26 June, 2007

The Best Laid Plans

It's amazing how God works. In the last post I was contemplating how we as Christians should use the resources God blesses us with. Is it possible to waste what God has given? Definitely. But, there is no formula to figure out just what is enough or what is too much. Personally, I think focusing on costs so much and being so worried about being "good stewards" that it is the money that is the central factor in a decision is more of a danger for many Christians than being poor stewards. Our focus obviously should be on answering God's leading, and sometimes it might not make sense either financially or through human reasoning to follow God's leading. I am glad that God works in different ways in different areas when it comes to church buildings, and I trust that the leaders responsible for building churches in Liberia, Sudan, or Pennsylvania are (and have) all spent time in prayer and are continuing to seek the Lord's leading.

Along those lines, something that I have been thinking about quite a bit lately is how God works. It is frustrating (refreshing) how He always does things in spite of us (me) and doesn't work the way we (I) would like or understand. A friend of mine who is working here in Sudan recently said that the trick to this place is simple: Nothing is going to go according to plan, so accept it. Now, I like to think of myself as pretty smart. For some reason I think I can plan well and know or can figure out the best way to do things in a given situation. That's not easy here. (It's probably not easy wherever each of you are reading this either, though.) But for me, over the last several months as I try to make plans for how we can accomplish the most in getting churches ready to build and in getting materials and crews out to sites once the church is ready, I make a lot of plans. The trouble is, things never go according to plan. In spite of this, there has been a lot that has gotten done while I have been here in South Sudan. I'd like to think that this is in large part because of me, but it can't be. Things work out often times because the obvious choice for how to get things done presents itself at just the right time. When I try to do something that I think would work best logically, often times I create extra work for myself that proves unnecessary as something else happens to nullify whatever I did, or immediately after I do something it becomes clear that the situation could have been taken care of with half the work had I only waited. Frustrating, of course, but then again, it is good to know that it's not about me (less pressure anyways).

First Corinthians 1:27-29 says "Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God." I'm glad God humbles us (at least today I am, unfortunately many times I can't say that honestly). It's not worth trying to figure everything out all the time. Faith in Christ will lead to some unexpected decisions and situations. Life stays interesting that way, and that is something I can definitely say is a good thing.

So, money isn't nearly as important as we make it out to be. Wisdom isn't as important as we think. Power and importance really mean nothing. Knowing Christ and following him is what matters, even when it doesn't make sense. Being in a place where things never go as planned you would think that I would realize some of this quicker or easier, but it is still a constant struggle to become less and allow God to become greater and greater (John 3:30). I wish you all a pleasant day or night wherever you may be.

10 June, 2007

More Comparisons

Hmm. . . Don't know what to think about the differences. Any comments? Three very different churches, three very different costs, same purpose but different ways of meeting that purpose.

Cruising in Style

A sweet ride:

Not such a sweet ride:

If you ever buy a motorcycle for a place where you are never going to be travelling on paved roads, never under any circumstance purchase a TVS. Yes, a Yamaha AG 100 may be 6 or 7 times the price, but it is worth it (I mean come on, if it costs $300 that should tip you off from the beginning). Sure I may have ended up in a river along with my Yamaha in Liberia when we fell off a bridge together, but when the TVS lost it's seat and took away the option of going over bumps while standing and using my legs as shock absorbers since the TVS's are more or less non-existant. The last 10 minutes to church and then the 45 minutes back weren't very comfortable this morning.

02 June, 2007

More Opening Pictures

Breaking and Entering

So here in South Sudan it is pretty easy to end up in jail. Any traffic violation (from failure to indicate with the proper turn signal to driving along the same tracks that obviously 50 or more other vehicles use every day across the central soccer field in town), taking out a pocket knife around a police officer to clip your fingernails with the scissors (threatening a police officer), taking pictures when police are anywhere around, or even climbing a mountain all could end up in you going to jail. In fact, all of these have happened at some point within the last year to staff here in South Sudan. This is what makes last Saturday all the more ironic and comical.

Church dedications are exciting events with lots of singing, dancing, many guests and visitors, and food. There are many people who put lots of time and energy into making sure that the church is ready and decorated and beautiful. And last Saturday one of the churches that we recently finished was ready for opening. The week before, we had sent some carpenters to do some finishing touches to the doors and windows, and deliver the benches and pulpit. So on Thursday a couple other staff and I stopped by the church and were informed that they didn’t have the keys to open the church in order to clean it before the big celebration. Of course I had no idea where the keys were, but would check back at the office. I did mention it to one of the other staff that evening around dinner, at which time there wasn’t much to be done. The next day (Friday), I forgot about it in the morning and didn’t ask the carpenters or the driver of the truck that carried the materials. While out and about, I remembered again, but couldn’t get through to the office to remind them to check the times I remembered. At 6pm, when I was returning to base and passing the church, I again stopped to find out that the people were there cooking and getting things ready while waiting for the church to be opened so they could clean and decorate inside. Oops. By the time I was able to contact the base, I was about 15 minutes away, and all the national workers had left the compound including the carpenters, and the driver had taken a tractor to a church about 45 minutes away and wouldn’t be back until the next day. So, we spent the evening tracking down anyone we thought might have the key to no avail. We called it a night hoping the next morning the key would be found, while also trying to determine the best way to get into the church causing the least damage in case we couldn’t find the key.

Well, of course the next morning still no one had any idea where the keys were. We swayed back and forth between trying to grind the lock off from between the double doors, trying to squeeze in between the ceiling and the wall, and just taking a chainsaw to the door (we don’t really have a chainsaw). So, we took hammers and chisels, a grinder and welding machine (to power the grinder), a drill, and the biggest crow bar we could find. We got there about 45 minutes before the scheduled opening of 10am (3hrs and 45min before the actual start of 1pm) and thankfully didn’t have more than 50 or so people look at Dan and I rather surprisingly as we walked around the church checking windows and door s and propping ladders up trying to fit between the roof and wall and trying to squeeze between the bars that went above the window. Upon realizing a six year old would probably fit it dawned on us that the 7 or 8 foot drop to the cement floor might hurt the unsuspecting child and leave him inside the building with a broken arm, leg, or back, and us still outside trying to get in to help.

After all the deliberating, we came to the conclusion of trying to break a window and crawl through the lower bars which were quite a bit more spread out than up high. So, as a few more people had gathered, we began banging the new church window as hard as we could (which also happened to be quite loud) and we demonstrated to all present how the window locks are the weakest point of the church and provide the easiest way to break in and steal anything from inside. And by 9:40am, we had successfully opened up the doors so that the celebration could begin. Thankfully, the fiasco of breaking and entering the church the morning of the opening didn’t dampen or dishearten any spirits as probably 400 or so people sang, danced, and celebrated from 1pm up until almost 5 before breaking to eat

(I didn’t actually have a camera with me, so there aren’t any photos of the mission, nor did I stay for the celebration, but these pictures are of an opening celebration I attended the next day and should provide a good picture of what a typical church would look like so you can imagine our attempts to break in.)

And although breaking and entering is probably the most unlawful thing I’ve done in Sudan, it is one thing that didn’t lead to me having to sit down in the police station trying to talk my way out of a prison sentence. Good times.

(Of course the inventory guy found the keys on Tuesday in the most obvious place you would have thought he would look.)