Thursday, August 31, 2006

Blog Day 2006

In honor of Blog Day 2006, here are 5 blogs that I haven't linked to before. I know - a rather eclectic mix. Enjoy.

Ben Saunders | Adventurer, Athlete, Motivational Speaker - And some awesome pictures


Floyd and Sally McClung - If you have taken Perspectives, you will recognize the name

Escape From Cubicle Nation

Blue Passport - who I picked up from Dennis

Technorati tags::

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Disturb me

Disturb us, Lord, when
we are too pleased with ourselves.
When our dreams have come true
because we dreamed too little.
When we arrived safely
because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
we have lost our thirst
for the waters of life.
Having fallen in love with life,
we have ceased to dream of eternity.
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision
of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly.
To venture on wilder seas
where storms will show Your mastery.
Where losing sight of land,
we shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
the horizons of our hopes;
and to push back the future
in strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
who is Jesus Christ. - Sir Francis Drake

via Marc van der Woude

Monday, August 28, 2006

First Day 2006-2007

Congrats to all of you out there that started your first day of school today - Kindergarteners all the way to college kids. May this year be an incredible year as you impact your friends on the way to changing the world.

Photo: K - 3rd grade, E - Kindergarten.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Evolving for 2006-2007

I'm freshly back from the Youth Leaders Retreat this past weekend. One of the marks of our ministry that I love is that we take our student ministry leaders away for a planning/prepping weekend every August. It's a little hectic for me, because I've only been back from Africa for three weeks. But nontheless, ready or not, this school year is starting. And I think it's going to be a much different year for SPACE. We must keep in mind that our ministry to students - "our ministry" like yours if you are a dteam leader or pass out Bibles on Sundays or drive kids to the Mall for movies - our ministry to students must be open to changing and evolving and looking to the future.

With that said, this year is going to be different because the overall student ministry has evolved a bit. When we first started SPACE one goal was to provide environments where students could serve the community. Over the past three years, there has been a slow, subtle movement towards empowering students to serve their community on their own - over the whole student ministry. The momentum erupted this past summer with TNTs for high school students, where kids were sent out into the community in teams with the intention and purpose for doing random acts of kindness. Additionally, the same kind of thing has been happening on the middle school side, with service teams being formed and sent out during Light Company's Tuesday night CORE gathering.

Indigenous leadership is an important concept in cross-cultural ministry. When the local tribes or peoples or cultures start to do it themselves, the non-local mission person must find a way to step away. If they don't exit, they can do a disservice to the local, contextualized growing movement.

The interaction between SPACE and the students we serve is very similar and the same exit strategy is important here as well. Students are doing it themselves, in a way that three years ago they were not. And if we continue to provide opportunities, we can accidentally comparmentalize the notion of 'mission' [I don't need to help my friend today, I can just go on Saturday with SPACE] and relegate mission to a specific time period or a specific opportunity rather than a lifestyle.

What this means for SPACE this year is that we focus a bit less on the community service aspect compared to previous years. We are not going to plan any big scale Launches. Instead, we are going to help a bit more with some of the CpR Fridays - where there will be a similar thing - students being sent out into the community with their peers to make a difference. I think this give SPACE a little breathing room to focus on a bit more on global-mission-culture-future-of-Church kind of stuff this year. A part of that is going to be facilitating a monthly-or-so gathering of interested students from the summer teams to continue to invest in them towards the concepts of cross-cultural ministry, the realities of today's world and what the Church looks like in the future.

It's definitely a different school year and I am both really excited and a bit apprehensive. There is another huge aspect of impacting a community that involves not just random acts of kindness but non-random, strategically partnering with local, indigenous, incarnational ministries already living and ministering to their community. I think we can still definitely serve students and their leaders in helping be a resource for some of those ideas. But like every year, we are open to giving it a try and seeing how it works out.

This evolution is bittersweet. We had some amazing times launching kids into service and we have seen some incredible kids have their lives marked by service experiences, sending their future into a different trajectory. It will be hard to not be an intimate part of that. On the flip side, it's an important exit that we make. A lifestyle of mission has to be intrinsically motivated - not dependent on a ministry team or a segment of your life.

Here are the high level goals for this year. Much, much more about them later. And would love to hear some feedback from those of you that have been involved [and even those of you that haven't...]

goal: help to shape a student ethos of impact and mission - use momentum from SPACE summer teams and TNT to collide into CpR Fridays

goal : intentionally use SPACE as a medium to develop leaders that are creating leaders not just followers
summer team leaders

goal: give LC a presence from a SPACE resource
KCoates connecting with Spotlight teams

goal: continue to invest in SPACE kids - kids that have shown interest in global cultures, the future and cross cultural ministry

goal: continue to build missional/mission team leaders

goal: continue to send summer teams to GCC missionaries when we can and cultivate those relationships for long term perspective

goal: rearchitect the LC summer missions experience

goal: replace the MERGE missions experience with something more aligned with service and evangelism - targetting incoming 10th graders

goal: help facilitate an environment for KCoates to engage urban realities

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Reference Questions for Potential Mission Orgs

Sorry I haven't been posting too much lately. If you come here with anticipation for new posts, sorry. But, trust me, there is definitely some cool stuff happening under the covers. Hope to tell you more about some of that soon.

In the meantime, I am a firm believer in getting reference checks. For summer team leaders, for potential small group leaders and especially for mission organizations one might be planning on interacting with.

Here are some reference questions I would ask - my personal commentary below the actual question. I have also broken up the questions into two sets - one for the organization and one for the references they give you. And yes - you will ask them for a list of five reference contacts, at least three of whom you will contact.

To the organization
1. What is your overall goal and motivation?
Probably on the web or application. But you want to hear it from someone interactively.
2. Describe one person who is a success in your eyes 5 years after they have been involved with your ministry.
What does success look like to them?
3. What kind of qualifications do your leaders have to have before they lead your teams?
Leadership=almost everything
4. What kind of retention rate do you have with your leaders?
Leadership=almost everything
5. How do you integrate local, indigenous ministry leadership with your outreach sites?
The fine balance between indigenous leadership and visiting teams doing outreach.

To the references they give you:
1. How was the food?
Important and can be indicative of how they treat their people - if they don't provide enough bagels, will they really care about something more important?
2. How did your team get along and what was done when to deal with team unity issues?
Certainly, there is going to be some issues.
3. What were some of the quality characteristics that you loved about your leaders?
Leadership=almost everything
4. What was the biggest change that occurred in your life from your experience?
5. Would you go again and if so, how would you prepare yourself better?

These are just a start - if you are checking out an organization or ministry, you should come up with at least three more on either set. And one more thing - not many of these deal with pure logistical and tactical issues (how many on a team, transportation, safety, etc.) These are more leadership, intention, life transformation questions.

Amy M emailed and added a bit of her perspective too --
"How closely did the trip planners follow the stated plan? What kinds of deviations occurred and how were they handled?... I see root of this logistical issue in a leadership issue. Is the leader aware of the talents and abilities of the group and willing to use them to benefit the team? Is the leader willing to change the plans of the day in order to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit? How much of the focus of the leader is aimed at the needs of the group and how much is aimed at the needs of the leader."
Good questions good questions.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Wednesday Potpourri

** Foreign Service Institute Language Courses
Breathefire posts about original texts and audio files from the Foreign Service Institute language courses - used at one time to train government employees in foreign languages. The courses are now public domain information so it is okay that the courses are online.

Available Languages:

** 10,000 new churches in the US?
Steve Addison posts about US church planting trends versus population growth.
Just to keep up with the current US population growth between 2000 and 2004, 10,000 more new churches were needed.
It's an interesting dynamic to keep these statistics in mind as well as compared around the world - like an estimated 1.25% of Christian mission giving is going to missions work in the 10/40 Window, and ninety-seven percent of the world's trained youth workers - mostly from the US I would suspect - live and work in the United States, ministering to less than 3% of the world’s youth population.

** Global Startup Ideas
1. Build cheap Wi-Fi networks for Brazilian resorts.
2. Become a biodiesel producer in Argentina.
3. Create an ad network for India's mobile content developers.
4. Launch an exclusive social network for Russian millionaires.
5. Open an American-style restaurant in one of China's fast-growing cities.
6. Remodel homes for China's burgeoning middle class.
7. Flip mining claims in Bolivia.
8. Export the planet's next great wines - from Greece.
9. Import fine wines to upscale restaurants - in India.
10. Export gourmet coffee from Rwanda.
11. Become a social entrepreneur in South Africa.
12. Be among the first to invest in the new Libya.
The cover story from the August issue of Business2.0. #2 and #5 sound awesome to me.

** Water Statistics
- $46 billion - Amount spent per year globally on bottled water
- $1.7 billion - Amount needed per year beyond current spending to provide clean drinking water to everyone on earth
- More than one billion - Number of people worldwide who lack reliable access to safe drinking water
- 80 - Percentage of world illnesses due to water-borne diseases
The full post from the Defeating Global Poverty blog

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Post Trip Sunday

Our church services this morning heard about all of the summer mission teams that went out from GCC this summer. It was a lot of fun. All in all, GCC had seven teams this summer, five of them were student teams.

This morning's service included a video highlighting some people from each of the team and then some live interviews with three teams - Cameroon, Honduras and Uganda. There was also a baptism at the beginning of the service and following the interviews and video, Pastor M talked about the connection between giving and going at the end of Phil 4. Like a lot of times, I never thought about it the way he put it.

There will probably be some kind of media available - when I have some links, I will update this post.

It is really important we teach kids how to report back to the people that sent and supported them. Fun morning - wish you all could have been there.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Staring at 2006 - 2007

I can hardly believe it - but next school year is looming in our faces already. Regarding SPACE, it means that I'm late to the party in terms of thinking about next year. Because summer doesn't mean a break for SPACE people - in fact it means more work than through the year - it's a different kind of cycle than other people in the student ministry. So we will just do the best we can.

Here is a recap of goals from last year with some commentary. I'll be post something about 2006-2007 goals soon. HA.

2005-2006 goal: Build the next generation of mission leaders
3 year view picture:
3 teams (LC, NYC and DC) of 36 people
7 leaders - 5 of those were students - 71%
approx $7,500
3 teams (LC, Brasil and Trinidad) of 37 people
12 leaders - 10 were students - 84%
approx $27,000
5 teams (LC, Merge, DC, LA and Cameroon) of 68 people
20 leaders - 16 were students - 80%
approx $52,000

2005-2006 goal: Engage middle/high school students to impact GCC kidzone kids
implement: partner with children's ministry to run SPACEcamp, summer 2006
goal not met
unrealistic goal - a bit too large to pull off at this point in time - also with the move into the new building during 1/2006, not quite the right time
I believe this is still a long term goal - some kind of partnership with childrens ministry to do something very cool. Timing will be right eventually.

2005-2006 goal: Continue to provide missional, impactful community service environments
- DC - Sept - goal met - Baltimore homeless experience
- DC festival - Oct - goal met - Luis Palau festival with SPACE crew
- the raking bus - Nov - goal met
- Orbit - early Dec - goal met
not in original goal - CT winter expedition
not in original goal- Senior NYC mission weekend

2005-2006 goal: Continue to send summer teams to GCC missionaries
goal met with Cameroon and LC teams

Intern Reading

If you are interested in reading what our new intern is reading these days...

- from a earlier this summer - some of you may have read these already:
1 - Organic Multiplication
2 - Self awareness as a leader
3 - Leadership Lessons from Paul

- and more currently:
ServLife's global resource links
Two Roles of a Mission Leader
The Art of Self Leadership
The Secrets of Great Groups

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sort of a Break?

Alright, I'm not quite taking a break. If you haven't noticed, I'm doing a lot on blogger, just back dating. It is a huge deal for me to write up posts regarding the recent trip. Huge but very good for me, I process well when I write. Very theraputic for me. Check out the Cameroon Metapost for when posts get updated.

Besides the posting about our trip, I'm trying to come as close as I can to closing the summer financially. We are still a significant amount away, it's going to be close. And that PrayingMantis - he sent me, among other things, an Amadeo Church tattoo. Not your father's pastor.

I've had this stomach thing since August 2. It's been more annoying than anything and has required some rather sharp eyes while traveling. I took my worm medicine that the Nens gave us and I think it might have cleared it up. Now, about those hamburgers I have been craving.

D is away for the weekend at Women of Faith in CT. On Saturday we are getting a new puppy - and yes, she knows. Believe it or not it was her idea.

Read this article entitled Rise of the Aerotropolis. Significant impact on human culture and connection.

FZ emailed me a response to a question I had for her that said, "I thought you were taking a break." I would love to take a break, but the world doesn't have much time left....

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

2006 Cameroon - Metapost

Thursday July 27, Day 2
Friday July 28, Day 3
Saturday July 29, Day 4
Sunday July 30, Day 5
Monday July 31, Day 6
Tuesday August 1, Day 7
Wednesday August 2, Day 8
Ask the Cameroonian Missionary
Thursday August 3, Day 9
Friday August 4, Day 10
Saturday August 5, Day 11
Sunday August 6, Day 12
It All Means... [tony's personal debriefing]

Photos: The plaque on the bottom of the wood engraving of the country of Cameroon, the wood engraving. A gift from the Navigator team in Yaounde Cameroon to GCC, Maryland.

Photo sets:20060726Cameroon flickr photoset, Webshots[warning over 900 pictures there]

LB's cultural observations - part 1 and part 2

Home Sweet Home

We are home. It's great. The trip was an amazing experience and it's going to take me a while to process throught it.
In the meantime, I'm taking a blog and SPACE break. I'll be working through the trip via posts on the blog that will be back-dated. But other than that, no other kinds of posting. SPACE also needs to sit on the shelf for a little while - so if you are trying to get a hold of me regarding something SPACE-related, be patient, I will get back to you but its going to take a little while.
See you in a few weeks maybe.

Monday, August 07, 2006

It All Means...

Well, writing those posts was quite an experience, but I know it was worth it and that's why I plugged on. It meant writing a lot, reading my journal a whole lot and looking at over 1300 pictures. If you read all of these posts, let me know, I owe you a gift or something. The narrative of our trip on this blog was just a representation of what happened - of course, a trip like this contains so many more details. Also, the narrative would be somewhat useless without my own debriefing, so here it is. Keep in mind, these are thoughts directed at me, not you. But if they spur on your thinking, thats awesome.

The Standard Stuff

Photo: G and me.

You know the standard stuff. I don't want to minimize these ideas, because they are important, although sometimes a bit cliched. But important enough to state:

- How great the team was. [Well we did hand pick them so we had big expectations and they rose to just about all of them.]
- Hoping that we - our community of faith - has used this trip as a small piece in the discipleship of some precious students, not just a one shot mission experience that serves only itself.
- There are not many families like the Nens, nor the other families we have worked with, that can leave the comforts of their own culture to risk, serve and bless people and communities in a vastly different culture. After the first three days, I found myself muttering, "I could never live here." They are almost another kind of species.
And over the past few years, every family we have partnered with has said, in effect, "We are honored that you would think of coming here." These families give up a lot and in my conversations with them, they always say how privileged they feel to be doing what they are doing. They are giving life to receive life.
- That students all around the world have pretty much the same concerns. Besides relationships, their future and right from wrong, they all want to live significant, impactful lives.

Ok, now on to the more weighty stuff.

The Church [big C]
I know I've used these two quotes at least a few times on this blog before. But they capture the essence of what I'm thinking.
"But she will live on. She is indestructible. When she dies in one part of the world, she explodes in another. She's global. She's universal. She's everywhere. And while she's fragile, she's going to endure. In every generation there will be those who see her beauty and give their lives to see her shine. Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail against her. That's strong language. And its true. She will continue to roll across the ages, serving and giving and connecting people with God and each other. And people will abuse her and manipulate her and try to control her, but they'll pass on. And she will keep going." - Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis
"Church leaders invest too much time answering this question: how do we keep new followers from falling away from the church? Church leaders should instead ask: how do we develop people who MUST? Having a sense of "must-ness" is not about social conformity [ i.e. reinforcing acceptable patterns of going to worship services, giving money to the church, attending a small group, etc]. "Must-ness" comes from an internal motivation inspired by a Jesus like understanding of God's activity in the world.
He calls his followers of both the first and twenty-first centuries to give their lives with him to something greater than themselves. When any person hears Jesus' call and recognizes the intrinsic beauty of what Jesus is doing, he will run with red-hot passion and join swords with anyone and everyone who hears as he does."
- Alex McManus

The Church in Cameroon that we were witness to is amazing. It is filled with leaders that MUST. Therefore, it will be indestructible. Though the Church may be fragile, we met many men and women that will give everything they have, have already given everything, and will continue to give whatever the costs in order that the Church may shine. No building, no budget, no location, no social conformity - no matter. And what happens when these types of people rub elbows with students? Multiplication of more of the same. There is a new culture being birthed in Yaounde. My prediction - in the second most corrupt nation of the world, the Church will shine.

This means we should take good notes from a movement of Jesus followers that relies not on the material nor the programmatic, but on bands of friends that sacrificially give in order to build deep relationships so that students are reached and so that Christ's bride - the Church - shines on.

Sense of Community
"Stark notes that there were at least two great plagues in the first three centuries (160 and 250 AD) that actually were instrumental in the nascent church's incredible growth rate, which he estimates at 40% per decade. When the plagues came, those who were able fled the city but not the Christians. They stayed and ministered to the sick and dying--Christians and non-Christians alike. Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, writing of how believers responded to the plague of 250 observes:
'Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead. The best of brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning height commendation so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.'"
- Eric Swanson
This description of community sounds like what we experienced, especially the sacrificial part. The people we met in Cameroon gave a lot. Not only material and tangible things, although they certainly did that. Our host families were extremely giving and gracious, cooking the meals [which included special preparation for Americans - and the average Cameroonian meal takes at least a few hours to prepare], opening up their homes and giving some incredibly thoughtful gifts to some of our students. But more than all of those things, they opened their hearts and considered us family.

Family and community are intertwined ideas in Cameroon. Many of our friends lived very close to family and if not, they made visiting a priority, no matter the difficulty of transportation. Every host family had some sort of family time every evening, whether it be songs and dancing, a short Bible study or prayer time. I observed a great deal of gratefulness among the families we got to know - grateful for a relationship with the Creator and grateful for how God has blessed them.

Cause creates community and maybe this is a glimpse of the intersection between a family that is called to meet the world deepest needs - a supreme cause - and the weight of that responsibility. In other words, I suspect that the families we became friends with know that their existence on Earth isn't just for themselves - and they teach that to their kids. They teach it to their kids in how they act, how they care for their families and how they worship and have fun as a family. Not only are they committed to each other because that is what family means, but they are tied together with a common and significant cause.

This means that my idea of community and family is too small. There is much more to unpack here, but the essence is that I need to move our family to some habits of community that relate to getting to know our neighbors better and deeper, to model a concern and priority for our neighbors AND family and to continually challenge the concepts of how our family interacts with the world.

My [I mean, Jesus'] Leaders

Photo: the ladies of the team, and female leaders NLind [second from left], ESunde [third from left in front] and LB [fourth from left in the back.]
"The best leaders are not those who win the most followers, but those who create other leaders." - Neil Cole
75% of this leader team was made of students from the ministry, now turned into leaders. I would like to think I had a little bit to do with their development - the Developer strength showing up again. On a long term scale, I feel like I, or we as a family, have invested a lot in three of them. One of them was in D's 03 dteam, and the two others came up through SPACE in high school right when it first started. Nonetheless, all four leaders, and these three in particular made me really proud. There were many times during the trip where I just sat back and paused, instead of jumping right in, watching them shape, mold and challenge - all with the end goal of creating leaders from our team of students. Seeing them develop was, and will continue to be, one of the most exciting aspects of my life - exciting because I know they will go on and do much, much more than I am ever capable of, whether SPACE is the context or not. These are the leaders that are creating other leaders.

This means that investing in leaders must be done not with followers in mind, but with future leaders in mind. One of the first goals of SPACE was about preparation of others and this means that the preparation goal - now moreso than ever - must be at the forefront of everything we are doing. And SPACE isn't the only context where this leadership idea must be applied.

Empowering Me
I've dealt with a slight undercurrent of low self confidence for most of my adult life. If you have read Wild at Heart, you could think of it as my wound. It certainly has had an affect on all elements of my life from career to fatherhood to ministry. But this trip, oh man, this trip empowered me. Not only was it one of the most riskiest endeavors I have attempted, but besides fatherhood, it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Difficult because of the differences in culture, difficult because I was a bit sick at the end, difficult because it was a ton of travel. But heck - I was in charge of a team of 12, going to three different continents, 6000 miles, and a pygmy village, I spent an afternoon crossing Paris by myself. I was in freaking Africa for a week. We all came back alive and no one was hurt. We all had a great time. And all of us contributed to something much bigger than just ourselves.

This means that when it comes to the abilities that God has given me and the calling that God has on my life, I should not back off with the thought of, "God could never use me." If anything, I should be saying, "God, what a life you have given me - let's go together for even more."

Engaging Students for the World's Sake
I'm just as convinced now as when SPACE started that we are on the right track. Just like last summer's team to Brasil, we did it right. A local, indigenous connection. Partnering with a family we knew and that knew us - both who we were and where we came from. A simple, easily-reproducible strategy for follow up. A hand picked team of students that gave of themselves to total strangers and walked away with friends for life. A leader team that knows how urgent the world's needs are and that we cannot, and should not, do it ourselves.

When it comes to multiplying students to engage culture, to serve out of themselves, to be embarrassed because they don't understand the language, to learn to be leaders - all of it is because the world is desperately waiting. And someone better go.

So this means, the more trips we can do the right way, the more students we can engage within the right framework of our must-have goals, a simple process and top-notch leaders, the more the better [and not necessarily within SPACE all the time.] It also means we should continue to do our homework and press the boundaries of conventional thinking on what makes a good missions trip. And, when we have done that homework, when the planets line up, when our top-quality, sacrificial leaders sign up and go for broke; we will see human history be marked, our friends and family will witness centuries - not decades - be transformed, we will see the multiplication of students and leaders that catalyze individuals, families, communities and nations. And that's the logical outpouring of having God's word in our hearts.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sunday Aug 6 - Day 12

We landed in Paris early this morning. A good flight out of Cameroon, mostly ontime. Our bags also made it here with us - 12 people with 23 bags. Amazing. Our hotel is great, we arrive via the airport shuttle around 10am and our 3 rooms are ready. The weather is a bit overcast, but shortly clears up and ends up being an absolutely gorgeous day here.

I am still sick. At certain times, my stomach explodes. It makes for a lot of fun in the airport. I send the team into the city with the other massively capable four leaders. GM leaves me his phone since both his and LBs work here in Europe. I sleep. And sleep. And sleep.

I awake in the early afternoon , deciding that I don't want to waste any more time. On the train into the city, I text LB saying "Im on the way in to meet you." As soon as the message gets sent, the phone dies - low battery. Interesting. I just spent a week in Africa, I'm sure I can figure out how to meet my team in Paris.

As if a week in Africa wasn't enough of an adventure, I'm having one of my own this afternoon. I'm almost 40 years old. I live a life of predictability. No one else on earth knows exactly where I am right now. I am traversing through one of the worlds greatest cities and I don't know a bit of the language here. I love it.

I pop out of the Cluny subway station and am amazed at my first real sights of the city. The slow pace of life, the community of outdoor cafes, the beauty of the city scapes - so cool. I grab a banana and a bottle of water and just walk for blocks. Finally, I decide that I should figure out how to reach the rest of the team.

I hop into an internet cafe - my first real computer time this whole trip. After a little while, D and I google chat - it's great to communicate in real time even if not over the phone. Eventually, LB and I text via her phone and my email account. I get directions and go.

The team has been having a debriefing and reentry discussion for the past three hours. From all accounts, it has been intense. The environment for it has been great - a neutral location, not at home and not near our ministry locations; a beautiful day; no distractions of family, work or school; and the venue being right underneath the Eiffel Tower. Perfect.

After I meet up with them, we take in more sights - the Arc de Triomphe, dinner in a neighborhood near the Bastille, souvenir shopping near Notre Dame. We arrive back at the hotel a bit later than we had wanted, but it was a perfect day.

Tomorrow, we arrive home.

Photos: Notre Dame, Emilie and I, the team.

20060726Cameroon photoset

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Saturday Aug 5 - Day 11

Hard to believe that our time here in Cameroon is coming to an end. It has seemed like both forever and just yesterday since we arrived. This morning is spent doing some more souvenir shopping in the market area. Part of our team also splits off to tour a local medical clinic. Medical clinics are more the norm here for routine medical issues rather than hospitals.

At one point this week, W says, "They will take her to that hospital, it's kinder since its run by the Chinese." Here in Yaounde, there is apparently a large population of Chinese immigrants. No wonder the blondes on our team get more attention than me. The Chinese here run hospitals, own Chinese restaurants [of which we see two] and bring all of their own building materials, drivers and comforts of home. There is no Chinatown per se, but they have extracted and implanted their own cultural environment. During all of our time here, I only see one Chinese person. On another occasion, as I walk towards the market, a Cameroonain calls out to me "Ni hao?" - Mandarin Chinese for "How are you?" Mandarin Chinese in Yaounde Cameroon. How about this planet?

We have a big lunch at the Nens - sloppy joes. We depart for the airport in the late afternoon and work our way through the interesting process of leaving the country. First, there is the tax that we have to pay on every piece of wood that we have purchased. The tax is also higher on ebony carvings. Then we pay our exit tax - a fee required from everyone who is leaving the country. Thirdly, we go through all the security checkpoints, having our carry on and checked luggage scanned. We then check in at the airlines and get our boarding passes. During this whole time, which takes about an hour, there is a whole entourage of Cameroonians who have come to see us off. Many of them get dressed up and a few of them give some of our team some very thoughtful gifts, including some wood carvings, necklaces, and such. Once again, we are overwhelemed with their kindness and sacrifice. We are evidence for a local custom that states "visitors are full-fledged members of the Cameroon family." So very true. Finally, we return to the main terminal area where we say our goodbyes, and head up the stairs to the gate.

Photos: downtown Yaounde, some of the ladies.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday Aug 4 - Day 10

This morning is a light one with not much responsibility for us. All of our team meets with our hosts at a local vocational/tech school for a quick tour and for G to meet the principal and introduce us to him. Our visit serves for G to follow up on a potential lead with this school for a possible partnership in the future - something like running an English camp with the students of the school and maybe paving the way for hosting future visiting teams to make that happen.

The tour of the school also gives our team more insight into what it means to be a Cameroonian student. This school teaches plumbing, concrete and masonry, woodworking and English and two of the Nav youthworker team have jobs here. They give us tours of their classrooms. The rooms are the size of an average American high school classroom, with just a chalk board in the front. They have rows of combination seat and desk furniture made out of wood. Other than that, that's it. No posters, no computers, no teacher's desk. Additionally, there are 150 students per room. Another stark aspect of how good we have it in America - one that makes an impact on our team. We also see the woodworking, masonry, plumbing and areas.

After the tour, we take a walk down the road to a little cafe where all of us eat lunch - a rotisserie chicken with fried plantains and sodas. This particular meal tastes a lot like an American meal - something right out of Boston Market.

Our plans for the afternoon will give us a really good feel for the actual quantitative success of the camp. Our team splits into three groups and we travel separately to the three homes that host the first small group follow up with the camp kids. Seeing how many camp kids show up to the first small group - and which ones - will really determine the quality of the camp and set a course for the next few months.

ESunde, BB, TriciaB and I travel with Cmfort via taxi. BB and ESunde have never ridden in a taxi before, ever. It's a fun ride, with two of us plus the driver in the front and three of them in the back - all in a Toyota Corolla.

Our small group meets at Karlls house - also the host home for NLind and LF. Karll is one of the many Nav youthworkers to watch - she loves Jesus and loves students and has a hugely warm and inviting disposition to her. Our small group goes well, with seven students showing up. Our time includes sharing verses or passages that have spoken to us recently, an extended time of prayer and talking a little bit about what future gatherings will include and look like. All in all, our small group had a great turnout. Hearing from the other groups, sounds like they had good turnout too.

Right after the small groups, all of us meet at the Nav center. For my group, it's a short walk from Karlls. All of the Nav team is also there and we have a little send off/thank you party to close our week here. The whole Nav team is there, even some people that are not based here in Yaounde.

It's an amazing time of singing, praying and listening to our team share. What most astounds me is how giving the Cameroonians are. They give each of us an incredibly detailed woven straw bag with intricate patterns, stitching, handles. To top it off, they present me for a gift for GCC - a wooden carving of the country of Cameroon that stands about three feet tall, with detailed outlines of each province, animals and a dedication plaque [see the Metapost for detailed images.] The initial thought that keeps running through my head is, "What an incredible, incredible gift!" When that thought finally wears away, I think, "Customs should be fun with this."

After our time there, ADress, CHayes and I go to Ptrs house, along with BB and GM, for dinner. BB and GM have lived there all week and have invited us so we can get a sense for a real Cameroonian home and meal. Dinner is potatoes, rice, beets, cole slaw and rooster. After dinner, we spend a little time with the extended family and their kids singing various praise songs and watching the kids dance. Apparently, every night is family night like this.

Family and community is an ongoing theme that impacts our team and tonight is one of the examples why. The sense of family and community is strong in Cameroon. You care about your neighbors in a sacrificial, engaged manner. Your extended family is family - in the strongest sense of the term - they are part of your social, spiritual and financial responsibility. As visitors, we are treated, well, like family. What would it mean for me, and my family, to extend this concept of community to those that we live around and to our real family? And how does this idea interact with the principle that "Cause Creates Community?"

Photos: ESunde, GM and AW in one of the classrooms and the votech school; the whole team at the Nav center; Mrtin, EllyK, LB, TriciaB and Rachel.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Prayer Letter

Dear SPACE friends,

I'm writing this from Yaounde, Cameroon, Africa, where we are in day 7 of a 10 day mission experience. The sights, sounds and smells of Cameroon are mostly what you expect of Africa – dusty roads, lots of people, roadside stands and a lot of taxis in this city of 1.5 million people. The relationships here though are far deeper than those images relate to. Cameroonians love people and their warm smiles and handshakes only scratch the surface.

Our team just finished helping run a four day youth camp - assisted by an indigenous team of Cameroonian youthworkers - for around 35 high school students. The overall effort is part of a long term strategy to start a high school ministry and our tasks included being a part of small group discussions centered around faith and spiritual things, running fun high school style games and sharing our stories as well as our lives. Most Cameroonians don’t swim, so the combined experience of a youth camp and the location of the beach was a real treat for them. It was also great for us to have a few lifeguards on our team. This strategy is an ideal situation for a team such as ours, as 4 Cameroonians made first time decisions for Jesus and as the Cameroonian youth team already has planned immediate small groups to follow up.

As if being in Africa wasn’t enough of a real time lab about culture and context, our team also took a 2 hour ride – via dugout canoe – into the jungle to see a village of Cameroonian pygmies. I never imagined I would have the privilege of talking about God to a village chief via two translators. It was a wild experience.

Thank you again for praying and supporting this team – we know God is hearing your requests for us. Please continue to pray for:

- Our relative safety for the rest of our time here
most everyone has been healthy except for minor stomach issues.
Also please pray for LFoley, who got a minor bite from one of our hosts' dog. Fortunately, both have had all their shots.
- Our timely and safe travel – we fly to Paris on Sat night and back home on Monday evening.
- A quality time of debriefing and processing the experience while in Paris
- Our new Cameroonian friends, their spiritual growth and that decades from now, Yaounde and all of Cameroon would be a much different place because of Jesus
- That life back home would be lived with the same passion and intensity for what Jesus longs to do with our lives and the communities we live in.

Word from Cameroon

Hi parents,

Sorry for the lack of updates. The team is doing great – there are some slight stomach issues and L got a small dog bite by the N's dog. L did talk to her mom, and we are treating accordingly. Good thing they both got all their shots.

The team has done a great job with the youth camp, which finished on Wednesday. Lot of friendships were made, 4 students made decisions and the indigenous youth worker team here got some great momentum. Tomorrow is a visit to a tech school in the morning, followed by visiting some first time ever student small groups – as a follow up from camp – and then a Nav gathering to say goodbye to us. We depart from Yaounde on Sat evening and land in Paris Sunday morning.

Thanks for praying, please pray for:
- that our stomach issues would go away
- for L’s ankle
- that our flights would be on time
- that our time in Paris would be a great time of encouraging our team as they come back to the states and what they will do with the experience

Thanks again, your kids are pretty awesome!
Tony for the team

Thursday Aug 3 - Day 9

Our team has spent a restful night in their host homes. I think all of us feel that slight sense of home away from home since we came back from camp. We all meet at the Nens in the morning and have a great time for our team. Team time includes talking about John 1 - the idea of Jesus and John the Baptist being sent. Sent away from home, sent to initiate, serve and give a message, sent into the unknown. Even after camp, with almost half of our trip over, the text frames our purposes here. One of the things we must instill in the next generation is that the Church is on the move. God's very idea of the Church is one that is mobile, not in the physical sense, but in the sense of movement and momentum - the Church is called to the very people that are not part of it yet. Many times, that requires being sent out and away from what we know. And for our team, it means 6000 miles by plane, 300 miles by bus, 10 miles by canoe, all in 7 days.

I try to have our leader team meet every day or two to get a pulse on how they are doing, how they think the team is doing, any issues we need to address and to pray together. GM sums up this morning well in commenting, "We are a real team this morning." So very true. I've said it before - I think this type of role as a leader is one of the most difficult - traveling with students to another culture, working some kind of ministry task with people you have never met, staying healthy and alert, being dad, mom, nurse, leader, servant, all on a 24x7 pace. I've been very fortunate - this leader team is one of the best I have worked with. One clear indication is that they share my sense of urgency about preparing students - we didn't bring them 6000 miles to coddle them and do ministry for them. We brought them 6000 miles to push them to the edge of their lifestyle regarding risk, mission and reaching those who haven't been reached yet. My experiences in the past few years tell me that leadership requires modeling endeavors that are so out of the norm, that they will be successful only if God comes through and intervenes.

After a short break, we gather again with G and W for our camp debriefing. The purpose of this gathering is to go over the details of the camp and learn from it. Before we left camp, G had the students fill out a quick evaluation. As we begin our discussion, W reads from a bunch of the evaluations. The question of whether our trip was worth the investment is answered - as she reads some of the answers, she is visibly moved and brought to tears. This singular instant is the positive indication of success.

We have lunch at the Nens and right after lunch, LF gets bit by their dog Smokey. Not a huge bite, but it is close to warranting stitches. She's a trooper though and does fine, relaxing at the house for the whole afternoon. The rest of the team hits downtown in the afternoon for some souvienr shopping.

The shopping experience is also wild. Bartering is expected here and our team has fun doing that with our local hosts helping out. The exchange rate is 500 Central African Francs to $1 American dollar. A nice African button-down shirt cost 7000 CAFs ($14), and an official Cameroonian soccer jersey cost just under 3000 CAFs ($6). In other words, buying stuff is cheap. Since buying stuff is cheap, many of us felt a bit awkward about really bartering. Some of our hosts told us we paid way too much for some items, even though the difference meant very little in terms of American money. Part of the market area also includes a whole set of tailors, seamstresses and shoe cobblers.

After dinner, G, CH, ADress and I spend a little bit of time brainstorming about what makes a successful student small group. We have a great discussion, especially since CH and ADress have come out of a very successful small group experience in their high school years. Their Dteam leaders have done it right - and you know who you are.

Photo: Our team with the Nen kids; shopping at the market in downtown Yaounde.

Ask The Cameroonian Missionary

Most of you know I'm kind of nosy. I like to refer to it as inquisitive - call it what you will. So imagine what a time I had living at the Nens and getting to ask them questions of all manners at the most random times during our trip. Listed below are some of the questions I asked them. Some of the answers might be summarized a bit.

Q - What do you worry about the most when it comes to raising your kids in another culture?
A - My biggest worry is that there is a large medical issue that cannot be resolved in-country. An accident, disease or something like that. We do have a special medical SOS type of medical insurance, extra than the normal, that we get via our mission organization.

Q - You have been here in the country for 18 months now. If you could boil it down to one essential and crucial piece of preparation, what would it be?
A - African Orientation Training - 3 months of not only technical skill training for living in Africa, but a real life training regarding communication, team work, etc. We landed on Monday. The orientation started on Wednesday with the three families in this term being split up into teams, given money and having to take a taxi from one side of town to the next. Over the next 11 weeks, we were trained in anything and everything having to do with living in Africa, with the eventual goal of living in a remote African village, which we did for three weeks. Making yogurt, skinning animals, prepping food, you name it, they taught it to us. Our village hosts couldn't believe we paid money to be able to live with them. It was much more difficult on us than our kids. At the end of the village section, our kids cried when we had to leave.

Q - How comfortable are you living here.
A - G - about an 7 or 8..
A - W - about a 7 or 8 living here in my house. When I'm out in the city, maybe a 5.

Q - Last significant book you read and why?
A - Andy Stanley's "7 Checkpoints for Youth Leaders", because the 7 checkpoints are significant themes and we used them to center the material for camp.

Q - Describe what kind of counsel you give to students thinking about full time or vocational ministry?
A - I tell them that it's a combination of getting involved in ministry, God speaking through the Scriptures and seeking the wisdom of mentor-type people. Students need to be actively involved and getting them involved in the ministry they come out of as leaders is a great way to have a check and balance for vocational ministry.

Q - Other significant books in your growth?
A - Journey of Desire, Eldredge; Lost Art of Disciple Making, Eims; Master Plan of Evangelism, Coleman [I gave him Unstoppable Force by Erwin as a gift]

Q - What was the first thing you did when you got here in terms of ministry?
A - The first thing was just to observe the culture. The team looked to me to give them some answers and a plan. But my job at first was just to observe and be a learner.

Q - [to Gbi, their daughter] Do you see movies?
A - Movies here are only in French. So we love to get DVDs from the States.

Q - Is there a McDonalds here?
A - There used to be one McDonalds, but business wasn't good enough so it closed.

Q - What are some of the options for schooling and your kids?
A - Home schooling, which we do right now. There is an American International school, but it is very expensive. There is also a MK school, run by Wycliffe/SIL, that we may look into when they are older, its better for middle school/high school.

Photo: CH, ADress and G, eating beef skewers from a roadside stand.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wednesday Aug 2 - Day 8

We close and depart camp early this afternoon. It's been a really fun time and the Cameroonian kids seem to think so too, by their request for pictures with us, getting our email info and having us sign these Frisbees we brought from the States. Frisbees were a new thing for them here. It's another fortunately uneventful trip home, except NLind's suitor, who after repeatedly trying to get her phone number, jots his down and throws it at her through the window.

We've been told since we've been here to wash our hands a lot so as to not pick up something. So far, I'm working on emptying my third bottle of Purrell. Even with that, I've developed a weird stomach ache this afternoon. I think I know what's coming next.

We arrive back to the Nens house in Yaounde around dinner time. Shortly afterwards, our team is split as they all go back to their respective host families for dinner and the rest of the night. It feels great to be back here, a strange small feeling of home in a far away land.

Although the camp was definitely a fantastic experience, it is only a piece of the overall ministry strategy, significant for our time here but by no means the only piece. Camp was a flashpoint of momentum - there was a ton of work that went into taking initiative, building relationships, camp invitations even before camp started. G and his team have already put into place followup for using that momentum - three small groups that meet in neighborhood proximity around town. Take note - these are the first high school small groups that meet in Yaounde for the Navigators - ever, possibly for any student ministry ever. In terms of our team, and SPACE as a whole, the strategy in Yaounde fits perfectly. A local, indigenous team on the ground. A long term plan. An immediate followup.

It's being shortsighted to consider our team's impact only on these 37 students. I don't think its too audacious to consider all of Yaounde being changed because 37 kids started to live big lives, intent on serving others and impacting their country. Given enough time, all of Yaounde and all of Cameroon.

Photos: All of camp; NLind and some digits; Frisbee signing.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Tuesday Aug 1 - Day 7

Today is our last full day of camp as we leave for Yaounde tomorrow afternoon. We've told our team repeatedly to not squander our time here and to continue pouring into their new friends as much as they can. They are doing a great job of just that. This morning, EllyK and TriciaB talk about their spiritual disciples - how they journal, read the Bible and spend time with God. A basic goal of the camp is that some of these students understand a little bit better on how to have some base spiritual disciplines. Of course, EllyK and TriciaB do a great job. They naturally tell their stories and the other students listen intently. EllyK's blond hair helps. Two to watch in the future.

I'm a bit under the weather today - feeling groggy all day long. On most trips I run, I get into a rut around this time - day 6 or 7. I spend most of the afternoon trying to sleep it off. By the early evening, I'm running a slight temperature. Camp goes on fabulously without me. I've been smart though - I chose some fabulous leaders that go on without me. I have zero concerns about their ability to serve and lead. The evening has the camp doing a talent show with all of the teams performing some kind of skit or music. From all accounts, it was a great time.

Typical breakfast is some kind of baguette with peanut butter or chocolate spread. This culture is one that is not stressed out about time. In fact, time is more or less a suggestion. It is more important to make an appearance than to actually be punctual. I wrote before about the handshake between men. Women are greeted by two or three kisses to the cheek, alternating sides. So, a kiss on the left cheek, than right, than left again. It's cool. There is an underlying religious element to Cameroonians, many go to church but are not serious about Jesus. They may know the Bible very well, but may not be very serious about it. Kids don't have inherent value in the culture - that's why there really isn't much for them to do. Every story in Cameroonian fashion must have a moral to it. The idea of Seinfeld - a show about nothing - makes no sense. Music is huge, Cameroonians love to sing. Cameroon is the 2nd most corrupt nation in the world. It is also the 2nd most stable country in Africa. Many non-government organizations - charity and relief and development organizations - have their African headquarters here in Cameroon.

One question that must be asked is whether this trip has been worth the expense. Our overall costs were roughly $30,000 - the bulk of that due to airfare. With a team of twelve and spending 11 days in-country, that works out to a burn rate of about $200 per day per person. Granted the longer you stay, since the costs in-country are so low, the better your value. Is running this kind of camp, building these relationships and encouraging our missionary family worth $200 a day? Missions is not untouchable - it is unrealistic to say that as long as it is missions, it is inherently good and valid. Each trip needs to be critically assessed to make sure that the investment is wise. One of the best ways to do hedge our bets regarding our investment is to work with missionaries that we know and trust - ones that also know us. Another great way is to put the experience together in partnership - knowing what talents and gifts each party or team bring to the experience. Finally, we make sure that our hosts know at the beginning of the conversation that they can decline to host a team if it doesn't work for their ministry in the significant context or time.

Was this trip worth it? Was it wise and a good investment of our time and resources and not just a token missions trip? We get our answer later this week.

Photos: EllyK, TriciaB and G talking from up front, the human knot game, playing on the beach at sunset at Kribi.

20060726Cameroon photoset