Monday, January 28, 2008
The picture to the left depicts one of the many sacred moments I experienced in Kenya this past summer. We were at Xcel School in the Kibera slum next to Nairobi. This slum is three miles long and a half mile deep. When I visited it this summer, it was estimated that about one million people live in this small stretch of land. Sadly, this slum has been home to much of the tribal violence going on in Kenya over the past month. In the couple of days my team and I spent at Xcel School, we had several moments where we could feel Heaven crashing into Earth. One of those moments happened right before lunch the first day we were there. The school feeds the kids ugali, rice, and beans every day. For many of the kids, that was the only meal they would have all day. Before they are fed, however, they pray together. Each kid, out loud, and in Swahili. Those prayers, prayers of genuine gratitude, impacted our whole team, even though we had no idea what they were saying. Now these kids are not only praying for thanksgiving, but also for peace. The article below originally ran in Baptist Press.
NAIROBI, Kenya (BP)--A group of children runs up a muddy path, drenched from an unexpected downpour. A 5-year-old boy speeds in front of the pack when he suddenly spies the perfect puddle.
He waits until his older sister and friends are almost parallel with him and then practically "cannon balls" to get the biggest splash. He giggles and dashes inside a small, tin shack of a Baptist church as the 8-year-olds squeal and chase after him.
After three weeks of post-election violence, it's good to hear the sounds of children laughing and playing -– especially in the hard-hit slums of Nairobi.
Inside the church, it's wall-to-wall children -– and a sound even more precious than laughter can be heard –- a child's sweet, innocent prayer.
"Father, our country is in trouble. We pray for peace to come," an 11-year-old boy prays. "Protect us, Father. Teach people to love one another and not to fight anymore."
For the last two weeks, children in this small slum area have gathered to pray for their country. The church's pastor says the children started gathering on their own, so he let them in the church. The daily prayer meeting now attracts more than 200 children ranging in age from 3 to 17.
Ever since the children started praying together, the pastor says there have been no deaths, houses burned or even violence in their section of this slum. Adults recite this fact in amazement. The children, however, don't even mention it because it's exactly what they expected to happen.
"Pastor told us that there is power in prayer. He said we can change the country through prayer," 12-year-old Boniface explains. "So that is what we are doing, changing the country."
The children evidence a depth of understanding of the issues surrounding Kenya's post-election chaos.
The 12-year-old prays for President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to sit at one table and talk peacefully. Votes cast in the election for these two candidates are under contention. The two leaders have yet to talk to each other in an effort to bring the strife in Kenya to a peaceful resolution.
Caroline, 16, shows her concern for the 250,000 internally displaced people around the country. She prays they will be able to go to school somewhere and that they feel safe. UNICEF estimates that more than 40 percent of the displaced are children. Parents put their children on trucks headed to the camps for displaced people but stayed behind to protect their houses and belongings. Many sit in camps, unable to attend schools that just opened in mid-January.
Another young boy prays for the people hurting others who are not from the same tribe, referring to reports of ethnic animosity throughout the country. He asks God to help them all be brothers and sisters and one people.
The pastor smiles and whispers to me, "A few days ago that one asked if I knew what tribe he was. I told him no. He didn't know, either. So he told me, 'I think I belong to the tribe of Kenya.'"
When it's time for the "babies" to pray, a fearless 4-year-old clasps his hands and closes his eyes so tight that his entire face scrunches up. "God, people die," he says in prayer. "Please do not let anyone die in front of my house."
More than 600 people have died since elections Dec. 27. The number increases daily as violence and protests continue.
An adult's concluding prayer simply thanks God for the innocent prayers of children and their faith in His answers.
As soon as the "Amen" is said, the church buzzes with little voices and bottled-up energy spurts out freely. Laughing and holding hands, the children rush into the rain and head home.
Even though it's the dry season and rains are not supposed to come for another month, no one complains about getting wet or muddy. The rain is an answered prayer.
The children had prayed about a three-day countrywide protest called by the opposition party. They had asked God to take control and keep people from dying.
Because of the rains, turnout for the protest was much smaller than expected. While there was still a lot of property damage, it was much less than predicted. Death tolls for the week were the lowest since the incidents started.
"See," 7-year-old Natasha whistles through her missing two front teeth. "God answers prayers."
Sue Sprenkle, an overseas correspondent for the International Mission Board, has been reporting from Africa for 10 years.
May we all learn from these kids to pray for peace, and may we all have a "child-like" faith.
Friday, January 25, 2008
If you did not know, I got engaged about a month and a half ago to the beautiful woman in the picture with me on the left (if you are reading on Facebook, you cannot see this, but she is in my profile picture). I never knew how much planning actually goes into a wedding. Sarah's roommate is a wedding planner, and makes a good living doing it (she is doing our wedding by the way). In the past few weeks, I have learned what runners, calililies, monkey tails, baguettes, and so many other things that I had no idea went into a wedding. It's amazing how much planning actually goes into an event that lasts for six-seven hours, and I'm grateful because Sarah and I will be able to enjoy that day and remember it forever. Imagine though planning a wedding that doesn't last for just seven hours, but seven days! That is how the weddings were in the 1st century Judaism. The couple would have the ceremony under a Chupah, and then walk through the town as people provided the light to walk by lanterns. They would then go and know each other in the biblical sense, and then come back out for the reception which would last for seven days! The couple would be given crowns and robes to wear, and would be treated like royalty for the duration of the celebration. Essential to this party was wine. In the Bible, wine is seen as a blessing from God. God wants us to celebrate, and wine was a symbol of joy and celebration. However, since it was a gift from God, they would not drink to get drunk because that would disrespect God's blessing. To some of you, this seems like your kind of party! It obviously was for Jesus, because in John 2 we find Jesus at one of these wedding celebrations. But something happened. The party ran out of wine. This was a social shame. Not having enough wine to supply your guests would be a family shame for years. So the host of this party was in trouble because he had run out of wine. Jesus' mother found this out, and comes to Jesus for help. And so Jesus, reluctant at first because he knew if he did this sign, the way to the cross would be coming soon, as hour for the book of John is symbolic of the cross. But Jesus saves the day and turns the water into wine. It's interesting what water Jesus uses to turn into the wine. He uses the huge buckets that hold 20 to 30 gallons of water that were used for the purity rituals to keep a good Jew "clean." Clean and unclean was of upmost importance for the 1st century Jew. It became so important that they would send lepers to live in isolation from the community, they would not eat certain kinds of food such as pork, and would only associate with Gentiles if they had to. If they came into contact with any of these "unclean" things, they would go through this washing ceremony before they could worship or even eat. The water would wash away the "unclean" and make one "clean." Jesus, who said it was not on the outside of the person but on the inside of the person is what makes one clean, takes this ritual water and turns it into win. According to Amos 9, wine is going to be a symbol of the new age of salvation and restoration of humans to God. So when Jesus replaces this water with wine, he is saying something more. He is saying the age of salvation and restoration is here, and that Jesus' way is replacing the old way of ritual. The question then for us is what does Jesus need to replace in our lives? For our churches, what does Jesus need to replace there? Does he need to take our judgementalism and replace it with grace? What does Jesus need to replace our old way of doing things, with his way of grace and restoration?
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I grew up hearing about Dr. King, and enjoying the day off dedicated to him growing up. However, I really began to study his life as a sophomore in college. His writings and life was incredible, and I hope we can take up his message of love and continue to repair racism in our country.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Monday, January 07, 2008
This is Leonardo DaVinci's depiction of the Magi coming to visit Jesus. It shows the Magi worshiping Jesus in the middle of chaos. I like it because I think that is the picture that Matthew is trying to paint in his gospel. After all, Herod and all Jerusalem with him were grieved at the Magi's appearance and their request to find the "King of the Jews." Yesterday was the on the Christian calender the day of Epiphany. In the Western church, that is the day that the Wise Men (Magi) are celebrated as to have revealed the Christ child and have had the Christ child revealed to them. I have never been into the church calender much, but after studying a little bit about Epiphany, I really enjoyed this day. Epiphany comes from two Greek words (maybe another reason why I enjoy Ephiphany) epi and phaneo. Both of them together mean to reveal or to show. The story itself is so interesting to me. Here we have these Persian priests who study astrology recognize that a significant world figure is born. During this time there were whispers of a great world leader being born in Judea as the Roman historian Tacitus wrote about this. So they come to the most logical place to find a great leader or ruler born in Judea, Jerusalem, the capital. There they meet"King" Herod. Herod was not really the king, as Rome was in control. He was more of a governor. Herod was so concerned to keep power that he wanted to be just like Rome. He would build these massive buildings, much like the Romans would. He even built a temple dedicated to a Roman god, as well as a huge palace for himself, and renovations to the temple in Jerusalem where the Jews would have worshiped. He wanted to keep power so badly and be like the Romans so badly that he missed Jesus. The Magi also talked to the chief priests. They knew all the answers, and even told the Magi where the Messiah was to be born. But in all their study, and in all their pursuit to be right, they missed Jesus. No, it was these Gentile astronomer priests who found Jesus. They gave him three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts really told the story of Jesus. The gold is what you would give a king. We know that Jesus is the King of kings and came to establish God's kingdom here on earth. Frankincense is an incense that priests used during sacrifices. We know from Hebrews 4, that Jesus is our great high priest. And myrrh is an embalming spice. Jesus of course came not to rule by force, but to rule by death on a cross. Through these gifts they made known the story of Jesus. I guess my question is do we with our lives make known the story of Jesus? It's so easy to be like everybody else and conform to society like Herod did. The pursuit of money and consumerism is so easy to follow. The other extreme that many evangelical Christians fall into is wanting to be right and have all the answers, just like the chief priests. However, we have become so concerned with being right, that sometimes we miss Jesus. Yes, we should study the Bible. But we do not study the Bible to argue with people, especially lost people. We study the Bible to live better, to be more Christlike. Our lives should tell the story of Jesus. We are now the epiphany to which Jesus can be revealed to those who need him on earth.