Friday, April 15, 2011

Will they Make it?

A little boy with a Lakers jersey stands with his sister at his home at the edge of the Pulang Lupa garbage dump. He's looking at the church that has been planted there. It has started some modest income generation projects to provide an alternative to scavenging. Will he have options not available to his father? To some extent this question will be answered by the degree to which the church chooses a wholistic gospel over a privatized spirituality that cares more about heaven than it does about the seeking the shalom of God for his earth. With this little church on the dump site, so far, so good. A sign of hope for these little ones.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Not God's normal

The morning here in Manila was spent hearing from a leader on social entrepreneurship for slum communities, and then from Corrie deBoer on Appreciative Inquiry. After that we went to the Pataya Dump site to tour the government facility that displaced scavengers and then to the site of the Pataya Christian Church that is led by a bi-vocational pastor who runs a few businesses to employ scavengers. We saw scavengers standing waste deep in foul water "washing" plastic bags to be sold to recyclers. We saw an urban pig farm attached to the church with pigs that feed on the garbage of the site. We saw one of the pre-schools that Corrie planted. Signs of hope in dramatic circumstances. Those circumstances can be overwhelming, and I know they brought insight and conviction. We meditated on the fact that thousands of children know no other reality. They and their families understand this as normal. But this is not God's normal; his shalom plan for their lives and community is beyond their dreams.

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, April 11, 2011

From Fearful Streets to Holy Sweets

These girls are living the conversion that the biblical character Onesimus did, as he learned that he was indeed not useless, as his world was telling him. These young women, victims of unspeakable things in their families and eventually the streets, are now safe, happy and growing confident in Christ in the Onesimo ministry home on Manila. Their healing is well under way. Our students were so moved by the whole model, which includes education, vocational training, counseling, and discipleship.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Signs of God in the Botocan Slum

BGU Student Eva Chow and her colleagues in our Manila course study an incarnational ministry of another BGU student Aaron Smith and his wife Emma in the Botocan slum. The church they lead above their home has doubled in size in the last year, amazingly with mostly men coming to Christ. They are sponsoring educational options for the community as well. This community is seeing the shalom of God established little by little. Our students are seeing their shalom vision grow.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

BGU Students Reach Out in Red Light District

It seems almost fashionable these days to talk about the evils of sexual trafficking. It's another to spend the evening seeking out it's victims, standing in front of massage parlors praying, interceding for teenagers who pass us trying to catch our eye. We accompanied Samaritana, a ministry to women caught in prostitution in Manila founded by Jonathan Nambu, a BGU grad. It is an evening that few will forget, and it is our prayer that it catalyzes similar work in the cutie of our students.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Can God Grow Larger?

Update from Manila: How does one's God grow larger than we have perceived him? By interacting with how he is experienced in a context radically different from our own. When the Filipino experience meets the Korean/America experience, and the Ethiopian leader listens in, and the Indian leader synthesizes what is being said, and the leader from Hong Kong say "here's how that works in my setting." All I can say is WOW!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fair in Fresno to Soaked in Seattle to Manila Meltdown

My temperature capacities are being sorely tested this week. May God be in the extremes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ready to work

My friend Orlando Tapia has graduated from Hope Now for Youth and is ready to work. He is 20, has his driver's license, and a great attitude. He gives attention to detail and is a careful worker. He's a great volunteer too. Got a job lead for him?

Now that's a Kiss

Pucker up baby!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

From Ethiopia to Fresno to Serve & Learn

The world thinks the world of Fresno. Yared, a pastor at a large church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia will join others from around the U.S this week in a class that seeks to activate community development in cities in the name of Christ. Why would an Ethiopian come all the way here? Wake up Fresno. The world is paying attention to what happens here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Vigil for Sunny

Sunny was beaten to death last week in our neighborhood. He was 15 years old. Today we stood on the spot and said that it belongs to the Lord and no one else. And we prayed that we would be agents of God's shalom. We repented of our neglect of youth in the community. And we reaffirmed our vision of a neighborhood of peace. Oh God, let Sunny's death not be in vain.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thar she blows!

Dinner view from Moonstone Beach

Lovely meal at the Sea Chest in San Simeon last night . Now walking together on the Bluff Trail.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Who is this woman I married?

The artist emerges. Who knew that this creative spark was just waiting to flare?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dr. Joyce Aryee, CEO Ghana Chamber of Mines addresses BGU students

Students from 21 nations listen to this amazing woman on God's redemptive purpose for business, and equipping God's people to fulfill their unique purpose on earth.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sodom Songs, Gomorrah Glory

That there is currently a place on earth called Sodom and Gomorrah, and that the residents named it that themselves is amazing enough. But the fact that there is now a fledgling church planted in its midst where the love of God is pronounced and a better life is detailed is beyond beautiful. Residents emerge from shacks and makeshift storefronts, walk down narrow alleys filled with the rubble of cast-off materials now made useful, and pick their way around the labyrinth of a community compressed and over rivulets of human waste to a little room where "What a Mighty God We Serve" is being sung. The Community Restoration Fellowship is in worship of a God big enough to lift this community to a new place. Started by two graduate students a year ago, this fellowship of 55 adults and 44 children from this mega slum of 50,000 has been threatened, moved several times, and struggles to create a sustainable ministry in a complex ministry environment.
As I sat with my students soaking this miracle in, I looked out the door and saw a community that has migrated here to survive, but that is living in the grips of the vice so epitomized by its name. Prostitution and crime are rampant, illiteracy and chaos oppress families, and the grinding rhythms and routines required to stay alive dominate each waking moment. They look in pensively, hearing the music, wondering if the song that is sung about the might and love of God is for them.

But this place is not condemned to the same fate as the first Sodom and Gomorrah. There is a redeemer, and through his people this place of sweat and labor and permanent transition can become new. What will the new name be? "They shall be called, 'The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord' and you shall be called 'Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.'" (Isa 61:12)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Street child to culinary artist

Presbyterian Vocational Training Institute in Accra, Ghana. Could the church do this in Fresno?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It can if ...

Can two weeks in Ghana change the world? It can if students return to their cities in Asia, North America and multiple nations in Africa with a biblical foundation and agenda for transformation in the name of Christ, and a set of models they can contextualize. Pray for us, please!

Sent from my iPhone

Can two weeks in Ghana change the world?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Vision for Fresno

Vision for Fresno

Mayor Ashley Swearengin addressed the No Name Fellowship yesterday, calling this Christ centered civic leadership movement to invest in the upgrade in education of Fresno's 40,000 unemployed. Her message was biblically insightful, passionate, and fill of hope. I am proud to have her as my mayor.

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Colors of God

Our final morning in Vancouver began with a spectacular sunrise. It is a fitting end to a week with many colors.

... They included the happy colors of first birthday candles ...

... They included the warm tones of a dedication to the Lord ...

They included the pure whites of Whistler Mountain, blanketed with a billion diamond points of brilliance ...

... and the liquid version while bobbing in a tiny boat on the Burrard Inlet near English Bay ...

And so we thank God for another year of his technicolor presence with us, and the chance to celebrate it in such a beautiful place filled with the colors of love. De Colores!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Ice chewer on one side
Deal-maker, titan, master-of-his-fate on the other
Public announcements mixed with the jumbled
Chaos of a dozen conversations
Overlaid by the sound of my own questions that will not
Shut up
And you want me to be still and know that you are God
That I am my beloved's
That in quietness and confidence shall be my strength

There is no quiet here, Lord.
Not here.

But there is a corner of my shallow mind
Where the only sound is the far away heart
The only lyric is longing
Where I choose to pay attention to one thing,
The thing,
Where your silence is deafening,
Your presence all that is required.

I go there so seldom
I may not remember the way.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Dirty Little Secrets of Paradise

Yah, Mon; Jamaica was a kick – a kick in the brain, a kick in the heart. What you won't hear in the travel guides: Jamaica has a dirty little secret. I brought to the iconic city of Kingston, leaders who wanted to learn how a city still recovering from a legacy of colonization and slavery and the resulting poverty could take hold of its destiny to be a “blessing to all nations,” as its national pledge promises. The beach was nice. But Jamaica hides dirty little secrets just ten minutes away from the surf. It was there that we saw God at work.

One Love: We prayer-walked the streets of its most feared enclave, Trench Town, through passageways and alleys that just two years ago would have spelled a violent end to us. Those who led us had established a transformational presence through business development, job placement, a vibrant and visible church, regular prayer walks, and collaborative ministry among church and Christian non-profits. One of our students, Sandra Morgan, is at the heart of this effort – The Agency for Inner-City Renewal – and we explored the aspects of that work that could be replicated in cities across the world. Indeed we did learn the power of “One Love” in the neighborhood that produced Bob Marley.

Tears for “The Disappeared.” In another area of the city we stood in front a monument to the tears of children – the hundreds of them who had died violently in Kingston. Some 150 children go missing every month in this city – the equivalent of three school bus loads every 30 days. Some are known to be trafficked for sex or for servitude, though many are caught up in street-life and just disappear. We exposed our leaders to a variety of solutions and a call for the church to be a voice for these voiceless victims in their own cities.

What’s in a Name? Another of our students, Albert West, is leading an effort in Mountain View, an innocuous sounding section of East Kingston whose violence belies its pretty name. In a one-month period just a few years ago 50 people lost their lives to gang/political ruthlessness. Pastor West works with 25 other pastors on a fragile peace there, and an even more fragile coalition. We studied the complexities of this task in honest dialogue and absorbed the anguished passion of our student for transformation. Again, we walked the streets and felt Albert’s grateful amazement that peace had emerged and was holding. We heard of his efforts working with pregnant Moms, unemployed men, health counseling, and providing educational opportunities, all in the name of Christ, with a full contingent of intercessors for the community. We also absorbed his fatigue and his humility.

Half the leaders we were training were Jamaican, but the other half came from the Philippines, Bahamas and the U.S. These are very gifted people, intent on sharpening their vision and skill sets for the transformation of their cities. I wish you could have been with me as we wrestled over models of ministry and fashioned plans for building or re-shaping their current work back home. Seventeen leaders created 51 actionable items for their own cities as a result.

Distressing Disguise: But even as we focused on the systems of the city, on things that bring transformation to whole areas, for me, the images that I cannot get out of my mind are of our visit to Brothers of the Poor. This Mother Teresa-like group is pledged to take in the most physically and mentally deformed of Kingston’s children and adults and treat them with dignity and love. It is a skilled compassion for the most twisted bodies I have ever seen, from infant to adult. Our leaders learned how to see the image, indeed the fingerprints of God, through exterior deformities that threatened to obliterate it it. “Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor,” as Mother Teresa said. None of our group will ever see the most physically vulnerable of their own communities the same, nor let them be forgotten. We witnessed the joy of Christ made real in the care-givers and volunteers. And that is so much the point of our work.

Personal: After South Africa, then Jamaica I came home to trees that had turned to the maroons, yellows, and deep orange of fall – the colors that remake Fresno streets into tranquil rivers, with fire on the banks. It’s good to be home. We get to see our Canadian Grand Daughter, Elizabeth, (and Joe and Heidi too) as we travel to Vancouver for Christmas this year. Jameson and Sarah are ankle deep in teaching and ministry responsibilities, and Jameson has nearly completed his first seminary class. Aside from a short trip to Seattle next month and our visit to Vancouver, there is no more required travel until Ghana in January.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tolerance? Decency vs Expression

Help me out here. Something happened last night that has me thinking about our culture, about the ever changing line of what constitutes decency.

I grew up in the era where a neighbor had the right to spank you or at least wash your mouth out with soap if you uttered a course word. That actually happened in my neighborhood. As kids, it influenced our behavior. I know its hard for some 20 and 30 somethings to believe this -- today you'd be sued -- but it was an era where we actually lived out the belief that it took the whole village to raise a child. There was general consensus about what behavior was appropriate in the community, and what wasn't.

So here's my question: Does our non-judgmental culture require that we just acquiesce to the coarsening of our society -- to it's rudeness, its increasing brazenness, it's shock strategies at getting attention? Do we speak up when personally offended? Or do we just accept this as the way it is, and tolerate it?

This isn't a hypothetical question.

Last night as I was grocery shopping I noticed a young woman who appeared to be about 17 years of age, holding an employment application in her hand talking to a store employee. Her black T-Shirt proclaimed in bright pink letters "I have the pussy, so I make the rules."

Several questions hit me at once, and their likely answers disturbed me to the bone: How could this young girl proclaim something so crude? (Answer: she thinks it's funny, and no one in her world would challenge that.) How could she request an employment application wearing such an offensive shirt? (Answer: because we have come to a point in our culture where she doesn't think it matters.) Have we come to the point where management would even hand an application to someone wearing such a shirt? (Answer: Unfortunately, yes. Apparently they don't think it matters either.)

And my final question, for which I ask your input: Should I have confronted her about how offensive the shirt is? For the sake of holding some line of decency in our culture should I have done the unthinkable -- that is, calmly express my displeasure at her form of expression, and tell management that if they hire someone who thinks that kind of thing is OK, that I won't shop there anymore? (Answer: you tell me)

The fact that we have come to a place in our culture where one can say and do anything with impunity because others will not dare overstep the expectation of "tolerance," means that we are on a slippery road that will take us to a place our parents and grandparents knew would be akin to hell.

I am haunted by the well-used aphorism, "the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for enough good people to do nothing." Well, I did nothing. What would you have done?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cape Town, South Africa - Lausanne 2010

Lausanne 2010. On the one hand I couldn’t help but be impressed: More than 4000 leaders from every region of the world, all converging on Cape Town, South Africa for only the third such “congress” in history. Informed, passionate speakers from those same regions gave their best take on where we are in the task of global evangelism, and where we as a global church need to go. A multitude of seminars and dialogue groups explored in great detail every conceivable aspect of mission in an age of globalization. Some of the conversation generated was profound, and some of us made important connections that may lead to very fruitful collaborations for the kingdom. My role was to help delegates build a sustainable spirituality for ministry in the city. That, and invite leaders to consider doing a doctorate in ministry with my school.

But I have many “on the other hands”. There were many gaps in the program – places where the western strings and power levers were revealed, showing that we have a long way before the whole church is valued and trusted enough to take their rightful place in what purports to be such a global event. Leadership of the event did not give full voice to indigenous Christians. The whole church was not invited to be full participants in the event., with Orthodox, Catholic and Chinese Registered Churches not invited. Not one Native American representative was invited; the few that came got there through a back door institution. There was little public dissent. The script was carefully dictated.

I do praise God for the hundreds of volunteers that made this happen, some investing months and even years to the effort. And I am quite sure that the Holy Spirit inhabited all the good intensions, all the prayers and praises, all the discussions both formal and informal. I trust that there will be both eternal and temporal fruit. But I can’t help but hear the frustration in the voices of my Latin American and Native American friends when they reflected on the opportunity missed, and the feeling of not being honored or trusted with full membership in the process.

The picture presented of a world beset by complex evils of child labor, sexual trafficking, ethnic cleansing, civil war, corporate exploitation, the poisening of the environment, and millions dying without knowledge of the one who died to set them free, is a world far too complex to reach without the whole church. The motto of Lausanne, since the first Lausanne Congress that resulted in the benchmark Lausanne Covenant in 1974, has been “Whole Church, Whole Gospel, Whole World.” John Stott, Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar helped draft it as a result of true and honest conversation. It will not be fulfilled until Whole Church is truly present, as they envisioned.

As I sit in the Cape Town airport, I dread the more than 24 hours it will take to get home. And 12 days later I leave again to teach in Kingston. But I know it was a privilege to be here, and the Lord will carry me on.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

They were there for "such a time as this..."

I felt my eyes fill with tears tonight for two men that you have probably never heard of, but who are heros to me. Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar, both with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Latin America for many years, and beyond that, giants in the Lausanne Movement shared their journey. Lausanne has been used by God for more than three decades to call the church to faithfulness to the whole gospel, for the whole church, in the whole world. Through their low-kuy, faithful, honest, constructive critique and prophetic words and deeds, their contribution to the transformation of the global church is incalculable.

But I doubt you have heard of them. Both are authors and theologians, activists and student ministers -- both have lived sacrificially and simply. Both have brilliant minds, but even here in Cape Town serve humbly with no flash or celebrity.

Knowing full well that you cannot understand how full my heart is toward them, or what it meant to me to see them together on stage tonight singing with a group of fellow Latin Americans -- to see Rene's daughter Ruth Padilla deBorst up there singing her heart out -- it was exactly what I needed. I realized that they lived and are living their lives for an audience of one -- their faithful savior. And they lived and are living their lives in a way that made a contribution to the shalom of others. There is no higher calling.

They were there for such a time as this ... over and over again -- the right men for the right times. I want to live my life like that.

Rene Padila and Samuel Escobar, my brothers and my heroes -- thank you.