Monday, October 26, 2020

A Two-Week Break from Blogging

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I'm taking a couple weeks off my normal blog-posting schedule. I'll try to resume normal posts on Monday, Nov. 8. In the meantime, you can check out my church's Facebook feed at, which includes a daily inspirational video post from me and my family.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Dear God, give us peaceful hearts and a right courage in the confusion and strife... And so may we not only endure and finally triumph, but also have peace in the midst of the struggle. May we praise and thank you and not complain or become impatient against your divine will. Let peace win the victory in our hearts, that we may never through impatience initiate anything against you, our God, or our neighbors. May we remain quiet and peaceable toward God and toward other people, both inwardly and outwardly, until the final and eternal peace shall come. Amen.

- Martin Luther

Friday, October 23, 2020

Africa Memoir: Perhaps You Would Like a Sudanese Wife? (Or Possibly Two?)

Blue Nile, Sudan  (Photo by Bertramz, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)

My first few days in Sudan were a whirlwind of new experiences. I got to meet my team, which at that point consisted of just two small families, both from Europe and both still fairly young (though a few years older than me). Ernest was our team leader, and he lived with his wife Eve a few blocks away from Aaron and Anne, in the vast, mud-brick suburb of Diems. I was staying with Aaron and Anne until I could get settled into my work and find a place of my own. Even though no one else in the team was a native English-speaker, they had all adopted English as their team language before I arrived, since they did not speak one another’s first languages. They were smart, pleasant, and passionately devoted to their calling, which was to reach some of the people groups in western Sudan (the Darfur region) who had never before had access to the Gospel. They were still in the early years of their team project, so everyone was busy trying to learn Sudanese Arabic, make contacts in the community, and set up the development agency that would provide basic medical necessities to the communities in which they ministered. All of them had left behind other careers and other dreams in order to be of service to the Kingdom of God—in Aaron’s case, he had actually been a professional athlete, a rising star in his sport, but he walked away from it to follow God’s call. 

Aaron and Anne’s house was of a traditional Sudanese design—brown walls, looking rather like adobe from the American southwest, arranged around a small open courtyard. On one side stood my room, connected to the living room (the “saloon” in Arabic); on another side, the tiny kitchen and my hosts’ room; and, in another corner, the bathroom, complete with a hole in the cement floor which served as the toilet. There was a new construction project starting to rise beside their house, and it wasn’t uncommon for curious Sudanese workers to pause and gaze down into the yard to see what the white people were up to that day. (Aaron and Anne said they didn’t mind, except when they, who missed climbing mountains in the Alps, were practicing climbing skills on the sides of their home that faced the tiny courtyard—but, now that I think about it, it seems obvious that Sudanese workers would enjoy watching white people do something as odd-looking as that.) 

That first morning we met with the whole team at Ernest’s house after a short, dusty walk along Sharia Waahid-wa-arobayeen—Street 41. Our neighborhood, Diems (pronounced “Dame”), was a residential part of Khartoum, but to call it a “suburb” is perhaps too generous: to Western eyes, it would look more like a vast, sprawling slum of mud-brick, one-story homes crammed together. There was a local joke there (a pun on the sound of “Diems” in Arabic, which resembles their word for firewood), that the residents of Diems were nothing but fuel for hellfire. On the whole, though, I found the place quite pleasant—the people were friendly, there were a few shops around at which to buy necessities, and the streets were run largely by a fleet of efficient motorized rickshaw-taxis (efficient, that is, until they all disregarded the signals at the traffic light and ended tied up in a Gordian knot of hundreds of vehicles). Ernest’s house was marginally nicer than most homes in Diems (though still very small by American standards), and it had its own sun-warmed water tank on the roof and a generator for when the power failed. We met there every morning of the week to sing a few praise choruses, to pray, and to plan the work for the day. 

One of our first outings was to a “forest preserve” on the banks of the Blue Nile (looking nothing, of course, like any forest I was used to—it amounted to a smattering of scrubby bushes and one or two gnarled old trees, but in the Sahara, that’s probably as close to a forest as it gets). The Blue Nile runs into Sudan from the Ethiopian highlands to the east, and meets the White Nile in Khartoum, so it is there that the famous river takes on its final shape, as it winds its long journey through the desert, up toward Egypt. We gathered there by the river, trying to find shade under one of the only trees in the place, and it was there that we met a few Muslim-background believers (MBBs) in Jesus. These were new Christians, being discipled by our team, and they had to meet in out-of-the-way locations for fear of being discovered. It was technically against the law for a Muslim to convert to the Christian faith, and they could face imprisonment or death if it were discovered. But there was no one else around that day, so we sat in the sparse shade from the blazing sun, and talked a bit. 

A couple of the men knew a little bit of English, but not much. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a smattering of English in Khartoum, since there had been some British influence in the country in the first half of the twentieth century, but most of the time I had to rely on my teammates to translate. The MBB families were kind and friendly, and told winsome stories about their lives. They greeted me with the effusive warmth for guests that you can find anywhere in Sudan—hospitality so forward as to be shocking. “We are so happy to have you here! You should live in Sudan your whole life! We hope you stay with us forever!” (This is a far cry from how my home society in Maine greets anyone “from away”). 

One of the men took it even further. He had his two grown daughters with him, both looking to be about my age. They were lovely young ladies, robed as was customary in Muslim society, with only their faces showing. When Ernest introduced me, the man shook my hand with vigor and asked, “Are you married?” 

“No,” I said. 

“Ah, then perhaps you would like a Sudanese wife! Look at my daughter here! She would make a wonderful wife!” Then he dropped his voice a little, as if he knew that the Sudanese custom he was proposing might not fly in his new Christian circle: “Or perhaps you would even like two wives? Both of my daughters are very fine young women!” 

I smiled and thanked him for the very generous offer, but declined. It was a flattering suggestion, of course, but marrying two Sudanese women on my first week there would have been a little hard to explain in my letters to supporters back home.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: The Puritans

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”  – Titus 2:11-14

The Puritans: Basic Facts

- The Puritans were a group of Reformed Christians in England who wanted to purify the existing Church of England. Their movement ultimately ended up forming several separate, “nonconformist” churches (including the Baptists) in opposition to the Anglicans. As a result, they suffered much persecution. Some groups, known as Separatists, emigrated to Holland; others remained in England; still others founded the Puritan colony of Massachusetts Bay. 

- Richard Baxter (1615-1691, pictured above) was one of the leading Puritan pastors in England. He reformed the practice of ministry in and around his parish of Kidderminster. His most famous book, The Reformed Pastor, describes this process. He gained tremendous influence during the English Civil War but largely failed to bring unity among the divided Christians of England. He spent much of his career suffering intermittent persecution and imprisonment.

- John Bunyan (1628-1688, pictured right) was a member of the Puritan nonconformist movement that would come to be known as “Baptists.” As a young man, he was tortured by an uneasy conscience and became convinced of his wretchedness as a sinner. It was this feeling of spiritual desperation that led him to a group of Baptists led by the pastor John Gifford. Bunyan took over the pastorate from Gifford, and became famous as a pastor and writer. He is the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the most widely-published books in history, and several other important works, including his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.

- A Puritan church service usually lasted 3 hours —an hour for prayer and two hours for a sermon. In Massachusetts Bay Colony, those who failed to attend church were subjected to some form of public discipline, like being put in the stocks.

- The King James Bible, though it later became beloved, was originally composed, at least in part, as an anti-Baptist Bible (Baptists, and some other Puritans of the time, preferred the Geneva Bible).

- The Puritan colony at Massachusetts Bay was one of the most highly-educated, literate societies in the world. Within a few years of its establishment, they founded Harvard College.

- The early Puritans in Massachusetts, in contrast to many other settlers, wanted to evangelize and do good to the Native Americans. They considered their colony a “city on a hill,” an experiment in holiness which the whole world was watching.


“It is the most high and noble part of holiness to search after, behold, admire, and love the great Creator in all his works.” - Richard Baxter

“I preached as never sure to preach again, as a dying man to dying men.” 
 - Richard Baxter

“Men would sooner believe that the gospel is from heaven if they saw more such effects of it upon the hearts and lives of those who profess it. The world is better able to read the nature of religion in a man’s life than in the Bible.” 
 - Richard Baxter

“There are no virtues wherein your example will do more, at least to abate men’s prejudice, than humility and meekness and self-denial.” 
 - Richard Baxter

“Unity in things necessary; liberty in things unnecessary; and charity in all.” 
 - Richard Baxter

“One leak will sink a ship: and one sin will destroy a sinner.” – John Bunyan

“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without heart.” – John Bunyan

“Heart-work is hard work indeed. To shuffle over religious duties with a loose and careless spirit, will cost no great difficulties; but to set yourself before the Lord, and to tie up your loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon him: this will cost you something.” – John Flavel

Pilgrim's Progress

- This book is a classic work of Protestant devotion, describing in allegory the journey of a Christian from a sinful state all the way, ultimately, to heaven. It has been translated into more than 200 languages and remains popular to this day. In evangelical Christianity, it is the second most influential book after only the Bible itself.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Evangeliad (18:19-25)

Section 18:19-25 (corresponding to Mt. 14:12-14; Mk. 6:32-34)

When John's disciples heard of his death,
They took his body and laid it to rest;
Then went and told Jesus what had been done
To their friend and Jesus' kinsman, John.

When Jesus heard this, he wanted to be
On his own for a while, so he put out to sea
Along with disciples, all in their boat,
To a hillside where he could be alone.

But the crowds saw them going, knew where they'd land,
And hastened by foot to the place beforehand.
So there on the hillside Jesus sat down,
With friends and multitudes seated around.

Christ lifted his eyes, looked out at them all,
Drawn by the power and grace of his call;
And though he was mourning, his spirit was struck
With great compassion for the shepherdless flock.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Photo of the Week

In the harvest feast or the fallow ground,
My certain hope is in Jesus found:
My lot, my cup, my portion sure;
Whatever comes, we shall endure.

- from the hymn "In Feast or Fallow," by Sandra McCracken

Monday, October 19, 2020

Quote of the Week

"Why are good people afflicted with hard times and calamities?... So that the human spirit may be proved, and that the strength of faithful trust and selfless love with which it cleaves to God may be shown."

- Augustine, from his book City of God (I.9)