Book Review: The Unlikely Missionary

“From the moment I decided to follow Christ, I never wanted to settle for lukewarm Christianity.”

Searching around Amazon.com for something new to read on my Kindle, I came across Dan King’s “The Unlikely Missionary: From Pew-Warmer to Poverty Fighter.” Among other things, Dan is the lead blogger for BibleDude.net and Social Media Editor for TheHighCalling.org. Realizing who he is, seeing the low price for the Kindle edition (currently only 99 cents) and considering the subject matter, it was a no-brainer to decide to get it. That said, once I read it, it wasn’t quite what I expected. Very good, but not what I expected.

Somehow I got the impression from the title and book description that this was the tale of a man who went from a very normal life to move on to found a non-profit to help address the issue of poverty. In actual fact, it’s the story of a man who had an eye-opening and even life-changing experience during what amounted to a short-term mission trip. This should sound familiar to anyone who has been on such a trip or is close to anyone who has. This is precisely why Palmer Chinchen advocates so strongly in his book, True Religion, for people to go on short-term mission trips. It can really be an experience that transforms.

Once you accept this book for what it is, the account of a man who went on a short-term mission trip and came back with a new perspective on life, you can find the value in it.

Dan tells about starting a blog (BibleDude.net) and then blogging the topic of poverty, eventually encountering microfinance and Five Talents International. The latter ministry reached out to him and asked him to blog further on their work, and this began a relationship that led to him joining an expedition to Kenya and Uganda. He went as one of the teachers in their small business training program and also as the team chaplain. Reading about his wide-eyed wonder at being in Africa and seeing his enthusiasm was certainly enjoyable.

Although no new non-profit came out of this (and really, why another one if there’s no need for one?), Dan has continued to do volunteer work. It seems that lately this has focused specifically on Haiti, not a long trip from his home in Florida and certainly the most poverty-stricken place in the Americas.

This is a short book. I read it in a matter of a couple of hours or so. As I mentioned above, it was inexpensive for the Kindle version, and Dan King shares a worthwhile testimony of his experience.

I’ll close with the most accurate modern-day application of Jeremiah 29:11 that I believe I’ve ever seen, taken from “The Unlikely Missionary.”

“Remember Jeremiah? When the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon, he told them the Lord had plans to prosper them, to give them a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Jeremiah was speaking to a generation that would never actually see their release from captivity. It would be seventy years before they saw the full fruit of that promise. Then they would prosper. They would return with hope to their Holy City, and they would rebuild their Temple for future generations.   I need to keep this perspective as I leave Africa. We planted the seeds of hope and a future, and those seeds would grow in time." 

Children Face a Long Wait for Adoption in Brazil

Saying grace before breakfast with the children at Missão Criança..

In 2009 Brazil’s “National Adoption Law” went into effect. Aside from eliminating direct, private adoptions (all must now go through a court process), it has also slowed down the process of adoption for thousands of children. With all the best intentions, this law aims to promote the restoration of children to their biological families before permitting their adoption as a “last resort.” The effect, as I indicated already, as been to drag out the legal process. Biological parents are encouraged to visit their children before finally signing off, and efforts are made by social workers to get the children back with their blood family if at all possible.

The statistics are startling. Of the 39, 383 children currently living in orphanages, only 5,215 are available for adoption. That means that only about 15%, or 1 in 7 children, can be adopted in Brazil. Further, the maximum length of time a child is to await adoption, 2 years, is largely not respected due to the extended legal process to free up the child for adoption.

What can be done? It’s obvious that a change needs to be made to the law, expediting the process without removing the attempt at family reunification. On a grassroots and very practical level, I’d like to say I’m proud of the past efforts of Ministério Social Beija-Flor in Uberlândia, Brazil to help out at a local children’s home. Work was done fixing up the playground, food and other supplies donated and time was spent with the children. Although the kids don’t have a family to go home to at the moment, friendly, familiar faces and attention can make a big difference. I certainly saw this in the children at Glenhope Nursery in Jamaica during a HOPE worldwide mission trip.

This summer I hope to help encourage Ministério Social Beija-Flor to resume work in both the Missão Criança children’s home as well as start something new in the Morumbi neighborhood. There is so much need, and just the little bit we can do to help can really impact lives for the better.


See also, in Portuguese: 

The Adventure Project: Funding Entrepreneurs in Developing Nations

The video below came out today from Mashable, highlighting the work of Becky Straw (who appears in the video below) and Joyce Landers through The Adventure Project in working to fund entrepreneurs in developing nations. It’s a nice interview and sounds like a great project. Microfinance is the “big thing” in global development efforts these days, and I hope that it turns out to be more effective and have more staying power than previous strategies.
http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1If you are interested in learning more about microfinance in general, particularly from a Christian perspective, I highly recommend the book, “The Poor Will Be Glad.” It’s an excellent, full-color primer on microfinance and employment-based solutions to poverty. Click here as well for the book’s official homepage.

Book Review: Kisses from Katie

“Jesus wrecked my life, shattered it to pieces, and put it back together more beautifully.”

Last week I read a glowing review of “Kisses from Katie” in the print edition of The Christian Chronicle and immediately downloaded a copy onto my Kindle. The other reviewer wasn’t mistaken. This is a very worthwhile autobiography to read.

“People often ask if I think my life is dangerous, if I am afraid. I am much more afraid of remaining comfortable.”

Katie Davis was a typical teenager in most respects. She loved going shopping, hanging out with friends and spending time with her boyfriend. Then, when she was 16, she announced that she intended to go serve the poor in a foreign country. Her parents resisted, but during Christmas break of her Senior year in high school, she and her mother went on a 3-week trip to Uganda, where they helped take care of children in an orphanage. She was hooked.

“Jesus called His followers to be a lot of things, but I have yet to find where He warned us to be safe. We are not called to be safe, we are simply promised that when we are in danger, God is right there with us. And there is no better place to be than in His hands.”

It took a great deal of cajoling and convincing, but she eventually talked her parents into letting her take a “gap year” between high school and college to serve in Uganda. As the father of a girl, it seems impossible to me to consider letting my daughter go by herself to a developing nation where she has no family or close friends. It’s so ridiculously risky. She could be raped, murdered, trafficked…we live in a world full of horrors. Somehow, she did it. Stepping not only out of her comfort zone but also taking a big risk, she moved to Uganda. During that year, at 18 or 19 years of age, she even started adopting children.

“Everywhere I looked in the Bible, from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of Revelation, people who believe in God are supposed to share with the poor. Helping the poor is not something God asks His people to do; it is something that, throughout all generations, He instructs us to do.”

What compelled Katie was her passionate faith in Christ. This was one of a few aspects of this story that really confused me. Her faith is strong and she comes across as evangelical, but at one point she mentions giving out communion at her parent’s Catholic church during a return trip to the United States. Having grown up Catholic, I don’t see how a non-practicing Catholic (or one converted to evangelicalism) could be allowed to do that. This either means that parish is particularly lax, or else she truly is a faithful Catholic who works freely with evangelicals. I say this because everything else in the book indicates that the faith-practice she was involved with in Uganda was essentially evangelical in nature.

In any event, her deep faith motivated her to see what so many in the affluent West skim over in their Bible reading: The many, many passages that reveal God’s heart for the poor and oppressed. She not only saw this truth in Scripture, but realized she had to act on it.

“The truth is that if only 8 percent of the Christians would care for one more child, there would not be any statistics left.”

One of Katie’s first efforts in Uganda was to organize a child-sponsorship program. She and her Ugandan friends began working to identify children in extreme and genuine need…and the list grew well beyond their plans and expectations. God provided donors, however, and the program led to the formation of Amazima Ministries, a non-profit that is continually expanding into new forms of outreach.

More than this, Katie herself began taking in children and “adopting” them. I write that in quotation marks because it seemed beyond strange to me that during her gap year, and as a young, single woman, she would be taking in children and forming a family. She now has 13 Towards the end of the book she indicated that under Ugandan law these were foster children, which clarified some of the matter for me. Still, the fact that she was forming a permanent, stable home with a fixed group of foster children during her gap year indicates to me that she never really had any intention of moving back to the United States.

Then again, perhaps she never really thought that far ahead.

“I didn’t realize then, but I strongly believe now that there is a common misconception that whatever happens to us is the will of God. It’s as though we think: Okay, I can do whatever I want and God will either do something or He won’t and that will be His will. It will all work out. It will all happen just like it needs to. I don’t believe this anymore. I believe that God is in control, yes, but I also believe I have a choice: I can follow Him or I can turn my back on Him. I can say yes to Him, or I can say no. I can go to the hard places or I can remain comfortable. And if I remain comfortable, God who loves us unconditionally will continue to love me anyway. I may still see His glory revealed in my life and recognize His blessings, but not like I could have. I can miss the will of God. The rich young ruler certainly did. He didn’t fall dead, as Ananias and Sapphira did; and maybe he went on to live a great life, but it wasn’t the life he could have lived had he said yes to what Jesus was asking of him.”

Of all the beautiful, inspiring things Katie had to say in this book, the section quoted above is my favorite. I’ve long rejected that awful cliché that says “everything happens for a reason.” Try telling that to a child dying of cancer, or her parents. Say that in the face of gross human error that costs hundreds of lives. Announce it to victims of rape. Yes, there’s a cause to every effect, but it isn’t always God behind the scenes making it all happen. He is sovereign, but not a micro-manager to the extent of promoting pain and sorrow.

Deeper in her observation about the will of God is a truth I’ve found in the past several years of my unofficial exile from Brazil. It’s the fact that not everything I do, in the long or short term, is God’s will for my life. I can miss his will through rebellion. I can fall short through sin, either active or passive. If I fail to do the hard thing to which I know I’m called, I can miss the best God has for me. Such is what I believe to be the case for me regarding Brazil, but I’m hopeful that I’m learning my lessons and soon will be restored, more competent than before, to the mission of God in that country.

“Here is the thing: I want big things from God. We want big things from God and then think it’s strange when He asks us to build an ark, or feed five thousand or march around a building for seven days with seven priests blowing trumpets made from rams’ horns. I am asking for big things from God. Big things like a van I can take my whole family to church in and a house with ten showers. Bigger things like 147 million orphaned children in the world to each have a mommy who knows what they like for dinner. So really, I am not surprised at the craziness of my life. Every morning, as I wake up with some impossible task in front of me, I know that God will meet it with impossible strength and love. I serve the God who used Moses, a murderer, to part the Red Sea; a God who let Peter, who would deny Him, walk on water. A God who looks at me, in all my fallen weakness and says, ‘You can do the impossible.’”

Katie shows us all that doing great things doesn’t require a college degree or infinite material resources on hand. It takes the blessing of God and a willing heart.

Although the way this book was organized confused me a bit, with details left out and the story not quite told in order all the way through, it’s a challenging story and one worth reading.

“In the days of Jesus, He expected everything of His disciples. Do I believe He requires the same today? I do. And I want to live like I believe it.”

An Idea TED Wouldn’t Spread

TED Talks are referred to as “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Apparently, TED Talk curator Chris Anderson thought Nick Hanauer’s thoughts shouldn’t get out. He opted not to include the talk among videos available online through TED, and only published it to YouTube after a popular outcry.

While I’m no economist and am not certain about Nick’s take on things, he makes some interesting points about taxing the wealthy and investing in the middle class. Check it out below and let me know in the comments what you think.

Gateway Church of Christ’s 30 Hour Famine – 2012

This past weekend my daughter joined Gateway Church of Christ’s youth group for the 30 Hour Famine. This event, held in support of World Vision’s efforts to feed and care for children in need around the world, involves fasting for 30 hours while also participating in Bible studies and community service activities. Youth raise funds to be sponsored for the famine. I’m proud to say that my daughter received $500 in sponsorship donations, exceeding her goal of $360! The group as a whole raised $2,348.00, beating their goal of $1,800. This total is not yet final, as check and cash donations have yet to be included.

Below are a few pictures from their Saturday of hunger, service and prayer.

For their activity, the team weeded and planted flowers in front of Marlboro town hall.
There were a few Bible studies, focusing on God concern and our call to help the poor.
A “tent city” was set up, simulating life in a developing nation. A “missionary” couple came, speaking only Spanish. My borderline trilingual daughter did her duty as an interpreter.
After camping out and going without food for nearly 30 hours, things got a little weird….
Forks, representing children dying of hunger, were suspended from a cord in the worship area on Sunday morning. Every five minutes a string of forks was cut by one of the teens, symbolizing the deaths within that time. A grim reminder of the harsh reality of our world.

I highly recommend the 30 Hour Famine to churches and youth group leaders. It provides a valuable lesson to kids in the affluent West, and supports a great cause.

Book Review: Growing Up Amish

“It’s a strange but indisputable fact: Even among the Amish, other Amish seem odd." 

Although I read a lot, it isn’t often that I find a book that I have trouble putting down. ”Growing Up Amish“ hooked me from the first few pages, and I found myself thinking about it whenever I wasn’t reading. I ended up reading most of it in a single Saturday.

"Growing Up Amish” is the story of a man, Ira Wagler, who was born and raised Amish, then struggled to find his way out of the group. Having grown up in the vicinity of Mennonites and Amish folks (though not on any first-name basis) I never heard much about their young people leaving. Apparently it isn’t too uncommon, based on what I’ve read and heard lately. This book came to my attention, for example, through an appearance of the author on the NatGeo program “Amish: Out of Order,” a series that focuses on the lives of young people struggling to make it in the “English” world, away from their Amish roots.

“It’s a law of human nature. The young will defy and test the previous generation’s boundaries and push them to the limits. It has always been so and will likely always be.”

Ira’s story begins with his birth and goes through to his ultimate departure from the Amish faith, but it isn’t a straight line or an easy path. It took a few tries and a great deal of heartache before he finally found the means to make a clean break. The greatest challenge seems to have been the deeply entrenched belief that for ex-Amish in particular, there’s no salvation outside the Amish church. There remains only a nagging certainty for those who leave that if an accident should happen while out of the community, an endless hell of torment is all they can expect.

“A mental choice, absent real internal change, is no choice at all. We couldn’t force ourselves to be something we were not. That just couldn’t happen. And it didn’t.”

With this belief in no salvation outside the Amish, Ira agonized over his heartfelt desire to be free. He attempted to find a way to be content within the Amish “box,” but every time ended in depression and departure. It was only an encounter with a convert to the Amish faith who explained the concept of God’s grace to him that finally, and perhaps ironically, set him free from his Amish ties.

“The box of Amish life and culture might provide some protection, but it could never bring salvation." 

Reading Ira’s story of growing up Amish and then leaving, I couldn’t help but think about my own – very different – story. I was raised Roman Catholic, attending Mass every Sunday and "Holy Day of Obligation.” In my teen years I found the resources of that faith insufficient and began searching for better answers. Studying the various world religions and other faiths as best I could in those pre-Internet days, I often prayed for light on my journey. When finally I found my convictions (at that time) in the evangelical faith, I summoned the courage and made the announcement to my parents. My Catholic mother surprised me, as she herself was not surprised at all by my decision. Good mothers know their children, I suppose. What caught me even further off-guard was her complete openness to my decision. She even helped me find the route to the church I would then join. It was a smooth transition. One week I was attending Mass, and the next Sunday I was taking communion at a Presbyterian Church.

The first big difference between my experience leaving Catholicism and Ira’s journey out of the Amish church was the way my parents accepted this choice, and his most certainly did not. The second variance is in how easily I cast off my Catholic faith. The core of my faith remained largely the same, with trinitarianism and the content of Scripture, but the other elements that were distinctly Catholic I was able to divest rather simply. The key difference is that I had made up my mind about my beliefs before I left the Catholic Church, while Ira still tended to believe that the Amish were right, even as he left them multiple times.

“Growing Up Amish” is an addictive book to read, one that you will not want to put down if the sociology and psychology of faith from a very personal perspective are at all of interest to you. It’s less than $8 for the Kindle edition, so pick up a copy and give it a day of reading.

“But God is who he is. Forever. Unchanging. And always there, even when he doesn’t seem to be. This I have learned. And this I know. Ultimately, I rest in that knowledge. And if my readers glean only one thing from my story, I hope that’s it. That God is there, even when he seems far away.”