Monday, June 12, 2017

An important lesson from a terrible story

As I wrote in February, God has coordinated now as the time for working on primary school material, starting with literacy. We did quite a bit of praying and research to find where to start. We wanted to find starting material from before the 1920s, both because then it would be out of copyright and available for use, but also because that was before many of the modern flaws in education took root. We found the McGuffey Eclectic Readers, which were highly praised and used for many years across America. We were impressed with the rigorous way it builds up reading ability, and pleased to see its designs to teach students good moral lessons from a Christian perspective. We began reformatting them for use in Africa.

Near the end of the first reader, we came across this lesson:

O, what a sad, sad sight is this! A boy with a dunce-cap on his head! Why does he stand there, in front of the school? What has he done? He is a bad boy. He talks and laughs in school. He loves to be i-dle, and does not leam his les-son. Does he not look bad? All the good boys shun him! Do you think a good boy can love a bad one? Can his teach-er love him? I think not. No one loves a bad boy- No one can love those who are bad. This boy tries to hide his face with his hand, for it is red with shame. Can you see his face? Do you see how he tries to hide it with his hand? Poor boy! I hope he will be good, and nev-er have to wear a dunce-cap a-gain. God loves those who are good. If you would please Him, you must al-ways be good and kind.

Oh, my! How did William H. McGuffey, an ordained Presbyterian minister, come to write and publish something like that? How could he have overlooked that God loves us while we are sinners? And if Jesus commands us to love our enemies who do us real harm, surely a teacher can love a troublesome, but helplessly young, pupil! Perhaps this was added after his death by others who worked on the series; I don't know.

We rewrote this story quite a bit to emphasize that God loves us no matter what, and we are to love each other no matter what, although sin still brings shame and consequences. But I take this instance as an important lesson for me as a missionary to remember: we Christians, even professional teacher/ministers, can have huge blind spots in what we say about God, places where we should know better because the Bible clearly states the truth. But somehow, we have a tendency to read over the verses that don't fit with our preconceived notions. A lot of missionary training involves looking at the "blind spots" that have hurt mission efforts in the past, when missionaries doggedly stuck to their preconceived notions they weren't really biblical. Of course plenty of training highlights successes of missions as well, but this I find an important reminder to have humility, to plead with God regularly to give us His wisdom and direction in what we teach and how, that we may not lean on our own understanding.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Why I love SIM

There are so many reasons why I am proud to be a member of SIM. Here are some of the big ones:

  • SIM is holistic. So many missions err in the balance between preaching the gospel and serving people's needs. SIM emphasizes and integrates both. We have evangelists, medical professionals, teachers, business-as-mission entrepreneurs, seminary professors, and even soccer coaches in so many places where they are needed most.
  • SIM is sensitive to learn from the Lord when to stay and when to move on. Some missions come to a field just long enough to get professions and baptisms, and then leave the field, saying, "mission accomplished." Very often in that case, the church in a few years has died or been subsumed in cults. Other missions stay long-term, and then keep sending missionaries to the same field to meet needs there, which hurts the planted church because it keeps them dependent, and it keeps the mission's eyes away from the remaining fields still untouched with the Good News. SIM goes to fields with a long-term commitment, but also takes steps to regularly keep eyes on the frontier, finding new, often difficult fields in which to send missionaries with the love of the Lord.
  • SIM takes care of its missionaries. They keep many checks, counselors, coaches, and resources in place to help us stay physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy.
  • SIM takes accountability very seriously. They not only report to their board and follow the IRS's standards for nonprofits, but are also one of the founding members of the EFCA, and keep their audited financial statements publicly visible online.
  • SIM is passionate. I just read in a newsletter an excerpt from a letter by Walter Gowans, one of SIM's founding members, just before he left for west Africa:
  • When is the time for the opening of this field? My friends, I cannot but believe that, as in other things, so in this, God’s time is now!... Our success in this enterprise means nothing less than the opening of the country for the Gospel; our failure, at the most, nothing more than the death of two or three deluded fanatics. Still even death is not failure. His purposes are accomplished. He uses death, as well as lives, to the furtherance of His cause. After all, is it not worth a venture?
  • SIM is committed to diversity. SIM International and all the ministries that belong to it must have specific percentages of members from the different nationalities which compose SIM. We are also continually working with countries in which we have had a long presence to mobilize missionaries, so we are not just white people going to the majority world, but rather have Paraguayans going to the Middle East, Koreans going to Zambia, Ethiopians going to Sudan, etc. Dr. Bogunjoku, a Nigerian who gave a beautiful talk on diversity while I was at SIM training, is now our International Director!

And I especially love SIM because we are "By Prayer"!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Devotion in the drugery

There have been several times I've started a blog post in the last few months, but the words always ended in a jumble, as my emotions have been too strong to sort out what I even want to say. You can read my latest newsletter for a summary of what's come up lately to make me so.

I will try to add more updates soon, but in the meantime, a good thought I had in response to an email from Engaging Missions:

I've always found that "great devotions" come effortlessly on short-term mission trips--while I'm there, I'm full of anticipation and longing for what God will do, I'm watching eagerly for evidence of His presence. It's "at home" that I tend to lose that, or rather just let day-to-day problems crowd it out. It's so much easier to believe that problems have a purpose and I need to seek God wholeheartedly in the face of those problems when I'm out on mission. At home, it's easier to separate "life" from my mission, and thus bemoan the problems as if they have no purpose but to drive me crazy.

God, please forgive me for forgetting that every day of my life, You are at work accomplishing Your glorious purposes just as much as when I'm in Alaska or Nigeria or Zambia. Let me seek You just as hopefully and urgently when I'm at home dealing with a leaky pipe as when I'm in Africa dealing with a pile of problematic computers.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The time is now

We've always known that to see education that helps transform a whole society, the biggest part will be the primary-level education. For years, though, that wasn't even on the table for us. We knew of a lot of things that were wrong with primary school education, both in the US and in Africa, but we just didn't have the right opening, or the right background, to do anything about it. We'd rather assumed that of the adults we've been training in transformational education, eventually some of them would be called to reform primary school.

Yet at the same time, we knew we've been racing a clock. If we're reading the trends correctly, the web is quickly advancing a new educational system that will make college degrees obsolete, and make secondary school all about becoming able to compete in global exams for certifications in the student's intended field. It will also largely eliminate in-person teachers in favor of everyone learning from webinars, with just a supervisor/assistant in the classroom. This largely depersonalized system will reduce much discipleship opportunities, creativity, and community strength unless we can offer something better before it takes over. It will also subject young minds around the world to the agenda of a few.

Then in 2013, we got our first request for transformational education at the primary school level. It was by teachers interested in our program in Zambia, and so we planned for me to go over there and work with the teachers on it. Well, it didn't work out for me to go, but that was because God had better plans, both for me and the ministry. For me, it meant getting to be in the US to court and marry Kenneth. For the ministry, it allowed more pieces to be put into place. We refined our teacher training to disciple teachers of any discipline, not just computers. We developed aids for running a school with a networked lab so that, with a little more development, teachers can hopefully work with us easily. I got training on relating cross-culturally and on effective church planting. Anthony and I encountered books we worked through that change the paradigm of children's education (particularly, Gutta-Percha Willie by George MacDonald, "Teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment" by L.P. Benezet, "The Lost Tools of Learning" by Dorothy Sayers, and The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.

In early 2015 we got our first request for a specific curriculum for primary school students: Christian computer education. I wrote about that here. We developed a year's worth (there's more that can be done), and it has so far been very well-received in Nigeria, as something excellent, fun, and useful to a wide variety of students.

Soon before I left for Nigeria, our Zambia director, Collins Sakalunda, expressed how he was excited about our vision and tactics for transformational education, but was disappointed that it didn't really reach his children's greatest needs. He and his wife had tried several different schools and were not impressed with the academic or spiritual progress their children gained. Couldn't TEN3 help give their children a better education in the core subjects, not just computers?

Well, we told him, we've had an aim to reach that area for a long time, but would need their help to make it happen. So we developed a strategy. We are gathering textbooks from before 1926, both because that makes them public domain, and because that puts them before the era of Dewey and Rockefeller's radical disfiguring of education. I choose the books, Anthony and three other volunteers convert them to a usable format, two of Collins' daughters edit any mistakes in the conversions and make notes of references unfamiliar to them. Then I format them for publishing, and Mrs. Sakalunda uses it to teach their youngest boy, and sends me feedback about how it went. Collins then starts sharing it with fellow pastors and educators, who we hope will work with us to contextualize it more for present-day Africa.

Interestingly, just as we started to make these plans with Collins, partners in Nigeria started telling us that the reading books would greatly help them as well. So many in Africa, even after attending whatever schools are available in their area, are still illiterate but longing to be able to read their Bibles and improve their lives with access to education.

The time is now. Please pray for us as we now tackle the challenge of teaching at the most fundamental level. May we raise up a truly powerful generation that can discern and reason, and that builds all their reasoning on the truth of Christ.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

One of the young teachers I got to disciple in Nigeria

This is Gideon. He's a soft-spoken young man who grew up in the village of Billiri. He's the oldest of his family, and was named for the Gideon of the Bible who trusted the Lord to overcome the enemy when it seemed impossible. Eric Black, a missionary in Billiri, mentored Gideon as he grew up, including teaching him our CTO.

Gideon so appreciated the thorough instruction of computer skills, the studying through the Bible that helped him to see the whole picture of God's redemptive work, the strong teacher-student dynamic the program encourages, and how he was taught not just to do a few things, but to try new things, thinking through problems rather than abandoning them.

Gideon talking with the Blacks, the day we went to visit the school where Eric teaches.

Gideon is now our CTO teacher in Gombe, about 90 minutes' drive from Billiri. He strives to make the CTO as beneficial to his students as it was to him when Eric taught him. He told me how sometimes his students ask him how to do something, and rather than giving a quick answer, he makes them think it through, applying what they've already learned so they can really understand the concept.

He has a heart to make a big impact in his country. He shared with me plans he has to start a fellowship with like-minded young people for accountability, discipleship, personal and community development, and business ventures. I gave him some encouragement but also some cautions about the presumptions he was making. He's loved working through our teacher material in which we discuss how important it is to strive for Christlikeness in our lives as we teach and how transformation starts with an obedient faith, and how hard the enemy works to divert us.

Please pray for Gideon as he continues to teach people in Gombe, including some pastors who were blessed by our Pastors & Technology seminar and want to learn more. I also pray he may be able to partner with churches in Gombe to offer the "Learning with Computers for Primary Students" at our center. Finally, please also pray for the Lord's guidance for his future, with all his aspirations, that he may attain all that God has for him.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

We're not giving up, because we know the Transformer

Nigeria is a place where it's tempting to give up. Frequent electric outages, unstable ecomomic situation, terrorism, and armed robbery all are devastating to any school we try to partner with there. Sometimes, it just seems impossible to get something working long-term there.

But then there's Joseph. He was a difficult and wayward son who did not complete any school his parents sent him to. He was one whom it would be tempting to give up on. But then his parents sent him to our CTO school in Kaduna, because they heard the claim that the CTO is life-changing. Joseph's father even enrolled along with him to encourage him. Joseph completed the program and indeed has been exhibiting life change. His father also testified that the program helped him. He went to heaven just last month, but Joseph is still with that school taking more courses.

There's no magic formula that makes our schools work in an unstable climate. We make it as robust as we can, and then the rest is prayer and faith. Likewise, there's no magic in our program that makes it life-changing; rather, we simply use it to show the One who is life-changing, explain how He has been working throughout history to redeem mankind, and how that redemption re-shapes the way we work with computers and live our lives. So we don't give up, but press on in faith and prayer.

Yes, I had to worry about raindrops through a leaky roof while teaching editing.

But neither rain nor melted wires to overloaded generators nor dark of night shall keep us from our mission!

Getting slammed

If ever I absolutely would not have time to blog, it would be now. But I'm doing so because at this point, taking the time to fill you in that you may pray for us is more important than struggling more to get out of this hole.

Back when TEN3 was doing team trips to Africa, we noticed that every time we were preparing for a major trip, just as we were needing to revise, upload, download, and print (or burn) our materials for the workshops we would be hosting, something major would go wrong with our server. Well, now it's just me going to Nigeria, and when I ought to be going over the material I'll be presenting, praying for the trip and the attendees, familiarizing myself with the consulting manual so I can discuss the steps with partners, doing research on a new requested primary school initiative that we dearly hope to recruit developers for while I'm there, I have hardly touched any of that the last few days, because, well:

  • The car: It started with just a few things months ago. The door came apart. The auto parts guy suggested gluing it back together. I did, coming up with a funky clamping system to set it. After the curing time, I tried it; it didn't hold. Tried whole process again. Still didn't hold. Realized it needed fasteners through the handle part. Bought some. They didn't work. Bought a different set. They didn't hold. Door handle got worse. Bought two other sets, and stuff to rig up the other part that got messed up. Still didn't hold. Asked my dad for help; he tried screws. It held for about a day. Finally called my pastor who also works at a tractor repair place to ask if he could rivet it. He was able to borrow a rivet gun and fix it. In the meantime, the door opener on the other side broke, and a windshield wiper broke off, and I have three chips in the windshield. All those still waiting to be fixed. Then last week, a fuse blew that left us in Lubbock at night without headlights. We imposed on a student of Kenneth's to take us to Walmart to get more fuses (because even though I used to carry spares in the glove compartment, they weren't there). Almost gave up because all the ones the manual said were for headlights were intact, but finally checked the fuse for the glove compartment light, because that was out, and we had headlights again.
  • The pickup: We got it without a working heater core. We had bought a replacement, but hadn't yet bothered to get it put in. Finally last Friday I think, I was frustrated with computers and so decided to do something with my hands: I would get that heater core in! Found a youtube series on how to do it for a similar model, spent about 6 hours finding hard-to-reach nuts and screws, some of which wouldn't cooperate, finally loosened everything I thought I needed, and still couldn't get the HVAC box out. Kept looking for 2 days, and finally decided I'll need help. Left the pickup kind of in pieces until someone from my church would be able to help me on Saturday (tomorrow).
  • Both vehicles: Since the pickup was in disorder, Kenneth took the car to work. It started making noise and overheating on his way home in the morning (he works 9pm-7am, though this particular morning he was over an hour late getting out of work). Turned out to be a belt that snapped and wrapped around the fan. I would have to go buy the belts and bring the tools so we could fix it. So I spent an hour or so with those hard-to-reach bolts getting the pickup driveable again while Kenneth attempted take a cold, cramped nap in the car. Finally got the pieces back together, started backing it out of the driveway, and smelled gasoline powerfully. It was streaming out of some part the name of which I don't know, but at least it looked easy to reach. I called my grandma, who agreed to give me a ride to Lubbock, while my mom, who was running errands in Lubbock, picked up Kenneth to get the belts. I then realized I needed to go to the auto store myself because we were lacking the size sockets we actually need for the job. We loosened the smog pump and alternator, but the power steering pump, even though we loosened the two obvious sliding bolts and the pivot point, wouldn't budge. After over half an hour trying, we gave up and called Daddy, who took off early from work, though after he'd gone home to get changed and get more tools we might need, it was after 5 when he arrived. Oh, and did I mention all this was in the cold rain, and involved me having to lie down in the nasty wet parking lot? Then together he and a kind random stranger who stopped to help STILL could not get it to move. We decided to call the minister at Kenneth's church in Lubbock and ask if he could get a couple hours' sleep in the church before work. My parents decided to take me home with them (because our muddy caliche road would be quite dangerous to my dad's mustang) and we'd come back to figure it out in the morning. Well, we got Kenneth to the church and there was hubbub because the toilet had flooded the sanctuary badly, and he ended up staying awake to help with that rather than going to sleep. He then worked all night, having only gotten two short uncomfortable naps all day.
  • The next day: Daddy drove me to get Kenneth from work, nauseated from exhaustion and caffene. His priest kindly offered to take him to the church again, and this time he actually did get sleep. After probably two hours looking and trying things, Daddy found another sliding bolt you can't see; it has to be felt for. We could then get all the parts to move, but learned that the one belt that Kenneth bought yesterday that he couldn't take with him to compare, was the wrong size. We went back to the auto place to get the right belt, and also the part to the pickup that was leaking fuel. We finally got all the belts fixed about noon, then got something to eat, and so I picked up Kenneth and take him home so I could tend to the dogs (who had been left alone inside for 28 hours) and the chickens (who hadn't been fed for about 44 hours). Glad to have that behind us, I started preparing a nice meal and decided I'd better change the oil in the car before something else goes wrong.
  • And then...I wake Kenneth up, still exhausted from having no sleep the day before. I offer to drive him to work, even though I have a ton of things to do, because he seems too tired to drive. We get out there, and the headlights in the car don't work, and there is no fuse blown. We fiddle and fiddle and finally Kenneth calls his boss and says he'll pay for the gas if he'll come all the way from Crosbyton, on his night off, to take him to work, and I'll get him in the morning when it's light.
  • But wait, there's more!We discover the floor is wet, where the refrigerator leaked (already to the point of damaging the floor to some extent; not visible, but you can feel it stepping on it) and Kenneth had fixed a few days ago (including taking a special trip to Lubbock to buy a new cutoff valve). The only way to stop it for now is to cut off the sink, so no washing dishes tonight. We'll probably need more plumbing pieces, and crawling underneath the house, to fix it for good this time.
  • Meanwhile... The pipe under the bathroom sink, which the bacterial cleaner just seemed to make worse, and which I'd tried to clean with vinegar and baking soda but instead stopped completely, and so which Kenneth took apart to clean out, leaked when he put it back together. We still have a pan under it catching water, which I still have to bail out until that's fixed. I still have pieces of the wallpaper project I started months ago lying around, needing to get done on a day warm enough to open the doors (which are becoming fewer). The chicken coop is still largely exposed, which needs to be remedied before freezing weather hits. Our bedroom is still bubblegum and hershey colors, which we'd promised our landlord when we moved in a year ago we'd paint over. We still need to figure out how to oil our heater before winter. I crashed (pretty much permanently) two laptops I was using to develop our material on Puppy. And our kitchen sinks still back up whenever I run the washing machine, despite dozens of treatments with bacterial cleaner.

Now don't get me wrong. I realize we still have much to be grateful for. We're not grieving the loss of a loved one like my brother-in-law, I'm fully recovered from last month's illness, our dog whose leg was amputated is doing well now and even doing great about staying home rather than running off. I got to share about my upcoming trip with my church and they took a love offering for me. And of course we have wonderful people (especially Daddy!) who are going out of their way to help us out. But whatever the devil is trying to do to us, he's at least got us exhausted and frustrated. So please pray, not just for the resolution to all these little crises that cannot seem to stay fixed, but also that God's purposes for them to sanctify us will prevail rather than the evil one's purposes to distract, discourage, demoralize, or derail us.