Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The world comes to our doorstep

(By Erik)

All the reports I'm hearing about this year's World Mission Workshop indicate that it was a big success. It was my first experience serving on the steering committee for an event of this magnitude, so I'm absolutely thrilled. The real stars of the event, in my opinion, were the dedicated, mission-minded students who attended.

I don't have the final count on number of attendees, but we had close to 1,000 (including Oklahoma Christian students and other local guests) at the event. We also had several visitors from overseas.

Allen Thompson, left, gathers with students who have committed to work in Africa. Allen is a native of Ethiopia.

Bob Carpenter, a missions professor at Oklahoma Christian, was the main coordinator for the event. He did an amazing job. To his right is Peter Cariaga, who served as emcee for the keynote sessions.

G'day! How about this for an Australian-themed photo? Frank Cunningham is a minister in a suburb of Sydney. He was in town speaking at the workshop and visiting with Kent and Nancy Hartman, former missionaries to downunder.

Look at this session! Mark Hooper, a longtime missionary to India, talked about Muslim evangelism and had a huge turnout. The most incredible thing about this photo is that it was taken at 2 p.m. on a Saturday — with beautiful weather outside. The students costantly amazed me by showing interest in all of the sessions and classes.

We hosted a special Sudan interest group lunch during the workshop. Here's Ken Grimm and his wife, Gracie, at the lunch. The Grimms have been active in mission work among Darfur refugees living in the Nuba mountains in Sudan. A good number of students attended the lunch and stayed after to talk to the Grimms.

At the workshop, we also hosted a special screening of "God Grew Tired of Us," a National Geographic documentary about refugees from the war in Sudan (often called "Lost Boys") and the adjustments they had to make when they were resettled in the United States. The film was absolutely amazing. We had a packed house, and there were plenty of laughs and tears throughout. What really made the experience great is that we had John Gak (center) with us. He's a native of Sudan who has helped the Lost Boys for many years through an organization he started — Brothers Organization for Relief (BOR). It shares it's name with Bor county in Sudan, wher John Gak grew up. With him are Calvin Bailey, a member of the Swope Parkway Church of Christ in Kansas City, Mo., which supports BOR, and Lloyd Deal, a member at Memorial Road who has worked in Africa and knows John Gak.

Samuel Twumasi, minister for the Nsawam Road Church of Christ in Accra, Ghana, spoke during the workshop. It's hard to tell in this photo, but the conservatory where he spoke was packed. Students were lining the wall in the back.

Here's Sam praying with a student as the final keynote session concludes.

Here's me and Sam at the Memorial Road church. (You'll notice I'm celebrating Georgia's victory over Florida.)

In case you haven't seen it yet, here's Oklahoma Christian's new pavilion and clock tower.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Half-hearted attempt at a post ...

(By Erik)

It was a very good weekend.

I’m not just saying that because the Georgia Bulldogs beat the Florida Gators — although that certainly didn’t hurt.

This past weekend Oklahoma Christian University hosted the World Mission Workshop, an annual missions conference that bounces from campus to campus of the Christian universities. I was on the steering committee, and we’ve been working on the details since last year.

Several of the speakers at this year’s conference were people I’ve met since I started working at The Christian Chronicle.

OK, I had a lot more to say on this, but I’m really tired. I’ll post some photos later.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Suffering for doing good

(By Erik)

I’ve been meaning to post some photos from my trip to Ghana back in August. This Sunday I’m teaching the college class at Memorial Road, and I’m including some photos with the slides. So I thought I would snip out a few excerpts and post them with some photos here. Enjoy.

Do you believe that there is such a thing as “good suffering?” How many of you have been on a mission trip? I believe anyone who’s done any sort of mission work can relate to the concept of “good suffering.” Whether it’s waiting in an airport terminal for a flight that’s had to be rerouted 14 times, or riding 14 hours in a bus to reach the people you’re going to help, mission trips and suffering just seem to go together.

And of course, the suffering you witness almost always is greater than the suffering you endure.

You’re looking at a few pictures from the trip I took to Ghana back in August. I visited a brand new Christian school out in extreme western Ghana. A guy named Augustine, who was working on his master’s degree at Lipscomb when I was there doing my undergraduate degree, is from this village and he returned home last year to set up this school — to give kids in his village the chance for Christian education that he didn’t have.

When I took photos of the kids in the village, called Sefwi-Debiso, I’d turn the camera around and let them see the image in the camera’s preview pane. They went nuts, screaming and laughing. They don’t get many visitors from the United States, so they followed us around, yelling “Bruni! Bruni.” (That means “white person” in the local language, Twi.)

We also went by The Village of Hope on our way back to the capital, Accra. They get a lot more visitors there. I took this kid’s picture, showed him the preview, and he just kind of nodded, almost as if to say, “Yeah, that’s great. What is that, six megapixels? Yeah, you know Canon’s new model has a much faster shutter speed.”

I don’t usually get in the photos myself, but this kid’s name was Eric, so I handed off the camera, handed Eric my Bulldogs hat and smiled. After the photo he started to hand the hat back to me, so I let him keep it.

There’s widespread poverty across the African continent, as I’m sure you know. This was the fourth time I’ve traveled to Africa, and it always strikes me as odd that these children are so woefully unaware of how impoverished they are. There’s a huge level of suffering in Africa — you see it everywhere. But someone forgot to tell that to the kids!

These first verses that we’re going to look at tonight remind me of the kids I met in Ghana and other African nations:

1 Peter 3:8-9

8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

“Do not repay evil with evil.” That’s much easier said than done. Compassion and humility are hard traits to come by, but traveling to Africa is a good start. I always learn a lot more from the African people than they learn from me.

All human life is suffering, and when our goal becomes the removal or avoidance of suffering, we fail. Peter tells us that we must accept that suffering is a reality, and all we can do in this life is to live the best life we can for Christ.

Peter is particularly interested in assuring that when people face inevitable suffering it will be “good suffering.” When you do suffer, make sure it’s for the right reasons. Don’t give anyone the chance to say that you’re suffering for your bad deeds. Show them that you are a model citizen in every other respect — except for doing the sinful things they do. When they ask you why you’re not like them, don’t be afraid to answer.

1 Peter 3:15-18

15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,

Around the globe we have a number of modern-day servants who are suffering for doing good. A few years ago I found out through a Christian in Australia about a work he was supporting in Somalia in East Africa. You may remember Somalia from the ill-fated military operation we took part in there in the early 1990s. We were trying to help the people, but the warlords set up an ambush and we suffered several losses. I sincerely believe that what happened to us in Somalia kept us from intervening during the genocide that followed a few years later in Rwanda.

Today Somalia still is without a central government. People are living hand to mouth. For a while the capital, Mogadishu was under the rule of a group called the Islamic courts, which tried to implement Shariah law.

And in the middle of this tangled mess there’s a man named Abdul. I got in touch with him through e-mail and we started corresponding. He was converted through a Bible correspondence course and now preaches for a small Church of Christ in Mogadishu. He runs a small Christian school there, too. His life is constantly in jeopardy in a country that is completely without law, but he maintains his faith.

His story seemed too good to be true, so I was real skeptical when I started corresponding with him. He met with some of our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia, and they vouched for him. He even called me once from his cell phone in Mogadishu, and for the whole conversation I’m wondering, “Is this guy for real?” Then I heard a speaker crackle to life behind him, calling Muslims to prayer. His next-door neighbor runs a mosque, he told me.

One of the key reasons I believe that Abdul is sincere is that he hasn’t asked me for any money. I keep waiting for it to happen, but all he really seems to want are prayers from the church — prayers for safety and prayers to help him spread the gospel in Somalia.

A few weeks ago he finally did ask me for something else. Here’s an excerpt from his e-mail:

“We also would like to let you know that we need you to report us any prayers required by the troubled brethren around the world so that we may share the suffering with them.”

A man surrounded by suffering that I can’t even imagine ask only for prayers — and to pray for his fellow believers around the world. I don’t know that I’ll ever have the chance to meet Abdul face to face, but I know I’ll see him someday in heaven.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

'Angry kicks, oh let them never ...'

(By Erik)

As we've said before, Maggie likes to kick — a lot.

She’s particularly fond of kicking about 3 a.m. every morning. We’re guessing it’s a sign of things to come.

She also reacts to voices. When Dr. Alan Martin was teaching a parenting class for a couple of weeks at Memorial Road, she went nuts, moving all over the place excitedly.

When we found some discount baby clothes at Dillard’s a couple of weeks ago, she started rolling for joy (prompting me to believe that she’s actually reacting to her mother’s emotions).

When Jeanie was on call the other day, she went to see a premature baby in the NICU. While she was looking at the baby, she felt several angry kicks from down south. Later, while looking at photos of a coworker’s baby, the kicks started again.

Feels like our little girl has some jealousy issues.

By the way, that last story, when retold, prompted Carol, a member of our Bible study group, to say, “I don’t believe half of the things you’re telling me about that baby.”

Angry kicks, oh let them never
In the womb, unbridled slip
May the foot's best impulse ever
Check them ere' they strike mom's hip

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More posts a'comin', promise!

(By Erik)

Why no posts in so long? Here's a list of stuff I've gotta' do this week:

• Finish up story on Let's Start Talking ministry
• Revise profile of Gayle Crowe, who works for World Christian Broadcasting
• Finish up my "Around the World" page
• Find out whether or not we have any church connections to Burma
• Write two profiles for the Web site
• Learn Spanish
• Get house ready for World Mission Workshop guests
• Go to 7 a.m. meeting, which I'm about to be late for!
• Stop ending sentences with "for"
• Call my mom
• Finally catch road runner
• Get new parking sticker
• Watch "The Office" (9 p.m. UPDATE: Done)