Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Visiting Niemene

      Coming into a remote village like Niemene, you can feel the difference to larger cities, or villages that are closer to main traffic routes. After a few hours, you still feel the difference; but you can't quite place your finger on the what it is exactly that makes this place that way.
     The noise is the same. Motos running everywhere, children screaming, animals bleeting and crying, and at least one if not two or three radios playing different music at the same time. The amenities and architecture are the same. Squat pots (glorified holes in the ground) for toilettes, no running water, bare wire electricity in cement cinder block buildings standing next gardens and fields for planting.
     Still the feeling persists. This place is different. And then as you are walking around meeting the principal of the primary school, the elders of the church, and finally the Chief of the village; it hits you.
     In the first 3 hours of your visit to Niemene, you've waited in a boutique for 30 minutes getting directions to the church from the 5 people who have been there all day, been picked up by a stranger who turned out to know your friends and took you to their house, visited the pastor, visited your friends house and family, visited all the notable persons of Niemene and greeted every other person along the way. The list seems too long for the short amount of time, but not once in those 3 hours was their a sense of rushing, no hurrying to the next thing, simply a calm peaceful movement from place to place, person to person, meeting to meeting. Anthropologists call this an event vs time focused culture meaning that people finish one event first regardless of the time, be it 15 minutes early or 3 hours late. In other words here in Niemene and in other small villages, the pace is different.
      But for me there is more than just a difference speed to life. There is a reminder to slow down and breathe, to see people and hear their stories, to leave the production schedule and its demands behind and enjoy the moments right here. This pace, while slower, leaves more room. More room not to be filled with more activities and things, but to do things differently, to appreciate each event, person, place, action, and view as full gift. This slower pace allows and even creates fullness and richness of life. And in my life which already seems to full, this is a much needed reminder.

Super Christians a.k.a. Missionaries

     Every missionary, I know or have met, cringes at the term, “Super Christian.” And many believers in the US don't like the term either, but use it none the less. As if, just by serving over seas, that person has some how become better, more spiritual, faster, stronger, like the 6 million dollar Christian man. Missionaries humbly defend, “I'm just like any Christian. I'm not special and definitely not perfect. I'm just doing what God 'called' me to do.” I even know one missionary who refuses to use the word “calling,” to avoid the inference that God has given them a uniquely, special, and more important task.
     Through out my travels and productions working with missionaries, I can confirm that they are not perfect. I've never met a more motley, disarrayed, diverse, damaged, and down right weird group of people than missionaries. Just live in their homes for a few days and you'll see that very clearly.
     And still people persist, as did one visiting pastor from the United States. He came to help lead a spiritual renewal conference for missionaries, (a conference which by its very existence and necessity points to the fact that missionaries are no different and also need to be refreshed, renewed, and encouraged as others). After a time of sharing prayer requests and praises, He applauded the group, “You all are amazing. Listen to yourselves. You just praised God for the church you built this weekend, and for the fear God removed when you husband took a team into the jungle for a month. When we have a prayer time at our church, people stand up to praise God for helping them pass a test, and that their Nana's coming to visit next week. You guys don't like to to admit it but you are super.”
      The difference is notable, but not so great in reality. There is really only one difference between these missionaries, these so called “Super Christians,” and the people that fill the pews of many churches in the states. Willingness. In all the missionaries, which I have met, that is the one constant in their stories. Some are skilled and other aren't. Some are passionate about evangelism and some dreaded leaving the states to serve over seas. Some work in education, others in technical labor, and others are glorified taxi-drivers. And yet all are willing. Willing to be used by God. Willing to go. Willing to let God change them and mold them through hardship and suffering. Willing to leave their friends and family to follow Christ. Willing to give up what they can't keep in order to gain what they can't lose. Willing to have their heart broken for the things that breaks Gods. Willing to lose their own identity in order that Christ may be seen in them. Somewhere along their life they said, “Okay God, sure, yeah I'll follow you.”
     All the perceived superior spirituality of missionaries is the reward of their willingness, of that simple answer, yes. So... if that is the only difference; I have to ask the question, “Why aren't their more 'Super Christians'?”

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

June Newsletter

I'm back in Cote d'Ivoire. It's been a crazy couple of months filled with production, travel, and all sorts of adventures. After 3 months of being “on the road” it's good to return to a familiar place and reconnect with people here.

What Hasn't Happened

The last three months have been a whirlwind of production and travel. Certainly great things have been happening, but it's the events that haven't happened that stand out to me and I'm most thankful for.
I haven't been robbed.
I haven't gotten Malaria.
I haven't been too lost.
I haven't had any equipment fail.
I haven't run out of energy.
I haven't missed any flights.
I haven't been lonely.
I haven't run out of money.
I haven't been worried.
I haven't been injured.
I haven't been discouraged.
I haven't lost heart.
I haven't been attacked by bandits.
I haven't gotten on the wrong bus.
It is easy sometimes to only thank God for the things we see Him giving us, but I'm learning that He is present also in the things which don't happen. There are thousands more things that haven't happened to me, that I am thankful for. 

Restored, Refreshed, Refilled

This past month I got the opportunity to return to the US and participate with in my friend Stephens wedding. Knowing that I was going to be back in the states for this event, I planned extra time to visit friends and family. Over the course of three weeks, I traveled over 5000 miles not including the trip to and from Africa. And yet, I am amazed at God's grace to give me exactly what I needed through this trip. You can read more about how god Restored, Refreshed, and Refilled me over on the blog or go to my Instagram to check out pictures from the trip.

Looking Ahead

For the month of June, I'll be staying here in Cote d'Ivoire. During that time I'm going to be editing many of the videos shot in the past months as well as shooting 3 new productions. There just doesn't seem to be enough time. And yet I continue to finish projects on time and share stories.
The summer months don't let up on the schedule. In July, I'll be traveling to Europe to again work with a leadership training camp. The camps take place in Spain, Switzerland, and Austria offering leadership formation to teens from around the world. I've been working with this organization for 5 years now and always look forward to seeing those people again and catching up each year.

I can't overemphasize how important you are to this project. Knowing that you are part of this project keeps me motivated and encouraged to continue working hard to tell these stories. Thank you.
Your Fellow Servant,

And I would walk 5000 miles...

This past month I got the opportunity to return to the US and participate with in my friend Stephens wedding. Knowing that I was going to be back in the states for this event, I planned extra time to visit friends and family. Over the course of three weeks, I traveled over 5000 miles not including the trip to and from Africa.

Starting in Louisville, KY, I visited with Stephen and Ashley (his bride to be) getting to know them as a couple. Next, I drove down to Columbia, SC to visit my sister's family. After a few days of wrestling and playing with my nieces and nephews I drove on to Charleston to see my parents new house. They moved this past year and it was fun to see them in their new environment. For the weekend, I jumped on a plane headed north to Chicago where I was able to see many friends and also attend my church. Being able to share a greeting with the church there reminded me how much I miss those people and how much it means to me to have them behind me praying for me and encouraging me along the way.

With the wedding fast approaching, I flew back to Charleston and then drove back up to Louisville where I helped Stephen and Ashley get all the last minute details in place. The wedding was perfect. The weather, which had been threatening rain, cleared out for the entire day. It was so good to be part of this important day for Stephen and Ashley and be able to serve them in a million little ways. 

After the craziness of the preceding two weeks, plus all the activities of preparing for a wedding, I needed a little R&R. So my brother and I went rock climbing and camping in Red River Gorge. Karena, the maid of honor from the wedding, also got to come along; and even though she had never been climbing before she did a great job. It was a great week of resting, breathing in God's nature, and relaxing.

As I look back, I am realizing God's grace to me in giving me exactly what I need when I need it. Being able to see friends and family who I hadn't seen in almost a year, restored me. Getting to serve Stephen and Ashley, refreshed me. Climbing and camping in the gorge, reminded me of God's creativity. This trip was a step away from my normal routine of travel, produce, edit, travel again; and in these weeks as crazy and busy as I was, God gave me new energy to dive back into this project and continue the work of telling these stories.