September 2011


Yesterday, here in NYC, I attended Movement Day, a conference intended to focus on issues relevant to church leaders in cities across the country. There were 1,000 pastors and others who gathered in the beautiful sanctuary at Fifth Avenue Pres to hear three plenary talks in the morning: One by our very own Tim Keller on ‘Generous Justice’, one by AR Bernard of Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn – which was supposed to have been about fathers but was about how his church was developed organizationally, and a provocative talk by Erwin McManus of Mosaic Church in LA about the first, second and third places we occupy.

In the afternoon, I attended a workshop on the HIV pandemic held at Trinity Grace.  The program featured stories primarily about the work of World Vision partnering with churches which have come to embrace the widows and orphans of the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa as their own. WV’s primary mode of getting churches involved is through vision trips to East Africa to allow leaders to see the epidemic unfolding first hand and then through child sponsorship. For $35/month, not just a child, but a whole family and community  – up to 60 people – is impacted.  Sadly, for me, WV is not in Nigeria (yet); their primary areas of focus for HIV are East and southern Africa.

At one point, John Volinsky of WV shared how his former church, Bayside in Sacramento got involved in this work. When he mentioned Bayside, my ears perked up. A month ago, that wouldn’t have meant anything to me, but when I was in Jos at Faith Alive, I had learned that a church in California called Bayside had built that facility in just 6 months.

Surely this must be the same church? Well, it was! When I approached John afterwards to introduce myself, he confirmed that his former church had infact built Faith Alive. And the best part was that the funds for that came from a capital campaign they did, where, in advance, they committed to give away HALF of the funds they raised. They needed to raise $10 million and they ended up raising $19M – gulp.  So they had $9.5 million to give away to 40 different projects, of which Faith Alive was just one.

How Great is our God!  I praise our God, who is a God of generous justice, for Bayside Church, for their generous hearts, and generous giving, and for the blessing they are to Faith Alive in Jos, Nigeria, which  is an on-going gift to that community.

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One of the brightest spots during my time in Jos was a visit to Faith Alive Hospital, a 3 story facility that identifies and cares for women, men, and children living with HIV/AIDS – free of charge.  Truthfully, I didn’t know much about Faith Alive before going there, but  since I had recently started making a modest contribution to this work through a  US-based Mennonite organization and because I have a personal and professional interest in the AIDS epidemic, I decided it made sense for me to stop by the next time I was in Jos.

My visit to Faith Alive far exceeded my expectations.  Started in the mid-1990s as a counseling center by Dr. Christian (Chris) Isichei (above) with $300 of his own personal funds, Faith Alive now serves 500 patients a day, supported by multiple streams of funding. It is a holistic ministry, which cares not just for the treatment needs of AIDS patients, but focuses on primary prevention through HIV counseling and testing, offers family care and follow-up, and combats opportunistic infections like TB therapy. On site, there is an operating theatre, a labor and delivery center, support groups, motorcycles for home visits and follow-up, as well as micro-credit and skills training programs.

Each of the staff adopts a patient to follow and support, and some have taken children living with HIV into their homes and are raising them as their own.  On additional property, there is a school for AIDS orphans, and land has been purchased to expand the current site into a teaching hospital, by 2016, God willing.

In city rife with religious and economic tension, at Faith Alive, Christians and Muslims work side by side and are treated equally as patients without discrimination. Thus, Faith Alive stands as a beacon not just of a radical example of showing God’s love to the least of these, but as a symbol of reconciliation.

To read more about the remarkable work of Faith Alive, visit www.faithalivenigeria.org .

This Sunday will mark the 10th anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11/01. My heart has been heavy this past week as I’ve listened to the stories of loss and grief, been reminded of the TV clips of the towers falling, and read articles re-hashing the events of that terrible day.

Anniversaries of grief are often weighty and 9/11 is no different. But this week the residents of Jos, Nigeria (my hometown) have their own anniversary. Its been 10 years since the tension between Muslims and Christians erupted in violent senseless deaths that continue up to the present time. While the world recoiled in horror at the terrorist acts that took place on American soil and President Bush declared Sept 14 a national day of mourning, in Jos people grieved as well:  for those they had lost and for the loss of the peaceful co-existence of people with different religious faiths living side by side and often even in the same family, something that they had enjoyed for generations. Shops and banks had been shut for days with people afraid to venture into the center of the city for fear they would not return home. The spark that caused that first eruption is now hazy in my own memory, blurring into many other uprisings since then.

The word ‘crisis’ is now ubiquitous in and around the Jos plateau. The latest crisis of note – many take place and are never covered by the BBC much less the US media – was the week that Ramadan ended and Eid-el-Fitr was about to be celebrated.

It was Monday August 29 and I was in Jos that day. It was my last day of a 10 day visit to see my family there.  My normally gregarious Uncle returned from town in the early afternoon, agitated, telling us that another crisis had erupted between Muslims going to a mosque in what was largely considered a Christian area. [The city has become segregated by religion in the last decade, like never before.] He had seen people killed and cars defaced. I didn’t want to believe him but couldn’t ignore the intermittent gun fire I could hear – for the first time in my memory – from the front steps of our home (!)

I spent 2 hours sitting on those steps, listening, praying, and  trying to interpret what might be happening from the flow of traffic going past our yard. It thinned and the motorcycle taxis which speed by taking government workers to the Federal Secretariat all but disappeared. Not a good sign.

A few days later, a missionary surgeon who is a connected to friends in Canada confirmed that 85 were injured and 15 people died.

I grieve for the Jos I knew. It is gone, never to return. Instead, as I entered a large church in the center of town for 2 consecutive Sundays, I was scanned with a metal detector and my bag was opened and examined.  For some in this town, the experience of worship is overcast by a shadow of vigilance about security.

As many pause to remember the tragedy of 9/11 in the coming days, may the crises of Jos, Nigeria and the seemingly intractable tension between Christians and Muslims – evident in many places all over the globe – not be ignored or minimized.

Lord, you are the Prince of Peace.

Come quickly, we pray.

I was grateful to return to NYC – after a 3 week trip away, (more on that in the next post) – in time to attend a memorial service held to remember and honor Dr. John Stott.

The event, which took place on Manhattan’s east side, was sparsely attended and I wondered how many more would have made the effort to attend if the man himself were to show up and speak. Still I’m sure those of us who were there were glad we were able to participate in honoring one of the evangelical “giants” of our time, as John Mason, the Rector of Christ Church described him. As I listened to tributes from Benjamin Holman, US President of John Stott Ministries, and Rev. Richard Bewes, a former Rector of All Souls, London and Stott’s neighbor for 22 years, I was struck once again by the simplicity, humility and integrity of this man’s life, and his incredible global reach for the gospel of Christ. For example, it was way back in the 1960s that he began to set aside the royalties from his books to create a fund to support the training and equipping of pastors from the Majority World (Africa, Asia, and Latin America). These monies in time became the Langham Partnership or John Stott Ministries www.johnstottministries.com  as they are known in the U.S.  Overthe past 40 years, these funds must have been considerable, for Stott wrote over  50 books, some of which were translated into 60 languages!

Last night, Stott was also remembered for his preaching gift and his ability to expound God’s word. Once after giving a talk in Australia John Mason asked him to define the” gospel”. Without hesitating, he described it as:

“freedom from guilt, freedom from fear, and freedom from self”.

As I reflect on this I recognize that because of Jesus, our guilt is transformed into grace, our fears are transformed into love, and our self absorption is transformed into serving God and others.

Ten days ago Stott’s ashes were buried in the UK and the words on the plaque – which Stott himself wrote – remind us, appropriately, of his unwavering committment to Christ.  Using  text from Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, he “resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2).

I thank God for the privilege of being impacted by this humble servant of the Lord and pray, as Bewes, asserted that” his works will follow us into all eternity”.