It Is Well With My Soul

"It Is Well With My Soul" is one of my favorite songs...if you don't know the full story behind it, google it! The quick "Cliffs Notes" synopsis of this songs meaning is simply that no matter what wicked things occur in your life, the eternal and unconditional love of God does not waver. This song is not about thanking God when things are going well, but rather praising His name when all seems lost.

On our last day in the prisons in Africa, we went to the woman's area to speak and share with them. It was an unforgettable experience, hearing Kellie and Nicole share their lives and hearts with a couple hundred of these women, and seeing God's hand, mightily at work. Someone on our team captured some video of them singing this song, and I wanted to post it here for all to see. Cameras were not allowed in the woman's area, so a team member; who's name will forever go unmentioned; committed a crime in an African prison to bring you this video...enjoy. And remember, it is well...


Easily Pleased

video courtesy of: desiringgod.org

The script comes straight from C. S. Lewis:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory, 26)


Church Downhill Slalom

A new sport Katy and I invented in South Africa. I hope it catches on.


South Africa - Running Diary - Part VIII

I lazily attempted to keep a running diary of my daily events during our trip to South Africa. What follows below is that lazy attempt. The words in quotes are the actual things I wrote in my journal, followed by a brief description (if necessary) to describe the words I wrote and the significance behind them. Whenever possible, I tried to document the time (local time depending on what time zone I was in) at which these events occurred. Hope that makes at least some sense…enjoy.

Saturday, January 23rd – 8:50 am: “African Safari.” Saturday morning, we all piled in the van and drove about an hour out of town to the Lion Park. This place was like something you’d see only on a National Geographic show….zebras, gazelles, ostriches, giraffes, cheetahs, hyenas, meerkats, and of course, lions…all out in the wild. Not crammed into a small artificial habitat, like you’d see at the zoo. We drove around, saw the zebras and gazelles grazing on the open prairies, a few cheetahs pacing nervously as we passed them, and the hyenas and meerkats napping lazily in the morning sun. But the star of the show is the lions, no doubt, right!? We drove around looking for them for a few minutes, unable to spot even one. Just was we were starting to make sarcastic jokes about how there’s no lions at the Lion Park, we realized that we were about to run right into about 15 of them as they lay napping under a large tree.(Click here for photo) We all quickly shifted to the side of the van to get a closer look. This is what we had come to see…and these creatures were huge…how did we not see them earlier. There was 1 male lion, a few females, and several smaller lion cubs, all spread out, enjoying the cool breeze and shade that the tree had to offer. Some were motionless in their sleep…others were sitting, looking around, and a couple of the lion cubs played with and chewed on some of the low lying tree branches. The van stopped no more than 5 feet from these beautiful animals, and I couldn’t help but realize just how magnificent these creatures really are. I’m not seeing them through a tv screen, or through some steel bars at a zoo, but rather on a huge open field, surrounded by nothing by trees, grass, and blue skies. Part of me really wanted to get out of the van and lay with them, pet them, play with them…but that probably would have led to my dismemberment and death, so I decided to just sit in awe of them from a few feet away. At one point, the male and one of the females went off to share an ‘intimate’ moment together. (Click here for photo, just not "the" photo...yes, "the" photo does exist.) Sure, there were some cheers, jokes and high fives shared in our van upon witnessing this act, but the fact that we got to witness ‘nature being nature’ was pretty cool as well. Later on, we made it to an encaged area that housed about 10 or so baby lion cubs that we could interact with, pet, play with, etc. These little fuzz balls had claws and sharp teeth, but not enough strength in their little bodies yet to do much damage with them. I captured one of my favorite photos from the entire trip, with Katy and one of the cubs caught in a cute stare down. (Click here for photo) Needless to say, this little excursion was not the reason we traveled halfway around the world, but it was an amazing experience that you just can’t find back home…

Saturday, January 23rd – 7:15 pm: “Ian showers, for the first time.” A feeling of betrayal and disappointment feel upon me and the other 4 men of the trip who had yet to shower during this entire trip when we heard the news that Ian had in fact taken a shower, rather than ‘cupping’. He tried to use the excuse that since he had to spend the next 24 hours on an airplane next to his pregnant wife, he wanted to smell good for her, but we weren’t buying it. Such a selfish and shameful act could only be corrected in one way…we had to throw him in the pool outside. Let me explain a little about our little swimming hole in the back yard. I’m sure that about 15 years ago, this oasis was quite the place to be during the hot summers, but I’m also going to assume that this pool hadn’t been cleaned or maintained since that summer 15 years ago. There was a thick green goo that floated on the top, and no one was certain of the depth, on account that you couldn’t see more than 2 inches below the surface of the water level. There were mosquitoes the size of baby birds that lived and grew larger than any insect should ever be allowed to due to its unknown fumes and toxins. So, given this, Ian was bound for the pool for committing such an act of betrayal to his fellow brothers on this trip. So, we all grabbed hold of him, picked him up, and carried him outside and up to the pool. He yelled out and cried for mercy, but we ignored his requests. His wife Crystal pleaded with us to let him go, but we laughed at her as well. We were filled with rage as we swung him from our arms and into the green abyss below. He yelled, flailed, and splashed down in the middle of the pool, only to rise up a second later with the previously mentioned thick green goo hanging from his head and shoulders. We all walked away…he screamed. Our work here was done…justice! Okay…okay…we didn’t really throw him in the pool…but part of us kind of wanted to. We had gone 10 days without showering, 2 other guys had wives to sit next to on the plane ride home as well…and at least I was actually proud of the fact that I had ‘cupped’ for 10 days straight, and actually didn’t feel dirty whatsoever. We gave Ian a hard time for about 3 minutes, them moved on to something else to talk about. These are the things that happen when grown men sleep together in the same room for an extended period of time…


South Africa - Running Diary - Part VII

I lazily attempted to keep a running diary of my daily events during our trip to South Africa. What follows below is that lazy attempt. The words in quotes are the actual things I wrote in my journal, followed by a brief description (if necessary) to describe the words I wrote and the significance behind them. Whenever possible, I tried to document the time (local time depending on what time zone I was in) at which these events occurred. Hope that makes at least some sense…enjoy.

Friday, January 22nd – 7:35 pm: “Red light (robot), Green light (robot).” Friday night, we lead the youth service at church. By this point, most of us were exhausted for the non-stop pace of the week...but this was our last commitment for the evening, before we could go back to the Mission House and crawl into our beds for the night. We started the evening off with a few games that we were familiar with, but they had never heard of. We played Red Light, Green Light (they call their traffic lights ‘robots’. Weird, I know), and Limbo with the youth. The kids had a blast playing along with us and competing with each other. Next, everyone filed into the church where we lead worship for them. That’s right, I said “we”…I sang in the choir…and I even shared a microphone with Nicole. Apparently my voice wasn’t too horrible, because no one left…although I’m not 100% certain that our mic was even on. Regardless, we led worship for the youth; they sang along, motioned with us and praised Him. Next, a couple people shared their stories for the kids. At which time, Katy felt called to share hers as well. She wasn’t planning on speaking that night, but the Spirit led her to speak up and tell all the kids about what God had done in her life, and what He can do in each of their lives as well. So, she stood up, spoke, and shared the Gospel with them. That night, 3 kids were led to Christ!!! As if that wasn’t cool enough, after our night of worship and speaking was finished, we all went back into the Hall to play some indoor soccer. These kids may have been only 16 years old or so, but I now see why soccer can unite the world…and why the US lags a bit behind the world as far as talent goes…these kids were amazing! The boys played against each other, the girls cheered, the guys waiting to play jumped around and sang soccer chants. Oh, and we (Bongo, Ian, Ryan and myself) ended up beating all of them in a few games that night…icing on the cake.

Friday, January 22nd – 10:30 pm: “Late night and ridiculous stories.” After arriving home quite late that night, many of us were too charged up (or sweaty) to just head straight off to bed. So, we stayed up and shared stories about our lives. A couple headed off to their rooms, others showered or ‘cupped’, and the rest of us sat around and chatted. There were stories told about former jobs, old habits, and ‘restroom humor’. After a long, intense, but rewarding week, this night had been a great chance for all of us to bond in a different way, get to know more about each others lives back home, as well as gain a clearer idea at the things that made us laugh. Two ‘restroom’ stories stood out in my mind…my beach encounter and Ryan’s startling discovery at Starbuck’s. These tales left us all horrified and laughing until our sides hurt. Want to know the details? Ask me sometime...


South Africa - Running Diary - Part VI

I lazily attempted to keep a running diary of my daily events during our trip to South Africa. What follows below is that lazy attempt. The words in quotes are the actual things I wrote in my journal, followed by a brief description (if necessary) to describe the words I wrote and the significance behind them. Whenever possible, I tried to document the time (local time depending on what time zone I was in) at which these events occurred. Hope that makes at least some sense…enjoy.

Friday, January 22nd – 7:08 am: “Here I am, send me.” For some reason, this video popped in my head (click here). I have a vague idea as to why… after all this video is pretty amazing, and does talk about going to all ends of the Earth, so there’s a start. Not sure exactly why it stirred my brain though. Perhaps it was out of gratitude for the things I was experiencing. Perhaps it was out of joy for the place that I was. Perhaps it doesn’t matter….just watch the video.

Friday, January 22nd – 7:28 am: “Ryan just shut us all up…God is pleased…the sun has broken through…” Let me set the scene a bit. We have been waiting in a meeting room at the Joburg Women’s Prison for about 30 minutes. Things aren’t going quite as planned…we were already supposed to be meeting with the prison guards, but lack of communication has canceled that plan. We wait…and we wait…and we wait. We’ve taken all the pictures of each other we possible can…and people are getting antsy. A guard comes in and tells us it might not be for at least another hour before we can talk to the women in the prison as well. We wait…and we wait…and we wait. Then, Ryan pulls out his guitar and beings to play. At first, it’s just background noise to our conversations. Then, he begins to sing, and our conversations come to an end. Before you know it, we’re singing along with him…we’re worshiping in the moment. After 15 minutes of singing and praising, a guard walks in, and the music stops. She tells us with a smile that we can meet with the women inmates now…and with that, we’re off. We gather our belongings, shuffle through more security gates, and I glance out a window and see that, for practically the first time all week, the sun has broken through the clouds…God is pleased…”when shadows fall on us, we will not fear, we will remember…”

Friday, January 22nd – 2:20 pm: “Felt like I was back in a bar.” We met with what Pastor Willie has tagged ‘The Street Kidz’. This is basically any guy that lives on the street and will get in a van, come to the church, and eat free food. We met these guys in the Hall at church. In the middle of the room was one long table, and sitting at it were about 20 men…ages ranging from 18-35. We gave them some food to eat and water to drink, and played a few songs for them. Then, I was asked to sit with them and share a bit about myself. I sat down at an empty chair amongst them and just started to small-talk with them a bit as they ate. A few gave me their attention…others continued on with their own conversations…all were drunk. I started to tell them about my issue with alcohol, and how it nearly ruined my life. At that, a couple more men stopped talking and focused on my words. When I mentioned the word ‘Jesus’, one guy got angry, stood up and walked away…only to return a couple minutes later. I sat there with those drunken men, and spoke truth. Some were captivated and some were annoyed, but all heard the word. Afterward, Willie spoke briefly to them, and flat out told them that they were all in horrible shape…like I’ve said before, he doesn’t hold back the truth. When we were finished, they were loaded back into the van and driven back to their street corners. A couple people approached me afterward and basically said, “sorry some of those guys were rude and didn’t pay attention”. I didn’t mind at all, I just told them that it felt like I was talking to friends at a bar…everyone is drunk, loud and has a short attention span. Two men showed genuine interest in what I had to say, and were tried of being a drunk as well. That more than satisfied my soul.


South Africa - Running Diary - Part V

I lazily attempted to keep a running diary of my daily events during our trip to South Africa. What follows below is that lazy attempt. The words in quotes are the actual things I wrote in my journal, followed by a brief description (if necessary) to describe the words I wrote and the significance behind them. Whenever possible, I tried to document the time (local time depending on what time zone I was in) at which these events occurred. Hope that makes at least some sense…enjoy.

Wednesday, January 20th – 5:35 pm:
“If hope can grow from dirt like me, it can be done” This is a line from the Pearl Jam song ‘Down’, and it really has been a catch phrase for my life so many times. I know that I’ve been in some dark places in my life, unable to see a way out of the mess that I had gotten myself into, but for some reason, God found me worthy of rescue…and if He can rescue me, He can rescue anyone…I truly believe that. Through Him, all things really are possible. After a day of mind numbing and truly humbling experiences, I jotted down this phrase in my journal, because I needed to remind myself of that hope.

Wednesday, January 20th – 7:45 pm:
“African BBQ.” We had quite a gathering at the house that night for an authentic African braai (pronounced bry, Afrikaans for barbeque). Pastor Willie grilled lamb chops, steaks, and sausage. Beauty showed the women on the trip how to make pap (pronounced pop), which is essentially a thick porridge that you eat with your hands, and us men did what men in South Africa do, we played soccer. When the food was ready, we all gathered around, prayed and dug in. This meal was delicious, to say the least. As I sat outside surrounded by the entire group, everyone eating their food, I saw this weird sense of reality slowly start to sink in with most everyone. I could see people’s minds racing, processing what all they had seen that day…mostly they people in the squatter camp that would go hungry that night. I could see a new sense of gratitude, and perhaps even a feeling of guilt with each bite of steak and pap. A full plate and satisfied stomach began to take on a different meaning for many people that night…

Thursday, January 21st – 7:40 am:
“Three more children at school today.” On our way to a local elementary school, three young boys yelled out ‘pastor, pastor, pastor’, as our van flew past them. Willie stopped the van, put it in reverse, backed up, stopped and instructed us to open the door. As we did, these three young boys hopped into the van as we quickly pulled away. We drove with them a couple blocks to our destination, all the while, Willie talked with them, asking each how they were doing. Each boy replied to his questions in a polite manner, grateful for the ride. We arrived at the school, and they flew out of the van and into the classroom building. We quickly unloaded the van and make our way into the school audition to meet with these children. We sang some songs with them, Katy shared a few words with them on what God had done in her life, and what He could do in theirs, and in a flash, we were off again. What amazed me the most about this instance, it that it apparently happened all the time. When Willie drove that van around, people noticed. He would honk and wave at people as he flew past them. He would talk with people at stop signs or red lights. He was known in his community…to all people. To the women, to the children in the squatter camps and schools, to the drunken men on the sidewalk, he was known. And if they knew Willie, they had heard about Jesus. Willie didn’t miss an opportunity to speak the Gospel…in fact he drove around looking for new people to share it with…

Thursday, January 21st – 8:55 am:
“75+ young men awaiting their sentence.” Again at the Joburg Prison, this time in a bit of a different environment. There were 75 or so young men (most between 18-21 years old) all waiting to stand trial for their crimes. Some of their cases had been pending for several years. To say the look on these men’s faces was ‘scared’ would be an understatement. They were nervous and lost. As we sang and spoke to them, it felt like we were still in one of the elementary schools. Their eyes were young and glued to our every word. With so much still uncertain in their life, they wanted to believe in something. I was given another opportunity to speak, and I didn’t lose sight of the moment. God’s words flowed through me as I spoke the truth to these men. In the end, nearly all these young men surrendered their lives to Christ that morning…it was an amazing scene. Regardless of their fate within those walls, the truth had set them free!

Thursday, January 21st – 11:25 am:
“Nachos and wings.” Not much to say about this, besides the fact that Katy and I traveled 10,000 miles to eat nachos and wings! We all went out to eat at a nice restaurant called Catz Pjyamas…I had been craving tortillas and Mexican food all week, so when the opportunity arose, I took it. Wings were exceptional, nachos were satisfactory. Funny how you don’t notice the little pleasures in life until they’re gone. Moral of the story, Mexican food is good!

Thursday, January 21st – 2:20 – 2:40 pm:
“20 well deserved minutes.” I had a very refreshing 20 minute nap. By this point, I was running on fumes (as was everyone else)…and after a full meal of wings and nachos, my belly was craving some rest as well. Once I woke up, productivity returned to my life…

Thursday, January 21st – 5:50 pm:
“Not about our ‘tourist’ desires.” We ate at McDonald’s again for dinner…which was quite alright with me…but I got a sense of a couple others grumbling over this. After all, we could always have a Big Mac, but it’s not everyday you get to eat like the Africans do, right!? Well, the reality is many, many, many men, women and children within a 5 minute walk from us we’re going hungry that night…so if they truly wanted to eat like the people of the land, they would have thrown their nuggets and fries in the trash. Thankful for His provision…


South Africa - Running Diary - Part IV

I lazily attempted to keep a running diary of my daily events during our trip to South Africa. What follows below is that lazy attempt. The words in quotes are the actual things I wrote in my journal, followed by a brief description (if necessary) to describe the words I wrote and the significance behind them. Whenever possible, I tried to document the time (local time depending on what time zone I was in) at which these events occurred. Hope that makes at least some sense…enjoy.

Wednesday, January 20th – 7:50 am: “Elementary school – Smart Kids – Sin” A small child answered ‘Sin is when we disappoint God’, to the question, ‘What is sin?’ Another child said ‘Sin is what separates us from God’. These children were no more than 9 years old, but already they understood the consequences for their actions…this just blew me away…Katy was near tears after hearing there little voices speak such big words. In a school that wasn’t even able to afford to pay their phone bill, a drive-way that was solid mud and potholes, in an old building we all stood with the lights off, most likely because it was a cost savings they could desperately use somewhere else, we listened to these children explain their understanding of God’s love for them…and we saw that they understood what that meant, even through their less than stellar living situations. Again, these small children have so much to teach us…

Wednesday, January 20th – 10:15 am: “Traveled 10,000 miles to meet myself”. In the Joburg Prison – Section F, stood a man who was no different than me. I was given the opportunity again to share my story to all the men who showed up to see us that day. It was an odd morning there, to say the least. We set up our equipment in an outdoor courtyard…a courtyard that was still very wet from a rain shower that had soaked the area just hours before. Due to this, there was standing water everywhere…there was a disconnect between us and the inmates…and it created this ‘less than intimate’ setting for us to worship with and speak with these men. There was this uncomfortable and forced feeling throughout the worship music, then it was my turn to speak. I grabbed the microphone and began to share a bit of what God had done in my life and could do in theirs. Through the awkwardness of the setting, I completely left out the main point I wanted to share…that I tried over and over to quit drinking, but every time I tried, I failed. Ultimately, it was God who changed me…put people and things in my life that would help rid me of my addiction. Forgetting this and wrapping up, I handed the microphone off to the next person, went and stood with the rest of our group against a brick wall, and immediately felt disappointment; anger and sadness fill me as I realized that through all the confusion, I had left out the primary point I wanted to discuss. I leaned against that wall and sulked, felt I had ruined a great opportunity to share something that perhaps a few of these men needed to hear…I missed a great opportunity to show how great, powerful and redeeming God really is. I had an obligation, and I ruined it, I felt. It wasn’t until later that I reminded yet again just how redeeming God could be. After singing another song with these men, we went out and met with them, talking with them about life, prison, and ultimately, Jesus. Katy and I came up to one man who greeted us with a huge smile…he was so thankful that we traveled so far to meet with them…to meet with him. His name was Alex. He told Katy and I that he was in prison because he has a drinking problem, he’s an alcoholic. This struck my curiosity a bit. He said that over and over again, he tried to quit drinking, but couldn’t do it on his own. He felt that there was now no way he could do it on his own…he knew who he was…he knew he was weak. Needless to say, by now he had my full attention. He went on to tell us that he surrendered his life to Christ, and asked God to take away this horrible addiction of his. It was then that he was thrown in prison for his drinking which led to an assault. The clarity in these events was seen by both Alex and myself…God had put something in his life to keep him from drinking…God had put Alex in prison…to detox. The joy and gratitude Alex had for this was astounding. He was able to see the purpose for the bad things in his life now…he was able to see that God had a plan for him all along…he saw the great things God does in situations most people would classify as bad. God put Alex in prison, and he fell at God’s feet rejoicing Him. We talked for a good 20 minutes, discussed how similar our stories were. Then…it was over. We left. As I exited the prison gates I stopped…I grabbed Katy…and I wept. God had redeemed me yet again. Just 30 minutes earlier I stood against a brick wall and sulked because I felt I had ruined a great opportunity…then God showed me yet again why He’s God. He took me half way around the world to show me a mirror…to have me meet a man who was no different than me…a man who shared a greatly similar story to that of mine. God showed us both why there is hope in this world, why certain things happen in our lives, why nothing in coincidence, why everything is spiritual…

Wednesday, January 20th – 4:10 pm: “The saddest thing I’ve ever seen.” If it wasn’t for complete embarrassment on my part, that photo I would have taken would have been the most fitting image of anything I saw on our trip…the one image that captured the poverty, pain, hurt and anguish in our world, and the urgency to be His hands and feet. A 5-year-old squatted with his pants down, barefoot on a cool, damp afternoon over a tin pan on a dirt path…this was his restroom, and the daily news was his toilet paper. We walked by as he looked at us, and yet we were the ones feeling embarrassment. It was a heartbreaking image, to say the least. I wanted to take a picture of this wrenching moment, but couldn’t bring myself to putting a camera through that sadness. So, that’s why I’m writing about it instead. As Kyle always says to anyone who goes on a mission trip and witnesses these things, “now, we are all responsible”. Yes…yes we are…