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Friday, May 3, 2013

Buckle Up

It's only the beginning of May but it's been an eventful year so far. I've been working non-stop on our ministry vehicles getting them prepared for the imminent expedition season and I've recently purchased a vehicle of my own. A mechanic friend of mine from Holland visited recently and in 10 days we fully repaired, tested, and tuned 6 truck engines and made a plan for the rebuild of another. I've also been helping here and there with other staff building their houses on the base and I've also taken on other projects around the base to expand it's functionality.

It's exciting to see other staff return to Zambia. They've been in the United States and elsewhere making their own preparations for the year and now we're getting a few back every week. Some will be staying here for just two months while others will stay and watch over the base for the next rainy season when I and others leave to visit the US. With all that's been prepared, positioned, and put in motion in the last few months we're all very expectant for an exceptional year of growth in ministry, the release of new staff, and the mobilization of vital new resources.

I'm getting the idea that God will be doing a lot in me and my personal ministry this year. With what I've already been learning and how I see him positioning people and resources around me it makes me think that I'll be working in bigger and better ways than ever before. I'm confident that I'll be going to new places I've never been and I'll have new resources available to me that will open the door to more productivity for God's work in Zambia and beyond. I can already see the hints of how these things might come to pass and if God stays true to history (which he always does), then he will greatly exceed anything I can imagine or plan with events so awe-inspiring that I won't be able to help but praise him for his amazing work.

I can't wait. Let's get going.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Ever notice how a year in a persons life can be looked at in the same way as a good book? Everyone's story is unique, but the elements of these stories share similarities.

It's January 1, the year begins. The setting and current events are given. The main character is introduced doing everyday things like going to work, seeing family, and going out with friends. The months continue and the chapters progress as our main character experiences a wide range of events as he pursues his goals and ambitions.

Our character goes to events like birthdays, dinners, weddings, and conferences. He may travel for work or pleasure and encounters new settings while many new and interesting characters are introduced into the story. Some interact with our character just for a moment at a bar or bus stop while some linger and add a certain richness to the story that can't be found any other way. Projects at work come and go. Maybe our character loses his job and several chapters of the novel of his year describe his search for new income and perhaps chronicle his thoughts about his newfound opportunity to potentially change the direction of his year dramatically with a new occupation.

Sometimes our character gets into trouble. He loses his temper and starts a fight. He says something to a loved one that he regrets almost immediately but can't undo. Sometimes the trouble is from nothing he's responsible for; a car accident or a sudden injury or death of a loved one. Maybe he's the victim of some horrible crime and he's left beaten and crushed physically and emotionally. Time and chapters continue to pass and he reflects on these events from a philosophical and spiritual point of view and reaches out to people and ideas outside of himself to try to grasp an answer to the questions of "how?" and "why?" that consume his soul. Through these events the reader is shown a darker side of our main character as he is sometimes the cause and sometimes the victim of the evil in his year.

Romance develops. The reader learns of the character's history with relationships and that some of those young ladies are still in his life and bring complications to his current romantic interests. Our main character goes through alternating periods of heartbreak and joy with his attempts at finding someone he can love and will love him in return. A couple potential love interests are introduced but our character seems to have settled on one lovely young lady in particular that he remains intent on pursuing.

The year, and thus the book, begin to come to a close and the intensity of the story builds. Deadlines at work are closing in and projects and papers need to be finalized before the year's end. The holidays are upon our character and on top of the stress of work comes that of coordinating visits with family, both hosting and being a guest, and socially tiptoeing around those whose company he doesn't enjoy but is forced to endure. Perhaps the ghosts of trouble in earlier chapters continue to haunt our character and confrontations with these bring further complications and stress to an already hectic chapter in the year.

Then he breaks through. The holidays have gone, the events finish, and life calms down again. It's the end of December and our character reflects on the highlights of the year and the dark memories begin to lose their intensity. Our main character has experienced much throughout the story of his year both in victory and triumph, joy and pain, rest and stress, but he has made it through and is a better man for it. His story has crossed paths with that of many other characters, each leaving a memory and perhaps a lesson with him, some more fond than others.

The year closes, the book ends. December 31 has come and the story of the year has concluded yet the reader is left curious about what new things may come with the next book which begins on January 1.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Weekend Warrior

My work keeps me on the base most of the time but weekends offer excellent opportunities to jump on my Suzuki and head out to the bush to meet up with an expedition team. Here's the story of one of those weekends.

It took longer than expected on Friday morning to finish tying off loose ends with work and prepping the bike for the ride out to Simwamba village. I got moving not long after lunch but I wasn't quite satisfied with how the morning had gone. Work had been hectic, I wasn't happy with my recent modifications to the bike, and I was a little nervous about finding the expedition team before dark. I made good time with the first 75 miles of asphalt road though and I took a short break before tackling the next 35 miles of dirt road. However, my day did not improve.

Before I got to sleep that night, I had crashed the bike twice and managed to get lost despite having a GPS track to follow. Thankfully I found my way back on track just before dark and even though the bike headlight was destroyed and the handlebars bent, the only bruising I suffered was to my pride. I ended up staying the night with a friend who has an orphanage and school on the way to my destination because I had lost so much time and could no longer travel at night. I headed out again in the morning and, after dropping the bike in deep sand yet again, crossed paths with another Overland staff member driving out and I just followed his fresh tire tracks straight to the campsite. It had been a hectic journey so I just helped around the campsite the rest of the day and rested.
The campsite and the vehicles

Sunday turned out to be an entirely different experience than the previous two days.
The team split in half to visit two churches in the area and I made sure to go with. Of all the ministry opportunities in villages I think I enjoy visiting the local churches the most for a number of reasons but maybe I'll share them another time. Naturally, we visitors were invited to speak during the service and I was one of two of our group to get up to preach. A message had been on my heart and mind for some time and I was so grateful for the chance to share it. I ended up preaching out of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and delivered a clear Gospel message with emphasis on how powerful yet loving our God is and why we have no need to fear anything because of his care for us. As I finished and sat down, it was clear that any fight or struggle I had to undertake was well worth it in order to reach the homes of these isolated people to bring them the Word of God.

After church, I had lunch, packed my stuff back on the bike, and headed home. The return ride was surprisingly quick, enjoyable, and completely devoid of trouble on all levels. I even had a lot of fun riding through terrain that had caused me so much trouble just a day before. Funny how it works that way so often where all the opposition and trouble comes as you are heading out to do ministry then you have a breakthrough and it's smooth sailing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Last night, one of my colleagues attended a goodbye dinner party for a couple who has been working in southern Africa for quite some time. For about 60 years, this Canadian husband and wife have been ministers of the Gospel in several countries including Angola, Tanzania, Kenya, and most recently Zambia, and they have finally decided to retire and leave Africa.

I first set foot on African soil in 2008. If my information is correct, these Canadians probably arrived sometime in the 1950s. David Livingstone saw Victoria Falls for the first time in November 1855 on one of his treks across the continent. Countless other men and women over the centuries have left their homelands and journeyed into the unknown because God led them in his work of making his name known throughout the earth. I and my friends here are a tiny part of the story of how God has revealed himself and continues to do so to the people of Africa and an even tinier part of how he is working in this vast world.

Whether we are living close to where we were born or in a foreign culture on the far side of the planet, we have the same job description. Location and language have absolutely no bearing on our responsibilities. Our only mission is to make Christ known among the people of Earth.

This is nothing new. I might employ faster and more adrenaline-inducing transportation techniques than Dr. Livingstone, but the message of the Gospel hasn't changed. I am just the next one to step up to take my place among those who have come before. They did the work they were called to do and have finished the race and stepped aside. The world continues to change and my job particulars are like none that have ever come before but all I'm really doing is picking up the baton from the one behind and carrying it on forward.

We are part of something big my friends. The Kingdom of God is alive and moving and we have the privilege of carrying out our small but never insignificant duties within it. I am here and you are there but we're both serving our Father. I can't do your job and you can't do mine and the second we think we're the best thing since sliced bread we've lost because we have nothing and are nothing outside of Christ, whom we've given our lives to and received everything from.

So be encouraged. God knows what he's doing. I have no idea what I'll be doing when I'm the age of those Canadians but I know what I'm doing now. I think I'll just start here and see what happens.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Road Trip!

So I've been back in the States for a month and a half now and I haven't spent more than 5 nights in a row in the same location. Thank God I'm young, single, and have friends all over the place or it would be incredibly stressful and expensive. Although those factors are also partly to blame for my current unsettled lifestyle.

My travels have thus far taken me from Madison to Milwaukee, Kansas City, Huntsville, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Cocoa, Jacksonville, Charleston, Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and Dekalb. I've just arrived back in Madison after a 4,200+ mile road trip that lasted 24 days and I did it all in my 1993 Chevy pickup that literally brings property values down wherever it's parked.

The trip to Kansas City was mostly for my own sake. After a wild end to the year in Zambia, I wanted to take some time to myself to unwind, refocus, and re-integrate into American culture, and I was fairly successful with that trip. I got to spend New Years weekend with some old friends as well as get back to my home church in Madison and then watch the Rose Bowl with some old roommates. I then worked on my truck for three days straight and after that I went to the wedding of a good friend where I got to see another crowd of really awesome people from years past.

The bulk of the epic road trip I just finished was for Overland Missions' annual conference and staff retreat. I gathered with a large group of fellow Overland staff in Tampa to hear from our leadership team and to spend some quality time together. Hearing from the leadership at the conference was extremely encouraging and revitalizing for me and I am so grateful for the time I got to spend with the staff who I only get to see once a year or so. Also, being at the staff retreat and later at the offices for a weekend was an excellent way to celebrate the happenings of the closing year and dream ahead to bigger and better things to come this year.

From there the return journey to Wisconsin took me to visit friends in several places along the way, seeing their new lives in their settings. I even took an intentional detour through the Appalachian Mountains on my way out of Atlanta and I am so happy I did. The landscape along the drive was incredible and I hit it at sunrise no less so it was very much worth the added time and distance. As good as it was though, it still didn't compare to the fruit resulting from the time spent with friends on other detours of the drive. It seemed like everywhere I went, I was encouraged by the hospitality extended to me and by the quality of our time together and I was blessed to be able minister to my hosts as well. As fun as it was to drive all over creation in a $1,000 truck that had to be torn apart in an AutoZone parking lot in Florida, the best part of the journey was being able to see Christ working through my friends in their respective ministries all over the country. It's always a blessing to see the Church in action.

From here on I'll mostly be in Wisconsin although I might head up to Minneapolis briefly. I'm excited to see more of my friends and supporters and swap stories of what God did with this year. I'm heading back to Zambia in early March and I'll most likely not return for 21 months so I want to make the most of my remaining time in the US. The truck is running better than ever at the moment so I might as well drive it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

1001 Arabian Nights

Well, it was more like 2 nights, and they were in Africa, not Arabia, but it's a good story nonetheless.

I had just finished a 7-month stay near Livingstone, Zambia, working with Overland Missions, and I was looking forward to getting home to Wisconsin and relaxing for the holidays. It was a busy several weeks leading up to the day I left and I was flying on a buddy pass so I was hopeful I would get upgraded to business class and get to rest while flying in style and luxury from Johannesburg to Atlanta. That ended up not happening at all.

I left Livingstone on Sunday, December 18, and had an uneventful flight to Johannesburg, apart from a unexpected excess baggage fee. I got my bags and went to check in with Delta airlines for my flight from there to Atlanta and then on to Madison. I was flying on a buddy pass from a long-time employee of Delta and I was confident that my priority on the standby list would clinch me a seat on the flight and I would get home quickly. My friend had looked up the available seats and I was even confident that I would get upgraded to business class. The flight didn't leave until 8:20 pm and I checked in around 5:00 pm.

Immediately, the lady at the desk said that the flight was full and I had to return at 7:00 with all the other standby passengers to see who they would let on the flight. Okay, I didn't see this coming but I'm still pretty sure I'll make it on. My buddy has been working for Delta since 1969, I've got top priority, I'm golden. Next thing the lady says is that I'm only allowed one bag, not two like I had flown with previously. The good news is that I can avoid the $200 excess baggage fee by packing my two bags into one and transferring 10 pounds of weight into my carryon. Great, now I've got to spread all my belongings out on the floor of the Joburg airport and try to cram it all back in. Never fear, I'm an engineer and I'm good at Tetris so I'll find a solution.

I returned to the check-in desk at 6:45 filled with pride at my accomplishment of successfully repacking my bags and avoiding a ludicrously large baggage fee. To my surprise there were about 20 other people in the standby line waiting to hear about whether or not they also would make it home for the holidays. Nevertheless, I remained confident that my super-duper high seniority buddy pass would save the day and I would triumphantly leave all these lower priority chumps behind.

As I waited, I began to chat with some of the other standby passengers to pass the time. I soon heard about a girl also on a buddy pass who had been waiting in Joburg for 4 nights now and that there were several other people in line who had been rejected before as well. It started to look a little like there was a chance I wouldn't get on the flight tonight. I spied a girl wearing a shirt with some Portuguese writing on it and, because of my history of going to Brazil and studying Portuguese, I asked her what the significance of it was. Turns out the shirt is from a missionary school in Mozambique where she had just spent the last 3 months as a student. Even more surprising is that she had been ministry partners with a guy who had just previously been in Overland's missions school and I had been his instructor and we had spent some time together. Crazy small world. The girl's name was Kat and lo and behold, she was the one who had been stuck here for 4 nights, and on her first trip outside the USA no less.

An airline employee came out around 7:20 and regretfully informed us that there would be no standby or buddy pass passengers getting on the flight tonight. Crap, now what do I do?  I would try again tomorrow but I was exhausted, I had no place to stay tonight, and I really hate haggling for taxi fare to get to whatever backpacker lodge I would end up at. I asked Kat what she had done for the last 4 nights and she gave me a recommendation of a lodge as well as the phone number for a friend of the ministry she had worked with who might be able to host me at his house. I called the number and sure enough, the guy lives a mere 6 miles from the airport and would gladly give me a place to stay. He hosts stuck missionaries all the time and had a whole empty bedroom I could stay in. Glory hallelujah! I had a place to sleep and someone to pick me up.

The bed was amazing, the house was amazing, the family was amazing, and it turned out to be the best possible way to pass a night and day stuck in a foreign city. I was so thankful for Sarel and his family for hosting me. Sarel dropped me off at the airport on Monday and we were both hopeful that I would get on the plane this time. Again I checked in with time to spare and was told to come back at 7 just like yesterday.

I saw a lot of familiar faces in the standby line and I got to chatting with Kat while we waited for the verdict about available seats. Even earlier than yesterday, the same airline employee came out and expressed his deep regret that again there would be no standby or buddy pass passengers on tonight's flight and most likely not on any flight out of Joburg until after New Years. So not cool. It was a ruling passed down from the upper management in Atlanta because they could make money on shipping excess cargo instead of filling empty seats with people they weren't making money on. No way to change it. The only silver lining is that we had the option to purchase our seats and then we would be guaranteed a seat.

Well, I hadn't planned for this in my budget and Kat was in an even worse position since she had no excess support raised to buy a ticket home. After mulling it over, talking to the ticket counter, and having a good cry (not by me, mind you), we decided to go back to Sarel's together and sort it out.

We got the word out to friends and family that there was an immediate need for cash to purchase our tickets and we started looking for the cheapest flights home. I didn't realize it until later, but my email appeal for help with airfare looked strikingly like those you get from a con artist petitioning you for aid using a hacked email account. Oops. Nevertheless, close friends and family and even people I have never met started to give toward bringing the two of us home for Christmas. By the next morning, we had enough from donations and from an advance on my airline budget section of my savings account to purchase our seats. Praise God for his provision through the Body of Christ!

We again returned to the airport after I had spent 2 nights in Joburg and Kat had spent 6 nights and we boarded the plane home. It had been a trying experience for us both but it turned out really well in the end. We were able to have several spiritual conversations with people we met while stuck there, Kat and I had some great conversations about ministry and leadership, we saw a beautiful picture of the unity of the global Church, and we saw God at work in provision and orchestration of unpredictable events in some pretty incredible ways.

I ended up arriving in Madison on Wednesday morning the 21st and Kat arrived in Portland later that same day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

what just happened

I just finished watching the movie "The Tourist" and I couldn't help but think of what an odd parallel it is to my life at the moment. In the movie, Johnny Depp plays an Average Joe from Madison, Wisconsin, who finds himself in completely unexpected circumstances on a foreign continent. Sound familiar? That's basically been my life since May, minus the whole falling in love with Angelina Jolie part.

There are some days that I just sit and think, "What on earth am I doing here?" I'm just a kid from southeastern Wisconsin living in a community of random people from all over the world on the edge of the wild African bush and I'm trying to get work done in a foreign culture with far fewer resources than I'm accustomed to. I'm pretty sure that normal people don't willingly put themselves in situations like that and chose to stay for months on end.

On the other hand, there are days where I think that I have the best job in the world. I've been blessed with the opportunity to leave Wisconsin and travel the world. I live and work with fantastic people who love God and come from fascinating places and backgrounds. I get to live in an epic location with a backyard that most people back home would never even dream of seeing just once. I get to wrench on and drive all sorts of interesting vehicles and equipment that I otherwise would have never even touched. I get to build and fabricate stuff that immediately gets put into use in ministry right when I finish it. I get to experience and learn from a culture completely different from my own and develop life skills that I couldn't pick up any other way. I don't even have an idea of what "normal" looks like anymore.

God blesses those who love him so extravagantly that it's mind blowing. The choice to follow him wholeheartedly opens the door to abundant, adventurous, unexpected, satisfying life that is beyond anything we can think or imagine. No two lives are identical in the details of course, because we are all individually hand-crafted for a unique purpose by a loving maker who has his eye on each one of us just as if we were the only person on the planet. Every one of us has our own personality, calling, provision, and pathway given to us by a wise father and king who continues to pour out new blessing and revelation in ever-increasing quality and quantity as we walk hand in hand with him toward nothing other than himself.

Sometimes I don't have much fun in the things God brings me through. Sometimes it's really difficult, but I've noticed that he's always there through it all as well as waiting at the end. Sometimes I'm so excited with the way that he is working that I can't imagine how life could possibly get any better. But there's always something new, and it never fails to get better and better.