Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Three Very Important Rules

When it comes to overseas travel, there are many things to consider as one plans and packs. And there’s one thing that I know we should all be certain to prepare for, and yet I never cease to find it awkward even to mention. It’s so highly personal, and yet so difficult to suffer in secret when afflicted with it while traveling… I'm speaking of diarrhea. It is common to us all, and yet there are many ways we try to avoid the word when needing to explain the problem: “I’m not responding well to the food” or “I have an upset tummy.” It’s been called Montezuma’s Revenge, the Jamaican Shuffle, Delhi Belly and even the Sudanese Quickstep. And after spending a year in Sudan in my early-20’s (without any special tablets that are commonly available at any pharmacy, but which NOBODY ever told me about even they knew I’d certainly need them), I have learned that there are three Very Important Rules that must be followed when afflicted with… diarrhea. I have personally found that if one ignores these Very Important Rules, one does so to one’s own peril.
Rule #1: Always respond absolutely immediately to the slightest subterranean sensation. In other words, whatever you’re doing, no matter how vitally important it seems or how close it is to being completed, STOP. Stop whatever you’re doing and move to the nearest facility – carefully.
Rule #2: Never assume that it’s safe – unless properly poised in a proper place – to pass what you’d normally expect to be just a little wind. Handle with care.
Rule #3: Always be absolutely certain that you always know exactly where the nearest facility is located, and never stray too many Quicksteps away from it.
It’s also a Reasonably Good Rule to take some special tablets on trips (that I NOW KNOW are commonly available at any pharmacy). But if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to find them yourself rather than having to ask a pharmacist for them by name.

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Monday, July 21, 2008

Two very different worlds 650 miles apart

Many have asked me if the place we're going to in Sudan is near where I was in 1987. The two places are only about 650 miles apart, but are in entirely different geographic regions with completely different cultures. In 1987, I travelled through Khartoum to a small, remote desert village in northern Sudan called Hamrat Al-Wuz. This year, we're travelling via Uganda (south of Sudan) to Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, in order to catch a flight to the town of Aweil. It is rainy season, and I'm told it is very green there at this time of year.

(See the July 15 posting below for further details.)

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Excel still more!" (church bulletin cover)

I sometimes need to ask myself, “Have I become satisfied with as far as I’ve come in my walk with the Lord?” Oh, of course I know there’s plenty of room for growth in my life, but am I always eager to achieve that growth? Sometimes I recognize a certain weariness in me that doesn’t want to go further or reach higher or push deeper. I think, “I’m doing pretty good at that.” Or, “I’m doing well enough at that. I can rest now.”

Then along comes the Apostle Paul, that Biblical go-getter, who urges the Thessalonians on a couple of occasions to “excel still more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 10). In each case, Paul acknowledges that the Thessalonians are already doing quite well in the areas he urges them to increasingly excel in. This is no rebuke regarding areas in which they were doing poorly. This is a challenge to take it up a notch—to go to the next gear—to do still better at what they’re already doing well at. To paraphrase, Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “Just as you’re already living in a way that pleases God, excel still more!” And in 1 Thessalonians 4:10, he says, “Just as you’re already loving all the brethren all over Macedonia, excel still more at that!” In other words, let your past encouragements be a launch pad for going even higher with God! Don’t rest on your laurels, content with past exploits, living off the glow of their memory or off the momentum of past acceleration. Go for more! You’ve excelled already, but don’t stop now! Excel still more! That takes energy and effort, which Paul was no stranger to, but God gives us the strength we need to press on.

May we never stop being faithful labourers who, by God’s strength, are willing to “excel still more” at all that God calls us to!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Back to Sudan (after nearly 21 years)

It’s been over 20 years since I lived in a remote desert village of northern Sudan for a year. It was a life-changing experience that left me with many wonderful memories that have softened the rough edges of the challenges I faced. Sudan was then at war with itself, and though the north and the south are no longer at war, Sudan still seems as unstable now as it was then. So why then – now that I’m a husband and a father – would I plan to go to southern Sudan in this present climate of tension and uncertainty? I suppose another question I could ask is, having been invited to consider going, how serious do the needs need to be in southern Sudan before I'm prepared to leave my safe and affluent environment to go and help?

I and two other people from our church plan to travel to southern Sudan about a month from now, and plan to spend almost two weeks ministering there. One of our threesome is originally from southern Sudan and has not been back for 17 years, and due to the war, has been separated from his family for 25 years. And though he is from a family of 15 siblings, only two of his siblings are still alive today. We plan to travel to his home town where he will most certainly be welcomed back with many tears and great celebration!

While we are there, it is our desire to minister to the local Christians in any way we can. We will spend time in the Word with them and will pray with them, and we hope to be an encouragement to a church that has been through great pain in the past couple decades.

In 2005, a peace agreement ended 21 years of fighting between the north and the south of Sudan. It had been Africa’s longest civil war, devastating the entire region of southern Sudan, and leaving two million people killed, over four million people internally displaced and half a million refugees. Christians experienced significant adversity throughout this war, and yet now is an opportune time for the Church outside of Sudan to help Sudan’s Christians be the light they’re meant to be among their own people.

What else could we possibly do to help? That remains to be seen.

As you can imagine, the task of rebuilding after such a long and terrible war is tremendous. Between one and two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have already returned to their home towns since the peace agreement was reached and many more are expected to follow. But in the midst of limited resources and opportunities, tensions between the returnees and those who had remained are very real. Many homes and herds have been destroyed, schools and clinics are unable to cope with the numbers, and the cost of food as well as basic building materials is continually rising. This has left many thousands of people living in the bush or in primitive camps around the towns they returned to, with minimal aid or no aid at all to help them. There is an urgent need for clean water supplies, food, housing materials and medical care. And yet humanitarian aid has decreased of late because some aid agencies have moved on after the cessation of armed conflict in southern Sudan.

In addition to such pressing needs, education is neglected. It is estimated that three-quarters of the adults in southern Sudan are illiterate and only about 22% of an estimated 2.2 million school-age children are enrolled in schools. However, a third of these schools are simply wooden benches under a tree and many of the teachers lack proper training or adequate curriculum. We’re asking the Lord to guide and direct us to see how we may be able to partner with a church in Uganda to help with education in the area of southern Sudan we will be visiting. This could include meals and clothes, as well as a classroom and a teacher for children in need.

So why would I go to southern Sudan in the present climate of tension and uncertainty? My concern is that if God’s people were to stay away in such times, how would the people of southern Sudan know the love and light of Christ when they most need it? It’s at such times that I see many secular agencies helping people. So how can I as God’s child – who has my heavenly Father to help me – not be prepared to also help?

That is why I am planning to go to southern Sudan this August. We as a team would appreciate your prayers.

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Treasure worth Chasing (church bulletin cover)

I still clearly remember him, sitting up there on the highest shelf of a store display, so that I had to crane my young neck back to stare in awe at his hulking form. I couldn’t reach him with my hands, but my imagination knew no such limitations as I imagined him free from his stifling box and sitting on the top shelf of my bedroom dresser. Tyrannosaurus Rex: The fiercest and most terrifying creature that has ever walked the earth. This snap-together model had been brilliantly created to inspire the same dread that the living beasts must have roused in their prey of ages past. He was so tall, that I had to measure if there was room for him between my shelf and my ceiling. And his moving jaws were filled with glow-in-the-dark teeth. I would gaze up at the box and imagine myself lying in bed, staring at his rows of fearsome teeth glowing in the night. I wanted this prize. I would save every penny until it was mine. And there came a day when he was. I saved and saved my dimes and quarters until I had the twenty-something dollars that he cost – and then – I took him home: a prize worthy of the price I had paid!
Children understand the excitement of a prize. Their eyes light up more easily at the thought of something new and wonderful than do the more road-weary eyes of grown-ups around them. And yet I’m sure we can all think of one thing or another that has captured our imagination and that we just had to have.
Many such things are gifts from God that He’s pleased we enjoy. But in the midst of enjoying such blessings, it is vital that the things of this earth not become our treasure. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). God wants to be the treasure we are most passionate about pursuing, and so we must regularly check our hearts to be sure that our relationship with God is still the greatest treasure we chase. Are we so enthralled with the Gospel that we are willing to spend whatever it takes to get it off a shelf and into our lives? It’s difficult in this culture of iPods and HDTVs and all-inclusive holidays, but all those things are pale in comparison to knowing the living God. Jesus is a King worthy of immeasurable awe, and the Gospel is a message of endless wonder. May we experience increased revelation of that this summer so that Jesus remains a treasure that outshines anything else we enjoy!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Seeking God in a Way that Pleases Him (church bulletin cover)

God is certainly not impressed with outward shows of devotion when our hearts are not actually seeking Him. I can read my Bible, attend special Saturday night worship meetings and write this devotional, and my heart can still be far from God, leaving none of the above pleasing to God or of any benefit to anyone. The prophet Amos addressed this when he wrote that God actually hated his people’s festivals and assemblies and sacrifices (Amos 5:21-22). Even their songs were as noise to God (5:23). Are my songs or my blog postings noise to God? Amos offers some appreciated insight into how to avoid this. Amos was speaking to a people who loved the outward stuff – their rituals and offerings (4:5), but whose hearts were far from God (4:11). So he brought the word of the LORD to them: “Seek Me that you may live” (5:4). The sort of seeking spoken of here is about what I do between the rituals so that the outward things are an expression of the genuine life I have in God. “Seek Me” can be done anytime, all the time – it’s the posture of one who is eager for God, not just interested in attending spiritual meetings.

But Amos was also urging God’s people to a better kind of outward expression in their devotion to God. Rather than stressing religious rituals and gatherings, which typically only impact the individuals in attendance, Amos stressed deeds that impacted others for good. He spoke of justice and righteousness (5:24). He said to “Hate evil, love good, and establish justice” (5:15). That is how to avoid singing “noisy” songs to God (5:23)! This isn’t a message exhorting us to stop singing, or even to avoid meeting together. It’s about what direction I’m facing as I sing – toward God or self? And it’s about what I do between the meetings – pursue righteousness or personal gain? What I choose could mean the difference between “Seek Me that you may live” (5:4) and “Prepare to meet your God!” (4:12).

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Clean Water is meant for Everyone

Amid the myriad of very real physical needs we are aware of in this world, why would safe drinking water be the need one chooses to financially help with? I believe the reason is that safe water goes beyond saving lives — it improves communities. And when there’s water for everyone, it even strengthens nations! When safe, clean water is provided as a part of proper community development programs, it has the potential to improve the health of a community to such a degree that people are able to work or attend school more consistently, uninterrupted by diseases caused by unsafe water. This means that entire communities will have greater opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty that prevents them from pursuing a more hopeful future. In this way, safe, clean water releases hope as well as quenching thirst.

The situation is critical. As many as 1 billion people in the world must drink unsafe drinking water (ISERP, Columbia University, Spring 2005). Diarrhea, which is caused by unclean water and by inadequate sanitation 88% of the time (WHO, World Health Report 2002), is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.8 million people worldwide each year, 1.6 million (90%) of which are children under five – even though children under 5 constitute just 10% of the world’s population (World Resources Institute, EarthTrends, September 2005)! That’s approximately 4,400 children dying from a preventable disease everyday... one child every 20 seconds.

Good health is among the most valuable assets the poor possess, but it’s the poor who suffer the most health problems associated with unsafe water. Those earning less than $1/day —which happens to be about 1.1 billion people (World Resources Institute, EarthTrends, December 2005) – are nearly 10 times more likely to have health problems related to unsafe water than those earning a mere $2/day in much of the developing world. And experts estimate that nearly half (46%) of workplace productivity lost to ill health in the developing world is attributable to unsafe water and hygiene (World Resources Institute, EarthTrends, September 2005). “Having a household member fall ill can destroy a poor family’s standard of living. Household and village-level studies show that the illness of a key income-earner is one of the leading causes of a household's decline into abiding poverty... The immediate loss of income is only the start: health bills can mount quickly and create an urgent need for cash, and since the poor possess few liquid assets that can be used for such emergencies, they may have to sell land or items central to sustaining their livelihoods… One common coping strategy is to pull children out of school and send them to work, depriving them of training they will need in the future to keep themselves out of poverty” (World Resources Institute, EarthTrends, September 2005).

It’s encouraging to know though, that health improvements “from a 50% reduction in the number of people without access to safe drinking water would result in an extra 272 million school attendance days and 320 million productive work days each year in the developing world – resulting in major economic and social benefits” (WHO UNICEF, 2005 (from “Turn on the Tap” literature, Samaritan’s Purse)).

Many relief and community development agencies are working with water filter technology that is sustain
able in the developing world, and they are gradually giving more and more people access to safe drinking water. They simply need the funds to continue this work. One that I heartily recommend is Samaritan's Purse and their "Turn on the Tap" program.

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

But we... and But HE...

The stories of the kings of Israel and Judah are sobering to read. The kings of Israel seemed to go from one level of evil to another until they were judged. But the kings of Judah had glimmers of light as many kings chose to do right in the sight of the LORD. What sobers me though is that even as the chronicler described kings who did right, they so often needed to qualify those descriptions.

Amaziah did right in the sight of the LORD, “but not with a whole heart” (2 Chronicles 25:2), which became his undoing. Then Uzziah did right in the sight of the LORD, and it says that “as long as he sought the LORD, God prospered him” (2 Chr. 26:5). “But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly” (2 Chr. 26:16). And that was his undoing. The next king was Jotham, who did right in the sight of the LORD, and of whom it was said that he “ordered his ways before the LORD his God” and thereby became mighty (2 Chr. 27:6). And though no qualifier is mentioned regarding Jotham, the chronicler is compelled to mention a qualifier about the people he led as it says, “But the people continued acting corruptly (2 Chr. 27:2). It’s as though Judah was incapable of turning to God in such a way that deserved an unqualified commendation! There always seemed to need to be a “but…” Divided hearts, pride, acting corruptly. All stuff I’m capable of.

I want to serve the Lord in such a way that no “but…” is necessary, no qualifier needing to be mentioned about me. The problem is though, that’s not likely to happen in this earthly body, and that’s precisely why another use of the word “But… frequently appears in Scripture.

Ephesians 2:1-3 describes how God found us to be dead in our sins, walking according to the ways of this world, and deserving of God’s wrath. Then in verse four we read: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us… made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). God knows that we cannot seek Him in a way that requires no qualifiers, and so He adds a qualifier regarding Himself: “But I will save you!”

The words “But now…” of Romans 3:21 have to be the most encouraging words in all of Scripture. Paul has just laid out how totally pervasive our sin is, and he sums up that dark description of this rebel race by asserting that no one can be justified by attempting to do well enough at following the law of Moses. It all seems hopeless. Then come those words, “But now…” There is hope for us. “But now, apart from the Law, God’s righteousness has been revealed… even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Romans 3:21-22). In other words, for all who believe, the righteousness of God will become our righteousness.

What a wonder! There I was, standing in darkness and full of darkness, and suddenly – “But now…” – the sun rises right before my eyes and shines upon me, and fills me with brightness and warmth! All I need to do is believe in what Jesus has done for me. And I do! And now God’s righteousness is at work in me to make me wholly acceptable to God with no “buts” necessary to qualify His love for me!

© 2008 by Ken Peters