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Entries from November 2009

Scriptures?

O.K. so technically Ask Johnny and Kate Week is over, however I have a few more inquiries to answer. Like this one:

As individuals, what scriptures have most resonated with your being, and been touchstones in your life and relationship with God?

Kate is not around right now, but hopefully she will answer this one as well. There are so many passages in the Bible that have profound meaning to me. Let me just list a couple that have had the most impact in the past few years.

Let’s start with James 1:26-27 in The Message:

Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

This forever changed my idea of religion. I had grown up being taught many rules, regulations, rituals, and patterns of behavior that God required of me. Never once was I taught that true religion or real faith is to reach out and help people who need help. It was liberating.

Another from James in the 2nd chapter has had a huge impact on my practice of the Christian faith. James says, “Faith without works is dead.” He also says that a man is justified by works and not by faith only. Believing is not enough, you must put that belief into practice.

The story of the sheep and goats from Matthew 25 helped me to define what works are. In that story the sheep who feed, clothed, cared for, and visited the “least of these” were allowed to enter into the Kingdom.

I absolutely believe in grace. God has given us the free gift of eternal life in Him. Yet at the same time this free gift should have an impact on our lives. We should change and become more like him, or more like the people he wants us to be. Grace should impact our lives in the here and now, and not just in the by and by.


The Temple Technique (Guest Author)

Temple  Today, I noticed that our family was getting sloppy and undisciplined and I started wondering how I could address the situation. Okay, "a lotta bit" sloppy and undisciplined over the week because we are pretty laid back, overall and so for me to say something means it's gotten pretty bad. Anyway...

As we all talked about it together, my wife and I tag teamed the discussion, so to speak, and began talking to our kids about how we wanted them to develop their life habits, their approach to challenges, and to developing self discipline. Heather and I ended up coming up with "The Temple Technique."

There are four basic level to the temple and we compared them in this manner: Let's say someone realized cleaning up a city park was needed. So, they decided to plan, organize and execute a clean up and renovating project. Level 4 would be those who choose not even to enter the outer courts and so they walk pass by the project and don't get involved. They might gossip about it or whatever but they are not interested in helping. Level 3 would be the "outer courts" and these are the people who are interested enough to volunteer to help. They do whatever that one thing is that they agreed to volunteer for and that's it. Level 2 guys are the "inner court" folks who not only do the work they volunteered for but they also come in and maybe either help set up and/or help tear down. They might even help recruit other volunteers. Now, the Level 1 guys are the ones who enter into the "holy of holies." They dream up the plan, organize it all, get everyone motivated, and then make it happen.

I challenged my kids to try and be "holy of holies" dwellers while admitting that I have spent much of my life in the outer courts and I've also delved into the inner courts quite a bit. Once in awhile I have dwelt in the holy of holies but I think I could do a lot more of this in the future. What about you?


Cure for Poverty?

A tough one:

What aspects of Western culture do you hope to share with your girls and which aspects to you hope they don't adopt? I imagine just like medications, sometimes the cures for extreme poverty might have some serious side effects. Have you found this to be the case? In what ways?

Like most Westerners finding themselves working with extreme poverty, I have had many ideas how to eradicate it. From the beginning, I have realized that I could not/can not solve the problem of world poverty. Yet I believed I could solve the problem of poverty for individuals. I hoped to enable them to learn to fish, and therefore feed themselves for a lifetime.

Notice the past tense in that last sentence. No longer can I say that I have any kind of solution for poverty, even on an individual basis. The causes of poverty, at least financial poverty, are beyond my control.

The basic assumption is flawed in my opinion. The assumption being that to solve the problem of poverty we need to get more money in the hands of the poor. If we can only do that, then all will be well.

Like the question above implies, this usually just brings about more problems than solutions.

Take a middle class Kenyan as an example. Most of them are just one emergency away from poverty. Just one major illness, car accident, loss of job, death of a family member, or some other unforeseen circumstance will see them moved back to the slum.

Money is not necessarily the solution. In fact it could be the problem.

Poverty is not only the absence of money. I don’t have any money, yet poor is not an adjective I would use to describe myself. We need to learn to free ourselves from the clutches of money. As a people we need to understand that there is more to life than acquiring possessions. Life is about life, not material objects. No matter how shinny they are.

What I want to share with the poor here in Kenya is decidedly not an American ideal. In fact it is very much un-American. It is something so foreign to the world, that most cannot get it. So counter intuitive, that we can be forgiven for not getting it.

It is this:

Blessed are the poor.

 

 

Ask Johnny and Kate Week


The Easy Life?

Here’s one that is similar to a previous question, but I had some more thoughts to add:

Do you ever wish you were living in the US - the easy life so to speak?  I think of you with the water situation, the cultural differences, the more than yucky bugs, the goat intestines, my personal not-favorite - fried termites and I guess I know the answer already but...........................................

I want to say "I don't know how you do it" but I do know how you do it - because of your commitment to the Lord & the needy.

Certainly it can be frustrating dealing with the lack of infrastructure here. Having to spend hours doing what should only take minutes. Not being able to find what we need all the time. It’s tough at times.

However I wouldn’t say it’s any harder than living in the U.S. Here I am free from the American Dream, which I found to be stifling and an unbearable burden. I can be the person God wants me to be, and not the person my country wants me to be.

It’s true, our faith compels us to be here and do what we do. Even if we were not here, we would still do the same thing. Reach out to the oppressed, loveless, and needy. That’s true Christian religion. That’s Pure Christianity.

Many times I want to flee from what we are doing. Especially during the hard times, which are often. It is then that I rely upon Jesus. I have come to understand that He really is strong because of my weaknesses. He accomplishes so much through such a person as myself. My shortcomings are many, yet the hungry were still fed yesterday. Orphans are still cared for today.

In my heart I understand that I can never go back to the American way of life. Not that I am condemning it, I am glad to be American, and love my people. It’s just that my journey has led me here, and here I must be.


Part of the Ask Johnny and Kate Week series.


Home?

This question is about home:

Do you miss the U.S. are you and all the kids ever going to visit the U.S.? Did you find home in Africa. I have only been to Africa one time and I found home there! Missing my HOME! Home is where the heart is!

Do I miss the U.S.? Yes and no. There are times when I miss being with folks that can get my humor, know the pop culture references, and are not in awe of the U.S. I miss the variety of foods available in the U.S. In particular I miss Tex-Mex. I miss the high-speed internet access I had at home in Texas.

I don’t miss the frantic pace of life. I don’t miss the nation worship. I don’t miss the drive to get more, more, and more stuff. I don’t miss the civic religion.

I also miss family and friends, but thankfully we can stay in touch more easily now through the internet.

We visited the U.S. as a family in 2007. We do not have any plans to visit as a family anytime soon. I will try and mount a fundraising trip next year, but most likely I will be alone.

I define home as wherever my wife and kids are. So if that is in Africa, than that is where home is. If it’s in the U.S. that is where home is. I love Kenya, and hope to spend the rest of my life here. However I understand that some things are out of my hands. I don’t know the future.

I hope you can make it back to Africa.


Check out other questions and answers here, Ask Johnny and Kate Week. Scroll down do see a list of the answers.


Bills?

Our friend James had a question concerning the mundane. Which let me say this about the mundane, it can be a pain in the rear. Especially when it becomes difficult and overly time consuming.

All right. I have a question. Back in the states, I loved being able to pay all of my bills, including rent and utilities, on-line. But now in Germany, I had to open a separate bank account in order to pay bills in Germany. I cannot simply transfer money from any US bank to one in Germany. Additionally, I cannot mail a check or pay online with a credit card. I have to fill out these special forms that include my account and German bank ID along with the bill collector's bank account and bank ID number. Then, each transaction is initiated separately. Long story short: How do you have to pay your rent and utility bills. Can you do it online or do you have to physically carry the payment? Can you write a check or must it be cash?

First of all let me say, “Sorry.” It should not be hard to pay bills. I mean come on, don’t they want our money?

Anyway no online bill payments here. I have to go and stand in line, with cash to pay our bills. Each one is in a different place.

The rent I usually pay in person to the land lord. If he is not in town I deposit the money into his bank account. Unfortunately he banks at one of the worst banks in town, at least in the customer service department. So it’s usually a long wait in a line.

In short paying the bills is not convenient. Though more and more options are popping up. You can now pay many bills through a cash transfer service. However you still have to stand in line to use the cash transfer service. These services are run by the mobile phone companies, and they must have the worst customer service in the history of customer service.

I hate lines, which is probably why I am asked to stand in so many.

 

This was part of the Ask Johnny and Kate Week series.


Baby's Name?

I have a question...What's the baby's name going to be?

Kate has been frantic ever since that stick showed two pink lines over the baby’s name. I haven’t been all that concerned about it, I'm sure Kate will chose the best name possible.

The short list:

  • nnnnnnnnnnnn
  • nnnnnnnnnnnn

So there you have it. It will most likely be one of these names. I’ll let you know as soon as I know for sure.

Sorry. Kate doesn’t want to reveal the name until the child makes her journey through the birth canal.


Important Answers

From one of the Grandmothers during Ask Kate and Johnny Week:

Where to start? What do I send Makena, Butterfly, and Emma for Christmas? And Johnny your birthday book will be a little late this year-so do you have a favorite choice?

Not sure how to answer the “what to get the kids for Christmas” question. I’m sometimes out of the loop as to what folks want. I know Butterfly requested a rocking horse, but we will have that one made here. So perhaps Kate will respond to that question.

Now as for the book. What about this one:

It's Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian

by Samir Selmanovic

Those of you who might be interested in this kind of stuff. I have a wish list up on Amazon, and they will ship to Kenya. Here’s the link:

http://amzn.com/w/1W572JCISBZZA


This post is part of Ask Johnny and Kate Week. (Follow the link and scroll to the bottom of the post to see a list of answers so far.)


Babu Asks

Babu Lonnie, a part of our community, asks this question as a way of participating in Ask Johnny and Kate Week:

What makes Babu such a wonderful, exciting, vibrant, colorful compassionate human being other than his humility?

Wonderful? I think we would have to credit that quality to your wife, Patti. She seems to be the source for much of what could be described as wonderful in your life.

Exciting? Your temper does make for exciting times. I kinda like never knowing when you are going to jump out the car and go off on a matatu driver or bicyclist. (Matatu are public transport vehicles here in Kenya. The drivers are either the worst and rudest in the world or just high all the time.)

Vibrant? I would credit this to your life experience. Criminal to Assembly of God pastor to missionary to father to everything else. You are definitely a vibrant guy.

Compassionate? What makes you care? I can only say Jesus, even though that sounds cliché. He is the only one who could have broken through your years of religion, and tilled that hard ground. I have seen you respond compassionately to those that need it the most. You are compassionate in both your actions and your heart, though your gruff manner masks it quite well sometimes.

I can say without a shadow of a doubt that we could not do what we are doing without you. Thanks. You and Patty are vital components of our community, and we love you.

Alright mushy stuff finished.

Check out Babu Lonnie’s blog here: www.babulonnie.com

Johnny Brooks


A Plethora of Questions

Sometimes I wonder if people really understand how slow I am. Which means I talk slowly and listen slowly. I had to read this a few times to get everything to stick in my mind. Great questions, not sure if I can answer them all. There are still so many things I don’t understand myself.

I have a few questions.  How did you go about selling your stuff to go to Africa?  How did you pay off “debt” before leaving the country?  Also, did you have any financial support when you left America?  Was it hard to TELL others WHAT you were going to do as missionaries in Africa? 

I can tell you for sure that it was no easy decision to pack up and leave Texas. I knew then that I was turning my back on everything that was normal for my culture. I was abandoning what was important in the practice of my religion. I was leaving family and friends behind. I was leaving the things I enjoyed behind.

However the desire to be where God wanted me to be, was more than I could handle. So I had to pack up and go. Little did I know at the time that God had me do what I did, not for some grand ministry, but just so He could be closer to me.

Once we decided to go, we did just that. I gave notice at work, and we started packing. Selling our stuff was pretty easy. Well actually letting go was hard, especially since you never get what you feel something is worth.

What did not work out was selling our house. I did not put enough effort into selling it before we left, and we ended up losing it our first year here in Kenya. We simply did not have enough money coming in to make payments on it. I should have put it on the market sooner. Tough lesson.

I really felt like God asked me to avoid traditional fund raising methods, and just trust Him. So all we did was send out a letter, and speak at the church we were attending at the time. We ended up landing in Nairobi with 600 dollars. No house, no car, nothing.

It was tough to trust God, but we eventually learned.

It was not hard to explain to others that we wanted to be missionaries. With the exception of a few family members it was well received by everyone. The tough part for us is asking for money, so usually we just don’t do it. Most people appreciate what we do, even if they do not understand our faith all the time.

This post was part of Ask Johnny and Kate Week. (If you follow this link and scroll down the article you will find a list of the questions and answers so far.)