Monday, March 22, 2010

Africa memories

Our plane touched down at PDX on Saturday, February 6. April is coming fast. I am settled back into my "home" and "work" routine. I do not wake up at 2:45am - wide awake - anymore. My jet lag is long gone. Any facial sun tan I brought back with me has faded. The sights, smells, and sounds of Sierra Leone and Guinea slip farther back into my memory bank. What memories now rise to the surface?

Life is hard for the majority of people in West Africa. Heat and humidity. Poverty and unemployment. Sickness and disease. The lack of clean water and consistent electricity. All are a daily reality. This is not to mention the struggle to find enough food to eat every day when you don't have a job or the job you do have pays you very little. People by the thousands live day-to-day, hand-to-mouth. And yet they march on, day after day in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. They find a way to exist and live. And many of them discover a way to live joyfully while surrounded by daunting circumstances. To put it mildly, West Africans are a resilient people. I am humbled by their perseverance.

My Africa team is the best (shown in the photo with the 5 Susu men we spent 2 1/2 days with on retreat in Guinea). We spent almost two weeks together under some challenging circumstances - jet lag and adjusting to a new culture, place, people, and food. And all of this without argument, conflict, or differences. Call that a miracle! We enjoyed being together. We helped each other when assistance or encouragement were needed. We laughed together more than I have laughed in years! We got to the place where we could begin to finish each other's sentences. We endured each other's jokes. We looked beyond our respective quirks. We found acceptance in our brokenness and weaknesses. We were truly a team.

We spent the majority of our time in West Africa at the "Sesay Cafe by the Sea." The home of Sam and Josephine Sesay in Lungi, Sierra Leone. They not only took us into their home; they ushered us into their hearts. They treated us like family. We felt like family. We shared space, time, food, conversation, laughter, and prayer together. The rhythm of African life worked its way into our daily existence. It wasn't so much white skin touching black skin as it was people from two vastly different continents and cultures touching each other at a below-the-surface level. The Sesay's are an incredible family. We are the better, I am the better, for having rubbed shoulders and hearts with them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Footprints on our hearts

I recently read a new book on leadership entitled Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft published by Crossway Books. Kraft writes about sitting with one of his daughters in the office of her high school counselor. They were discussing an issue concerning his daughter. On the wall behind the counselor was a collage that stole his attention. There were dozens of pictures of the counselor's students at football games, school outings, proms, etc. Right in the middle of it all was a quote -

Some people come into our lives and quietly go. Others stay awhile, and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.

Kraft lost track of the conversation and lost track of time. He was mesmerized by the quote. He prayed under his breath, "Lord, make me a person who leaves footprints in people's lives. I don't want to be a person who comes and goes with no lasting impact. May I be a person who intentionally and lastingly influences others."

At short time before this experience Kraft had been asked by his supervisor in Stockholm, Sweden, "So, if you could do anything, what would you want to do?" Kraft could not give him an answer. He was thirty-eight years old and had served on the staff of The Navigators for ten years. He was experiencing a lack of motivation, uncertainty, and no clear joy or direction in his ministry assignment in Sweden.

This led to Kraft getting away for a few days to pray, fast, and think things through. He hid away for three days to wrestle in prayer. He took a Bible, a legal pad, a couple of books, and most importantly, a strong sense of determine not to come back until he had some sense of direction.

He developed a list of things he should be doing that truly expressed who God had made him to be. Eventually he and his family left Sweden and returned to the United States. Over time a strong sense of purpose began to emerge. The crowning moment occurred when he read the quote mentioned above on his old high school campus.

Kraft is now seventy years old. A short time after visiting the office of his daughter's counselor he wrote down his life purpose statement -

To leave footprints in the hearts of God-hungry leaders who multiply.

Kraft discovered his life purpose - "I was designed to be in the leadership development business. I mentor, coach, and invest in the next generation of leaders. That is my purpose, my unique contribution to the body of Christ and the kingdom of God. I want to leave footprints in the lives of people - not just any person, but leaders and influencers who are hungry for God."

Hm mm. What is my life purpose statement? What is yours?

Kraft suggests a few steps to help us along the road to identifying our purpose -
  1. Record Bible passages God has applied to your life.
  2. Reflect on how God has used you in the past.
  3. Determine what you are passionate about.
  4. List your known gifts and strengths.
  5. Delineate what you have excelled at in your work experience.
  6. Define what action words best describe what you like to do.
  7. Write down what you enjoy doing in your free time.
  8. Reread all your answers.
  9. Take notes of common themes.
  10. Write down key words or ideas that repeat.
  11. Summarize those key words in a short, energizing statement about yourself.
May God graciously lead us down the road of living our lives with powerful purpose!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Faith as its meant to be

Charles Malik served as the Lebanese Ambassador to the United States and President of the United Nations General Assembly in the 1950s. On September 13, 1980 he gave an address called "The Two Tasks" at the opening of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. The following quote reflects the personal and public scope of his Christian commitment - "I speak to you as a Christian. Jesus Christ is my Lord and God and Savior and Song day and night. I can live without food, without drink, without sleep, without air, but I cannot live without Jesus. Without him I would have perished long ago. Without him and his church reconciling men to God, the world would have perished long ago. I live in and on the Bible for long hours every day. The Bible is the source of every good thought and impulse I have. In the Bible, God himself, the Creator of everything from nothing, speaks to me and to the world directly, about himself, about ourselves, and about his will for the course of events and for the consummation of history. And believe me, not a day passes without my crying from the bottom of my heart, 'Come, Lord Jesus.'"

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mary Karr on Prayer

Mary Karr is the author of the bestselling 1995 memoir The Liars' Club, its sequel Cherry, and the recently published third installment Lit. She is also an award-winning poet. Lit covers the period of her alcoholism and move to sobriety, her failed marriage, and her conversion to Christ via her entrance into the Roman Catholic Church.

In an interview with Jon Sweeney in the pages of Books and Culture (March/April 2010, p. 15), Karr made this comment about prayer - "I pray not from being particularly devoted or righteous, but because I'm particularly desperate." It seems to me that desperation is at the heart of some of my (our) most passionate and deepest prayers. I do pray out of devotion, my love for our Triune God of grace. I do pray out of being righteous, that sense of trying to do what pious people do. My prayers of devotion are truly inward and meaningful but not always enduring. My prayers of righteousness are often short, mechanical, and of a surface nature. But my prayers of desperation come from deep within my soul, can be blood-stained, and cry out for God's intervention and mercy.

Paul Miller in his book A Praying Life makes the point that our best prayers come from a realization that God is both infinitely powerful and infinitely caring. I pray because God can accomplish what I can't. I pray because God truly cares about me even if I feel I'm simply a speck of dust in his vast, immeasurable universe.

An infinitely powerful and caring God understands our desperation and desires to turn it into devotion. How so? We cry out in desperation. God hears and answers. Our gratitude gives birth to devotion. But what about when God does not hear and answer our desperate cries as we wish? Devotion can still bloom if we grapple with the fact that our infinitely good God knows what is best for us and, because of this, sometimes denies us what we so urgently desire. Unanswered prayer is answered prayer.