In Spite of Everything…

I spent 2008 interning for a Christian ministry in South Africa. Going to Africa had been my dream my entire life. To finally get out there and live it and see it was incredible. My ministry, Thrive Africa, was young and small compared to most, but it was vibrant and strong in the vision and work it was doing. In many ways the positive strength that exuded from Thrive became personified for me in one man, the co-founder. He had founded the ministry with his eventual wife 10 years previously. He was a big, smart, white South African. If God hadn’t got to him he probably could have played rugby or at least been a strong farmer like so many Afrikaans people are. He was without a doubt, a born leader.

To be honest it took me a few months to warm up to him. I was a small, shy American; he was the leader of an entire ministry. I worried I might say something wrong or stupid to him. I was afraid to engage him in casual conversation. A trip to Botswana a few months into our year however brought us together in fairly close quarters. I finally got to the point where I didn’t feel nervous around him. I could ask him questions, make jokes. I felt like on some level I connected with him better than almost anyone else on our missions base. Because of all this I began to soak in every word I could from him.

There were a lot of words. He taught us a class on leadership every week. He almost always preached at the church we had each week. He led a Bible study for the men on base during the winter months. I listened, I pondered, and I retained everything I could. At the time, he was in many ways the ideal Christian leader in my mind. Strong, but humble. Logical, but in touch with the spirit. Blunt, but caring. I still today quote things regularly that he told me. I even picked up one of his phrases he always said and now say it myself.

I returned home at the end of my year full of joy with all that had happened. However a few days later I got an email. The leader I had nearly idolized during the year had been cheating on his wife with one of the missionary staff. His wife had finally gotten him to admit to it. A few months later it was revealed that in spite of his wife’s wiliness to reconcile, to seek therapy, to make it work, he was pursuing a divorce. Everything was now up in the air.

Thrive, in the last couple years, has done an unbelievable job trying to move on and continue with their ministry. However their efforts were not enough to keep Thrive on sound enough financial footing. Today it was publicly announced on their website that Thrive is closing. I cannot tell you how shocked and dismayed I am by all of this.

I had the incredible opportunity to return to Thrive this past summer to see the ministry in action once more. I went out to dinner with the then director and some missionary staff who were nice enough to answer any questions I had about the situation of the ministry. Unsurprisingly, HE came up. And the director said something which unexpectedly stuck with me.

“His actions do not undo the truth of the things he told you.”

This entry is not being written to cast blame. It is meant to show that in spite of everything, God is good. Thrive was an active, flourishing ministry for 13 years. It impacted the lives of thousands of South Africans and North Americans who served under them, including myself. Even now a new ministry is being formed to continue much of the vital work that Thrive has done. Today is without a doubt a sad day, a day I will join in with many in mourning the end of a fantastic ministry. However life, work, and ministry continue unabated all over the world and the actions of no one can hope to stem the flow of the love of Christ on this lost and hurting world.

I finish this entry with a Bible verse that sums up things better than I could ever hope to.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.—Romans 8:38-39

 

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Home is nice too….

I have spent two of the past 3+ years living on different continents from my own. I have lived under a thatch roof in a former game reserve in South Africa. I have lived in a communist-era style flat in the Czech Republic. I have learned about different cultures and (however clumsily) embraced them. I wouldn’t trade the experiences I have had or the people I have met in those places for anything in the world.

One downside to my travels is I have missed out on the fall season the last two years here in New England. Fall in New England is my favorite season and place in the world. It gets colder but not too cold. The leaves are beautiful. Cross Country, my sport, is in full swing. Returning to America this summer I knew I had a job lined up coaching cross country. I was excited for all the expected reasons. The past couple months I have been able to live, breath, and experience the sport that I have missed for 3 years.

It all culminated this past weekend on an absolutely stunning mid-60s, mid-November day. My team had its last race, a regional championship against private schools from all over New England. My school had the privilege of hosting. Three large races were part of the race program. I could only take a small piece of the credit because I wasn’t the meet director but things went off without a hitch. People were giving me rave reviews about how well everything went.

After the day had ended I was exhausted from running around and yelling all day. It took me a good two days to recover. But it was a fantastic day and a fantastic way to end the season. South Africa was beautiful and incredible. The Czech Republic was fascinating and awesome. But there can be no doubt, sometimes Home is nice too.

Defending Church

It is easy to knock church these days. Organized religion is being seen less and less as a positive thing. At best it is seen as a boring, unimportant, harmless chore for unusually dedicated folk to do to feel better about themselves. At worst it is a unsafe incubator of hate, distrust, scandal and secrets, more worthy of being protested against than a beacon of light to society.

As I sat in my church today I realized how unfair both these extreme views are. I was also reminded how important church is for the Christian who seeks to have a vibrant, growing spiritual life not only with God but the others in their community. Yes, church is easily lampooned but that doesn’t make it any less powerful and important when it is done right.

For me church keeps me focused on the important things in life. It engages me. It reinforces beliefs that I hold. It encourages me. It reminds how I am supposed to (and want to) live. It allows me to see, meet and enjoy the company of other believers. It gives me a place to refresh and renew myself. It gives me a safe place to emotionally open myself up to a God I rarely am open to. Church does so much I am convinced that no Christian should go without it on a regular basis.

I have had a very positive experience with Church my whole life. I realize many others haven’t. Their churches and leaders have not been what they should have been. Instead of love and truth, people have experienced distrust and judgement. Some have even faced serious abuse in church. Others have simply been bored to tears waking up earlier than desired on Sunday mornings. All of these failings are tragic. However, none of this means that all churches are wrong or unnecessary.

If you are a Christian who has never found the right Church I encourage you to start looking again. If you aren’t a Christian and think going to a church would be crazy, I encourage you to give it a try. If you live in the Boston area I’ll  pick you up and drive you. It’s easy to dismiss and disregard church. Finding a good one can be difficult. But for my money there is nothing better for my faith than a building full of dedicated, worshipful people seeking out God’s will for themselves in this world.