transplanting starlings

I look at the United States from the far side of the ocean.

My first memories aren’t from St. Louis or Missouri where I was born but from San Jose, Costa Rica. I remember drinking soda from a plastic bag walking through vast banana plantations.

From there we moved to Equatorial Guinea, the heart of the African rainforest, and my childhood began. The island was my hometown. I walked and played and lived.

I lived the stories of adventurers cutting through the bush walking through the cocoa fields with my friends. I climbed up on the rooftops where we trapped birds in carefully propped up boxes with sticks and string.

I watched from the rooftops of my island home as the fruit bats and white egrets soared and cast shadows. It seemed everywhere I went pied crows, with their monochromatic feathers like pressed tuxedos, were dancing on rusty metal roofs.

It was my world and I knew it well.

And then we came back to America. We got on a plane for the United States and I watched my island paradise disappear beneath the clouds and I cried.

America was different. America is different. I don’t know anyone in the States who owned an African grey parrot or played with gorillas. America was “other” to me. In many ways, it still is.

And then one day I saw a bird unlike any other my African eyes had seen before. It’s black frame was iridescent. As it moved its black speckled feathers sang out in green, purple and blue tones. The starling became my favorite American bird.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the starling was not native to America! In 1890, according to Noah Strycker, an eccentric pharmacist from New York introduced several European birds to the United States. One by one the other birds died out, except the starling. They took to their new culture, skillfully adapting to their new environment, even learning to mimic the sounds of twenty native birds. Today there are over 120 million starlings in North America from those original transplanted few.

No wonder I was drawn to these birds! They are third culture birds just as I was a third culture kid! They came from a different place but rooted themselves in a new country, adapting to their sights and sounds to be like their new home.

In a way my parents, and other pioneer church planters, were like the first starlings carried into a strange land. In their transplanted hearts they translated the blessing that must be sung in every tongue among every tribe and people (Genesis 12.1-3). They left their homes, their cultures and their worlds behind. Today, countless sons and daughters have grown to maturity in Equatorial Guinea and across the continent, singing the gospel in languages like Fang, Kikuyu and Serer. And from that small island the good news is spreading out as a new generation is migrating across Africa and Europe.

Today, a new generation of church planters are being born in Senegal. In our lives, moved by the same rhythm, arm and arm toward the vision of an increasingly redeemed and transformed Africa. Our dream to see these two fledging churches in Dakar produce one hundred new churches in the capital city, and another two hundred churches throughout the country, seems impossible! But it only seems impossible because it’s never been done before. 120 million starlings in America seemed impossible in 1890. A thriving indigenous church in Equatorial Guinea seemed impossible 1980.

Churches filled with redeemed and transformed Wolof, Pulaar and Jola followers of Jesus only seems impossible today because they do not exist today. Today, we can only believe! We can only open ourselves to the lordship of the One who transplants us into the lives and lostness of unreached peoples between the house of God and the ruins of this spiritually lost world, believing that as we worship Him among them He who began a good work in us is faithful to complete it (Genesis 12.8, Philippians 1.5-6, 12).

Thank you for sending our family, as your personal link from the local church to the unreached, like transplanted starlings into new countries, languages and cultures. Thank you for exercising eternal influence praying for our family, our African brothers and sisters, and the lost.

articulating arrhythmias

There it is, my racing heart. It’s that slightly up-ticking beat tapping a metronome in my throat as I maneuver my way across an airport. It’s the reminder that in the center of my chest is an ever-pumping, never-ceasing machine driving me forward, propelling me onward.

How often do we remember our hearts?

Day and night our hearts work and rest, through all the ups and downs of life, the joys and pains, sufferings and celebrations, pulsing and pushing. Too often we only become aware of our hearts when they skip a beat or alter their well-worn rhythms. Slowly over time our hearts can shift out of sync, rush too fast, pace too slow or burst into traumatic and terrifying action.

What do our hearts beat for?

In the early days of this new year, my heart quickens once again in the words of Thomas à Kempis as he challenges me to emulate Christ. He says, “Every day we should renew our resolve to live a holy life, and every day we should kindle ourselves to a burning love, just as if today were the first day of our new life in Christ.” In those short and simple words I am undone. He articulates the arrhythmias of my heart and I long to be once again in the first days of new life with Jesus.

What a wonderful thought! To be at the altars of long forgotten days where we met with Jesus. To feel the burning in our chests as we hear His voice speaking life and truth (Luke 24.32). To feel again His redeeming and transforming power coursing through out veins. And how glorious it is that as we fix our eyes on Jesus above the waves of our chaotic waters we see Him there! He is standing in all power calling us to Himself, calling us to re-embrace our first love for truly He is the Son of God (Matthew 14:22-33; Revelation 2.4).

As we find Jesus there and the animation of His truth, we see on the horizon the thousands yet lost in darkness, the millions who have yet to hear His name or know His love…

What do our hearts beat for?

While the pulse in our veins keep time we must steel our finite and frail resolve to ever fan into the flame Christ’s love. Jesus sees our arrhythmias. He hears the skipped beats and missed opportunities. And though our flesh and hearts may fail, we rejoice together with those who find Christ in our witness that He is our strength and portion forever (Psalm 73.26).

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a drumbeat legacy

Has your heart ever burned with a sense of urgency? An urgency like a drum beating an ever increasing rhythm, a timpani reverberating deeper and deeper in your soul? Even from a great distance, even from the far side of the horizon, you can hear the repeating beat pulling at your heart. Three young American missionaries sensed that kind of soul-deep burning as they set foot in Senegal for the first time.

In the early days of January 1949 H.B. Garlock (serving as the director over Assemblies of God World Missions in Africa), along with Harold Jones and Henry Dahlberg set out from the desert heat of Koudougou, Upper Volta (the country that would become Burkina Faso) with a fixed aim to arrive in Dakar, the capital of French West Africa.

In Dakar, their hearts burned as they looked out on the lostness of the men, women and children of Senegal, like sheep without a shepherd, a people on the verge of eternity with no hope beyond the sunset. Long discussions with various officials placed unfamiliar new names of people groups and places in their hands, cities like Kaolack, Tambacounda and Kedougou, peoples like the Wolof, Serer and Pulaar. In every name they found unreached cities filled with people unaware of the good news.

In prayer these young missionaries sent word back to the United States with a simple message, a beating rhythm: “We must act now.” Urgency gripped their souls as they looked at the lost people around them with no access to the gospel. Deeper and deeper the missionary call of God stirred within them: “Let us enter now, NOW. Tomorrow may be too late.”

But the door to Senegal was not open yet. These men left Dakar praying that the Lord would open the way for Assemblies of God missionaries to enter the country, but no access was granted. The door seemed closed and for a time the drumbeat seemed to disappear. What others could not see was that the Lord was stirring deep within the heart of another young missionary couple, learning beside Jones and Dahlberg in Burkina Faso. Although the door remained shut, Charles and Mary Greenaway continued to pray, interceding for the lost people and cities of Senegal, patiently listening to the rhythm of the Holy Spirit as they served the Lord in the heart of the West African desert.

Waiting for an Open Door

After 7 years the day came in 1956 when Greenaway was called to make a hurried journey across West Africa to meet with the French High Commissioner to receive a temporary two-year visa to begin a new work in Senegal. The missionary couple was also restricted from the capital city of Dakar or Koalack, which was the most populous region of the country at that time. In spite of the limitations and ticking clock Charles and Mary were overjoyed and hurriedly packed up their family and set to work in pace with the urgency the Lord had built in their hearts over their many years of intercession.

The compassionate ministry of early Assemblies of God missionaries had softened the heart of the government officials. Charles and Mary sought to serve whole people loving lepers, praying for broken bodies and establishing schools. The sincere expression of faith and compassion in the lives of the Greenaways and a small growing community of missionaries turned the temporary visa into a long term invitation.

The Greenaways captured how important it was to work arm in arm with the growing national churches that God was raising up in Africa. Along with their children they brought two young energetic pastors from the Mossi people group of Burkina Faso, Kenga Zongo and Etienne Miningou, to share the good news of Jesus to the unreached peoples of Senegal.

Within three years, other young American missionaries were able to join the multinational church planting team growing from the first church in Tambacounda where the first followers of Jesus were baptized to another church planted in Kedougou. The growing spirit-led community rejoiced as the restrictions were lifted and a new church plant began in the populous city of Kaolack. Following the rhythm of the Holy Spirit the American and Mossi missionaries saw the Lord bring a new Senegalese church to life.

A Long Preparation

Since July 1956 when the Greenaways moved to Senegal, numerous Assemblies of God missionaries have responded to the call to see the unreached peoples of the small, influential country reached with the gospel. Like the Moravian missionaries before William Carey heard the call and labored for decades with little results in India, these generations of Assemblies of God missionaries toiled in Senegal believing a great awakening would come. They faithfully cleared the field, piece by piece, rock by rock, slowly paving the way for the way of the Lord. One by one men, women and children have slowly planted 70 churches across the country.

Compassionate ministries to lepers and infirm peoples have led to confessions of faith. Power encounters where spirits of disease and oppression cast out have led to redeemed and transformed lives. American missionaries working arm and arm with other African missionaries and the Senegalese national church have led to the greater presence of God among the lost. Out of the small villages and towns of Tambacounda and Kedougou the Lord was raising up men and women passionate for the Lordship of Christ to be made known in the lostness of their people.

Today, Assemblies of God World Missions has a handful of missionaries working alongside the national church in multiple ways to reach the unreached with the good news of Jesus Christ and to plant churches in every city and village. For over twenty years, Bryan and Laura Davis have compassionately served the Senegalese establishing new schools in far off places so that a new generation can find success in life and, more importantly, find Jesus. Jeremy and Jenilee Goodwin also work with children, equipping and training the national church to reach whole families with the good news of Jesus Christ.

As your personal link from the local church to the unreached Elise and I are working with the national church to plant churches with a vision to see 100 new churches among the millions of men, women and children in the capital city of Dakar that will plant another 200 new churches throughout the country. The national church has also been emboldened by the Spirit of Christ, stepping out in faith, to set an inspired goal of planting 200 new churches in the next five years.

The missionary team of Senegal today is catching the beat of God’s missionary soul-rhythm; the deep reverberations that Garlock and Greenaway felt, believing for a great awakening in Senegal, for tomorrow may be too late.

Awaiting an Awakening

But how do you wait for a great awakening? How do you count time in the intervals waiting for the great outpouring from heaven?

You wait in prayer, interceding for the witnesses laboring in the field and the lost still unreached with the good news. Never underestimate the truth that you have eternal impact when you pray for missionaries and the lost. Keep praying. Keep praying for the unreached peoples like the Wolof and the Pulaar. Keep praying for the great cities like Dakar and Koalack.

You wait in work, witnessing to the men, women and families that God has placed around you. He may be calling a child to serve among the unreached giving her life as a missionary moved forward through your obedience. He may be calling you.

You wait in giving, generously joining what He speaks to you with the time and treasure of countless other Christians, seeing that little is much when God is in it. Missionaries are able to buy plots of land to plant churches, drill wells and compassionately serve the lost through your sacrificial giving.

The task is yet unfinished. Millions in Senegal who are still waiting to hear for the first time there is freedom from sin and shame and eternal life in the love of Jesus Christ. Every day, every drumbeat brings us a little closer to revival, a little closer to heaven.

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running with zebras

Have you ever heard the the thundering sounds of zebra running or seen a zeal of zebra sprinting through the savannah, flashes of white and black as they break through the underbrush?

I was asked recently to share my most “manly” story at the Ohio Valley Teen Challenge. I racked my brain for the most masculine reminiscences from my life. Every thought, whether it was spear fishing as a child, eating steak while wearing a leather jacket, even ignoring the GPS while venturing on the circuitous American road systems, none of them seemed too terribly manly.

The morning came and I still hadn’t chosen a story to tell. I sat there eating breakfast with Cornell Jordan, the pastor of Metro Assembly in Youngstown, and we began to talk about Kenya. And almost like thunder the pounding stampede of zebra took me back to the banks of Naivasha. I remember as if it were yesterday that a group of us students from our boarding school made the trek down into the valley. We ventured out into the vast savanna peppered with yellowing acacia trees. There before us was a zeal of zebra, forty strong if not more, grazing. Being young men full of energy (and lacking in impulse control) we ran at them with all our force and that’s when I heard the sound of their hooves, not just thundering against the ground but reverberating inside my chest. It felt like a sonic connection as I ran with the zebra.

They twisted and turned through the plain, careening into the massive bullrushes that surrounded the lake. We followed them into the high grass, like stepping into Narnia, not knowing what lay ahead. Our hearts were beating in our chests as we tracked the great beasts in the wild filled with bushbucks, hippos and the unknown.

After a time we cut our way back to our starting place, hoping to find the zebra once again, but they had been replaced by a herd of grazing cattle. Cows. Everyday, run of the mill, cows. We ran at them like we had at the zebra only to be violently rebuffed with stamping feet and aggressive snorting. We turned on our heels as the cows kicked up their hooves and began to chase us!

Standing there, sharing this story at the Ohio Valley Teen Challenge with men in recovery from addiction, I couldn’t help but see a connection, a resonance I could feel beating in my heart. How often we set out running with zebra only to be turned around by cattle. We were made for adventure, passionately pursuing God’s presence into this world He created only to be turned around and nearly trampled underfoot by the sins ordinary to all people. We experience the thundering power of Christ’s redemption when we submit our lives to follow Jesus, but no sooner are we in the wilderness that we begin to stumble on our old idolatry making golden calves that glitter and glow but lead our souls to death (Exodus 32).

We were never made to roam with the herd, to aimlessly graze through this life like cattle. We were made for more. In the image of God we were made to passionately pursue God’s best for our lives and the lives of those around us. We were made for zeal! We were made for lives of passionate dedication growing in relationship with God and calling others to Christ.

How fitting that a group of zebra are not called a herd, or a crash like rhinos or a pod like hippos. They are called a zeal.

Today, will you take a little time to pray? To ask God to give you, your family, your church and your missionaries a more complete knowledge of God’s will, spiritual wisdom and understanding? Will you pray that as followers of Jesus that the way we live will always honor and please the Lord, producing every kind of good fruit; all the while, growing more and more as we know God better and better (Colossians 1.9-10)?

Pray that as His people we would not be sidelined by cows but that we would run with the zeal of zebra, feeling the thunder of our Christ-centered fellowship deep within our souls.

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stone lions in an ancient city

Unknown craftsmen shaped each brick, each one formed with a different raised relief as the clay formed and hardened in the heat of fire. Then they glazed each one with vibrant colors and sent them into the fire again. Those twice baked bricks would be joined together in the palaces of ancient Babylon and Persia. 2500 years later Elise and I walked along side those massive relocated walls where they stand today in Paris.

I imagine walking through the great citadel of Susa in the high walls of Darius’ grand palace where Esther saw the bright and breathtaking sculpted masonry of warriors, mythic beasts and lions. Esther, the young girl seemingly out of place and time, stood beneath the open mouth of that same snarling lion unable to reconcile her world and her responsibilities. Serendipitously chosen to be King Xerxes’ bride, the daughter of an exiled people now stood as queen in the center of a global superpower that spanned the globe from India to Ethiopia (Esther 1.1; 2.17).

Susa was the administrative capital of the Persian Empire. People groups from across the kingdom lined the streets and filled the homes of that ancient global city. Each artist from India, every bricklayer from Africa and exile from Israel together made up the everyday reality of Susa.

All great cities are alike in this way. New York, Johannesburg, Paris and Dakar are all living cities dynamic with color, clashing with cultures, bursting and fusing; faces of every shade all designed by the same Divine hand, woven together in the city.

Each person on their own, each brick seen in isolation, would appear out of place, but seen as a whole, the great wall relief seen in its entirety becomes awe-inspiring. At first glance, Esther in the palace seemed out of place and time. Her place was on the streets below the palace in the sea of ordinary humanity. If only one could go back in time to the height of Solomon’s reign and a royal wedding of a royal daughter like Esther would have been a natural sight. Stand too close and Esther looks like a brick mislaid, a piece misplaced, on the frieze of God’s eternal plan.

How often do we fail to see what God is doing in our lives? The coincidences and circumstances blind us like a person standing too close to a majestic piece of art. Living in global cities can produce this feeling in us all. How can one person affect the whole? How can one person influence a nation? Ironically, the living city can leave a soul feeling empty and discarded, sightless and alone, an Esther in a palace.

There is a danger that in response to the damage of the city people will abandon it, retreating from her walls to the safety of the fields. We all need those times of rest, those times of retreat that help us see the stars covered by clouds, to look across the distance and see the skyline God created. For our family this season in the United States is a wonderful “drive in the country,” a chance to step back from the frenetic and beautiful calling to the urban unreached in Dakar. This time is like the paraphrased words of Mordecai, “Who knows if perhaps you were made for such a time as this?” (Esther 4.14). At the right distance, with fresh air in our lungs, the vision of what God is creating comes back into view and our zeal for His calling surges with new life.

Sometimes I know we can feel like those twice baked bricks that decorated the walls of Persian palaces. Burning trials and the heat of tribulation may scour our souls, but when the clay is solid, the glaze is strong and the brick is set and the generations to come will look back on our faith, as we look back on the faith of Esther, and say, “If I must die, I die; but I must go.” (Esther 4.16)

As we go into the global cities with His glorious salvation, into the highways and the hedges with His eternal proclamation, to every nation, language and people group another illustrative brick is set on the wall revealing Jesus the Lamb of God and Lion of Judah in His everlasting beauty before all creation (Revelation 5).

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touchstones in the temple

I stood there, a massive hewn rock adorned with a woven cross, where a world-shaping building once stood in 1810. A church once remembered as “the Antioch of the Western Hemisphere” where men and women, like Adoniram and Ann Judson, were sent out with the gospel into the nations.

I stood there staring at this monolith, this chiseled stone, a short walk away from Northpoint Bible College in Haverhill, Massachusetts where I was readying myself to speak to a new generation of men and women preparing for ministry today. The proximity was not lost on me. Near this rock Adoniram Judson, a hero of mine, had walked and talked. He shared his passion for Jesus and his calling to reach the unreached. Young, headstrong and adventurous, Judson planted himself firmly in his calling and set his life like a flint against the countless challenges he would face over his life in missions (Isaiah 50.7).

I wonder if that 22 year-old Judson could have even begun to know the suffering he would endure, the trials he would face, the struggles he would fight through in obedience to his calling. Adoniram and Ann would endure the testing of their souls as they pursued Christ’s presence among the lost. They stood as their children died of disease. They knelt as Adoniram was imprisoned during a time of bloody war. And after Adonriam was released from prison he laid by her grave when Ann’s young body failed.

Every blow, every crippling defeat was like a touchstone scouring their souls. Every trial was a new invitation to go home, to give up, to retreat. The touchstones of trial and tribulation are often constant companions to missionaries in distant lands. They endure the scraping of troubles as they cement themselves, living stones, set in far off places.

Too often we collapse at the grating feeling of those touchstones in our lives of suffering and trial. The pain is too great and we cry out for mercy while the greater gift of rejoicing in our suffering, as we fill up within our flesh the full measure of Christ’s afflictions for the lost, sits within of our reach (Colossians 1.24). Can we begin to convince ourselves that the greatest suffering is not found in the temporary casing of our redeemed souls but the eternal damnations of those hopelessly lost without Christ?

More often it is the comforts of this world, even the successes we find in ministry, that are the breeding ground of failure. In our comfort there are no challenging touchstones running against our lives exposing strengths and weaknesses, no shavings revealing the gold beneath the skin.

Right now, a new generation is poised to pick up the mantle of missionary zeal once worn by the saints of old; those pioneers who ventured into the bush and emerged body-worn but souls-at-ease beside new brothers and sisters in Christ. Their wrinkles reveal the gold of their sacrifice to see men, women and children freed from spiritual bondage; their spilt blood is the seed of new churches (Romans 15.20).

In 200 hundred years from now may there be a new stone laid next to the first, a remembrance stone, a monument to those young men and women who counted the cost, settled their eyes on Jesus as they held shame and suffering in contempt, and carried the cross to be a personal link from the local church to the unreached (Hebrews 12.2).

the unreached in the unknown

As a child I loved to hear stories of great adventures, Hardy Boys braving all to discover the truth or unseen worlds of child kings and talking lions. My real world was one of transatlantic airplanes and the beautiful African rainforest where I caught fish with a spear gun and went to boarding school in the Great Rift Valley, so it wasn’t a lot for my ADHD to color the pages of my life with the adventures I heard in those stories.

When God called me to be a witness of His love to the nations I can’t remember experiencing any reticence. My life was made for high adventures! Why should that stop when I left home?

Over the years my heart to carry the gospel to unreached peoples grew. I would read about distant cities filled with men, women and children where the good news was unknown and my heart would break; seeing pictures of lost people my hands would become stained with easily shed tears.

In college, I met an incredible young woman who spoke as passionately about the lost as I did. And after wedding bells and years of ministry the two became three with number four on the way. Finally, the door to distant lands was open. The far off deserts of Northeastern Africa were open and God’s call was saying go.

Although we never faltered in stepping forward, setting our life in step with God’s call to the unreached a veil I’d never seen before appeared on the horizon. Behind the veil were a growing host of unknowns that hinted at immeasurable risk.

Was I willing to be a martyr? Yes. Was I willing to take my family where my wife and children could face martyrdom?… Those answers didn’t come so quickly. The hyperactive mind that fed my sense of adventure in childhood became a dangerous playground of terrifying thoughts.

Looking back, our years in Northeastern Africa filled our family with the most impressive tapestry woven of great and painful memories. Today, we rejoice remembering as we celebrated Christ with new brothers and sisters and endured persecution in a deeper way than ever before. Without a doubt, we were meant to be there, to laugh with those who laughed and mourn with those who mourned. We were called to speak people’s names and tell them the wonders of our God. We were commissioned to step out from the reached in the known to live Christ among the unreached in the unknown.

Unknown risk is the first veil that keeps followers of Jesus from reaching the unreached. It is not persecution that keeps men and women from proclaiming the gospel, but the fear of rejection and images of suffering the mind conjures up as we stare into the unknown.

We say to ourselves, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” but when the time comes to step out like Peter onto the turning waves do the unseen sea creatures of the deep keep our feet planted in the local church (Proverbs 3.5, Matthew 14.29)?

We ask ourselves what are we willing to sacrifice, but the true question, the question that God places before us is, what are we willing to gain? To our eyes the nations are shrouded in darkness where stepping out means risking more than we could imagine. Then the voice of God calls us higher and as we set out eyes above the veil we hear the heavens declare, “the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6.3).

In that place we are undone. Our fears and courage, our unknowns and knowns weigh around us as we recognize we have been invited into the very presence of the Lord, to be known, loved, redeemed and transformed. And falling to our knees, with contrite hearts and cleansed lips we hear God say, “Whom shall we send? Who will go for us?”

How will you answer?

the people we meet and see

The more people I meet the more I realize that all people are searching. Searching for purpose, significance, love. Searching for answers, meaning, God. They may not use those words but they are trying to make sense of their days and nights, their actions and reactions, the whole of their existence and the fracture pieces of their lives.

On a recent trip, Elise and I found ourselves in city founded eleven hundred years ago. Surrounded literally by a moat we flowed into the city like so many men, women and children who’ve gone about their lives for millennia, toiling their days away, searching for love, forgiveness and design.

Theodoric was searching for significance. Born into aristocracy he had advantage and position. But he needed more than wealth and comfort. He needed forgiveness. Theodoric was uniquely aware of his sin, his failures and downfalls. Like so many peers of his time he set his sights on pilgrimage as a way to reconcile his walk with the call of Christ.

He returned from Jerusalem with a small gift from the king, a small piece of bloodstained cloth believed to have been wiped from the face of Christ on his way to the cross. Theodoric ordered the construction of small cathedral to place the relic before returning to Jerusalem to live out his days in a monastery.

To this day, in the heart of town, built into the walls of the city hall sits Theodoric’s small basilica. We climbed the stairs to the second floor chapel and listened to the hymns, we sat in the room colored with life where thousands have come for centuries to find meaning, answers, Christ.

We watched as a little old woman, her head covered in lace, lit a candle and climbed her way to set her eyes and hope on the small encased relic. She poured out her prayer, kissing the glass repeatedly, trying to minimize the distance between her and her God. My heart wept as I watched her make every effort to draw near to God, to place her concerns and anxieties on a piece of bloodstained cloth.

Could she not see Jesus standing next to her, calling her gaze up higher? Could she not feel His Holy Spirit speaking life and love and peace into her eternity? I walked from that place in deep reverence for the privilege I have to know that my existence is not bound to intermediaries or tied to relics. My life is rooted in Christ, purchased in His blood and known by His sacrifice.

Your life has meaning. It has purpose and significance. It was created, woven together by the master of all, designer of the stars and creator of time. You have been placed with exacting purpose to make an eternal impact on those around you. There are no relics to be found, no pieces of the true cross or shrouds coated in blood, that will draw people to Christ like your life lived as a witness to His love.

In a market square a Senegalese street merchant went walking past hawking his souvenirs. As he passed me peddling his trinkets I answered him in Wolof. His eyes widened as he spun his body around to match the face with the voice. We spoke of Dakar and our neighborhood. We talked about his life and our ministry. And in the ordained randomness of this Christ-life we talked about Jesus in response to His questions.

It’s not the nameless, the blurry unknown that we are called to reach with the gospel; it’s the people we meet and see everyday. It is a life of true pilgrimage where we strike our purpose against that of others, like iron against iron. Our coworkers, classmates, lost family and friends. It is the distant woman kissing at relics drawn near into our family. It is a foreigner street vendor whose name is learned and loved.

Thank you for letting us be a personal link from the local church to unreached who are loved and known by God.

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fluidity like water

I never get over how green America is! Up and down the highways, in and out of country lanes, tall forests and short shrubs a million shades of green are everywhere! This past month we made the trip from Richmond, Virginia were we’ve set up home (with beautiful trees that rise up to greet us out our third floor apartment window) to Springfield, Missouri for a gathering of world missionaries.

Getting up early one morning, still wiping sleep from my eyes, I saw countless sparkling diamonds resting on the leaves of a bush. Millions of water molecules rode in on the mists of dawn. One by one they rested on each leaf, slowly rolling toward one another, drawing to one another, forming gravity-defying drops of water, condensing into these visible early morning marvels.

Have you ever felt like a water molecule?

I know that’s a strange thing to say, but looking at those sparkling drops of water as they held to one another, I felt like one. Elise and I had rolled into that green Midwestern town and found ourselves drawing together with other men, women and children seeking God’s kingdom come to the nations, praying with one another, forming close bonds, encouraged by the presence of God in our midst.

Serving on the other side of the world among lost and unreached peoples can be challenging. There are days when seeing the literal millions of lost people across the metropolis of Dakar is overwhelming! How can one missionary, one molecule of water, transform the desert into a forest?

The words I shared with our friends at Mountaintop Church come to mind. Little is much when God is in it. The Lord that brought us across the world on the dawn will draw all men to Himself (John 12.32). One by one men, women and children will come to Christ, like Miriam, Naaman and Orpah*. One by one churches will form, as they have begun in Parcelles Assainies and Wakané-Nimzath. Drop by drop, defying the pressures of this world and the gravities of sin, they will pool together into a flowing river. One by one the seeds of God’s kingdom will break through the dusty ground into everlasting green trees  with Christ’s healing in their leaves and His beauty in the branches (Ezekiel 47.12).

Looking at those drops of water I saw the prophetic future for West Africa. In each one I saw a glimpse of God’s kingdom transforming global cities like Dakar, as He brings the cloud of His manifest presence over the horizon and rains His missionary people down into the lives of the lost and unreached. Like sparkling drops of dew reflecting the morning Sun, like sons of lights, like daughters of radiances, proclaiming the wonders of our God.

Thank you for letting us be your personal link from the local church to the unreached!

on a journey of faith

Our lives over the past few months have been defined by tape, cardboard boxes and heavy plastic. A thousand well-loved books are packed neatly away along with tables, chairs, and whatever clothes were big enough to keep. Today they’re all tightly packed like suitcase sardines, stored for our return at the end of next summer.

In between wrapping bins and breaking down furniture we were still in full time ministry;  preaching farewell messages to the many students we’ve served at the Bible school and the loving congregations of men, women and children at the churches we’ve planted. A day before we left Senegal Elise and I rejoiced as we led another young woman in committing her life to Christ.

These are all part of the journey, regular steps in the life of a missionary.

It’s hard to believe that four years ago we were packing our suitcases moving to Senegal. The speeding passage of time marked by family milestones along the way. Henry and Fiona, who waddled into Senegal, walked out as kindergarten graduates. Ava, who arrived in Dakar as a precocious four year old, left ready to start third grade.

These are all part of the journey, regular steps in the life of a child.

Daphne, who came to Africa as a two year old toddler, who now stands tall at my shoulder, a few months ago felt the Spirit of God more profoundly in her life than ever before. Kneeling at the altar, weeping in the nearness of Christ, her life verse resonated with new life and truth: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,” (Proverbs 16.11). In those moments her confession of faith found greater clarity, her declaration of Christ’s Lordship given greater depth.

Last Sunday, days after arriving back in the States, Daphne waded into the baptismal water before family and friends. Together we listened to the words of her testimony read as she stepped down into the water; her testimony of experiencing the presence of God among the nations. In her youth, in these faded hours of her childhood, she committed to live her life for Christ, knowing Him and making Him known.

These are all part of the journey, regular steps in the life of a Christian.

This month as a family we will begin crisscrossing cities and states across America, sharing our vision to be a personal link from the local church to the unreached. We will aim to bless and challenge the Church in America with our mission to create space to grow a church planting movement in Dakar. We will live out of suitcases celebrating the hours we spend with men, women and children in countless churches.

Thank you for letting us celebrate what God is doing in your life and your local church. Thank you for letting us share the calling God has placed on our life as we serve as your personal link from the local church to the unreached!