Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This blog is a compilation of articles highlighting my two years as a missionary in Suriname from October 2008(January 2009 arrival on the field)-October 2010. If you have stumbled upon this blog for the first time or have only taken a quick glance at a post or two and want an understanding of the whole experience I encourage you to begin from the very first post and move forward. I feel your reading of my thoughts, experiences, joys, disapointments etc is as good as any method to get a feel for the awesome time to minister among the Aukaan people in South America.

I have been writing and will continue to write for the veritas network www.theveritasnetwork.org, a website comprised of individuals who blog on various topics from a Biblical Worldview. I encourage you to check it out.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Saying goodbye: hope, joy and the family of God

A fitting way to end it. So was my final night in Godoholo, Suriname. After nearly 14months doing ministry and living life in the well-known Aukaan village on the upper Tapanhoni River, the last goodbyes, embraces, poignant words and sincere expressions of gratitude were given on a most edifying and God-glorifying occasion. And oh yeah.…It was an absolute blast of a time.

During the months preceding my departure, I had been planning exactly how I wanted my final night in the village to be spent. Of a joyous and fun-filled evening, there was no question. A big party was going to be in the mix. Exactly how it would be done, what the content of the program would be…well I didn’t figure all that out until about 10 P.M Tuesday October 12 –when the party was over.Despite logistical uncertainties such as how much food to buy, how many people would actually show up, would the village have electricity, everything went unusually smooth. I had concerns about whether or not non-Christians would come and how “Christian” the fesa “feast”/party would be. Well, the party was 100% Jesus.

Members from the congregation wrote out a program that was full of worship music, reading of scripture, testimonies and dancing. Our second song was a bold mockery of the traditional village healer called the "bonuman. I knew some of the village leaders who had no regard for Christianity would come as I had invited them and who would stay (at least out of respect for me). Sure enough, they came, with many others who have yet to set foot in the Church but who heard the Gospel message, saw the Holy Spirit working and who I know witnessed the Joy of the Lord. I later felt conviction and regret that I was concerned the party might be “too Christian”. Praise God it was! What a lesson for Mr. Missionary.

At the scheduled starting time there were about 10 people there and I was consequently discouraged that perhaps only a handful would even come. Well, we started singing worship songs, the same ones sung acapella every Sunday assisted only by one tambourine. But as the minutes passed by people filed in. A majority stayed on the outside fringes watching but hesitant to be a part of “church”. People gave the most loving and emotionally-stirring words, especially those whom I was closest to. Various people came to the front, sang, presented gifts, preached the message of Christ boldly. I was excited at the opportunity to speak in front of such a big group. It was by far the biggest audience to which I had the chance to “preach”. I gave my sincerest gratitude to the people for allowing me to live with them for that time.

My words of thanks were anything but a pretense to reality –the Aukaaners of Godoholo were generous, hospitable, warm and welcoming. I can’t recall a day without receiving at least one free meal from somebody. Little kids would shout my name out and give me hugs whenever I passed by. You realize why the Bible says the poor are blessed in God’s eyes. Prior to my departure, villagers made laments about my leaving and incessantly posed the simple and yet painfully difficult question: “when are you coming back?” When it came my time to speak I projected what was on my heart. I answered the question of my return as a segue into the deeper and preeminent issue of death. The truth is only God knows when or if I will return. Tomorrow may never come. I may return but you may be dead. My going back to the U.S. can be perceived as “death” in a loose sense if I never get the chance to come back to Suriname and we never meet again. This, then is a rather sobering occasion… unless of course, you’re part of the family of God. Unless, you know Jesus as your savior. Only if you have sincere hope for the life eternal. I gave them the Gospel message. Jesus calls you to come follow him and offers to free you from what you fear most and from which you cannot escape. If you are part of God’s family there may be sadness, but not the kind of those who have no hope.

I exhorted them to not turn their heads the other way and ignore an offer of hope they’ll find nowhere else. There were plenty of “amen’s” from believers in the village who knew full well, even if the worst possible scenario were to occur, death, we know we cannot be hurt by the eternal and absolute second death. We'll meet again regardless! You often wonder what becomes of a message, preached without a microphone, interrupted by kids playing, babies crying and even hindered by my own fit of coughing. But the Word does not return void as we know.

I feel my message was very symbolic and representative of my ministry in Godoholo. I had many opportunities to share the Gospel message, to get to the root cause of why people won’t come to Christ and why others do. The Holy Spirit must do the work in changing lives. A missionary’s role is to bring the Word to them. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ. Romans 10:17 God is good. He blessed my two years as a journeyman and my one year, 9 1/2 months on the field. It will be exciting to see either in this life or the next what fruit was borne of my truly short time working among the Aukaan people.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My prayer for the boys

God calls men to be leaders. The Bible presses the need for Christian men to lead their families as well as His Church. Throughout the World, in the Christian Church we see men taking a back seat and women frequently put at the front fulfilling a role they were not made to fulfill. Some of this is done out of reluctant necessity and some a reflection of cultural egalitarian principles. Whatever the cause, churches lacking male leadership are invariably weak.
I wrote an earlier article titled: What’s your advice? about the unfortunate and heartbreaking circumstances of Aukaan women and their unbelieving, unfaithful and unrepentant husbands. A typical Aukaan woman in our church is young (in their 20’s or 30’s) and has a number of children along with her unbelieving man. She comes along with all her young kids to church each Sunday. In this groups is a significant number of young boys (13 years and younger). Nearly every one of Godoholo’s Christian women were saved after they were already with their husband. They often lament of how things would likely be different if they were Christians before they already lived with their man. But things are the way they are. Praise God for his revealing himself to them and bringing them out of darkness -unlike their ancestors before.
The boys in Church have been raised hearing the beautiful life-changing, life-saving Gospel message. These youth have the amazing privilege and responsibility to choose and follow Christ as men or to turn their back and follow Satan. Unlike their fathers, heathens without knowledge of Christ, they are without excuse. These Aukaan boys see how their fathers live….and conversely how their mother’s live. I know statistics show how boys, a vast majority of the time, follow in their father’s footsteps. God made young boys with a desire to emulate their fathers. Boys will take on habits and qualities as well as faults. The father is invariably the primary male role model for his sons.
It’s a tough crossroad to be at. As an outside observer, a grown man with a clear and Biblically determined perspective who can weigh the options and logically choose what path the boys should take. They see the righteous and love-filled lives of their mothers and their lust-driven, dishonest and deceitful fathers. They hear the message of truth weekly, joyfully worship at church and see (albeit a few) examples of Christian men and the good lives they live. They see young men who don’t fear God, seek only wealth, women and whatever fame or reputation they can get and are only angry, discontent and unfulfilled. Jesus: why wouldn’t you?
But I’m not these boys. I hope they’ve see me as an example to follow, but I know I’m also a white-guy outsider and by virtue of being foreign, am both placed and judged in a completely different category as a man. I don’t know the pressure that comes from the unbelieving majority of males whose long-standing concept of a man is blatantly non-Biblical. I don’t know what its like to have a father who would scoff at going to Church and tell me its only for women and kids and incongruous to true Aukaan masculinity. I don’t know what goes through their heads when older males pass by and contemptuously smirk at the youth worshipping.
Moreover, I know that statistically that outlook is bleak. Boys in America predominantly follow their fathers into belief or unbelief as well. And the cultural weight is nowhere nearly as heavily pressed against males to follow Christ in the U.S. as it is on Aukaaners. But I do know after leaving his disciples astonished to such a degree as to prompt them to say: “well then who can be saved?!” in response to his sobering, seemingly hopeless statement that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God Jesus answered saying, “with man this is impossible but with God all things are possible”.
Amen. And So I take full solace in Jesus’ words. Even if the circumstances were every bit of what I would consider ideal, the truth is it’s still impossible without God to ever be saved. God has shown himself to the generation in Church now and has transformed their lives. He did the work there and I have faith he will do it with the young boys who will become men. They have been blessed to be raised in Church, heard the Gospel and have seen the diametrically opposed lives between the saved and unsaved. I often consider and imagine the magnitude of even a handful of young male Christ-followers and the impact they’d have on their unsaved brothers. Additionally, they’d be the leaders the Church needs. It’s my hope…and my prayer for these boys.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The ridiculously pagan "broko day"

Prior to immersion into a new culture, you somehow have a generalized notion that the holidays you celebrate are universal. However, you soon discover Christmas is not only treated as profanely as Tuesday @ the workplace but that there are apparently "other" holidays appropriate for partying like a rockstar. This last week, for eight days the Aukaan community in which I live celebrated what is known as brookodei (pronounced "broko day"). I haven't figured out why the misnomer has stood (should be "broko week") but nevertheless no one seems to have any qualms with the erroneous designation.

Brookodei is simply put, another Satan-glorifying, demon-summoning, fear-filled week for Aukaaners. For many, the week is simply a cultural tradition and this group is content at spectator status. For kids, it is somewhat of a cultural indoctrination. There's music, beverages, food and dancing. Additionally, there are a number of spiritually-dark practices which children are conspicuously seen at the forefront. These kids, not fully comprehending what they're doing entails but all the while subtly learning and respecting pagan traditions under an auspicious, rowdy environment. For adults, brookodei is vastly important to their well-being; "doing it right" means everything.

The celebration and its style has a unique African feel. The most ostentatious, garrish and ridiculous outfits are donned. There isn't a color on the spectrum absent. The brighter the outfit, the better. I couldn't resist laughing at the attire of the men. Every category of hat you could contrive from beanies to cowboy hats, bright pink sport coats, traditional sashes, gold chains and oversized dollar-sign belt buckles. Not a soul in the village had a complete and respectably-matched wardrobe. The women, as they always do, had better taste than the men. Their colorful and unique hand-sewn skirts matched their coresponding headwraps. Shame was absent and everyone wanted their picture taken. From my cultural standpoint, the most incongruous and undignified poses were rocked (i.e. Frowning, turning sideways to put emphasis on their rear end).

Humor set aside, what is the reason for celebrating brookodei? Well ancestor veberation (worship) is fundamental to the Aukaan animistic religious system. The week involves countless forms of appeasment to the deceased. Keeping ancestral spirits content and subdued is a constant concern for the living. A malevolent, vengeful spirit can wreak havoc on the village- bringing even death. While I didn't witness every day of the brookodei festivities, a few included taking sugar cane and pulverizing it with a wooden, baseball bat-sized pestle to produce syrup to be offered to the dead. An old wooden boat contained the sugar cane and a group proceeded to hit the cane in unison while singing in eerie rhythmic succession.

On another day men went upriver to cut firewood for the dead. Their return was highlighted by reckless driving antics in their motor boats. They spun in circles, curved around bends and then filled their boats with women who danced and sang while daredevils pulled stunts such as jumping from boat to boat. The atmosphere was in one sense simply ridiculous and seemingly harmless, but a closer look brought to light not only the spiritual state of the villagers, but exactly who these festivities honored.

The village generator ran all night long as people danced in a house set aside to hold dead bodies for viewing. An abundant amount of food was cooked and "thrown away"-prepared for the deceased of Godoholo. Alcohol was poured out as a libation at ancestral shrines. Moreover, men spent the entire week walking around in a drunken stupor, consuming some of the most potent, sinister liquor I've ever seen. Dances by the women were sexually-provocative and behavior lascivious. But what caught my attention more than anything else was what I didn't see in the faces around me: joy. There was plenty of shouting, hollering and jumping but peace was conspicuously absent. An underlying unease about the future pervaded all of brookodei.

As a follower of Jesus, it's not a mystery why things were this way. The "ancestors" receiving praise and honor are nothing less than demons. The food, alcohol and various gifts are not received by those intended eternally-condemned souls. Talking with Christian brothers and sisters in Godoholo, we had to laugh and comment on the fact of dogs, rats, roaches and ants getting a good meal from the thrown-away food. All the practices failed, and continually fail to alleviate a deep, dark and entrenched f fear of sickness, curses and death. I have often discussed with the villagers why it seems the ancestors, whether or not they were "good" or "bad" while they lived only threaten and bring terror.

But as often is the case here, light shined in the Midst of darkness. As I taught a Bible study during the middle of brookodei, I was blessed to see the redeemed from Godoholo come hear the Word of God and testify to how Jesus freed them from the slavery of Satan.

I rejoice to see our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, victor over sickness, death and all the principalities and powers of Satan displaying his omnipotent power saving those whom he chooses to reveal himself. Now that is a reason to celebrate.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

where my writing's been

If you've been following my blog, you see I haven't been posting as frequently on jungle j man. This is because I am (as of july) part of a blogging group called the veritas network; a website geared towards college-aged students that addresses a wide spectrum of topics from a Biblical perspective. I write at least two a month. I sure enjoy it and if you've enjoyed reading my articles you probably will top. This month for instance is an entire month devoted to topics on sex. Good scandalous stuff we're addressing. The address is theveritasnetwork.org

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

God's gonna destroy that place!

Your individual identity in a regional sense is incidentally only fully realized when you reside somewhere outside your home (whether city, state or country). In the Suriname interior I'm often designated the "American boy" and even more inclusively as a "baaka" (foreigner). It happens when you are the sole white person in a village of 3,000 black persons. As so often exists, associations are invariably tied to stereotypes. Did you ever meet Michael Jackson? Do you know Obama? With maroons, and their understandably narrow worldview, opportunities to educate them (among other things) of the vastness of the U.S. In proportion to their country.

On a smaller and less aparent scale, my identity among other Americans (who for the last two years have been most exclusively southerners) including my own team here in Suriname is affectionately "California boy". Now being a Southern Baptist on the west coast my entire life, I never realized how southern Southern Baptists are. I haven't met many CA SB's outside the state itself. It's funny and occasionally somewhat confounding the types of responses I get relating to my home state. They have southern Baptists out there? Are there even Christians in that place (in jest mind you)? More often, the topic of conversation when referencing California is one of condemnation and postulating God's impending judgment on the state for its wickedness.

The American's worldview, broader than the maroon's would consider the Obama and Jackson questions pretty ridiculous. But by the same measurement, do I appeal to California's prodigious population (37 million people as of 2009). California has some of the largest evangelical congregations in the country, countless Christian institutions, and has produced many influential Christian leaders and movements. Men such as Rick Warren and Francis Chan are from the Golden state. The first Billy Graham crusade was in CA. But in defense of the opposition, California rightfully carries a reputation for many ungodly movements, institutions and individuals ranging from decadent Hollywood to the homosexual bath houses in San Francisco and the Free Love movement of the 1960's.

Afte close scrutiny of everyone else, and as the protagonist of my position, I incidentally placed myself in my own test and was found to have failed the broad spectrum test as well. The Netherlands, due to a national reputation of wickedness and depravity has been a personal scapegoat - fully deserving of God's wrath. And just like CA, evidence does exists to support my position. When the Aukaan pastor of the Church in my village showed me pictures from his trip to Holland and responded to my inquiry of the existence of Churches there, I was incredulous. Really? Even Pentecostal ones? Not just Dutch Reformed with a meager and dying congregation comprised of 90 year-old ladies? He said yes. There were a number of them he saw. Later, I was shocked by my own nearsightedness and ignorance. Even a nation epitomizing godlessness, hedonism, depravity; one who shamelessly promotes countless forms of detestable behavior, who legalizes prostitution, child pornography and yet has legislation deeming spanking one's own child a criminal offense. Christians: Even real ones?

After reflection on God's. Righteous judgment and Biblical accounts on the subject I inevitably came to the best know example: Sodom and Gomorrah, in Genesis 19. These two cities were unfathomably vile and wicked as to stir God's destructive wrath. Not since the flood had such an evil place existed. As we know Abraham pleaded with God until the number was brought from fifty to ten righteous people for whose sake he woluld not destroy those places with fire. Take some time and reflect on our above examples. There are undoubtedly more than ten righteous individuals in CA and as was brought to my attention, some in Holland as well!

Make no mistake, the wickedness in our world is increasing and our two regions of focus are shameful frontrunners. God detests sin. His perfect, Holy nature cannot tolerate it. Why then doesn't God send that impending destructive earthquake that's gonna send that left-leaning state in the heart of the Pacific? When is Holland gonna get its due?

How did father Abraham, a man called God's friend, placate the Almighty? He appealed to his immutable and just nature.

"Then Abraham approached him and said: Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing -to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the judge of all the Earth do right?" Genesis 19:23-26

And although God couldn't find ten, yet he still sent two angels to rescue the righteous man Lot and his immediate family and in spite of initial doubt (he hesitated at the angel's urging and his sons-in-law did not even believe).

God is withholding judgment on Earth for the sake of those made righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus shows us this truth in the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13.

Not only is God withholding judgment during this present state of grace on Earth but he acccepts all who genuinely repent. Psalms 51:17 beautifully illustrates this: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God you will not. Despise."

Jonah preached (at God's command) against nineveh and the entire city repented in sackcloth and ashes. And as we know God didn't exact the judgment he threatened.

In conclusion, we've established God is a Holy God, one who detests any and all forms of sin and who will bring righteous judgment to every soul from creation to the last day at the appointed time. Furthermore, he withholds wrath prepared for the wicked for the sake of the elect on Earth today. He is pleased with and desires earnest repentance more than earthy
destruction and eternal damnation.

A thorough understanding will hopefully change your perspective of the existence of evil and specifically large populations full of wicked people today....it did mine.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A fitting tribute to my tools

There are few places on Earth that will test the craftsmanship, quality and overall durability of your tools to a greater degree than a humid tropical jungle climate. You learn shockingly fast what lasts and what ends-up in the trash pit or burn barrel. While there is little personal gain one receives for praising inanimate objects, I have long felt indebted to my tried and true partners of primarily petroleum and metallic make-up whose assistance I have counted as invaluable during the last 18 months. And although I have not contacted the companies who manufacture the following items for the possibility of receiving a payment fitting for endorsing their products, I do not consider the following pro bono promotion to be a fruitless and frivolous endeavor. I’ve made an ascending list and description of what I have chosen as six of my most useful tools and a brief description of each.

#6 Nalgene water bottle. This guy has been everywhere with me because….well you can’t live very long without water -and as my primary source for the containment and consumption of H2O it was been tested and proven faithful. As a Christmas gift Charles bought me a splendid additional attachment: a coffee filter. You pour grounds in this micro-screen cap attachment, add boiling water, agitate for four minutes and enjoy. Nalgene, I tip my hat to you my faithful friend.

#5 Leatherman Skeletool. The contemporary pocket-knife of today is no longer a one blade, 4 inch stainless steel whittling instrument. Many have multiple functions and various gadgets; but most of which the owner quickly discovers to be superfluous. The skeletool is lightweight with a stainless steel serrated blade, an interchangeable flat-head/ philipps screw driver option and a set of pliers with plenty of torque. I use the Leatherman from everything from peeling an orange to clipping and splicing electrical wire. Skeletool, you are cutting edge; always there when needed.

#4 Petzl Tikka Headlamp. While not earning a bronze, silver or gold, this illuminator carries much more than a token blue ribbon. This tool has been imperative in every sense of the word out here. The hands-free lighting is found to be no more appreciated than when everything besides your light is pitch-black. And when you are filleting a seven-pound peacock bass @ 8 p.m, every bit of your right and left arms and hands is needed. Furthermore, this headlamp is an LED: exceptionally bright, peerlessly efficient and durable. To get an idea, with everyday use, the same three AAA batteries lasted from February to May! Petzl LED, The darkness that surrounds something I only know from afar.

#3 Olympus Stylus Digital Camera. If ever there existed a perpetual test to validate the claim of waterproof 10 ft, shockproof 5 ft, than we (Taylor and Charles also have similar models of the same camera) are ready to take a stand in defense of this claim. Any given boat trip we’ve been on involves nearly all our equipment either getting splashed, soaked or submerged. The most thrilling videos and pics such as climbing up steep rapids or screaming down a zip-line inevitably end with the camera getting both banged-around and submerged. A camera any less durable would have been long gone. Olympus, if I go down to the greatest depths or ascend to the lofty heights….you will not fail to yield tangible evidence to show everyone later. 

#2 Clark Jungle Hammock. When nighttime comes in the jungle, finding a comfortable place to lay your head is vitally important. And there’s no place you’d rather not be than on the ground. I could make a list of 1,000 dangers and nuisances from stinging red ants to relentless rain storms that make a hammock necessary. Furthermore, mosquitoes and various other nasty insects will find you if you lack a mosquito net. The Clark Jungle Hammock covers both those bases and so much more. It can be rolled up and conveniently stuffed into a built-in enclosure sack. The expedience of the hammock is important when you’re always moving from place to place as I have been. There is a custom-fit tarp that can be fastened and strung-up as to keep the user completely dry in the worst of downpours. My appreciation for this jungle hammock has only grown with time. Clark, you have been my evening place of repose; thanks to you, my sleep has been sweeter, deeper and a whole lot longer.

#1 Blackberry Pearl. You might be surprised by this choice… of maybe not. This handheld wonder takes first place in function and value- no contest. Only two months prior to arriving in Suriname, the primary cell service provider for the country had a number of cell phone towers constructed forever changing the dynamics of the Aukaan people. I have internet access, email, and even Skype. I use my phone everyday, have consistent contact with my family, friends and my team here in the country. Technology is no more appreciated than when you reside in a remote area. The Blackberry keeps me up on what’s going on in the world through the news, facebook etc. Honestly, having this phone has made being away for such a long period of time much less difficult. Blackberry Pearl, you’ve made the world a much smaller place and brought so much of it to me.

So perhaps this tool tribute post will give a bit of an idea which physical possessions are of the greatest value out here in the Amazon. The products mentioned have earned my wholehearted stamp of approval. If you decide to purchase any of the above be sure to reference me as honest, genuine freelance sales rep who would gladly appreciate any amount of a monetary payment for my sales work. 