Sunday, January 25, 2015

Going Forward with Boldness

We have always had at least one night of evangelism during the bush trips that Envision teams take for building church hangars.  For evangelism, a movie projector and speakers are set up, often in a pretty remote village with no electricity, and a crowd of people from the area assembles out of curiosity once they hear the music and see the lights.  The local or district pastor is the one who leads the evening, showing an evangelistic movie in the local language and giving a sermon afterward.  Our job as an Envision group is to simply participate and help to draw the crowd, as our presence makes the villagers even more curious as to what's going on.  Also, the presence of foreigners gives the local pastor more credibility and empowers the local believers.  Sometimes an evangelism evening even involves dancing in a circle to the Burkinabé Christians' singing of praise songs accompanied by drumming, as it did during this last bush trip that we went on with Molly's family. 
Dancing with the locals before the evangelism movie began 
 In a culture that is so ingrained with animism, though, it is a hard decision for anyone to go against the grain and choose to follow Christ.  Animism teaches that there are good and bad spirits; the good spirits won't harm you, but the bad ones will.  Worshiping and sacrificing to the bad ones appeases them and keeps them away from harming you or your family.

The worry for these people, then, is what will happen if they choose not to appease the spirits and the witch doctor.  As usual, Jesus does not fit into cultural norms, and the decision to follow him is against the world.  The choice to follow him is a bold one, but a great one, yet it is a very hard thing here due to the fact that you will stand apart from most of what you know and what others believe to be true.
The local believers setting up the movie screen before evangelism started that evening. 

This past bush trip after the evangelism movie was over and the preaching was nearly completed, I was a bit surprised to see two people go forward when the pastor asked if anyone would like to know and follow Christ.  It was incredible to later find out that nine people ended up praying that night to give their lives to Christ, but these two people actually walked up to the front of the crowd as soon as the invitation was given and stood with the pastor, unashamedly showing the couple hundred people present that they were choosing to follow Jesus.  This was the first time that I had ever seen anyone do that during an evangelism night, and I was blown away by their boldness.

Sadly with this being late at night, we didn't end up getting any pictures of the two going forward.  I wish that I could have in order to show this, but it was an amazing sight and one that I won't forget.  

Seeing that leads me to wonderwhat if we were all so bold?  Our boldness may not need to take the form of walking to the front of a crowd, but perhaps it needs to take the form of bringing up Jesus' work in our lives in a conversation with a friend, coworker, or family member who doesn't know Him.  Might we all aim to be like these two new Burkinabé Christians, "standing up" quickly and boldly when we have opportunities to proclaim our commitment to Jesus. 


Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Family Reunion . . . across the Ocean!

Have you ever been in the middle of a really amazing experience and stepped back for a minute amidst all of the action to really take it all in? You know, to just kind of press the pause button on that scene to make sure you soak in every sight, smell, sound, and feeling so that you'll later be able to replay that special experience in your mind? I sure wish I would remember to do this more regularly. Often, it's only at the biggest life-altering celebrations that it occurs to me to stop and take that moment to step back, like at graduations or on my wedding day. But throughout Christmastime this year, as my whole family—my dad, mom, sister, and three brothers—came across the globe to visit Ben and me in our home in Burkina Faso, I made sure to take several mental "video clips" of sorts so that I could later recall with joy this time that God blessed me to spend with my family. 

Let me try to give you a glimpse of a couple of these instances.
Our family Christmas picture. From left to right: Marcus, Martha (Mom), Mike (Dad), Matt, Micah, Molly (me), Ben, Michelle

Clip #1: A few days before Christmas my family, along with a few other Envision personnel, drove about five hours southwest of our home on a three-day trip to build a church hangar for a village where the message of Christ is just starting to spread. While there, I was walking behind the cluster of my family members as they were following a local pastor through his little village where we had set up camp. My "job" on this walk we were taking (and throughout their whole stay) was to act as photographer. Since my family was visiting Burkina for just nine days, I wanted them to get to soak in the everyday way of life in this country where I now live, not to be stuck viewing it from behind a camera lens. As we continued down the dirt path in the warm afternoon sun, I took a pause from the back of the group to stop taking pictures of what I thought they'd want to remember—donkey carts, women getting water from the well, little mud brick homes, a school, goats, cows, awnings made of sticks, a busy marketplace, lots of curious Burkinabé people—and I took a moment to really soak it all in myself. 

Now at this point, I've gotten very used to being in Burkina, so the kind of scenery we were seeing was by no means new or surprising to me, but it suddenly hit me how special this was and I wanted to be sure I'd remember how it felt to be in Burkina with my family. I turned to my dad, who was also lagging toward the back of the group, and observed, "It's so weird to me that it doesn't even feel weird to have you guys here. It just feels like, of course you'd all be here walking through a little village in Africa with Ben and me today." 

Nothing big or particularly exciting happened on this walk, but that full realization of the value of that time with them is something I won't forget. 
Following the local pastor on our walk through his village

Clip #2: On Christmas Day my family, along with Ben and me, joined with nearly 20 other people that we know from the international community here in Ouagadougou for a big brunch and game time. We had a great time chowing down on a buffet of delicious food, including some special treats from America that you can't get here like bacon and flavored hot chocolate. Then we all piled onto couches and chairs in a large circle to listen to the Christmas story being read from the Bible. 

During this time, a lot of us took the chance to share some things we were thankful to God for on that Christmas afternoon. Looking around that circle at my family as well as my Burkina "family," I just reflected on how I couldn't have asked for a more special way to celebrate Christmas; I shared with the group how thankful I was to have my two worlds collide that day. Rarely does it happen that a big group of the people from a former stage in your life gather in one room with a big group of the people from a completely new stage of life. 

It was quite different from a normal Christmas in that we had hot weather, no gift exchange, and minimal Christmas decorations around us, but it was nonetheless one that I am glad to be able to replay in my mind.
Part of the group relaxing and chatting after Christmas brunch while others played board games 

Clip #3: The day following Christmas, Ben and I took my family a few hours south along with another missionary couple that are friends of ours and their baby. Our agenda for the next two days was to see as many wild animals as we could: we were going on a safari! Granted, Burkina doesn't have nearly as many animals in the "African animals" category as do other parts of Africa, but there's still a decent variety here. 

On our first afternoon there, we took our Land Cruiser on a bumpy expedition through the brush. There were eleven of us, plus a park guide who helped show us where to go and pointed out the animals that we wouldn't have noticed otherwise. Some of us rode in the truck while some of us got to ride up on the roof rack sitting on top of cot pads we'd brought (it was more fun to ride up there anyway!). As a perfect breeze whipped around me while my siblings, my friend, and I were viewing the animals from on top of the truck, I took that moment once again to pause and "record" that scene in my memory. I stared at God's creation which was looking beautiful in the African sunset, drew a deep breath of the winter air (still quite warm but much cooler than usual), and just sat in a state of thankfulness. 

As exciting as it was viewing elephants, crocodiles, warthogs, monkeys, and several other interesting types of animals in the wild, I will just as much look back on that time and remember the feeling of joy I had sitting on top of the Land Cruiser with my family and friends right there.
Some of the elephants we saw during our safari
The sunset view from my spot on top of the Land Cruiser

To be honest, sharing these three little scenes doesn't even come close to explaining the highlights of my family's trip to Burkina, nor does it explain the many ways that we saw God at work throughout the week (which we'll tell more about in our next post). Yet I'm sure that you can relate that when you go somewhere with people you're close to and have a wonderful experience, it's hard to clearly communicate that to others who weren't able to be there as well.

One final thought: Every time my whole family went on a trip since my senior year of high school in 2005, my dad would remind us that it could be the last whole-family trip that we would ever get to take together, once all of us would start going to college and moving and getting real jobs and starting families. How happy I am that still at the end of 2014, God gave us this opportunity to serve together in Africa and to have at least one more whole-family trip, one that none of us would have ever anticipated back nearly ten years ago.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Au Revoir, Bandit

Although there have been many wonderful things that we have been able to share about our time here in Burkina, this past week we experienced the loss of our friend Olivier and it has been one of the hardest things that we have gone through so far.

Seth, Me (Ben), Frank, John, and Olivier

Olivier was a local Burkinabé believer who was a key part of Envision's bush hangar ministry and a helpful encouragement to some of the missionaries in Ouaga.  He was the one who prepared the materials for our church hangars and lead the construction of the buildings whenever mission-trip teams were here for that purpose.

Mounting and welding frames with Olivier

A few days ago, Olivier traveled a couple hours outside of the city to measure a church that was in need of a roof and framing.  That afternoon, we got word that he had passed away from a moto accident on the highway.  He was heading home from the church and the circumstances surrounding the accident remain unknown.  We were all very disheartened upon hearing the news.

Our last completed hangar with Olivier (He is in the orange shirt in the front)

It has been an honor to work with Olivier.  He was the kind of person with whom you did not need to share the same language to build a relationship.  Teams all enjoyed spending time with him in the bush; he was very understanding of the differences faced by Americans when they' re in this new culture.

Olivier negotiated camel rides for one team

Olivier and I had traveled and worked together on all of the hangar trips that I have been a part of since coming to Burkina.  He would often jokingly call John, Rhyan, or me a "bandit" (pronounced in French like "bandie"), which means something along the lines of "rascal."

Roofing a hangar with a  team this past summer

For those of you who had donated money to Molly and me to go toward unforeseen expenses, we wanted to let you know that we were able to pass some of that money on to help out Olivier's widow and two girls during this hard time.  The loss of income from the breadwinner in the house will be very hard on them.  Thank you for enabling us to help people with needs such as this through giving those additional funds.

Framing a roof with a team

Although we're praying for another welder join with Envision so we can continue on with building church hangars, it seems difficult to imagine that the position that Olivier held in our ministry can be filled with someone who is as skilled and as committed to outreach as he was.  He was the one who made the frames and supports for the church hangars we regularly build, along with leading the construction during the trips to the bush.  He had a passion for Christ that motived him to go above and beyond simply doing the work for which he was paid, a passion that caused all who met him—French speakers and English speakers alike—to enjoy his company and his partnership in ministry.  I will miss him and I am glad to know that we will meet again.

Olivier with chickens he picked up to celebrate Christmas