James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James (Jesus’ brother, not the apostle) begins by letting us know to whom he is addressing his remarks. After the stoning of Stephen the Jewish believers began to face extraordinary persecution; so James is writing to the “scattered” Christians living throughout the world after having been forced to flee Jerusalem in fear for their lives.
Notice in verse 2 that James does not say “if” you have trials, but rather “whenever”. For the Christian, trial or adversity are a given fact of life and James doesn’t beat around the bush about it. He flatly proclaims it to be true. So, why then does he begin by instructing “Consider it pure joy, my brothers”?
James is not saying here that we should be happy about our difficult circumstances or problems. He is not saying that we should rejoice when bad things happen to us for the sake of rejoicing in the bad or as a sort of pious flogging of our psyches.
James is saying that we ought to view our trials as an opportunity to grow spiritually closer to Godliness or Holiness and there is certainly joy in the prospect of growing more intimately related to our heavenly Father. Whenever we respond properly and with God’s perspective on the trials that we face there is a certain and specific type of growth that takes place. One of the results of this growth is that we become more and more able to persevere through trials one after another after another as with each individual trial comes a greater ability to overcome or “get through” the next one in honor and glory to God! This helps us as we travel through life with its ups and downs to be the witnesses for the Kingdom of God here on earth that He has called us to be. People see our spiritual growth and maturity and this is what prompts them to ask us about the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15) which has the effect of advancing God’s kingdom by producing the fruit that we all are called to produce. In the end, our maturity in spiritual growth leads us right to where God wants us and that is what in scripture is known as Sanctification, without which we cannot enter into the very presence of God as we enter the kingdom of Heaven. So, this perseverance through trials that inevitably come our way brings us a joy in that we know God is getting us ready to meet Him face-to-face. How great is that?!
I had the privilege of attending the 2014 Justice Conference this past weekend at the satellite venue Hillside Community Church. I attended the event because I thought it might move my heart more in the direction of God’s heart as I learned more about issues of world suffering and injustice that I had little or no understanding of before. I’ve recently been moved toward greater compassion and empathy to see the world as God does. The conference had a long list of speakers most of whom I was unfamiliar with before but for a few notable exceptions like Rich Stearns, Lynne Hybels and Jim Wallis.
My preconceived notion was that the conference would begin by defining its terms since the concept and definitions of “justice” seems to have been hijacked into the Liberal Progressive political movement of late. At the end of the Friday evening sessions I must admit that I was tempted to blow off the rest of the conference because of my disappointment at the lack of genuine scriptural basis for most of the comments and positions espoused. The speakers used mostly anecdotes to bolster their various claims of injustice in the areas close to their individual hearts. Yes a few “facts” and “statistics” were provided but mostly without context or sourcing. I felt as though the focus was not on truth but rather on the emotion of each cause célèbre. Yes there were notable exceptions, but by and large the use of anecdotes over both scripture and demonstrable facts is disturbing when discussing issues that may be close to the very heart of God and ultimately demand a heart response. I believe that Christians must be able to discern truth based upon scripture and facts but when facts and scripture are not the driving measures for the basis of an argument, discernment becomes difficult.
Each of the 18 speakers highlighted a different issue. One highlighted “education inequity” in America, another – global hunger; still another discussed economic inequity in America, One fellow claimed that what we need is a conversation about the justice that matters to God, but went on to say that we should only listen to those who don’t “put a voice into a straw man”; by this he meant that those with any dissenting argument must be ignored, silenced and discarded. One speaker used a tear-jerking anecdote to claim that the American Free Trade Agreement had caused the economic collapse of a Latin American Country’s farming but provided nothing more than the story to make her case for why the subject of her tale should be allowed into the US – no strings attached. One speaker believes the biggest injustice in America is in the criminal court system; and while there certainly are inequities and areas where improvements can surely be made his use of anecdotal evidence to call for a repeal of the death penalty seems like a knee-jerk reaction at best. This speaker’s tag-line was “Why do we want to kill all of the broken people?” This line and type of “discussion” and “argument” and “call-to-action” was unfortunately the fair served up by speaker after speaker at the Justice Conference 2014.
I returned to the conference on Saturday morning hoping that the tone and tenor of the speakers might lend to more learning and a greater understanding with a biblically based call to action. After listening to and carefully taking copious notes throughout the morning I began to question. I questioned whether the speakers thought they were directing their comments only to individuals who were automatically in their camps and already knew the various details of the issues to which they broad-stroked each disputation? I wondered whether they realized that the audience members were not automatically tracking to their conclusion? I began to wonder who these speakers were and from where they came. This last question spurred me to find out more, which in some cases led to interesting, even disturbing conclusions. (At this point I must confess that by the noon lunch break I determined that I was not going to realize my original goal of learning more from the heart of God and abandoned the final sessions in favor of mowing my lawn, enough time wasted).
There were a couple of threads of commonality between most of the speakers which got me to thinking and researching more deeply; partly because I like to know where people and groups are coming from, also because my own home church had sponsored the event as a satellite venue which means by extension that they formally support the event and its message. The very first speaker on Friday evening called for a “conversation”. The term clicked a memory of something that I had read before about a movement within the greater church called “Emergent Theology” which I knew nothing about. I recalled that a number of the speakers used similar jargon which caused me learn a bit more about this “Emerging Church Movement” or “Emergent Village”. I discovered that these two terms while not quite the same are indeed co-mingled in real and tangible ways. Further I learned that there are some disturbing red-flags to be aware of such as how this theology views the cross, the Trinity, the inerrancy of scripture and orthodoxy. While it is clear that there are some good and valid focal-points with the “Emerging Church Movement” such as “missional living” and creative and varied worship styles, which I’m all for, there are also some points of contention that I’m not for, such as their view of the cross. I is helpful to ask questions like “What is the meaning of the atonement?” and “Did Jesus actually pay for or purchase anything on the cross?” How are Emergent Village leaders answering? One movement leader has written in a fictional narrative to help explain the theology that …”I realized that I don’t know why Jesus had to die.” “Well, neither did Jesus.” Jesus certainly did know why He was here and why He would die Matthew 20:28? “…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” And what about Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper? “And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.’” Surely Jesus knew why he had to die. One cannot read the New Testament and conclude otherwise. One cannot become a “committed follower of Jesus” without knowing why Jesus had to die? Another area of concern is the authority of the Bible. We need to ask questions like “Is the Bible inerrant?” and “In what sense the Bible is God’s communication to us?” How are Emergent Village leaders answering? “…we refer to the Bible as a member of our community of faith—an essential member that must be listened to on all matters on which it speaks. This approach is meant to strengthen rather than diminish the Bible’s authority.” “At bottom, our trust in the Bible does not depend on information that ‘proves’ the Bible to be credible. We believe the Bible because our hopes, ideas, experiences, and community of faith allow and require us to believe.” This to me is spiritual gobbledygook if there ever was any! If what this Emergent Village leader says is the case, who then has the real authority? It is not the Bible but the community. On this view, the Bible’s authority is grounded in the community, rather than in the fact it is the very word of God. Notice, it is nothing about the Bible itself that makes it authoritative on this view. The Bible is what it is despite what one’s community says about it. Communities do not confer authority upon the Bible. The Bible is authoritative because of the kind of book it is. Sadly, rather than strengthening the authority of the Bible, the Emergent Village view actually removes that authority. The most serious concern regarding Emergent Village and their influence on the larger Emerging Church Movement is the real potential for a move away from historic Christian orthodoxy. One Emergent Village leader describes the view of orthodoxy this way: “We do not think this [the Emerging Church Movement] is about changing your worship service. We do not think this is about…how you structure your church staff. This is actually about changing theology. This about our belief that theology changes. The message of the gospel changes. It’s not just the method that changes.” What he is saying seems to be this: as culture changes our understanding of God changes. There is an intersection between culture and theology and as we get new information from culture, be it through anthropology, biological science, or other disciplines, our theological understandings must not merely be adjusted but changed. This is how we do postmodern theology. According to this Emergent Village leader, postmodern theology is 1) fluid – it’s moving and we hold it loosely, 2) it is local, meaning there is no universal structure that guides the conversation for all time, and 3) it is temporary, meaning these things are changing faster than we can keep up with them. In contrast, “In the modern quest for universals, we tricked ourselves or deceived ourselves into thinking that theology is universal, absolute, it’s for all time.” I got the strong impression from several of the speakers (especially those speaking as clergy) that they are adherents of this “new” way of thinking about God and the church. I do not know this with certainty but it is my impression from those I heard none the less.
Another undercurrent of the Justice Conference seemed to be a strong notion of ecumenism. Ecumenism is a movement toward unity or cooperation among the “faith communities”. Meaning any and all churches but not limited to Evangelicals, Catholics, Later Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witness, Muslims, Jews Buddhists, etc. While it surely is true that God loves all of the people within each of these groups, the groups themselves do not all share the same or even similar doctrine and theology. Truth matters and because of the beliefs that we (Christians) hold it is impossible to find legitimate common ground with many. The idea of is not very realistic despite the pleasantness of the sentiment. One call at the Justice Conference was for more “conversation” and “dialogue” between Arabs and Jews over the “occupation” by Israel in Gaza ostensibly subjugating the Palestinians. The specific rhetoric implied quite clearly that 1) the speakers believe the Israelis to be occupying ill-gotten ground that does not belong to them and 2) a two state solution will resolve the conflict if only Israel would cooperate and 3) that we conference goers should clearly see the light of this “truth”. It is interesting to note that the global “apartheid” protest against Israel begins this week. These Christian leaders/speakers expect us to simply buy into and believe that things in Gaza are the way they are due to a single factor and that if only one side would budge the whole Middle East would lay down arms and sing harmoniously together. Peace and freedom from war and strife are laudable goals but it is harmful to the “conversation” to ignore what scripture teaches and attempt to put some burden of responsibility where it doesn’t necessarily belong.
All in all I was very disappointed in the Justice Conference 2014. I was disappointed that little or no attempt was made to clearly define terms. I was disappointed in the lack of scriptural basis for many (not all) conclusions. I was disappointed that so much suffering in the world is ongoing and the people who drive the conversation seem so myopically focused on the emotional side of the discussion rather than the scriptural kingdom side and what God thinks and wants us all to do.
My wife and I recently moved into a new house in a new community after 28 years at our previous location. One of the items that we placed onto our “must do right away” list was replacing all of the windows in the new house. The “new house” is actually a relatively old house of about 40 years and the windows were both out of date and single paned as well as so water damaged and neglected as to be permanently clouded over and in some cases impossible to open let alone see clearly thru. When the wind blows hard (as it often does here) the windows would rattle and shake and let in the chilling effect of those cold blustery gusts. After getting the requisite 3 estimates, a choice was made as to which replacement widows we would install. Today was the day that the new widows arrived and the difference that they make to every aspect of our home is striking. Each window glides smoothly and easily allowing in fresh invigorating breezes adding comfort and letting out the stale stuffiness of a house too-long closed up tight. But more than anything else the new windows provide an entirely new perspective on the environment that surrounds us. We can see the brightness of the day and the clarity of the night sky like never before. We can see the neighbor’s trees and almost smell the flowers blooming in the planters outside just by looking through the barely there clean and polished glass. Another amazing to notice phenomenon of the new windows is also what they keep out. These new widows have eliminated much of the background noise and distraction of the outside world. They keep the unwelcome elements out as well.
These new widows remind me of the way Jesus must look at the heart of a Christ follower who, after many years of dancing around the edges of a fully committed life lived on mission for Him, gives over the last vestiges of what has held him or her back from being all that God intended from the jump. For some people, just becoming a Christian is like getting one of these new widows. After years of living a life characterized by selfish ambition or lustful pursuits of blind passion they make an abrupt U-turn for Jesus Christ putting away all of the sin that clouded their vision for so long; they gain an entirely new view of the world that they never imagined before. They can see like never before because they have the eyes of Christ and all that is seen is through the lens of the Savior God who sees as only He is able.
But for far too many of us the story is very different. We get “saved” at an early age but don’t quite know what to do next and without an excellent mentor or guide to lead us from the starting line we tend to flounder around, sometimes for many years caught in a fog unable to see clearly, one foot in the world and the other longing to see things the way we think [might] be possible if only we could find a clear spot through which to look out. Living “on mission” for Jesus does indeed involve being able to see what Jesus sees and have the heart that Jesus has for the world. But, in order to see what Jesus sees we must be fully devoted followers with “new windows” from which to look out at the world with a perspective that only comes as a result of having a heart that breaks for what breaks His and a life purposefully changed for His glory and honor. Prov 20:12 Ears that hear and eyes that see–the LORD has made them both.
Jesus wants more than anything to give us the “new windows” of His world view and His heart and His mind. Will you accept the “new windows” and see as Jesus sees? Will you accept “new windows” and eliminate the distractions from your life and learn to live on mission for the cause of Christ which He calls you too? Will I?
The Following is a Re-Post of an article by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason
The original post can be found here: http://www.str.org/publications/unstringing-the-violinist#.Uskp-PRDuSp
I thought that this article was so well articulated and important that though not mine, highly worthy of a re-print.
Unstringing the Violinist
By Greg Koukl
Stand to Reason
Equipping Christians to graciously defend classical Christianity and classical Christian values.
I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Judith Jarvis Thompson’s famous “Violinist” argument. I was driving south on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles listening to a radio talk-show. It shook me up so much I almost had to pull over.
Not only was the argument compelling, but Thompson made a stunning concession when she acknowledged the full person-hood of the unborn.
Having freely handed to pro-lifers what they were trying to prove, she short-circuited their argument from the outset.
My first emotion was despair. The argument couldn’t be answered, I thought. This is often the case with carefully worded philosophical treatments. At first glance they appear compelling.
On closer inspection, though, the flaws begin to show. In this instance, the problems with
Thompson’s arguments are fatal.
The Violinist Argument
The details of Judith Jarvis Thompson’s argument are important, so I will quote her illustration in full. Titled “A Defense of Abortion,” Thompson’s trenchant challenge to the pro-life view first appeared in 1971 in the Journal of Philosophy and Public Affairs.1
I propose, then, that we grant that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. How does the argument go from here? Something like this, I take it. Every person has a right to life. So the fetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person’s right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother’s right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it. So the fetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed.
It sounds plausible. But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you—we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist now is plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.
Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did; a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says, “Tough luck, I agree, but you’ve now got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.”? I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, 2 which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.
Let’s unpack the argument. Thompson correctly shows that an additional step is needed to bridge the gap between the premise that the unborn is a person and the conclusion that killing the unborn child is always wrong. What’s needed is the additional premise that taking the life of a person is always wrong. Killing, however, is sometimes permissible, most notably in self-defense.
The reasoning in the violinist illustration is very tight. Thompson accurately represents the pro-life position, then offers a scenario for us to consider.
The analysis employs two powerful techniques of argumentation: an example that appeals to moral intuition followed by a logical slippery slope.
The logical slippery slope works like this. When one thing is immoral, and a second is logically similar in a morally relevant way, the moral quality of the one “slips over” into the other. For example, murder is immoral, and some think capital punishment is similar enough to murder to make capital punishment immoral, too. 3 Thompson is counting on a certain moral intuition—our sense of justice—rising to the surface when we consider the plight of the kidnapped woman in her illustration who is used as a host against her will to support the life of a stranger.
She then asks us to consider if having an abortion is a meaningful parallel to unplugging the violinist.
Both circumstances catch the woman by surprise. Both the violinist and the unborn child are attached to her body, which both need in order to survive. Both will release her in nine months.
Thompson’s view is that disconnecting the violinist is morally justified even though he’ll die, and there seems to be merit to this appeal. To stay connected would be heroic—”a great kindness,” in her words—but, like all acts of heroism, it is voluntary and not morally required. 4 If that’s the case, then it’s moral to abort a child, even if he or she is a fully human person, just like the violinist.
If the first is morally acceptable (unplugging the violinist), and if the second (having an abortion) is similar to the first in a relevant way, then the second should be acceptable also. That’s the logical slippery slope.
An argument found in the book, Breaking the Abortion Deadlock: From Choice to Consent, 5 uses the same approach. Author Eileen McDonagh points out that if a woman’s liberty is being threatened in some fashion—if she is being attacked, raped, or kidnapped—then the law gives her the latitude to use lethal force to repel her attacker.
Pregnancy, McDonagh argues, is this kind of situation. “If a woman has the right to defend herself against a rapist, she also should be able to use deadly force to expel a fetus,” she writes. 6 In pregnancy, a woman is being attacked by another human being—from the inside, not from the outside. Therefore, she has the moral liberty to repel her attacker by killing the intruder.
It does seem obvious that a woman ought to be allowed to protect herself from an attacker and use lethal force to do so, if necessary. If this is true, then we must concede the legitimacy of abortion, which, McDonagh claims, is parallel in a relevant way.
Again, note the logical slippery slope attempt.
Parallels That Aren’t Parallel
The key question in any slippery slope appeal is whether the two situations are truly similar in a morally relevant way. If not, then the illustration is guilty of a logical slippery slope fallacy, the analogy fails, and the argument falls apart.
Are there important differences between pregnancy and kidnapping? Yes, many.
First, the violinist is artificially attached to the woman. A mother’s unborn baby, however, is not surgically connected, nor was it ever “attached” to her. Instead, the baby is being produced by the mother’s own body by the natural process of reproduction.
Second, both Thompson and McDonagh treat the child—the woman’s own daughter or son—like an invading stranger. They make the mother/child union into a host/predator relationship.
A child is not an invader, though, a parasite living off his mother. A mother’s womb is the baby’s natural environment. Eileen McDonagh wants us to believe that the child growing inside of a woman is trespassing. One trespasses when he’s not in his rightful place, but a baby developing in the womb belongs there. Thompson ignores a third important distinction.
In the violinist illustration, the woman might be justified withholding life-giving treatment from the musician under these circumstances. Abortion, though, is not merely withholding treatment. It is actively taking another human being’s life through poisoning or dismemberment. A more accurate parallel with abortion would be to crush the violinist or cut him into pieces before unplugging him.
The violinist illustration is not parallel to pregnancy because it equates the mother/child relationship with a stranger/stranger relationship.
This is a key point and brings into focus the most dangerous presumption of the violinist argument, also echoed in McDonagh’s appeal. Both presume it is unreasonable to expect a mother to have any unique obligations towards her own child.
The violinist analogy suggests that a mother has no more responsibility for the welfare of her child than she has to a total stranger. McDonagh’s view is even worse. She argues the child is not merely a stranger, but a violent assailant the mother needs to ward off in self-defense. An unborn child is no more assaulting his mother than her eight year old is stealing when he grabs cookies and milk from the fridge.
This error becomes immediately evident if we amend Thompson’s illustration. What if the mother woke up from an accident to find herself connected to her own child? What kind of mother would willingly cut the life-support system to her two-year-old in a situation like that? And what would we think of her if she did?
Blood relationships are never based on choice, yet they entail moral obligations, nonetheless. This is why the courts prosecute negligent parents. They have consistently ruled, for example, that fathers have an obligation to support their children even if they are unplanned and unwanted.
If it is moral for a mother to deny her child the necessities of life (through abortion) before the child is born, how can she be obligated to provide the same necessities after he’s born? Remember, Thompson concedes that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. If her argument works to justify abortion, it works just as well to justify killing any dependent child. After all, a two-year-old makes a much greater demand on a woman than a developing unborn (ask any parent).
Thompson is mistaken in presuming that pregnancy is the thing that expropriates a woman’s liberty. Instead, motherhood does that, and motherhood doesn’t begin with the birth of the child. It starts nine months earlier (ask any mother) and, unlike the woman connected to the violinist, she is not released in nine months. Her burden has just begun. If Thompson’s argument works, then no child is safe from a mother who wants her liberty, regardless of their age.
In the end, both Thompson’s and McDonagh’s arguments prove too much. They allow us to kill any human being who is dependent upon us, young or old, if that person restrains our personal liberty. The simple fact is, in a civilized society no one has the freedom to do whatever she wants with her own body. Liberty unfettered by morality is the operative rule of anarchy, not civilization. At any given moment, each of us is constrained by hundreds of laws reflecting our moral responsibilities to each other and to our communities. The most primal of those rules is the obligation of a mother to her helpless child. This is one of the reasons the public outcry against Susan Smith was so intense.
Susan Smith Morality
On October 25, 1994, Susan Smith shocked the nation by murdering her children. She believed her two young boys were an obstacle to remarriage, so she placed them in her car, fastened their seat belts, and drove them into a lake.
Smith’s crime was especially obscene because she violated the most fundamental moral obligation of all: the responsibility a mother has for the safety and well-being of her own children. Yet wouldn’t Susan Smith be exonerated by applying Thompson’s and
McDonagh’s logic? These children were kidnappers and interlopers, trespassing on Smith’s life, depriving her of liberty. Why not kill them? Those boys were attacking her. It was self-defense.
A while back, a couple in New York was arrested when authorities learned they took a ten-day vacation to Florida and left their young children behind, locked in their apartment to fend for themselves. If McDonagh’s and Thompson’s arguments work, these parents should be released from jail because they bear no more obligation towards their own children than they do to strangers across town or burglars who break into their home. Those children were invading their privacy, trespassing in their home, stealing their food.
This argument is frightening for two reasons. First, it must reject the notion of parental responsibility in order to succeed. Second, in spite of that weakness, people in high places think it’s compelling.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in the North Carolina Law Review, has admitted that Roe v. Wade was deeply flawed, and instead quoted the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in support of abortion.
Women get pregnant, she argued, men don’t.
Abortion gives women a shot at equality. She then cited Thompson for support.
The responsibility a mother has toward her child supersedes any claim she has to personal liberty. If it doesn’t, if Thompson’s and McDonagh’s arguments succeed, then release Susan Smith. Release the deadbeat Florida tourists.
If parenthood is an act of heroism, if mothers have no moral obligation to the children they bear, if child-rearing is a burden “above and beyond the call of duty,” then no child is safe, in the womb or out.
Addressing Abortion Columbo-Style
“The government shouldn’t tell me what I can do with my own body.”
“Should the government be allowed to control your body concerning your two year old?”
“That’s different. That’s outside my body.
Right now we’re talking about my uterus. The government shouldn’t tell me what I should do with my uterus any more than it should tell me I have to donate my liver or kidney.”
“On that I agree with you, but that has nothing to do with the pro-life view. Pro-lifers are not asking you to give up your uterus. Pro-lifers are saying that the government should be able to protect a human being inside your body just like it does an infant child on the outside of your body.”
“But we’re talking about my uterus, not a human being like an infant.”
“I thought we were talking about what was in your uterus.”
“Okay, but that’s not a human being.”
“It isn’t? Then what is it?”
“Nobody knows. It’s just tissue.”
“Well then, let me ask you a few questions about this mysterious thing in your uterus. You agree, then that there is something inside the uterus of a pregnant woman, right?”
“Is it alive?”
“Like I said, no one knows when life begins.”
“You didn’t answer my question. I asked if it was alive, not when does life begin? So let me ask another way. Is the thing inside of a pregnant woman’s uterus growing?”
“Yes, it’s growing.”
“Well, this is progress. How can it be growing if it’s not alive?”
“hmm… okay, you’ve made your point. It’s alive. It’s living tissue, part of my own body, and the government has no say over my tissue growing in my body.”
“In principle, I would largely agree with your point about the government, but I don’t think this tissue is part of your body.”
“Of course it is.”
“Did you ever watch CSI?”
“When the forensic pathologist finds remains of a human body, how do they determine which person the remains belong to?”
“They try to do a matching DNA test.”
“Right. If the DNA from the tissue matches the DNA of a hair sample from a known individual, then, they know where the tissue came from.”
“So if someone took a DNA test of that piece of flesh growing inside of your body if you were pregnant, would its DNA match your DNA?”
“Then whatever is growing inside of your body is not part of your body, is it? It’s tissue from a different body. That’s why it has a different DNA.”
“I guess so.”
“What kind of foreign creature do you think would be growing inside of your uterus when you’re pregnant.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well then, let’s go back to the CSI illustration. If forensic pathologists found a piece of tissue at a crime scene, how would they know if that tissue came from a human being or from some other animal?”
“I guess they’d do a DNA test.”
“Yes, but it would be a different kind of DNA test than the first one. This one isn’t looking for a match with a certain individual, but with a kind of individual. What kind of creature did this sample come from? What kind of DNA “signature” does the sample have? It might be dog DNA, cat DNA, possum road-kill DNA, or possibly human DNA. So if we took a piece of tissue from that living thing growing in your uterus, what kind of DNA do you think it would have?”
“I don’t know. I’m not a scientist.”
You don’t really have to be a scientist to know the answer to that question. Let me ask my question another way. What kinds of things naturally grow in a woman’s uterus?”
“You know, offspring.”
“So, if there is an offspring growing in a woman’s uterus, what kind of offspring is it? Could it be a dog, or a cat, or a possum offspring? What kind do you think?”
“I guess it would be a human offspring.”
“So we do know what’s growing inside your uterus when you’re pregnant, don’t we. It’s not a mystery. It’s not your tissue, but your human offspring. Someone else is in there—your unborn child. So now that we’ve solved that mystery, you think the government should be allowed to force you to protect your offspring when the child is outside of your body, but not when he’s inside your body. Right?”
“I guess that’s right.”
“Why should the government be allowed to protect your offspring on the outside of your body?”
“Because children are valuable.”
“Right, I agree. But that creates a problem for you now, doesn’t it?”
“Well if children are valuable outside of your body—say, right after they’re born—how are those same children not valuable when they are just a couple of inches away hidden inside your uterus? Why does the location of your child make any difference to the value of your child?”
Judith Jarvis Thompson, “A Defense of Abortion,” Journal of Philosophy and
Public Affairs, 1 (1971), 47.
Note the appeal to moral intuition here.
I don’t think this reasoning goes through in this case, but it’s a good example of a logical slippery slope approach.
Philosophers call heroic efforts “supererogatory acts,” behavior that is not obligatory, but is praiseworthy if done, like a soldier throwing himself on a grenade, sacrificing his life to protect his comrades.
Eileen McDonagh, Breaking the Abortion Deadlock: From Choice to
Consent (New York, Oxford University Press, 1996).
Quoted in Nat Hentoff, “The Tiny, Voiceless Enemy Within,” Los Angeles Times, 2/3/97, B-5.
Only One Question
By Greg Koukl
The logic of the pro-life position can be expressed in a simple syllogism:
• It’s wrong to take the life of an innocent human being without proper justification.
• Abortion takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification.
• Therefore, abortion is wrong.
The key, of course, is the second premise.
There’s only one question to answer in the abortion debate: What is the unborn?
Imagine that your child walks up when your back is turned and asks, “Daddy, can I kill this?” What is the first thing you must find out before you can answer him? You can never answer the question “Can I kill this?” unless you’ve answered a prior question: What is it? This is the key question.
Abortion involves killing and discarding something that’s alive. Whether it’s right or not to take the life of any living thing depends entirely upon what it is. The answer one gives is pivotal, the deciding element that trumps all other considerations.
Let me put the issue plainly. If the unborn is not a human being, no justification for abortion is necessary. However, if the unborn is a human being, no justification for abortion is adequate.
This distinction simplifies what, to many, seems to be an intractable moral problem. Talk-show hosts, educators, politicians, even religious thinkers reflect and nod solemnly, “Oh, yes, abortion. It’s a very complex issue. There are no easy answers.”
Answering the foundational question “What is it?” removes the complexity. The answer to this most fundamental question–What is the nature of the unborn?–is the key to answering virtually every other objection about abortion. Most issues raised in the abortion debate are irrelevant rabbit-trails that drag us off the track of the only pertinent consideration.
When one clears away the irrelevant thoughts on both sides–the name calling, the misrepresentations, the circular reasoning, the medical misinformation, the emotional language–the issue becomes very clear and, I think, reasonably easy to answer. The hard part is applying what we discover.
Should you do something to stop abortion?
Answering the question “What is the unborn?” makes the answer to our final question crystal clear. If the unborn is not a helpless, innocent human being, don’t trouble yourself. If it is, then children are being killed for frivolous reasons, and you must do something.
November 30 / December 1, 2013
Africa Days 1 and 2:
We arrived at LAX this morning about 8:00am with 10 50lbs “action-packers” and a passel of carry-on items in tow. After checking us in at the American Airline’s terminal the attendant carefully weighed each action-packer and passed them on through without a hick-up, even though a couple tipped the scales just slightly above the limit! Next it was on to the TSA security screening and once again there were zero issues or delays as our band of 5 eager travelers sailed on to the boarding area to await the start of the first leg of our journey. Once safely on board the plane and off the ground, it began to sink in that Africa was indeed a looming reality for each of us.
Six hours into our flight we are about half way to Heathrow. Our backs are beginning to bother all of us from sitting so long (perhaps our ages are showing) and since our seats are in the very last row of the enormous 777 jet, 4 out of 5 of our band of brothers are standing at the rear of the plane in and around the aft galley chatting with one another and the flight crew who are all enjoying a much deserved break. Tom likes to regale us with stories of the many places that he has been and the fascinating things he has learned along those byways. The manner in which he tells his tales is an inspiration and everyone is grateful for his entertaining style of story-telling. I for one find Tom’s sense of humor delightful and quite endearing. Most of us have watched at least one movie on this leg of the journey, but I must say the “in-flight” choices are limited at best. I don’t know if a second round will be in the offing as the time ticks slowly down. Everyone agrees that the evening meal was actually quite tasty and sufficient to fill us up till morning. I think some shut-eye (even though it is only 7:00pm) might feel pretty good very soon.
Arriving at Heathrow was a welcome relief from the knee aching and spine pinching of the less-than-friendly accommodations aboard the American Airline’s jumbo jet so tightly filled with people that sardines could be proud. Time was tight however, so we traversed the queues from the arriving flight to the passenger baggage-screening, and then on through to the security screening, and finally across the airport to the departing gate. Once inside the waiting area of the terminal there were a mere 30 or so minutes before the call to board flight BA65 for Nairobi, Kenya wafted over the intercom in the most delightfully pleasant British accent. Just like that we were off again at what would have been 2:30am if we were still snug at home instead of circling the globe in hot pursuit of Kenya. British Airways’ plane was newer and the seats were much more comfortable than those on the American Airline’s plane. 24 hours after starting our day I felt as though we jumped up a class as we jetted across Europe: over France, then Spain, past Italy, and over Tunisia, then finally across the African Continent to Kenya on the eastern side next to the Indian Ocean—a mere 6 hours to go before we reach Nairobi!
At Nairobi Airport, we had to wait (what seemed like a very long time) in line to obtain a VISA; then go through Customs with our checked baggage. Mission accomplished after a couple of touch-n’-go moments at the Customs counter when the officer called his supervisor over for advice after seeing inside just one of our “action-packers!” He was uncertain as to how to deal with us bring into the country such an odd selection of “gifts” for an orphanage and children. She looked at it as if to say “Hey, I don’t know what to do with THAT either!” Then she said, “Just let them pass”. So with a wave of her hand, off we went as quickly as possible. We found our transportation to the Mayfield Guest House waiting patiently for us as we exited the airport. Fortunately the Mayfield is located just a few miles (Kilometers) from the airport. The guest house is an inn with modest but clean rooms and after a loooong day—very comfortable beds!
December 2, 2013
After only 2 hours of sleep in a comfy bed plus a hot shower, we arose remarkably refreshed and ready to tackle the next and finally final leg of our arduous journey; the short 30 minute hop from Nairobi to Eldoret. The Mayfield Guest House kindly provided coffee, toast and cereal for us even as we were preparing for a 5:00am departure from their cozy establishment. At the Nairobi Airport I discovered my watch missing a couple minutes after going through the security check-point (not immediately though). When I went back to ask the screening officer if he had seen any sign of the watch the answer was as predicted: that he had not. My request was over-heard by a less busy and more compassionate supervisor who set about searching for the missing item. She soon declared that what once was lost, now was found. She had located my missing watch underneath the scanning machine where I must have dropped it in my haste to comply with the rules to remove everything – and hurry up about it!
We landed in Eldoret and were greeted immediately by 4 members of the ELI staff including Don Rogers, the founder and head of the ministry, with 2 vehicles at our beck-and-call.
Stephen Andrew Don Mike Tom Dan Laban Coleen
After a short strategy meeting and a prayer of great gratitude for all that God had accomplished in getting us to our final destination and what He would surely do over the next several days, we set off straight away to the “Home Depot” of Eldoret called Eagle Supply. Eagle had an amazing selection of items for sale that met the perceived needs of our project experts! Eagle Supply even discounted the order a significant amount after Don reached out to a friend who said, “Sure I can help, I’m personal friends with both owners of Eagle!”
Praise the God who goes before us, the God who knows our names!
After the hardware store it was on to the “Walmart” of Eldoret where we discovered that Tom had not been pulling our legs after all, they really did have everything else we might need, even steel-wool. (An inside joke to be sure).
As we drove through town toward the ELI mission compound, I was deeply struck (stunned really) to see for the first time truly abject poverty that went on and on and on for mile after agonizing mile. There was filth and dirt and faces filled with despair. There was an endless stream of individuals obviously just trying to make it through the day. There were guys on bicycles carrying large milk canisters to and from markets where they sold the milk from their farm animals, but it occurred to me that if their only means of transportation was a bicycle and they had to ride more than a few blocks, then the task of milking and transporting it to market would easily take up the day and the energy for anything more. And what of the money? How much money could possibly be made by a guy on a bike with a mere 2 canisters even if completely filled?
I saw vendors on the side of the road attempting to sell whatever they could, then I realized that not only were many selling from too close to the highway, but they were selling from the cardboard box or corrugated siding in which they lived as well!
I saw tiny children playing unsupervised near busy road-sides. My gaze was transfixed on the people (many just girls) carrying large heavy loads on top of their heads. Everywhere I looked as we made our way through the bustling, frantic traffic, where no law enforcement could, even if they wanted to, control the chaos, I saw pain and suffering and agony and despair and sadness and depression and hopelessness and Satan and evil! There was a heavy sense of urgent despair and I could find no place to hide my eyes from it no matter how hard I tried.
Then a miracle happened! (And not the first for this trip either, mind you). Our car turned onto the final 100 yards into the ELI compound and there up ahead of us, lining the dusty dirt road were dozens and dozens of children of all ages and sizes many, wearing brightly colored orange t-shirts all signing and praising God in greeting celebration at the arrival of 5 unlikely fellows from the other side of the world. What in the world were these children and adults alike celebrating? Was it all for us? Could we be the target of such love and devotion, attention and praise? Yes, but mostly no! Of course not silly! There on that little dusty, dirt road were children of the most high God who get something so profoundly better than I; celebrating God. Their joy was obvious and overflowing. Their love was deep and genuine. Their spirits are free and they are being all that Jesus wants all of His children to be, even me.
The celebration continued as we exited our vehicles and walked those last few yards up that dirt road all the way until we reach the compound gate. It reminded me of the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the singing and praising God, with the exception of the fact that Jesus came to die on that cross for me, and I was merely coming to help install a few trinkets. The gate was closed by a colorful ribbon and the music and singing stopped as Dorcus one of ELI’s long time leaders led us all in a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s gifts and mercies. Dorcus said some kind words of greeting to us and thanked us profusely for coming to Kenya in response to a call from God and a need of His people.
Next Peter, the head master of the school at Kipkaren also spoke of how glad and thankful he is that God is being honored in the lives of His children as we 5 had been sent to do the work to which God called our team to participate in.
I began to sense a pattern in what was being said. “God is in charge of what is going on and we thank Him for what only He can do.” They were not so much giving thanks for our coming, but they were thanking God for answering their prayers. They were not celebrating because the wonderful people from outside of their community had come to do something for them. No, they were celebrating God and His provision, and we were merely the tools which He had chosen to use. They did not see us as any sort of problem solver. They did not see us as their benefactors, no; they ONLY saw brothers in Christ in partnership with their joy and celebration of God’s goodness together.
Dorcus returned to the microphone to MC the cutting of the ribbon and offered the honor of cutting it to our team leader Tom Hamic. Tom surprised everyone however, and turned immediately to the youngest member of our team, Stephen Johnson and passed the torch to him. Stephen made some nice comments to the large crowd, claiming that any honor was strictly ours.
The celebration instantly resumed to full throat as the singing and dancing crowd of well-wishers and God-praisers escorted us all the way to the office of Director/School Master, Brother Peter. A short chat and personal welcome ended with our escort to the expansive lawn/meeting area underneath an enormous sycamore tree where seats of honor reserved solely for the 5 of us had been set up in the front row. Once again Dorcus MC’d the festivities which were clearly and delightfully designed to welcome us and make us feel as special as humanly possible. She introduced the children’s choir made up of the ELI Kipkaren student/orphans. The kids sang and danced with joy and with gladness and thanksgiving, not merely for us, but for Jesus who so clearly they love with all of their hearts.
Then, something truly wonderful happened as 3 specially chosen children stood up one by one to share their personal testimonies of how Jesus has blessed them and saved them from darkness and despair into an abundant and full life that only true believers in His name can fully grasp. The children were literally overflowing with the joy and gladness of the Lord Jesus as I have rarely seen. We five gentlemen from half-way ‘round the globe felt honored and loved and welcomed in a manner that I am unqualified to express. Our long day ended with an after dinner “de-brief” where nearly everyone—both staff and visiting missionaries alike—shared the significant moments of the day. I could hardly articulate my thoughts and feelings for fear of completely losing it as I struggled to keep my composure.
The person who impacted and carried my imagination was a man named Isaac. Isaac is a director with the ELI agriculture training center where students come to learn all aspects of farming and animal husbandry. In addition, they learn in detail the business of farming and are taught the significance of how doing the business side of farming correctly will have a life-long impact on their future and that of their whole family and the community at large. These students train for 9 months every single day working to earn a certificate which, even if they do not have land of their own to farm is widely recognized as valuable for employment on other farms.
Miracle alert! Kenya Power, who for weeks had been dragging its feet to install power to the new building, showed up in the afternoon and installed over-head power from 2 spans (new poles) away! They assured us that power would be up and running before morning which would be the soonest that we’d need power anyway!
December 4 2013
Today was our first full day at Kipkaren. Several of the ELI staff met our band of 5 brothers (oops, only 4 since the youngest buck couldn’t drag himself from the rack today) at the gazebo for Tom’s first official “coffee-klatch” of the trip. Some years ago Tom instituted an early-morning ritual of meeting well before breakfast to have coffee and scones with whoever wished to join him on the veranda; well, not really scones but definitely the coffee part! As the “klatch” progressed Don Rogers asked one of his interns, Colleen, to share her story of how she wound up at ELI and what she is doing as well as her plans for the future. Colleen detailed in vivid color for us her depressing work in one of the worst slums in all of Kenya. She told of a survey that she had conducted in the slum with women trapped in lives of alcoholism, depression, despair, abuse and hopelessness; women who felt that their only chance of survival was to be in the alcohol brewing business. She described horrible diseases and infections that were curable or preventable in many cases, but went untreated to the point of death in large part because of a lack of education or money. Coleen touched my heart as she described her own feelings of despair that sometimes made her question what God is doing in the midst of such suffering and misery. It breaks my heart that God’s ministers suffer so in order to do the mission to which God has called them. It gives me hope and assurance that God sees through their suffering and pain to become the comforter only He can be.
After a delicious morning meal, our team set off to take on the task which we all were eager to begin. Some of us started in a large open meeting hall to begin assembling the 10 major shop machines that had arrived on site just a few days ago, while others went to inspect and begin the process of laying out the new shop! I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time when a new Kenyan brother/friend offered to help with the project! Nash and I working together built 3 machines, a lathe, a drill press, and a sanding machine. At one juncture we made a frustrating error (we thought) so we re-built the project, only to discover that we had actually built it correctly to begin with! Nash sensed my growing frustration and remarked, “You know, the reason we are having difficulty is that we didn’t pray first.”
Wow, just wow! Why hadn’t I thought of that?! So, right there in the midst of our tools, blood and sweat, Nash and I stopped to pray and re-center on God as the one for whom we work, and the one who offers grace and mercy to the frustrated. From that moment on there were no more issues for the rest of the afternoon.
Nash & Edwin
At noonish we took our mid-day meal and were joined by 4 students from the ELI agriculture training center each of whom shared their stories of how the program has and will change their lives and that of their families forever. One young woman shared about coming all of the way from the despair that leads to the depression causing suicide, including leaving her new baby behind, to the joy of life and a future in agriculture, and how even though she has no land of her own, she is confident that God will provide a job and a life both for her and her baby.
I left to write and shower. I had told Tom earlier that I was keeping a journal so he shared that whenever there was a person on one of his trips who wrote a journal he always found it useful to have them share from their writings later in the week, so I suppose that I felt an added sense of urgency to be ready if called upon. I decided to skip dinner and remain secluded to catch up on my chore. After a while my friend and roommate Dan Greives came by and informed me that Don Rogers had specifically requested my presence at dinner and that I was officially late. I’d had taken a shower and was working comfortably in my PJ’s alone and didn’t feel like being disturbed. I argued with Dan a bit, then decided to throw on some clothes and hustle on over (just to avoid any unpleasantness).
I was so glad that I got pushed to show up! At the table were 2 of ELI’s “house parents”. After supper we got to hear about the life of an ELI “house parent”. House parents are some of THE most special people on earth! They live in 3 small buildings with 26 children! One building positioned in the center is the parent’s house; the buildings on either side house 13 girls and 13 boys respectively. House parents do all of the same stuff of life that most other good parents do: they get their children to and from school, they stay with them when they are sick (though in the case of a house parent it may mean taking a sick one to another city for treatment and sitting on the floor all day and night only to never see the doctor!); they watch over homework and chores; they worry over grades and whether their kids will make it to university. What an amazing time to listen, learn and later debrief about the day once again. I won’t be missing any more of those opportunities! And I will be apologizing to Don for my selfish attitude that almost cost me a chance to learn more of God’s heart and work in Africa.
December 5, 2013
This morning’s coffee-klatch was very enlightening as the conversation centered around ELI’s plan and vision for the future as it relates to the new wood-shop in particular. The discussion included subjects like what could be made effectively and efficiently in the new shop that would have commercial or lasting spiritual or plain old fun value! Don Rogers is a big picture, long range vision kind of guy, and Tom Hamic is a business man’s business man to be sure. Specific items can be made in the shop that have a holistic approach to helping the poor meet their own needs. This is the key to all of ELI’s philosophy of ministry; that people be empowered to meet or exceed their own potential, not to give away free stuff. Tom said, “What if we build beehives as a kit project that any Kenyan could put together, then do the same with a newly engineered “solar-cooker” box to help stop deforestation, plus add a “worm-box” for creating the world’s best fertilizer and finally supplement the whole thing with newly developed grain bags that kill any insects in the grain within 3 days and doesn’t harm the grain itself?!” “Wouldn’t that change lives (and Kenya) forever?” Discussions of the “green” science of it all and the business models that might work best and so on took our early morning time away as quickly as a lightning strike.
After breakfast we got right down to the business of building a functioning wood-shop. A large team of older student-volunteers helped us carry the heavy awkward machines from their assembly building to the new shop a paltry 300 yards away! Each machine had been given an assigned strategic location within the shop and the boys put each one right where it would eventually call home.
As the work of setting up each machine began, others tackled the project of building a pneumatic-air machine tools system for driving air tools in the shop. Each task was being done with an eye to the future and with a heart for God and the people whose lives would gain toward their own futures. Lunch was predictably the same; awesome!
By now we newbies to Kenya have figured out the agenda for each day; 1. Fellowship and worship 2. Eat and fellowship 3. Work and fellowship 4. Eat and fellowship 5. Work and fellowship before dinner at which time we break for eating and fellowship. I’m beginning to sense a pattern here… Tonight’s routine was altered somewhat in that instead of working until breaking for dinner, we broke a bit earlier than usual in order to walk to the Children’s Orphanage Homes to participate in their evening ritual of worship and devotions before their dinner. What a treat it was to enter the home of one family of 28 individuals who all broke into songs of praise and worship to God Almighty. After several worship songs we were introduced and one by one we each rose to speak to the children with words of hope and encouragement. When we finished, Don Rogers (ELI’s gifted and obviously well-loved founder) gave the main devotional. Don is a wonderful communicator especially to children. Don’s message was largely delivered without words even though he is fluent in Swahili.
The message which every child (even me) could understand was of people who resist the call of Christ on their hearts and how sometimes after resisting that call over and over finally figure out that Jesus’ love and forgiveness is the way to happiness and a life worth living. The story was impactful and funny and precious and special all rolled into one! After our devotions with the children, they scurried off to their own supper and we meandered down the dusty road to our delicious dinner treat as well. At dinner we were joined by a different House Parent couple than last night. These amazing folks with a young child of their own and zero teens are raising 26 orphan children of whom 16 are teenagers! Eight boys and eight girls who are all in their teens is too unfathomable to contemplate! The thing they ask for as a prayer request really struck me. Both of these fine folks ask that we pray that God grant them wisdom. It seems to me that if they are asking for wisdom, they already possess it abundantly. Even though it rained today and the electricity went out over and over again throughout the compound, it was a great day and I for one am looking forward to tomorrow.
December 6, 2013
As usual, our day started with the morning gazebo coffee-klatch. For the first few minutes Tom provided a fascinating history and geography lesson for the team. He drew on paper the locations and countries in Africa where ELI has a presence and filled in the detail with the political and social histories of each, including the differences between each people group that ELI serves. Don Rogers shared the history of his calling into missions and specifically how ELI came to be. If you ever get the chance to listen to him share this run, don’t walk, to get a front row seat!
Later on we were joined by a tremendously exuberant and delightful Pastor Micah who has a genuine love for the “Empowering” of lives all over Africa. Micah didn’t want to tell us his story as so many before had done. Micah wanted to share the success stories of how Empowering Lives International’s programs and vision are changing lives all over the continent. He said, “I can give you my testimony – but it’s really about changing [other] people’s lives and their testimonies!” “The kingdom is being hindered because of poverty and we are changing that.
We give people hope and a vision of the future by teaching self-reliance and hard work and persistence and science.” Micah’s genuine joy and enthusiasm for the work that he is doing was absolutely infectious, and each of us were glued to our chairs as he spoke for what seemed like moments but actually lasted into breakfast time.
After breakfast we headed over to the shop to begin the labor of love that the project has become. Everybody worked together and productivity was as high as our spirits. After the lunch break we were back at it until 7:30pm before rushing to supper where we were joined by another “house parent” couple named Ezekiel and Noella. I have come to really enjoy interacting with the house parents at dinner because even though they each do the same job, they all have different personalities and challenges. Tonight the “father” Ezekiel turned the tables and asked a question of each of us fathers at the table regarding how we handle the teen years since he has a number of teens that he and Noella shepherd.
When it came time for me to share my parenting advice I had to admit that one of my daughters had gone badly astray, but that God was faithful to His word and she did indeed return to her faith later on as the Bible says. We all need to remember that there are consequences when we sin, and Kim suffered for the rest of her short life for the misspent and rebellious time that she wasted. The idea has been shared more than once on our trip of writing a new life chapter from wherever we are as we live with God in the here and now. I only hope that my life chapter will be regret free and kingdom focused for the rest of my days. I must admit to being too tired to proceed…
December 7, 2013
It was impossible to write today due to the circumstances of the trip. Much happened that I will attempt to elaborate on later. We left Kipkaren in the late afternoon and traveled to Illulla after a full morning of sharing testimonies and working in the shop. We will spend 2 nights there before returning for shop work on Monday morning. Upon our arrival at Illulla there was another welcome ceremony with singing and praise to Bwana Safille (God is Great). As before, children and adults alike lined the pathway to the entrance of the children’s home, clapping and dancing and singing glory to God at the arrival of visitors. What an amazing way to welcome strangers and at the same time thank God for their safety and protection and Kingdom work to be completed!
We toured the children’s home facility which Tom had an instrumental hand in building over 10 years ago. I was struck by condition of the furniture in the children’s living space. There has been no maintenance for the years that these kids have lived in the dorms and things are literally falling apart. The “drawers” can’t be opened because there are no pulls or glides! The shelves are dangerously falling apart so that the children have nowhere to keep their few worldly possessions. The obvious conclusion is that we need to send a team or teams even, back with the mission of rebuilding these items.
Now that there is a shop in which to turn out professional quality products, perhaps some of our Hillside Handymen and skilled cabinet makers would feel the call to serve in this capacity in the future. I pray that God will place this on the hearts of those who would respond. I now know from experience that God can use people with the heart to serve and whatever talents or gifts that they bring to the table to accomplish great things.
December 8, 2013
This morning, in Illulla, we gathered at the grass-thatched roof hut in which Tom was staying because it has a nice covered patio with a table and some chairs around which the whole team fits. The space is in a lovely setting surrounded by a garden and pathways.
After Coffee Klatch at Tom’s mud hut, we left early—before breakfast—for a mystery trip that Tom had planned in advance but kept the exact location secret from the team. The trip took us from Illulla into Eldoret to visit Tom’s Danish friends Briggitta and Soren Petersen who are involved in a church building/planting ministry in countries all over Africa. Briggitta and Soren’s home is near downtown Eldoret located on an expansive property as lovely as any you might encounter in Bel-Air California. Our hosts were absolutely the epitome of graciousness as they served our motley looking crew a scrumptious (Danish) breakfast of homemade rolls, cheeses, granola, yogurt, fruit, “Danish” (of course), a variety of juices, coffee and tea! It occurs to me that even though I expected to be less than impressed with the food fair in Kenya, I don’t think that I have lost a single pound despite burning many more calories than normal! I feel as though I’ve eaten like a king each day here; who would have thought that possible?
Following a tour of Soren’s house and steel fabrication plant which is located right on the grounds of his home where he pre-fabricates the skeletal framework of the churches he’s building, we headed back to Illulla for the year-end “guardians day” celebration at the children’s home where they prepared to leave for the Christmas holiday and head home with extended family. Each orphaned child has a designated host family, usually consisting of extended family members who take them to their homes during school breaks. This gives the group parents a short break and keeps the children connected to their relatives, which is a strategic move on the part of ELI. The first group of children in ELI’s history were graduating; making the “guardians’ day” ceremony especially moving and poignant for everyone, both students and staff alike. Ten, graduating students were sent flying from the nest, off to bigger and better things, filled with trepidation but well prepared by ELI to face the world with a strong faith in Jesus Christ and an equally sturdy academic education.
Sad does not begin to express the feeling of seeing a few left-over children whose guardians failed to show up to retrieve their charges. All of our team took the “left-over” children – about 9 or so – out to the play field and spent a couple of hours playing and enjoying these delightful little people who face so much difficulty in their young lives. The evening was the time for another celebration as 4 staff members were having birthdays and 2 anniversaries were in the mix as well! Two lambs were butchered just for this special occasion and we all had a wonderful time together around the BBQ, playing Frisbee, chatting, and getting to know one another better.
December 9 2013
Sunday morning after coffee klatch (which found us enjoying freshly baked cinnamon rolls which Amy Rogers brought over at 6:30 in the morning!) we went to Samwell and Rhoda Tamugue’s home for breakfast and truly enjoyed the hospitality of one of the founders and board members of ELI Africa. The Tamugue’s were gracious as they shared their story of desiring to change Kenya one person at a time through the many ministry avenues of ELI.
After breakfast it was off to church, which was more lightly attended than normal according to most because the children had gone home the day before. The service was conducted in English instead of Swahili in deference to the western guests in attendance. After songs, greetings and a short scripture lesson our group was introduced and asked to share testimonies, starting with our leader Tom Hamic. Tom told the story of how he got his start in business and his heart for helping others, and I was once again moved nearly to tears by his touching story which, if you want to know more you have to ask him directly… then Dan shared, next it was Stephen, then Mike and last it was my turn.
However, in my case I had been designated the primary speaker of the day. I spoke on Psalm 16, which you can look up for your own edification at your leisure.
My 15 minutes seemed to go adequately well, and we managed to get through with the obvious help of the Holy Spirit. Thank God that people are so able to give grace to an unqualified speaker stumbling through a “sermon”. I must say 2 things about being asked to deliver the message: first, I am truly glad that I did it because it forced my to do research and study in preparation, plus it forced me to rely totally on God for strength – even inspiration. Second, I feel as though I was led by the Holy Spirit and that any glory is all on God’s account, so please let that be enough.
After church we headed back to Kipkaren from Illulla. On the way back we detoured to the bridge on the Kipkaren River which was built by a team from Hillside Church. The bridge is in an absolutely gorgeous setting on the Kipkaren River. From the perch on the bridge one can see for several hundred yards in each direction up and down the swift moving muddy river. Though much smaller in scope it reminded me of the Mississippi’s muddy, reddish-brown color. The trip to Kipkaren is worth the travails of travel for the picturesque setting and beauty of God’s creation alone. When you combine the joy and spirit of the people there, with the gorgeous scenery you cannot help but fall hopelessly in love with Kenya.
December 10, 2013
Coffee Klatch was shorter today than usual as we took breakfast a half hour early in order to attend the weekly ELI staff meeting. Typically one thinks of charts, graphs, sales incentives and cutbacks or safety talks and client issues when contemplating staff meetings. At ELI, a staff meeting is really a devotion time with singing and praising God and an actual Bible lesson for the members with a bit of business thrown in just to make it official. The staff of ELI is so focused on “empowering lives” through the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that they barely notice the business of the business. How wonderful is that?! It’s no wonder to me that they are growing and their ministry is expanding because of the glory given to the God they serve.
After the meeting we got straight to work at the wood shop. Most of the tools had already been set up and the shop ready to function but for a few systems still in progress like the one that I have been working on virtually since arriving. I am helping to build the pneumatic system for operating air driven power tools. There have been a few minor set-backs because of parts issues but the basic system is actually up and has been pressure tested. I still need just a couple of items to make it finally pretty whiz-bang! The individual craftsmen like Mike, Tom and Stephen set about building the first actual projects. Tom worked with Andrew (one of ELI’s American interns) on building a production-ready bee-hive. Mike and Stephen worked on building a wooden game board complete with spinning top and knock-down pins which was finished near the end of the day much to the delight of the entire shop! Grown men gathered round to try their hand at the new and engrossing game that we just know will thrill every child who tries it.. Everyone was filled with gratitude to God for a productive day of “empowering lives”. We broke for dinner and had a much needed low-key evening of light-hearted conversation; then it was off to bed.
December 11, 2013
Morning Coffee Klatch was only me and Tom. The rest went early to “the rock” to watch the sunrise. We both played hooky. I was earlier than Tom, so I walked over the near-by community “cow dip” to watch the local farmers who, every Tuesday bring their livestock to be dipped in a bath that helps keep them free from ticks and other life threatening organisms. I was so fascinated by the sight that I kept getting closer and closer for pictures with the permission of the elder that, as one cow took a flying leap into the bath I got to experience the bath right along with the giant brown eyed creature! After wiping off the cow-dip bath, I met Tom for what has become our usual morning chit-chat and dare I say casual mentoring and general class time. Tom is a fountain of world history, science, geography, Bible and life lesson wisdom. I have grown to really respect this man of God who has been used mightily by the Lord for an entire lifetime. It makes me realize that I have wasted far too much time and it is indeed time to write a new chapter for the rest of the time that God allows.
The early birds returned in time for breakfast on the veranda and as some staff joined us our number swelled to about 9. What a time we enjoy in the mornings. After breakfast we were off once again the wood shop to begin the day’s tasks. Unfortunately there was a not-so-infrequent power outage which lasted all day so progress was a bit slower than anticipated. But the project is in the hands of a mighty God who will see it finished in His own time.
We broke about an hour early in order to head over to an ELI spin-off ministry called The Living Room.
The Living Room is a hospice care center for terminally ill patients, mostly with HIV/Aids. Our host, who showed us around the relatively new and modern facility, told us a few of the stories of the individuals being cared for there, and by the end of our short visit I began to feel a bit shell-shocked by the thought of human neglect and abuse especially of children. What a special place The Living Room is, giving end of life dignity and pain management to people who otherwise would die forgotten and alone in misery and agony.
After the Living Room, we headed to the Chebaiwa Health Clinic, another ELI off-shoot ministry. It’s truly amazing what people can accomplish with very little resources. I hope the pictures I took at the clinic will help me tell this story because, sans being there in person, I believe that I’m incapable of describing the meager surroundings of the clinic, coupled with the variety of services offered to the Kipkaren community by this awesome medical facility. Dental, Eye, Maternity, Emergency and more care are the types of things being done by the clinic daily. After our tour at the clinic we were invited to join David and Allison Taruse and his extremely large brood for dinner. David is one of the founders of ELI and he shared his story of God’s leading him from despair and a feeling of utter hopelessness to the brink of suicide to a ministerial education and the vision to start, along with Don Rogers and Samuel Tamouge the organization known as Empowering Lives International. A stronger man of God I’ve rarely, if ever, been in the presence of. This man walks so closely with Jesus Christ that miracles are part of his every day routine! Oh my—to be able to say the same would be miraculous as well. I would like to try it, I do believe. May God grant me His wisdom, vision and grace.
December 12, 2013
Coffee Klatch – Breakfast – Wood Shop – Lunch – Wood Shop – Dinner w/Dorcas – Out of gas – Bed
December 13, 2013
Our last day in Kipkaren. Sadness, coupled with anticipation, coupled with trepidation. The shop is ready to be turned over; the team is showing signs of fatigue, yet satisfaction that God has faithfully accomplished much. Satan has been working against me in these last hours. I have not received any e-mails from Debbie which makes me more lonesome than I think I’d otherwise be, I’m homesick, my reading/writing glasses are too broken to use, I’m rationing my pain medication because I know I’ll need it most on the airplane. Even to me this sounds like whining but it really isn’t meant to be so. It is simply the way things are as we wind down the mission part of our trip and look forward to a couple of days “R & R” on safari!
ELI is planning a “goodbye” celebration for us in about an hour. The power has been out in the compound all day after a hard all-night rain which has made the sticky red clay mud attach itself to my boots with a death grip. So, Don Rogers has asked each team member to think through how to answer the question of “How was your trip”? He wants us to be prepared for a 1 minute, a 3 minute and as much as 20 minute answers. The thing that strikes me more than anything else is the deep, unashamed love they have for the Lord Jesus Christ, each other and outsiders too! We have been guests in the homes of many of ELI’s Kenyan national leadership team during our visit, and without exception, we have been made to feel welcome and special. Each one gave the very best of what they have to offer by way of hospitality just as the Bible commands. We were fed scrumptious suppers and always the conversation centered on what God is doing in their lives and communities.
These folks have a vision for the salvation of Kenya in total that I wish American Christians had for America. As a result of this vision, Kenya is beginning to change, and even the government is starting to sit up and take notice of the work and influence of Christians and ELI in particular.
The goodbye celebration was very moving for our whole team. The staff and children gathered in the meeting hall that Tom and his team built many years ago and sang songs of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for all that had been accomplished. There were speeches and testimonies and more praise to God! After the festivities in the meeting hall, we walked as a group singing and praising the Lord to dedicate the new Polytechnic Wood Shop. There were more speeches and gratitude and expressions of praise to God plus the exchange of a few token gifts, including tool belts filled with tools for the Kenyan leaders who will be instructing and training at the school.
Mission accomplished, all because of the faithfulness of God to His people who joined together to see the kingdom advance in Jesus name.
Praise be to God.
December 14, 2013
Amazing would be an understatement and a misuse of language for the day we’ve all had. It started out at 5:30 am with our last breakfast in Kipkaren and a hurried trip to the Eldoret airport. From Eldoret we flew to Nairobi. From Nairobi we took a land transport to a different airport where we caught a 12 passenger “puddle jumper” for the 45 minute ride to Masi Mara the Kenyan national wildlife preserve. We were picked up at Masi Mara’s dirt air-strip and driven to the luxury resort known as Intrepid Safari Company. Once shown and settled into our rooms, we were immediately off on our first excursion to the animal preserve. We spent the entire afternoon with our driver and guide, Ruben, who took us over the flatlands of the Mara showing us the animals that inhabit it and explaining in great detail the interaction of each species and the interconnectedness of them all. We had the very good fortune to see many animals and birds in the wild so close we could have touched most of them (though touching was definitely not a temptation). What an experience it is to see the wonder and variety of God’s creation in such a beautiful setting. I must say that as good a job as American zoos do in presenting wildlife to the masses, you truly have not lived until you’ve seen them on the Mara in the heart of Africa. Near the end of the afternoon as the day was beginning to wane into evening, there was a large herd of wildebeests moving directly in our surrey’s direction. We stopped to watch and see what they would do when off in the distance someone spotted a lioness creeping toward the herd. She moved slowly but with determination for quite a while as we sat patiently waiting to see what would happen next. After stalking for what seemed like an hour (perhaps 15 minutes) it became obvious that the lion had chosen to hold off on supper for an unknown reason so Ruben (our driver) headed on past the herd of wildebeests directly for the lioness. We stopped perhaps 20 feet away to get some great pictures of this beautiful creature. Shortly after, she stood up and began to roar as if to say “Hey – can’t you guys see I’m busy?” “Get on out of here, you’re disturbing my hunt!”
We moved on after agreeing that the roars were most likely a call to the rest of the pride for coordinated assistance. After returning to the resort, I had a much needed and delightfully warm shower, then went to relax and listen to a presentation on the “great migration” across the Mara plane. After the presentation, our team sat quietly for a while and discussed the blessings of our mission, and how each of us will be changed as a result of the experience of ministering in such a unique and special way to such wonderful and special people. Dinner was as special as the rest of the day. The resort is a full service facility with cordon-blue like fine dining and service to match in every way. Who would have thought that out here in the wilderness of the Mara plain would be a resort to rival the best the world has to offer?! Sleep will be a welcome and necessary commodity for us all…
December 15, 2013
Today was amazing as we were immersed in the creation of God that is rarely seen by Americans outside of a zoo. Just one example was the hyena who killed his breakfast right in front of us and put on quite a show next to the river as we watched him dig in to the fresh meat. Disgusting, yes! Fascinating, most definitely! Seen in any American zoo, not on your life! The Mara is alive and vibrant with the cycle of life. Many animals are pregnant while other new babies can be seen amongst the crowds of adults, if you just look carefully enough. The vast Mara is strewn about too with the carcasses of prey that have given their all for the salvation of some. If this sounds familiar to you, perhaps that is because you know that Jesus gave His life for me and you too, though in Jesus’ case it was a gift freely given by a loving God who wants not merely to save us for a day or a week but for all of the tomorrows that will ever be. I’m so thankful to be reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice for me; and what better reminder than through the graphic example of His own creation showing us how things really are. When I think about the simplicity and elegance of Gods plan for the planet it is not lost on me that we humans have so twisted and contorted His original design that it is virtually unrecognizable, especially to God Himself.
December 16, 2013
6:00am came sooner than any of us really wanted. The accommodations here at Intrepid Safari are so comfortable that leaving the confines of a soft warm cozy bed early in the morning almost seems harsh. However, the Masi Mara beckoned as the animals, both human and not – stirred in harmony for the day.
The agenda for today began with a search for the illusive leopard which is rarely seen by humans on safari. The importance of a leopard sighting became clear when after only a few minutes into the wilderness the announcement of a leopard sighting came excitedly over the two way radio and at least 8 tour vehicles converged at once on a single spot on the 700 square mile Mara. The scene was somehow reminiscent of the Kentucky woods on opening day of turkey season with each driver jockeying for position and every visitor’s camera pointed toward the brush ready to take the first shot. We stalked our prey along the creek-bank as stealthily as the leopard herself is well known to do; with the exception that she never makes a sound and throughout the wooded area even the sound of the birds were drowned out by jeep engines on both sides of the bank. After what seemed like a very long time Steven, our youngest team member (with perhaps the best set of eyes) spotted movement within the thick underbrush. Quickly and with little warning the beautiful full-grown cat darted from the brush to the right providing a perfect side view of one of Gods most spectacular creatures, but only for a moment. She turned sharply left and darted back into the brush just as the cameras from a passel of onlookers began to click furiously.
I think it was Stephen who bagged the picture of the day which is certainly fitting since he spotted her first, after all. Our tenacious driver Ruben continued to hunt for another opportunity until lunch-time but the big cat would have no part in helping him achieve success.
After lunch we turned our attention to another big cat, the cheetah! We had seen one the day before but finding it or another again seemed a worthy endeavor. So we spent the rest of our time wandering the beautiful wild lands of the Mara in search of a cheetah that didn’t want to be found, but along the way got to enjoy one of the most gorgeous places in the world that God made specifically just for us and that most folks have never seen. Along the way we saw vultures feasting on the leftover meal of presumably a big predator cat, maybe even the one we missed. We saw Kenya’s version of the turkey though our guide explained that in Kenya they do not eat this particular bird. All-in-all we had a marvelous time at the Safari and everyone agreed that we would indeed do it again if given the chance.
After lunch we prepared for the flight from the safari airstrip to the Nairobi Wilson airfield. Fifty minutes and we were on the ground in Nairobi. There were several hours to kill before our next flight to Heathrow from Nairobi so first we went shopping and then to a Brazilian BBQ restaurant for dinner. I have never done a meal in quite such an unusual manner. There were about 12 different BBQ taste treats to enjoy and each one was unique and delicious. There were 3 major and each very different dipping sauces to choose from too. The thing that was so unusual was the way the meal was served. Each person got a green on one side and red on the other disk. Green meant yes ready for more meat and red meant stop serving until I say otherwise. The BBQ treats were delivered to the table by an attentive wait staff, but whole and on long skewers. The staff person would slice off a small piece right at the table if you chose to have it. One could keep being served an unlimited amount until they cried uncle. It was in a word, delicious and filling and amazing… ok, 3 words.
After dinner we reorganized our “action packers” for the trip home and the airport baggage check-in. The flight from Nairobi to Heathrow will take us about 8 hours. We lay over for 5 hours before moving on for the 11 hour flight to LAX which will put us in at rush hour so the drive to Tom’s house [may] take another 2 hours on top of that, putting us in at 6:00pm-ish. I have a hunch we’ll be pretty tired but I also expect to be so excited to see my wife that sleep will be the furthest thing from my mind.