unfrozen in time

It looked like she was frozen in time.

Last month, flying to teach a class in Equatorial Guinea, I found myself early one morning sitting in the new Senegal national airport. Long shadows shortened as the sun came over the horizon and hints of life began to stir. The terminal, besides a few other travelers headed to unknown locations, was empty. I looked at the planes sitting in wait, the trucks and people moving near the runway. Then all of a sudden the most remarkable thing happened.

A bird swooped into view and, as it’s body came parallel with the window in front of my face, it froze. Wings extended. Eyes steeled ahead. It’s brown top feathers and soft speckled off-white belly unmoved. It was like watching a movie and at the height of the action someone pushed the pause button.

This beautiful Montagu’s Harrier was frozen in time before my eyes.

The headwind was like a brick wall. The bird hung there suspended in the air, her previous momentum keeping her from falling backward. After a few seconds of what appeared to be miraculous, the harrier began to beat her stationary wings, a fury of feathers, raising her body at least five feet. I thought to myself, what a beautiful illustration this bird had given me of overcoming!

That was until it froze again!

Despite raising its body straight up, she was still caught in the same wind tunnel, spreading her wings against the wind, her frame frozen against the opposing force. My beautiful illustration of overcoming was shattered. The bird was in the same situation just higher.

If you don’t know anything about the Montagu’s Harrier it’s an incredible bird. It is not native to Senegal. This particular bird flies long distances, has conquered the Sahara, flying from Southern Europe and Eurasia. It is a migrating bird capable of flying through all kinds of harsh conditions and climates.

And despite all this, a minuscule airport wind tunnel had conquered her. My sermon illustration was wrecked! Then the wings began to beat again, harder, faster, stronger. Her body raised another five feet and this time instead of being frozen in space her svelte shape went shooting out of sight like a bullet fired from a gun!

As followers of Jesus we have a choice when we face opposition, but too often we oversimplify the Christian life. When we face trials and tribulations, regardless of the momentum that has brought us to where we are, we freeze. We know that we “are more than conquerors” but when faced with something that must be conquered we shrink from the battle (Romans 8.37).

This past month the Family Church, the first church we planted here in Dakar, was evicted from her building. For months, the pastor and elders worked back and forth with the landlord to come to a new agreement. Yet, after all the ups and downs, after all the beating of wings, in a matter of hours the pulpit, chairs and keyboard were on the street. Moments like these can crush a people’s spirit. Just think of the desert-wandering  former slaves of Egypt who instead of looking toward the unknown and unseen Promised Land were ready to go back to their former lives of known suffering.

Like the Montagu’s Harrier you were made for more, more than an airport wind tunnel, more than a single point in history. You were made to conquer the unknown and the unseen, to ascend higher and higher still. But don’t be deceived by these simple words, there is nothing simple about them. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus told us this so that in the face of trials and tribulations, we can have peace (John 16.33).

Like the Family Church in Parcelles Assainies, if you are going through difficulties don’t be surprised, hear the voice of Jesus calling you to take heart, lift you eyes, raise your arms, refuse to be defeated or cling to the known meager past. There is a future and a hope only found in Jesus, and Jesus is calling you higher, unfrozen in time.
 


Header Picture by Radovan Václav Used through Creative Commons

a legacy of creating space

What is your legacy? Each of us will leave a legacy, the accumulated wealth of our lives, to those who follow after us.

Early American missionaries came to West Africa steaming across the Atlantic on ships. These men, women and their families willingly lived a candlelight existence in a modern world. They carried the gospel by firelight into the bush to find the lost villages, met with chiefs and established tabernacles among them.

Missionaries like Harold and Marge Jones who took their young family deep into the heart of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). They left modern medicine behind to reach unreached peoples. When their three year old daughter Peggy lay dying with blackwater fever they could only put their trust in the Lord to save her life. The Jones left a legacy in West Africa of creating space to grow a church planting movement.

Miraculously, Peggy recovered, and grew up dedicating her life to reaching the nations. She and her husband Bill Lasley arrived in Senegal in 1959 pioneering the work in Tambacounda. After working many long and hard days, waiting for any sign of a harvest, they cried out to God. Why had they come to Senegal only to find opposition and resistance. It was then that the Lord told them, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you,” (John 15.16). They stayed in Senegal and the Lasleys were the first missionaries with the Assemblies of God to lead Senegalese to Christ. They were the first to baptize those new believers. They were the first to perform weddings. They were the first to create space among the Serer people group and countless others.

Speaking with Peggy on the phone this month and hearing her story firsthand encouraged my heart. We are working in the space they made for us, the legacy they left for us. A common phrase we hear often is that we stand on the shoulders of giants and that is true, but it is only possible if those giants allow us to.

As we approach a new era in missions, as the world around us goes through a global culture shift, we must ask ourselves, like Bill and Peggy before us, like Harold and Marge before them, how are we changing to see the lost nations transfigured by the glory of Jesus?

I am reminded of the conquering king David resting in his palace (2 Samuel 7). Surveying the great favor God had given him over his enemies and the grand home he had been able to build. His heart became unsettled as he thought of the ark of God camping out in a tent. At the height of his success he called the prophet Nathan and told him his plans to build a temple for the Lord. Nathan was thrilled with the idea and encouraged David, but that night, as he listened to the voice of God, Nathan had to go back and deliver a different message to the king. Nathan had to go back and tell David that he would not build a house for God, instead it was God who would build a house for David, a royal dynasty, an everlasting legacy. David was a good king, but his legacy extended beyond himself and what he could accomplish by himself. The greater things were in the days to come!

David could have responded several different ways. He could have discounted Nathan’s words. He could have built a temple for God anyway. He could have dedicated himself to building up his own kingdom apart from God. David could have easily derailed his life and the legacy God had for him if he’d held on to his limited vision of the future.

Instead, David received the word of God from Nathan. He humbled himself and found a legacy sweeter and more profound than any he could have every asked or imagined. He dreamed of a Temple and the act of worship in its construction; but building the Temple wasn’t his worship to bring, but his legacy to leave for his son.

As Brandon Baldwin says, “We tend to overestimate what we can do in a year or two, and underestimate what God can do in ten or twenty.” We overestimate what we can accomplish alone and underestimate what God can accomplish through us together. The Lasleys baptized the first Senegalese believers in our fellowship, but they generously passed that legacy on to us. Bill and Peggy created space to grow a church planting movement and we share in their work. United in Christ we rejoice together!

Each of us will leave a legacy. What is yours?

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essential circles

“How do you plant churches?”

Driving the long road from N'djamena to Moundou was like stepping back in time. Back to a time, like the island time of my childhood, of intermittent electricity and the warm African sun. With my camera cautiously in hand, slowly drifting down the pothole riddled road, I watched for people moving through their day; men on horse-carts, boys herding cattle, women hauling water. Dodging another cavernous rut we passed two little girls and their mother carrying straw.

“How do you plant churches?”

In the desert scrub of Chad these little girls and their mother collected those thin strands of straw, picking each piece by hand. Then binding them together with a length of rope they carried them home.

A single piece of straw will never make a roof. By itself it is too small, too weak. What potential does a single strand of dry straw really hold? Yet that seemingly insignificant stalk, bound together in a bundle, woven together with other bundles, joined together in ever widening circles, can make a roof. Together drawing strength from one another each weak straw stands high over a home protecting everyone beneath it.

“How do you plant churches?”

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essential circles

We plant churches like we build thatch roofs: in essential circles.

We plant churches like we build thatch roofs: in essential circles. Every aspect of our lives is influenced by others and is influencing others around us. Our personal relationship with Jesus is an essential circle as we are bound to Christ. Our marriage is an essential circle as we weave our relationship together with God (Ecclesiastes 4.12). Our family is an essential circle as we influence our children and teach them how to be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit (Prov. 6.21).

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We plant churches in essential circles by creating relationships that create relationships.

We plant churches in essential circles by creating relationships that create relationships. If the point and purpose of our relationships are about us, about what we gain from them, then our influence will only hold as many people as our arms can wrap around. At most we might be able to make a hat. But if we are intentionally building relationships that influence others to serve and be served by one another, we are creating a culture of transformational servant leadership. As weak and humble people we have the potential as we are drawn together by Christ to weave our lives together to form a covering for the nations where they can see the Lordship of Christ lifted up.

Each church we plant in Senegal is another bundle of straw being joined together to cover the peoples of this nation. With every Serer believer we have the increased influence to reach the Jola. And with the every Jola believer we have the capacity to extend the gospel to the Pulaar. Together, as a multicultural creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works we will see the Wolof come to Christ and be woven into the kingdom of God (Ephesians 2.10). We will see an increasingly redeemed and transformed Africa as we effectively join our hearts and lives with the men, women and children of these national churches. In the power of the Holy Spirit across tribal and national barriers we will tower, like an eschatological beacon, a “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,” (Revelation 5.9-10).

Today, there are 16 African countries, like Chad, without a worker from our fellowship. No one is out in the open fields collecting the straw, no one is binding them together, no one is creating the covering for the nations. Would you be a transformational servant leader, like a little Chadian girl, collecting and carrying the straw and weaving them together?

“How do you plant churches?”

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the cost of discipleship

For the past three years our family has lived in a little middle-class neighborhood nestled in the urban sprawl of Guediawaye. This community is distinct because the land developer built hundreds of cookie cutter two-story houses. They all look the same, from their shape to the beige and orange paint.

Once people buy the home they can chose to modify it. All around our little concrete block home, now stand five-story apartment buildings with ornate metal work and tile. Our homes look different but underneath they all have the same narrow two-story foundation. In twenty years most of the buildings around us will collapse because they didn’t build with the future in mind.

They didn’t count the cost to dig out the inadequate foundations and start over. They built their towering frames of concrete and live for today.

So, it came as a surprise to me in another part of the city when I came across a one-story house with a three-story stairwell! This little unassuming house can barely be seen over its fence except for a towering concrete staircase set toward the sky. This little rancher sits on a massive and deep foundation.

They couldn’t afford to build the whole building at once, but they had the money for the foundation, the first floor, and their hope for the future.

Surrounded by the crowd Jesus said, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14.28).

Elise and I desire to build a tower, a church planting movement, a fellowship of Jesus followers that stands as a beacon to the unreached. We count the cost of investing our lives into African brothers and sisters who will build His church and serve as watchmen on its walls.

We dream of an increasingly redeemed and transformed Africa.

But dreams are easy. Dreams can float in and out of the transom of our minds. It is only when we begin to count the cost of our dreams, begin to form a vision to see those dreams become a reality that we discover where the difficulties are.

In counting the cost we recognize that all our blood, sweat and tears are inadequate; all our resources, talents and skills can only build a temporary foundation at best. If we build a church planting movement on our personalities and strengths the moment we move our hand away we will watch as the tower falls. To paraphrase Ken Blanchard, the test of our architectural skill is not what happens when we are there, but what happens when we are not.

And so we count the cost. We dig out the old collapsing foundations. We invest our hope for the future.

We realize that no amount of outside money can pay African pastors long enough to create a self-supporting church. We recognize that we are only channels, humble witnesses seeing the Spirit establish a self-propagating church. We recall the servant-leaders who made room for us, so we create space for a new generation of men and women to pastor the new churches He plants.

We count the cost and build the foundation, the first floor, and the hope for the future.

Because a strong foundation was laid yesterday, the Family Church in Parcelles Assainies is growing as a self-supporting, self-propagating and self-governing church. Today, the Église Suñu Gaal in Wakané-Nimzatt is passing through the birth pains as this new fellowship is born. And we have a firm hope that tomorrow and the days to follow we will see more churches planted throughout Dakar, across Senegal and the world.

A church planting movement among the unreached and resistant peoples of Senegal only looks impossible as long as it remains unfilled. And it will only become reality with absolute faith and commitment to count the cost.

Thank you for counting the cost with us!

jars d'argile

Have you ever woken up and said to yourself, “I think today I’m going to intentionally choose to speak like a child today? I am going to sound like a three year old muttering his best through clunky phrases and mixed pronouns.”

No? You say that’s not something you would ever even consider?

Me either. But somehow that’s exactly what happens every day. It happened today as I was getting in my car. It happened yesterday at the grocery store. And it will happen tomorrow.

I’ve read the greatest works of English literature. I’ve written persuasive essays. I’ve even penned a poem or two. But none of that means a thing the moment you switch the language.

I open my mouth and, as great as I hope it sounds, my French is befuddled with an accent. My Wolof is grammatically lacking. For a year I mispronounced my associate pastor’s name, Benoit. With a skillful misuse of the first vowel I called him bathtub. Bathtub. For a year. He only smiled. For. A. Year.

My mouth of clay chips crumbles as I try to make the French “r” sound. My soul stretches and strains as it expresses the Gospel, the most valuable treasure of all, in these foreign languages. And somehow the message slips through, bad accent and all.

Why do people leave their home culture and their heart languages and go to the nations?! Couldn’t national believers do what foreign missionaries do some much better?

Working in Senegal, among people who don’t look like me, who don’t share my culture, who literally don’t even speak the same language, I am constantly reminded that I am a clay jar. I am a muddy mix of soil pulled out of the ground, shaped and formed and chosen.

Chosen. I’m chosen. I was chosen for this.

We can get lost in the numbers and the logic. At the end of the day people go because they are called. We send missionaries from their homes and home cultures into the far-flung places of this world because a God-calling was sent out to the peoples He created to plant His church among the unreached.

I’m not a golden vase. I’m not a crystal carafe. I’m a simple jar of clay (a “vases faits d’argile”). My French words are not masterful. My Wolof is not eloquent. My words are simple, direct, honest. No one could possibly be blinded by the poetry of my phrases. I am a jar made of common clay carrying the most valuable treasure: Jesus Christ.

God is calling Senegalese men, women and children to Himself. He is calling a new generation of new born believers, a new wave of church planters to take up the commission and become personal links from the local churches we plant today to go to other unreached peoples tomorrow. And He is doing this through us!

What a humbling thought!

Sitting here by our Christmas tree, greeting our night-guard, I’m reminded of a little boy toddling around his mother’s knees, watching his father hammer and nail, sitting in dirt beneath the starry skies. His words were simple. His speech only then beginning to form. And yet, kings came to him bearing gifts. Into, what I imagine was, a mud brick home came kings from afar carrying gifts of great worth to worship the King of Kings. How could he receive them? How could he thank them for their recognition?

Jesus came into this world as a baby, with halting words and the constraints of humanity to express the absolute image of truth and love.

Thank you for sending us, for helping us pursue the calling of God on our lives, to proclaim Christ’s love to the nations! Thank you for all your support as we have learned two languages this term so that we might more effectively share the Truth of the Gospel to the nations. Thank you for letting us be your personal link from the local church to the unreached.

finding the sons of shaphat

A chariot of fire, golden blazing horses sweeping the man of God into a whirlwind. I remember this story from countless Sunday school classes. The imagery is so rich and profound my ADHD-riddled mind could barely contain itself.

But I fear that as a child my eyes were so busy watching the prophet being swept away in a literal blaze of glory that I missed the passing of the mantle.

This past month, after two years of working with the national church of Senegal, we passed the mantle of the Family Church, the Assemblies of God church in Parcelles Assainies to my associate pastor Benoit. From a small midweek prayer meeting in a home, to a hotel meeting room on Sunday mornings. From a hotel to a house directly on a main road. From a handful of faithful to a growing family of increasingly redeemed and transformed Africans!

Everything we are, everything we love, everything we are called to do is wrapped up in this single image: a healthy national church led by national brothers and sisters. In the urban sprawl of Dakar, in the neighborhood of Parcelles Assainies, there stands a testament to everything God has promised to us as His workmen in the field: a church firmly planted where men, women and children are experiencing the presence of God among the nations.

When we think of Elijah we think of chariots of fire. We see images of Elisha picking up the mantle of his mentor and re-crossing the Jordan. But their story together begins far earlier than that.

In 1 Kings 19 after one of Elijah’s greatest victories against the wicked leadership of Ahab and Jezebel and the spiritual cancer of Baal, we watch as Elijah spirals into the deepest depression of his ministry. Sure he’s about to die, he abandons his servant and wanders into the wilderness. Hardly a victorious ending to an incredible life. In the wilderness God takes Elijah on a spiritual journey, through the desert into the mountains, through the earthquake and the fire. And, as we all know and love, Elijah then hears the still small voice of God. He wraps his face in his mantle and he meets with God.

Most sermons stop there. Most Sunday school lessons fixate on the still small voice and forget to listen to what the still small voice says.

God answers Elijah’s concerns about the spiritual depravity of Ahab and Jezebel by appointing new kings both foreign and domestic.

And then God addresses Elijah’s self-imposed isolation. God zeros in on Elijah’s fear that no righteousness remains in the land. God sends Elijah to find the son of Shaphat to follow him in ministry. Elisha the son of Shaphat will become a prophetic catalyst that will reach further than Elijah could do on his own.

We came to Senegal with a vision of a blue gate opened revealing a man waiting to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We came to Senegal searching for the sons of Shaphat, men and women who will carry the mantle of prophetic ministry into every neighborhood, home and heart in Dakar.

And God brought us Benoit. And on this past Sunday we had the incredible privilege of placing the mantle of ministry on Benoit’s shoulders. We will continue to mentor him and walk with him (there are no chariots of fire on the highways, although there might be some taxis with exhaust problems).

And God has now brought us Jeremié and his family. Together with Benoit we are now praying and walking the land for our next prayer meeting, our next neighborhood, our next church plant.

Thank you for letting us be your personal link from the local church to the unreached. Thank you for helping us create space to find the sons of Shaphat for an increasingly redeemed and transformed Africa!

 From Left to Right: Brett, Benoit and Jeremié

From Left to Right: Brett, Benoit and Jeremié

spring of the soul

The soul is a funny thing. Shapeless and mysterious. Invisible yet enduring. Immaterial yet indispensable. The soul evades effortless definition.

The soul like the Earth shifts in seasons. Spring emerges from winter bursting with life. Spring grows into the full heat and life of summer. And after the gentle slowing of harvest in fall, the cool rest gives way to winter.

Looking back over this year, 2017 has been the spring of my soul. At the outset of this new season one clear word came to my heart: Closer. The spring of my soul was dawning like the cherry blossoms that line the Potomac and His promise to our family was “Closer.”

The seeds we planted in the thawing ground of Parcelles Assainies has led to new faith, new baptisms, new life. Even the winter-burned corners of our souls that become numb and forgotten began to warm by the fire of His Holy Spirit. And it is these times that vital truth bursts vibrantly to life: we cannot afford to lose our souls in the numbness of winter. Our calling, our purpose, our passion to lift up the name of Jesus is too important to suffer the frostbite of a frozen soul.

In April, Randy Tarr (our West Africa area director) and I journeyed into the open country of Chad, a country in need of a soul that has occupied a special place in our hearts for several years. Chad is the home to 72 unreached people groups but few Christian workers. Being back in the sands of the Sahara I felt the pumice-like cleansing of the desert scraping away callouses on my winter soul.

In the heat of the glaring sun I felt the revitalizing wind of the Holy Spirit as we prayed for new men and women to lay down their lives to reach the unreached of that great nation. In the stark and severe discomfort of the desert where bedouins and camels roam along the cracking abandoned roads, where motorbikes weave around potholes and children beg for bread, one harsh truth remains: we live on the planet of lost souls.

In this spring of my soul I’m reminded of the witness a nameless disciple wrote to Diogentus, a 2nd century man seeking to understand the Christian faith. Diogentus was so deeply confused by the brotherly love of Jesus’ followers to one another and their courage in the face of persecution and death. The disciple wrote: “What the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians throughout the cities of the world.”

Are these words true of you? Are they true of me?

When we as Jesus’ people look at Ndjamena and Dakar, Touba and Abeche do we see soulless cities where Christ has not been named? Does our heart ache for the unreached? Do we hear the call of Jesus to draw closer, closer to His throne, closer to the lost?

The world around us becomes more unhinged every day, robotically passing from dawn to dusk, soulless, lonely. Lost. The nations, the great cities, the unreached peoples of this world are in need of a soul among them. May the words of St. Patrick be as true for us today: “Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me. Christ in the mouth of all who speak of me.”

city run red

“All the nations of the earth will be blessed because you have obeyed my voice.”

I read these words and they seem to come alive, deep red fire light burning around the edges of each letter. “All the nations of the earth will be blessed because you have obeyed my voice.”

Let those words sink into your heart for a moment. A blessing without boundaries, over mountains and into closed countries. A blessing crossing seas and oceans to distant shores and coastlands. A blessing that finds the waiting hearts of men, women and children of every tribe, family and language. A blessing born of simple obedience.

What would you give to hear God speak these words over your life!?

Can you imagine the faces of children hearing the good news for the first time? The love of Jesus embracing them because you were obedient to God’s call.

Can you imagine the faces of disenfranchised women hearing that God created them for relationship, a life of purpose and importance? The presence of Jesus standing and beholding his pure bride.

Can you imagine the eyes of a man hearing the gospel message of a God who created him in love and is calling him to experience His blessing?

God promised Abraham on the hillside of Mount Moriah that His obedience would mean blessing for the nations. God’s eye was on Egypt and Cush. God’s eye of blessing was looking at the Sumerians and the Akkadians. And still today, God’s eye is on the lost nations awaiting the blessing promised to Abraham: the Wolof, Pulaar and Mauritanian Moors. The blessing promised to Abraham still awaits fulfillment in the lives of Chadian Arabs and roaming Zaghawa.

No matter the centuries, the millennia that have passed, the blessing for all nations is irrevocable. No man, no nation, no religion can stand in the way of God’s eternal blessing promised as Abraham and Isaac stood by the altar.

In a few days our neighbors will celebrate Eid Al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice. Most families will gather together in the early morning hours and open the jugular vein of a sheep. The streets and paths of our city will run red as they remember Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son.

Guediawaye Sheepland

But for many of our neighbors today, even though they have heard the story of God’s call for Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son and rejoiced in God’s faithful provision of a ram in his place, they have not heard the blessing Abraham’s obedience opened for them.

As the people of God, the people of the Book, we have the incredible privilege to carry the promise to the nations. Across this spinning globe there are men and women who, like Abraham, have heard the call of God to go from their homelands, their families and their father’s house to the land He has chosen for them to live out their days. Into the nations they take their families in prayer and sacrifice. These fathers, mothers and children go to the four corners of the world with the fire of the gospel and the knife of sacrifice so that the lost will hear the glorious promise of God’s blessing: the good news of Jesus Christ.

Thank you for your obedience in reaching the lost with the good news. Thank you for letting us be a personal link from the local church to the unreached with the God’s eternal promise.

the engineer of the cancelled flight

It’s been said that “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

And so there we stood, haggard and tired, outside the locked airport. The swelter of the breezeless pre-dawn humidity rising with the sun. Waiting and exhausted. Our reused clothes sticking to our dampening skin.

But I should back up.

Over the past several years, I’ve been working alongside my father in Equatorial Guinea to see the Bible school campus completed. Biannually I find myself back in the heart of the rainforest, preaching a passion for the lost, teaching a new generation of men, women and children about the mission of God and working toward a completed Bible school campus.

For several days we had busied ourselves with hauling gravel and dirt, placing a drainage system around the six-building grounds, cleaning their roofs from the encroaching layer of rainforest growth and overseeing the installation of new windows.

Along with our plans to preach, teach and work we had set aside a single day to fly from Malabo, the capital city on the island to the mainland city of Bata to meet with the Bible school director and other key pastors.

Saturday morning arrived and we boarded our plane to Bata. We enjoyed a meal and fellowship with a group of pastors. We walked the Bata Bible school campus and visited a church. We talked about the coming school year and drove to the airport for our evening flight.

But, if I might, “the best laid planes of mice and men…”

Our flight back to Malabo was cancelled leaving us stranded in Bata until Sunday morning.

We checked into a building that rents rooms (the state of the rooms causes me hesitation to call it a hotel…). The night passed restlessly in the heat and the chaotic sounds of drunken shouting from the street and hallway. Without a working shower we arrived at the airport praying to make the early morning flight in time for church.

We walked through the airport exhausted, tired and hungry. Unshaven and sweaty we sat down to wait for boarding.

And then, a nicely dressed woman invited us to the VIP lounge!

What? Did she the state we were in? Did she smell the state we were in? And yet, there we were, walking into the VIP lounge where a spread of breads, pastries and coffees greeted us.

Within a few moments, we were sitting down into the comfortable chairs of the cool air conditioned room with our hands holding coffee and fruited-cakes. Finally about to rest we watched as a 25 year-old Dutch engineer came and sat next to us. In moments this towering European began to open his young life to our witness.

How many times have I seen God engineer my days into His plans? And still, it surprises me every time. I bowed my smiling head, surrendered the cartography of my life once again to His plan and asked Jesus for wisdom with the right words to share with this searcher.

A few hours later we boarded the plane, made it home in time for a quick shave and shower, and I preached my heart out to a beloved church family. But the richest part of the day, the fullest memory of that day, are those redirected by the Engineer of the cancelled flight.


burning bush legacies

There it was. A book.

It will come as little surprise to anyone that a book caught my eye. Saying a book captured my attention is like saying that a New York cab shockingly found an opening in traffic. My eyes are trained to find books.

And yet, there it was. A book, perfectly placed on a crowded shelf, like a burning bush in a desert, it's gilded lettering set against the fading maroon cover, "Africa is Waiting.” I opened the yellow pages to find the story of Talmage and Marjorie Butler. I could hardly believe I had stumbled across a biography of early missionaries to Senegal I didn’t know existed!

Before coming to Senegal I had spent hours and hours in the Assemblies of God World Missions archives. I’d read the first letters from Charles Greenaway as he surveyed the land and sought permission for missionaries to come. I’d read field reports with names like Lasley, Herndon, Corbin, and of course, Butler.

Page after page I consumed the life story of the Butlers, missionary heroes who gave up the comforts of their Texas home, the easy graces of ministry in the Caribbean, to plant the church among the unreached of Senegal. And although Senegal is transforming into a modern state, the author’s descriptions of Dakar and life here in the 60s were as current and fresh as if they’d been written today.

My soul swelled as they pioneered the first church in Kedougou. My eyes blurred with tears with joy as they purchased 25,000 square feet in Dakar for $2. My heart sank as the Butlers and their 11-year-old son died in a tragic plane crash, days before returning to Senegal. Their plane came down 50 years ago this month.

I sat there before God asking, “What legacy could a couple who gave their thirties to birth a church among unreached people leave behind?”

Talmage and Majorie Bulter were catalysts. Their words sparked a passion to reach the unreached. Their love lit into flame the souls of lost African men, women and children. They saw the burning bush of God’s calling and with their short lives they pointed others to see it too.

Speaking at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in 1967 Talmage incited a rising generation of students that:

"We must love the world that we face today. We must carry a burden for men that weighs heavy upon our hearts, that causes our hearts to bleed with concern. We need a love strong enough to cause more than just an occasional salty tear to trickle down our cheeks. We need a love that will move us to action; a love that will drive us forth so that we cannot remain still."

A burning bush. A passionate appeal. A little dusty book. In the challenging words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes—
The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware.

Our legacies await our actions. Our legacies await our courageous response to Jesus’ divine calling. Will we hear the Holy Spirit’s whispered call to witness among the unreached peoples of Senegal? of Chad? of Washington DC? Will we see the bush ablaze with divine purpose as God calls us to the nations crying out for a Savior?

What will your legacy be?

Will you take off your shoes?

Will you say yes to reach the nations?