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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dominoes and Smooth Stones

My friend David wrote a great piece before he left for the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. Here's an excerpt that I want to expand on. “I know many of you are probably saying to yourself, “what can I really do?” The truth is we could all do a hell of a lot more than what we are doing now. But as long as we wait for someone else to speak up or step out, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WILL EVER HAPPEN!!” I wholeheartedly agree so that's why I want to talk about dominoes. 

The domino effect is a principle analogous to a falling row of dominoes. By definition it is the cumulative effect that results when one event precipitates a series of like events in linear fashion. That translated into Domino Theory; a theory that if one country was taken over by expansionism, nearby nations would also be taken over in a serial fashion. The theory was first put into words by President Eisenhower in 1954 during a news conference when he spoke about a “falling domino principle” in reference to communism in Indochina. 

The theory dominated US foreign policy during the Cold War, but was largely discredited after the Vietnam War as overly simplistic. However, some political theorists still consider the theory generally accurate. Personally, I think there is a lot of merit to the theory, but cascading failure (a slight variation of the domino effect) is a more adaptive model, particularly in our modern globalized world where the effect of an event in one place is causal on the other side of the world. While the theory may not have been proved in Indochina, the fall of Vietnam had second and third order effects on a much larger scale. In fact, Domino Theory is matched by the Marxist revolutionary wave theory. Revolutionary wave theory is the idea that a revolution can initiate a series of revolutions leading to world revolution and ultimately societal transformation. The American defeat in Vietnam led to communist led or supported takeovers of countries in Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and Southwest Asia. 

In 1983 a physicist named Lorne Whitehead made an interesting contribution to the argument about Domino Theory. He wrote an entry for the American Journal of Physics titled “Domino 'chain reaction'” in which he summarized “a simple and dramatic demonstration of exponential growth.” According to Whitehead, a domino can knock down another domino 1.5 times its size. He began with a domino 3/8'' tall, 3/16'' wide, and 3/64'' thick. Just to put it in perspective, a standard domino is about 1 ¾'' tall, so the domino Whitehead was starting with was about the size of your fingernail. The thirteenth domino in the chain had grown to a size of 24x12x3''. The output of energy released by the 13th domino falling was about 2 billion times greater than the input of energy required to knock over the first domino. In this model, Domino Effect is merely the foundation for Domino Multiplication, in which a tiny domino eventually topples a monolith.

Here's the interesting thing. Whitehead's last line of the article reads, “A simple calculation shows that if the series were continued, domino number 32 could be the twin towers of the World Trade Center.” The twin towers, before the 2001 attacks, were over 1,360' tall. And they were taken down by a handful of jihadists with passenger planes. I contend that we are still riding the shockwave of the chain reaction that attack produced. The potential is there for a non-state actor to eventually be responsible for toppling the greatest superpower the world has ever known.*

Again in 2012, another contribution to domino theory was made by the physicist J.M.J. van Leeuwen. He showed that Whitehead's growth rate of 1.5 was actually too small. The growth rate could be as much as 30% larger than the traditionally accepted 1.5 which amounts to each successive domino being almost twice as big as the last.

Going back to what my friend David said in the beginning, the point here is that while we may feel individually insignificant we are not. Let me remind you all of another David who slew a giant named Goliath. The shepherd boy David was so small that he could not wear King Saul's armor. He was so small that when he confronted Goliath he was mocked. One smooth stone from his sling silenced the giant though. His bold act of faith toppled a giant, routed the Philistine army, and culminated in David becoming the king of a united Israel that defeated her enemies on every side. 

What I'm getting at is we need to set our sights higher. We are capable of so much more than knocking over an enemy of equal or lesser stature. We need to stop looking for the domino effect and look for the multiplication. Look for that enemy that's twice as big as we are. King David didn't ask, “What can I do?” or “Just how big is that giant?” He did something. He stepped out, picked up a stone, and took down an enemy that towered above him. 

Stop wondering. Start doing. Until you do nothing will ever improve. If you're going to ask how big a giant is, then ask it like ol' Roy D. Mercer. “How big 'a boy are ya?...Sounds just about the right size for an ass-whoopin'!” That would be the modern vernacular of 1 Samuel 17:45-47, “David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” 

You don't have to do it alone either. King David's best friend was Jonathan. They were men cut from the same cloth. At Micmash, before David defied Goliath, Jonathan climbed up a cliff to confront the entire Philistine garrison accompanied only by his armor bearer. It led to a route of the enemy and a pursuit by allies that ended in victory. 

I believe that if we do this together we can create a revolutionary wave that will change the world. Victory is made with dominoes and smooth stones. Start knocking them over. Start slinging them at giants.
Written by Ben Machia, 29 May 2014

*I'm not saying America is going to collapse tomorrow or even that it will collapse. To put it in perspective dominoes originated in China, first recorded during the 12th century. It took six more centuries for dominoes to appear in Italy. How they traveled is unknown, but I imagine that over that time they were carried west by the Mongols, traded by merchants on the Silk Road, played in the camps of mujahideen in the Middle East, brought back by crusaders, and played by the great minds of the Renaissance. And so it went until one day nearly everybody had stacked dominoes in rows and felled them across the floor. The outcome of an event, of a domino falling, can take centuries to manifest or perhaps nothing comes of it at all.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

What Excites You?

I recently received an email from International Justice Mission (IJM) with a subject line that read, “What excites you?” Without even continuing to read the content of the email, I began pondering this seemingly basic question: What excites me? What do I truly love? What particularly awakes that part of my soul that yearns for deeper and fresher waters? Well, friends excite me, family excites me, and just generally being with solid people excites me. Fireworks, roller coasters, and fire all excite me. Additionally, traveling and exploring really excite me. 

However, my mind took this question one step further: What fundamentally excites me? My immediate answer was freedom. Freedom that is lived. Freedom that is realized, both by others and that I realize within myself. That excites me! When one begins to experience and walk in the most natural disposition in which man can live. We were created to live in complete and blissful freedom in the Garden. In fact, in Genesis 2:16, where God addresses Adam regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He begins with three simple words, “you are free”. God prefaces any instruction or command by speaking into Adam’s freedom. You are free. We have been made to be free. Freedom is one of the cornerstones to our being. With that in mind, it makes sense that freedom would be exciting. Living in freedom is living out our purpose. Living out the purpose that God has spoken over our lives from before we were even born.

When I consider freedom in my life, one of the first things that comes to my mind every time is Costa Rica. More specifically speaking, that little piece of heaven that is nestled so perfectly in the coastal mountains of Uvita, in the southwestern part of the country, named Refugio Solté. It was there that I first learned what it was like to live in freedom. It was there that I first heard my Heavenly Father speak so gently and intimately with me. This is a taste of what true freedom looks like: intimacy and close communication with Our Father. And it’s natural! It is how we were meant to live. 

Anyway, my entire family and I went to Costa Rica in the spring of 2011 for a week long, spring break mission trip. It was the first mission trip any of us had been on. Little did any of us know that we were stepping into an experience that would forever change, not only each of our lives, but our whole family. Throughout the week God spoke, comforted, confirmed, and loved each member of my family, as well as the rest of the 24-person team. However, perhaps more notably, God enticed each of us with His presence. He gave us a thirst that would stick with us well beyond the international boundaries of Costa Rica and well beyond just a week long mission trip.

Having now been to Costa Rica with Answering the Call more than a handful of times, I have profoundly experienced the freedom, peace, and healing that Refugio Solté so readily offers. By no means am I inferring that these blessings are only available at Refugio Solté or on the mission field, but there is just a certain tangible presence of the Lord that resides and constantly moves there.

When I think about the original question, “What excites you?” I know my answer.

Refugio Solté excites me. Costa Rica excites me. Ultimately, freedom excites me. And the Lord wants to excite everyone with this freely offered freedom.

So I ask, what excites you?

Written by Griffin Brand, 19 July 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Entertained or Engaged?

There's a stunning scene in Gladiator when Maximus enters the arena, alone, to engage a half dozen opponents. In mere seconds the general, the disciplined legionnaire, dispatches the brawlers with a brutal series of attacks. After he has killed the last of his opponents by decapitating him with two swords, the crowd is shocked silent. Enraged, Maximus throws one sword into the VIP box, and yells, “Are you not entertained?” When met with silence from the stands, Maximus discards his other sword upon the sand with utter disgust.

Are we entertained or are we engaged? In Rome there was a metonym, panem et circenses, or bread and circuses, which summarized a political technique of preserving power by pacifying the masses with food and entertainment. As long as the mob was made complacent with full stomachs and distracted with spectacles in the arena it mattered not how incompetent, corrupt, or unjust the government. Public approval was purchased to defeat dissent.

Interestingly enough, this metonym was first recorded circa AD 100. Maybe it is a coincidence that at the time of penning, the first century Church was an existential threat to the Roman elite, but then again, maybe not. Christians were put to death in the Colosseum and loaves of bread were tossed into the crowded stands like t-shirts at a more modern and more civilized sports event. You see, Christianity offers real hope in a world that is starving for it; hence it has a way of unsettling all those powers which offer only a shade or facsimile of hope.

The practice of bread and circuses began a full two centuries before the metonym was coined by the poet Juvenal and a full century before the birth of Christ. Populares, liberal politicians that “favored” the people, schemed to win the votes of the plebeius, or common people, by giving away free grain and hosting elaborate circuses. The popular support gained allowed the populares to shift the balance of power away from the optimates, or conservative politicians that “favored” the patricius, or aristocracy. In exchange however, the people abdicated all influence in their own affairs. The ugly truth was the populares were no different from the optimates. Both were politicians who sought to increase their own power and champion their own cause without regard for the plebeius or the patricius. As Rome became more progressive, Juvenal lamented the lack of heroism in the contemporary Roman.

Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

That is the actual historic backdrop of Gladiator, set during mid-second century AD. Obviously there were dramatic liberties and poetic license taken with many facts, but fiction has a way of capturing the essence of truth which can often be lost in all the facts. The truth that we are focused on now is what Maximus in the sand and the spectators in the stands represent. Are we engaged in a battle to make a difference or are we merely entertained?

Are we commoners or aristocrats? Subject to the whims of those that seek power? Willing to abdicate our right to self-determination and submit to authority that is not just in trade for comfort and entertainment? Worse yet, are we liberals or conservatives? Pray we are not the parties guilty of deceiving for the sake of improving our own positions. Instead, let us choose to be disciplined soldiers, fighting for something that matters. If we cannot be champions upon the sands of the arena, then let us at least resolve to be willing martyrs – living proof of an eternal hope beyond this temporary, and often wretched life. For although we may live under the burden of affluence here in America, it is, as Dickens said, the best of times and the worst of times. The comforts and distractions we enjoy here do not make the pain in the world disappear. It merely makes our hearts hard and our bodies soft. So that when we are confronted by the world's pain, we are not stirred, nor capable of making a difference, simply desiring still more panem et circenses.

Yet if we would discipline ourselves, we would rapidly find ourselves in a place where our hearts are stirred and our bodies are capable. Discipline is not a hard thing, just a tenacious thing. It really is not a matter of doing any one difficult thing for a short period of time. It is a matter of doing many small things for an extended period of time. Therein lies the difficulty.

Christians often associate discipline with fasting. Once every blue moon we'll give up some food, and work very hard to grin and bear the hunger pangs. What if we're thinking about it wrong though? John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “The life of the pious should be tempered with frugality and sobriety, so as to exhibit, as much as may be, a kind of fasting during the whole course of life.” Calvin considered fasting a useful and daily discipline, but not the only discipline. Fasting is a good example of discipline, an especially relevant example in America, where more than 1 in 3 people are clinically obese and the other 2 in 3 could shed a few pounds without starving. Fasting is also a discipline which lends itself to other disciplines. As Calvin wrote, “In general, the only object [the early Church] had in fasting was to render themselves more alert and disencumbered for prayer.”

So maybe today we start living a more disciplined life by simply consuming a little less panem and indulging in a little less circenses. I think we'll be surprised when we find ourselves champions on the sand of the arena of life, championing freedom like Maximus at the end of Gladiator.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Pay It Forward

When visiting East Congo there are certain people I particularly get excited to see. I suppose it is the fruit of relationships that have now existed for 15 years. It’s hard to believe I have been going there for that long.

One of the relationships I particularly enjoy is with a Pastor and his wife in an area called Bagira. He pastors the church in Bagira and she runs one of the food distribution centers, feeding around 60 kids a day. I think this is the sole food source for those children, many of whom have been orphaned by the war or the AIDS epidemic. The church is not particularly large but it is of Kingdom importance and Kingdom work is happening. They have worked tirelessly for years without applause or even consistent pay. They are an inspiration to the community.

But, to be honest this is not the sole reason I look forward to seeing them. The deeper reason has to do with a particular time when this pastors wife went to great lengths to care for my son. Jacob and I had arrived in East Congo on his first mission trip. He was nine years old at the time and to be honest not all that excited to be tagging along with Dad. Upon arrival we went straightaway to Bagira. We walked off the main road a mile or so and down into a bowl of sorts where the church was located. We greeted everyone and then a service began. I was given the assignment of preaching. Jacob began to get sick and even a little listless. Much to his embarrassment he threw-up during a quiet and critical time of the service. As the service closed I wondered how I was going to get Jacob back up the hill to the main road. Much to my surprise and relief the Pastors wife came over and very gently rolled Jacob up in a blanket, tied him on her back and began carrying him up the mile long stretch to the car. She sang and ministered to him as she walked. It was such a sweet and kind display, one that I have never forgotten.

I have told this story before. However, on my recent journey to Congo God brought further revelation. It was the beginning of a session for the women victims of war in a place call Panzi. My friend, the pastor from Bagira, and I opened the session. As I asked him about his wife, I felt the familiar stirrings of appreciation that I have for him and realized that I continue to be ingratiated toward them even after eleven years.

It was then The Lord showed me something. As I stood in front of those 20 women, I was struck by the thought that this group of women, believers struggling to survive, were in fact God’s children. I was seeing this in a fresh way. While I am sure they are not very important in the world’s eyes, they are His children. Amazingly, The Lord began to drop into my heart the realization that the way I feel about the woman who cared so gently and effectively for my child many years ago, He feels towards me for caring for His children. I have to say this revelation was and is a little overwhelming.

I also realized that I am not alone. Many of you have prayed and even given to ATC making it possible for me to be there. Some of you gave to the well that was recently dug there to provide clean water to the least of these. All of you share in the reward from a Father who is so pleased to see you and I care for his seemingly forgotten children in East Congo.

“Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”  Matthew 25:40

Enjoy your reward!
Written by David Fuller, September 3, 2014