Friday, May 8, 2015

Here I Am

I remember what I felt like driving toward the campus for the first time.  Nervous.  Unsure.  Ready to turn around and go hide at home.  I hadn't been in the country very long and this was going to be one of my first experiences in ministry overseas.  I'd been told only 5% of the country goes to university.  At this particular ministry there are students from all over Eastern Africa.  As I drove up I saw a young thin man in a sweater.  He approached me with a smile and said, "Hello Pastor Nathan.  We are looking forward to learning how to be men of integrity and to seek God in all the things we are doing."  I was surprised by his introduction.  I just smiled and said, "Okay good."  As we walked up to the house I thought to myself, "Okay good?  What kind of a response is that, Nathan?"  In our first meeting I wasn't sure what to say.  I didn't have any big plan other than to ask them all what they hoped to gain from the group.  We went around the circle.  Girls.  Relationships.  Women.  Marriage.  God and the Bible.  Help with females and relationships.  Girls.  What is humility and is it different than low self-confidence?  Dating.  Women.  I said, "Well guys, you are normal.  My struggle in answering your questions is that my culture might say something different than your culture.  However, I believe that God has a culture too.  Why don't we study through the Bible and try to find some answers?"  I suggested that we come up with interview questions that fit our curiosities.  Then with those questions we would select one man from the Bible per week and "interview" him.  They liked the idea (sigh of relief) and so together we developed five questions.  I was impressed with their ideas.  Here is what they came up with:
  1. How can a man keep his relationship with God pure?
  2. How can we as Christians relate to those who are not Christians?
  3. How can a man balance his relationship with God and distractions?
  4. What have you learned about love?
  5. How has pride been your weakness?  How has humility been your strength?
Watching 'Indescribable' by Louie Giglio in my front yard.
We began the first week by studying Adam.  They then chose Moses, Joseph, Daniel, David and Peter.  One by one we went through the Scriptures together studying the chosen man of the week and asking him one of our five questions.  David had a lot to say about #4.  Adam spoke strongly on #1.  We noticed that Daniel had really great answers on #5.  Each week we saw different strengths and weaknesses in the men that pointed to eternal truths for us.  I remember one week we spent almost the whole time talking about how we define humility and how we define strength.  One of the students was very interested in this idea and brought it up in our talks quite often.  In our final week I asked him if he could define Biblical humility and Biblical pride.  He said, "Biblical humility is when God is the one to lift us up.  Biblical pride is when we are the ones to lift us up."  My jaw dropped.  Out of my insecurity and nervous involvement in this small group there came something good.  Wow!

Those good conversations happened more than once.  I remember sitting with the group as they explained to me how one goes to university.  They don't take out loans.  Their villages and communities have come together to support them.  When a village supports a young person from one of their families they are expecting that young one to return to the village to help everyone.  If they don't return then they at least need to get a good job in the city and send money back to the village.  Each of these young men felt the tremendous pressure to repay their villages with success.  I turned to one and said, "That must be very stressful."  He said, "It is.  But isn't it quite Biblical?"  Again, wow!

I'm the tall one in the back.  To the left is Josh Hallahan, another missionary with WGM.  For this event we combined our two groups.  
Our group represented Uganda, Kenya, Congo, Zambia and Rwanda (sometimes if he came).  We were supposed to start at 6:30pm but this is Africa.  It was never (EVER) a challenge to get these men to think deeply or be serious.  If anything, on several occasions I had to lighten the mood a little because they were all so intense.  We talked about money, power, sex, pride, hope, authority and many other important topics.  In a country where only 5% go to university it is a certainty that some or most of these men will be leaders.  In just a short few years these men will be businessmen, politicians and community leaders.  They will be the ones to shape the future of this country and continent.  And they are sitting and listening to me.  More than once I made a remark that caused the whole room to write in their note pads.  As I paused for them to write I thought, "What is going on here?  Who am I to be talking to these men?"  I thought about Isaiah's response to God's commission, "Here am I!  Send me."  Sometimes that response feels like a battle cry.  Sometimes it feels like one whimper in a city that roars.  Here am I!  Sorry it's only me.  Here am I!  Unless you need someone qualified.

What I learned was this:  when I say 'here am I' I am not offering much more than a warm body that moves and talks.  The body that says 'here am I' can show up nervous.  It can wobble in without a plan or any idea of what it has gotten itself into.  The body that says 'here am I' can be weak, unsure and unqualified.  It only needs to go.

Moses said, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"  I say things like that a lot.  God says, "Do this" and I say, "Who am I to do this?"  God says, "Do that" and I say, "Who am I to do that?"  God responds the same now as He did to Moses.  When we ask about our qualifications He says, "I will go with you."  We are qualified because He is doing it.  I started and finished this semester of small group study in awe of God.  

Who am I to do this?  

God is with me.  

What are my qualifications for the work in Uganda?  

God is with me.

Many of us are waiting for burning bushes to tell us what to do.  We ask for dramatic signs and signals from the Heavens to make our instructions clear.  Let's remember that God does not always speak in this way.  Moses got a burning bush but even he hesitated and was slow to respond.  When God asks us to do something He is not asking whether we are able.  Our abilities are not part of the equation.  With humble and willing hearts let us all listen eagerly and with great anticipation for the call of God on our lives.  And when we listen, perhaps we should quiet ourselves and listen for a whisper.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord,
for the Lord is about to pass by.”  Then a great and powerful wind
tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord,
but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake,
but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire,
but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
1 Kings 19:11-12


  1. Such a great and humble article!
    I love reading the things you and Jade write!
    Thank you for your obedient and willing hearts

  2. As I read your description of your plan to "interview" the men of the bible to get answers to the questions of the men in your group I wondered if there might be a bible study similar to what you are/were doing. Then as I read your words about the individual men you studied speaking strongly about one subject or another I began to pray that God gives you the opportunity to write the bible study yourself.

    I think it would be amazing to know more about what you and your fellow learners of God's word discovered during this time of seeking His answers. I know that you did not enter mission work for fame or fortune (obviously), but if you could get such a bible study published it might be a way of continuing to fund your work, or, of helping these men "repay" their villages. Just something to think about.

    I pray for blessings on your family's journey of faith and discipleship.