Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Less is More: Setting Boundaries for Ourselves with Digital Media--FULLER YOUTH INSTITUTE

Check out this list...worth a read from Fuller Youth Institute on an issue so deeply affecting students and adults both as we live in our culture...


1. Set designated places where you keep, and put away, various devices. Setting physical boundaries helps reinforce digital ones.
2. Turn off all your devices before you go to bed and, if you’re a youth leader, occasionally post something that indicates that you are doing so. “Had a great time hanging out with you all today! Shutting everything down for the night. Sweet dreams, Internet. See you and your cats tomorrow."
3. Bring a camera rather than a smartphone to take photos during events. Post the photos afterwards rather than during.

4. Here’s a great one from Kara Powell: have everyone set their phones in the middle of the table at the start of a meal. The first person to reach for their phone has to pay for everyone else. (You may need to adapt that consequence for young people).

5. Shut your phone off when you attend church on Sunday unless there is a reason directly relating to the service for you to keep it on (e.g. taking notes, texting prayer requests). I will confess that I leave mine in the car on Sundays so I will not be tempted to look at it.
6. Set up separate email accounts for work and personal correspondence so that while you are out of the office you are totally out of the office. One member of FYI’s team said she uses two different email providers to make the experience of checking each account feel more distinct and separate.

7. If you refrain from texting and social media as part of your weekly Sabbath, see if a friend will babysit your phone and reply to the messages that you do receive. “This is Art, Brad is celebrating the Sabbath today and left his phone at the office. He’ll get back to you tomorrow.” This also conveys a lot of trust, and implies that you don’t have anything on your phone you would be embarrassed about a friend or co-worker seeing.

8. When you set your phone down during a conversation or when you’re home, be intentional about placing it face down so that you can’t see any notifications as they come in and are less prone to glance at it.

9. Create a “no tech during meals” at home rule that both kids and adults regularly follow so you can practice face-to-face conversation. If it’s too much to make this a standard rule, start with one meal per week. Model for your kids that pretty much any call, text, or post can wait until dinner is done.

10. If you have a hobby that doesn’t involve tech, turn your phone off before you start. If you feel like you need to explain later, you can say, “I turned my phone off to practice guitar for a while.” Doing this without apologizing can help create a new culture among your connections that allows space to be digitally disconnected at times.

11. We have previously encouraged not allowing digital technology in a young person’s bedroom—the same applies for adults.
12. There are a number of apps available that can help you with setting limits on where and for how long you spend time online.




Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Praying for the End of 2 Epidemics...

For the last couple weeks, I've been almost obsessed with the remarkable story of two missionaries in Liberia who were infected with the EBOLA virus while caring for those suffering from the disease in west Africa at a mission hospital. I've been so inspired by the courage and commitment and compassion of those caring for the sick and dying at great risk on the continent I've grown to love myself...
And I've watched with curiosity and frustration and hope the responses in the media and US culture to what is taking place in Africa and how much we are willing to truly care for those in greatest need in our world...and even those who risk their own lives to do so in such clear ways...
I loved this summary thought from Paul Root Wolpe on the CNN Opinion blog I read today...
There are two epidemics in the world today. The first is a troubling spread of the Ebola virus in poor countries in Africa, an outbreak that is the result of poverty, inattention by those countries' political leaders, and a general lack of concern by the wealthier nations about epidemics that don't yet seem to directly affect them.
But the second epidemic is a more dangerous one. It is a spreading lack of compassion, characterized by disaster fatigue, helplessness in the face of war refugees, intolerance for immigration, and now, the desire to ban even American citizens who are sick and need our help. The second epidemic seems harder to contain than the first, but it is every bit as important.
My prayer is that both epidemics named end quickly in Jesus' name...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why I Keep Doing Global Simulations: A Refugee for a Week Reflection...

This week is a pretty quiet week on the campus where I head to work every day...most of our students are home working or traveling or sleeping...and several of the staff I work alongside of in Student Development have the month of July off...I'm busy doing lots of prep and details and planning and thinking as we head toward late August and the rush of another school year at CU...

One of the things capturing my time is getting programs and materials ready for our first year experience program welcoming new students to campus...we've actually created a summer reading program and it focuses on the biography of a former refugee and "lost boy" from Sudan named Lopez Lomong whose story led him from unthinkable experiences in Africa to running on the US Olympic Track and Field team...

Our curriculum will highlight the issue of genocide this year and one of our goals is to engage the needs of refugees even here in Grand Rapids, MI as we learn and become more aware of what is happening in our world...and in partnership with our admissions team our Terra Firma coordinator Kristie Neff helped to create what we call REFUGEE FOR A WEEK...it's simply an invitation to the class of 2018 to join us in living a bit differently for a week so we can have just a taste of what life was like for Lopez and millions of others in our world...it means wearing the same clothes a couple days in a row, not spending money, forgoing a shower, sleeping on the floor, and choosing to not use your cell phone or car for a day...

It seems a bit goofy perhaps but I love what it says to our new students and what it does ultimately for me and anyone else who chooses to participate in this "global simulation" from July 6-12...

I've thought again this week why I continue to design, promote, and participate in these type of activities as a follower of Jesus who wants to see God's Kingdom break forth in every place and people community in our world today...

I have done a host of these over the last decade of my life...doing the classic 30 Hour Famine in partnership with World Vision for several years, personal fasts/prayer times, eating like I live in a village for a day, electronic/media boycotts, and even a week last summer with our family trying to limit all kinds of things in terms of food choices, purchases, activities, and more called SEVEN...

I am honestly always open to these and figured I would share with you why as a middle-aged guy I often join with more idealistic and creative students to live differently than the American norm, if only for a short period of time usually...

*It is healthy for me personally on many levels--I find myself desperately needing to have life be more simple, less material-driven, and frankly less focused on me thinking and pursuing all the things I want that I might not need...there's an attraction and a beauty to life without some of these things that make it more complicated and confusing sometimes even in the midst of having plenty...

*It produces gratitude and grace as I am reminded of my reality versus the reality of the majority of people in our global world...not in a guilt inducing way, but rather in a way that causes me to consider what the world ought to look like for every child and human, and often I am reminded that the world isn't always how I want it to be or how God intends it to be for many in every part of the globe...and that I am invited by Jesus to help change that reality as I become fully aware...

*Choosing to identify and remember the lives and needs of global friends does help produce in me a deeper compassion that ultimately stirs my passion to care to the point of doing something, to help get food to those who have none, to provide clean water rather than having kids drink out of a dirty puddle, to provide a bed net so people can actually sleep rather than fear the mosquito that can end their life, to help bring the love of Jesus in word and deed to those who pray every day for God's provision and hope to their lives, families, communities...

Here's a photo from my recent trip to Zambia with some amazing CU students with our incredible Zambian friends...they are why I have to keep making ways to connect with our world...because even though my office is covered with pictures from Africa and I truly call many Zambians close friends, the world I live in every day can make even me forget...forget that there are refugees who have so much to offer like Lopez to our world...so I will keep doing the simple things on a brochure we created so one day my African brothers and sisters can make the world so much more like God wants it to be simply because they were invited to and given a voice in our world that we all need to hear...



Monday, July 7, 2014

JESUS' TRANSFIGURATION: On Earth as it is in Heaven--MATTHEW 17

I loved resonating so deeply with these familiar words from NT WRIGHT in a daily devotional from the Park Forum:

"What the story of Jesus on the mountain demonstrates, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, is that, just as Jesus seems to be the place where God's world and ours meet, where God's time and ours meet, so he is also the place where, so to speak, God's matter -- God's new creation -- intersects with ours. As with everything else in the gospel narrative, the moment is extraordinary, but soon over. It forms part of a new set of signposts, Jesus-shaped signposts, indicating what is to come: a whole new creation, starting with Jesus himself as the seed that is sown in the earth and then rises to become the beginning of that new world." 

A FINAL SUMMARY: In other words, in the transfiguration of Jesus, God is showing us that he is taking charge -- right here on earth -- and that we should pray for that to happen, recognize it in our midst and long for its completion.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

5 Ways to Make an Impact by Chris Marlow

Serving and engaging the needs of the global poor has become one of my life's great passions...and I've often wrestled with the huge question of how you do that which I am called to pursue well...and here's a really solid list that serves as a strong framework from our friends at Catalyst:

1) Pray Deeply
Transformation starts from within. When the burden for the materially poor grips your heart, the best action step you can do is to pray. Pray for light to shine and darkness to be destroyed. Pray that God would give you wisdom and use your gifts to make a difference and pray that God will comfort those who are suffering. We simply cannot forget that the battle is not flesh and blood.
2) Seek Wisdom
As I travel the globe, my heart breaks often. I see so many people who love God and love people do work that actually may damage the people they are trying to love. Why? Because we have not sought wisdom. We do not understand the depth of culture or the complexity of living in a developing country. Sometimes our passion to "go" is what ruins our ability to see communities transformed. Passion can often get in the way of wisdom! Seek wisdom from key leaders on how to love and serve well. 
3) Dig Deep 
A shotgun approach to extreme poverty is a sure fire way to not get much done. Ask yourself: what area am I passionate about? Is it orphans, water, anti-trafficking, or job creation? Who is doing that kind of work and how can I help them? There are a few ways to engage with groups that you care about:  
Give:  Money moves the mission forward.  Be generous! 
Human Capital: You have gifts, passions and talents. How can you leverage those to make an impact? Do it. 
Longevity: Find a few organizations you love and stick with them long term. 
4) Activate Your Tribe 
Become a storyteller to your family, friends, co-workers and network. Ask them to be involved. Folks have a desire to make a difference. We asked our tribe to tell the simple story of Garage Sale for Orphans. (https://www.helponenow.org/catalyst/) We've raised $300,000 in the last two years and we hope to raise another 1 million in the next two.
We need 1000 people to say "yes" to throwing a garage sale party. 40 kids have been rescued from trafficking, orphans have clean water, and homeless Haitians now have homes and jobs--all through this initiative. Can you join us as well, and become a part of the 1000? You see how simple that was? We would have never been able to make that kind of impact, had our tribe not told our story — it makes a huge difference! 
5) Run The Race And Do Not Quit
It is not a sprint. True change takes a long time. I have seen so many passionate "do gooders" burn out quickly as they get frustrated with the reality that changing the world is a slow and steady approach. Pace yourself, keep your main focus on your relationship with God, surround yourself with people of wisdom, find an organization or two and dig deep, activate your tribe and prepare for a marathon, and, little by little, you will see the beauty of transformation.

Monday, June 9, 2014


I've been home from Zambia for 3 weeks now...and I've done some reflecting on the trip as a whole in addition to all the global issues and needs we saw...here's a few key ideas that emerged as I've thought about the trip as the leader and facilitator...it reminds me of the power and impact of these trips...and the way they change all of our lives as we go forward...

1. It’s our passion as a leader that grabs students

2. Relational engagement invites participation

3. Students will chase hard a compelling vision

4. We need to be personally around people who inspire us and share in our biggest plans and dreams

5. God wants to use a generation of students outside their normal worlds and concerns for Kingdom purposes

6. Sharing our God stories multiplies their impact

7. God has something extraordinary for each of us

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I've now been back home for a couple days after this most recent trip to Africa...this piece from Shauna Niequist in her book COLD TANGERINES communicates many of the feelings and questions and blessings you experience...and then must wrestle thru...the tension never stops for me...and the joy is a blessing from above...I'm so different and perhaps more who God wants me to be because of my time with the people and places of Zambia...enjoy this read...it moved me...

Four years ago, I went to Africa with my mother and my brother and a friend of ours, who is the president of a relief agency.  We went to Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia, and it freaked me out. It unnerved and unraveled me, seeping into my dreams and my thoughts the way a particularly evocative movie or song does. Africa is nothing if not evocative. It’s a place of such unimaginable beauty and dignity and expanse and possibility, and such unfathomable suffering and despair and disease and decay. It is at once so alive and so wracked by death, so powerful in its landscape and physicality, and so powerless under the weight of famine and political upheaval and disease. Its intensity scared me and overwhelmed me, and I feel like I wandered through many long days there, stunned and tired and unable to digest what I saw and heard, and more specifically, what I felt inside myself.  And even now, four years later, I’m still piecing together what happened in me and what was happening around me in those cities and villages.

I wasn’t ready for Africa. I have been to lots of other places, but I wasn’t ready for the chaotic jumble of people and homes and music and muddy winding paths through the shanty-towns in Nairobi or the huts in the Ugandan bush, tiny huts in the middle of a binding, parched expanse that went on as far as I could see. I wasn’t ready for the hospitals in Zambia, where I cried and hid my eyes as much as possible, where the smell of death and the cries of people in extreme pain rang out over row after row of rusted beds with dirty and bloodied sheets.

In the most disorienting change of venue, I flew from Zambia, through Frankfurt, back to O’Hare, and on to the Caribbean for a family vacation. I wish I could say that I wasn’t seduced by the smooth deck and bright white sails of the boat we stayed on, that I couldn’t swim in the perfectly warm navy-blue water because I was so overcome by the horror of what I had seen. I’m ashamed to say that wasn’t the case, and even more ashamed to say that I was glad to be there, glad to no longer be in Africa. I almost tried to let the warm salty water and the soothing wind wash away the smells and sounds of Africa.

I wanted away, out from under what I had seen and felt. I talked about it a little bit, but it was so hard to explain, and so hard to go back into those places inside me. I didn’t know how to tell my husband or my friends that Africa had done something bad inside me, had demonstrated to me a part of myself I didn’t know I had. For one of the first times in my life, my beliefs and perspectives bowed and flattened under the weight of my experience. Before I went there, I wanted to invest myself in the healing, in some small way, of Africa. But when I was there, I just wanted to leave, and I was ashamed and surprised by that part of myself.

I wanted to shut my eyes and stop seeing the images of starving children. I wanted to sleep at night without smelling the scent of smoke from open fires and the sounds of guards’ heavy footsteps outside our doors. Everyone I know, it seems, wants to go to Africa, wants to volunteer for a few days in an AIDS clinic or an orphanage. And that’s good. It’s a good impulse to want to see it with your own eyes and to want to be a part of the solution. I encourage them to go and recommend organizations and churches to connect with, but inside myself, I whisper to them, Be careful. You will be haunted by what you find there, and you won’t be able to wash away what you’ve seen and heard. You will see things and hear things, and then you will be responsible for them, for telling the truth about who you are and who you discover you are not, and for finding a way to make it right.

I had to make things right in two ways. I had to do something personally to make things right in Africa, because now I knew too much and couldn’t erase the images and sounds that had embedded themselves in me, like seeds planted in a garden. I had to make something happen right there, which is both enormously daunting and shockingly simple. Daunting because of how massively tangled the roots of the issues have become-it is about famine and sexual violence and patriarchy and racism and economics and medicine, and when you think you’ve knit together the magical solution, one pull on one string unravels the whole thing and leaves you with a mountain of new questions, while the clock ticks away lives by the dozen. And then again, shockingly simple, because there are such good, smart people doing such courageous, good, smart things, and what can be done with tiny little bits of money is just dazzling.

Also, though, and more difficult, I had to make things right within me. I had to confront the person I found on that trip, the one who wanted to fly home the first night and pretend the whole thing was not real. That’s the trick, I think. That’s why actually getting on a plane and going there is dangerous and very important. Because I could not forget about it, as desperately as I wanted to. I had to clear away space in my mind and my heart, spaces previously occupied by easy things--groceries to buy, albums to download, people to call--and replace them with the weight of Africa, a heavy, dark thing to carry with me, something under which to labor, something under which to tremble. Because once you see it, you will never be able to un-see it, and once you see it, you will be responsible for it, and for the self it reveals back to you.

Somehow on that trip, I grew softer and harder in unexpected places. But more than that, I’ve grown since that trip, because there is a new thing inside me, however thoroughly I tried to escape it. Africa has grown like a stubborn stalk in the soil of my life, despite my resistance, despite my fear and selfishness.

It took some time, after the trip. It took some time for me to want to talk about Africa, to want to read about it again, to want to hear about it at church. But I saw it, and carried it with me, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t un-see it, so all I could do, it seemed, was enter back in, in an entirely new way. I will never recapture my naïveté, my idealism about what magical solution might just bind up all the broken pieces. But I practice listening, learning and praying. I practice telling the truth about myself, the truth I was too proud to admit four years ago, that I’m scared and that when faced with death, I cried, instead of rising up like a nurse or a prophet. I hid my eyes. But I don’t anymore.

The baby growing in my belly as I write has brought my memories of that trip into focus. What was distant and abstract is now bursting into my field of vision in sharp relief: mothers could not feed their babies. I understand that now in a way that I did not, could not, then. My own mother has said that AIDS in Africa will be addressed and eventually healed by mothers. Then, I thought she meant women in general, possible mothers, I guess. But the non-mother-me who took that trip didn’t get something that the mother-me does now. Everything looks different--Africa and my own neighborhood and my own belly and the pregnant bellies I saw there, others carrying babies who will be born hungry and live hungry every day of their lives.

There is a food truck that comes to our neighborhood twice a month. A wonderful local church sets up the truck in their parking lot, and people line up around the block for potatoes and formula and apples. Our house church volunteers sometimes, unpacking the food and packing it into the laundry baskets and bags and buckets that our neighbors bring. I’m silenced every time, watching women just like me, carrying babies they love the way I love mine, tucking onions and corn and juice into baskets, because without the food truck, they would not have enough food for their children.

What happened in me on the other side of the world is working its way through my life like yeast through dough, right in my neighborhood. I help feed people on Thursday afternoons, a tiny thing, but one that is important to me, because once you see something, you can’t un-see it. I saw the women in that line with their babies, and I can’t un-see them. And I don’t want to.

One night in Africa we climbed to the highest point we could find, through waist-high bushes and bramble and thorny underbrush, and when we came to the top, we looked out at the sun setting across a majestic and regal land, land that had been given and taken and stolen and drenched with blood, but land that at that moment was glowing with the softness of the fading sun and the rich purples and greens of harvest time. The property on which we stood was walled on all sides, and the top of the wall was spiked with broken bottles so that no one could scale it without being cut on the glass. We stood inside the wall, and the broken bottles glinted in the sun like sparklers, keeping people in, keeping people out, twinkling and beautiful, and at the same time, embedded with violence and division, and in those two things, those twin natures, lies Africa.

 And in Africa I discovered my own twin natures, extending to me two hands, one holding terror and despair and one hope, and day-by-day, I make my choice. There is hope for Africa, and there is hope for me, and for my neighborhood, for the shards of broken bottles that puncture and divide us all.