Starting Over: Huntington Beach

Installation at St. Peters

Starting over can be exciting, especially in ministry. But it can be dangerous as well. When we jump into a new job, role or duty in the church we can’t help but think about how we can bring a new energy or point of view to the congregation. It’s easy for me to pray and dream about how the community would benefit from one change or another.

But, in doing so, I often fail to honor the tradition or history of those who have put their own blood, sweat and tears into what already exists. In the process of thinking of or introducing a “needed” change I end up belittling something that may have had a profound impact on someone’s faith or life. It makes it hard to sit back, watch and learn about the culture of the church and surrounding neighborhood. Patience is a virtue because so few of us possess enough of it.

At the same time, there is a reason I was called to this church at this time. The balancing act of old ways, new spins on old techniques and new philosophies of ministry are often lost in a mirage of excitement.

At the ripe age of thirty, this is a lesson I have continuously had to re-learn.

Over the last two years I’ve been ordained, commissioned, inducted, decommissioned (which was changed to a send off in hopes of a continued relationship between the PCUSA and the Presbyterian Church in Malawi) and now installed. Needless to say, it has been a whirlwind.

Now that the storm has settled a bit, I finally feel like I’m in the place I’m going to be for a while. Huntington Beach is wonderful. And St. Peters By-the-Sea is a great church—a community ripe with potential. I’m trying to rest in God’s grace while learning about what role He has for me. To do so, I am fighting the temptation to move and shake before kneeling and praying.

My last sermon in Malawi was on God’s Sovereignty and how it relates to leadership. There were 8-10 Malawian pastors there, so I talked a good amount about being called into leadership and, specifically, into ministry. Here is a clip from my manuscript:

In Malawi it seems being a pastor is a sought after and respected job. If you become a pastor, it is like you have obtained some sort of rank. People look up to you like you are a chief. (ASK CONGREGATION: “Am I right?”) In many homes you are seen as an honored guest and are served first. While everyone else sits on the floor, you sit in a chair…you get the picture. I’ve even been told that sometimes people here aspire to become pastors because they want that status. To these people I want to say, “You’re in the wrong job. Jesus was washing feet and serving his disciples, not sitting around getting big, fat and happy.”

Before Malawian Induction Service with Vasco and Sydney

I went on to say that we need to follow the Apostle Paul’s message, “follow me, while I follow Jesus.” Vasco Kechipappa, the Moderator of the Nkhoma Synod (which means he is in charge of about 140 churches), was in attendance and had been in the middle of a nasty countrywide attack. I told the congregation that we all followed him, because he is this type of leader.

A few weeks ago his two-year term came to an end, and even though he was hoping he wouldn’t be re-elected, he was…collecting almost 90% of the votes. People follow him because it is so clear that he is seeking after Christ with all of who he is.

It is my deepest desire to lead this way—Patiently praying while following the Father.

Reality Check: Lights Are Out Nobody’s Home

My buddy Mike (www.prinephotography.com) took this photo during the blackout while everyone else was partying...

Some will remember it as the power outage of 2011. I found it funny that in the middle of a supposed crisis people were flooding twitter and facebook posting pictures and hashtags of #sdblackout and #sdpoweroutage. Lines at convenience stores were out the door, freeways were packed and people stayed up late to drink all their cold beer and eat all their ice cream before it went bad. School was even canceled. Some turned to their makeshift emergency kits, others partied like they were with Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Breshnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs.

Let’s be honest. It was a little ridiculous.

I find it a bit ironic, with all our technology, that losing electricity for less than a day had such a great effect. Societies with way less infrastructure deal with outages all the time. They grab candles and move on. San Diego freaks out.

This is one of the first things that Malawi taught Hailey and me. We lost power almost weekly and some of our friends lived in places without any power at all. The week before Easter one of the engineers working on a water turbine died while trying to repair it. Much of Malawi didn’t have power for chunks of the day for two weeks. You learn to live with it, adapt and get on with what you were doing.

Want light after the sun goes out? Fire up the generator. Wanna charge your mobile phone? Take it to a charging station (a shack with wires attached to a car battery). When living with less is the norm, small things don’t seem to bother you. When you have a ton, twenty hours without power causes communal chaos.

Dinner uncooked in an electronic oven? Cook it on a fire. Can’t watch TV? Read a book. Can’t go online? Have a face-to-face conversation (what a concept!). Let’s be realistic about when it is actually appropriate to freak out.

For those of you who thought having no power for a couple hours was a catastrophe, I’m scared to see how you will respond when a real one comes. And those of you that partied all night are probably the same people who wore tin foil on your noggins for a y2k bash years ago. The world didn’t end then. And it didn’t this time either. Perspective can be everything and sometimes we all need a little more.

The Stress of Getting Settled

Fargile? Someone was tired while packing...

It’s crazy how stressful moving can be. There is something about coming home from a new job to a new house that welcomes the old friend of anxiety. And there is something about driving on new streets or going for a run in a new neighborhood that brings about the old friend of confusion.

Everyday you set goals like, I’m going to unpack ten boxes and organize half a room. And then you end up putzing around in one box because you find something that you haven’t seen in five years. When did I get that? or Why do I have this? The boxes speak of what once was. Each is full of stories and memories. But if you hold on to what once was too tightly, it’s hard to move forward with what’s happening now.

Two years ago I was a stay at home husband. It wasn’t exactly a title in which I took pride. I looked for jobs, but couldn’t find one. It was a blast getting to ride my bike and surf as much as I wanted. I enjoyed cooking and taking care of things around the house for my wife. But, deep down, it stressed me out. It got old very fast. A year ago I was getting ready to move to Malawi. I packed up my life into a ten by ten storage unit. I was worried about moving all the way to Africa and about saying goodbye to what was comfortable. It too stressed me out.

And now, I have a job that I am going to love. I live in a community that I am going to love. I live with the woman I love. I’m not far from family and some of my best friends that live less than 15 minutes away. And…it’s stressful.

As a trophy husband, as uncomfortable and humbling as it was, I eventually reached a place where I was at ease with my role. And, believe it or not, I actually could have lived in Malawi longer than I did and would have been just fine. I know Hailey and I will grow to appreciate our new community in Huntington Beach and I know my gifts are a perfect fit for my role at St. Peters By-The-Sea. But that doesn’t make the transition easy.

I look forward to actually being here. But for the time being, the process of settling down is simply unsettling.

Going Home: Slowing Down to Catch Up

Friends from Lingadzi escorted us to the airport

I wondered if I would ever be able to call Malawi my home. I love Malawi-I learned a lot from my ten months there and believe that most in the western world could grow quite a bit by spending a few moments with a Malawian-but I don’t completly fit in. It isn’t my home.

Our last week was wonderful and stressful. People flocked to our house and there were many heartfelt goodbyes. Every night we had someone over for dinner and during the day we tried to tie up as many loose ends as we could. We had little alone time to process the fact that we were leaving.

Saying bye to Precious & others in Nkhoma Village

Now we are gone.

I wear my heart on my sleeve. Always have and always will. I was surprised that I was able to hold it together without crying for most of our goodbyes. I only really lost it once.

To be honest, I wasn’t as excited to go home as one would think. I was looking forward to seeing friends and family, but there were very few things that I was really excited about. People have asked, “what food did you crave?” and “where were you looking forward to going right when you get home?” Other than Sushi and the beach, there wasn’t much.

My friend Abel says, “Home is home.” For me, home will always be San Diego.

Gotta be 23 kgs!

We’ve been in Southern California for a week and I’ve had a plethora of emotions. I’ve loved sitting down with a few friends and telling stories. For the most part, people are eager to listen and I am willing to share.

I wouldn’t say I’ve had a huge amount of culture shock or anything like that, but there is one thing that seems to continuously catch me off guard. Crowds. Costco, church, freeways—they all have freaked me out. For some reason, returning from Malawi has given me a slight case of agoraphobia. I’m not sure why.

I officiated a wedding last weekend and, to be honest, I was a bit terrified of what might happen because of my new found fear. What would have happened if I had a panic attack right in the middle of the couple’s vows?

The wedding was great and I was fine. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times where I snuck away to “the bathroom” just to take a deep breath. I needed to step away to slow down and catch up to the faster pace of life (yes, I realize how oxymoronic that sounds).

And I’m still catching up.

 

Going Home: Gadget Lust

Hailey and I are on a train from London to the airport in Birmingham. Over the last few days, as we have been preparing to enter back into the world we have known for the majority of our lives, we have been talking a lot about the re-entry process.

We’ve talked about the friends we will see, the food we’ll enjoy and the general change of the speed of life . One of the big things that has stood out to me since being in the UK is all of the advanced technology.

Heidleberg Printing Machine Movable Type

Much of living in Malawi felt like we had gone back in time. The Nkhoma Synod still prints all their books and forms on Heidleberg Printing Machines (they date bake to 1850…), ox carts are a staple in transportation and many people actually prefer to cook over an open fire instead of a stove.

To be completely honest, Hailey and I are looking forward to phones that work and internet that is fast. We won’t have to worry about electricity going out or water shutting off. One of the first things we will do when we get back is get new cell phones (don’t try to call our old numbers quite yet, they won’t work).

But how much technology is too much? When did Kip Dynamite’s wedding song–Yes, I love technology. But not as much as you, you see.  Still I love technology–become a prophecy about how we in the U.S. live? We say we love our family and friends, but spend more time in front of computers and televisions than ever before. In Time Magazine, I read that the average American watches two hours and fifty one minutes of t.v. a day during weekdays, which is up something like seven minutes in the last six years. Overall reading comprehension is up, but the majority of what is read doesn’t contribute at all to the intellectual well being of our soceity. One only needs to look at the highest circulating magazines or most visited web content of 2010 to see that there is a lot of garbage consumed by the public on a daily basis.

When does the world of iphones and androids get in the way of face to face interaction and personal conversation? How much has the western world sacrificed by idolizing the creations of Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs?

Right now I’m sitting across from an English businessman who has a blackberry, an HTC Storm and an iPod touch on the table. He’s listening to music on the iPod and has sent emails and texts on both phones. There’s probably $1000 worth of technology in his paws. Add in the iPad I’m typing on, the kindle in Hailey’s hands and you get a disgusting collection in a confined space.

In the western world we have an unhealthy addiction to the newest, the fastest and the greatest. And I am just as guilty of this need as anyone else. I look forward to being home, but am terrified of the gadget lust that is awaiting me.

Just Be vs. Hurry Up & Wait

Patience is a virtue that most of the western world acknowledges, but doesn’t at all practice. While the LJPC team was in Malawi we spent a good amount of time waiting. One time, while waiting for lunch, Mr. Bob Kennedy (as he was affectionately called by many Malawians) leaned over and said, “I get it! We’re not really waiting for anything. We are just…here.”

After only a few days in Malawi, Bob had learned what so many Malawians have come to know as normal. Just being is enough. Waiting with one another is being with each other.

While Hailey and I were getting on the tube yesterday she told me I needed to stand to one side of the escalator because people were trying to get around me. They were rushing. She said, “I guess were back to the world were time is kept and people are always in a hurry.”

She was right. The west is a world where waiting is seen as wasting. And it’s a shame. We don’t know how to just be.

Tube Station in London: Waiting=Wasting in the Western Frame of Mind

Culture Clash: Beautiful Discomfort

Jason translating for Kim (photo taken by the wonderful agogo Christy Zatkin)

I haven’t posted a blog for a couple of weeks. I’ve started many, but haven’t had time to complete them. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I’ll have plenty of time in airports and airplanes over the next few days.

It’s been a crazy month; one that has left me tired and confused. I’ve had little time to process the fact that our time in Malawi is actually coming to an end in less than a week. A few days after my in-laws left, the first folk from the LJPC Malawi Mission Team arrived. Two days later the entire team was here.

My Malawian friends had always told me that hosting a mission team was draining. I used to laugh and shake my head; I had been on many mission trips and even had played host in the US. How difficult could it really be?

Christy and Tobias making windows...

Within a few days I realized how tiring it really was. It was great to share what our world has looked like the last ten months with friends from home. When you’re on a team that parachutes in for a few weeks, you usually don’t get to see the real Malawi. Our hope for this team was that, because we had been here for some time, we’d be able to facilitate friendships and interactions that might not normally occur.

 

Hailey and I purposefully planned to have Malawians and Americans working alongside one another for the entire trip. It was beautiful to see the two teams become one. But it was also uncomfortable at times.

I often felt like I was standing in no man’s land without a culture to call my own.

  • Malawians are tough people. I’ve seen many function well on little to no sleep, pick up things with bare hands that would burn holes through mine and do things with their teeth that would cause any American dentist to cry. On one hand they are very resourceful and on the other extremely wasteful. They work very quickly but often do so without paying much attention to detail.  For most Malawians, time is relative and secondary to community. Family is extremely important, but communication within it is often poor. Hospitality is a must and most go out of their way to make visitors feel welcome. Life is not compartmentalized into secular and spiritual.
  • Americans are needy in a completely different way. They are used to many creature comforts and often have an unhealthy superiority complex (a blog for another day). They are efficient but get cranky when things are done differently. Most are punctual and keep time. What they know is normal, so everyone else should live and function in this way. If not, the other is seen as wrong or unintelligent. They don’t really know how to live in community or honestly put someone else’s needs, desires or well being above their own. And, they love their stuff and have a ton of it.

Please forgive me for being hypercritical. I’m not trying to single out any one person. Nor do I mean to offend anyone (and I apologize if I have). I hadn’t spent this much time with a large group of Americans for ten months and I largely forgot what my own culture looked like. I also had become so entrenched in Malawian culture that I forgot many of its annoyances. I was seeing Malawi through new eyes all over again.

It was difficult, wonderful and challenging all at the same time.

One night the American half of the team walked to dinner. I said the journey was about a half a mile. While walking some joked that I had “become Malawian” because the distance was longer than what I mentioned. They were tired, hungry and not used to walking in such a state. When we got to the restaurant, I turned around and ran back to get the car for our return after dinner. For fun, I set the odometer on the way back. The team was right, it was more than a half a mile—a whooping whole kilometer (about three fifths of a mile)!

A Malawian wouldn’t complain about the distance. They wouldn’t mention that they were

Bob, Rev. Phula and Tobais "cutting" glass

sick, tired or hungry. They’d go with the flow and let life happen. But it’s the same lack of urgency and attention to detail that leads to avoidable deaths in the country’s hospitals.

 

As we dropped the LJPC team off at the airport I was relieved and terrified. During the eleven day visit we had preached and prayed in a Muslim community, visited various institutions at the Nkhoma Synod Headquarters and brought much needed love to the Malingunde School for the Blind by providing a camp for its students and renovating their dormitories. And the whole time the American team encouraged and worked with the Malawian church.

I was relieved because the entire trip I had been standing between two very different cultures. I was terrified because I didn’t fit in either of them.

UPDATE: After writing this blog I read this quote by Eugene Peterson in his Under the Unpredictable Plant. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way.

North American religion is basically a consumer religion. Americans see God as a product that will help them to live well, or to live better. Having seen that, they do what consumers do, shop for the best deal…It is interesting to listen to the comments that outsiders, particularily those from Third World countries (Eugene, I love what you write and it has taught me much, BUT you need to use the term”developing countries” here my friend…), make on the religion that they observe in North America. What they notice mostly is the greed, the silliness, the narcissism. They appreciate the sze and prosperity of our churches, the energy and the technology, byt they wonder at the conspicuous absence of the cross, the phobic avoidance of suffering, the puzzling indifference to community and relationships of intimacy

 

Zambian Animals

My father-in-law is a hunter. When I was in high school and first started showing up at the Nordmarken house, I quickly noticed the many paintings that hung on the wall. Bears and elk. Birds and fish. Horses and wolves.

My father-in-law also likes to talk. Not long after Hailey and I started dating, I began hearing all sorts of stories about hunting trips to Alaska, Mexico and Texas. When Hailey and I got a bit more serious my greatest fear was that he was going to ask me to join him on a hunting trip. I’m not sure any 20-year-old kid would be thrilled about walking around the forest alone with his girlfriend’s rifle-carrying father. Especially when that 20-year-old kid has never fired a (real) gun…

As I got to know Mike, I learned that his love for animals didn’t just include killing them. He was (and is) obsessed with how they live. This love wasn’t lost on the family. The Nordmarken kids grew up with ducks, rabbits, fish and the snakes their dad had caught in nearby canyons. When Hailey and her siblings were young, while most kids enjoyed the sound of a crunching snail under their feet, they would catch and race them. To this day, Hailey points out interesting animals when she sees them.

So when mom and dad Nordmarken decided to come to Malawi for a visit it was only natural for us to spend a few days in the Zambian bush. Hailey and I had been on safari before, but only in Malawi. We were thrilled to be seeing a new place and (hopefully) new animals.

A part of being an animal aficionado is enjoying the hunt and paying extremely close attention to detail. Mike and Sarina (mother-in-law) were fascinated with a lot of what we saw. They wanted to know about every little bird, bug and fruit. At first it drove me crazy; I wanted to see lions and leopards. I couldn’t care less about knowing how old an animal is or was by how hard its poop is or how its skeletal remains are put together.

The truth is, again, the journey is important. What you see and hear along the way is usually want leads you to your goal.

On the last night we were winding down our final game drive and still hadn’t seen a leopard. On our way back to camp Hailey heard dogs in the distance. But it wasn’t dogs. Turns out the bark of a baboon is quite doglike.

The frantic barking was a warning to the rest of the animal kingdom. A leopard was on the prowl. We radioed over to the other car and found the hunting cat. Had we not stopped to listen, there’s a good chance we would have missed it. Here is a small sampling from that night (and the rest of the trip as well):

 

shooting in the dark is difficult, even though it's a bit blurry this is my favorite shot of the night
nice kitty...

Thanks for a great trip mom and dad!

Mozambique: In the Way

Preaching in Mozambique

Sing it with me:

“On the third day of Mozambique, my true love reminded me”

“How little we’d done, how bored she was and how much we had to do in Malawi.”

Hailey and I knew the rest of the team had been busy reaching out to Tete. It was an odd feeling to have been invited on a mission trip, given a specific task and then told to sit and wait.

Jason with the football (soccer) boys

I had finished reading a book, written a blog and a half and gotten to know the Gimba family really well. I was done waiting. Saturday morning we decided we’d head out with one of the ‘field teams’ to do door-to-door (or yard-to-yard) evangelism.

When I think about door-to-door evangelism I get a horrible feeling in my gut. I think about all the times I have heard a knock on my door, peered out the window or peephole and seen bicycle helmets and neck ties. I never mind talking to Mormons on their mission (their commitment puts those of us who spend a week in a place, paint a few fences and rarely actually talk about our faith with others to shame), but I’d be lying if I said it was something that I looked forward to.

As if one conversation with a complete stranger can convert a person…

Or can it?

Think of how many times Scripture tells us of one quick life-changing conversation. The paralyzed man at Beth-zatha, the Samaritan woman at the well, the calling of the disciples. The list could go on and on. When Jesus was on His way he talked to people. And their lives were changed.

I can hear your internal monologue screaming at me right now. You’re looking at the computer screen and thinking, “But that was JESUS!” Yes, it was. But there were many others. The Church didn’t grow to where it is today because of sermons preached on Sunday morning (though it may have shrunk to the size it is in the US today because some of what is said during them).

I still here your thoughts (well, probably, because I have them as well), “but Dave, I wasn’t called to that type of ministry! I don’t have those gifts.” The all-too-often used excuse that keeps us conveniently confined to the comfort of our pews. I am not saying we are all called to be curbside prophets, but most of us have been given the ability to communicate in one way or another. What are you communicating?

We walked around all morning and talked with some women and their children, a group of 15 boys kicking around a makeshift football and a family who had fled from the Congo three years earlier because of its civil war. We shared stories, laughed at our differences and talked about Jesus.

In the afternoon we met with a youth group and then I went to meet with the executives and professionals I was supposed to work with the day before. Surprise, no one showed. To be honest, I wasn’t disappointed. I was exhausted.

On Sunday I preached on Jesus being The Way, The Truth and The Life. I mentioned that the early church was often referred to as “those that were in/on the way” and focused on the idea that we often try to jump to Jesus as truth and life without first getting in the way. We miss the point. We miss the journey.

Monday at 6 a.m. we piled back into the same Nissan we arrived in five days earlier. The car reeked of gasoline—spilled generator fuel. Wonderful. As if the six hours of stench weren’t bad enough, the shocks on the car were worthless. I’d start to fall asleep, into a gas-induced coma, and the rear of the car would swerve uncontrollably as the driver increased his speed.

Our journey to Mozambique was not at all perfect. It didn’t go as we expected and what I set out to do was not accomplished (many of the other outreaches were very successful). But sometimes, most of the time actually, we spend so much time focusing on the finish line that we forget about our role on the way.

Mozambican Waiting Game

We arrived in Tete just after 10:30. Exhausted, I flopped out of car and shook feeling back into my legs. We were taken to the house of the Nigerian missionaries and after a quick cup of tea went to bed.

The first thing you notice about Tete is the heat. Supposedly, it’s the cold season right now. Cold, like 100 degrees cold. After forgetting a few things on our journey to Mulanje, we didn’t want to forget anything this time. Naturally, I didn’t bring shorts. But at least I had jeans, a suit and a warm sleeping bag…

Thursday mornings blistering heat reminded us of what Lilongwe was like during the hot season. We sat out on the veranda of our new friend’s house, ate breakfast and reintroduced ourselves after the half-awake pleasantries of the night before.

The Gimba Family

Esther and Istifanus Gimba have been in Mozambique for almost three years. They work with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, which focuses on food programs, church development, disaster (flood/drought) relief, aids education and the empowerment of women. Their house was built by South African missionaries and is on the property of the Iglesia Reformada church (which we later learned is the local name for the CCAP).

The church in Mozambique is small and there is far less missionary and development presence than in most African countries. I’ve been told that bibles are so scarce that two people will tear it in half and one will get the Old Testament and the other the New.

After breakfast we rested and waited to hear about the day’s program. I was supposed to be leading a seminar for businessmen and executives. But it wasn’t going to start till Friday, so we had a day to rest.

Later, we visited two more of the small missionary network. Jenny is from the US and her husband, Michel, is from Switzerland. Michel works with the Wycliffe Bible Translators. Today he and his team had finished translating Exodus 40 into a local dialect. He discussed how difficult it was to translate the instructions for building the tabernacle in a way that makes sense (the whole time I was thinking, “I’m not even sure they make sense in any language…”).

They’ve been in Mozambique since 1995 and experienced what a country looks like right after almost 30 years of unrest and civil war. When they leave the country on furlough, their two elementary school aged boys ask when they are going home. Tete is all they have known.

The Church needs more families like this one. Instead of bringing a westernized version of Christianity (which, unfortunately often means colonization instead of Christianization), they are helping people see that Christ can be the answer to their unique questions and problems.

As we drove through the city of Tete two things stood out to me. Despite scars from the war and the obvious signs of poverty, the city was impeccably organized. The markets had clear lines and the roads were actually put together in a logical way. It was refreshing. I was later told that the Portuguese have a way about them that exudes order and structure. Mozambicans had absorbed this trait. It was fabulous.

Hailey enjoying the Zambezi River breeze
Hailey enjoying the Zambezi River breeze

The other thing I noticed was the plethora of men walking around in reflector-laden jump suits. These men were coming home from working in coal and diamond mines. As we were stuck in traffic on the Zambezi River Bridge, I debated rolling down the window and calling out “I think I’ve got the black lung pop!” to one of the men. Then I realized (1) I’d be the only one laughing—Ben Stiller, who is that?—and (2) it would be highly inappropriate.

The truth is, though it is brutal work and the employees are often under-paid (the average salary is between $150-200 a week, a generous wage for African standards but terrible considering the risks of the work), the discovery of these resources has quickly provided the Tete province with a way to generate their own income.

Fortunately, on Friday we woke up and it was much cooler. And there was actually a breeze. This time, as we sat on the veranda, coffee and tea actually sounded appetizing. We were told to wait for instructions about our program. 9:00 am came. 11:00. Lunchtime. Around 2:00 I finally found out I would be speaking that night at 6:30. And then, two hours later, found out I wouldn’t be because the people to whom I would be speaking were in a meeting to plan this year’s Independence Day Celebration for the city. But they’d be coming Saturday night. Great. Another day of nothing, another day of waiting.