• January 28, 2014

    Survival through Conservation Agriculture

    In South Sudan, families affected by conflict, famine, or other disasters use every possible way to survive. When food aid is not available and governments are too weak or poor to help, families only have themselves, their relatives, and the environment around them to depend on for survival. In some areas of South Sudan, acute food shortages mean relying on wild foods or wild animals and birds for up to 35% of the family diet; hunting and gathering are still a key part of survival in rural areas.

  • January 28, 2014

    Walk a Mile in My Shoes

    CNN reports on Usoni, a futuristic television drama produced in Kenya that is about reversed immigration. The show depicts Europe in 2063, where life has turned unlivable after a deadly series of natural and economic disasters. Europeans are desperately seeking a way to get to a livable continent south of them: Africa. The hardships in making the trip are unfathomable, and once the immigrants arrive, they are unwelcome, harassed, and rejected.

  • January 28, 2014

    Morning Thanks--for What I Had to Learn

    In a story repeated for centuries after Plymouth Rock, white folks streamed into Native lands creating friction and hostility because co-existence, it seemed, was not a possibility. If there were to be peace, white people determined it would come at the expense of the indigenous, wherever they were, Massachusetts to California.

  • January 27, 2014

    Rise Up, Rise Up

    Nothing can really prepare one to witness first-hand the massive damage that was wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the Visayas region of the Philippines. I had seen hundreds of pictures and dozens of videos before coming here, but they didn’t really convey the full extent of it. I spent three days touring Tacloban and some of the surrounding areas of Leyte, and took a trip south to Guiuan in Eastern Samar. The swath of destruction is incredible...

  • January 27, 2014

    Missional Communities

    An idea has been stirring at City Grace. What would you think about a group of 15-30 people, who instead of just coming to church, lived out being the church in community, using their unique talents and skills to seek God's kingdom in tangible ways in the city? If that sounds more like church to you, then you may be interested in learning more about what we're doing at City Grace...

  • January 24, 2014

    Discipleship, Counseling, and the Pastoral Calling

    As a Christian leader, I am called to come alongside people to help them grow back toward an intimate and perfect relationship with God.  The closer I can get them to this place, the better a job I have done.  Of course, I cannot do any of it without the grace and mercy of the Lord!  Yet, I am called to be a herald that points people to a life of repentance and faith in Jesus. That being said, I agree with Hansen that when I engage in "counseling" I am selling my life, calling, and job short...

  • January 24, 2014

    The Death of Pop and Other Good Tidings

    I have no idea who else was in the car or where we were; all I remember about a moment in time an entire half-century ago is that it was January-cold and the disc jockey on WOKY, Milwaukee, 920 on your dial, was doling out fair warning that the brand new 45 he was about to spin--"in just a little while," "coming up soon," "don't touch that dial"--was turning the entire listening world stark, raving mad, a tune that was really something, a record cut by a new group called, strangely enough, The Beatles," with a sort of mad English twist, as in "the Bay-tils." We listened...

  • January 23, 2014

    Good News for Women in Challenging Circumstances

    I had been asked to come to the annual women's conference for the CRC of Haiti in the region of Belledere. Leading up to this event, I was excited and ready to go. I was asked to speak at the event and lead the spiritual component of the event. A few days before the event, I was told that the focal text for this event was as follows: "Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being" (NIV). My heart sank...

  • January 22, 2014

    Nebraska

    In this posting I will muse briefly on one of this year's Oscar contenders: the fine film by director Alexander Payne of Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern. I have not seen every film made by Mr. Payne but he is right now the most intriguing filmmaker I know of. Mostly I am drawn in by both Payne's unstinting realism and his desire always to end with a vignette of grace, of hope...

  • January 22, 2014

    Liking Each Other in Marriage

    This morning I decided to shave off my beard (time to let my face breath). As I entered the kitchen and gave Fran a kiss she, of course, noticed and delighted in my new smoothness. Ten minutes later, as she was making her final preparations for work, I stopped to stare at her for a few seconds. “I like looking at you,” I said. “Same,” she replied. And we do. And it’s such a gift that we still do. Every time another couple we know separates...

  • January 21, 2014

    Churches, Communities, Cows, and Children

    Pastor Pharek walked with us to the humble home of a couple that is working hard to support their kids in school. Yun and Neum received one cow from the Love Cambodia cow bank and will pay its $300 value back with 10% interest at the end of this year—so that another family can receive a cow. This is one of those neat examples of the World Renew Christmas gift catalog in action, providing the start-up capital for the cow bank!...

  • January 21, 2014

    Liberation

    "If you want to know again what good news is, think back to the situation in the Netherlands in the year 1945." It's not hard to do that, even though I wasn't born until three years later and never really knew much at all about World War II in occupied Europe until I got to college. But I've heard the stories before. No matter.  The pictures keep coming. "It was spring, after the most fearful winter Europe had ever known." They had absolutely nothing.

  • January 21, 2014

    "If You Would Hear His Voice...."

    Saturday, the 18th of January, had been set aside for baptizing 14 people from the Thomassique Church. The only problem--no water. It has been bone dry since the end of October in much of Haiti. All the streams have tried up and people are digging deep holes in the stream-beds for water. Zach was in Thomassique for a graduation ceremony of 19 students from the theological training center at the church. The entire congregation (young and old) had to walk at least three miles to find any standing water.

  • January 20, 2014

    23 Generators Deliver Light

    While the government had hoped to get some hydro back before Christmas, sadly this is not possible without external assistance. In speaking to the mayors of Estancia and Tacloban, they shared with me that they cannot afford to restore some of the essential services for their people. World Renew was able to help. Our field staff, with the assistance of volunteers from the Christian Reformed Church of the Philippines; were able to deliver light...

  • January 20, 2014

    Kuyper's Legacy

    The legacy of separate Christian institutions that grew out of Kuyper’s work in the Netherlands the Dutch labeled “pillarization”—each religio-ideological group inhabiting its own column of consociation, cradle-to-grave.

  • January 20, 2014

    To Explain God as Unexplainable

    This is St. Thomas Aquinas’ introduction to his whole Summa Theologica: “Since we cannot know what God is, but only what God is not, we cannot consider how God is but only how He is not.” At different points in my life, I’ve been pretty sure that we can know exactly who and what God is. We could define him quite precisely. We could come up with a list of attributes. We could name a bunch of names...

  • January 20, 2014

    January 2014 Prayer Concert

    We took some days of year-end vacations, visiting our parents in Korea and Los Angeles. Abe and the 2 boys had made their way through to South Korea after 14 years of being on the east pacific side. Especially it was a blessing for Abe’s mom in her 70s had a dreamy encounter with her old son and her only grandsons. We also spent a week in LA with Elaine’s parents. While we’re there, her dad got into a car accident. However, we thank God...

  • January 20, 2014

    Pray-ers Block

    Sometimes we’re just stuck. We don’t know what to say. We don’t know how to articulate our feelings or emotions. And at times, even for the most devout follower of Christ Jesus, we don’t know how to pray. Call it Pray-er’s block. Call it whatever you like. Call it something that most believers will experience in the course of their lifetime. The inability to pray, for some, can become a mini crisis of faith. A young man and recent convert, or an older woman grieving the loss of her husband – strong in faith, dedicated in service – but when they go to pray, nothing...

  • January 17, 2014

    Entertainment

    Okay, we binge, but then so does half of the television viewing world these days, or so it seems. That's not an excuse. I never watched much television. For most of my life, the news was about it, plus maybe some late-night stuff to ease into sleep--and occasionally, when they're winning, the Iowa Hawkeyes. That recipe hasn't changed post-retirement, except the late-night stuff is no longer comedy.

  • January 17, 2014

    Cultivating Faithfulness

    Tending a garden is an imaginative act. Tending a garden is in part to hope—to believe in a harvest yet to come. It is also a commitment to work.  Ordering the seeds isn’t enough. Planting isn’t either. That first summer of gardening taught me several important lessons, ones with excellent application to work of my daily life—whether that’s in my teaching or campus service or in my relationships with others or whatever...    

  • January 17, 2014

    The Powerful Work of the Spirit

    The Holy Spirit is at work. He is at work now and moving. He is all over the place. And if you believe in Jesus, he's in you as well. He's moving at a speed that only He knows why. And it is the speed that is the best speed possible. He's at work on His own time. He is at work though. And that,we need to know...

  • January 17, 2014

    Walking with West Africa: Daniel

    Earlier this year I had the privilege of doing some teaching for a graduate teacher training program. It is a new program that has been launched by a consult of one of the schools I work with called Meadow Hall School in Lagos, Nigeria. The training program was three months in length. The participants were people who either had graduated with teaching degrees and not yet found a teaching job, or people who were passionate about teaching but didn't have teaching degrees. Teachers had a variety of training that broadened their knowledge base about teaching, they observed classes...

  • January 14, 2014

    Four-Years Since January 12, 2010

    On Sunday, January 12, we recognized the four-year anniversary of the tragedy of January 12, 2010. We will never forget that Tuesday afternoon at 4:52 p.m. as our family sat around the table for an early supper. The cups and silverware started ominously vibrating at a very high frequency like a freight train was speeding by just outside our window. By the time we realized that it was an earthquake, we were unable to get out of the house because of falling debris and furniture until the quake was nearly finished...

  • January 13, 2014

    Increasing Gain from Agricultural Efforts

    One of the common oversights found in agricultural and food security interventions in developing countries is a focus on productivity that doesn’t take into consideration post-harvest management, marketing and/or value-addition practices. Ignoring these additional considerations over the long term can keep communities cash-strapped and ultimately hamper improvements to the livelihoods of farmers and their families...

  • January 13, 2014

    Numbering our Days

    For a year before I starting blogging, I'd already numbered my days by keeping a thanksgiving journal for an entire year; and that idea--borrowed from an interview Christian Century did with Garrison Keillor--became the infrastructure, an idea I still think is drop-dead wonderful: the world would be a better place to live if all of us took the time, once a day, to give God thanks for something or other, for anything, for tomatoes or junk drawers. For a time I tried to peddle the idea to publishers because I thought it was so good. None bit...

  • January 13, 2014

    Get Out Much?

    My job this month is to help new faculty members at Calvin College learn about Calvin’s history and mission, figuring out what it all means for their academic field and for their life in the Calvin … “vortex”? Is that too strong a word? Yesterday was Abraham Kuyper day, so Jim Bratt joined us to underscore some things from our readings and help us think through Kuyper-related issues.

  • January 13, 2014

    Does God Take Risks?

    Does God take risks? Does God make decisions that look risky to us? Those are really two different questions, only one of which we can probably answer. This is actually a very large debate among Christians. The debate is called Open Theism. Is the future open or is the future closed? Can we know? What does the Bible say about it?...

  • January 10, 2014

    The Force vs The Holy Spirit

    The Force in Star Wars–strong in it some are. Yoda is very strong in the Force. Luke and Anakin (who later became Darth Vader) were strong in the Force. And the Force in Star Wars encompassed all. It was seen as something mystical. Something grand. Something that was everywhere yet also inside. Some have compared the Force to the Holy Spirit. I don’t think so...

  • January 10, 2014

    Youth Matters

    Sitting at the registration desk, I listened and listed down names of 1005 Anglican youth and collected their fees for a 5 day youth conference. It is a pleasure to work behind the scenes... just assisting the leaders of the church.  I slowly got to know more youth and loved being with the priests, bishops, reverends, and vicars once more. Running a youth conference in Uganda is so different than back home. Honestly, when money started to come in at the registration desk, leaders quickly went out to buy beans, cornmeal, and firewood to cook food for the first day.

  • January 10, 2014

    Our Worldly Fables...

    I love the first thirty minutes to an hour of the day. For me, it is time to pray, open God's word, read, and listen to God. I don't hear the term used much anymore, but I love an old-fashioned quiet time.  What is it an why this name?  It is a time of quiet, of resting, and of focusing on God. Today, I was reading through 1 Timothy chapter 3 and 4. What are these "worldly fables" that Paul wrote about?...

  • January 9, 2014

    Book Review--Ordinary Grace

    There are a ton of reasons why I picked up Ordinary Grace, an unusual novel by William Kent Krueger, who ordinarily writes mysteries (Cork O'Connor) that place him bountifully on the New York Times best seller lists. One of those reasons isn't because the novel is a mystery. I should be less parochial in choosing books now that I'm retired, less madly driven by realism and regionalism and spirituality. Pardon me for living (in the Midwest)...

  • January 8, 2014

    Without Exception

    The other day I observed a Twitter exchange between Pope Francis and Miroslav Volf. Pope Francis (‏@Pontifex) Tweeted: “God does not reveal himself in strength or power, but in the weakness and fragility of a newborn babe.” To which Miroslav Volf (‏@MiroslavVolf) replied: “@Pontifex How true! And yet the babe grew and taught with power and authority, and the crucified one was raised from the dead in glory.”...

  • January 7, 2014

    Sister, Please Come Over

    When she says it, she's been in America for only a year or so, and one can tell it's yet another strange and frightfully scary phenomenon--a tornado. She describes it in a letter to her sister Baaye, the only child who didn't immigrate with the deJong family in 1894, but stayed behind in Friesland with her husband Gerrit Bakker...

  • January 7, 2014

    What's Spiritual About Being Human?

    I follow Western Sem professor Chuck DeGroat on Twitter. A few weeks ago, right around Christmas time, he tweeted: "Everyone want to become more spiritual. The Incarnation reminds us that becoming more human may just be the key." And I’ve been mulling it over ever since. It’s gotten me to thinking about what it means to be spiritual in today’s day and age. I’ve looked at the desire for many of us to be spiritual. In fact, in this day and age, being spiritual is something people strive for. Many people want something greater than themselves.

  • January 7, 2014

    When Being Needy is a Good Thing

    My wife recently checked in with one of her friends, who had  her second child a couple of months ago. When she asked about the transition of adding another baby,  her friend responded by saying “I need Jesus in a way I’ve never known before.” That response has been stuck in my mind ever since. Partially because my wife and I are preparing to have our own second child, – the prospect of which  fills me with deep joy, and no small amount of apprehension. But mainly, her response sticks with me because it was so honest. And so true...

  • January 6, 2014

    Unexpected Gifts: Our 12 Days of Christmas

    Back in early December, Hennie and I were talking about how we might celebrate Christmas as a family this year. We were tossing around ideas about how we could make our Christmas celebration into something more than simply giving gifts. I started singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” and suggested we could get all of our kids the traditional partridge in a pear tree. We laughed and then paused. There was something about that idea of extending...

  • January 6, 2014

    Not a Fan

    We just finished up the 6th session of the 6 part DVD series - Not a FanNot a Fan is a book by Kyle Idleman emphasizing that every believer needs to move from being a fan of Jesus to becoming a completely committed follower of Jesus. Kyle informs us: "It's the cross that separates fans from followers." Becoming a follower is not a human work; instead, God transforms us through the power of the Holy Spirit...

  • January 3, 2014

    Favorite Reads 2013: The Year of Biography

    I won't even attempt to rank the books I've read over the past year, or pretend to any kind of comprehensive, retrospective evaluation. Instead, a few impressionistic notes about some favorites and standouts. First, though I wouldn't have anticipated it, 2013 turned out the year of the BIOGRAPHY for me.  This began with what I have to say was a pivotal book for me, Eric Miller's outstanding biography of Christopher Lasch...

  • January 3, 2014

    From Patmos to Paradise: Listening to the Seven Sermons to the Seven Churches of Revelation 2-3

    I am often reading books about ministry, finding the latest church websites, thinking about the challenges of the broader church, trying to figure things out in our own church. In thinking and talking about the church, one of the more helpful places to look is the last book of the Bible, Revelation. In Revelation 2-3 we encounter a series of 7 messages to seven different churches. The best label for these seven messages is sermons.

  • January 3, 2014

    Next Year's Words

    2013 was a year where I often found myself struggling for language to confront the loss that came much too frequently. Or to fully express the joys. That's probably true every year--but I felt it quite keenly over the past 12 months.  Inarticulateness reminds us that words are as broken as we are--they are never sufficient unto the day. So today I don't want to offer many words.  One of my students last semester structured a paper around a lovely, simple prayer--which she attributed to the Anglican clergyman Morris Maddocks. May it bless you as you begin 2014...

  • January 3, 2014

    Somehow

    When the Reverend Herman Fryling, the missionary, came to the Zuni pueblo in New Mexico in 1906, he had with him his wife and two grade school age children who needed to receive an education. Fryling thought the Christian faith would grow best among the heathen Zuni if evangelism were begun with the next generation of leaders--the children. The Indian school at Black Rock offered him time to talk about Jesus to the resident students there, so Fryling thought it would be a good idea to begin a Christian school right in the pueblo, his own two kids among the first students...

  • January 3, 2014

    ECHO Agricultural Conference

    In December, I got to go to the ECHO International Agriculture Conference in Florida with other interns from the farm, the farm manager, and his family. It was pretty fun to be somewhere so warm for a week in the middle of winter (technically it was still fall, but you get the idea)! I also appreciated being able to learn from some great speakers and small group sessions. ECHO has a lot of good examples of appropriate technology, like this water pump...

  • January 2, 2014

    A Vision for Life

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about taking time to do a self assessment of your life getting ready for the new year. How’s that going? Did you do a self assessment? Did you make goals and plans for 2014? Most people make New Year’s resolutions, getting ready for a change in the new year. People want to change. They want to make things better. I’m mediating on this for this Sunday.

  • January 2, 2014

    Fear Not

    If you research what the most basic emotions are, you get a whole bunch of different answers. Some psychologists say it’s just fear, love, and rage, and that each of our other emotions is a subcategory under one of those three. Other psychologists have a much longer list of what comprises our most basic emotions. But for the majority of psychologists, fear is prominent on their list. Some of our fears are external: We’re afraid of circumstances on the horizon that will be out of our control. We fear being personally assaulted or getting caught up in a terrorist attack on our city.

  • January 2, 2014

    "Moving into the Neighborhood": Humbly Incarnating Ourselves in the World

    I am taking a break from politics (more or less) and offer a few personal reflections on what it means to be a Christian in the world today. This is a plea for more humility on the part not only of believers everywhere but also of those who profess not to believe in any god. The latter blame religion for the world's problems, little realizing that they too in their arrogant claim are part of the problem. Atheists are just as guilty of this as anyone else...

  • January 2, 2014

    2013 in Review

    It's that time of year once again.  The sun is setting on 2013 and it's time for me to review the year as I look back nostalgically into the rear view mirror.  What big things happened each month at New Life Prison Community?  I'll do my best in summing up the year and you make sure to let me know what you think...

  • December 26, 2013

    From War to Water and How to Make a Water Tank in the Mountains of Laos

    Laos was never supposed to be involved in the Vietnam War. It was supposed to be off limits to all outside countries, including  the USA and the Soviet Union, and have its neutrality respected. But, the “Ho Chi Minh Trail” that the North Vietnam military used to supply its troops fighting in South Vietnam ran along the Laos boarder. So….the USA forces dropped a lot of bombs on certain parts of Laos. Even when I began working with our development programs in Laos in 2005, it was still very common to see metal bomb casings along side the roads, waiting to be sold as recycled metal...

  • December 26, 2013

    A Different Kind of King

    At Christmas, Jesus comes not with great honor, - but in deep humility. He comes not arriving in a luxurious palace, - but in a manger for cattle. He comes not to wear a crown of gold, - but one of thorns. He comes not to be loved, - but to love; not to be served, - but to serve; not to grasp and grab, - but to give...

  • December 24, 2013

    Coordination, Coordination, Coordination

    With the Tacloban World Renew/CRCP office now well established with 7 staff and the Guiuan office well on its way,  I felt free to go back to the island of Panay and help establish a World Renew/CRCP office there. On Sunday, I went again to the Pavia CRC church in the southern city of Iloilo. Established 30 years ago, this church was instrumental in implementing the first distribuiton of relief items in Panay. The church has a very dedicated Disaster Response team who got their feet wet with the 2008 Typhoon Frank, and just resurrected the team...

  • December 24, 2013

    But Mary

    By the time Luke 2 opens, we see the whole world scurrying about to fulfill Caesar's command. It's busy and noisy here in Luke 2. Except for verse 19: "But Mary pondered these things and treasured them in her heart." The sense of some of the key Greek words there is really more akin to say that Mary was clutching at the events swirling around her...

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