Saturday, February 28, 2009

I Hate Snakes!!!

I would consider myself somewhat of an animal lover, but one thing I am certainly not is a snake lover. In fact, I really can't stand those slithery creatures. As much as possible, I try to avoid them, but in my current situation that's a little more difficult than I'd like.

During my first week here in Africa, I went out for a run with a few of the other guys. We got to talking as we ran, and I became distracted and lost focus of the path ahead of me. I almost didn't see it. A bush snake had crossed into the path just ahead of us. One of the guys behind me yelled just in time, and I took an I-used-to-be-a-collegiate-track-athlete jump over that creepy snake just as it was lashing out to take a bite out of my calf. I kid you not, that thing lunged for me, and I missed it by inches. That same week, we ran across another similar snake on a hike (pictured below). Needless to say, I now keep my eyes peeled when I'm out running around, especially when I head into the tall grass. 

In the words of Indiana Jones, "I hate snakes!"

Camp Eden

My home away from home here in South Africa is Driefontein Farm, also known as Camp Eden. As I shared before, Camp Eden is thousands of acres of beautiful mountains, rivers, forests, lakes, and wildlife, all in our back yard. I figured that instead of trying to explain it to you, I'd just show you a few pics...

Bush Camp

We started right out of the blocks with training from day 1 in South Africa. That first day, they sent us in groups out into the bush with machetes, a plastic tarp and rope for building our shelters, and just enough food for three days. The goal: survive! 

We were in more of a rainforest area (think more Hakuna Matata, less Pride Rock), and man did it rain!  My team built pretty much the sweetest shelter in history, and we were so sure that it would keep us dry. I'll never forget waking up at 1:00AM that first night and hearing the rain begin to tap on the plastic tarp that served as the roof of our shelter. That soft tapping soon turned into knocking, and by 3:00AM we were all running around like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to repair holes in our leaky roof and dumping water out of our shelter by the bucket-load. I'll never forget laying there in my drenched sleeping bag that night and wondering, "What in the world have I gotten myself into?" It was such a surreal experience, sleeping out in the forest with a group of guys I didn't know, on a continent that was brand new to me. Looking back, though, it was a really neat time of bonding with and getting to know some of the other guys on the team right from the start.

Here are a few pics of our bush camping experience...

Working on our shelter.

Justin showing off his machete skills!

Best shelter ever! (Disclaimer: not water proof!!!)

My team at bush camp.

Some Introductions...

I'm actually in town tonight with a decent internet connection, so I'm going to try to post as many pictures tonight as possible. This picture goes way back to my first day here in South Africa, meeting the other trainees who have since become dear friends of mine.

(Left to Right): MaxAC (USA!), Sabin (Congo Brazzaville), Praise (Malawi), Shegz (Kenya), Christian (Kenya), Justin (Kenya), Anthony (Malawi).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

J-Life Summit Revisited

The J-Life International Summit ended nearly a week ago, and it was a great success! Thanks so much to all of you who were praying. It was an awesome experience for me to be able to connect with so many incredible leaders from around Africa. The following are some quotes that I pulled away from the Summit.

"Focus on the Source, not the resource" -Patrick Britz, J-Life Namibia Leader

"Obedience is God's love language" -David Mulonga, J-Life Zambia Leader

"Don't be a shooting star minister." -Philip King, J-Life Nigeria Leader

"Finances produce employees. We don't want employees, we want people who will rally behind the vision." -John Abrahamse, Founder of J-Life

"Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you want, but you can only spend it once."  -Bernie, J-Life Board Member

"Seldom resist the urge to be generous." -Dann Spader, President of GYI

Besides rubbing shoulders with and soaking in wisdom from all these great leaders, I also had a lot of fun with these guys. We got to spend a day as a group in Joburg. Here's a picture of the entire Summit group outside of Mark Tittley's church in Joburg.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

When Reality Sets In...

Back in the day, when missionaries were headed for Africa, they used to send all of their belongings over in a casket, knowing full well that they would probably breathe their last breath on the red soils of that continent. And, more than likely, it would be an early death for those pioneers. Well, times have changed quite a bit, and I'm a pretty optimistic guy, so I sent my belongings over in two suitcases, fully believing that I would be coming back in a year right along with those suitcases. Now, I'm still here to tell the story, so you know how it ends, but I promise you every bit of this story is true. I don't want to be overdramatic, but it got very, very ugly this week. This is how it went down...

To put it bluntly, this past week I experienced hell on earth. Sunday night, after attempting to Skype chat with my family, I spent the whole night with a fever and the chills. I slept in a bit the next morning, and then went to a training session with some of the country leaders that were still here after the Summit. A couple hours into that, I felt sick again. Some of the guys laid hands on me, but in the middle of their prayers I had to rush to the bathroom. I spent the rest of the day in bed. Anything I tried to eat was almost immediately coming back out, one way or another...if you know what I mean. Then, late Monday night I was in the restroom, still terribly sick, and I could tell that something was really wrong...that this was not the normal flu. I could feel my entire body just heating up, and I was near the point of passing out. I dragged myself to John's house, and he rushed me to the hospital. I was diagnosed with a gastro-intestinal virus, and I had a temperature of nearly 105 degrees, which is obviously crazy high. They gave me an injection and also set up an IV pumping some fluids and antibiotics into my body. I was still very sick that whole night. They said I couldn't eat anything for about 36 hours, and I could only drink water, so that it would flush the virus out of my system. Even then, the next day every time I took a sip of water I would either vomit or almost immediately have to use the toilet. So I've been on some strong antibiotics this whole week, which has really zapped my energy and kept me in bed most of the week. I've also probably lost 15 pounds or so, which might actually be kind of hard to gain back on our diet here. Please just be praying that I would come to a full recovery soon and that I would regain my strength. It's at times like these where it's really no fun at all to be far away from home! And it's times like these when reality really begins to set in...this is Africa (TIA), God called me here, and preparing me for His service might mean that He runs me through the flames a time or two. But like I said, I'm still alive to tell about it...God is good!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Goals for 2009

The following are some of the goals that I have set for myself for this year:

Personal Goals:
  • Run 3-5 times a week
  • Run a marathon (yikes!)
  • Build two long-lasting friendships with Africans (a month later, this goal seems to be way too low)
  • Read 12 books (1/month)

Spiritual Goals:
  • Read through the Bible twice.
  • Memorize at least 1 whole book of the Bible (probably James or Colossians).
  • Spend time alone with God daily
  • Fast once a month
So far, I am doing great at keeping up with these goals. Granted, it is only February, but at least I've made it this far! Just yesterday, I ran over 9 miles...and not just any 9 miles...mountain miles! I have already read one book, Great Commission Companies, a good read on combining business and missions, and I am currently halfway through the book Love and Respect. I am building many strong relationships here. I am also consuming more Scripture than ever before in my life, and I'm sharpening my memorization skills (nearly done memorizing Romans 8). I will try to keep you all posted throughout the year as to how I do with these goals!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Say Hello To My New Friends...

Hangin' with my friend, Mxolisi, from Swaziland. (Don't even try to pronounce his're me!)

I Love Rugby!!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

J-Life International Summit

This week has been a very busy one, as we are currently having the J-Life International Summit here at Camp Eden. Eleven different countries are represented here by their country leaders: Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and the most recent addition to the J-Life team and only non-African nation, J-Life USA, which is based out of New York. We are also privileged to have Dann Spader here, founder of Son Life Ministries and President of Global Youth Initiative, as well as Steve Hudson, a long-time Son Life guy as well, and currently on the GYI staff with Dann. The country leaders are being trained in things such as recruiting and coaching leaders, developing boards, developing budgets, funds development, team building, team cohesion, and overall improved communication.

I have been lucky enough to be able to break away from the normal training this week to join in the Summit. We have been hearing exciting reports from all of the countries represented about disciple-making movements sprouting up all over the continent. Next week two leaders will be sent into Tanzania, where leaders from the tribal bush area have already been chosen to be trained to lead disciple-making movements in their regions. Other efforts are spreading into Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, and Madagascar. God is moving on this continent!

How you can pray this week:

  • That God would continue to provide vision and leadership for J-Life
  • For spiritual and physical renewal for the country leaders
  • For a sense of community and cohesion among the different countries and their leaders
  • That the Spirit would continue to move as workers are trained and sent out in His Name!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sweet-Action Sunset

So a couple weekends ago we went on a men's retreat to this place outside of Joburg called the Vaal Dam. Besides having an incredible retreat (more on that later), I saw some of the sweetest sunsets I have ever seen! Here's a sneak peak...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Udpate From South Africa

Hey Everyone!

Thanks so much to all of you who have kept me in your thoughts and prayers over the past few weeks. Taking the step into full-time missions has been something on my heart for several years now, but I must admit that when the time came to go, it was a big leap of faith and one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. As I arrived here the first night, we were driving down the 7-mile dirt road driveway back to the training center, stopping occasionally as jackals ran across the road, and I remember thinking, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?!” More than three weeks later, all of those initial fears are gone, as I have built many solid relationships here, have been welcomed into the community, and have truly seen God move daily.

I am a part of a community of some 45-50 young people who are being trained to come alongside the local church in Africa and plant disciple-making movements of youth. We are living in a dorm-like situation. I am living in a room with three other guys: Praise (from Malawi), Sabin (Congo Brazzaville), and Sampson (Zambia). Other trainees here come from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia, Swaziland, and of course, myself from the US. Needless to say, I am getting quite the cross-cultural experience!

The training is pretty intense. Our first three days here, we went out into the bush, with very few supplies, used machetes to cut down trees and build shelters, and basically just tried to survive! It was a pretty neat experience, and a good bonding time for everyone. For the last couple weeks now, we have been back on Driefontein Farm, where the J-Life training center is located. It is a really beautiful place—several thousand acres of mountains, rivers, lakes, and wildlife. Guys go hunting here a lot, and last week we killed a wild boar...and then ate him for dinner! We joked about how we were eating “Pumba” from the Lion King!

So far our training here has included things like spiritual gifts, personality tests, leadership and vision, and the DNA of disciple-making movements. It has been really powerful to plow through some of these topics together as a community. More than anything else, however, the core of the training revolves around our own spiritual health and maturity. We are held accountable to spend time alone with God daily, we pray together corporately, we are memorizing Scripture together, all in an attempt to be a holy community, set apart for God. The discipline has been great for me.

On top of spiritual “boot camp,” we are in physical training as well. I run daily with the guys here, which is pretty intense over the hills and mountains on the farm. We are also at a high elevation, over 7000 feet above see level (higher than Denver), so I am just now getting used to the thin air. So far my longest run has been just over 6 miles, but I am working towards a half marathon by April. I also swim across one of the lakes almost every day, with my longest swim being about half a mile so far. It feels great getting back into physical shape. It’s summer here, and the weather is blazing hot, somewhere in the mid-90s most days, so a daily swim is almost a necessity!

I received a great piece of advice before I left from my friend and former mentor, Karl Black, who said, “If you are able to see yourself as a learner, you will grow immensely over the next year.” I have truly tried to take those words to heart in my time here. While I have more formal education and ministry experience than most of these guys, I am still able to learn so much from them—from their cultural backgrounds, from their life experiences, and from their hearts and passion for the Lord. I truly am learning so much every day and growing in my understanding of other people, as well as in my relationship with the Lord.

Here are some ways that you can be praying for me:

-that I would continue to develop deep relationships with the guys here
-that I would stay focused on my relationship with God above all else
-that I would remain free from homesickness
-that God would continue to reveal His plans for my future, and that I would have the courage to follow His leading

Thanks again to all of you who are praying! I could not be here if it weren’t for your love and support! Please know that I am praying for all of you as well!

Alive in Africa,