Dear Friends and Family,
Today I am preparing to participate in a mission trip to South Sudan in October.
Let me begin with why.
I have believed in the Christian God my whole life. Three near death experiences in my 20s constantly remind me that He has a plan. Thought it sounds cliché, I believe this to be true. My life has taken too many unexpected twists and turns to be explained by coincidence, or luck. I believe in God’s grace upon me and that He has laid before me a path to walk in faith.
That path took an unexpected turn in October 2011 when on the first Wednesday of the month I experienced worship unlike anything I had seen, before being hit square in the chest with a powerful message.
At the time, my wife and I had been attending a start up church in Annapolis, MD. It was small, buzzed with activity generated by a tight community of friends all working on something we believed in. That night in October, I watched and listened to thousands of believers worship, and then listened to a message that challenged me. It humbled me without humiliating me, and ultimately shook loose my own tight grip on what I thought it meant to be a Christian.
The conference we attended in Atlanta rolled on for two more days. There was more amazing worship and great teaching, Christian and secular, but I couldn’t shake the nagging reality that had dawned on me. There is a difference between believing in God and following Jesus.
Once I recognized that difference, I realized instantly that I had been on the fence, comfortably perched in a place where I could be a Christian and cruise. Following Jesus, by stark contrast, is kinetic. It is action. It is suiting up for the game and actually stepping on the field. I felt like I had never left the locker room.
Following Jesus includes telling others about him. It doesn’t mean ceaseless preaching and shouting, or bible thumping. One human cannot change another’s heart and point it to Jesus. Belief and faith are not forced. More importantly, following Jesus means making changes in your life, in your heart and mind, so you live in a way that honors the Lord, so you may always reflect your beliefs by how you live, love, and treat others. Always preach but speak only when necessary.
Once I made the decision to get off the fence and figure out what it meant to follow Jesus, I wrote a letter and posted it on Facebook – a public outing of what I believe and what I had decided. The response from many of you blew me away and confirmed that I had made the right choice.
These past four years have been some of the best years of my life. I have experienced joy that I never knew existed. I have found strength in grief and sorrow I had never felt before. I have been allowed to participate in the mess of other people’s lives and feel compassion that I never knew I had. I have seen success in business I never expected. In short, I have seen how a change in my heart has radically changed my professional and personal life, my marriage, my role as a father and friend, as a boss, a brother, brother-in-law, and son-in-law, cousin and so on. It has been hard, at times, but always rewarding.
Toward the end of last year, and into the beginning of 2016, I began to wonder about how my experiences abroad could be applied to my faith, my walk with Christ. Our current church, Bay Area Community Church, has a strong international missions program, led by a Godly, humble man from Ghana who is leading our trip to South Sudan.
Both Barbara and I learned as much as we could about various mission trips all over the world. I am sure that one day in the near future we will take one together with our children to Brazil, or perhaps India. For now, we have agreed that for 2016 I would be the one to take a step of faith and go alone on a mission trip to a place outside my comfort zone, outside of Latin America where I have lived and worked off and on for nearly 20 years.
Mission trips are not just about Christians who leave the comfort of home to talk to others about Jesus in far away places. They are also about the process of getting there, to include humbling yourself to ask others for money, but more importantly they are about having the faith to place yourself in God’s hands to see what He will do with you while abroad. I have seen God work on people in Annapolis. Now I want to see how God works in a place I’ve never been before.
South Sudan is the where.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Many people think I’m crazy to be planning a trip to the youngest country in the world where violence could break out at any moment, jeopardizing my life, and the welfare of my family. I agree, on the surface it seems crazy. But I must recognize that this is the sort of environment that God has prepared me for my whole life.
Few people know what I’ve been up to in Latin America the past decade. Most people assume I work or have worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. The truth is I have grown accustomed to working in dangerous environments. Before my time working in these places, I was an extreme whitewater kayaker, running rivers that maybe only the top 10% of the kayaking world would attempt.
I say this not to boast but to set up an illustration. At this level of kayaking, when one is scouting a rapid, the decision to run that rapid, to get in your boat and try to safely navigate the chaos of water, hydraulics, rocks, and other dangers, depends on whether or not you can see the path. Can you look downstream to where you are going and see a way through it?
I can look at traveling to South Sudan and see a way there and back again.
Will you support me? Give it some thought. Give it some prayer, if you’re inclined. I will write again with more details soon, so let me know if you’d like to be included.
Thank you for listening.