Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kony 2012

LRA leader Joseph Kony

**Note: This post was written a week ago, prior to the unfortunate mental breakdown of Jason Russell, the co-founder and producer of the Invisible Children organization who produced the 'Kony 2012' video. I hesitated in posting this because I didn't want to appear insensitive to his situation. Obviously, there has been an enormous amount of pressure on him since this video has received world-wide attention and critique from millions, including government officials right up to the presidents of countries. I have no reason to question his motives in producing this - from everything I've read he appears to be genuinely concerned about the people affected by the LRA and doing his best to help. However, in my opinion, it is fair to evaluate the methods he's using to try to help - just as we should be evaluating all relief and development efforts made by the West in the developing world given the long history of problems created by some of those efforts.

As you can imagine, a number of people have been asking us for our opinion on the new 'Kony 2012' campaign being launched by the California-based organization, Invisible Children. As of this post, it had been viewed by over 85 million people on YouTube. So last night, Alisha and I watched the 30-minute online video (watch it here) after reading dozens of opinions of the film from news outlets and friends of ours still in Uganda. Anyway, I thought I'd respond here so I could point people somewhere as more people ask.
We of course have read and heard all about Joseph Kony during our time living in Uganda (Jan '08 to Jun '10). We knew many Ugandans who were misplaced from their homes and now living in Kampala because of the wrath and destruction he spread. Though he sees himself as a messianic-style leader with purported direct access to God, a look at his resume reveals quite a different picture. He has devastated many lives in Northern Uganda over the past two decades and continues his reign of terror in other parts of Central Africa, albeit on a much smaller scale now due in part to the countries in the region finally standing up to him and his brutal activities. But upon even closer inspection, you will find that he has been closely tied to the greater geo-political situation in Uganda for a long time.
For years, it's suspected that the Ugandan government and military essentially ‘looked away’ from Kony's activities because they were receiving millions of dollars in aid to fight him. They would plan military intervention one after another that was promised to once and for all get rid of the brutal madman, only for Kony to be tipped off at the last minute and ‘barely escape’. (As a side note, the Ugandan military is actually pretty strong in the region -they have a few fighter jets, helicopters, and regularly send troops around the region to help in various conflicts. So, their inability to capture Kony for so many years is more than puzzling and has led to the suspicions that perhaps they didn’t want to capture him - presumably so they wouldn’t lose the millions of dollars in aid money to fight him.)

Well, while we were there in December of 2009, they finally felt the pressure from the people and other countries, so the militaries of Uganda, DRC and Sudan joined together on a mission to kill or capture Kony. In the raid, many leader's of the LRA (Kony’s group – the ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’) were in fact killed. However, once again, one of the military generals tipped Kony off and he was able to escape with a small group of soldiers. (At the time, it was announced that the Uganda military general involved in the leak was to be brought up on charges, though I never heard if that actually happened or not.)
Since then, he has not returned to Uganda, spending most of his time in CAR (Central African Republic) but traveling around into Southern Sudan and the northern tip of the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo – formerly Zaire). He’s still up to his brutal tricks, kidnapping children to turn the boys into soldiers and girls into sex slaves for his soldiers, though on a much smaller scale than before. It’s been suggested that he’s operating under the cover of the government of CAR, but that’s just one of many suspicions arising out of the fact that it is difficult to figure out what is happening in the remote jungles of East Africa.

Anyway, in October of 2011, the US sent 100 troops to Uganda to help with coordinating the effort to capture or kill Kony. They are not serving in a combat role, but rather operate in an advisory capacity from the major cities in the region (such as Kampala, where we lived) to the Ugandan military. There hasn't been any public updates since they were mobilized.

My initial impression of this new ‘Kony 2012’ movement by the Invisible Children (IC) people is definitely mixed. I have always felt that once their movement gained traction and notoriety, there were signs that the movement became as much about the movement itself rather than the situation they were trying to help. Of course, who am I to determine their motives, but looking at how the funds were being used made you wonder what the overall goal was and how the spending practices were justified if those goals were targeted to a solution to the problem.
While we were living in Uganda, we still heard stories of the IC people holding rallies back in the US to ‘raise awareness’ about the crisis in Northern Uganda, even though the crisis (in Uganda) had ended a few years before. Not to say that they didn’t still do some good, but I always felt that they were being a little disingenuous in raising money by reporting on a ‘crisis’ that had ended years earlier, even if the end goal was the noble effort of helping support the people in the aftermath. It's easy to do this in development work and even ministry - cherry-picking the extreme or 'sexy' aspects of a situation without telling the full story in order to garner attention and support. I think Christian ministries (or at least the ones I'm aware of) are typically good about maintaining integrity in such situations.

So fast forwarding to this new ‘Kony 2012’ movement, my first instinct was definitely peppered with plenty of skepticism. When I first heard of the video (it was just released on March 5th), I read a post written by a good friend of mine named Jeff who lives with his family in Uganda (read it here). Jeff is our age and has lived in Uganda for over 10 years now I believe. I do trust his insight and on the ground perspective, though I don’t know that I can whole-heartedly endorse everything he says in his post. However, I do think it’s a very worthwhile post on the subject to read and consider, and I have a lot of respect for Jeff as a person.

So, having said all of that, I do think that the issue of kidnapping and creating child soldiers is one of the great atrocities of our time. Having just traveled to Sierra Leone twice, I am keenly aware of the devastation it causes. In the past few months I've read a couple of books about the war in Sierra Leone of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and the rebel group there (the 'RUF') really popularized the idea of creating and using child soldiers to fight their war. They would kidnap them, beat and starve them, then train them in weaponry and finally force them to kill their own families to desensitize them to killing. They also kept them doped up high on cocaine and pot and speed, and showed them all kinds of violent and pornographic movies as they moved through the countryside terrorizing people. Kids as young as 8 and 9 committing rape, murder and all sorts of mutilations – it's just an unthinkable crime against humanity. So anything that can be done to stop it is worthwhile, whether or not it’s a ‘Christian’ organization (IC is not a Christian organization, though I have no idea of what their individual spiritual beliefs are).

So, in my mind, whether or not ‘Kony 2012’ is at least in part simply out to make themselves a continually viable organization is definitely an issue, but not necessarily 'the' issue. The real debate is (or should be) about whether or not this movement will help or hinder capturing Joseph Kony (my friend Jeff seems to indicate in his post that it will hinder it). In my mind, I really have no idea, but I do know that plenty of well-intentioned relief and development efforts of the past have oftentimes made things worse.
Here's one more perspective I pulled off another friend from Uganda's Facebook page. I don't know the person who wrote this personally, but I do know that she has lived and worked in East Africa for years. Again, I don't endorse everything that is said here, but I think it raises a number of difficult issues about this situation that must at least be considered. The author writes her reasons why she is concerned about IC and the new Kony video:
"...The current LRA (operating in South Sudan, CAR and DRC) is probably only a few hundred strong. Second, their (IC's) sabre-rattling is dangerous: it emphasises a military solution – and specifically a US-aided military solution – which both justifies US military presence in Uganda and fails to recognize that military solutions against the LRA (with or without US help) have not only failed dismally for almost three decades but have only led to increased suffering. Third, it is impossible to see what this is going to achieve other than raising awareness (and cash) for a self-indulgent group of possibly well-meaning Westerners. It compounds images of a squeaky clean West trying to save darkest Africa, which couldn’t be further from the truth: the West has wreaked havoc in Africa not only through colonialism but through its subsequent meddling and propping up of dictatorial regimes often under the guise of humanitarian aid.
Fourth, it massively overlooks the role played by the government of Uganda in the course of the conflict, which has yet to be investigated. Government forces are accused of having committed numerous crimes against the people of the north during the course of the war, including forcing
hundreds of thousands of Ugandans into so-called ‘protected villages’ where they were unable to support themselves or their families – and where they remained thoroughly unprotected. Fifth, it presents a hugely skewed picture of Uganda. The main issue facing the majority of Ugandans right now is an absence of good governance: Kony is a sideshow, a symptom (albeit a brutal one) of poor governance and the mismanagement of resources over the past decades in which the country has seen over 20 rebel groups operating since Museveni came to power.

The publicity around Kony 2012 might have helped 10 years ago when people on the ground were shouting themselves hoarse to get the world to listen, but it is very hard to see what all this is going to achieve other than to line a few pockets and make a few kids aware of a conflict – whether through awareness-raising or voyeurism I can’t say." (click here to read an article on this general subject by this same author.)

It's a bit harsh for my taste, but I do think the perspective she raises is important to keep in mind while watching the very emotionally-charged film.
So, I guess I should be more specific. Would I be opposed to hanging a poster up - no. Awareness is definitely a worthwhile cause and I think IC has had proven success with this in the past. Ultimately, if people across the globe support the cause of capturing Kony, I think it makes sense that their governments might support it too. But if it came down to whether or not I would give money to the organization, I personally would say no. Doing 'something' is noble even if only in intent, but the history of aid and development (and even mission work) has taught us that it sometimes is NOT better than doing nothing.
So many times Western nations have gone into Africa to help remove a horrible dictator, and in doing so placed an even more ruthless dictator in his place. I think this is the danger that exists in Egypt and Libya right now, but that's another topic for another post!
On the whole, the primary reason I wouldn't give money to IC is because I believe Christians aid and development organizations are the most worthy of supporting and equipping to act in such matters. I think stripping out the gospel (even if it’s just in motivation and not necessarily explicitly evangelistic) from aid work is like going to war without bullets. It’s fighting a battle without the proper tools for battle - or maybe it's better said that it's fighting the wrong battle.
Of course there are plenty of ‘bad’ Christian aid organizations who need to close up shop. But on the whole, my money would go (and does go) to the many solid Christian organizations out there who are not only trying to help the physical conditions of the poor, but also to support the emotional and spiritual needs that are so often integral to the core of the struggle. This bigger picture approach is what is needed in so many situations, and I think the Kony situation is no exception.
Of course, I don't have some brilliant plan of how to end this crisis - I honestly haven't thought much about it (the Kony situation). But at the end of the day, I feel like restoring the earth and its people to a reverent fear and love of God should be the core motivation of every development solution.
So, there you go. It’s a complicated issue. This is obviously just my opinion, which is no better than anyone else's and is by no means the gospel truth. The bottom line is, as the Ugandan government said in a statement released a couple of days ago, any effort to bring Kony to justice is worthwhile. However, it's important that such efforts be based on the full facts of the situation rather than trumped up emotion and Hollywood special effects. I would add that such efforts should also be well-grounded in a biblical worldview that respects all cultures equally, and supports and empowers Africans to resolve their own conflicts in a way that's appropriate and sustainable for Africa.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sierra Leone Trip II - Part III of III

Part III of III

Day Seven (Feb 9)
Going back and re-reading my first entry when I was in the UK last week, I can see that I was really struggling with leaving home for so long again. I think I’m going through another tough stage today as I am really missing home. After visiting both of the sites we assessed in September this morning and then doing some souvenir shopping in the afternoon, we drove out to our ‘home’ for the next four nights – a small house near the beach about 45 minutes South of Freetown.
It’s kind of a rustic beach house, though it's nice that we get to occupy the entire thing ourselves. I finally get to use my mosquito net that I bought before the trip since I suspect there will be more mosquito’s down here next to the water, and I’ll probably use the 8 D-size batteries I lugged along with me from home too since power is only by generator for a few hours in the evening. I had to hunt around the area to find 4 suitable sticks to use to hold the net off my body – I felt like a poor man’s MacGyver! But it works and I think I’ll sleep well knowing I won’t be bit and having the net not touching me. It’s a lot more humid here next to the water than it’s been anywhere else during the trip. When we arrived they notified us that the water is turned off every other day, so there will be no water tomorrow. They have lots of buckets already filled and they said they will keep them filled for us as needed throughout the day. It’s always interesting!

The beach house

But back to my struggling, I’m not really sure what brings it on but it probably has a bit to do with changing to a new place. Also, our team is ahead of schedule on work so we’re thinking that we might be all wrapped up by the end of the day tomorrow, so that makes me feel like our primary purpose for being here is complete. Of course, the next flight out (on our airline) isn’t until our flight on Monday, but mentally it’s a little more difficult when our job is mostly done. But the volunteers having time to fully complete their written report is vital. I really don’t want to send any work home with them after the trip, so the next couple of days are actually quite valuable.
But trying to think of things in a bigger-picture context, I struggle with the notion that this is something I have to do every few months – that is, leave Alisha and the boys at home and go travel to far off lands, living in a variety of situations and circumstances. I realize though I am a person who craves routine and consistency, and though those things bring me great comfort, that is ultimately irrelevant in God’s economy. So this inner struggle of not necessarily wanting to go on these trips is always met with a strong draw of going nonetheless because I really feel God continues to call me to do so. It’s a little unsettling I have to admit, but ultimately it’s what we all sign up for when we decide to live our lives for God. And while I made that decision at a very young age, I feel like walking that out is something that requires that decision to be tested regularly. (A great example from the Bible of why this is so important for us in included at the very end of this blog post).

The view from the beach house!

...and, the beach. Beautiful for sure, but a little too close to the city. As we were swimming one day, I felt something hit me. After the initial panic of being attacked by a shark, I saw floating next to me the culprit: a woman's boot! Funny...but also a little gross!

The work room inside the beach house.

My makeshift, mosquito net tent. Yes, I took a lot of flack from the team for this setup...but I slept like a baby! No one said you have to be Bear Grylls to survive on an EMI trip!

Of course I don’t want to imply that following God means he will make us miserable – that is not at all what I mean! But he does want to grow us into the people He created us to be, and anytime growth is required it can be uncomfortable. There are so many reasons why I feel this is in fact what God wants me to be doing, despite my struggles in doing it. And when I get home after the trips, Alisha and I can always see God’s hand working things out and how good it was that I went.
I never want to sound like I’m complaining, but I really want to paint the work I do with EMI in an accurate light. Sure, it is a big blessing in many ways, and I get to see exciting things and tell interesting stories, and most importantly I get to see firsthand the work God is attempting to do through his people around the world. However, it honestly is a very big struggle for me because at the end of the day, it’s not something I (or Alisha either) would have ever chosen. But because of who we believe Jesus to be, and because of what that means for giving up control for our lives, we are compelled to do this for as long as we feel God is leading us to do it – whether this is my last trip or whether we do this for the rest of our lives.
I guess I will close today by asking you, whoever you are reading this, are you doing what you feel God has called you to do? That by no means suggests it has to be: a) full-time ministry (God knows we need many more solid believers ministering in the workplace); or b) something that you don’t want to do or that is really hard (I actually believe that more often than not, God wants to use us within our areas of gifting/interest). But then again, some may in fact be called to do something difficult. Whatever the case, the point is, are you willing to die to your selfish agenda? Let me assure you, just because you do it once doesn’t necessarily make it easier the next time! I seem to fight the battle each and every time I go on a trip, and in some ways, I feel like it gets harder and harder!
Day Eight (Feb 10)
Jonah’s 9th birthday! I hate to miss it once again – I have been gone for at least 4 in a row now due to project trips – possibly 5. I feel bad for little Jonah – he’s a trooper for hanging in there with dad gone every year. We celebrate before I leave each time, but I know it’s hard on him for me to be gone.
As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the Harmattan winds are persisting, so the air is very dusty and the visibility is poor. We heard yesterday that a Kenya Airways jet had been unable to land in the Freetown airport in Lungi due to poor visibility and passengers had been stranded for two days. After further investigation, we discovered that all of the European carriers had operated their flights on schedule the past 3 days so that brought us some comfort that our flight wouldn’t be affected. However, if the dust worsens, that is definitely a possibility.
Today was a big work day. Everyone pretty much worked all day, amidst the muggy/dusty weather and lack of power and water. We did ask for the generator for a few hours midday to charge our computers. But the biggest challenge for the day was lunch. Things at the beach are on ultra African time! So I went out to ask about lunch at 2pm and Joseph, the owner/caretaker of the place said, “Sure, what do you want?” I of course had no idea what was available, so when he offered ‘chips’ (like steak fries) I said sure. Well, the chips didn’t arrive until 3:30pm, by which time the team was really hungry. I felt bad for not asking earlier – feeding my team is probably my biggest weakness on these trips (that’s what Alisha tells me). I am used to going long periods without food because of my stomach issues, so it’s not really important to me if I don’t have food. This is a lethal combination with the African way of ‘slowly slowly’ – if you aren’t persistent about asking for something it isn’t going to come!
The plate of chips was good, though pretty small, so I was a little more persistent about asking for dinner early. I’m pretty sure I’ve offended him since he takes great pride in hosting so anytime I ask him for something I feel like it’s hurting his feelings that he didn’t do it without me asking! This is always one of the challenges of project leading – trying to meet your Western team’s needs/expectations while not offending your local host by demanding things. Things are tricky, and both sides have to give a little. The team has to be flexible and I have to be willing to be the bad guy sometimes, though I certainly try to do that in as culturally sensitive way as possible. Joseph is a really nice guy who takes pride in what he does, so it was definitely noticeable when he was a little pouty this afternoon.

Electrical engineers Ruedi (sitting) and Bill with intern Ross, fixing the generator for Joseph the beach house owner/caretaker.

I also wanted to mention that the devotion times this trip have once again been great. I am always so blessed and challenged by the perspective of the team members and what God is teaching them. The two older guys on our team, Ruedi and Bill (both electrical engineers), have a lot of wisdom and have been great to listen to. Bill is a very humble guy and I just love to listen to him because he has that rare combination of wisdom and humility. But everyone on the team has just been great once again – my favorite part of EMI trips is always getting to know the EMI team members.
Day Nine (Feb 11)
One of the volunteers shared a story about how one time, someone asked Mother Theresa what she said when she prayed to God. She replied, “I don’t say anything. I just listen.” So the interviewer asked her, “Well what does God say then?” She replied, “He doesn’t say anything, He just listens.” What a great picture of how prayer is so much more than asking God to relieve our anxieties. It’s a state of submission of our heart and mind, where His spirit can dwell in us and align our will with His sometimes without speaking a word. I want to be this way not just during prayer time, but continuously as I walk out each day. I have no idea why it’s so hard to do given the fact that I truly do want to do it. I suppose it’s a battle with the sinful nature that’s in all of us.
My prayer lately has been to see life through God’s lens instead of my own. Not just in church after a great sermon, nor just during my devotion or prayer times, but rather each and every moment, decision, action, word, or thought. I feel like I fail at that 95% of the time, even though the 5% is so good when it happens. Why then is it so hard to do it more often? I think the answer is the same as above – it’s that battle we must all fight against our own flesh, to do not what we want or think or what feels good, but what God wants us to do. Even if I could attain another 5%, I think my life would be radically different.
Well, this was supposed to be presentation day, but since Mark Palmer is the only Mercy Ships representative here from their home office and he’s in town, we decided to cancel and do it tomorrow. We also decided to move into town tomorrow to be closer to the launching dock for the boats we’re taking to the airport. (These are different from the ferries we’ve taken previously – apparently they are speed boats that get us there in 20 minutes and dock at a spot that’s much closer to the airport. Should be fun!)
We’ve gotten comfortable here at the rustic beach house, but being in a building with A/C and a good shower the night before flying out will be a huge plus. It’s been fun at the beach house, having our own place. But it’s so much more warm and humid here that’s it’s a little uncomfortable during the day when the power is off and the fans aren’t operating. Power has also been a challenge. The guy was supposed to be able to run the generator as much as we wanted, but that didn’t exactly pan out. The team has been very flexible and has done a great job. As of tonight, we are finished with our report work in-country! Only some review remains for the remainder of our trip and afterwards.
Tomorrow, we transfer back to Freetown for our last day! It’s been a great team and trip and very successful project. I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel…and it looks a lot like Alisha!
Day Ten (Feb 12)
This morning we did our closing meeting, each sharing our high & low points as well as something we learned during the trip. After that, everyone else takes turns encouraging that person. It’s always a great bonding time and a good start for the volunteers to begin processing the trip ( by processing, I mean think about: what have they learned, what had God shown them, what difficult things have they seen and what reaction will they have, how have they changed, what changes do they want to make in their lives back home in reaction to what they’ve experienced, etc.).
After the closing meeting we packed up and moved into Freetown, actually a section of town called Aberdeen, to the Aberdeen Women’s Centre (AWC) guesthouse. It is so nice to be in a clean, air conditioned room, especially the night before we depart so we can be clean and refreshed heading off to travel. We had our closing dinner at Alex’s, apparently the best place to eat in Sierra Leone. It was very good and relatively cheap – I had barracuda and calamari and it was delicious.
I can’t begin to describe the difference it makes going to bed in an air conditioned room in Sierra Leone! It is so cool and clean and your body isn’t covered in a light layer of perspiration and dust. And fortunately, no women were giving birth in the women’s clinic below us last night so we weren’t woken up by the screaming (which I’m told happens quite often – and in fact, the following morning a woman did give birth and she screamed pretty loudly!)
Day Eleven (Feb 13)
Well, it’s departure date! I am really looking forward to going to the UK and on home after that, though an email from Alisha this morning tells me she is not feeling well and is worried she has the flu. I pray that’s not the case.
But at this point in the trip I start thinking about the different impact points for me, so I thought I’d list them out. Here goes:
* I was approached twice by maintenance workers at two different hospitals. At first I thought they were going to ask me for money – however, that wasn’t the case. In each case, they were telling me they hadn’t been paid by the hospital for over two years. What they wanted from me instead was to try to do something to get the hospital to pay them. They knew we were here with Mercy Ships and since they have a lot of clout in the country, they were asking us to essentially plead with the hospital administration to pay the workers. I immediately felt great empathy for the people asking, as well as a good dose of shame for immediately assuming they were just asking for money.

This electrical panel is a success story from our September trip. One of our main 'emergency' recommendations in that report was to put a front cover on the main electrical panel where power enters the hospital site from the power grip. It was a major life safety concern, so it was very encouraging to see that it had been done!

* When at the beach house, a soccer game broke out on the beach with about a dozen late teens/early 20’s guys. I came up behind the goal at one end after a walk on the beach, so I struck up a conversation with a Sierra Leonian kid named Graham playing goalkeeper. It turns out, he is in his 4th (of 6) year of studying mechanical engineering. We talked a lot about life, football (soccer), engineering, and even EMI. I gave him the website and told him to look it up because we intend to start an office in West Africa sometime in the next few years. He was a very nice kid and it was encouraging to talk to a young person who not only had hope but was hopefully well on his way to a better path in life.

Watching the beach soccer game - I wanted to join, but it was warm and very muggy and the water was off at the guesthouse so I couldn't have showered afterwards! ...and yes, I do see the large ocean in the background, but polluted, warm and salty water isn't a good option for cooling/cleaning off!

Talking with Graham, the young engineering student/goalie.

* Volunteer Ruedi brought up a comparison of David and Saul during our bible study time. The next day my daily morning devotion was about guess what – David and Saul! It was the exact point Ruedi had made the day before. The point both were making was, both David and Saul were fools many times in their lives, making mistake after mistake. However, only David was seen as righteous and ‘a man after (God’s) own heart. The difference? David was a simple fool, that is, a man who made many terrible mistakes but who quickly repented and changed his ways, giving his life back to God. Saul on the other hand persisted in his sin, never humbling himself before God nor repenting of his wrongdoings. So clearly, it isn’t the sin that keeps us from God. It’s our attitude towards our sin – are we good with it, or do we admit it, ask for forgiveness and invite God to change us in that area?

I love this shot of the beach where this little creek enters the ocean and all these fishing boats are sitting around.

* Seeing the family’s reaction to the girl dying at the Bo Hospital was not something I’ll easily forget. Family members overcome with grief, even to the point of rolling around on the dirt. It was upsetting and gave me a sense for the importance of helping the people of West Africa through the work we’re doing. Even though it very challenging and hard for me and my family when I travel on trips, I do see the importance of the work God is doing through EMI around the world.

The memorial at Bo Hospital, remembering the innocent people who were slaughtered here a decage ago by the rebel army. The civil war of the late 90's in Sierra Leone is highlighted in the movie 'Blood Diamond' starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Day Twelve (Feb 14)
Well, the travel out of Sierra Leone last night was interesting. Just as we stood up to get in line for boarding, they announced that the flight would be delayed at least 2.5 hours due to technical difficulties. It was pretty disheartening, especially since the airport in Sierra Leone is one of the most uncomfortable places I’ve been in the country. It’s very stuffy, warm and muggy with only a couple of small windows cracked and a few fans. Fortunately, I carved out a seat right in front of one of the fans, so that made it tolerable. But the psychological side of things was difficult – I know from past experience that if they need any parts at all, that would cancel the flight as they would be forced to wait for another flight from Europe to bring the part.
Anyway, it all worked out and we finally boarded 2 hours into the delay, but then had to sit on the plan for an additional hour and 15 minutes before takeoff. Apparently, the plane had struck a bird on its approach into Freetown, so they had to meticulously check and then test both engines.
Fortunately, we finally did make it into Brussels and onto our connecting flights without a hitch. So here I sit, in the hotel bar in London, all by myself and able to reflect on the trip. It’s funny – I really miss the team. After just meeting most of them for the first time only two weeks ago, these trips force us into such strong community that I feel a big void not having them around anymore. We all really connected on this trip. I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to get to know this team – it really is a great group of guys. I always feel this way after a trip – so connected to the volunteers who travel with me. It’s a shame that those friendships for the most part don’t last beyond the trip due to geography. Every now and then, a few of those friendships do last, and it is such a blessing to me to get to keep in touch with them. Someday in heaven, maybe I’ll throw a little reunion party for all my former EMI volunteers/friends. Anyway, suffice it to say, as I say each time, I was tremendously impressed with the team and really feel God hand-picked the exact people to come on this trip.

This picture shows the kitchen for the hotel/restaurant where we stayed and ate dinner 4 nights in Bo. I'm not talking about the building, but the courtyard itself serves as the actual kitchen. Fortunately, none of us got sick, but you can see the kind of sanitary conditions that exist that we don't even think about when we're there.

By contrast, this is a picture of us at Alex's, considered by many to be the best restaurant in all of Sierra Leone. It's a nice setting on this little bay off the Atlantic Ocean, but you can see how filthy and trash-littered the water is beyond. I will say the food was good though!

I’ll close by going back to what became the theme of this trip for me, that is, the difficulties I once again had with leaving home juxtaposed to the feeling that this is what God has for me and our family for this time in life. I recently heard a sermon about how when King David was a young boy, he ran into battle with Goliath, succeeded against all odds, and then gave praise to God in his life. He never counted the costs, or hesitated at all in putting his life on the line. In fact, he didn’t even feel like he was putting his life on the line because he knew he was walking out the steps God was leading him to walk out.
However, later in life, when his army went out to battle, instead of going with them as was customary for Kings in that day and time, he stayed home in the comfort and luxuries of his home and life as a King. As a result, he left himself vulnerable to a great fall since he was no longer walking out the steps God wanted him to walk out. So, after seeing his neighbor’s wife bathing on the nearby roof, he chose to commit adultery, which ultimately led to a series of actions that were major failures in his life – including such sins as adultery, lying, deceit, and even murder.
You see, as he got older in life he became more and more reliant on the creature comforts in his life and less willing to step out in faith where danger might be lurking regardless of what his responsibilities were or what God wanted him to do. Because of this, his life was ruined in many ways (though fortunately he eventually repented and lived out his days in a right relationship with God).
I think this example directly relates to my situation. Sure, I would love to stay home from EMI trips and relax in my nice house in front of the Fox Soccer Channel, watching games with my boys and just enjoying all the comforts and benefits of our family’s life together. However, I would do so at my own peril. God doesn’t call us to be comfortable in this life. He calls us to follow and obey him, regardless of what stage of life we’re in or what that might cost us. Leaving Alisha and the boys home while I travel the world on EMI trips is very difficult for me and never something I’d choose to do. However, I want to fight the temptation and lure of comfort and be sure to do what God asks of me, no matter how hard it may seem at the time. That’s where I can find true comfort resting in the security of living in His will for me and my family’s lives. Of course, it’s quite ironic that I am living out that total security by traveling through war-torn regions of Africa!

L to R: Austin, Ruedi, Aaron, Barry, me, John, intern Ross & Bill

Intern Ross put together this little collage of pictures of me (he also did one at the start of this post). No matter where we go in Africa, there is always a group of kids around waiting to just follow us around most of the day and asking for us to take their picture!