Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lausanne III - Day 6 - Partnering in the Body of Christ

Heading into the last day of the conference, we have been asked a couple of times to think about conclusions, highlights and commitments to action. Slightly weary looks have been exchanged at such requests as there has been a lot to process. While the information is good, well presented and engaging it has been a lot to digest. Malcolm, my International Director who is also here, has aptly said it’s a bit like drinking from a fire hose.

This morning’s session began with Ramez and Rebecca Atallah (Egypt) reflecting on Ephesians 6. It was noted that we often have narrow eyes. We are not to wrestle with one another but spiritual forces. Our narrow eyes can cause us to focus on one another and think that the problems lay between us rather than looking at the bigger picture and seeing things through spiritual eyes. Looking at the armor of God, Ramez said there are essential values (peace and truth), essential beliefs (faith and salvation), and essential resources (the word and prayer). Lastly, he drew attention to Paul’s prayer request. He commented that even though Paul was in prison his request was for boldness. He did not ask for comfort or better service.

David Ruiz (Guatemala) spoke on partnership and the changing paradigm in missions. He spoke very fast and was difficult to follow. He was the first of the speakers that I had a hard time understanding. He said that the era of the “West to the rest” is finished. He talked about living in an unbalanced world and the need for the church to address global inequality. He said that if we are all really ready to partner it will require humility and the need for us to consider ourselves as nothing. He has a three part dream. 1) That we all recognize that we are members of the same body. 2) That we need to get over our utopian ideas about resources and live more by faith recognizing that the same Lord that sent the apostles will provide for his missionaries that are sent out. 3) That the colonialism of ideas in the name of partnership should stop. That exported programs with prepackaged ideas and logos being forced on local partners should stop. He announced that the world we once knew no longer exists. The church that once enjoyed the golden era of missions is now in the minority.

While I found a lot of what David had to say helpful and true, I didn’t find the reference to colonialism necessary. We are no longer in colonial time or postcolonial times, we are in the age of globalization and the conversation needs to be reframed within this context. The motives of those functioning with a globalized world view will be different than those functioning with a colonial worldview. Those under the age of fifty are not likely to even know much about a colonial worldview let alone function in one.

Patrick Feng (Singapore) also spoke on partnership. He began by saying that partnership is not about us but God’s mission. Partnering is not about balancing power but working together by the Spirit of God on God’s mission. He spoke of partnerships sharing God’s resources both ways. We need to bring what we have to the table and not be bitter about what we don’t have. Financial resources are not the only resources – years of experience are a type of resource that can be contributed to a partnership. He mentioned that many have suggested that the 21st century will be the century of Chinese missions. He feels this is misfortunate and supports the idea that the gospel will always move from the powerful to the less fortunate and should not be agreed with. “No one group should claim that they will finish the Great Commission, we need to do it together.” He finished talking about partnership with a story of the Chinese church that once was thanking missionaries for their work. They thanked them for assisting the poor, for the hospitals that were built and the lives that were given. They said, “We have one more thing to ask; we want your friendship.” Partnership is easier when friendship is present.

From my perspective there have been five issues that I see emerging. I expect there will be lots of other perspectives on the important issues. With 4,500 people at a meeting we all move in different circles of relationships and the conversations in the hallways can have as much significance as the sessions. With a bit of repeat from a couple of days ago and in no particular order:

1. Discipleship – There is a need for the church to do a much better job at discipleship. This issue was not highlighted in the main sessions but came out at various points.

2. Urban centers – The urban centers are growing and will continue into the future. The cities lead culture and thinking and are often locations of great human suffering. Mission has been focused on the rural “ends of the earth.” Some of the “ends of the earth” have moved into the city. We need to be engaging with the cities.

3. Islam – There is a need to continue to reach out to Muslims, to find new ways to engage and to wrestle with the many complex issues surrounding this work.

4. Suffering of the church – There are many places around the globe where the church is suffering. Many Christians live with constant threat and it is taken as part and parcel of being a follower of Christ. The early Christian church suffered tremendously. Are we, particularly the western church, ready to embrace suffering as a part of the faith or have we bought into a gospel of comfort?

5. The church in China is really serious – This is more of a personal take away. I have heard a lot about the church in China in recent years and its emphasis on mission. Part of me has wondered if the things I have been hearing are true or truth mixed with some sort of Christian urban legend. I am now convinced that the Chinese church will be a serious mission force to be reckoned with in the future.

I have to admit that I came to this meeting with some apprehension. I was concerned about competing agendas. At the last two Lausanne meetings that I attended it seemed that the agenda was so diverse that everyone came away with their own idea of what was central and what actions steps needed to be taken. While that will always be the case in any meeting involving such a diverse community and so many issues to wrestle with, I feel this meeting had an overall emphasis on the gospel. It remained central in the discussions. It did not get lost in the plurality of issues.

The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lausanne III - Day 5 - Humility, Integrity and Simplicity

I think that we have nearly maximized the capacity of the Cape Town International Convention Centre. There are very few places to sit outside of the meeting rooms. During meal times a few chairs are available, but most people stand around in small groups or find a bit of floor space on which to sit. As the conference goes on, I am seeing more and more people taking naps on the few comfortable chairs that exist. Some are even slumped in corners on the floor. I have found it increasingly difficult to get up in the morning, so it must be getting to me as well. We have not been particularly physically active, but as I learned on the trivia quiz on the plane ride down from Malawi, the human brain uses 40% of the oxygen from the blood that your heart pumps around, so maybe there is a lot of thinking going on.

The topics of the day called for more introspection as issues of character dominated the sessions.

The first session was led by Calisto Odede (Kenya). He spoke from Ephesians 4 & 5. He started by talking about the African hunters who used to track animals. He said that from looking at a few footprints they could tell many things about who had passed. They could tell if it was a man or woman, if they were old or young, if they were carrying something, if they had started walking recently or had been walking for some time. He asked the question, “What story does your walk tell about you?”

He went on to say that the church has lost its credibility in many places because of the lives of its believers. About preaching, he said, “We have substituted the preaching of the gospel with pep talks.” We were challenged to walk as children of light, to walk in love, and to walk in wisdom. He spoke about hidden things and said, “Transparency is not an option for believers, it is mandated.”

He finished with a story about the danger of making small compromises. A man was in a land where it was illegal to eat porcupines. One day he was hunting a porcupine when someone warned him, “It is against the law to eat porcupines.” He responded to say, “The law does not say I cannot hunt porcupines.” Later he was caught carrying a porcupine when someone warned him, “It is against the law to eat porcupines.” He responded to say, “The law does not say I cannot carry porcupines.” Later he was roasting the porcupine when someone warned him, “It is against the law to eat porcupines.” He responded to say, “The law does not say I cannot roast porcupines.” Later, he was tasting the porcupine when someone warned him, “It is against the law to eat porcupines.” He responded to say, “The law does not say I cannot taste porcupines.” He continued to taste the porcupine until it was finished. In the end he had eaten the porcupine and was now in trouble.

Chris Wright (UK) spoke on the issues of personal humility, integrity and simplicity. He said, “The greatest obstacle to the mission of God is his own people.” The modern day idols that entice us away from God are pride and power, popularity and success as well as wealth and greed. These things can be seen in church leaders pursuing status and titles and the prosperity teaching that is popular in much of the world. These teachers are ignoring the teachings on suffering and taking up our cross. On success, he spoke of the manipulation of statistics to make a ministry look bigger than it is or to try and get funding for projects. “We have become a stumbling block to the mission of God and need to be called back to repentance and simplicity.”

Ferni Adeleye (Nigeria) spoke about the Prosperity gospel. He told of his cousin who had given his car to his local church with the expectation that he would receive a Merces-Benz from God. After waiting for some months, he became disappointed with God and stopped attending church. Ferni had to tell his cousin that it was not God who had let him down, but his pastor who was not faithfully teaching. He talked about the manipulation of scripture that takes place to support prosperity teaching. They tend to distort the mission of Jesus from coming to save to coming to make people rich as well as teaching that giving to God is an investment rather than an act of worship. He mentioned some passages of scripture that are avoided by prosperity teachers (Luke 12:15, Matt 13:22). He finished by talking about simplicity and quoted John Stott who said, “Our life is a pilgrimage between two points of nakedness. We should travel light and live simply.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lausanne III Day 4 - Unity and the Unreached

The Lausanne gathering has six full days of programs. Yesterday, the day marking the half point of the meetings, was a day off. I think it probably served a couple of purposes. It allowed everyone some time off to reflect and not be required to absorb more information. It also gave an opportunity to those itching to see the sites of Cape Town time to tour some. I set off early for Table Mountain. In Ryan’s world, any visit to Cape Town requires a climbing of the mountain. I found a path that required rock climbing (!), arriving on top to a very foggy view of nothing (but fog). I arrived back in time to head to a service for the installing of the new Director for SIM South Africa. Siegfried Ngubane, a lecturer from George Whitfield College and pastor of a township church is the new Director. I was encouraged during his speech when he spoke of the need for the township churches to obey the great commission and send out missionaries. He said that “although we have a painful history and don’t see ourselves as having much, we need to send missionaries.”

Day 4 is focused on the Will of Christ and Priorities. In the first morning session, Vaughan Roberts of the UK considered the unity that Paul talks about in Ephesians 4. He reflected on the fact that even though globalization and the internet are bringing a kind of global unity, we are divided as ever. Non-Christians should be attracted by our unity, they are often repelled by our disunity. Our unity does not mean we should have uniformity. There is diversity in the body. We need to make sure that in our eagerness for unity we don’t sacrifice our theology. Some attempts to unify the church in the past have tended toward the lowest common theological denominator and ended up sacrificing key essential issues.

The second session was led by Paul Eshleman. The focus was on unreached peoples. There are about 16,000 people groups in the world. 3,700 still have no one working among them. Testimonies were given by some different participants that spoke about newer methods for reaching groups. Storytelling and engaging in dialogues with Muslim intellectuals were two methods highlighted. Time was then spent in table groups with a list of the unreached groups in the world. Participants were asked to commit to engaging with one or more of the groups. With a representation of leaders from almost every country in the world, it is possible to get a lot of legitimate commitments. We were asked to discuss the question of why there are still unreached peoples in the world. My table came up with two basic ideas the first is a lack of knowledge (we don’t know there are unreached people in our area of influence) and the second that we tend to want to work where we are more successful.

Coming to the Congress, there is a highly planned program. The themes are chosen ahead of time and a lot of discussions went on in different meetings leading up to the congress. There has been a web site ( where presentations and papers were put ahead of time to give opportunity for delegates and others to interact with the issues before the meeting. Despite all of that, there is a desire to hear from delegates on what the agenda needs to be for Lausanne and the church for the years to come. There do seem to be some emerging themes. This is just from my observation, but what I seem to be hearing so far are three major issues.

1. Discipleship – There is a need for the church to do a much better job at discipleship.

2. Urban centers – The urban centers are growing and are set to grow in the future. We need to be ready and engage with the cities.

3. Islam – There is a need to continue to reach out to Muslims, to find new ways to engage and to wrestle with the many complex issues surrounding this work.

Lausanne III Day 3

The foci of the day were the love of Christ and other religions. In the first part of the day, John Piper spent time expositing Ephesians 3. He concluded by attempting to address two tensions that he felt existed in the room and the church as a whole. The first, he described as the belief that when the power of the gospel takes root in our souls, it causes us to work to resolve every injustice. The second, he described as the belief that when the power of the gospel takes root in our souls, it awakens in us the need to proclaim Christ to others. He feels that we can hold them together, they don’t need to compete. His suggestion for holding the two together is to say, “We Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.” He said that if we overemphasize either side “we either have a defective view of hell, or a defective heart.”

Security has been quite high around the conference. Numerous guards are at every door and we cannot move around the building without our conference badges. Some of the speakers are not listed in the program and we are asked to not take photos of some of them so as to not potentially jeopardize their ministries.

One speaker, whose husband was one of the ten killed in Afghanistan just a few months ago, gave a very sobering testimony. They were on their way back from a three week medical trip to a rural village. She spoke of his weeks in the village and their communication during that time. They had worked in Afghanistan for 30 years. The room was very quiet when she finished as we all prayed in our groups for the people of Afghanistan.

Benjamin Kwasi of Nigeria, an Anglican minster, spoke of the religious violence that has plagued Nigeria in recent years. His policy has been of no retaliation. He told stories of how the violence has affected his own life and how God has miraculously saved him a couple of times when the violence came into his house. One year ago, a group came to his house to kill him. They took him out of his room. He asked if he could pray first. He knelt on the ground and began to pray. When he opened his eyes, they were all gone, they had fled for unknown reasons. He ended by saying, “I will die one day, before that time, I have a gospel to proclaim and I will keep preaching.”

Michael Ramsden of the UK spoke about the high cost of the gospel. He asked, “Do we have a gospel of comfort?” Do we preach the same gospel that Paul was preaching when he knew that he would have to suffer for Christ? Do we love the gospel more than life? Do we believe we have been crucified with Christ? These were some of his other questions. He made the statement, “There are no truly closed countries, only places we are not willing to go.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


This morning’s sessions left me feeling small. The first session focused on a study of Ephesians 2 with a reminder of the reconciliation that we have to God in Christ (v.16). The following session felt like a series of tidal waves. As each wave hit the mind and conscience, there was barely time to breath before the next one struck. The focus was on some of the biggest issues in the world needing reconciliation.

The Dalit of India – The 250 million Dalit (untouchables) are at the bottom of the caste system. From birth, Dalit children are taught that they do not have worth and are systematically taught where they can and cannot go. They are relegated to only holding certain low level jobs. The Dalit women are the primary targets of human trafficking in India. Joseph D’souza (India), the president of the Dalit Freedom Network compared the Caste system to the Apartheid of South Africa saying it is worse than racism. What is the role of the global church in ending the caste system?

Slavery – There are more slaves in the world today than during the height of the colonial slave trade times. Pranitha Timothy (India) of the International Justice Mission told stories of slavery in India. This included a disturbing undercover black and white video of a slave master talking and laughing about his slaves and how he ensures they stay loyal. What is the role of the global church in ending slavery?

The Israel and Palestine Conflict – Shadia Qubti (Palestine) & Dan Sered (Israel) talked about their experiences as Christians in the Middle East. While Palestine is largely Muslim, ten percent of the population is Christian and have strong deep feelings about the land. They said, “When Palestinian and Jewish Christians can say, ‘I love you in Christ’ the world will see the reconciling power of the gospel.” What is the role of the global church in helping to bring reconciliation in this tense situation?

Genocide – In 1994, over a period of 100 days, one million Tutsis were systematically killed by members of the Hutu tribe. This happened in a country considered 90% Christian and the birthplace of the East Africa revival. Antoine Rutayisire (Rwanda), a Commissioner on the Rwandan National Unity and Reconciliation Commission spoke about his role as a “wounded healer” and reflected on some of the factors that led to a weak Christianity that could not prevent the genocide from happening. What is the role of the global church in preventing genocide?

Human Trafficking – Human trafficking is the second largest illegal business just behind drug trafficking. Christine MacMillan, the head of the World Evangelical Association task force to prevent and combat human trafficking spoke of the need of the church to act. What is the role of the global church in stopping human trafficking?

The weight of each of these issues is enough to make one despair and feel small. A life time could be dedicated to struggling with each issue. I think it is easy to believe that these are local problems that require local action. While local action is often needed, it does not excuse those far away from acting. We are part of the Global body of Christ and need to creatively and wisely engage.

- God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself 2 Cor 5:19

Lausanne III: An Exercise in Extreme Diversity

I am used to living in the midst of diversity. I have lived overseas almost as long as I have lived in my home countries (yes, two of them). For the last eight years I have led a team of missionaries from more than a dozen different countries. I feel at ease mixing and interacting with people from different backgrounds and different ways of seeing the world. So, I feel quite at home here, but I was struck this morning by just how diverse the Lausanne gathering really is.

It started with breakfast. I sat at a table of men who gave me a nod when I asked if I could eat with them. It took me about thirty seconds after that to realize I sat in the middle of a Russian speaking delegation. One man took the effort to greet me with a few words of English. It was a quiet pensive breakfast.

We have been singing in many of the congress’ seven official languages and even more. I sang (if my attempt qualifies) in Arabic for the first time in my life this morning. Last night we sang in Chinese, and Zulu has been a regular worship language. Last night I met someone from a country I have not even heard of before. I thought I had at least heard of every country in the world and could tell you to which continent it belonged. As I reflected on the numbers I realized that the only comparable gathering is perhaps the UN. A search on the UN web site shows they have 193 members. There are more than 200 countries represented here.

The extreme diversity changes the discussion. Yesterday’s focus of the day was Truth. The plenary speakers spent a lot of time talking about pluralism and the impact of postmodernism on the concept of truth. Mixed in between the plenary speakers were group discussions. We have all been placed in table groups of six for morning Bible study and group discussions. As we talked about the challenges to truth in our local contexts, it was interesting to note that the issue of pluralism and postmodern views of truth only related to about half of the group. A member of the group from Nigeria noted that the biggest challenge to truth in her context is Christians not living according to the Bible. Their lives discredit their words. Members of the group from Malaysia and Jodan talked about the competing truth of Christianity and the truth of Islam. Both groups feel that truth is discoverable, the question is which is the right one.

The diversity is also a lot of fun. Video has been used a lot in the congress. The clips have been short and from all over the world. Numerous times, even in my small group, I have heard, “Hey, I know that person.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Lausanne Congress Begins

Four thousand five hundred church, mission, education and business leaders have gathered from 200 countries to discuss the church. The next seven days will be spent discussing issues relevant to the global church. This is possibly the largest meeting of this type to ever take place. The selection process was extensive to try and get the right group of people together that would represent the global evangelical church. A few years ago, this would have been the best that could be done. Try your best to pick the right people and pray they are available and have the necessary finances to get to the meeting. This time things are different.

With new technology, the congress is being made available to thousands of others. This is happening so that as many as possible can join in the conversation. There are hundreds of remote sites in 97 countries participating by video link. Access is available online and through video and audio podcasts. So, why not check out what is happening and enter the dialogue. You can give feedback on the issues being discussed through the Global Conversation site. Don’t be left out of this historical meeting.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An African Perspective of Truth

This is part of a series of posts that interact with issues that will be discussed at the Lausanne meeting that will be taking place in Cape Town, South Africa October 16 to 25. Join in the discussions at

This is a reflection on the paper Truth Matters, Stand Up for Truth

An African Perspective of Truth

Contemporary discussions about truth tend to focus on truth from a western perspective. The discussions usually focus on the Modern view of truth over against a Post-modern view of truth. Other world views are either not considered or neglected. The global dominance of western culture as well as the fact that some world views have not articulated their perspectives means that other voices are not heard.

Joe Kapolyo in his book, The Human Condition: Christian Perspectives Through Africa Eyes (Inter-Varsity Press, 2005) gives some insight into the world view of the Bemba (a people group largely based in Zambia) and their view of truth.

Western philosophy since the Enlightenment has generally conceptualized truth in absolute terms but divorced from any metaphysical ideas or notions. This conception of truth has drawn a sharp distinction between facts and values. Facts are objectively true, while values are a matter for personal opinion.

Science assumes enormous prestige in this privileging of its form of knowledge over biblical revelation. Scientific truth has its basis in observation but observation has its limitations. A chicken observing the farmer putting down food in its feeding trough assumes, on the basis of observation that the farmer puts down the food in order to feed it. This is true but it is not the whole truth. The chicken has no way of knowing the financial and economic strategies behind the farmer’s actions! But in general it is observation that gives the Western concept of truth the quality of timelessness or contextual autonomy. As a consequence Western culture has basically rejected the metaphysical world as true on account that such notions and concepts are not verifiable. Their ‘truth’ must be virtual rather than absolute. In line with this, a statement is deemed to be true if there is a verifiable corresponding fact or reality behind it. It is false if no such corresponding fact or reality exists. This conceptualization of truth puts Western attitudes in sharp contrast to those of other cultures like that of the Bemba.

For most, if not all African cultures, ‘Criteria of truth and value are socially, not internally, generated and applied; responsibility is communal, not conscientious, and public shame, not guilty self, is the penalty for moral contravention’ (Maxwell 1983:24) When the need to tell the ‘truth’ conflicts with a greater value (i.e. the demand to protect one’s ‘good image’ or defend a close relative) it is appropriate to tell lies. However, although everyone acknowledges the lies as lies, the person who told them to protect his kin or his ‘good image’ will generally be upheld in the community as truthful. This often brings much biblical teaching into conflict with culture. (p.139-140)

Joe compares the Bemba view of truth with a traditional Modern view of truth, but does not compare it to Postmodernism. Pure Postmodernism does not recognize absolute truth and emphasizes the views of the individual. Truth is determined by the individual and may be based on individual views of reality, beliefs, perspectives etc. This contrasts the Bemba view of truth, where it is determined by the community.

Knowing that our view of truth, be it Modern, Postmodern or Bemba is deeply impacted by our cultures and is flawed, we need to seek out a biblical view of truth. I don’t see this issue addressed inYu’s paper. A biblical understanding would need to not only consider the relevant texts, but also take into consideration how the biblical authors understood truth in their cultural contexts.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

American Evangelicals and the Environment

This is the first of a series of posts that will be interacting with issues that will be discussed at the Lausanne meeting that will be taking place in Cape Town, South Africa October 16 to 25. Join in the discussions at

This is a reflection on the paper The Challenge of Environmental Stewardship

American Evangelicals and the Environment

Some of the most influential formative years of my life were spent living at a conference center in southern New Jersey. The property was huge with lots of woods and three fresh water lakes. I spent countless hours running through the woods, making forts, fishing in the lakes and camping. That love of the outdoors has stuck with me. There are few things I love more than hiking a mountain or running a good trail. I love being outdoors.

So, how do I feel about the environment? Until a few years ago, I’d say I was indifferent. At some point, I don’t remember when, I was confronted with the inconsistency of loving the outdoors and being apathetic about the environment. There was need for some self reflection and an understanding of what was impacting my thinking. I came to the conclusion that I was indifferent for two reasons, one theological and one ideological.

Theologically, evangelicals understand that one day Christ will return. An allegorical reading of the book of Revelation understands that his return will be preceded and accompanied by disaster. A new heaven and earth will be created. With this understanding, it is not too far a stretch to arrive at indifference about the environment. “If it is all going to be destroyed anyway, why should we worry too deeply?” This thinking is well encapsulated by James G. Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first interior secretary, when he famously made this argument before Congress in 1981, saying: "God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." (see

Ideologically, those who have traditionally pushed a strong environmental agenda have often been politically liberal and disagree with evangelicals on a host of issues. Environmentalism has been on the opposite political/ideological stage as most American evangelical and has become guilty by association. Many American evangelicals would align themselves with the Republican party and believe issues related to the environment and global warming are politically motivated.

After some reflection, I decided that these were not sufficient reasons to carry on in indifference to the world that God created. While I believe that Christ will return, I also believe that man was made a steward of the earth and we have a biblical obligation to take care of it. Am I worried that many who care about the environment differ significantly with me on other issues I care deeply about. No, they have their reasons to care about the environment and I have mine.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Google Maps and Irrational Exuberance

Sometimes knowledge is power, and sometimes knowledge makes you do stupid things.

Over the last few years, Google maps have improved their coverage of Malawi. Internet service has also improved, so looking at the maps is possible when the connection is good. A few weeks ago, Liz, who runs with me a few time a week, and I ran around one of the mountains in Blantyre called Soche. We got most of the way around before we were slightly lost and had to have someone put us back on the right path. In the end, we managed to get around it comfortably in just under three hours.

I liked the experience so much that I did some research on Google to see if it was possible to run around the mountain near our house called Michiru. Low and behold I found a road that went neatly around the mountain. I printed out the map; taping together the multiple pieces of paper required to print it and highlighted the road. It was obvious that it was longer than the way around the last mountain, but it didn’t look too much longer. I put it with some other maps waiting the opportune time to try out the route.

I was suppose to run this morning with a couple of people, but it was raining hard, so we did not end up getting out. After church, the rain had ceased and it was cloud covered and cool, and I had a couple of hours; a perfect opportunity to pull out the map. I got home, changed straight away, put on a small backpack with a liter of water, a phone, some money and a couple of packets of Gu energy gel.

I was off and running. I ran out a road that I knew headed to the airport. At about mile five I was joined by two young men in flip flops who thought it would be fun to run with me. After about a mile and a good chat, Jim and Wyson turned off to their village. I passed the airport at mile eight after about an hour and ten minutes. I was content as I figured it was about the half way point.

About a mile past the airport I asked for directions to confirm what the map was showing. I was told that I should proceed on the road, turn left, go up a steep hill and then down into Chilomoni (near where I live). The man thought it would be about eight kilometers (5 miles). I knew he was not right, but was encouraged that it sounded close. I followed the road, which quickly narrowed and deteriorated to mud and streams in some places. I began passing through many villages, surprising the inhabitants who began to ask where I was going and where I was coming from. It was easier to just explain that I was coming from the airport than to try and explain that I had started at the same place that I was now heading. The children I passed gave mixed responses of “Azungu! Azungu!”(white person) or the smaller children ran away when they saw me coming.

As I passed the half-marathon point (13.1 miles) I gave myself a ten minute walk break and filled up my backpack water supply from a local clean well pump. At about mile fifteen, things began to fall apart. My calves began to cramp from the hills and I had to walk some. As I passed a local school I asked one of the men how far it was to Chilomoni he said it was only one kilometer. I was encouraged. As I came to the top of the next hill, I recognized none of the hills near my house. My calves were really hurting and I began to wonder if I should have skipped lunch. I met some men who looked like they were coming from church. They said it would be eight kilometers (5 miles) to Chilomoni and that I could find some food at a small shop just up the next hill. I was happy they had told me, because the small store was just a house that I would have passed. There was not a whole lot available, but I did find three Cokes and two pieces of bread. Five minutes later I felt like a new man as I headed up the road. My phone rang, the first in a series of calls from Heidi, who was beginning to wonder what was taking me so long and if I needed to be picked up. I could not honestly tell her how to find me without having her follow the same road that I had taken. I was sure I would not be much longer, Chilomoni had to be over the next hill. … It wasn’t.

It was beginning to get dark. At each school I asked its name for a landmark in case Heidi did need to come pick me up. Just for fun I also asked how far it was to Chilomoni, one kilometer was the standard answer. I began to feel more confident when I entered one village that had electricity, I was coming closer to the city. I inquired about the school, the distance to Chilomoni and if there was a shop where I could find a Coke. They had a nicer shop with a few more things. I drank two Cokes and had a short chat with the owner and another man in the shop. As I left, the second man followed me out and informed me that the shop owner was the village Chief and that he wanted his assistant, the man following me, to escort me to Chilomoni, as it was completely dark now. I appreciated the gesture and quickly accepted, Malawi is known as the “Warm Heart of Africa” for a reason.

After walking for 30 minutes Byson reflected on the fact that we had probably walked for more than a kilometer. We could hear the music from some local bars and I began to see the outlines of familiar topography. We walked the route that Byson considered the safest for traveling in the dark. When we hit the tarred road that I knew, we parted ways as he had something he wanted to do in town. I ran the rest of the way home thinking that I should have put my headlamp in the backpack, but was glad of the reflectors on my shoes. I arrived home having covered just over 25 miles. Not sure how soon my curiosity will find its way to Google maps again.


Friday, March 5, 2010

You're Looking Fat Today!

Potato chips are my great weakness, especially barbeque flavor. If there is a bag of chips in the house, they begin to call out to me at about 9:00 at night. I can behave and eat the right things all day right up to that point and then I cave in. Ask anyone in my house, they know I can eat a whole bag of potato chips by myself. I’ve struggled much of my life trying to balance putting the right amount of food into my body.

About three years ago I started exercising more and watching my food intake more intentionally. Over the course of a couple of years I lost about 35 pounds and took up running. Peoples’ reactions to the change fall clearly along cultural lines.

Western reaction – “Great”

“Wow, Ryan, you look really healthy. You must be proud of yourself.”

“Ryan, what’s your secret?”

It is usually assumed that I intended to lose weight and am living a healthier lifestyle.

Malawian reaction – “Are you OK?”

This week at the Africa Evangelical Church’s Annual meeting I have been meeting some pastors that I’ve not seen in a while. I’m getting a different set of reactions. I’ve been pulled to the side a few times and am asked questions like:

“Pastor, you are looking thin, are you well?”

“You don’t look as happy these days as you were.” (while making hand gestures in a circular motion around the midsection indicating a larger body) “Are you OK?”

In a context where weight loss and looking thin are often signs of sickness being fat can be seen very positively. It is a sign of health and that you are doing OK financially. A common compliment to someone who has recently traveled or returned from vacation is, “You’re looking fat!” We would probably say, “You look rested.”

Interestingly, the Malawian view of being fat and healthy is similar to the Old Testament view of things.

Ps 92:14 They [the righteous] shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing;

Pr 13:4 The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.

Pr 28:25 He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: but he that putteth his trust in the LORD shall be made fat.

Even though I understand it as a compliment, I’m not sure my western ears will ever adjust to quickly appreciate the compliment, “You’re looking fat today!”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


A couple of weeks ago I was in Chapananga village for the dedication of a new church building. Music and choirs are a big part of any special church function. This day was no exception. I was particularly impressed with one man’s innovation in creating a special drum set. It consisted of two traditional goat skin drums, bottle caps and my favorite piece, a bicycle bell. He played with some other drummers as the youth sang and danced.

See the video Chapananga Drums on YouTube