Archives For Africa

Nothing

Sometimes things don’t work the way we planned.

After nearly 40 hours, an overnight airport delay, and two itinerary reroutes, I found myself cuing in a mass of disgruntled travelers in the Addis Ababa airport waiting for our now twice-delayed Ethiopian airline flight to board for Nairobi. Our original team of twenty had been split up twice already, and my wife and three kids were the only 4 left with me. We were trying to count that blessing as my children, travel novices at best, were questioning why we ever left our quaint Midwestern suburb for dad’s claim of a life-changing missions adventure. In all my travels, I had never experienced anything quite like this. We were exhausted, we were hungry, and we were stuck in one of the least desirable airport terminals in the world. And to top it off, I was powerless. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

So we pulled a few snacks from our carry-on bags and tried to keep each other in good spirits as many of our irate East African co-passengers argued with the gate-check agents in unknown tongues about the unexplained delays and lack of communication. The intensifying scene was already beginning to make me a little uncomfortable when I glanced down at my 11 year old son. He had been complaining of an upset stomach since we arrived in Addis, but now his face had grown a bit pale, too.

What happened next unfolded in slow motion. His knees stiffened, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his body tumbled backward like he was doing the Nestea plunge. Had it not been for his oversized backpack, his head would’ve certainly cracked hard on the concrete floor. His sister’s scream silenced all other activity and conversation in the buzzing terminal, and we found ourselves on our knees tending to our unconscious son surrounded by a circle of curious and concerned Ethiopian onlookers.

This was not the beautiful journey I had promised my kids for the last 6 months.

Thankfully, he had just passed out, the result of extreme fatigue, lack of food, and airplane dehydration. After convincing the airport officials he was not suffering from some horrific communicable disease and in need of quarantine, we were finally allowed to board the plane to reunite with the rest of our companions (although I can’t say as much for our luggage).

This was not the trip I had planned. It was nothing like the picture I had painted in my head. But there are unexpected blessings to encountering moments of complete powerlessness.

Many of you know my son’s personality. He’s a strong-willed negotiator, never content with an answer he doesn’t like. On many occasions I’ve told my wife, “I wish he would just listen to his dad sometimes. I wish he could find rest in my decisions, that I know what’s best, that I can be trusted.”

This terrifying moment deeply impacted him. In this new unknown environment, he’s humbly asked a lot more questions, he’s paid attention to my instructions, he’s literally clung to me physically as our days have unfolded here in Kenya. He falls asleep grasping my arm. As a dad, there’s nothing you long for more, even though the circumstances that got you here could not be desired less. He’s sought refuge in his father, and together we’ve both found refuge in The Father.

Powerlessness can be a gift. It can connect us to God in unmatched ways, draw us into His covering and protection, and tap into a strength so much greater than our own. We were made to find our rest in the Father, but to get there we usually have to walk the uncomfortable road that leads us to the end of ourselves.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
–Matthew 5:3 (MSG)

So here’s to powerlessness. It just might be more powerful than you think.

Our SUV bounced mercilessly over the rugged ground. To call these dirt paths “roads” would’ve been a generous misnomer, as stretches of definable terrain quickly gave way to an obstacle course of potholes and extreme turns that pushed our vehicle’s suspension system to its limits. We had already been driving for close to two hours, and we had at least another two to go. We were literally heading into the middle of nowhere.

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To give you just a taste of exactly how far we were from civilization, a local villager, bitten by a black mamba snake just two weeks earlier, was unable to make it to medical help before the venom overtook him. He died in the backseat of the car still hours from the nearest community.

This was old-school Africa. Grass huts, stone spears, National Geographic Africa. We were on our way to visit the Datooga, a nomadic tribe that live in the Mara region of central Tanzania. Some amazing things are beginning to happen amongst these people, which leads me to the real point of this story.

About halfway to our destination, we stopped the cars at the top of a hill overlooking the Mara valley. It was a breathtaking. As we paused to take in the view and a few stories from our missionary friends, a woman suddenly appeared walking on the road. She was carrying a baby, probably less than a year old, on her back in a some kind of homemade cloth wrap. The baby was obviously sick, as the skin underneath his eyes and nose was caked with crusted mucus.

She was taking him to the witch doctor in the next village for some type of mystical potion or incantation that would hopefully cure his illness. We asked if we could pray for her and her child, and after we finished the Datooga pastor traveling with us began to share the Gospel message with her.

“We would like to introduce you to Jesus,” I heard him say through the translator.

“He sounds like an amazing man,” she responded. “I will be back later today. I will make some tea. Can you bring him to my house? I would love to meet him.”

98% of the Datooga have never heard the name Jesus. I’ve read about people like this, about places like this – we call them “unreached people groups,” or UPGs for short – but in that moment I was staring into the real life eyes of what I had previously only known as a christian statistic thrown around at missions conferences.

I’m lucky enough to be part of a business that wants to help engage with stories like these. Not to force feed them an additional religion. Not to export our christian culture. Not to try and make them like us.

To introduce them to the only One that can resurrect who God originally created them to be. 

To “bring Jesus by for tea.”

The Legend of Dolfi

Erik Cooper —  February 12, 2014 — 1 Comment

The legend of Dolfi:

A white woman from Wisconsin, who in her own words was “all dry-cleaning and catered lunches,” moves hours from civilization to the middle of the African bush and marries a tribal leader from an unreached people group.

Some legends are embellished, but not Dolfi. She’s as real as it gets. We joked that her story is every church-kid’s missions nightmare. “God, please please please don’t send me to live in a hut in Africa!”

Yet there she was, sitting on a folding lawn chair in her simple concrete home (the only residence in the entire community that wasn’t made of grass, sticks, and shrubbery) telling edge-of-your-seat stories to a bunch of city-slickers from the States.

GillandDolfi

Recently, a well-known anthropologist studying the ancient, tribal cultures of the Datooga and Hatzabe confronted Dolfi and her native husband about the work they’re doing.

“You’re changing these people,” he irately challenged. “You are completely destroying an ancient African culture!”

And in a way, he had a point.

As these tribes, completely untouched by the good news of the Gospel, were introduced to Jesus, they did begin to abandon some of their ancient tribal practices. Customs like…

…selling off their 11 and 12 year old daughters as sex slaves to abusive leaders from neighboring tribes.

…female circumcision (or genital mutilation).

…following the incantations and black magic of the local witch doctors.

In Dolfi’s words:

“As we sift the lifestyles and customs of these ancient cultures through the filter of The Gospel, something different begins to emerge from the other side. Something healthy. Something alive. Something beautiful. Our anthropologist friend accused us of killing off an ancient culture, but we believe we’re actually resurrecting it. We’re watching the power of Jesus Christ recreate these beautiful people into who God actually designed them to be all along.”

And that’s what the Gospel does. It resurrects. It doesn’t make us less American or less Hispanic, less Russian, Chinese, or Datooga.

It makes us alive.

I met some brilliant people in Africa. Brave people. James Bond meets global missions kind of people. I wish I was exaggerating just to make it sound cool, but many of the teams we spent time with can’t have their names or faces posted on social media or even in a blog like this one. It’s dangerous. It’s the real deal.

These missionaries don’t just live amongst people who have never heard the Gospel, they live amongst people who are hostile to the message of Gospel.

One wrong move or careless conversation and they could be thrown out of the community or perhaps far worse. We were asked to avoid using certain words in public (pastor, missionary, church), and more than once our walking paths through town would subtly separate to avoid any unnecessary association (a technique usually reserved for my teenage daughter).

Live-Dead Logo

These heroic people are part of a resurgent missions movement called Live Dead; teams of missionaries creatively and courageously taking the message of Jesus into places it hasn’t gone yet (and often isn’t welcome). You can follow their “encoded” posts on Facebook by clicking here.

I’ll admit, I had a little fun daydreaming I was Jack Bauer and Ethan Hunt, but I got to go home at the end of the week. My inconvenience was temporary, their’s was not. So in a candid moment with the team leader of the area they call “Camel’s Milk,” I asked how often fear was his companion. His answer took me back:

“The day I start to fear them is the day I lose my love for them.”

I couldn’t jot that one down in my journal fast enough, the Apostle John’s words ringing in my ears:

“There is no fear in love. Instead, perfect love drives fear away.”
–1 John 4:18 (NIRV)

“Please pray that we never, ever lose that love,” our newfound friends asked as we tearfully said goodbye. And so we did. And will continue.

Do you want to live with less fear? Sounds like the remedy might be to live with more love.

Maybe We Just Need To Ask

Erik Cooper —  February 5, 2014 — 3 Comments

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some things I learned from my recent trip to Africa. I know, I know, it’s always such a “joy” hearing about other people’s life-changing journeys (and looking at their travel pictures), but I hope you’ll trust me here. These insights don’t necessarily have to do with exploring exotic cultures, they were simply inspired there. Sometimes it takes getting out of the norm to understand how to live better in it. I hope you’ll join the conversation.

Gilagwenda’s Story

Most things worth achieving in this life require years of hard work.

  • My friend Wendy just earned her associates degree after years of patiently chipping away at each class, all in between her real job as a wife and mother of three. She earned it.
  • My brother Darren became a amazing musician after spending countless hours with a guitar in his calloused hands. He earned it.
  • My buddy Josh just landed a big job promotion after 20 years of committed learning and devoted service (including a few years under me). He definitely earned it.

The concept of effort and achievement makes sense. Work hard and you improve. Do nothing and, well, you’re likely to get the same.

But what if you find yourself in a position where you need skills and abilities you don’t have time to earn? And what if God is the one that put you there?

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I met Gil last week in the bush of Tanzania. He’s a native Datooga, a truly unreached people group. A tribe of Africans that live in the dictionary definition of “the middle of nowhere.” Years ago, Gil was an alcoholic (consistently intoxicated with whatever local booze they manufacture out there in the bush) when a traveling preacher brought the Jesus Film to his remote village.

Gil was engulfed by this new message of Hope and gave his life to Christ right then and there, never again touching a drop the alcohol that had long been his god. As the preacher left for the next village he handed Gil a brand-new Bible. He long to tear into its pages, eager to learn more about this Savior who was already changing his life. There was only one problem:

Gil couldn’t read. Not one word.

So with the humble plea of a newly redeemed man, he simply asked this newfound Jesus to show him what the words said.

Thirty days later, he could read every word. Every word.

Today, Gil spearheads the missionary efforts to his own people.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself facing some new responsibilities and challenges that require things of me I don’t have two decades to learn and earn. Are tribesmen like Gil the only ones who have access to that kind of supernatural transaction? He didn’t achieve the ability to read, it was given to him as a gift. I wonder how many gifts might be available to us if we just asked?

I’m not advocating for a God that rewards laziness, but I am suggesting he will equip and empower His people for what He asks them to do. Miraculously if necessary.

Maybe it’s time we tap into our Resource. Maybe we just need to ask.