Monday, November 26, 2012


Contemporary Christian jargon is always in a perpetual state of change.   Have you noticed Christian book stores every few months have new leading titles?   Have you noticed the books compete for the most contemporary looking covers?    Have you noticed the coining of new words?    

                Missional is one of those words.   My computer spell check says “missional” is not a word.   When I Google “missional definition” I get abundant hits from hip looking bloggers, but not a single hit from a dictionary web site.   I know language is always changing.   

                However, I propose the best books to read are the old classics.   Read your bible first.  Pick up a history book second.    Seek old memoirs and biographies.   For a little more refining call a friend.

                My family is new to Chicago.   We’re still missionaries.   Our calling is unique (as are all calls.).   Adjustment is overwhelming.  Yet, old paths call us home.    After all, everything we needed to know about Chicago I learned from old Africans (and missionaries.)   I bet you also know these old truths.


Dr. Glenn Pemberton, friend and colleague
                Being called is not complicated.   If we are believer in the Resurrection of Jesus we will be specifically called.   It is not about finding the place in life where our skill set meets our desires.   It is not about us as individuals.   It is just a repeat of old stories.      My friend, Glen Pemberton taught us this.   (For further reading see Glen’s book, When God Calls: Will You Trust Me Now?)

                God prepares us through trials.   The trials shape our character.    God gives us spiritual gifts.    Those gifts empower us to do what our skill sets would never attempt.    

                Then history happens.   A community is in crisis.   God taps us on the shoulder.   We see the crisis.   We’d rather not respond.   We’re confident God can find another more prepared to answer the call.   Instead, He keeps putting the community crisis before us.    Finally, we relinquish.   We give up all that is comfortable.   We go.  We serve.  We bless.   We are blessed.

                God did that as He called us to Uganda.   The Churches of Christ and Christian Church missionaries had not had a long term presence in Uganda for 21 years.   Someone needed to make a beach landing.   He used us.

                God did that as He called us to Rwanda.   There was a need for an English speaking church with good youth and children’s program.    There were others needs beyond that for an International School and building educational systems.    He used us.  

                God is now doing that in Chicago.   There is a need to serve the Diaspora from Africa’s Great Lakes.   We would have rather stayed in Rwanda.   Yet, we answered.   The journey is beginning.   Without assurance of that call we would wallow in self-pity.   Instead, we rise early each morning to begin.  This is God’s call.  


Founders (including Peter Scott) Africa Inland Mission
                In 1895, Peter Cameron Scott with a few friends established the Africa Inland Mission (AIM).    Their vision was a non-denominational missionary sending organization that would build mission stations from the Indian Ocean to Lake Chad.  It was a brilliant vision.    Scott tragically died from black water fever about one year into the labor.

                His successor, Charles Hurlburt refined the vision.   The mission stations would be at high land elevations.   Thus in high elevation malaria could be partially avoided.   The missionaries would stay healthy.   From points of health the missionaries would preach and serve.   The gospel would go forth.   The vision succeeded.

Charles Hurlburt and Teddy Roosevelt
                Next, Hurlburt knew missionary families were not sustainable without a good schooling option for their kids.    He led AIM to establish the Rift Valley Academy so that missionary children would have the best possible options for their education.   His two choices of establishing stations that prioritized health and of building a missionary children school gave AIM 100 years of fruitful service.

                We made a similar choice in Rwanda.   We based in Kigali where security was fabulous.   We established Kigali International Community School so our kids could thrive.   Only a few years have passed, but the fruit of following past wisdom is abundant.

                Now we are doing the same in Chicago.     We live in a 4 bed room furnished home at a low cost rent that was established for missionaries on extended furloughs.     We are very thankful for the wisdom of the Missionary Furlough Home Foundation that many years ago created this option.

                Our kids are enrolled at 5 different schools (Wheaton College, College of DuPage, Wheaton North High School, Franklin Middle School, and Lowell Elementary School.)   They are all great schools.   Our kids are all thriving.   Yet, to get established in 5 new schools with us having no local roots was a full time job for months.    (For more reading about settling our kids check out    Old African missionaries taught us this lesson – family first.   We are very thankful for their counsel.


Dr. Silas Lwakabamba
                When we first reached Rwanda I owed Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) an apology.    I had first met their leadership and vision in 1999.   They were in an old military barracks dreaming about building one of Africa’s leading technology universities.   I smiled, but thought, “No way.”    By 2005 KIST had turned dilapidated barracks into a functioning university.   It was amazing.     My apologies led to teaching Ethics and a conversation with KIST’s Rector, Dr. Silas Lwakabamba.   He spoke one enduring piece of advice, “Make many friends.”

                We followed the advice.    We made many friends.   With many counselors success in Rwanda was assured (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 24:6).   

                After all of our office bouncing what are we doing in Chicago?

                We are making as many friends as possible.   

 What is your name?   Where are you from?   Tell me a little about yourself.   If the conversation goes a little deeper, we ask, “What can we pray about?”   We must listen to men to discern the voice of God.   It is not complicated, but it seems in a world where neighbors don’t know one another it is out of the ordinary.   It also seems Chicago is hungry for this old African virtue.


26 Year Missionary to Uganda, Harry Garvin
                Contemporary American evangelical banter states that “everyone is a missionary.” Nonsense.  I hear my old seminary professors tie missionary work to church planting.   As I reached Uganda, I met a wise elder missionary statesman named Harry Garvin.   He could be a colorful character.   His wisdom was rough, but it was dead on.    Harry added to my definition of missionary the phrase, “church development.”    I observed it in action.   Harry left over 200 local congregations when his tenure in Uganda ended.    He was a master at the whole process of moving past a missionary leading a single church plant to nurturing a movement of multiplying churches.   Missionaries are about church development.

                New missionaries fresh from seminary sometimes are not skilled at developing churches.   Instead, they are skilled at criticizing churches and their laborers.     The answer to repenting of a critical church spirit is in old paths.   First, no one with manners has the gall to criticize a bride at a wedding.   Neither should anyone with manners speak of a local church in a way that strips her beauty.    The path of discovering her beauty is old.    Engage.

                One of my first Uganda mistakes was not being a part of a local church when our family was in our early prep years (1993-1996).   It had horrible consequences.    Old missionaries call unengaged church critics, “unchurched missionaries,” and then with an open bible point out the abundant holes in any believer who is unchurched.   (Our ROC board chairman, John Osborne also has well pointed out the fallacy of unchurched missionaries.)

Historic Quail Springs Elder, Tom Gooch; and ROC Chair John Osborne
                We did not make that mistake again.    When we were Oklahoma Christian University’s Visiting Missionary in 2004-2005 we could have church hopped for months.   Instead, we settled at the first church where Ruth could dance, the Quail Springs Church of Christ.   When we first moved to Rwanda we could have taken the role of church critic as we waited for our documentation.   Instead, we put down roots at New Life Bible Church.  In both situations God abundantly blessed our church roots.   We made enduring friends who wisely nurtured our lives and dreams.

                We’ve done the same in Chicago.   After a little visiting we put down roots at Willow Creek Community Church’s DuPage campus.    After all, it was our son, Timothy’s favorite.   At Willow DuPage Timothy can run in Bible class.  With such blessings everything else is gravy.  The worship lifts our spirits.   After I’ve preached almost every Sunday for 15 years it is good to sit still and listen to great teaching.    I’m volunteering to help with the Sunday kids program.   We’re in a small group.    Old African missionaries taught us that by engaging local churches we will be nurtured.   In the process He’ll use us missionary types to find new possibilities.   

                As we get a little more settled we are meeting as many leaders from various churches as possible.   Dave’s having breakfast with ministers from Churches of Christ once per month.   This month he’s their speaker.    We’ve met church planters in Chicago from the Christian Church and look forward to their growing friendships.    We’re going to dinners and meetings with pastors of immigrant and ethnic churches.   On occasion, Dave offers a hand and preaches in some of these various congregations.


Dave receiving departure gifts from our Gaculiro Umuganda
                Old missionaries insisted on “bonding” to learn culture.   It was pretty simple.   Make a friend.   Visit him in his family’s village home.   Then stay a few days.    Get up when the family gets up.   Labor in community.   Sit and visit with your peers.    In the process you learn.   Also, you “bond” with the culture.    

                I’ve been amazed at how much I was shaped by a visit to my Abilene Christian University fellow student, Charles Guma’s home village when we first moved to Uganda.  

                The first morning began with taking brooms and sweeping the family compound.   Even in what seemed like a poor home one could sweep the dust and pick up the trash.   

 I saw firsthand how devastating and undiscriminating is AIDS as a killer of Uganda’s children and youth.    I learned a little of the culture of western Uganda.   Maybe, the most enduring part of that village visit was meeting my first rural Banyarwanda refugees, and seeing their hopes nurtured.   (For more reading on those early days in Uganda shaping our future Rwanda journey see

                One of Guma’s most enduring pieces of advice was to meet our Resistance Committee (RC) Chairman.   The early years of Uganda’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) nurtured effective grassroots leadership.     We were very fortunate to have David Muwonge as our RC Chairman.   He was like a father to us.   We always made it a point to go to community meetings, contribute financially, and when needed labor in community.   The wisdom and relationship bank gained from engaging our RC was astounding.

Rose Apolinary, Marguerite Nyagahura, and Jana
                We grew up in Uganda.   In Rwanda the wisdom Uganda taught us bloomed.    Again, old African wisdom told us to be a good neighbor.    Jana met Marguerite Nyagahura in the hair salon.   Marguerite was a recent Diaspora returnee.   She had grown up in Uganda before a journey to Sweden.   As we shared stories we had almost met many times.   Now was the season for God to nurture our friendship.

                Marguerite came from a family deeply influenced by the East African Revival.   Her journey in Diaspora living had been one of bumping against glass ceilings.  This nurtured character that caused others to rally with her in community.    She became the Chairman of our Umudugudu (Cell / Rwanda’s equivalent of Uganda’s RC 1 or maybe a USA Community Association.)    The last Saturday of each month we all met for Umuganda (Community Work.)     We cut grass, trimmed trees, cleaned out ditches, and picked up trash.   When the labor was done we sat and discussed how to bless our community.    Recently, Marguerite was appointed one of Rwanda’s newest Senators. 

  We’re thankful for the advice of Charles Guma and David Muwonge.    They reminded us of old words spoken in God’s word, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 23:39; Mark 12:31-33; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.)”

                In Chicago we practice old African virtues of being good neighbors.   When in July 2012 a wind storm knocked down trees we picked up the limbs.   When we had no power we spent the night around a fire with our neighbors.    We cut our grass.   We rake our leaves.   We pick up our trash.    We don’t visit as much with our Chicago neighbors as in Africa, but if they have a problem we will help.


Missionary mentor, Wendell Broom
                At Abilene Christian University I met Wendell Broom.   He wore colorful African shirts and a beard.   His stories and dreams made the hair stand up on the back of my neck with inspiration.    He always seemed to be gazing at a map in a prayerful vision.     He once said, “Don’t see the world through the eyes of a duck looking just for a pond to land.   See the world through the eyes of an eagle.   Ride the upper currents.   See the master plan.”

                I saw Wendell a few months ago.   Age is catching him.   Yet, old habits become character.   Maps are hanging on the wall.   He’s praying.   He is seeing new visions.   I want to be like Wendell when I grow up.

                I’ve got about 6 inches of Chicago maps I’m repeatedly looking over.   God is moving in Chicago.   I’ve got big orderly maps.   I’ve got all the Google maps I’ve printed as I’ve driven or ridden trains to new places.   

                I’ve started making notes.   I’m looking for clusters.   Where can I find Diaspora?   What neighborhoods are they in?   What universities do they attend or lecture at?     Are there churches nearby the Diaspora clusters to connect?    What are the easiest means of transportation?    How does communication naturally flow through street gossip?    

                I’m seeing patterns.   I’m saying prayers.    In a short time we’ll act.    God moves in strategic ways.   His people need to discern His movements.    Old African missionaries taught me maps, maps, and more maps.   (Maybe, even the maps in the back of our Bibles are in a certain way "revelation"?)


Amagezi ga Bazungu (Kiganda - Wisdom of Confused People)
                A few don’t know this African missionary truth – Those of us that endure laugh a lot.  We laugh at ourselves.   We laugh with our family.   We laugh with our friends.   We laugh at our adaptation.   Some think we missionary types are far too serious.   That’s not true.   We welcome you into our homes.   We love it when you listen.   We love it when you share our journey.

                Jana grew up with a missionary community who laughed continually – the Kenya Church of Christ missionaries of the 1960’s – 1980’s.    Dave first met this wonderful community in 1989 in Eldora and Kitale, Kenya.   Their humor nurtured and healed our at times overwhelming adaptation in Uganda.    When we moved to Rwanda we found the evangelical missionary community to be the most delightful one we had ever experienced.    We took a yearly retreat at Kumbya together (For more reading on the Kumbya retreat see 

                Some of our shared jokes are TIA – This is Africa, or AWA – Africa Wins Again.    The wonderful thing about humor is it can adapt to new and at times overwhelming circumstances.   TIA – This is America.   AWA – America Wins Again.

                For instance, we’ve spent most of our lives avoiding riots in markets.   Why would we consider shopping on Black Friday?   TIA – This is America.

                Or to quickly start a charcoal fire one blows air upon the coals.    Leave blowers in America make the process much more efficient.   AWA – America Wins Again.


Jesus raises Jairus' daughter from the dead
                Old Africans and missionaries did this so frequently it became second nature.   When confronted by what we could never understand we felt another’s pain (compassion), and we quickly prayed.   Compassion and prayer are the first steps.   It is simple.  It is immediate.   It is the path our Lord.

          His story tells us, “Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” (Matthew 9:35-38, The Message.)”

                I’ve done lots of long runs on the Illinois Prairie Paths.    On those runs I’ve prayed.

                I’ve processed great loss and thanked God (

                I’ve prayed the Lord’s Prayer (

                I’ve prayed for our own and our neighbor’s kids (

                I’ve prayed for our “people group”, Diaspora of Africa’s Great Lakes (

                Now the season is beginning of gathering the core small group of leaders whom the Lord has placed compassion for in our hearts.



                In Rwanda we learned an important lesson.   Compassion can easily be substituted for the fake.    International Non-Government Organizations are masters at this substitution.    Their marketing scheme thrives with photos of pathetic African children.   Compassion is feeling the pain of another and doing all one can to alleviate that pain.   Compassion is loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self.   Arrogant pity is not compassion.   An old missionary, Inell Slater called this false substitution, “vicarious grief.”   Seeing a photo on the television or internet, Facebook liking it, and retweeting is not compassion.   Compassion requires both human to human contact and thoughtful action.

Rwanda President, Paul Kagame; and KICS Chairman, Bryan Hixson
                I twice have met Rwanda’s President Kagame.   On the second meeting I asked what a church planting missionary like me could to do for Rwanda.  He quickly responded, “Teach people about dignity.”    I hope the years God gave us in Rwanda were ones where we taught and lived the dignity of humanity.

                After all, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).    Our human dignity is not negotiable.

                When we meet new friends in Chicago we meet their full human dignity.    When we discover their struggle we do all we can to restore the dignity of God’s intent in their lives.    We never market their struggle to make ourselves look like heroes.   God is our hero.

                After all, He gave us 19 years in Africa’s Great Lakes.   In that time He gave us abundant friends and advisers.   Everything we needed to know about Chicago we learned from old Africans (and missionaries.)

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