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“Here I Am”

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.  On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.  He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

The Old Testament story of Abraham is one of my favorite stories in the Bible, for a number of reasons.  The historical figure of Abraham, incredibly, shapes global foreign policy to this day.  As the father of all three of the world’s major monotheistic religions, Abraham continues to affect world history as much or more today as he did in 1700 BC.  Thomas Cahill, in his book “The Gifts of the Jews”, argues the point that no one in Western culture can have a thought in his or her head which is not profoundly affected by the life of Abraham.  Abraham is the first recorded “man on a mission”, or man with a defined purpose in life.  As Westerners, we have trouble making sense of this statement.  Of course my life has a purpose, everyone’s life has a purpose.  Life is purposeful.  We can no more imagine a universe where human life has no purpose than a fish can imagine a life without being wet.  We are immersed in the notion that life has purpose.  Even the most ardent atheistic supporter of life as a culmination of random molecular events can enjoy improving his golf game, raising a family, or arguing against the existence of a loving, wise creator.

Abraham had a purpose.  Like Chevy Chase and John Belushi in “Blues Brothers”, he was “on a mission from God.”  Literally.  He was a well off guy, living his life in the ancient middle east, when God called to him.  Remember, this was prior to monotheism , Judaism, or any other prism through which we view God today.  He was called, and he said “Here I am.”  God told him to leave his place of comfort, and go build a people, a nation, the chosen people.  And he simply obeyed. “Here I am.”  There were no ten commandments, because Abraham had not yet founded the nation that would be taken into slavery in Egypt and freed by Moses to wander in the desert.  There was no Jesus (that he knew of), because the nation of Israel had not yet risen, fallen, and been put under Roman rule.  There weren’t yet even prophecies of a messiah, concepts of sin or forgiveness, or any other carrot or stick to motivate Abraham.

But Abraham obeyed.  In the child-like innocence described by an obscure Jewish rabbi named Yeshua the Nazarene 2000 years later, Abraham simply obeyed God.  By doing so, he entered into the first covenant between human kind and its creator.  Abraham had a purpose.

Prior to Abraham, the middle east followed the cyclical world-view of the Sumerians.  A world view similar to Greek mythology,  the seasons went round and round, and the gods played out their dramas in the heavens. People were simply the pawns of the gods, existing to live, die, appease, and fear.  No one life had any particular purpose.  Abraham changed all that.  After Abraham, life had purpose.

This incredible figure is widely described as the father of faith.  Revered by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, his life is held as the ultimate earthly example of faith.  God had made a promise, a covenant, that Abraham would be the father of a nation, the chosen people of God.  He was promised a son, even in his old age.  That son, that coveted, long awaited son, was Isaac.  After calling on Abraham to leave his home, his comfort, his life, and move into a foreign land, God calls on Abraham again.   The stakes are even higher this time.  God tells Abraham to take Isaac, to hike for three days to Mount Moriah, and sacrifice his son.  No reason given, no “if you do this, I’ll do that.”  Just do it.  Abraham’s response:  “Here I am.”  He just does it.  If you know the story, God calls off the execution at the last moment, provides an alternate sacrifice, and Abraham’s faith is credited to him as righteousness.

Rembrandt, The Sacrifice of Isaac

This horrific, murderous story is unpacked in one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read, “Fear and Trembling”, by Soren Kierkegaard.

This book, really almost a pamphlet, was written by the philosopher credited with founding the field of existential philosophy.  Though existentialism is now viewed as an atheist philosophy, Kierkegaard was in fact a Christian.  The book looks like you could breeze through it in an afternoon, but it takes me weeks to get through.  Kierkegaard was nearly driven mad by the idea that an all knowing, all loving, all powerful God could ask his humble servant to do something as unethical as murder his son.  Though Abraham’s hand was held back at the last moment, in his heart he was ready to murder his son in obedience to a God he barely knew.

We think of faith as something lovely, warm, and reassuring.  Abraham’s life shows us that a life of faith may call us to behaviors seen as strange, unethical, or even on the edge of sanity.  Kierkegaard’s unblinking look at the story of Abraham reveals faith as a radical, uncompromising, and life changing path.

But notice what Abraham says to his servants:  “We will come back to you.  God’s covenant with Abraham includes the promise that Isaac will go on to be the father of a great nation.  Abraham was a wise and successful man:  he knew that sacrificing his son would preclude him from becoming the covenanted father of God’s chosen people.  But he didn’t need an explanation, he strode forward with child-like obedience and the resolve of a warrior.  He knew he could obey God, and against all odds, God would fulfill his promise.  The message is no less than this:  faith means abandoning all you know is right and good, in obedience to God.

I’ve gotten to know another Abraham recently.  There’s a man, about my age, who wanders around Kijabe.  Abraham is schizophrenic in a place with limited resources for mental health care.  He lives with his twin brother in a nearby town.  His twin brother is also schizophrenic, and so severely mentally ill he can barely speak.  Abraham wanders around, collecting sticks to trade for food or cigarettes at the nearby shops.  If you meet him on the path, he’ll ask for 10 shillings ( 12 Cents) or some food.

A few years ago, Abraham’s family collected the resources to take him to a mental health facility in Naivasha.  He was turned away, as they didn’t have enough medicine to treat him.  He was referred to a better supplied facility in Nairobi, where he lived for a time.  Unfortunately, the hospital didn’t have the resources for both medicine and food.  Abraham’s family travelled from Kijabe to Nairobi nearly every day to bring him food, but eventually this was too great a strain on the family’s resources, and they were forced to bring him back home.

Abraham gave his permission for this photo, and for its use here.

So now, Abraham wanders far from his home, with faith that God will fulfill his promise to care for us:

So do not be afraid…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows

God’s promise is that he cares for each of us individually.  We can convince ourselves that we’re self-reliant, but ultimately we have little more control over our destiny than my friend Abraham.  I don’t know Abraham well enough to know if his reliance on God’s provision is faith or simple necessity.  I’m not sure he has any choice.

I got to know Abraham because he started hanging out on our porch.  At 7,200 feet elevation, it gets cold here, and it’s been raining really hard.  I looked out the window, and he was sitting outside our patio door on a chair,trying to keep out of the rain.  His shoes and pants have large holes, and his jacket was soaked.  This raised a very minor Abraham-esque dilemma for me.  On the one hand, Jesus’s instructions are clear:

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Who better exemplifies “the least of these” than Abraham?  On one hand, God’s instructions here are clear.  This mentally ill man is Jesus.  In God’s mystical reasoning, helping Abraham is the same as serving Jesus.  On the other hand, I’ve got a family to protect.  I’ve got little children.   I’ve got a wife who is sometimes home alone when I’m at the hospital.  I’ve got a patio I’d like to be able to relax on by myself. It might be irresponsible, even unethical, maybe even a little insane, to embrace Abraham.  At the very least, it might be inconvenient.  I started weighing the pros and cons of giving Abraham some food, some chai, some warm clothes.  Sure God’s instructions are clear, but what about my family?  I started thinking that if I fed him, he would likely start coming around more, hanging out, and that might not be safe or desirable.

Then it occurred to me that this is the way you think about a stray dog or cat.  This man, this child of God, this unique creation, this representative of Christ, occupies the same part of my brain as a stray animal.

Faith is a tough road, and maybe not a place  for the completely sane or ethical.

Some of the hardest and most dangerous words  to say are “Here I am.”

 

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As is….

We’re currently at Mission Training International, near Colorado Springs.  We’re two weeks into a three week training course.  It’s very difficult to describe what this course is about.  The course addresses the issues which arise when one transitions from their home culture to another culture.  Everyone has experienced this to some degree, whether starting a new school, moving to a new area, or hanging out for a little too long with your in-laws.  I didn’t mean my in-laws, but other peoples’ in-laws.

Everyone here is headed towards overseas work:  China, North Korea, North Africa, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Honduras, the list goes on and on.  The thrust of the course is the challenges, chaos, mistakes, and blessings of moving from my home base, my culture, my comfort zone, my language, to another culture, language, etc.  All this while trying to function on a team, learn a new language, be effective in whatever work you’re doing……

We were read a letter from a guy who had been working in France for twenty years, Princeton grad, fluent in French, who felt that after all that time, he was only functioning at 60% effectiveness.  With all the unspoken, undefined cultural cues, he felt he could never function in France as a Frenchman.  Multiply this with the variables of African vs western culture, race, tribal differences,  poverty, and language barriers, and the move to working and functioning in Kenya seems a little intimidating.

We were told to write the words “As is” on our name badges.  You know the dollar store, where they have the row of slightly flawed, imperfect items?  As is…  If you decide to buy “as is”, there’s an understanding that the item isn’t perfect, but it’s probably functional, and you’re stuck with it.  And we have to accept that we enter another culture, “as is.”

To better understand our own “as is”, we’ve been taken on a roller coaster ride of self-examination.  I’ve never really been a fan of too much self-awareness.  Not a comfortable place to be.  So we’ve been going through individual and group exercises which identify our conflict resolution styles, examining where we go under prolonged, severe, stormy stress.  Load of fun.  I had Ann stick a fork in my eye for a little variety of pain.  The basic idea is that you can identify your style, your preconceptions, your fears, your flaws, and then choose not to be a victim of them.  You can be intentional, aware, of your entry posture and likely tendencies  in your new culture.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any more stressful, we were put through a simulation.  In case anyone reading this might one day be here, I won’t go in to details.  But think about your worst nightmare, hostage setting, separated from your family, executions, bombs, etc.  Brutal.  And we’re paying for this!

Overall, one of the most transformative, educational, grown-up things I’ve ever been through.

I’ve applied for college, med school, residency, hand surgery fellowship, and a marriage license, and I’ve never been through such a thorough and exhausting application and preparation phase.  Our hope is we leave here better prepared to function in a foreign culture.  The challenge is this:  how much of your belief system, your comfort zone, your preferences, your language, your food, your clothing style, your preconceptions, are you willing to leave behind, to enter and become a real functioning part of another culture?  To the extent that you can abandon yourself, and become Kenyan, you will function more effectively in Kenyan culture.  But in the end, we’ll just be “as is”.  Bwana asafiwe!

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And, they’re off…..

Well, it’s finally happened!  We’re gone.  From our home, our friends, familiarity, security, and our dog Bosco.  To say this is a unique and strange moment in life is an understatement.  We have no home, no cars, no jobs, no particular location to resonate with.  But we do have a purpose!  We departed Bend on Saturday morning.  Ann and I have been working towards this day, and looking forward to it with both dread and excitement, for almost two years.  When the day, and the moment, finally came to leave, we had a hug and a good cry in the kitchen, and jumped in the van to the airport.

Prior to that, we’d taken the kids and ourselves on a farewell ceremony around the yard and house.  We paused in each corner of the yard, and in each room, and shared funny or remarkable memories of that spot.  Probably the most poignant for Ann and I were the memories of her pacing the house in labor, and then bringing our babies in through the front door.  We had a moment of righteous anger at the bathroom door hinge which had pinched Michael’s finger nearly off at age three, and fell on the floor laughing over some of Jane’s outdoor toilet training fiascoes.  Enough said.

We got to the airport Saturday morning full of anticipation and excitement for our adventure ahead.  We sat down, and sat, and sat, and sat.  The plane was broken.  We waited four and a half hours for an airplane mechanic to drive !@$??!  from Portland, pull up to our plane, jump out, spend three minutes on his “repair”, and jump back in to his truck.  Ugh.  The passengers would have gladly taken up a collection to fly the dude to Redmond, but no.

We made it as far as Salt Lake City, barely missed our connection (by three hours), and spent the night in a hotel before flying to Colorado Springs on Sunday.  Here we were treated to the amazing hospitality, encouragement, and prayer time with our friends and heroes the Moseley Family.  They were good enough to drive us and our ten bags down to Palmer Springs, where we’re currently at Missionary Training International for a three week cross cultural training course.

The training here is a little more authentic than we anticipated, as lightning hit the pump for the well last night and we have no water.  The lights flickered but are still on, and they hope to have the water situation fixed by tomorrow.  Getting by on diet Doctor Pepper for the moment, but that could make it hard to sleep tonight.

We’re excited and relieved to be on our way.  Thanks for all of your kind words, prayers, support, and love.

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Friends and Family

Only 10 more days in Bend!!!  It’s hard to believe, but the time is upon us.  We depart Bend on July 28th, for a three week training course at Missionary Training International near Colorado Springs, Colorado.  The center was briefly evacuated due to the recent wildfires, but is now back in business. MTI is a lodge near Palmer Lake, Colorado which provides cross-cultural training for missionary families about to depart the US.   We’ve heard nothing but great things about it, and are especially excited because our friends David and Rebecca Griffith will be training at the same time.  David, Rebecca, and their children will be moving to Nairobi in the near future, only an hour away from Kijabe.  We’re also looking forward to spending time with some old friends in Colorado Springs, though we’ve been saddened to learn that one of them has just fallen quite ill and is in the ICU.  Instead of gathering around the dinner table, we may be praying around her hospital bed.  

From Colorado, we’ll fly to Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, the World Harvest Mission Headquarters.  Here we have the opportunity to sign our life away, again, and to receive prayer and encouragement from the seasoned warriors of WHM.  That visit too will be punctuated by the chance to see good friends, as well as my cousins Erin and Kelly!  This will be a brief stop, only a few days, and we depart the US on August 22.

Our next stop will be a visit with Ann’s family in Dublin.  Our flight to Nairobi has a layover in London, and it’s less than an hour hop to Dublin, so we couldn’t pass up the chance to see Ann’s extended family before heading to Africa.  Again, a very exciting stop, as Ann’s brother Stephen and wife Anna are expecting their first child.  We’re praying for an on time delivery so we get to welcome the newest little  Moran into the world.  Following our visit to Dublin, we get back on the plane for the ten hour flight to Nairobi.

The flights into Nairobi arrive at night, and we’ve again been blessed with friends looking after us.  Our friend Kent Hotaling has put us in touch with a wide variety of friends in Nairobi, and we’ve already been welcomed in to a lovely home as we get our feet on the ground.  It should be quite a sight at the airport, as we try to juggle 22 suitcases, two kids, a dog, and our own anxiety!!  We’ll plan on spending a couple of days in Nairobi, grocery shopping, etc, before making the beautiful drive up to Kijabe.

The highlight of all of this, as well as the greatest pains, come from friendships.  While we’ll get to see close friends and family as we make our way to Nairobi, we’re dreading the final good byes here.  We love our friends in Bend, we’ve loved our life here, and it’s miserable to think about leaving.  We’re comforted, however, that we can come back to visit, and hopefully welcome many of them to our home in Kenya!

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