Tax the Churches

If churches were taxed like businesses, most still wouldn't pay any taxes. Money is paid out to workers (who pay taxes on that income), used on expenses, and given away to help people. Most churches usually end a year with the same money (or less in today's world) as they started the year with. No profit to tax.

Churches aren't showing record profits.Most churches don't even try to have profits unless they are saving up to buy a building or a piece of land. If church profits were taxed, churches would be unwise to save up money to buy just to have that money be taxed. Instead, they would just get a larger mortgage and avoid any accumulation of money that would be taxed.

Even the corrupt, financially immoral churches probably wouldn't be taxed all that much as they are giving their money out to the pastors and using it on expenses (like jets and new cars). Not saying that is okay. Just pointing out that taxing the churches probably wouldn't contribute all that much to tax revenue.

But churches would have to pay property taxes if they were no longer excluded from taxes.

If people are arguing that offerings should be taxed like sales tax, then that would also give some tax revenue.

Any group, even politically active groups, can create a tax free non-profit organization in the United States. The key is to be non-profit, which churches are.

Now onto the issue of politics in the church.

Personally, I think ministers should preach politics more. But they shouldn't be preaching the politics of either the right or the left. Just the politics that expresses loving the least, loving our enemies, and loving our neighbors. The politics of helping the oppressed and reconciling the haters. The politics of grace and forgiveness. The church becomes tainted when it aligns itself with any political party, but that doesn't mean that the views of Jesus are totally inapplicable to politics.

I stay away from directly addressing politics or candidates at our church, but that does not mean that I don't address issues and stances that would have political ramifications if the listeners to the message actually lived them out. Often, political issues and the Bible intersect one another. I don't see how one could preach the gospel and not talk about issues that would influence politics.

Out Of Town Church'in

If the purpose of going to church is to be entertained or to enjoy the best programs, then by all means, find the best church and drive a half hour or an hour to go to it. Maybe you go to an out of town church because you grew up in that church, family goes there, friends go there, or you went to that church when you previously lived in that town. I understand all of those reasons.

But what if the purpose of the Church is bigger than those reasons? What if, instead of going to church, you are to be the Church? What if Church is about what you can give to it rather than what you get out of it? What if Church is about relationships with one another? What if Church is about loving your neighbors and the community you live in? What if those things won’t be done within the community you live in if the Christians in your community go to churches outside of that community?

Now, I understand that you can be all-out crazy in ministering to the community you live in when you go to church out of town, but I don’t see that happening. I don’t see any of the larger churches that pull people from our town investing time and money ministering back to the people in our town. I don’t see any person in our town radically serving our community for Jesus while going to church out of town. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article. If you are doing that and I have missed it, keep on serving.

I agree that churches in communities outside of Antwerp have better preachers. That’s nothing against the preachers in Antwerp who I respect and love. I agree that churches outside of Antwerp can provide better programs for your children. I agree that churches outside of Antwerp have better facilities.

None of those reasons are a good enough reason for an Antwerpian to go to church outside of Antwerp. And the same is true for all of you from other towns. It’s true in Payne, in Paulding, in Woodburn, and in whatever town you live in. Antwerp needs Antwerp Christians to be the Church in Antwerp if the people in Antwerp are going to see Jesus through its churches. The Christians in your town need to be involved in ministering to your town if your town is going to be reached for Jesus. The good churches from other towns aren’t going to be interested in ministering to your town. They’re doing what they were called to do and ministering to their town. And we aren’t going to be the recipients of missionaries from overseas to minister to our town. The missionaries for our towns are us.

If the people in Antwerp go to churches outside of Antwerp that are focused on ministering to the communities they live in, then where will the resources and manpower come from to minister to the community of Antwerp? I understand that God is in control and all of resources are His. But what I am trying to convince you of is that God intends for you (your time, your energy, your sweat, your passion) to be part of His resources in ministering to the town you live in. He doesn’t force His will but waits patiently for faithful people to bring about His will. God typically brings His will into our reality through people like you and me.

One disclaimer: There is no substitute to following God’s calling on one’s life. If you go to church outside of the community you live in, then you need to figure out whether you are doing that because of God’s calling. If so, keep on doing it. Who am I to go against the calling of God or to establish a new law that everyone must follow? However, if you are going to church outside of the community you live in and it is not because of a clear calling from God, then I hope that you prayerfully consider switching to a church in the community where you live.

The people in your community need Christians loving them through the churches in your community. You are an important part of that because the church is only people who are in relationship with one another under the Lordship of Jesus fulfilling His mission. Living out that life together is how the Kingdom of God grows.
Here are some quotes from friends of mine:
“It is best to go to church in the town one lives in because an integral part of the Christian faith is being involved in community with other believers. We spent a lot of time travelling from town to town in order to develop relationships with others in our congregation (when we went to church outside of town). It takes a lot of time, and the intimacy is just not the same as being in community with people who are also in your geographical community.” – Mary Adams.
“I think it’s best to go where you live so you stay more connected with the people in your town and the needs there.” – Diana Watson.
“It is best to go to church in the town where you live especially if you have children. They need to develop relationships with other Christians with whom they go to school with every day instead of only seeing their Christian friends on Sunday and possibly Wednesday.” – Marilyn Lepper.
We should ask ourselves some questions. What is the purpose of Church? Why does God have me living where I live? Am I being a faithful Christian in ministering to the people where I live? Let us all continue to strive to be who God wants us to be. We only have one life to live; let’s live it as best as we can for God.

This article could be seen as an attack on some of my friends and neighbors. It is not meant to be that. But I look at the community I minister in, I see people go out of town for church, and I know that this is detrimental to the faith community in this town. I can't remain silent. The community of Antwerp needs the Christians who live in Antwerp ministering through the churches in Antwerp. This is probably true for every other small town community.

FAQ on Liberia trip from questions asked at an Indiana Tech Sociology class

On Monday, I was given the opportunity to share my experience traveling to Liberia with a sociology class at Indiana Tech. They were not able to ask all of their questions. Here is a brief FAQ with me answering their questions.

I was excited by their zeal. But zeal will not be enough. Liberia needs a helping hand up, not just a hand out.

• Why can’t you take pictures of the executive mansion if no one lives there?

The government is real sensitive against photography. I would assume that this is due to attacks. If someone were to plan an attack, taking pictures to plan one's route of attack would be useful.

The field where the women prayed.
 • Whats the book/movie about the woman praying in the field? (This is in reference to the women, both Muslim and Christian, who gathered together to pray for an end to the Civil War at the risk of their lives in a field in the middle of Monrovia.)

The book is Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leyman Gbowee. The movie is Pray The Devil Back To Hell.

If you are interested in reading another book on Liberia, the autobiography of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is also interesting: This Child Will Be Great by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It is an entertaining yet educational read.

• How did they get to school? How much did it cost the families? How old are school aged children? Average IQ?

It's not easy to get to school. For some in Monrovia, the school is just around the corner and they can just walk to school. For others it's a journey. If your family is only making $300/year, you cannot afford the trip to and from school. Also, many of the districts in the backwoods (or "bush" as they call it) do not even have public schools.

President Johnson-Sirleaf has noble dreams of providing free schooling for all. Being a woman, she is also concerned about the education of girls. The enrollment rate according to a 2010 article was only 5%. This is unfortunate because the future of any society depends upon an adequate education. When I was there, I saw the immediate needs being proper medical care and safe water. But the ability of Liberia to become self-sufficient relies upon education. Without that help, any help we give is just a hand out, no matter how necessary, and not a hand up. We must train them to help themselves.

The family we were staying with had issues with their school uniforms the week we were there. The school issued too large of uniforms for the kids in the family. The mom lovingly and industriously altered them to make them fit better. The school did not like the alterations and kicked the kids out of school until they could buy a new set of appropriate uniforms.

So school is free for all, but free is expensive in that the families have to get their kids to school and pay for uniforms in some instances. According to the US Department of State, the literacy rate in 2008 was only 58%. Some have the resources to send their kids to private school.

A computer lab in one of the more impressive
Liberian schools.
I was delighted to see a few functioning, wonderful schools. Hope 2 Liberia also plans to start schools at their Hope Centers.

IQ is a natural in-born trait, so I would assume that their IQs are equal to what ours are. I saw many bright and industrious people. Unfortunately, most of them lack the skills and knowledge to reach their potential. When that happens, in any society, the whole society loses out.

We take so much for granted in our society. We hear the phrase "common sense" thrown around failing to realize that the "common sense" we have is only common because most people were given those values by their parents. What we think is common isn't really common; it's taught. Without someone to teach us what is common, we would not know that which we consider common.

• You say there is hope for Liberia, but you say things contradictory to that statement. Is there really hope? And if so, how?


The hope was in their hearts. I was humbled by the spirit of the Liberian people. They don't have much, but they strive, they build, they yearn for a better future.

The buildings being constructed show me hope.

The parents who sacrifice to send their children to school show me hope.

Everyone working however they can to make ends meet show hope.

The churches loving their communities to the best of their abilities gave me hope.

The zeal of the believers for Jesus gave me hope.

With that said, they do need a little help from those of us who have plenty. Hope 2 Liberia isn't the only organization over there trying to help. Many, especially other churches, are over their doing what they can to help.

I was at a meeting here in Antwerp where an investment-minded person commented that Liberia is too instable to invest in. That is where the church comes in. We go where instability permeates and share the message and bring help that will foster stability. The church doesn't invest for a profit. We invest because we love because we have been loved with the hope that people will see God. With each water system, we hope to give away the Living Water who will make a difference in the long term in a society that is struggling.

So the situation was dire. No doubt about it. But the resiliency of the human spirit was inspiring. Hope was there.

Hope is only really necessary when circumstances are dire. Who needs hope when things are running smoothly? So you are right in saying that I saw many things that would appear hopeless, and my presentation contained those things. But if the human spirit does not despair amidst terrible circumstances, the future can be bright.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip.
Around forty-five people live in this house, and they
were extremely happy to get a water system. Photo
taken by Jon Bennett.
• How did it make you feel to help?

I experienced a range of emotions.

I was heartbroken giving a water system to a family or village where I already saw children who would die from the illness or parasites already in their guts from unsafe water, which was the case in many of the instances where we gave away water systems. Our was a little too late for some.

I was humbled that I could be used by God to give a water system that will actually save lives. It was a great feeling. But bittersweet combined with the previous emotion.

• What caused the 2nd Civil War?

You can read the entry on Wikipedia of the Second Liberian Civil War if you are interested.

The cliff note version. Most wars are started by people who are greedy and want power. The Second Civil Ware doesn't appear any different.

• How is the church so nice, when the surroundings are not?

The church in Monrovia that we were at is a Hope 2 Liberia Hope Center. It needs to be nice because it is the home of a church, a future school, and a common place for the community to receive water. I wouldn't call the church immaculate, just taken care of.  Obviously, money is coming from the States to build the facility. But the facility is to be a tool to be a blessing to the community around it with the hope of lifting them all up out of poverty.

Here is a guy and his pharmacy. Everyone is doing what
they can to feed their families and improve their lives.
• What jobs do they have in Liberia?

The unemployment rate is high. In 2003, it was 85%. It is probably less now, but it is still substantial. However, that doesn't mean what it means in America. The unemployed are not collecting unemployment. Everyone is still trying to get by. Some will open up a shop. They might make charcoal from wood and sell that. Others make dirt to eat. I was amazed at the industriousness. So they might not be employed, but without any sort of social safety net, they are all doing what they can to survive.

They have many of the jobs we have, but they really need more. These will come as education happens and the government properly manages the nation's natural resources.

The restroom the men used to urinate
in was out in the open.
• Did you also have to poopoo in the open?

Thankfully, I did not have to. They had a toilet for that. Without running water, it did have to be flushed with a bucket even at the house we were staying at.

• What is the difference between clean and safe drinking water?

The distinction is just in the way we use the words. "Clean" appears clear, but that does not mean it is "safe." "Safe" means that it won't harm you to drink it. It is like the sandbag filtration system (picture below). The sandbag filtration system makes dirty water appear clean but it is still not safe. The Sawyer Water Filtration System makes the water both clean and safe.

• Whats the use of government? They do not regulate anything or have programs to help their citizens. They have no laws because everyone results to their own forms of punishments

We overestimate the benefits of the infrastructure and knowledge that has been passed down to us by our parents and their parents and their parents, etc.

These attempts at water purification can
be seen in many yards. They pour dirty water
into a bag of sand and it comes out at the
bottom as clean water. However, the water
appearing clean does not mean that it is
safe to drink.
Here is an excerpt from an article: Liberia: Budget Exceeds Half Billion.

"The Ministry of Finance has announced Liberia's Fiscal Budget for 2011/2012 in the tone of 516.4.Million United States Dollars or half billion U.S. dollars.

Finance Minister Augustine K. Ngafuan [who I had the privilege to eat lunch with - note by Regan], revealed that that the country's budget has exceeded half billion and will soon pass the previous budgets of the 70s and 80's when the government operated a budget above 600 millions."

So they are starting at ground zero with infrastructure. Their hope is to have electricity in place by 2014. From there they will work on a public water system. But while they are spending money on these giant programs, they also have to keep the wheels of government going. This isn't as cheap or as easy as we might think.

We can afford to worry about building an expressway between Toledo and Ft. Wayne because we already have the basic infrastructure in place to worry about advanced infrastructure. They do not.

We are blessed to not have to start our infrastructure from scratch. If we had to, we would also realize what a long and tedious process it would be.

So the Liberian government is working to provide the basic protections and infrastructure a government should provide. It just takes time to develop from the starting point they find themselves in.

Here is an example of one of the water systems ready to
be handed out. A Sawyer Water System can handle
1,000,000 gallons before the filter goes bad. It should
last any of the people that we gave them to a lifetime.
• How did you clean the water?

The Hope Centers have larger filtration systems. The smaller personal systems that we distributed are Sawyer Water Systems. We brought the systems with us. Once there, we bought and prepared the whole system to give away to schools, churches, and households.

• What would be the next place you would pick for a mission trip?

Probably Liberia again. I'm not one looking for experiences but to make an impact. The more I go back to the same place, the more of an impact I can make. I like what Hope 2 Liberia is doing. They have been there since 2005, have a great partnership going with the church their in Monrovia, and are reaching the point where they can make an even greater impact.

The kid holding the stick and hubcap in the front row was
so full of life. He would run around having fun with the
hubcap. But he will be dead because his belly is swelling.
He's not starving as he is well-fed. His family has a garden,
raises chickens, and harvests food from the woods to eat,
but his drinking water is not safe. One out of four children
 in Liberia do not live to see their sixth birthday. Sadly, he
will be one of them because he will not receive the
medical care that he needs. Safe water is already too late. :(
• What shocked you the most?

How well fed they were. Despite being well fed, they were still dying from bad water. Really confusing to me.

• Did you ever feel really unsafe?

Only once. I was handing out toys to children in a house when word must have spread throughout the community that a white man was handing out toys. I didn't have enough toys for every Liberian child. Wish I did. Eventually, I was surrounded by sixty to seventy kids all trying to get a toy. I was like the center of a rabid mob. It was both heartbreaking and terrifying as they were all clamoring for a toy. One of the saddest and scariest moments of the trip. I wanted to weep. Yet I was also in shock. Weird experience.

• What made you want to go and help Liberia?

It all started with a music festival I put on last summer. I wanted to mobilize the small, country town I live in to think beyond themselves and work together to raise funds to provide water for those who need it. Sadly, the festival revealed to me how self-centered the town I live in is. Many made comments like, "Why help those overseas, when there are people that need help here?" This fails to recognize that the type of poverty overseas is much more severe than the poverty here. So, I realize I have a lot of ministry to do in this town helping people to see beyond themselves and their wants.

In the process of planning the music festival, I looked around for an organization that I could get behind and support. This led me to Sam and Dave at Hope 2 Liberia. After spending a day with them and learning about their ministry in Liberia, they were the group that I decided to support with our music festival.

From there, we raised funds to support them. When they were planning this teaching/water trip, they asked me to be one of the teachers. I was honored and jumped at the opportunity.

This is the side of the Hope Center in Monrovia. You can
see the barbed wire along the top of the fence.
• Why is there barbed wire around the church and school?

Theft is a significant issue in Liberia. We can be judgmental about this or just recognize the fact that when people are desperate (as in needing food to feed their family), they will do desperate things. So the church, schools, businesses, and houses often have barbed wire and security people. This is just to prevent theft.

• How do the rich people live in the red light district?

I don't know if there are rich people in Red Light.  It is more of a marketplace.

• How do you feel about what is going on in Uganda?

If you are meaning Kony, I really am not informed enough to make an educated opinion.

• Do you believe that your organization will be able to reach other issues going on with Liberia (electricity, clean water, clothes, medical?)

I was just a volunteer with Hope 2 Liberia. But I will try to answer for them anyway. Hope 2 Liberia is focused on water, education and meeting spiritual needs with their Hope Centers. They have provided clothing. They have also done some medical trips. But their primary focus at this time is providing Liberians with safe water. This allows to keep focused and get the job done.

As for what I will do in the future, I am praying and seeking God's will.

• What is the average income?

The average income is around $500/year. But this is an average that includes big incomes. I would say that the typical income of many of the people I encountered was around $150-300/year.

• Why choose Liberia and not elsewhere?

I don't think there is anything special about choosing Liberia. I just think people need to be helping others somewhere. That can be the neighbor next door or people in some nation halfway around the world. But it's not an either/or. We can do both. In Liberia, the poverty is extreme and people need immediate help just to survive.

It is this way in other nations. But don't let the indecisiveness of where to help prevent you from helping. Choose somewhere to help and use your abundant resources to help. Because your resources are abundant whether you realize it or not.

• What is the relationship between American Liberians and Native Liberians?

There seems to still be some animosity between the two. When President Johnson-Sirleaf ran for President, she had to make it clear that she wasn't a descendant of the American Liberians.

• What kind of government do they operate and who is the current president?

It is a democracy. And the current President is Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The first female President in all of Africa.

• What is the average distance to travel for water?

The dilemma is not distance. Many have wells in their back yard. The dilemma is safe water. The water is easily accessible. The problem is that it is contaminated.

Although there were a few gas stations as
we would recognize them. Many gas stations
were like this one and sold gas by the
pickle jar (in their case mayonnaise jar).
• How much is gas?

When were there, it cost the same as it does in the States. However, they don't make as much money as those in the States, so the cost of gas is extremely expensive for the typical Liberian.

• What do they use for power?

Those who have money and can afford gas will purchase generators.

• What happened to stop the power?

The Civil Wars destroyed the infrastructure of the Liberian society.

• How many water systems did you provide?

We provided twenty-four Sawyer Water Systems and got the water system at the Hope Center in Monrovia up and running.

• Do they have working showers in Liberia?

I'm sure they do at places. But where we stayed, it was sponge baths all week long.

• Did you witness any violence or fighting?

I actually saw two fights along the street. But that is not really all that much violence considering that we were driving a lot. Monrovia has 1.3 million people packed in such a small area.

• Do most children go to school?

It is required by the state but they do not.

• How did you fundraise for your trip?

I sent out letters to friends. If you need help with this on a trip, I will gladly give you a copy of that letter.

• Are there also rebel groups there?

I heard that there are still rebels. But I never encountered any. The rebels are frowned upon. The Liberian people do not want the war to start back up. In most wars, the people are just victims caught between two groups fighting for power and money.

An abandoned gas station. These are everywhere and are
an emblem of what Liberia once was and what it has
become due to the destruction of the Civil Wars.
• What is a “fourth world” country?

Wikipedia has a good entry on it. Fourth World. A better listing that describes it is the one for Least Developed Country.
Least developed country (LDC) is the name given to a country which, according to the United Nations, exhibits the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development, with the lowest Human Development Index ratings of all countries in the world. The concept of LDCs originated in the late 1960s and the first group of LDCs was listed by the UN in its resolution 2768 (XXVI) of 18 November 1971. A country is classified as a Least Developed Country if it meets three criteria:
- Low-income (three-year average GNI per capita of less than US $905, which must exceed $1,086 to leave the list)
- Human resource weakness (based on indicators of nutrition, health, education and adult literacy) and
- Economic vulnerability (based on instability of agricultural production, instability of exports of goods and services, economic importance of non-traditional activities, merchandise export concentration, handicap of economic smallness, and the percentage of population displaced by natural disasters)

• Why aren't more people helping?

We have a tendency to ignore the plight of others. If we really saw their plight and acknowledged that we could do something about, we would be required to do something about it or acknowledge that we are really evil people. It is easier to pretend that the problem doesn't exist.

As I talk in my article, Who Will Be God's Ambassadors?, about Secretary of State Clinton's visit to Liberia, we are more concerned with homosexual rights than we are with the plight of the struggling masses in Liberia.

Now that you see the problem, I pray that you will join in in doing something about it.

• What can I do to help?

The most basic thing would be giving money to organizations that are helping. I know Hope 2 Liberia would use your money to be a blessing to the Liberian people as I have seen their work on the ground in Liberia. You can donate at their website.

If you want to be more involved by going on a trip, contact them or some other organization. Hope 2 Liberia is based out of Muncie, Indiana, so they would be easy to get connected with. Don't let your desire to help those in need dwindle before you do something.

• What did they sell in the red light district?

The Red Light district is the market area of Monrovia. It is called Red Light because it used to have a red stop light. The only stop light in Monrovia. The stop light is long gone, but the place has kept its name. When we visited Red Light, we estimated that there were 200,000 people in a 4x4 block area. It was insane. Below is a video taken on a rainy day a few years back in Red Light. It doesn't really do the busyness of the area justice.

Everything is for sale in Red Light. From suitcases to food. From clothes to lighters. I even saw cell phones.

• Were there dead bodies laying around?

None where I could see. But I did hear that bodies will float down the river around once a week. The Liberian people still take care of dead bodies.

The home where I stayed in Liberia.
• Were you afraid of having your home broken into?

I felt comfortable where we were staying. We had security people there all day and all night long.

• What did the guards use to protect your home?

I don't know if they had knives or anything. But their presence was enough. Most Liberians do not have guns as the United Nations bought the guns from Liberians after the Civil War for $300 each. See Analysis: How best to remove guns from post-conflict zones?

• Were the people friendly in Liberia?

Extremely. But I was a white man and they love Americans. But the feeling I got was that the Liberian people are generally a good-hearted, friendly people.

This is part of a series that I wrote showing the mission trip I took to Liberia.
I divided the subjects into individual pages, for ease of use.

Here are a few articles that I wrote upon my return:
One Drop

A Hunger for More

With the recent release of the Hunger Games in theaters I am left with some questions. In the Hunger Games, we see an overcontrolling government who forces twenty-four teenagers to enter an arena and fight to the death. While reading the book, I wondered what the Christian response to such a situation should be. If a government forced me into an arena to fight to the death, what would I do? If I was asked to give counsel to someone entering such a situation, what would I say? Or even more important - What should I do and what should I say?

Unfortunately, this question isn't just a fictitious question. There have been times in history where people would fight to the death. And Christians were involved. In one of those stories, we can see the correct response.

Following is a story from Fox's Book of Martyrs. Below the excerpt is a video of the story if you don't like reading.
After this fortunate victory over the Goths a "triumph," as it was called, was celebrated at Rome. For hundreds of years successful generals had been awarded this great honor on their return from a victorious campaign. Upon such occasions the city was given up for days to the marching of troops laden with spoils, and who dragged after them prisoners of war, among whom were often captive kings and conquered generals. This was to be the last Roman triumph, for it celebrated the last Roman victory. Although it had been won by Stilicho, the general, it was the boy emperor, Honorius, who took the credit, entering Rome in the car of victory, and driving to the Capitol amid the shouts of the populace. Afterward, as was customary on such occasions, there were bloody combats in the Colosseum, where gladiators, armed with swords and spears, fought as furiously as if they were on the field of battle. 
The first part of the bloody entertainment was finished; the bodies of the dead were dragged off with hooks, and the reddened sand covered with a fresh, clean layer. After this had been done the gates in the wall of the arena were thrown open, and a number of tall, well-formed men in the prime of youth and strength came forward. Some carried swords, others three-pronged spears and nets. They marched once around the walls, and stopping before the emperor, held up their weapons at arm's length, and with one voice sounded out their greeting, Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutant! "Hail, Caesar, those about to die salute thee!" 
The combats now began again; the gladiators with nets tried to entangle those with swords, and when they succeeded mercilessly stabbed their antagonists to death with the three-pronged spear. When a gladiator had wounded his adversary, and had him lying helpless at his feet, he looked up at the eager faces of the spectators, and cried out, Hoc habet! "He has it!" and awaited the pleasure of the audience to kill or spare. 
If the spectators held out their hands toward him, with thumbs upward, the defeated man was taken away, to recover if possible from his wounds. But if the fatal signal of "thumbs down" was given, the conquered was to be slain; and if he showed any reluctance to present his neck for the death blow, there was a scornful shout from the galleries, Recipe ferrum! "Receive the steel!" Privileged persons among the audience would even descend into the arena, to better witness the death agonies of some unusually brave victim, before his corpse was dragged out at the death gate. 
The show went on; many had been slain, and the people, madly excited by the desperate bravery of those who continued to fight, shouted their applause. But suddenly there was an interruption. A rudely clad, robed figure appeared for a moment among the audience, and then boldly leaped down into the arena. He was seen to be a man of rough but imposing presence, bareheaded and with sun-browned face. Without hesitating an instant he advanced upon two gladiators engaged in a life-and-death struggle, and laying his hand upon one of them sternly reproved him for shedding innocent blood, and then, turning toward the thousands of angry faces ranged around him, called upon them in a solemn, deep-toned voice which resounded through the deep enclosure. These were his words: "Do not requite God's mercy in turning away the swords of your enemies by murdering each other!" 
Angry shouts and cries at once drowned his voice: "This is no place for preaching!--the old customs of Rome must be observed!--On, gladiators!" Thrusting aside the stranger, the gladiators would have again attacked each other, but the man stood between, holding them apart, and trying in vain to be heard. "Sedition! sedition! down with him!" was then the cry; and the gladiators, enraged at the interference of an outsider with their chosen vocation, at once stabbed him to death. Stones, or whatever missiles came to hand, also rained down upon him from the furious people, and thus he perished, in the midst of the arena. 
His dress showed him to be one of the hermits who vowed themselves to a holy life of prayer and self-denial, and who were reverenced by even the thoughtless and combat-loving Romans. The few who knew him told how he had come from the wilds of Asia on a pilgrimage, to visit the churches and keep his Christmas at Rome; they knew he was a holy man, and that his name was Telemachus-no more. His spirit had been stirred by the sight of thousands flocking to see men slaughter one another, and in his simple-hearted zeal he had tried to convince them of the cruelty and wickedness of their conduct. He had died, but not in vain. His work was accomplished at the moment he was struck down, for the shock of such a death before their eyes turned the hearts of the people: they saw the hideous aspects of the favorite vice to which they had blindly surrendered themselves; and from the day Telemachus fell dead in the Colosseum, no other fight of gladiators was ever held there. 

The end of the gladiators was not caused by a great act of violent victory but through the humble sacrifice of one man. People who share the same conviction of nonviolence need to step up and do more today. I need to step up and do more today. It is our responsibility as Christians to do all that we can to shower God's love around the world - especially to our neighbors, co-workers, and friends who we interact with on a daily basis. We need to be advocates for the hungry, the oppressed, the impoverished, the ill, and the helpless. We need to be advocates even to the point of our death. That is the cross we should carry.

The dictionary defines "pacifism" as "opposition to war or violence of any kind". But the word "pacifism" is detrimental to the cause of nonviolence because the very word implies to many that those who take the stance that violence is not an option are passive. That is why you will always see me use the phrase "nonviolent" rather than "pacifist." We need to not be passive in our resistance to violence but active in our promotion of love.

I'm reminded of Paul, Peter, and Jesus. By all recorded counts they were nonviolent. That excludes the time Peter chopped off a guys ear and was reprimanded by Jesus. Apparently, Jesus didn't want that violence. It also excludes the violent life of Paul prior to his conversion. If murdering non-believers was appropriate when he was Jew, it was not a practice that he continued once he became a Christian. We do not see any violent act by the three of them recorded  after they were filled with the Holy Spirit. This life of nonviolence extended to all of the Christians in the New Testament. I don't know a single Christian in early church history that is an example of faithfulness who was a violent man.

All three of them do share one characteristic. They might have been non-violent, but they sure weren't passive. They were so nonviolent that their lives culminated in allowing themselves to be killed for their beliefs. If Jesus, Paul, and Peter didn't call for arms to be raised to save their lives, then why in the world should arms be raised to save other lives? Why weren't arms raised by others to save their lives? A Christian's greatest weapon isn't a gun, a missile, or a tactical strategy; it is the fact that we are willing to give up our lives for the cause of Christ because He gave His life up for us. Our greatest weapon is sacrificial love. We can do more for the gospel in dying for our faith than we ever would by pointing a gun and sending a bullet into someone else's brain or heart. It's easy to be willing to kill; it is much harder to be willing to die.

Who Will Be God's Ambassadors?

This is me with a little Liberian boy
and his cousin in the background.
Today I was a reminded of a commitment I made to myself in Liberia but have since forgotten. I need to be a deliberate missionary here in Antwerp like I was in Liberia.

But life creeps in. Family creeps in. Work - even pastoral work - creeps in. And instead of mobilizing my life and my family to be missionaries with me, I lose focus and continue to just be a pastor, getting the job done, and miss the great things that God wants to do through me, my family, and this great community.

One thing I taught to my brothers and sisters in Liberia during my lesson on the mission of the church was that they need to be the missionaries where they live. They are better placed to be the one to reach those in their neighborhoods and workplaces than me or any other missionary that comes over there to help. This concept might be difficult for a Liberian to grasp because they have missionaries coming over to help them all of the time. But the missionary’s job is not to enable complacent following of Jesus but to empower them to radically follow Jesus in their life. They need to be the ambassadors of Jesus where they live. We empower; they make the difference.

I love the ambassador analogy used by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: “To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20 ESV).

The children from Riverside Christian Church
gave me some of their toys to give to Liberian
children who have absolutely no toys besides
sticks and trash. Here they are enjoying some
of their matchbox cars.
The United States has an ambassador over in Liberia. This ambassador, like any good ambassador, attempts to influence Liberia to do the things that America wants it to do. Right now, the big debate raging in Liberia caused by the United States is over our government pressuring the Liberian government to legalize homosexuality. The attempts of the embassy and Hilary Clinton during her visit earlier this year have backfired. The Liberian government will now be voting on two cruel laws against homosexuality: One that would imprison homosexuals for five years and another that would execute them. I want to be clear. I don’t think either proposed bill of legislation is a good thing. But I wonder about a nation like ours who is more concerned about the legalization of homosexuality rather than all of the children I saw dying of disease from dirty water and lack of shoes, the need for adequate medicine, and the lack of a satisfactory education system. One in four children die before the age of five and we are worried about the rights of homosexuals rather than the necessities of children.

The point is that an ambassador of a nation tries to get the will of that nation done in the foreign land they are temporarily residing in. Thankfully, I am not an ambassador for the United States. I, like the apostle Paul, am an ambassador for the “mystery of the gospel." You, if you are a follower of Jesus, are also an ambassador of the mystery of the gospel. When you go somewhere, you shouldn’t be trying to get the will of America implemented. Instead, you should be trying to free people by the mystery of the gospel. You are an ambassador for Jesus.

People from Riverside Christian
Church also gave me Bibles to give
to those who have no Bibles. This
is Mary with her Bible. Very happy!
If we aren’t the ambassadors for the gospel where we live, then who will be? I have never seen a missionary come to where I live trying to get people to follow Jesus. Not that we don’t need one.

But we do have one. And that one is you and me. We are called to be ambassadors for Jesus. We are to be a city on a hill. We are to be the light of the world. We are to be the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5:13-16). Are we? Or do we expect someone else to do the jobs that Jesus has called us to do?

First, I am an ambassador of Jesus to my family. Then to the church placed in my care. Then to the community I live in. I can never let the busyness of the world creep in and strangle that calling to death. If I am not the ambassador, who will be? If you aren’t His ambassador in your family, in your workplace, and in your community, who will be?

This is part of a series that I wrote showing the mission trip I took to Liberia.
I divided the subjects into individual pages, for ease of use.

Here are a few articles that I wrote upon my return:
One Drop

Sunrise in the Clouds over Europe

Near the end of a painfully uncomfortable American Airlines flight from New York to Brussels, God blessed me with this beautiful sunrise over Europe. It reminded me of His great blessings. My knee was aching from lack of movement. I didn't get much sleep while flying over the Atlantic through the night. But God reminded me of His majesty through this beauty above the clouds over Europe. It was a great beginning to my trip to Liberia. At the moment, I thought this experience alone would be worth the trip. That was a thought that I would regularly have with many other amazing experiences in the coming days. We serve such a beautiful God.

Maybe you are at a point of pain and suffering in your life. Much worse than just being uncomfortable. If so, I hope you will be comforted in the truth that sun will always rise. Eventually, your dark night will face the dawn. And you will experience something that makes all the pain worth it. 

"I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus in Matthew 28:20 (ESV)

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.

You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:2-6 (ESV)

This is part of a series that I wrote showing the mission trip I took to Liberia.
I divided the subjects into individual pages, for ease of use.

Here are a few articles that I wrote upon my return:
One Drop

You Shall Love Your Neighbor As...

Some of our neighbors in Liberia.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39 ESV).

Love your neighbor as you love yourself? Couldn’t he have said, “Everyone fend for themselves?” Or maybe, “Love your neighbor so that they have all their needs?”

But that isn’t how Jesus taught we are to love. He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

How much do I love myself? What kind of clothes do I give myself? What kind of food do I feed myself? Where do I sleep at night? What is the water like that I drink? Am I really supposed to love my neighbor as I love myself?

Too often we are led astray by our pride. We think we deserve more than our neighbor because we work harder than our neighbor or we work smarter than our neighbor. We think we are allowed to live more blessed than our neighbor because of who we are and what we have done. Oh, the pride.

Palm is a source of life for the Liberian people.
Sadly, you can see a bloated stomach one of the
kids in the background.
Love your neighbor as yourself. That's tough when you think about it.

Are we living in a way that everyone can live? Or are we living in a way that only a few can live?

We have been greatly blessed here in America. But that blessing comes with a  great responsibility. With great blessings comes great responsibility. With our blessings, we are to be a blessing. We have been blessed, not for self-indulgent enjoyment, but to be a blessing to those who need blessed.

Are we a blessing? Or are we just blessed? Do we live in opulence while allowing others to wallow in their plight? How long do you think that blessing will last if we are not using it to bless others?

Now I understand that we don’t want to just give handouts. But how about handups? How about we help in such a way that we can actually bring about a better world for those less fortunate? Instead of watching television, saving for another vacation, spending countless hours on the internet, or reading another book, maybe we could invest in making the lives of others better.

A neighbor of ours standing by a tree in the
city of Buchanan, Liberia.
But where would we find the time? We are so busy running our children here and there. Another sporting event. Another activity. We have to get to the gym. We have to watch our favorite show. We have to do this and do that. While we are so busy in our own little world, people around the world are crying for help.

God hears the cry of the afflicted. And He is prompting His people to go help. Are we listening? Or are we just too busy. What happens if we don't listen?

Love your neighbor as yourself.

This is part of a series that I wrote showing the mission trip I took to Liberia.
I divided the subjects into individual pages, for ease of use.

Here are a few articles that I wrote upon my return:
One Drop

One Drop

This kid epitomizes Liberia for me.
Another day I saw him with his shirt off.
He has an extreme outie and will probably
die. His family now has
a working water system.
Hopefully, it is not too late.
I wish I could change the channel, so I could stop looking. As they say, “Out of sight, out of mind.” But this is not television. It’s reality. Not the fake kind manufactured by the networks. This is survival. It surrounds me. I can’t change the channel. I could go to another neighborhood, but it would more than likely be the same.

I see people who think they are sustaining themselves by eating cooked dirt they call chocolate. And nearly everyone is drinking water that is not safe. I see children with bloated bellies. They appear to receive enough nutrition, but they will die from waterborne diseases. A sure sign of  having one that is dangerous is a belly button pushed out. Think of an outie but one that pokes out one to two inches. It doesn’t matter whether you were born with an innie or outie; once the intestinal swelling starts to happen, the belly button is pushed out. The struggle of humanity surrounds me. I would weep if I could but here I am in the midst of it all.

I stand for a few minutes watching a soccer game as the team I am with is nearby training a family how to use a water filtration system we came over here to give to those in need. I can almost forget the pain and suffering. The community cheers. The players hustle and compete with one another. It’s just like back at home.

One drop.
When you think of household, don’t think of our houses and our families. Think extended. We just left a house with six rooms and a living room. Each of the six rooms houses a family consisting of five to nine people. Some of them, especially the younger ones, will probably be dead within a year. But maybe not in this house, as they will now have clean water. So the small house has somewhere around thirty-five to fifty people. Before that, I left a tiny house that housed fifteen. This house had two little kids that were scared of white people. And it had an electric box on the wall that once was used to provide electricity to the house. I took a picture of the outdated General Electric electric box with my General Electric camera. My camera was a cheap camera. It only cost me $80. We had forgotten to bring a camera on a vacation, so we bought an extra one. That money could feed these people for months and provide a water filtration system with some money left over.

Some kids watching the local soccer game.
Just a drop in the bucket. That’s all I feel like I am doing. I wish I had Bill Gates’ billions. I wish I could live here educating this post-civil war generation about how to have a better life. I wish I could help turn this sorrow into joy, death into life, despair into hope. God help us all. Those suffering and those too comfortable to help the suffering. We all need your help to be the people we were made to be.

Look closely and you can see rolls of
Liberian dirt. This dirt is cooked over
charcoal and then eaten. The
people in this neighborhood call
it chocolate.
I don’t want to paint too hopeless of a picture. These are good people. Hardworking. Friendly. Loving. This extreme poverty has brought out the best in humanity, although it does bring a set of vices all of its own. And as I look around, I see hope. I see people doing what it takes to survive. Enjoying a soccer game. Starting businesses. Living in community with one another. Building new homes. Growing food. Among the many tossed into the ashes by the few who fight for power, humanity strives on.

And I see other organizations here in Liberia besides Hope 2 Liberia. Many churches. A few secular organizations. More drops in the bucket. Another water system given. drip. A toy given to a kid who has absolutely nothing. drop. A Bible given. drip. A school started. drop. I wish I could do so much more. But together, I think we will fill this bucket one drop at a time.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17 ESV).

That ball is out of bounds. How do you know?
You know when it crosses the out of bounds ditch.

The crowd at the soccer game.

The useless General Electric power box.

The view from the goalie. Note that it is not a net. Just a fence between two posts.