Answering The Call is an international missions organization dedicated to reaching people in difficult to reach places.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hope more Powerful than any Horror

I joined the team to Nuba wanting to apply my skills of conflict resolution and genocide prevention to an armed conflict. Such an opportunity is as rare as it is dangerous, and the field of conflict resolution is often met with skepticism. Governments kill their citizens, neighbors slaughter neighbors, and entire communities go on 100-day massacres. What is new under the sun? Scholarly work provides brilliant answers, but cannot address the full magnitude of war’s questions. Why did my father die? Why did I lose my leg? How does the human spirit live or die amidst mass atrocities? As with many soft sciences, conflict resolution often evades conclusive and permanent answers. It is not a subject for the faint or pessimistic heart. While one would be hard pressed to find someone who does not believe in human rights, the human race has every reason to throw up its collective hands in a resolved “there will always be war.” Nevertheless, like a soldier who thirsts for battle, I needed to see if nonviolence pitted against violence could bring about some semblance of peace.

The Nuba Mountains lay in between the mostly Arab Muslim Sudan and predominantly Black Christian South Sudan. The Nuban people are in fact a testimony of peace as Muslims, Christians, and hundreds of tribes live side by side. Their communities have been sorely tested. For the past three years, they have suffered under genocide as the Sudanese government bombs their homes, hospitals and agricultural land. The mass atrocities include an increase in amputations, destroyed families, and the decimation of economic resources. Over 75,000 Nubans have fled the violence to the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan. Our team arrived in Yida as the bombing in the Nuba Mountains increased, and as four armies converged on the major road between South Sudan and the mountains.

In war, entire communities suffering from Post Traumatic Stress amidst genocide trigger abnormal levels of inner and external violence. A zombie like trance can be seen in every day interactions. But the Nuban people in Yida were different. They started businesses, participated in faith communities, studied for school and tended to everyday responsibilities. Their approach to each activity was based on hope – a hope that not many media outlets or government reports cover. One cannot begin to understand the level of pain and depression that our Nuban friends fought every day, nor what it means to have to forgive a faceless government that killed entire families. But in the lonely moments of life, the Nubans had stared into the face of death and decided to believe that hope still existed. Many said that their basis of hope was that a relationship with Jesus Christ was more powerful than any horror they faced.

As we administered humanitarian assistance, I began to get to know the community and witness the evidence of the Nubans’ faith; a once paralyzed man standing to walk, and a man on the verge of death healed in a matter of hours. These are large feats, but what really gave them away in their genuine hope was their laughter, peaceful demeanors and earnest optimism of the future. They could choose to reject worry because God had been their provision. God’s provision did not safeguard against pain or disappointment. It went further. It allowed Nubans to live in a reality that existed beyond death. If these people who had witnessed the darkest sides of humanity could find an excuse to choose life, then there must be a livable truth in what they believe about themselves, God, and those who sought to hurt them. Such knowledge of Love – God’s love – was the key to fighting violence with nonviolence among the Nubans.
-----
Written by M.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Our Best Laid Plans and God's Foresight

Isn’t it funny how God works sometimes?  Actually, I think the funny thing is that we are sometimes surprised at how God works.  His plan is always perfect, even when it doesn’t look anything like the plan that we so carefully prepared.  Proverbs tells us that we “can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.”  Thank God for that!

We had planned so carefully for our trip into the Nuba Mountains.  The logistics were difficult (everything is difficult in Sudan), but we had arranged a commercial flight into Juba, then a charter plane to the Yida refugee camp, where we would secure vehicles and security for the half day drive across the border between South Sudan and Sudan and into the Nuba Mountains.  We were filled with great anticipation for getting into the mountains and working with the Nubian people about whom we had already heard so much.

After a series of fits and starts (undoubtedly also part of God’s perfect plan), our chartered Cessna Caravan finally landed at the dirt airstrip at Yida.  The camp was filled with 70,000 refugees from the horrific conflict that raged daily in the mountains.  Little did we know on that first day that our whole time would be spent in the confines of that camp, and that we would not make it up into the mountains that were the entire focus of our trip.  Not this time, anyway.

Although we did not know a soul at Yida, and had no idea where or with whom we would stay during what we thought would be only a day at the refugee camp, God worked two miracles right off the bat. 

First, through a “chance” encounter with an Anglican bishop in the Juba airport (he was on his way from Juba to the peace talks in Addis Ababa as we were on our way into the airport), He led us to Pastor Wesley Wilson.  Pastor Wesley, a refugee from Nuba himself, was the shepherd of a church within the camp, met us at the airstrip and adopted us for the week.  He allowed us to work alongside him at his church, where we worked a medical clinic and offered teaching, preaching and encouragement.  He introduced us to other pastors and leaders in the camp, and we were able to conduct several medical clinics and participate in numerous church gatherings where we met and worked with hundreds of wonderful people from the Nuba Mountains.  In fact, but for the fact that Yida is perfectly flat, we might as well have been in the mountains.  I daresay that we would never have met as many key leaders and interacted with as many Nubans had we actually made it to the mountains.  Those relationships will be the basis for all of our future trips to Nuba.

The second miracle is that God connected us with the good folks at the Samaritan’s Purse compound in Yida.  Samaritan’s Purse had the job of coordinating and distributing much of the international aid that was coming into the camp -- a monumental task, considering that they were feeding and ministering to 70,000 desperate refugees.  They took us into their compound, housed us, fed us, encouraged us, showed us their operation, and even allowed us to assist in their critically important ministry.  We gained a much greater knowledge and insight into the plight of the Nuban people through our time in the SP compound than we ever would have received had we gone straight to the mountains, and we’ll always be grateful to Samaritan’s Purse (and to God) for that time.

As soon as we arrived in Yida we began hearing reports of troop movements and fighting between Yida and the Nuba Mountains, as well as on other sides of the camp.  The political and military situation is complicated, with an ongoing conflict between Sudan and South Sudan as well as an escalating conflict between different tribal and political factions in South Sudan.  It was simply too dangerous to move out of the camp, and we were forbidden to leave and head north to complete our mission.  This was frustrating, as we had spent months of preparation and days of difficult travel to reach Yida.  The mountains that we longed to visit were so close but yet unreachable.

But God knew what He was doing.  First of all, He knew (and we later realized) that we were simply unprepared to spend a week in the mountains.  We were grossly undersupplied and not physically tough enough for that kind of ordeal.  This was underscored when we discovered that we ate ALL of the food that we had brought for the week while we stayed at the Samaritan’s Purse compound, and that was with two meals a day being provided to us!

Second, during our week at Yida we established a strong foundation for future trips and ministry in the Nuba Mountains.  Had we gone into the mountains that week, we likely would have worked with one tribe and perhaps established one or two good relationships.  Back in Yida, however, we met pastors and leaders from numerous tribes and villages throughout the Nuba Mountains (there are 99 tribes within the Nuba Mountains, and 70 of those tribes are represented at Yida), and through our daily interactions we were able to establish and solidify relationships that would’ve taken years in the mountains themselves.  And in the process, we were able to minister to and encourage people who desperately needed ministry and encouragement. 

It couldn’t have worked out any better, and it couldn’t have looked any different than our original plans.  Isn’t it funny how God works?!
-----
Written by Steve Shell

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Panic Rooms

I once watched a cool movie. I don’t remember who the actors and actresses were.  I actually don’t even remember the details of the story. I mainly remember the concept. It was shot and developed around what was called a Panic Room. 

If remembering correctly, the plot revolved around a woman and her child escaping to a panic room in their house in order to avoid besetting intruders. The room was impenetrable and served to provide protection of valuables, and if needed, protection of their lives from enemies.


Did you ever think it would be cool to have your own panic room? A place where the doors can be shut and the windows impervious in order to make sure that no one who is unwanted can enter? In a panic room you can protect what is rightfully yours.

 

Everything seems alright once settled safe in our panic rooms.

In my panic room I envision sleeping quarters that include sheets and pillows with a high thread count. After all, once safety and self provision have been assured isn’t comfort the next important item to be considered. I want to be safe, impervious to any harm, and I also want to be comfortable.

 

If you had a panic room what provisions would you include?  I would be sure that chocolate was readily available. I have loved it since I was a kid. If I could afford a panic room I suppose I could stock it with whatever food I wanted.  No beef jerky and power bars for this guy.  I would look at storing grass fed, organically finished two inch thick ribeye steaks.
 

This brings to mind the whole notion of entertainment. What would I do while safe, protected, comfortable and provided for in my panic room? The notion of being left with only my thoughts is not at all palatable. I think I would stock some of my favorite fiction writers. Without question there would be a Bose sound system where I could belt out my favorite seventies tunes. I think I would add a couple of suspenseful TV series to my video library too.
 

I recently arose early one morning while traveling in Nigeria and Congo and began to think about my panic room. Perhaps because I was witnessing the suffering, need and lack of protection so many seem to be living in. The problem with a panic room is that even while it provides safety, comfort, provision and maybe a little entertainment, it is still a prison. While in my panic room I would still be controlled by outside forces that were in fact controlling my movements, emotions and maybe even my thoughts.
 

I am wondering this morning how much of life is really the construct of a panic room of sorts.  We build our lives that provide seeming protection and security. If not careful, we can spend most of our waking hours selling ourselves for provision and if we are fortunate, maybe a little bit of entertainment to numb our minds. I suppose it could be said that the construction of this panic room is in another sense the construction of our own prison. A man can build his own prison, thinking he is safe and secure. But really just isolated and living alone in illusion.
 

It has been said that religion is the opiate of the masses. Perhaps what is being observed in this statement is the role Western religion can play in the construction of private panic rooms?  By that I mean personal jail cells where one is subject to solitary confinement. Doesn’t evidence suggest that as things get scary even the church can build higher walls? Those walls keep things from getting messy. They also provide in that sense a measure of protection, but it also may be true that they immobilize us. Fear, in many cases can be regarded as succumbing to and being controlled by outside forces. I guess when your building a prison you don’t really know it until it is almost too late.
 

As Israel built their prison with blueprints provided by their own religious system, Jesus butted in on all that and set things right. He invited them to leave the prison construction business and build a kingdom instead. He spent time reminding them that establishing a kingdom was no easy task. He was clear that in order to engage in this type of an endeavor then safety, comfort, provision and entertainment would need to take a back seat. Not that they could never be had, but that they could not be the things most striven for. In fact, I think He may have suggested they could become idols.
 

The odd thing is that He called this invitation to join His kingdom and the establishment of a new dominion “good news.”  Maybe He understood that while relationship with Him did little to promote security in the eyes of the world, it did remove a man from the prison of his own design. He must have thought freedom was certainly worth something.  After all, once the illusion of safety has been accomplished, adequate provision has been secured, and the TV is turned off, prison is kind of boring isn’t it?  

Jesus came and engaged the world. Jesus was our example. Jesus didn’t have a panic room. Jesus had His friends. Jesus had a mission. Jesus had His Father. That was enough.

-----
Written by Dave Fuller

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Process of Victory

The OODA Loop was created in the cockpit of an American F-86 Sabre fighter jet over the skies of Korea. At least that's how the Air Force would tell it. There's probably some truth in that. It was created by a fighter pilot and taught to fighter pilots. It's an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. The theory was that the fighter pilot that could execute the OODA Loop quickly had an increased chance of surviving and winning dogfights that lasted only seconds. It's still taught to fighter pilots to this day. In fact it has been adopted by the other services as well. The OODA Loop is as appropriate for an aerial dogfight as they are for soldiers and marines on the ground.

I would contend that it is also a model for victory in the church. It's a simple process. Sequential. Cyclical. Order and repetition are the foundations of any great work of art. Even martial ones. Special forces operators and ace fighter pilots are outstanding warriors because they do simple things in the right order, faster than their opponent, and then they do it again. Until finally they have achieved victory. The principle is the same for any Christian man or woman that wants to leave a legacy like David or Esther.

Unfortunately, whether by ignorance or distraction we often find ourselves never progressing beyond observation. The picture of the starving child in Africa brings hunger pangs to our own stomachs. The story of the Asian child sold as a sex slave is heartbreaking. The need we see right in front of us, in the place we call home, as we go about our days is glaring at us. Are we really so callous that those things don't affect us?

I think not. Rather, I think that it is just the opposite. We are not callous people. Christ did not redeem us and forget to give us a spirit of compassion. Perhaps we see those hurts and needs and injustices and don't know what to do. So, instead of doing something we do nothing. Or maybe we assuage our conscience by advocating on social media.

In response to the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram the first lady of the United States tweeted a picture of herself with a handwritten sign that read #bringbackourgirls. She looked very sad. The picture looked very professional. I bet she even wrote the sign herself. The girls were kidnapped three weeks previous. Analysts think that the raiding party has most likely now split into dozens of small groups each with two or three girls and will hide in the 60,000 square kilometers of Sambisa Forest until they are in need of new girls. Most of those schoolgirls will never leave that forest alive and will suffer unspeakable abuse until the day they die.

It's shockingly terrible. And that's just the first glance. We observe and our compassionate hearts and gentle spirits cannot bear it. So we don't Orient. To orient means to turn into the threat. There are three reasons that a warrior turns into the threat. His eyes are forward looking. His armor is forward facing. His weapon is forward firing. By orienting a warrior positions himself to gather more information, create better situational awareness, and analyze the enemy. By orienting a warrior positions himself protectively. It may seem unnatural, but to acquiesce to fear, and turn to the side exposes vulnerability. Additionally, orienting positions a warrior to take offensive action with his weapon.

Once oriented the warrior is able to Decide. There is only one decision to be made. How to attack. No war was ever won defensively. No war has ever been won by a series of very bold retreats. Once the decision is made it is time to ACT! Because the warrior followed the proper sequence he has positioned himself for victory. If his success is not immediate he begins the OODA Loop again. If his first attack did not defeat his enemy, then he Observes again, he Orients to focus his information and efforts, he Decides how to attack, and he Acts! Again! Again! Until victory is won. Then he takes a knee and drinks water while he Observes the rest of the battlefield.

The Church as a whole and Christians as individuals are wont to follow this model for victory. Oftentimes we Observe and turn away because the truth of how broken this world really is doesn't fit neatly or cleanly into the whitewashed box we have substituted for real faith. Then, because we fail to Orient we expose ourselves to harm and are not postured to do something with the information we're not gathering because we went the way of the ostrich and not the lion.

One of my favorite verses is 1 Peter 5:8-9. Paraphrasing here: The enemy prowls about like a lion, looking for prey. But resist him. Firm in your faith. That's such a vivid picture to me. Like I've been commanded to be like Michael Douglas or Val Kilmer in the The Ghost and the Darkness. There is evil manifest in the world. It prowls, stalking for prey, roaring to strike fear into the weak and fainthearted. We're called to do something about that though. To stand our ground. Look down the barrel of a rifle. And shoot a man-eating lion in the face.

Because we do not Orient, we do not Decide. We do not because we can not. We don't have the information we need. What's more, we are not postured to do anything even if we did decide. Yet, many of us have heard that to not decide is to decide. Interestingly enough that truism is traced back to the theologian Harvey Cox in one of his critiques of organized religion. Apt, considering the forum and topic at present.

It should come as no surprise then that failing to Orient, and failing to Decide, we fail to Act. Or if we manage to skip from Observe to Act we pack as much sincerity as possible into a handful of characters and pixels, which are quickly bumped off our friends' timelines by some post about how moving the season finale of the latest reality series was, or how scandalous that new book is, or how cool so-and-so looks in their most recent selfie. Even if and when we act we settle for something less than victory. It's like Rocky showed up to the ring and threw his towel at Drago and then the end credits rolled.

We fail to follow the recipe of sequence and repetition. We bumble about, looking for the path of least resistance, the highest payoff with the lowest investment, the most immediate self-gratifying solution. Not only does it mean people are dying without knowing salvation, it's killing us. We are all called to a higher level of living.

This is not a condemnation. As our Savior said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. This is a call to action. These are marching orders. The next time some injustice on the periphery of your consciousness catches your attention, turn towards it. Stare it down. Steel your heart. Look evil in the eye. Find where the beast's weakness is. Retreat is not an option. Then strike it down. If it gets up start again. Until victory is won. Stop asking, What can I do? Stop thinking, It's just so terrible. Stop appeasing your conscience with a bit of convenient social activism. Strike down evil! Until it doesn't rise up anymore. Then, take a knee, drink some water, and wait for the next enemy that enters your periphery.

Is it going to be easy? Nope. It's probably going to hurt like hell. But it's going to hurt you, clad in the full armor of God, a lot less than it is that child who is starving, who has been abducted, who has no hope unless Christians (you and I; together we're called the Church) act.
-----
Written by Ben Machia, 08 May 2014