Serengeti Wilderness Camp

I don’t know how to describe where we are staying in Serengeti National Park-kind of like a lodge that serves 3 meals and kind of like camping. This is a temporary camp, currently at S02 25.02 E034 53.59, that moves around every few months (think M*A*S*H) in order to minimize environmental impact and to stay out of the way of migrating animals.  Our tent is large, with a queen sized bed and other furnishings.  It has a bathroom complete with wash basin, toilet, and shower, despite the fact that there is no running water here.  It’s the closest thing to a normal bathroom you can have in a tent that moves every few months.There is no electricity, per se, but we do have solar and battery-powered LED lights-essentially flashlights. We also have a charging station in the bar. Yes, there is a bar here, with couches and coffee tables, serving chilled drinks.  We were served dinner with normal plates and flatware, and yet there was a campfire tonight.

One of the staff came by our tent this evening and said there was a buffalo nearby behind the tent, so we shouldn’t walk around back there.  Meanwhile, a staff person put warm water in a bag hanging behind the tent that fed my evening’s shower.  Apparently concern about the buffalo didn’t extend to concern for staff safety.

The weather continues to be overcast with temps in the mid-to-upper 60s, warming to mid 80s during the day.  The clouds did break up a bit tonight, providing partial visibility of the stars. Then later there was a light rain shower, the first precipitation more than mist we have experienced in Tanzania since we arrived almost 2 weeks ago.

Laura, Clif, Beth, and Rob’s Excellent Adventure – Part 2

In Part 1, I explained how Erasto’s persistence and confidence in God’s providence led to the sabbatical trip we’re taking.  But, of course, there is more to the story.

Laura started Living Water Christian Church in April 2004.  Two years ago she began to discuss the idea of her taking sabbatical somewhere around the seven-year mark.  She didn’t know then exactly when the sabbatical would be or what she would do; she mainly wanted the church to establish the practice of providing a sabbatical approximately every seven years.

Last year Laura decided to apply for a Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lilly Endowment.  This is an awesome program that provides up to $50,000 for pastors to take a once-in-a-lifetime sabbatical.  The program encourages pastors to not only travel and study, but also rest and play, using their funding for all sabbatical-related costs including the cost of providing a substitute pastor for the church.

Laura thought that the only financially practical way she would ever be able to accept Erasto’s invitation would be to use grant funding for the travel.  So the main idea was to plan a trip to Tanzania to meet Erasto and spend some time ministering with the people of Beroya Revival Temple.

I began to study up on Tanzania’s geography, air travel routes to get there, and costs.  I discovered that the most common ways to get to Tanzania from the US are through Europe.  In fact, if you draw a great circle route from Kansas City to Dodoma, it passes just south of Spain.  So naturally, that led to the idea of going first to Germany to meet Niko’s extended family and see his town (Braunfels) and at least some of his country.  Our son, Rob, was already dreaming about a trip to Germany.  So we decided to include him and our world-traveller daughter, Beth, in that part of the trip.

Finally, Laura knew from the grant application that the Lilly people want to see recreation in the pastor’s sabbatical plan, so she decided to go for it.  If you’ve gone to the cost and trouble of traveling to Tanzania, wouldn’t it make sense to go on a safari while you’re there?

Knowing how competitive the grant is, and knowing the odds were against receiving it, we planned, budgeted, and submitted a proposal for a trip we hoped they might fund.  Not that I’m complaining, but if someone said to Laura and me, “I’ll give you money to take a trip anywhere in the world,” Germany might have been part of it but certainly Tanzania would not have been.  Yet God steered our plans in this direction.

And so the basic outline of the trip was in place: spend a week in Dodoma with Beroya church; spend a week in Germany on the way there; and spend a week on safari before returning home.  When you add in the air travel days, the whole trip is just two days short of 4 weeks.

We’re now more than halfway through our Germany week.  I’ll fill in more details on my next post.

Laura, Clif, Beth, and Rob’s Excellent Adventure – Part 1

I’m writing from air over western Illinois on a US Air flight bound for Philadelphia. (I’ll upload the post after arriving in Philly.)  Tomorrow we will see Niko (our exchange student for the 2008-2009 school year) and his family in Frankfurt, Germany.  On June 13 Laura and I will arrive in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, where Laura will preach a “crusade” (like a revival).  I never expected to take a trip anything like this.  So what’s the story?

Five years ago, Erasto Mwambeje, an Assemblies of God pastor in Dodoma, struck up a friendship with Laura through Living Water’s website. I truly don’t know the story behind Erasto reaching out to Laura (maybe we’ll learn about that when we’re there).  In his first e-mail he blessed Living Water and said Laura would be welcome in his church, Beroya Revival Temple.

After a few months of exchanging news and prayer requests by e-mail, Erasto asked Laura to come to Dodoma to preach.  It struck her at the time as an odd invitation given that Laura was a new pastor, she had never thought of doing international mission work or preaching, and we had no personal connection to Erasto beyond the sporadic e-mails.

Erasto and Laura continued e-mailing every few weeks.  Erasto’s church, Beroya Revival Temple, needed a sound system.  So Living Water raised some money and sent it over.  Pretty soon, Erasto was sending us gifts and the people of Beroya were making various crafts to sell to raise more money for church needs.  We exchanged photos of our churches in worship.  A rich, cross-cultural relationship had blossomed through e-mail.  (Even now, e-mail is the only medium of communication we have ever used with Erasto and his church – there hasn’t been so much as a single phone call or Skype).  Quite without any intentionality on our part, Living Water and Beroya had become sister churches.  Once a year, or so, Erasto would ask, “Dear Pastor Laura, please tell us when you will be able to come and preach.”

This excellent adventure, the trip of a lifetime, came out of Erasto building a relationship with Laura and Living Water and his persistence in asking Laura to come, believing that God, in His time, would make it so.  And so He has.

What is Haiti like?

My first opportunity to experience Haiti and serve there came 3 months to the day after the January 12, 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people and reduced much of the capital city to rubble.  (Today I’m back in Haiti exactly 11 months after my first visit and 14 months after the earthquake.)  Seeing the destruction from the air when flying in was gut wrenching.  It sobered me; it left me numb.

On that first trip, the drive from the airport to the guesthouse at the headquarters campus of the Methodist Church of Haiti (Église Méthodiste d’Haïti) in Petionville was a wild ride.  Greater Port-au-Prince is a city of 2 million people (post-earthquake) in a land area perhaps one fifth that of Kansas City.  The population density was striking to this Midwesterner.  People were everywhere.  People of every size, type, and description were in constant motion in all directions simultaneously.  The experience produced sensory and cognitive overload.  We drove past goats, dogs, and chickens.  Earthquake damage was obvious, with piles of rubble in the streets that our driver, Eric, and everyone else avoided almost without noticing.  Eric chose a street up a very steep hill that recalled some unpaved four-wheel-drive roads I’ve used in Colorado.  Traffic was heavy and the rules of the road, if any, weren’t apparent.

Haiti is a very tough place.  They have all the same types of infrastructure as the US – roads, cell phones, water, waste disposal, Internet, electricity, and so on – and all of it is broken beyond description.  The infrastructure is a huge drag on productivity and complicates every aspect of daily life.  Everything, I mean everything is hard there.  Getting even simple things done, such as a trip to the market, often turns into a time-consuming ordeal.  The grossly inadequate infrastructure drives up the cost of everything.  Consequently, Haiti is an oddly expensive place to live and serve and try to get things done.  If you imagine things must be cheap in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, you would be wrong.

Garbage overflows dumpsters and rots in the streets for weeks before being picked up by one of too few truck crews.  Untreated overflow from outhouses and septic systems runs in ditches next to the streets.  Litter is ubiquitous.  I am struck with the recognition that only the wealthy can afford to be environmentalists.

The electrical grid was unstable even before the earthquake and power generation capacity was and is woefully inadequate.  When things are going well, utility power is available 30%-50% of the time.  When things are going badly, power can be out for a week or more.

All Internet Service Providers and service types available in Haiti are awful, if shockingly expensive.  They all have one or more major drawbacks in speed, packet loss, availability, latency, jitter, and customer service quality.  Compared to the service we have in our homes and on our cell phones, Haitian Internet services are 2 to 5 times as expensive and 1/10th to 1/30th of the speed.

Governmental corruption provides ample cause for outrage, but it’s nothing compared to governmental incompetence.  In Haiti’s hour of greatest need, President Preval’s leadership was not merely weak, it was shamefully absent.  He wasn’t seen in public for days and left the Haitian people to fend for themselves.  Haiti has been described as a “Republic of NGOs” because Non-Governmental Organizations are the only functioning institutions of social welfare with money and the capacity to get things done.  Haiti is full of irony and paradox.  On the one hand, NGOs are essential.  On the other hand, they (we) enable a broken system to remain broken.  Haiti defies easy answers.

Haiti’s education system is equally broken.  On my first trip, I asked the guesthouse manager, “If you were queen of Haiti, what would you do first?”  Her answer was thoughtful: “Public education.”  There is very little public education in Haiti.  School fees for a semester average something like $35, which doesn’t sound too bad until you compare it to the average daily wage of $2.  Family sizes are typically large.  As the younger children begin to enter school, families often stop paying for the education of older children, resulting in poor literacy, inadequate skills, and bad economic prospects for a lifetime.

So that, in summary, is my experience of Haiti.  The scope and scale of the need is practically unbounded.  We, like so many before us, are now engaged, spending and being spent as we work alongside Haitians to make our world just a bit more like the Kingdom of God.  The work is as maddening as it is rewarding.  You will experience every emotion from anger to sorrow to helplessness to satisfaction to triumph and back again in the space of just a few minutes.  Haiti is compelling.  The people will get to you.  The place will get to you.  I wish I could describe it, but I can’t seem to find the words.

Caption contest

At the worship planning retreat this evening we were asked to take a walk and collect metaphors – something that could be used as a sermon illustration.  My method of collection was to take pictures.  Do you have any suggestions for captions for these photos that would point out a sermonic metaphor?

Metaphor hunt at worship planning retreat

Metaphor hunt at worship planning retreat

Metaphor hunt at worship planning retreat

Metaphor hunt at worship planning retreat

Metaphor hunt at worship planning retreat

Metaphor hunt at worship planning retreat

Internet Campus Project Team homework #1

This post is homework for the Internet Campus Strategic Project Team at Resurrection.  Those of you not on our project team, feel free to learn along with us.

1. Read/view the following blog posts and videos and be prepared to share your reactions at our next meeting.

Senior Pastor Adam Hamilton’s eNote of August 24, 2007 in which he first mentioned the idea of Internet Campus

Church Online: Resurrection Internet Campus? – post by Andrew, read the comments too

A Vision of Students Today – video from K-State’s Digital Ethnography program

A Screen that Ships without a Mouse Ships Broken – presentation by Clay Shirky

2. Attend one service of one of the following churches with Internet Campuses:

Take notes about your experience.  What did you like?  What would you do differently?  What can we learn?  Be prepared to share your thoughts at our next meeting.

Reaction to Shane Hipps

I have been in a conversation with Ben Simpson regarding a post by Steve Knight in which he includes a video of Shane Hipps critiquing the possibility of online Christian community.  This is a subject about which I have thought a great deal as I lead a project at Resurrection to develop an Internet Campus.

I have two reactions to the Shane Hipps video.  The first regards his definition of “Christian community.”  The second regards his comments about the incarnation.

Hipps starts by saying, “We’ve radically altered the definition of [community].”  This premise suggests that at some time in the past Christians have shared an understanding of community that is radically at odds with what happens when people interact online.  It would be helpful to know the source and content of that prior definition, if in fact such a definition has ever existed, in order evaluate the validity of this premise.

Hipps then goes on to give his own definition.  He says, “A meaningful, missional, Christian community should have several ingredients:  1) shared history; 2) permanence; 3) proximity; and 4) a shared imagination of the future.”

Communities can have any or all of the characteristics Hipps mentioned, no argument there, but Hipps is saying a “Christian community” (or more precisely “a meaningful, missional, Christian community”) by definition should have all four of these.  It’s not clear to me that this definition of community is sound, from either a sociological or a theological point of view.

I’m not a sociologist, but I believe a good sociological definition of “community” is a group of people who interact with each other and share one or more things in common such as interests, goals, intentions, worldview, needs, practices, proximity, emotional connection, resources, or identity.  I believe a sociologist would say any one of these or other traits could be the basis of a community as the term is commonly used.

Neither am I a theologian, but some simple illustrations cast doubt on Hipps’ definition.  If church I attend closes, then it wasn’t permanent.  Does that mean the entire time I was part of that church it wasn’t a “Christian community?”  Similarly, if a church I attend never arrives at a shared imagination of the future, does that mean it isn’t a “Christian community?”  If I’m homebound and talk with other congregants by phone and listen to my church’s weekly worship service on the radio, does my lack of proximity mean I’m not part of the “Christian community?”  Further, the term “proximity” is relative.  As long as we’re getting technical here, how close is close enough?  Did people who were close enough to see and hear Jesus but never touched him fully experience the incarnation?

This brings me to my reaction to Hipps’ comments on the relationship between the incarnation and Christian community.  He begins by saying, “Jesus Christ is the ultimate medium and message for God’s revelation in the world.”  He goes on to say it is, “… hard to understand how you incarnate the gospel in a discarnate setting.”  It isn’t our task to “incarnate the gospel.”  God has already done that once and for all.  Jesus is no longer physically present with us in the body in which he was incarnated (or perhaps he is if you accept transubstantiation).  Rather, our knowledge of Jesus is mediated through the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and the Church, which is the Body of Christ in the world.  Affirming the gospel as incarnational does not mean we must physically touch Jesus in order to be in communion with God.  My question for Hipps is this: in what way does the incarnation demand that we physically touch each other in order to understand or practice the gospel?

MinistryTECH 2009 is coming!

I just now got an e-mail from Terrell Sanders with the key information about the upcoming MinistryTECH/Church IT RoundTable, April 23-24, 2009 at Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs.


Brad Sheriff – Sonic Drive-ins
Jeff WilsonHenderson Hills Baptist Church
David DrinnonSecond Baptist Church
Mike GoldWillow Creek Community Church


Jason PowellGranger Community Church

Willow Creek Association
Church IT RoundTable
Church Community Builder

April 22 – Ministry Technology Tour:

Compassion International
New Life Community Church
Focus on the Family

Register at: