August 23, 2008

If love were a cancer we would stop seeking a cure & let it consume our whole bodies.

I'm sorry it's been so many weeks since I last wrote, but God has detained me with His constant moving, shaking, changing and directing. Diane & I have some really exciting things to share with everyone, both about our work here in Afghanistan as well as our plans for the coming years.

First, however, (I suppose this should come first in order to leave everyone feeling cheery upon completion of this update) I have been deathly sick this past week. I'm definitely on the road to recovery now, but still very weak and not able to eat much. Last Sunday I was invited to a banquet of some locals and seated as a guest of honor. Their poor family surprised me with an Afghan delicacy that probably cost them a couple weeks wages and I felt so humbled by their generosity that there was NO WAY I could refuse it. Boiled sheep butt fat in oil and spices along with these little meat dumpling thingies and fruit. Needless to say my westernized stomach never forgave me. I woke up that night with the worst pain in my life, vomited for two days straight, lost about 10lbs, got so dehydrated I needed to drink salt water to bring my muscles back under control and praised the Lord for this amazing families gift all the way through. I really am feeling much better today, but prayer for health is really needed. We have two weeks left here in Afghanistan and a slew of photo projects to get done before we go, so I'll need the energy.

One other note of prayer needed for our team is a rise in persecution coming our way. This week alone we've had rocks heaved and pelted over the walls of our courtyard, a threat that the police are going to come raid our guest house because of "rumors" that we are preaching the gospel (which we are, so, thus is life), and I was spat in the face during my conversation class by a radical who couldn't accept the fact that I have tattoos and am still such a nice guy (or really because he called me a sinner and Jesus a rapist and I said we are all sinners and that the rapist loves him very much).

So pray...but also please know that while there is persecution here (as there is anywhere when people genuinely live their faith) the people of Afghanistan are beautiful. The friendships we have made mean more to me than anything. And to watch the sparkle in the eyes of Afghans dreaming about a better world will break your heart. It has mine...

So on to all the euangelion (or good news). These past few weeks a lot of our team members have been working in a village project 4 hours south of Mazar in Shebragon. They have been leading an education workshop teaching teachers basic learning methods. Most of the village communities have little to no education programs and the schools are usually run by adults who themselves hold 5th or 6th grade proficiency in subjects. So what a blessing to provide more opportunity for future development of those communities. Here in Mazar our office work is wrapping up. My conversation class finished this week but has opened so many doors for me to speak plainly about social justice, non-violent resolution to violent oppression, grace, hope, love and even my faith. I can't do justice in words the feeling you get in your chest when a student comes to you after class and wants to speak in private about Jesus. You feel sneaky. You feel like the early church must have felt in many instances. You feel as much of the church today still feels watching the Kingdom practically break out, touch hearts, and be realized.

This coming week we are all scrambling to get out and shoot as much as physically possible capturing whatever we can of this incredible place. We'll be trucking out to a village north of here, as well as finishing up our work at the orphanage. This friday I'm also organizing what I'm calling HAPPY NAN DAY (Nan is Afghan bread by the way). Next friday is the beginning of the influx to Mazar because Ramadan (the Islamic month of prayer and fasting) starts the following week, so the Mosque will be flooded with people. As a sign of LOVE and RECONCILIATION we're going to buy as much bread as our broken Toyota Mini Van can hold and head down to the Mosque to give it all away, blessing and praying for people as much as we can before we either get kicked out or run out of bread. HAPPY NAN DAY - feel free to celebrate NAN DAY with us in your own towns!!!


Now onto the future. So Diane and I have been praying constantly the last couple months about what God has for us next. As some of you know we have planned to continue working with PhotogenX for the next few years, but the Lord has been shaking those plans, as He often does. There has been a lack of peace in our hearts for a while, but the Lamb has been speaking. Well after a lot of prayer, council, and confirmation we have decided to come back to States for a season. We believe this is the right thing for us, our new marriage, and beyond anything the will of God. Here is our main passion for coming to the west:

We have been dreaming together about a "social experiment" we want to start called Project Love 1.0. We have been excited about the idea for some time and believe God has finally said YES. Basically we want to help mobilize Congregations and Communities to socially/radically change their cities. The hope is for Project Love to be 100% practical (i.e. non-theoretical) in actions of Love throughout a community asking NOTHING in return from those the actions are helping. We don't want votes, church membership, or even conversion in return for the love we share (see the life of Jesus for more details). WE JUST WANT TO LOVE PEOPLE BECAUSE PEOPLE NEED IT. We don't want to start and organization, we want to birth the organism by simply living love in community. We don't want Project Love based in any certain city, instead we want it to be global and move from place to place. That’s why we call it "1.0" in hopes that there will be a 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 and on and on...the ideas and actions can range in zealotry from organizing carpooling and free transportation to work/school for single parent homes to mobilizing finances to buy homes for the homeless (or maybe give some of ours away, who knows?)...we also finally want to make it a very ART based project by capturing and documenting LOVE in it's very nature as best we can and then making publications, websites, photo books, short films, and holding art galleries and exhibitions.

SHEEEESH (did everyone take a deep breath?) OK, SO THAT'S OUR HEART.

This is the primary reason we are coming home. We will be moving to MEMPHIS, TN this fall to live in community with my Brother & Sister in Law, with the hopes of helping bring life to that city. We are so excited to come along side other believers and change things. This is what God has been doing in us...We will also spend the next year while we are back in the states building relationships and speaking at different congregations about our work in PhotogenX and mobilizing more solid missions support for venturing out in the future. We are still hoping to be a part of this community and do the 'Round The World Track next year or the year after.

So there is much behind and much ahead. God brought us to an island to get married and to the desert to hear His voice. In two weeks we head to South Africa then back to the States. Through everything we know that God is faithful. He has provided for us time and time again and will continue to. Thank you all for your faith and love for us. For your constant prayers and financial support. Because of you people in Afghanistan who were hungry are being filled as the Kingdom of God invades this land with more force and power than any empire which has done so over the past 3000 years. Joy is here...

See you soon...

August 4, 2008

The Sickness From the Black Lagoon

{My wife and I south of Mazar having an Afghan Picnic}

I work up this past Saturday at 7am with a fever of 103 and convulsing muscles. Excess amounts of vomiting followed leaving me dehydrated in a way I think only Bear Grills [of Man vs. Wild] could possibly imagine. We called an American doctor friend who firmly insisted I drink more salty water than is humanly possible and posture myself before the maker of the universe. I’ve done both things and woke up this morning mutated into some kind of BLACK TONGUED MUTANT. Yes that’s right folks - I’m in Afghanistan and my tongue is black. In related news, I’m joining the X-Men…

{our friend TANK MAN}

I’m not gonna lie, these past couple weeks have been hard. Sure I haven’t eaten solid food in 48 hours and my mouth looks like I could personally solve the world oil crisis, but even emotionally it has just been really taxing. Living in a WAR torn country dose that to you I suppose. Poverty surrounds you. Violence surrounds you and you begin to feel helpless. Yet it’s the vary nature of our new creation that indeed makes helplessness expire and grace evolve. Perhaps we are just crazy enough to believe that what we are doing here is helping change things. I know I am…a little crazy that is.

The past weeks have seen further work in our NGO office as well as time spent in a local orphanage. We’ve all also been working on various projects for local NGO long-termers to help provide them with solid media & photography to raise funds and spread awareness. Diane photographed the local women’s prison {you can check out a bunch of her shots on her blog right now} which is in absolutely ludicrous conditions. Further, once you make the recollection that when a woman goes to prison in Afghanistan her children go with her, those conditions are even more mind numbing. Babies being raised in rubble – children playing in barbed wire. Yes I’m tired…but the Lamb is at work…

{Bread for Life - is a project I have been working on
which serves to support local Afghan believers in
opening bakeries, sustain community and freely 
feed the pour - i.e. Afghans Feeding Afghans}

The relationships I have built with local Afghans are the dearest things to me now. For while I feel at times I am taking more from this country {in photography} than I am giving back, these friendships are honest. On a personal level they have really toiled to close the gap between east & west, rich & pour, and muslim & christian. I have grown weary of the personification within my faith that pushes strictly for conversion. I find more often than not that this mentality negates the need to live out the established Kingdom. Francis of Assisi often said that "there is no point in walking anywhere to preach, unless ones walking is ones preaching." A sentiment I wholly agree with. These men (and women) I love are REAL people, with REAL problems, in a REALLY oppressive culture, living in a staggering disposition to half-truths, violence, and anger, and if we are REALLY honest with ourselves, we won't see much of a difference between their world and our own. We all must overcome and we all hold within us the beauty & truth of our maker. GRACE MUST BE LIVED, NOT PREACHED...

...After all, what mere words could possibly make manifest the fulness of His grace?