Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Hi Dave,

 I have some questions that have been on my mind as I’m considering my future and where
I would like to be both professionally and personally, and if that is in line with a life of mission work.

Feel free to answer whenever you can. I appreciate ANY insights you can provide. Of course, I am using this time to prayerfully consider any option and door that God may open. I trust him completely and am focusing on letting go of ME choosing this and letting GOD call me. But I am absolutely interested in your own personal experience. Thanks for taking the time to do so – I do appreciate it!

1.    In doing mission work, what is the most important thing you’ve learned?

God is living and active.    He is sovereign.    He guides history.    As missionaries we must have a sense of God’s movement and respond to what God is already doing.   Some boil this down to “discerning” through prayer, stillness, and waiting.   I think they make great Biblical points.     Yet, sometimes in the pursuing the mysterious ways of God we miss His practical whispers.  

My missionary mentors taught that we see God’s movement by watching for two matters. 

  First, where do we expect to find receptive fields?    Since God is living and active He prepares fields for harvest.    We should prioritize those fields that are receptive.   We can discern receptivity through things such as cultural transitions, openness to spiritual conversations, churches that are growing in a location, but also places where there are few vibrant churches – and thus a need for more missionaries.  

Second, we should be looking for places where “relationship webs” intersect and multiply.    The older generation saw this as places where friends and family members geographically clustered.    Today we’d use the term “social network.”    Facebook and twitter make this easier to see.   It is hard to get a good Gospel hearing when we are a stranger.    Receptivity increases when we have a community prepared by others’ relationships.

Divine appointments are where we see receptivity meet with relationship webs. We realize, “This is God’s.”   We respond to His movements. 

2.    The most surprising?

God’s grace.    Missionaries tend to be strong personalities – driven, starter, entrepreneurial
types.    Left to our own devices we fit the psych profile of white collar criminals.    Our tendency to start means we’re assured and confident.   We struggle with pride.    We make many mistakes of action.     When we realize how abundant are our failures, and yet God still uses us it is an overwhelming surprise.   God’s grace is the surprise over and over again.

3.    What does being a “successful” missionary look like?

To at the end of this season in eternity hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”    Until then chasing “success” is sure to be an exercise in frustration and futility.  

4.    How did you feel led – and how do you continually feel called to be a missionary? What does it feel like?

August 1996 - Jana pregnant with Ethan.   Me a herniated disc
I think the most predominant feelings of being led are ones of deep pain.    That probably goes against the grain with most contemporary American Evangelical pop cultures on being called to be a missionary.

Let me start with definitions.   I think to be a missionary is one sent by the Holy Spirit to make disciples, develop churches, and usher in new kingdom possibilities.    I think that definition fits well with Acts.   Most English New Testaments don’t use the word “missionary.”   It comes from “apostolos” in Greek and is transliterated “apostle.”    The arrogant missionary thinks he’s got the spiritual authority of the Apostle Paul.    In reality he may just be psycho.    Yet, I do think if we carefully read the New Testament we’ll find times where the “apostle” is just an ordinary sent missionary.   I think being a missionary is a specific spiritual gift / call.   All Christians are called to speak good words for the Lord, but not all Christians are missionaries.    Just like we’re not all worship leaders or church treasurers.    I think a big mistake of contemporary discussions is when everyone becomes a missionary.   In reality if everyone is a missionary no one is a missionary.

In both the Old and New Testament we see a general pattern of calling.   It starts with a community in crisis.   While the crisis is brewing God is preparing one to lead the community through the crisis.    The preparation is painful and humbling.    Then God whispers “Leave home.   Go.   Trust Me.”   The called one thinks, “Surely not me, God.”    Then painful wrestling happens.

If you don’t feel painful preparation and wrestling I don’t think you’re called to be a missionary.

The process is ongoing.   For instance, a called missionary must be compassionate.    He must grief over his own sin.    He must also grief over the effects of sin in the community to which he is called.  

Out of that pain comes determination and resolve to stay the course.  

5.    How can you determine if mission work is a good fit for you? 

Give it a try as an intern with seasoned missionary mentor.    Can you see yourself in their shoes
Jana with our foster son, Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs
as time goes on?   

 Don’t fall into the contemporary short-term missions’ traps of seeing if you can execute a successful project outside of your cultural context.    Most of the projects are probably irrelevant other than for a power point, blog, and Facebook photo.   The big picture issue will be can you form relationships outside of your cultural understanding.   If so, mission work may be a good fit for you.

Next, what does the mentor think of you?

Then, what do the people you are serving think?   Can you adapt quickly?    Are you able to pick up new cultural cues?  Do they want you to come back?   (But make sure you’re not hanging out with conmen and opportunists who only want to work you for money and connections.)

6.    In the field, what would your average day be like?

An Average Missionary Day
I wish there was such a thing as an “average day.”     There will be some seasons where you establish rhythms and routines.    However, if you need a detailed rhythm and routine to function well you may not have the personality type of a missionary.

One missionary mentor told me, “What is needed is to know exactly what you want to accomplish, but be very flexible to get there.”    Being able to be proactive when life is chaotic and ambiguous is a must.

However, here is what an “average” day would look like for me.    I’m an early riser so discount the early morning points if you’re a night owl.   (Give your best times of the day to the Lord.)

I’m usually up an hour before sunrise.  Ideally, I check email, Facebook, and Twitter to get a feel for what the day is looking like, read a chapter or so in the Bible, and then go exercise.    I get home, eat breakfast, and then get the kids to school.

From there it is adjustment.    I may be preparing lessons, corresponding, and catching up on finances.    Then I’ll have lots of visits.   I like to keep somewhat of a schedule, but sickness, death, and crisis are unpredictable.   I may have to drop everything to help a friend.

I liked to wind down my day around 3 to 4 p.m., get the kids, have dinner as a family, go play with the kids, and then later in the evening I’d frequently go out visiting in people’s homes, hospitals, or church meetings.

I like to be home by 9 p.m. and fall asleep pretty soundly.

Sometimes I get a season where I have weeks with not much to do.    Sometimes I get months of scratching my head about what is next.   In those seasons I try to focus on preparing my mind, body, and spirit for the next season that goes hard.

Then you may get a couple of years where the days start at 4:00 a.m. and end at 11:00 p.m., and you only get a day or two completely off every couple of months.

Ideally, practice Sabbath, but sometimes Sabbath comes as a year instead of a day.

7.    What kind of things did you do?

I am a church planter.    Yet, the kingdom required more than just starting and operating a
Dave and Sophia at Kampala Kids League, 1998
church in our context.
    (In fact, I think in some ways the West has so compartmentalized the church [with the acceptance of church leaders] that church irrelevance to culture is the only realistic possibility.) 
Thus I taught ethics at universities, coached kids sports, wrote columns, did radio, ran scholarship programs, and started a school and a library.   I had lots of fun, made lots of friends, and taught about Jesus along the way.   I can’t wait to see what is next.

8.    How were you able to be supported? 

I was and am a “faith missionary.”   I function with no guaranteed salary.   I largely live on the free will offerings of friends, family, and churches.   Occasionally, I’ve had support from trusts.   There have been seasons where the support has been consistent.    There have been seasons where the support has been sporadic.     There have been seasons where we have had money in the bank.   There have been seasons where our credit cards are maxed out and I don’t know how I’m going to buy groceries.

Puppies sometimes pay the bills plus bring joy
I don’t buy the simple trite phrases about faith and money.     Yet, God has been and always will be faithful.    Yet, His people are not always faithful and sometimes missionaries suffer because His people make poor choices.

I’ve also sold puppies and cars, lectured at universities, and picked up consulting fees to pay the bills.
Jana has baby sat and facilitated adoptions for some financial resources.  

I’ve had a few people suggest I use my insider knowledge of East Africa to make a living, but I find those options to be ones that would involve betraying pastoral confidence.   I pastor first and trust God to provide.

Support is an area that weeds out missionaries.

9.    Do missionaries discern which area they would like to work (for example, mentoring or development for example) and are placed in a particular church based project?

Good question.    It probably depends a lot on the sending organization.   Some give very
Praying for discernment with Joel Wright and Jacob Zikuzooka
detailed plans for missionaries to execute.    Some just send and the missionary makes it up.
I’m a strong believer in missions being “field directed.”     I think those on the mission field should provide the bulk of the discernment and leadership.   I’m resistant to missions that are “office directed.”   I think office directed missions frequently miss context and I’ve also noticed when the office goes through transitions it usually brings great turmoil for the on field missionaries.  
With my definition of a missionary it would be difficult to be a missionary and not be in some ways actively engaged in developing local churches.  

A few months ago I heard a Ugandan Catholic nun take issue with church “projects.”   She pointed out a Western desire to have a start and stop point, measurable results, etc…    Yet, the reality is that many issues of humanity take years to generations to address.   She advocated church “programs” where what is good and true is done over and over again until destructive cycles are broken and enduring systems built.    Programs take immense time and commitment.
I think a faith based field driven missionary is probably the most likely expatriate to discern and endure to reach a point of long term effectiveness. 

10.  How does finding the right church/mission program work?

I’m still a newbie in this area.    We’ve gone through a few churches, tried to start our own organization, and not found an enduring fit yet in over 20 years.

To keep myself from becoming bitter I’ve gone back to missionary disciplines.    The last 20 years have been one of great turmoil in North American churches and missions.   There is a lot of blood on the ground.  Thus be very careful in with whom you covenant.   Also, be very gracious.   Love your senders as much as you love those you serve.   Both have failings that need Gospel answers.   

If you are looking at options I’d look for things like an organization’s faith statement.   I’d dig into their vision and make sure it was compatible to where I sensed God was leading.   I’d look for a proven track record of pastoring missionaries.   I’d want to see what missionaries on both ends of the spectrum thought.   How did new missionaries feel mentored and shepherded by the older ones?   How did the older ones feel respected?    Is this mission capable of maintaining missionary families through a lifetime career?

I’d be very cautious to get involved with a mission that was office driven.   I’d be tempted if I was offered a missions position where the salary was guaranteed, but also notice that most of the guaranteed salary missionaries I’ve known are rarely allowed to be so entrepreneurial that they make great impacts in the country they serve.   

 I hope this has been helpful.   Thanks for asking.   I feel honored that you’ve asked my thoughts.  
Keep praying.   God is living and active.   He will open a door.
God bless.   Feel free to call me if you want to talk or feel free to stop by Chicago and we could visit face to face.

Saturday, October 11, 2014



Kenyan Chicago Marathon 2014 Runners
There is no athletic discipline more frequently mentioned in the history of our faith than running.   The Lord declared all of His creation is good (Genesis 1.)   The glory of the young is in their strength (Proverbs 20:29.).   The Lord finds a special delight in runners.  The first to experience the Lord’s Resurrection was a woman, Mary Magdalene; and she ran in response.  His disciples ran to see the empty tomb, and the one most loved by the Lord, John was the first to reach the vacant grave (John 20.)  When New Testament writers explain discipline, perseverance, and determination their illustrations are of runners.  Eric Liddell, Olympian and missionary to China summarized God’s relationship with runners by saying, “
I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

          Thus we gather this evening as both young and old to remember that runners are
our heroes.  We hope our children will share your character as they mature.  As we age we delight in the beauty of your run as we wait for our resurrection bodies.  You remind us that neither Kenya nor Chicago is our final destination.   Heaven is our home.   We long to cross the finish line one last time and hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


Can all those planning to run in the Chicago Marathon please stand?

May you be surrounded by a great crowd

May you be free in body, mind, and spirit.

May you run the marked race.

May you persevere as you carry our hopes (Hebrews 12:1.)

May you run with purpose and determination.

May you run so that victory is your destiny (1 Corinthians 9:24-26.)

May you boast in the Lord with your success in this race (Philippians 2:16)

When the Lord returns to this earth may you run to tell us His Good News (John 20:2-4.)


Can we all stand as I read the Lord’s Prayer in Kiswahili?

‘Baba yetu uliye mbinguni jina lako litukuzwe.

 Ufalme wako uje, mapenzi yako yafanyike hapa duniani kama huko mbinguni.
Utupatie leo riziki yetu ya kila siku.
 Na utusamehe makosa yetu kama sisi tulivyokwisha kuwa samehe waliotukosea.
 Na usitutie majaribuni, bali utuokoe kutokana na yule mwovu,’
 Kwa kuwa Ufalme na nguvu na utukufu ni vyako milele. Amina.  
(Matayo 6:9-13Neno: Bibilia Takatifu (SNT)”

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Christianity and the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA): A reply to good friends

On September 15 2014 my good friend, Andrew Mwenda wrote in The Independent “AHA: A reply to “Christian” critics”  He raises many good points that are both Biblical and represent historic Christian teaching.  Yet, I think a deeper discussion is merited.  

            I’ve sat with Andrew in Monitor FM’s studio discussing our disagreements about Jesus’ virgin birth and resurrection.  I’ve never been able to forget the caller who said, “Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Mwenda will all have a special place in hell.”  Wow.  I fear God’s judgment too much myself to declare it to another.

Social media now shows us how deeply engrained such sentiments are into misplaced theories
of Christianity.  Those commentaries miss what it means to be “Christian?”   Though our contemporary times frequently use the term, “Christian” it is only used in the Bible three times (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16.)  Many scholars conclude this first usage of the word, “Christian” was actually an insult to those who believed in Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection.  The second time is when an imprisoned Paul tries to persuade King Agrippa to believe, and King Agrippa flippantly asks, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”  Lastly, Peter uses the word, “Christian” to explain suffering without shame.  Thus the very use of the name Christian should never entail a sense of towering over one’s opponent.  Instead to be “Christian” means coming to be near and suffer with those suffering.  It is in that relinquishment of hunger for human dominance that we become truly “Christian.”

As we suffer we process through faith.   How did we get here?   Why is this world so full of pain?  The Bible teaches that humanity is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27.)  All humanity possesses infinite dignity.  Yet, sin enters into the world (Genesis 3.)  Then all havoc breaks out.  Pain is part of life.  Our bodies fail.  Sickness catches us all.  Our work is frustrating.  The corrupt prosper.  All will die.  We can blame others for the mess of humanity.  However, we are all guilty (Romans 3.)  

The Bible speaks of a day coming when like the creepiest of science fiction movies not only will every deed be exposed, but every thought and motive will also be on display (Matthew 12; Luke 12; Hebrews 4:12.)  No one will come away blameless.  The Radio Katwe rumors of Rwanda may not be true, but Jesus makes it clear that somewhere in heaven is stack of files, photos, and videos of our most embarrassing moments.  We’ll all be on our knees begging for mercy when twitter leaks our secrets (Philippians 2:10.)  Thus the best we can do in this life is act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8.) 

            With such fear and trembling, but hope of forgiveness we live a Christian ethic that makes many friends (Luke 16:1-14,) and treats others as we want to be treated (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31-33; Luke 10:27.)  With this Christian ethic of shared suffering because of humanity’s shared failings I offer humble suggestions.

            First, can we stop the name calling?  An old pastor, Dr. Royce Dickinson once told me, “Always, describe people the way they describe themselves.  Otherwise we are name calling, and stripping people of their dignity.”  I’m using the word “gay” now as homosexual seems offensive.  When a few use courser language let us either ignore it or call it unacceptable to our civil community.  With the same reasoning, can we cease to use the term “homophone” or “homophobic?”  The terms assign the motive of fear and hate.   Let’s allow God to sift our motives.

            Second, Uganda is a sovereign nation.  She has the right to make her own laws.  History tells us only emperors try to tell sovereign nations what to do.  Those of us who don’t hold Ugandan citizenship can speak as friends offering advice (as Ugandans also speak to us.)  However, let us not take the place of God and attempt to direct history.   After all history calls those who attempted to direct history names such as “emperor” and “dictator.”  We wouldn’t want those name assigned to us.

            Third, Andrew, Fox Odoi, and others went to court and raised an important issue of justice.  The Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed in Uganda’s Parliament without quorum.  All laws that are just must be established by respecting constitutional process.  The Anti-Gay bill did not follow a just process.   

            Fourth, since we’re all guilty let us very cautiously offer anecdotal evidence of hypocrisy.  I’ve been a respected husband, father, uncle, coach, teacher, pastor, and mzee to my community, but I’m just as guilty of hypocrisy as any.  I’m thankful to all who treat my failings with grace.  

            Fifth, Andrew raises a contemporary Christian proverb, “Love the sinner.  Hate the sin.”  It’s a good attempt to live out a difficult Christian ethic.  Yet, I think Tony Campolo recently said it even better, “Love the sinner.  Hate my own sin.”

            Wow.  Preaching is a horrible task for those who have the courage to wrestling with their own hypocrisy.  Countless Scriptures have men and women speaking for God to indict cultures of sin.  Pastors are accountable to call, “Sin,” “Sin.”  Yet as they do that they know they are guilty of all they are addressing.  No wonder Isaiah said, “Woe to me (Isaiah 6:5-7.)”  Grace needs to continually be applied to our preaching against sin simply because the pastor needs so much of it.

   Paul said it well when he wrote, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.   And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11.)”

If Paul planted a church in Kampala it would be made up not only of reformed gays, but reformed street thieves, religious conmen, corrupt government officials, drunkards, bang smokers, and sensationalist journalists.  I hope Uganda’s pastors have similar visions today.

            Yes, Andrew gets it right that the best pastoring helps people become new.  Churches must   When we pastors don’t lead in the process of redemption we should repent before we demand another’s repentance.  Andrew also gets it right that Uganda is not a theocracy and Christianity is itself very divided on many issues related to gays.  Most importantly Andrew gets it right when he writes, “Jesus said he came to earth to save sinners, not to dine with the holy.”
Alexander McKay
lead in the process of human redemption.

            Yet, I think Andrew misses that a significant part of being a religious leader is being a prophet.  Contemporary health and wealth pastors miss it when they think being a prophet is profitable way to predict the future.  Instead being a prophet is a lone voice of truth to intimidating earthly authorities and howling mobs.  Uganda’s history has had many.  Some were missionaries like Alexander McKay who spoke against slavery, war, human sacrifice, and homosexuality.   Some were leaders like Bishop Festo Kivengere who with a pure heart proclaimed his love for Idi Amin while calling Amin’s killings evil.  

Bishop Festo Kivengere
Those voices of the past remind us again – The colonial impulse to control is wrong.  Sexuality should be practiced between a man and woman who are married.  Murder is a heinous sin.  We’re all guilty, but redemption is possible.  Thus we’ll preach not only on homosexuality with which a small percentage struggle, but also address our more pervasive sins of greed, prejudice, and lust.  We’re all part of the sin problem.

            Those prophets of old were advocates in policy debates.  Their voices should still be heard.  In a society where there are many religious thoughts we should listen well to all whether they are rabbi, guru, haji, or pastor.  Each represents millions who have found enduring truth in their religion.  We dare not make the mistake to exclude any just because religion is part of their reasoning.  In fact, we’ll find when we’re really in trouble frequently we’re healed at a religious hospital, educated by religious scholarships and schools, and someone we meet at a religious gathering helps us find a new job.  If we turn to religious leaders for health, education, and business it seems hypocritical to exclude them from participating as citizens in governance.

            Andrew closes his column with a story of a gay Christian in Uganda.  It’s heart breaking. 
How about if the next time I’m in Uganda Andrew and I go visit him with the same grace we give one another?  Friendship is about loving one another when we know each other’s failings.   Then we gently point to the ultimate friend, Jesus of Nazareth who ultimately makes us into something new. 
            Bottom line:  Andrew has well pointed out Biblical holes in the Anti-Homosexuality Act.  Yet, I think Andrew’s closing story is a whisper of God that a day will come when Andrew combines his journalistic excellence with a pastor’s calling.