Genuine

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year, they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:25-26 ESV)

genuineIt is a normal impulse to check something for its genuineness. We look at brand names with a different expectation than a lesser brand or a knockoff. Sports equipment, furniture, craft, art, mechanics, electronics – we don’t part with our dollars without some assurance that we are buying the real thing – that it is what it purports to be. Genuineness matters because over time the quality of the product will be tested. A product is known by its brand – its name. We want it to deliver. We want it to last.

So, what do we do with this word Christian? Churchgoers use it. Jesus-followers use it. People who hold a non-biblical view of Jesus use it. Charlatans use it. Non-westerners describe our culture by using it. Atheists even use one of its symbols (though the fish goes through a few transformations along the way). The word Christian encompasses a crowded field. What does the brand describe? What is it supposed to describe? Does it need to be abandoned as some suggest? Or can it be redeemed? Does anything need to change at all?

Christian is a word that comes from Greek and means “like the Messiah” or “followers of the Messiah (Jesus).” It is mentioned in Acts 11:26; 26:28; and 1Peter 4:16 and was first used in Antioch. Another widely used name was those belonging to The Way. It is likely based on Jesus’ own self-description as “the Way” (John 14:6). It is used repeatedly by Luke, the author of Acts (Acts 9:2; 19:9; 19:23; 24:14; and 24:22). Paul even referred to himself as a follower of the Way when he came before Governor Felix (who knew a lot about the Way) and was accused by the Jerusalem leaders of inciting riots…

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. (Acts 24:14-15 ESV)

Paul was doing nothing more than living like Jesus. Living thus will draw the attention of the world around you. Sometimes that attention will be good and sometimes it will be bad, but it will get noticed. It is radically counter-cultural. It is Christian.

The word Christian suggests a lifestyle that is different — a transformed life that is evident to those around.  In the Bible, people who lived according to “the Way” were known for “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV). These things are called in Scripture the fruit of the Spirit, which “against such things there is no law.”  They stand in stark contrast to a world that is self-loving, angry, cantankerous, in a hurry, unkind, self-serving, disloyal, rude and out-of-control. Yes, it is a normal impulse to check something for its genuineness. Rather than abandon the word or try to contend with other definitions, perhaps those of us who long for a genuine expression of Christianity should simply rise to its implications — humbly — because over time the integrity of the claim will be tested.

So, let’s not abandon it. Let’s redeem it.

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Blue

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.“ (John 4:10)

BlueBlue… for as far as the eye can see… air, water and the occasional green dot as mountains spring from the deep. The South Sea Islands are glistening jewels immersed in sea and sky. Outside the airplane window from 36,000 feet it seems endless. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji — it is almost inconceivable that human migration would discover such places. Yet the Melanesian people who call the vastness of Oceana their home occupy every livable rock.

Water… this region has more annual overall rainfall than any other in the world. The ground soaks it up like a sponge and it spills down mountains in cascades and ribbon rivers.  Even the clouds that splash the sky explode with it.  Rain water and salt water are abundant, but fresh drinking water is another story. It never seems enough to meet the needs of the people who live here. 60% of the people here do not have access to clean drinking water.

IMG_7559I spent the past week in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG). I was the guest of Pastor Magi Goro (pictured here with his daughter Corey Joy).   Magi is a well-driller, a pastor, the Southern Region Supervisor of the National Church of Foursquare in Papua New Guinea (PNG), and a National Executive Council member.  He leads the church in this region. One of the most effective ways he does this is through water ministry. He reaches the communities that were displaced by development in the city.

Over the past decades, the Port Moresby slums were known for their extreme poverty. Life was cheap.  Desperation made for brutal life in a community where everyone had to fight for daily survival. 400,000 people lived there — resettled from the primitive villages throughout PNG. There are over 800 languages spoken in this island nation, so people tended to settle in the slums by clans to create safe zones for living. In a stunning example of human resilience, people made these slums their homes. Until they were displaced.

SlumsIn May of 2012, the first advance on the settlements was conducted on the Paga Hill community. Paga Hill is a rock that rises above the city with panoramic ocean views. It held promise for upscale homes and businesses. A developer who had won rights to the area* attempted to force the eviction of its 3,000 residents. There was armed revolt and many people died in the conflict. That attempt failed, but the business community learned from it and it paved the way for subsequent cooperative efforts by the city, police and developers to force the people out of the slums in Port Moresby. In the next 3 years, over 400,000 people were evicted from what had been legal settlements in Port Moresby. It was hailed as a big success for the revitalization of Port Moresby and an end to urban blight. There are signs proclaiming the victory “We did it!”

On Tuesday, I drove up Paga Hill. What I saw was abandoned homes and building and a chain link fence to prevent anyone from returning. Already, there are beautiful homes in some parts that enjoy a view that takes your breath away. This is gentrification — the confiscation of land by the wealthy and the forced removal of the existing residents who are poor, defenseless, and in the way. The former residents have suffered because of it. It is tempting to say that it is a good thing. There is prosperity and the result is a cleaner, safer Port Moresby. If you don’t have to encounter the displaced people, you might think it was the success the politicians claim.

But consider this — a plan was hatched by developers and the city to forcibly remove people from their homes in order to increase property values and make a lot of money. The meetings that were held by city planners, investors and developers did not include the current residents. How many ways could this have been done that would have been just?  Perhaps they could have been invited into the discussions and given a chance to participate. Perhaps they could have asked for jobs building the new area. Perhaps they could have asked for help with resettlement. Perhaps they could have said no and made sure there was no errant relative selling them out. It doesn’t really matter now — they were never given a voice at the table. The impact of their plans on marginalized people remains invisible to the new residents.

The victims of this gentrification scattered to the surrounding hills in makeshift jungle villages. The transition to rural life was hard and there were those who died from disease and violence. Dysentery, typhoid, cholera and other water-borne diseases continue to take their toll, especially among infants. To add to the challenges they faced, there was a drought when we arrived in May of 2016.

Magi couldn’t dig wells fast enough with his ailing drill rig. He spent more time repairing it than drilling. Villagers were drinking dirty surface water (polluted creeks, rivers and ponds). He spoke of being in the villages with moms who were hopeless to save their babies. Clean water is expensive to buy in PNG. People make hard choices. The alternative many embrace is to walk for miles to get water from a trusted municipal source (though our testing showed that these sources were also unclean). Even if villagers are 95% careful, they make compromises when they are thirsty and cannot make the trek.

The most encouraging thing about being in Port Moresby was to see the good work Magi and his crew are doing. A new rig is finally operational and the team is able to dig wells again at a pretty good rate. They have been revisiting wells that need repair and implementing the fixes recommended at the training we did earlier in teh year. Most importantly, they are helping people purify water from the various sources available. We noted when we first came that they are very good at getting water out of the ground, but not so good at ensuring its drinking quality. We brought test kits, filters and basic water training in methods for purifying water. Magi and his teams have acted like evangelists… bringing the good news to community after community, they are able to address water quality issue even before they drill a well.  We visited numerous communities that told us about the improved health they were experiencing. They expressed their confidence in Magi and his team. This is how the Gospel is expressed…

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; (Isaiah 61:1-2)

* “won the rights” usually means that one resident sold the property and got out of town before anyone knew. The residents are bound by the agreement. There are numerous court cases contesting this, but they have not fared well in the judicial system.

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Purify

If there is such a thing as a perfect tropical evening, last night was it. Debbie Goro, Pastor Magi’s wife, made Jim and me a traditional PNG kaikai (like a luau). Rice, taro, chicken curry, boiled bananas, something-like-spinach boiled in coconut and and fresh papaya. It was about 80 degrees as we sat on their outdoor (bug-free) upper deck with a fan-provided breeze. They told us story after story — family, small village life, Port Moresby city slums, history, miracles, and their own Jesus stories. Magi showed us his grandfather’s handmade arrows, which were actually used for hunt and battle. I wish all of you could meet them. They are so inspiring. Their love for the people of PNG just pours out of them.

Magi has a water ministry. He is a well-driller by trade and a pastor by calling. He is a missionary to street kids, sharing Jesus and testifying of his own transformation. He plants churches wherever he drills a well – about 50 so far. His first pastor assignment was in the worst and most frightening neighborhood of the Port Moresby slums, because he was from there and would go where others were afraid to go. Some of the boys from these streets become pastor-drillers. Jim and I will be working with a crew of ten such men as we train them in ways to provide clean water to poor villages.

img_6909With the exception of Port Moresby, PNG is a mountainous island nation made up of rural clan villages. Over 800 languages are spoken here. Pidgin is the universal trade language. Many of the villages are very primitive, though you can find mobile phones in the most far flung quarters. As you can imagine, PNG is going through rapid change. It is listed as a Christian nation (as is America, of course), but it really is not. People might identify as Christians, but transformed lives are an exception. There is a lot of ancestor worship, animism and various forms of witchcraft. Foursquare has been a powerful force here. People respect our pastors, even if the villagers themselves don’t follow Jesus.
img_6934
Unfiltered (left) and filtered (right) water

When the Port Moresby slums were broken up people scattered to the surrounding hills in makeshift jungle villages. The transition to rural life was hard and a lot of people died from disease and violence. Typhoid, cholera and other water-born diseases took many lives, especially among infants. When we came here last May there was a terrible drought. Magi couldn’t dig enough wells fast enough with his ailing drill-rig, which spent more time being repaired than drilling. People were drinking dirty surface water (polluted creeks, rivers and ponds) and Magi’s heart was breaking. He spoke of being in the villages with moms who were hopeless to save their babies. Clean water is expensive to buy here. People make hard choices. The alternatives many embraced is to walk for miles to get water from a trusted source. Even if they are 95% careful, they make compromises when they are thirsty and cannot make the trek.

img_6941We were able to introduce him to the sawyer bucket filters (BTW, our children’s ministry funded about 250 of them for PNG at last summer’s day camp!). These have become a short-term solution that can be rapidly deployed in places where he could not yet drill. Jim and I brought a bag full of them (we sent 150 via another pastor who we met at Convention last summer). We also brought a very cool lightweight REI tent so the men could be deployed remotely and not need to drive back to town each night. Magi is empowering pastors. They bring clean water for physical life and Living Water for eternal life! He is training his men to go into the villages and works with the leaders to show them how they can change the situation.
We went with Magi to one such village and watched him demonstrate the use of the filter. Jim and I will provide additional training on other ways they can broaden water sources and guarantee pure drinking water. It is a privilege to be here working with such amazing people.
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Deep

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.“ (John 4:10)

Boy PNGHis name is Boy – the name given to him by his grandfather. He is a water well driller. Born and raised in the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG), this father of two now spends most of his time in the Port Moresby area drilling deep water wells in order to provide water to the rural villages in this part of the country. He wants people to have water, but more so, he wants them to find out about the Living Water of Jesus Christ.

As I write this, I am flying on Fiji 290 over the South Pacific on our return flight from Papua New Guinea — cutting a high altitude path between deep blue sky and deep blue sea. Jim and I just completed what I have come to call a guerilla mission – a description I give to those short, intense missions when we have a very specific goal and a fixed amount of time to complete it. We were invited by Pastor Magi Goro to come and assist them in making improvements to their water ministry.

Unless you live in the urban Port Moresby area, your options for water are few. The average person needs from 10 to 15 liters of clean water per day for drinking, cleaning and food preparation. In most of Papua New Guinea that means traveling long distances with buckets for fetching water. The drought they have experienced over the past several years has made many surface options dry up. People are getting sick and dying in the villages as they are desperate and drink from sources that are unclean.

PNG 2Deep-water wells are essential to make clean water available in these parts. It is the very heart of Pastor Magi to make a dramatic impact on the health and life of the villages. In the past several years he has drilled 45 wells. And everywhere he has drilled a well he has planted a church.

Jim and I visited quite a few sites. Some were producing water, but many were in need of repair. It is no easy task for Pastor Magi to run a well drilling ministry. He works on a shoestring budget with old equipment. He spends an inordinate amount of time fixing the drill rig and the well parts that rust from the high iron-content water. He has a desire to keep providing water and planting churches, but the maintenance needs have reached critical mass. Furthermore, even though the wells provide water, drinking water is still a concern. They village folks are very suspicious of groundwater from so deep. They will use it for many of their needs, but are unwilling to drink it.

Jim and I have benefitted from doing a number of water projects together around the world. Jim’s experience with providing water alternatives is broad. Having assessed the operation, we were able to make a number of low cost suggestions that will help reduce repairs the amount of maintenance needed over the life of a well. But the drill rig is over ten years old and being kept running by the equivalent of baling wire and duct tape. Pastor Magi has been setting money aside in order to get a new rig (around $10,000 USD).

PNG3We focused not only on wells, but also on water quality. The PNG team told us from the start that they were not very knowledgeable about water quality. They knew how to get water out of the ground, but did not know how to instruct the villagers on making it drinkable. We held a training session on Tuesday to help them understand about the major contaminants in water that make people sick and ways to purify well water. By the end of the session, they had gained new confidence and felt they could give the villagers ways to test and treat the water for drinking.

The men and women we spent the past several days with are incredible. The Holy Spirit is at work in them as they pour themselves out for the sake of their people. We were honored and blessed to be able to work alongside such inspiring brothers and sisters. They are doing a great work. It is not only about clean water, but about bringing the good news of Jesus Christ and planting fellowships in villages that need the Living Water of Jesus Christ. It is about deep wells and the planting of deep roots. Please keep our PNG brothers and sisters in your prayers. If you’d like to give to accelerate their timeline for getting a rig, or for purchasing water filters and test kits, you can do so here by designating B4 Missions as the giving type and we will make sure that every dollar goes to them and their efforts.

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Graduates

Meet the first graduates of Bright Hope English School. They were each accepted into a Christian upper level high school (thanks to folks from our church who are supporting their continued education). Some of them did not even begin school until they were 12 years old! They are now 16 years old and embarking on a new adventure. They will still live at Bright Hope English School and will assist in leading the younger girls there. But each of their lives are taking a new and exciting educational turn.

IMG_3894I had a chance to sit with them and talk about their school. They are so excited. They shared with me about favorite classes and favorite teachers. None of them have attended a coed school before (Bright Hope exclusively serves minority girls). Pretty said, “Pastor, there are more boys than girls at our school. And the boys are very nice to us.” Yeah, about that. Boys are evil, girls — pure evil.

Seriously though, I suspect everyone at their new school notices them when they get off the bus. They are amazing young women. I have known them all for a number of years now. I cannot emphasize enough the change that is occurring in their lives and in the lives of their families. First and foremost, they know Jesus. Their lives are living testimonies to His goodness. Secondly, they have the sweetest spirits and demeanors. When you are with them you can tell that they have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Thirdly, they are hard working. It was not easy for them to be accepted at the school and they are well aware that they represent all the girls at Bright Hope. Finally, they are showing their communities that minority status in India does not relegate them to hopeless futures. All things are possible with God!

IMG_4263Pretty and Pinky want to be school teachers. Moina and Shanta want to be medical doctors. Shanti wants to be a research scientist. All of them are dreaming dreams that would not have been possible were it not for the foundation laid down by our sister Premila years ago. There is truly a “bright hope” emerging in a place where minority girls are destined for near-slavery. What a privilege it is for us to be a part of God’s work in the lives of these children. Praise Him! If you’d like to support them, you can do so here.

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Taken

As I travel to impoverished places in this world I am frequently reminded that man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds. This is especially true in Nepal, a country where a legacy caste system relegates some people to less-than-human status. Upper caste people do not seem outraged when their “lessers” are exploited or victimized. Hinduism can be very desensitizing since such unfortunate circumstances can be regarded as just rewards for the sins of a previous life.

KidneyOn my Jet Airways flight from Delhi to Bagdogra I flipped through the inflight magazine. The cover story was Unkindest Cut. It told the story of poor villagers in the mountains of Nepal whose kidneys were being taken to meet the demand for transplants in India. According to the World Health Organization an estimated 10,000 black market operations involving trafficked organs now take place annually. It is a matter of supply and demand.

In one village, Hokse, the majority of the adults (380) have been donors. In some cases the villagers were cheated — promised a job that required a medical exam only to wake up and find a kidney had been taken. In other cases they were offered money ($112 USD) with the promise that the kidney would grow back. It is a lucrative deal for the kidney merchants. Transplants in India cost around $28,000 USD. But for the donor, the victim, it is nothing short of exploitation as their bodies are mutilated and their parts are trafficked.

Both Nepal and India have enacted laws outlawing the practice, but the practice continues unabated because the victims are desperate, illiterate and poor. They are unlikely to bring charges even if they know how. The money, as small as it is, provides some momentary relief to their very difficult lives. When life seems hopeless and people begin to believe that their circumstances are the just desserts of something they have done in unknown past, small monetary relief offers a glimmer of hope — as fleeting as it is. Laws that are written to protect them are apparently having little effect.

IMG_4049In only a few days I knew I was going to hike into those very hills to visit a small church. I wondered if any of the villagers there had kidneys taken. I thought about the difference I had seen in the lives of Christians in this country. Their circumstances are the same, but they live with a contentment that defies human understanding. They know they are significant in the eyes of God. They know that their sins, which they are aware of in this life, are forgiven. They know God provides. They have hope in Jesus. They are not easily victimized.

While Christian represents only 2% of Nepal’s population, its rapid growth is perceived as a threat that undermines the values of the culture. Christianity spreads unconditional love and forgiveness for sins. It encourages education and opportunity. When those of the lower castes convert, the upper Brahman caste lose complete control over them.

While Nepal became a secular nation in 2005, it has not really culturally transitioned from being a Hindu nation and there is social and political pressure to maintain the status quo. There are laws being considered now that will make it a crime to convert to Christianity (punishable by 5 years in prison). Pray that they will not enact laws that will hinder the very hope they need. Jesus frees the spirit. He restores dignity. He gives hope. The people of Nepal need Jesus.

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Boats

Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:23-24)

BoatsThe Boat of Purity and Ease, made of marble, sits at the north end Kunming Lake at Beijing’s Summer Palace. Legend has it that it represents Wei Zheng’s saying that “the waters that float the boat can also swallow it,” implying that the people can support the emperor but can also topple him. Leaders who ignore this reality engender mistrust and foment unrest. Peggy Noonan’s article, “Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected,” is an echo of that ancient wisdom.

In her article, Noonan talks about the growing divisions in America differently than I have heard until now. She says it is not Democrat versus Republican, but the protected versus the unprotected. She says that this is why the rise of Trump and Sanders is happening. It is a reaction to an elite political class in our nation (who she calls the protected). They are insulated from the effects of their own policies. They increase the reach of government — intrusively with controls rather than supportively with improvements. Their kids go to private schools. They live in privileged communities. As government workers, they are essentially our employees. But have they taken their roles to serve us seriously? Their fortune grows while the nation suffers. They share a different world than the rank and file of this nation (who Noonan calls the unprotected) and they are increasingly isolated from it.

That is why they and their wealthy friends in media and entertainment do not understand what the common people, the unprotected, of this nation do understand — that we owe them no loyalty. They have enjoyed a blessed lifestyle that fattens their calves without doing anything about the economy that is impacting a majority of this country’s citizens. They sow division in this country along their own prescribed lines. But the unprotected are beginning to see through it. Despite their manipulations, we do not live in a country divided primarily by race or class, but by an economy of the privileged and the not-so-privileged. You would not know that by the tin ear of the policy makers, but rather by the prevailing common sense of a people who have to absorb the impact of their neglect.

In the biblical quote above, Amos warned the entitled rulers of his day that they cannot continue to manipulate the majority of people in the nation while enriching themselves. Justice for a few is no justice at all. God Himself will deal with such unrighteousness. “Let justice roll down like waters,” filling the plain with good fruit… lifting all boats.

We have come a long way from the words of John F. Kennedy in 1963 that “a rising tide lifts all boats” (meaning that improvements in the country’s economy benefit everyone). But the notion is not “trickle-down economics.” Kennedy believed that government economic policy should focus on creating a macroeconomic environment wherein the most people could benefit from policies that produced growth. Our national boat is sinking! We see very little attention being paid by their fellow media elite to the economic plans of the candidates, but people instinctively know who is and who is not going to change the status quo that the political class is compelled to maintain for its own advantage.

The protected are convinced that they need to shore up the world they have created for themselves. Power and influence have served them well. They don’t want anyone to rock the boat. But as a nation rejects their rule, they are the ones who will miss the boat. And this boat we are in together is up for some serious rocking.

I grew up in a different era. Some things that we had regarded as common sense have been turned upside-down. The world is changing. This nation is changing. Young people have a different outlook — a different ethos. Folks my age can neither criticize it nor lament it… it just is. This generation is coming up under very different circumstances and is adapting to different realities. Common sense to them is not the same as it is to us. But in this one case we are in the same boat. We share the same economy that is impacted by the leaders we elect. I encourage this upcoming generation to pay very careful attention to the economic policies of the candidates. Some are going to maintain the status quo. They’ll tweak it a bit, but it will not change much. Some will change it significantly — sea changes if they can. The long-term effects will be felt by the very generation that is most likely to decide this next election. To them I say, “Do your homework. Choose wisely. Grab an oar and let’s point this boat to shore.”

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