TED Talk Tuesday: Agile Programming…for Your Family

Bruce Feiler helps us translate one of the biggest ideas from the world of software development into a functional family dynamic. The “agile” philosophy, he says, helps families to be better at self-governance and less reliant on top-down, or “waterfall”, governance.

As he talks, it’s easy to see the benefits. Kids choose their own punishments before they act out and they can’t really complain when the punishments are doled out when they act out. Beneficial activities are deconstructed to determine what the actual benefit isand then the family finds ways of incorporating that benefit into their particular family dynamic.

My greatest takeaway from this talk is actually not something that Feiler says, but rather, something he implies: Nobody knows your family better than you. Yes, listen to the experts. Learn the research. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach to family. You know your family better than anyone. How can you take what you learn from experts and apply it in your specific situation for your specific family?

One of the greatest pieces of parenting advice that I’ve ever received was in response to a question someone asked about being embarrassed or feeling like a bad parent when their kid acts up in public. The lecturer’s response? “Who cares? Who cares what someone else thinks of you? They don’t know you! They don’t know your kid! That’s YOUR job and you’re the only one who can do it.”

It’s my job to know my family and if I take that seriously, I think we could probably implement an “agile” philosophy in our home.

TED Talk Tuesday: Who Controls the World?

James Glattfelder uses principles from the world of physics to explore the complexity of the global economy. It all sounds kind of geeky, but it’s intriguing nonetheless. As I listen to Glattfelder explain the way control works in this complex system, I can’t help but wonder about the potential results of similar research in the social arena.

By “social,” I’m not talking about Facebook and Twitter, but about churches, non-profits, NGOs and the like. If similar data was collected and the connections or interactions charted, would we find the social world similarly connected, or would the graph look completely different? Would United Way, the Red Cross and USAID be in the power center, or would it all point back to government superpowers and the money they are pouring into the “system”?

I don’t know the answer and I don’t have the brains or the cash to do the research, but if there’s anybody out there willing, I would love to see the results. I’m writing this today from Kenya, where thousands upon thousands of organizations are trying their best to “help,” with many doing the same things for some of the same people. My fear is that, rather than being too interconnected (like the global economic system) that the social system is too independent. I’m afraid that our connections are too weak, our power holders too aloof and our output measurements focused on all the wrong things.

I would love to see the numbers.

More Friends Who Are Changing the World

In my previous post, I mentioned how we have already made some great friends here in Kenya and that they are doing some incredible work here. It seems everywhere you turn here, you run into somebody who is doing world-changing, life-altering work. I guess it’s a symptom of being in a place where there is obviously so much work to be done. One thing is for sure, there are huge numbers of people working hard to improve the lives of the people here.

One group that we have come to know over the past couple of visits is the team at Start With One. Bill, Chat, Len, Susan, Gina and their teams spend their days working to bring clean water, housing, churches, education and medical care to the very poorest here in Kenya. In addition to their own projects, they are very intentional about connecting with other people and organizations to maximize everyone’s efforts here.

They also have some amazing cooks in that house! I’m pretty sure Bill and Len view their meals as daily Iron Chef challenges. I’ve never eaten anything bad at their place and nearly everything I’ve had was indescribably good. The other night, it was bacon wrapped chicken, salad (thanks Gina!) and something called “spoon bread” which is some kind of cross between bread pudding and what the locals call ugali (kind of like grits). Whatever it was made from must have fallen from heaven because, holy smokes!

Keep in mind that all of this was cooked on a coal-fired grill/oven on the back patio. Cooking in Kenya requires a new level of ingenuity and these guys have it. I keep encouraging them to start a “How to Cook in Kenya” class, but Bill reasons that if they teach everybody how to cook, they won’t ever be able to open a restaurant and charge people to eat their food. I’m fine with that as long as they keep cooking and keep inviting me over!

There are so many other people that we know and are meeting here that it would be impossible to mention all of them. Suffice it to say that there is a large and growing community of people here who are in need of a church to call home and we are excited and humbled to be tasked with starting that kind of church.

I take comfort from the original apostles in the book of Acts. None of them knew how to start a church, let alone a worldwide movement. But through a lot of prayer and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, they would eventually do both. Fortunately, changing the world has very little to do with what you know and whole lot to do with who you know. The Creator of the world also has an incredible ability to change it, if only we are willing to listen and follow.

Great Place. Great Friends.

What to say about our first three days in Kenya? First of all, traveling with a toddler adds a whole new dimension to jetlag. For more on that, see Lucy’s sleep saga over at Lucy Goes To Africa. Second, I really do love this place! Third, I’m thankful that God has already given us some great friends here.

Let me tell you about some of our friends. First are Doug and Sue Brown. They pastor the Karen Vineyard Church in suburban Nairobi. The Karen Vineyard is unique in that it is what is commonly called an “international church.” The phrase is somewhat loosely defined, but one visit to the Karen Vineyard, and you understand what it means.

Doug calls the church a “mini-U.N.” where dozens of nations are represented on any given morning. The culture and style of church is very much “western” – a term used here to describe the non-African cultures of Europe, the UK and the Americas. In many regards, it is a church that would be right at home in the U.S. For this reason, it has become home to many Americans, Europeans, Australians and the like.

It has also become home to many Kenyans who identify with western culture as much or more than Kenyan culture. You see, many of the brightest Kenyans end up attending British or American boarding schools and then go on to university in the U.S., Europe, the UK, etc. Then, when they return to Kenya, they sometimes have difficulty adapting back to the Kenyan way of life. Some would argue that this “westernization” of Kenyans is a major problem. Others would say it’s a major advancement. From a church perspective, we have to recognize that it simply is the reality for many Kenyans and that they, like the expat community, need a church where they can feel at home.

What Doug and Sue and the leadership at the Karen Vineyard have done is to create a place where no one feels like the odd-ball. It is truly an “every tongue and tribe and nation” sort of place where everyone is welcomed. As you can imagine, the Karen Vineyard is a huge inspiration and a place that Melody and I will educate ourselves as we step out to plant an international church in Nakuru. Doug and Sue are an incredible blessing to us personally and in ministry. We are looking forward to partnering with them to serve the international community in Kenya for many years to come.

The second friend I’ll highlight today is Trena Ivy. Many of you know Trena as the director of His Cherished Ones, an organization providing care for orphaned babies among other initiatives. Trena has an incredible heart for the people of Africa, especially for the babies in her care, many of whom have been abandoned and left for dead. As an adoptive mom herself, Trena knows that caring for these children and placing them with loving families will have a lasting impact not only on these kids, but on the world.

What most of you probably don’t know is that Trena served as a catalyst for our decision to plant a church in Nakuru. It was during a conversation with Trena two years ago that I began to realize that the international community in Nakuru needed a church. They needed what the people in Karen had. They needed what the people back home in Texas had. I left that conversation thinking that somebody needed to plant a church here.

Fast forward two years and it has become obvious that the “somebody” was us. And Trena has been an encouragement every step along the way. It is rare that we have a conversation that doesn’t involve her saying “I can’t wait until you guys get here.” She has also been very instrumental in beginning to gather people together who could one day form the nucleus of Trinity Vineyard Church Nakuru – missionaries and relief workers who pour themselves out 7 days a week and are now able to come together on Sundays for a time of refreshing and renewal.

It’s evident that Trena not only has a heart for the people of Kenya, but for her fellow co-laborers in the Kingdom of God and beyond. The world could use a few more people like Trena and we’re glad that she is a part of our family!

That’s all for now. There are more friends to talk about, but I’ll save them for another day.

TED Talk Tuesday: Human Lab Rats

First, let me say that “Human Lab Rats” is not the official title of this talk, but as I listened to Boghuma Kabisen’s presentation, that was the only phrase I could think of do describe what is occurring in many parts of the developing world. On the surface, these clinical trials seems great – searching for a cure and providing free medication to patients who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

The problem, of course, is that many of these research efforts are not driven as much by a desire to help people as they are a desire to publish papers, secure grants, build egos and, ultimately, to generate billions of dollars in revenue for pharmaceutical companies. Here in the U.S. and in Europe, we sometimes hear of a clinical trial that put people at significant and undisclosed risk. How much more is that occurring in countries where sick, uneducated, trusting souls are being administered these medications without any real understanding of what is going on?

That a researcher, whether independent, university or corporate, would then leave patients, essentially, to die once the research was completed, says that they fail to value the lives that they are supposed to be saving. Perhaps they see these patients not as people at all, but as “subjects” of experimentation.

I’ve walked and talked with desperate people – in Africa and in other parts of the world. If you offer the possibility of improving their life – if even a glimmer of hope – they will follow after you begging for you to give them what you’ve got. To take advantage of these people is to devalue them in ways that harken back to the days of slavery and colonialism. It reduces them to “less than human” – rats in a lab set up for the purpose of swelling egos and fattening wallets.

Surely we can do better.

The Big Cat is Out of the Bag – Nakuru, Here We Come!

(This post was written on Sunday, but lack of internet access has me posting it on Tuesday.)

As I sit in Nairobi on a warm, sunny afternoon, the sun hasn’t yet risen back home in Houston. What has been a day filled with encouragement and hope for us here hasn’t even begun for most of our friends and family back home. And yet, in just a few hours, many of them will be worshiping God like we worshiped him this morning half a world away.

And back at Trinity Vineyard, a poorly-kept secret will finally be made official. Melody, Lucy and I, along with our “baby to be named later” are moving to Kenya! That’s right, the cat is finally out of the bag and it’s a big one. To be honest, there is a combination of anxiety and relief at this announcement. Anxiety because such a big change in our lives, the life of our church and the lives of our family and friends will bring with it many questions – some of which we can’t really answer. Relief because after nearly two years of prayer, conversations, more prayer, trips and even more prayer, our plans are no longer a secret and we can begin speaking openly about the incredible vision that God has placed before us.

When you decide move away from everything and everyone you’ve ever known and to set up house in a developing nation 8000 miles from home, it is not a decision made lightly. For us, it is a decision that has been inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit – something so far beyond ourselves that it’s hard to really fathom all of the ways in which God is orchestrating this.

Though we have had our fair share of risk-taking endeavors, this is by far our greatest adventure yet and the more we say “yes” to God, the more he confirms that we’re headed in the right direction. Even our 3 year old little girl – currently crashed out in a jetlag-induced heap on her bed – seems to understand that something big is happening here in Kenya and that we are to be a part of it.

For those of you who don’t happen to attend Trinity or who just slept in this morning, here’s the skinny: Over the past 2 years, God has made it very clear to us that there is an overwhelming need for a new kind of church in Nakuru, Kenya. Nakuru is a growing, thriving city that is only just beginning to really come into its own and, as such, is beginning to attract people from all over the world who are either hoping for a financial windfall by jumping on this train early or who are just being made aware of the incredible needs of the poorest in the city.

As these international business people, relief workers, missionaries and others move into town, they represent incredible potential for use in God’s Kingdom. Whether here on a business assignment, out of humanitarian compassion or by a clear call from God, these “expats,” as they are commonly known, are here. And yet, the church that they need – the life-giving community that will serve to encourage, challenge and care for them – is missing. The organism that could bring them together and combine all of their strengths, skills and passions currently doesn’t exist.

As such, many expats, including missionaries, in Nakuru don’t go to church at all. Sure, there are churches they can attend – churches led by incredible people who are doing incredible work among the Kenyan people – but there is no church where they feel like they belong culturally. It is our desire to plant just such a church.

Imagine, if you will, taking the very best of our current church, Trinity Vineyard, and transplanting it to Africa – transplanting it just as these people have been transplanted. Trinity Vineyard Church Nakuru will seek to be an answer to the dilemma that missionaries have faced for centuries: How do you pour yourself out day after day helping people, when you have no one pouring into you? The answer: You don’t. You can’t. You have to have somebody investing in you.

Successful long-term workers are often sustained by hard-working sponsors and sending churches back home, but even in the best of scenarios, love and support from thousands of miles away is often inadequate when faced with the daily challenges of living, working and serving in Africa. The only way to thrive long-term in this environment is to have a supportive community and a powerful connection to God. And community happens best when we’re all in the same room. Part of our call as a church, then, is simply to “be there.”

Our hope is that Trinity Vineyard Church Nakuru will be a place where people can be continually finding God and growing ever closer to him, a place where they can find friends who can support and encourage them and, ultimately, a place where they can find life in the midst of all of the brokenness, pain and need – to be refreshed spiritually, relationally and emotionally and then sent back out to continue changing the world.

I suppose you could say that Melody and I feel called to “care for those who are caring for others,” but the mission is truly greater than that. We believe that God’s desire in planting this church is the same as his desire for all churches. He wants to see as many people as possible moving their lives in his direction – getting closer, loving more and working more intentionally for his Kingdom. Our particular calling to the international community in Nakuru is simply one expression of this universal desire.

We are excited to be embarking on this adventure, but there is much work to be done before we pack up and move eastward. First of all, we need to complete the adoption of our second child. For those who know us and have been following our adoption journey, you know that we are nearing the finish line on this one. We hope to travel to The Republic of the Marshall Islands sometime this summer to bring home our little one.

On top of that, there are plans to be made, vision to be cast, partnerships to be formed, more trips to be taken and, of course, money to be raised. On the church side, there is plenty of transition to be made as well as Melody and I continue to bring others along to offer leadership in some of the areas where we’ve been serving.

In short, it’s a lot! A lot of work, a lot of change and a lot of challenge. But as we were reminded at Trinity a few weeks ago, healthy things grow, growth brings change, change brings challenge, challenge leads to trust in God, trust in God leads to obedience and obedience leads to more health. For us, personal growth and the growth of God’s vision for us is now leading to change and challenge. We ask that you would pray for us as we trust God to work out the details and as we try to obey his calling and direction in our lives.

For those who like to think about timelines, we’re aiming for a move sometime in mid-2014. Some days, that seems like an eternity from now. Others, it feels like it’s just around the corner. Through it all, we know that we have the support and encouragement of incredible family, friends, our church community and our amazing Vineyard family of coaches and leaders.

We will be filling in more details over the coming weeks and months, but that is it in a nutshell. We are excited to see what God wants to do in and through us in Nakuru and we believe that the best is yet to come!

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