds me how much better American football is than any other sport on the planet!

...I won't have to live out of a suitcase anymore. It will seriously be great to live in my own house again.

...one word: FOOD! I have plans...

I'm nervous because...

...I have no clue where I fit in anymore. My life feels entirely split in half right now. I couldn't bring Indiana to Africa, and I'm fairly certain that I can't bring Africa to Indiana. I think I will feel out of place for quite a while.

...I've changed. Most people say that when they return home after a long time away, they realize that most everything stayed the same back home, while they changed a lot. Again, it might be difficult to find where the "new me" fits in.

...home is comfortable. I've grown a lot this year by never really allowing myself to get too comfortable (not just in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense as well). I don't want to get too comfortable again, losing sight of where God is leading me in life. I also think that we all have a default mode--the habits we keep and the way we act when we are comfortable with life--and I would rather not revert back to my old default mode.

There's still a lot to do in my last month here in South Africa, but I would be lying if I pretended like I haven't thought about the transition back home. Please be praying that this next month would be fruitful for my ministry here, and pray that God would prepare me for my transition back home next month!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Future Plans...

Not to be too ambiguous, but I had a couple big meetings this week with HUGE implications for my future in ministry and the potential direction God might be calling me. I'll share more when the time is right. But for now, please just pray that God would make it clear what steps I need to be taking in the near future. Thanks.

Blessings,
Adam

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fifty-(Two) Nifty United States?

I've recently uncovered a bizarre glitch in South Africa's education on world geography. My South African friends are often boasting (or whining) that Americans know very little about African history and geography. And, for the most part, I tend to agree with them. I honestly never remember learning a single thing about Africa in geography classes growing up, and the only part of African history that I remember learning was focused more on the history of American slaves. In high school, I remember watching the movie Roots and reading Things Fall Apart, a brilliant novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. That was the extent of my African studies. So, I'm forced to agree with my South African friends about the ignorance of Americans when it comes to Africa.

At the same time, I like to flip the table on these same friends and grill them on American history and geography. While most Americans would probably recognize that they don't know much about Africa, several of my South African friends think they know everything about America, simply because of all the American movies they've watched and the fact that, even in Africa, America dominates the world news. What I've found is that most Africans are equally as ignorant in their knowledge of America.

Take one friend of mine (who, for his sake, will remain anonymous), who thought that Obama was the president of both North America and South America. I tried to explain to him that those were two entirely separate and VERY different continents, with many nations and many different presidents, but I quickly gave up as I realized how much his geography teachers had failed him.

And then, my personal favorite. This is a real conversation that I had with one of my South African friends...

How many states do you think there are in the United States of America?, I asked.

Fifty-two, Wayne boldly and confidently answered. I started cracking up laughing.

Nope. There's only fifty, I replied.

He started getting defensive.

No, man, there's fifty states on the mainland. You're probably forgetting about Alaska and Hawaii.

Again, his confidence was shocking, as he tried lecturing me in American geography. Our other South African friends chimed in, backing Wayne's answer. (Apparently they all had been taught in school that there were fifty-two states as well!).

Trust me, bro, I'm not forgetting about Alaska and Hawaii. There are forty-eight states on the mainland; Alaska and Hawaii make forty-nine and fifty.

I proceeded to explain that there was a reason we have FIFTY stars on our flag, and then I proudly burst into the chorus of the song FIFTY Nifty United States (anybody else remember learning that song in elementary school?).

But not to be outdone, Wayne responded with dry sarcasm:

Oh, now I remember. You have fifty states...plus Iraq and Afghanistan! That makes fifty-two!

Touché, my friend. Touché...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Link Lovin' It

  • My friends Kory and Ali are doing some incredible urban ministry. They share their thoughts here.
  • My sister, Sarah, cuts a chicken's head off here. Sarah and her hubby, Nick, discuss spiritual warfare in Mexico here.
  • My buddy, Kyle, is chillin' in Ireland. He waxes poetic here and here.
  • I challenged my sister, Emily, to start blogging here. My beautiful, talented, incredible mother, genius (are those enough positive qualities, sis?) sister gives me a shout out in her first blog post here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Please Pray for My Dad

I know that many of you have been praying for me regularly throughout my time in Africa this year, and I want to again say "thanks" to all of you...you have no idea how much it means to me to know that other believers around the world lift me up in prayer before the Lord!

Today I have a specific prayer request to share with you. I'm sure that many of you know that almost 2 years ago my dad was diagnosed with cancer in his spine. He has been through radiation and chemo several times to try to keep the cancer contained. For much of the past two years, he has lived in severe pain, but thankfully the treatments seemed to be doing their job. Recently, however, it was discovered that his cancer is growing again. He has a tennis ball-sized tumor on his tailbone that is going to require immediate radiation and chemo treatment again. My dad is in need of a lot of prayer.

Please pray...

...that my dad would be able to continue trusting the Lord during this difficult time, and that God would provide my dad with the strength he needs. Pray also for relief from the excruciating pain that my dad has been living with for so long.

...for my mom. Pray that she would continue being strong for my dad during this time. Pray also that she would be able to get the rest that she needs.

...for the doctors. My dad met with his oncologist, neurologist, and radiologist this week to determine what steps need to be taken. Pray for wisdom as they look for new medicine and new treatments to stop the cancer from growing and spreading.

...for me. I am struggling being away from home right now when I know that my family really needs me. I love my dad, and I wish I could be there to support him. Pray that God would give me strength during this difficult time.

...for a miracle. Our God is Jehovah Rophe...the God who heals. Pray that God would perform a miracle in my dad's life for HIS glory.

Hangin' with my dad...a few years back.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Day of Solitude

Yesterday I got a chance to get away and spend the day in solitude. I went back to the farm where I have spent the majority of my time in South Africa this year. Nestled in the mountains an hour south of Joburg, quite literally out in the middle of nowehere, Driefontein (Three Fountains) Farm is the perfect place to get away and spend time alone with God. In the morning, I spent significant time diving into God's Word and hearing from Him in that way. Then, in the afternoon, I put aside the possibility of any distractions and spent a few hours hiking in the mountains and talking with God. It was such a refreshing time for me spiritually. Honestly, I don't get away enough like that. To be even more honest, I think subconsciously I'm quite terrified of solitude. I don't particularly like being alone...like really alone. But I've recognized that in my life I need solitude regularly. I think we all do. And, I've found that unless I'm intentional about getting away and simply being with God, life will just happen and I'll be too distracted to really hear from God. I'm thankful for the opportunity that I had yesterday, and God really did speak to me in a new and fresh way. I now feel recharged to face all of the challenges that lie ahead for me in my final month in Africa!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Comic Relief

In light of the fact that my recent posts have been a little more heavy than usual, I offer some comic relief. While visiting a church during my recent trip to Cape Town, I ran across some "Jesus paraphernalia." Now I'm not trying to be sacrilegious here, but if anyone needs a "Jesus" for their Easter play, I know a guy...

Monday, November 9, 2009

South Africa: Where Two Worlds Collide

Something that has jumped out to me this year while living in South Africa is that, unlike anywhere I have ever been in the world, South Africa is a country where the first-world and the third-world are coexisting side-by-side. It's a place where on one side of the street people live in sub-human standards in informal squatter camp settlements, while just across the street the elite live in fancy mansions in their gated communities. It really is mind-boggling to see such disparity of resources and living conditions within such a close proximity. Unfortunately, after living here for so long, it's a reality that has become easy to overlook. Tin shacks and million-dollar mansions side-by-side have simply become a part of the scenery here in South Africa, the backdrop of an incredibly unique and diverse country.

Another thing that has been easy to get used to is seeing beggars on nearly every street corner. As I drove around town this weekend, like usual there were people begging everywhere. However, one street corner stuck out to me as an incredible example of the two worlds that have collided here in South Africa. On the same street corner, there were ridiculously poor people begging for money to buy food and basic necessities for their families...and there were preppie high school jocks "begging" for money to send them on a sports tour to play cricket in Sri Lanka. As much as I've gotten used to seeing the two worlds coexist, this scene was too surreal and bitterly ironic not to have an impact on me. I guess the real thing I'm wrestling with is where I fit into all this mess...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Faith, Hope, and Obama: Part 2


HOPE

If you haven't yet read
part 1 of this discussion, I suggest you head there first. Then, after you've slapped yourself in the face (this will make more sense after reading part 1), you can come back here to the second installment in this discussion. As a disclaimer, I know this is a long read, but I hope that you will find it well worth your while as it represents a great deal of what I have been wrestling with this year in Africa.

Today's discussion turns a little less political, as we take a look at the concept of hope. I fear that I may have come out of the blocks too strongly in my opening statements of this discussion (part 1), as if I myself had the answer that was going to enlighten everyone to some deep truth that we all have been missing. I wish that were the case, but after nearly a month of wrestling with this topic since I last wrote on it, I'm simply left with more questions than answers. Maybe you can help me find the answers I'm looking for....

What is hope?

"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; you don't give up." -Anne Lamott

We use the word as a noun: The doctor's report gave us hope. We use the word as a verb: I hope I passed my biology test. We define hope as some sort of feeling or belief that things will turn out for the best (at least that's my simple definition). I mean, at quick glance it all seems to make sense. Hope is an easy enough concept to understand, right? But a closer look reveals that there's something deeper going on here--something a bit more complex that goes beyond the cliché, penetrating to profound depths at the core of the human condition.

Hope, though a seemingly unquantifiable feeling, is often spoken of in quantifiable terms. We speak of hanging on by "a thread of hope," implying just a small amount of hope. Other times, we speak of being "filled with hope," implying a larger quantity of hope. It seems somewhat contradictory that we can truly have varying degrees of hope because, really, how can you sort of believe in something? By definition, hope seems to imply something real, almost objective--something that you either have or you don't have. But in reality, we all know what it's like to truly believe in something--to truly have hope; and we know what it's like to want to believe in something--to desire hope, even if at the time it escapes our grasp. So maybe when we use phrases like "I'm hanging on by a thread of hope," what we really mean is that we want to hope that things will work out, but in reality we are ready to cross over that fine line between hope and despair.

Why do we hope?

"Until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words: 'Wait and hope.'" -Alexandre Dumas

The other thing that really intrigues me about hope is that it seems to be ingrained into the human condition. It's almost like there are three guarantees in life: we are born, we will die, and in between we will have hope. The ancient Roman philosopher, Cicero, summed it up well when he said, "When there's life, there's hope." Seriously, as I look at the world around me, and even throughout history, I see that humans are incredibly resilient beings--that it takes an awful lot to break the spirit of a human being and bring them to despair, and no person's life story is complete without at least mention of hope.

This appears to be the point where we can no longer ignore the Christian worldview. It seems that within each one of God's children--whether they believe in Him or not--He has placed an eternal hope. (No, I will not be quoting from Jeremiah 29:11 now, even though it directly uses the word "hope" and would probably serve my purposes well here. A small soapbox of mine, I think that verse gets overused and, often times, utterly abused, so I will look instead to another prophet, Zechariah). Speaking through the prophet Zechariah, the LORD says, "Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you" (Zech. 9:12, NIV, italics mine). God calls His children "prisoners of hope." I find that to be a poignant description of the human condition; we are bound to hope.

Is false hope better than no hope?

"The miserable have no other medicine but only hope." -William Shakespeare

"A poor man with nothing in his belly needs hope, illusion, more than bread." -Georges Bernanos

"Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man." -Friedrich Nietzsche

Up to this point in the discussion, you have probably been reading from a 1st World, Western worldview. I can't fault you for that because it's natural to view the world from within your own context. I, too, often catch myself looking at the world from that perspective, even though I am currently surrounded by the 3rd World. But, in order to get to the root of this discussion, I ask you to take a mental journey with me to my current context: Africa. In doing so, we are really going to get to the crux of this discussion, as it must be seen in light of the impoverished 3rd World.

The question here is again simple, yet very complex: Do you believe that false hope is better than no hope?

Think about it...

Here's the exact same question, just worded differently: Is having hope better than not having hope, even if your "hope" is rooted in a lie?

This is the eternal conundrum that plagues Africa. Lest I attempt to sound like an expert here, keep in mind that my African experiences are limited, since I'm only here for a year. But I've traveled Africa. I've been in 7 African countries in the last 4 months. I've spent significant time studying the history of Africa this year, and I've seen it unfold with my own eyes. I've seen a young girl waste away to death from AIDS, seemingly paying for the sins of her own parents' infidelity. I've lived in a community that had no access to clean drinking water, let alone access to proper medicine to cure the diseases that were sure to follow. I've been witness to (and sometimes the victim of) government corruption, which has sifted all the way down to the local police forces. I've been to the schools, which are grossly lacking in resources and, more often than not, good teachers. I've been called "boss" enough times to know that still ingrained in many black Africans is a feeling of inferiority to white people. And I've seen poverty...extreme poverty. Don't be fooled--Africa is a harsh, harsh reality for its people.

Although I did not grow up living this harsh African reality, after having seen it with my own eyes, I often find myself bordering on despair when I think about Africa. "Will things ever get better?" I often ask myself. "Will it ever change? And what can I really do?" There are no easy answers to these questions. But yet, overwhelmingly, I find Africans to be optimistic, even hope-filled people; they truly define resilience. At first glance, this is an impressive feat, in light of their surrounding circumstances. But, again, at closer look I have found that many Africans place their undying hope in lies.

One of Satan's greatest strongholds of deceit in Africa is found in animism, witchcraft, and idolatry. Even many African "Christians" find themselves tip-toeing the line between true hope in the salvation of Jesus and "hope" in the traditions of the sangomas (witch doctors), or in appeasing their ancestors through sacrifices and rituals. It can be argued that Satan's strongholds are often very geographical, and it seems that these believed lies are especially prevalent in this continent that is looking for anything in which to place hope.

Another area of false hope in Africa (and the rest of the world) is rooted in wealth. If I had a dime for every African this year that has told me about his elaborate plans to go study in America, get a great job, get rich, and never come back to Africa, I'd be a very rich man right now (maybe I should have really asked each of them to give me a dime...that could have been my elaborate plan to get rich!). Seriously, though, as much as I've tried to explain to these guys that America isn't the answer to their problems, the "American dream" is so ingrained in their heads that there is no convincing them otherwise. Their "hope" is all wrapped up in another false reality.

Finally (yes, it's time to get slightly political again), a lot of Africans have placed their faith in the government. Essentially all of the independent African nations have achieved independence within the past 50 years. In nearly each instance, it was a classic case of expelling the "oppressive white man," the colonial powers, and replacing them with black African "leaders." These "leaders," then, represented the sole source of hope for the people of these newly-independent African nations. Unfortunately, in the overwhelming majority of these power shifts, the "oppressive white man" was merely replaced with a power-hungry "oppressive black man." Even today, Africa is still run mostly by dictatorial leaders who exploit their own people for personal power and wealth. And yet, Africans today still place their undying hope in the hands of these leaders and their corrupt governments.

South Africa is actually an unusual case. Independence came late, with the fall of Apartheid in 1994, and the transition to a democratic black majority rule came relatively smoothly and peacefully. But, just as in the rest of Africa, many South Africans believed (hoped) that salvation for their people had come with this governmental shift in power. The reality, however, is that no government has the power to save. And while South Africa has made great strides in the last 15 years, overwhelmingly the whites still live in the fancy suburbs and the blacks still live in the tin shacks. The "hope" which so many Africans have placed in their governments has gone unrealized.

So, let me ask the question again: Is false hope really better than no hope at all?

Even as I sit here writing what seems to be an argument that false hope is destructive, I still don't know the answer to this question. Surely false hope is better than despair, isn't it? Maybe Billy Shakespeare and Georges Bernanos were right, that we need the illusion, the medicine that is hope. Maybe we should just swallow the blue pill and continue living in the illusion. Or maybe the famous atheistic (even nihilistic?) German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, was right for once. Maybe hope (at least false hope) just prolongs our torment. Truly a conundrum...my brain hurts.

It's at this point that we finally come back to Obama...and Jesus.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sad But True

A few months back, I spent some time in Namibia, a country where Afrikaans is the predominant language (Afrikaans is an Indo-European language derived from Dutch. It came to Southern Africa when the Dutch settled there in the 17th century). Now, I've been picking up some Afrikaans here and there, but I'm not a very proficient speaker yet. Still, everywhere I go people assume that I can speak Afrikaans because I'm white. One man, after realizing that I was from America and couldn't really speak the language, told the following joke:

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

Trilingual.

What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

Bilingual.

What do you call someone who speaks only one language?

American.

I had to laugh at the joke, but I found it sad and, generally speaking, quite true. As I've traveled the world, I've found that in most countries people grow up learning multiple languages. Take South Africa, for example. In primary school, most kids are already studying English and Afrikaans. And for most black South Africans, these languages are in addition to their mother tongues spoken in the home. In my experience here, it has been very common to find a young kid that is fluent in four, five, or even six languages. It's insane.

This emphasis on multiple languages is not contained just to Africa either. Even in China, I found that children now grow up studying Mandarin and English from a very young age. The Chinese see great value in their next generation's ability to speak English, the dominant language in the world right now.

And then there's America. In America, kids grow up learning one language. On the one hand, it makes sense. I mean, in today's shrinking world, you can go almost anywhere and get by speaking just English. So why force kids to learn a second language, right? On the other hand, I think we are missing out on something huge here. For one thing, children have an incredible capacity for linguistics. So the question that should really be asked is: why not teach our children a second language? With the growing influence of Latino culture in the States, why not teach Spanish as a second language in our elementary schools? Or what about the rapid growth of China and Japan in the global economy--why not teach Chinese or Japanese as second languages? Seriously, we should just pick one and give our children the gift of a second language.

Sure, we can keep raising up children who will one day grow up, travel the world, and expect everyone to conform to American standards, or we can raise up children who learn to embrace other cultures and connect on a deeper level with different kinds of people through the languages. I think we are really missing an opportunity here...

Thoughts...???

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where Two Oceans Meet...

Even in the midst of all the travel and ministry, I often get opportunities just to be a tourist and check out some really cool sights. Last week, I got to go to the southernmost tip of Africa, where the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet! Check it out!

Indian Ocean on the left, Atlantic Ocean on the right!

The southernmost tip of Africa.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Run a Marathon...Check

One of my goals at the beginning of the year was to run a marathon. In fact, 3 years ago I wrote down "Run a marathon" on my list of 5-year goals. Let's just say I really believe in setting goals in life...

Anyway, during the first few months of this year, I was running like crazy, sometimes upwards of 40 miles a week. However, for a number of factors including a hectic travel schedule and multiple pesky African parasites, my training regimen has been inconsistent at best--and sometimes downright nonexistent--over the past several months. But for those of you who know me well (or have ever spent 5 minutes with me), you know that I can be downright stubborn (although I prefer the word "determined"), and I have a sickness called "overcompetitivitis." (Little is known about this disease that attacks the male ego, and to date a cure has not been found). So, determined to meet my goal, I put all sound logic aside and ran the 26.2 mile Soweto Marathon yesterday!

The race was actually really cool. It was held on the southwest side of Johannesburg in Soweto, one of the largest townships (ghettos) in South Africa, with a population of around one million people. The race took us past several historical sites, including down Vilakazi Street in the Orlando District, the only street in the world on which two Nobel Peace Prize winners once lived--Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We ran right past Mandela's home, which I think I would have appreciated a lot more if I hadn't already been running for more than 10 miles at that point!

The other really neat thing about running in Soweto was the support of all the people. Thousands of people lined the streets to cheer us on. I received a lot of support myself, with hundreds of people calling out "uJesu" (Jesus) as I ran by. As I ran down one hill, dozens of people literally started chanting "uJesu! uJesu!" I played along with the crowd and raised my arms in triumph as I ran by them. A couple other Zulu names I got called were "ubaba" (father) and "intshebe," which simply means "beard." The people really got a kick out of it when I responded in Zulu, "Unjani umfowethu!" which means, "How are you, my brother?" Anyway, the atmosphere of the race and the crowds of supporters made for a really fun race.

The part of the race that I didn't find so fun was all the running I had to do. I mean, seriously, 26.2 miles is a little bit ridiculous, don't you think?! And as if that weren't bad enough, much of the race was spent climbing up some crazy steep hills, some of which were as long as 2km (1.25 miles!). Not only that, but Soweto is up in the thin air, over a mile above sea level. For these reasons, I recently read that Athletics South Africa (ASA) rates the Soweto Marathon a 4 out of 5 in difficulty for distance runs. To put that rating into perspective, the 15km Harrismith Mountain Race that I ran a while back--you know, the one where I literally had to bear-crawl over a mountain--was rated a 5 out of 5. This was just a step below that...for 42.2km.

Okay, I'll stop whining now...

Running a marathon was one of the toughest things I have ever done, both physically and mentally, but I'm so glad I did it. It just feels good to check a huge goal like that off the list! People have already begun asking me, "So, do you think you'll ever do it again?" When asked that question right after the race, my answer was a resounding "Never again!" But, I'm a glutton for punishment, and a day later, even as I'm hobbling around on stiff legs, I'm already scheming about when I might run my next one. For now, though, I'm gonna take a long rest and enjoy this one. I am now officially a marathoner! Woo hoo!

2-Boy, Me, Bhuti, and John after the race.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Back From Cape Town

I realize that I sort of fell off the map this week, but I assure you that I'm still alive and well! This past week was spent driving over 3000 miles around South Africa with two other J-Life staff members, meeting with pastors about how J-Life might be able to partner with and help their churches establish healthy disciple-making youth ministries. We traveled from Mpumalanga (the province in the northeast where I currently live) all the way across the Karoo down to Cape Town, a beautiful city that lies in the mountains along the coast in the Western Cape of South Africa. We spent most of the week staying with friends in Cape Town in a township called Ocean View. We then traveled the Garden Route along the coast to a town called Plett, in the Eastern Cape. Finally, yesterday we drove for about 16 hours right up the center of the country back to our farm in Mpumalanga. In ten months, I have now been to all 9 South African provinces! It goes without saying that I'm super tired now, but it was a really great trip, as we were able to make several positive contacts with churches along the way.

No time to rest, though, as tomorrow morning I'm running my very first marathon! I'm not exactly in the best shape right now as I haven't been able to train much in recent months, but I'm gonna give it my best shot. More on that soon!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Top 25 Places: #s 5-1

#5. Ecuador
June 2002
The summer before my senior year of high school, I took my first overseas mission trip, to Ecuador. This trip proved to be a major turning point in my life, as it was on that trip that I first felt God's calling to ministry and my eyes were opened to missions. As far as I can remember, it was also on this trip that I preached the gospel for the first time in my life.


#4. Jamaica
April 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001
My family was pretty darn spoiled growing up, as one of our favorite vacation spots was the Caribbean island, Jamaica. For me, Jamaica is synonymous with beautiful beaches, awesome food, super friendly people, and lots of great family memories!


#3. Chicago
Several times a year.
Ever since I was a kid, Chicago has been my favorite city in the world. After now having traveled all around the world, it continues to hold that title. Chicago is a beautiful city, home to all of my favorite professional sports teams (Bulls, Bears, White Sox, Blackhawks), as well as the best pizza in the world, Giordano's. I find any excuse I can to make it up to Chicago several times a year.


#2. Florida
About a dozen times growing up.
Another favorite family vacation spot growing up was Florida. These vacations included multiple trips to Disney World, staying at beach resorts in places like Sarasota and Panama City, and visiting my grandparents in Sebring and Avon Park.


#1. Home Sweet Home!
Birth-Present Day
The more I am away from home, the more I realize what an awesome place it really is to live. There's nothing like being close to family and friends. Home-cooked meals every Sunday with the family are nothing to be taken for granted. Several friends of mine from South Africa are interested in visiting the States someday, and I often get asked about the best places to visit in the U.S. Somehow, Indiana never quite makes the list of exciting places that I would suggest for other people to visit, but yet it's my home and I love it!


Friday, October 23, 2009

Top 25 Places: #s 10-6

#10. Beijing, China
September-December 2006
I spent the first semester of my senior year of college studying abroad in China, where I lived in the capital city of Beijing. Beijing is one of the biggest cities in the world and home to thousands of years of history. A few of the more famous sites to see in Beijing are Tiananmen Square, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven, among many others. A piece of my heart will always be in China, and I would love to go back to Beijing someday!


#9. St. Thomas/St. John, US Virgin Islands
May/June 2006
For my parents' 3oth wedding anniversary, our whole family spent a week vacationing in the US Virgin Islands. We stayed at a resort on the island of St. John, one of the most amazing places I have ever seen and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I wish my parents had 30th anniversaries more often!


#8. La Republica Dominicana
July 2004
The summer after my freshman year of college, some friends and I went on a sports mission trip to the DR with an incredible organization called SCORE International. We played a ton of basketball and shared the gospel all over the island country. It was a blast!


#7. Noatak, Alaska
May 2004
Also during the summer after my freshman year of college (it was a busy summer!), I took a trip to Alaska with several other students from Bethel College, most of whom were basketball players or members of the Chapel Band. We spent two weeks in Noatak, Alaska, a tiny village located 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle! Literally, the only two ways to get to the village were by bush plane or snowmobile. We flew in on a bush plane and spent two weeks running VBS and a basketball camp for the kids there. I'm convinced that God did some of his best work when he created Alaska, and it's probably the only place I have ever been to that is still almost entirely unadulterated by humans. A couple interesting funfacts from my time in Alaska: 1) The sun never went down while we were there--which was a lot better than the alternative of never seeing the sun!; 2) I walked about a mile out onto the ocean off the Alaskan coast, which was completely frozen!


#6. Honduras
April 2003
My senior year of high school, I passed on the standard spring break vacation and went on my second mission trip instead, to Honduras. The 6 months of mental and spiritual preparation for this trip, led by my youth pastor, Terry Bley, were a time of immense spiritual growth for me. The trip itself challenged my faith and furthered my passion for cross-cultural ministry. I believe God was laying the foundations for my future ministry throughout this trip.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Birthday Par-tay!

I've seriously got some of the best friends in the world. This past weekend, my friends here in South Africa threw a big party for my birthday. My friend Sue even baked an awesome South African flag cake! Check out the pics!

The multicultural birthday banner had an American flag and a South African flag. My friend Michelle made the American flag, complete with 15 stripes and 35 1/2 stars! Pretty close, Michelle!

Apparently I turned one this year!

Seriously, how awesome is this cake?!?!

Top 25 Places: #s 15-11

#15. India
January 2008
Through a series of events that only God could have orchestrated, I was blessed with the opportunity to be the youth speaker at a family camp in Raghunathpur, a small town in the West Bengal province of India. It was on that trip that God clearly confirmed my call to missions. I absolutely fell in love with the Indian people, and at first I was convinced that God was calling me to India. Here's a short excerpt from my journal while in India:
"I feel so incredibly blessed right now. The last few days have been some of the best of my entire life. I have been literally pouring my life out to the people here--especially the youth and children ... It is such a blessing to minister and to share God's love with the nations..."
It was through that experience that I seriously pursued opportunities in missions last year, which led me to South Africa this year. India continues to be on my heart often.


#14. Mexico
June 2007
This was my first mission trip as a youth pastor. I had the awesome opportunity to spend a week investing in the lives of some pretty incredible young people from St. Mark Missionary Church, while also investing in two Mexican families for whom we built homes. What a great experience!


#13. Hawaii
December 2006
Quite possibly the most perfect place God ever created. I got to spend a few days there with some good friends on our way back from China, and I used the opportunity to catch a few waves!


#12. Shanghai, China
October 2006
While spending a semester abroad in China, our group was blessed to be able to travel quite a bit. We traveled 13 hours by train from Beijing to Shanghai, where we spent a week being tourists. Shanghai immediately became one of the coolest cities I had ever been to. One of the biggest cities in the world (pop.>20 million), they call Shanghai "The New York City of China" because it's the biggest city in China and also the center of fashion and pop culture. Check out the futuristic skyline!


#11. Great Wall of China
September/October 2006
Quite simply the greatest man-made structure I have ever seen. Construction on the wall began in the 7th century B.C. and continued on for several centuries through many different Chinese dynasties. For anyone interested in history, this place is a must see. The Great Wall stretches over 4000 miles across the northern border of China. Simply amazing. I had the opportunity to go to the wall on three occasions during my time in China, spending the night in watchtowers on the wall two of those times. Pretty awesome!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Top 25 Places: #s 20-16

#20. Cape Town, South Africa
May 2009
Spent a week on vacation there with my friend Tara and one of my favorite families in the world, the Linharts! Cape Town, located on the Western Cape of South Africa, is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world...for good reason!


#19. New York City
August/September 2008
Spent a week sightseeing there last fall with my buddies, Teddy and Jordan. NYC is a stinkin' huge city, home to quite a lot of history and several sports teams that I love to hate!


#18. Iguazu Falls, Brazil
July 2008
Popped across the border into Brazil for a day and night during a short-term mission trip to Paraguay. Iguazu Falls, located near the borders of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, is quite simply one of the most amazing natural phenomenons I have ever seen. God saw what He had created and said, "It is good!"


#17. Paraguay
July 2008
I spent a couple weeks there on a short-term mission with some of my favorite people in the world from St. Mark Missionary Church! I fell in love with the kids there--especially this little guy, Niko.


#16. Israel
March 2008
I got the awesome opportunity to spend a week there at a conference called Global Youth Initiative, with youth workers from all around the world. Israel opened my eyes to the Scriptures in a whole new way--an amazing experience that I would highly recommend for every believer.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Top 25 Places: #s 25-21

In honor of my 25 years of existence, I've compiled a list of my 25 favorite places that I have visited in the world. And, since it was nearly impossible to rank these places, I simply put them in reverse chronological order, starting with places that I have recently visited and moving backwards. Enjoy!

#25. Zanzibar
September 2009
Spent a weekend exploring there with a couple good friends. Beautiful island, interesting culture, great people, incredible food!


#24. Tanzania
September 2009
Taught youth ministry classes there for almost 3 weeks. Tanzanians are some of the friendliest people I have ever met!


#23. Zimbabwe
August 2009
Helped lead a short-term mission trip there. Zimbabwe is one of the poorest countries in the world, torn apart by 30 years of dictatorial rule. Still, the people are resilient and also among the friendliest people I have ever met.


#22. Namibia
August 2009
Took a short-term mission trip there with my church from South Africa. I never knew the desert could be so beautiful!


#21. Kruger National Park, South Africa
July 2009
Spent a weekend safari there. Kruger is one of the most incredible national parks in the world. We saw lions, elephants, rhino, giraffe, hippos, crocodiles, monkeys, water buffalo, fish eagles, and a whole lot more!