Get that hippo a tutu, it thinks it can dance!
So, it is Sunday morning here and I haven’t written since Monday… certainly not because nothing has happened but rather because I have been on the go so constantly and the little time I’ve been stopped I have been exhausted. I’ve certainly had no difficulty sleeping! I’m glad I turned in “early” last evening because when I awakened this morning at 5:00 there was a rooster crowing just across the wall north of my room—I sleep with my windows open because there is no air conditioning. I went out on my balcony to look to see what he was crowing about but it definitely had nothing to do with any approaching sunrise… there was no difference in the appearance of the sky to the east or the west and we were still 1 ½ hours from the first pink. But since I’m feeling rested and energized this morning, I thought it was a perfect time for me to catch you up on this incredible adventure and share some of what Father has done inside me in this wonderful but crazy land.
First, the flight was excellent though Emirates probably hypes their airline a little more than would be legal under “truth in advertising” laws in the U.S. Still, it was nice for a very long flight, but in included some surprises I had not considered before the flight. For instance, I didn’t realize the course we would travel so once it was light again and I could look out, I was surprised to see we were over Turkey traveling SE. I just hadn’t considered it or plotted it out, but we flew right down over Turkey, crossing the Tigris River right where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria intersect… exactly where my son, Jason, was stationed (USAF) at the beginning of the Iraq invasion. We then traveled right over Mosul (I recognized it by the Mosul dam, extremely impressive in the desert) then Baghdad, down over Kuwait and the length of the Persian gulf… I was awed at how many tankers there were coming to and from there and as we got close to the UAE the ships were very close as they all have to pass through that narrow strait that Iran has threatened to close that would cut us off from all crude oil from Iraq, Kuwait and about 1/3 of Saudi’s.
As we flew over much of the UAE circling before landing, the Saudi lady whose little girl Amirah sat beside me on the first flight, was looking out the window with me… I was amazed at the endless miles of nothing but sand. She said that is how much of Saudi looks. Of course, there were the occasional oases, the clump of palms surrounding a water hole.
Kenya, on the other hand after we got low enough to see the actual terrain, was incredible! Everything you’ve ever seen in movies or on TV was true to life. The huge flat topped trees, acacias, are really just like that and there are rivers everywhere. I didn’t see any lions or elephants or giraffes from the plane but a brother in Nairobi, Naftali Wainaina, tells me that where Stakwell lives is where the really big elephants are so I’ll get to see those in another week.
So I arrived in Nairobi late and the airport is quite a ways from the city and because my flight had been delayed in Dubai and I didn’t have communications with Samson, the brother who was planning to pick me up at the airport, he had given up and gone on home without coming out to the airport. That was fine, I already had my reservations at the Kipepeo in “City Center” Nairobi (unaware what that meant when I read it online—but that’s another story for another time!) and I managed to negotiate the flock of insistent “travel agents” and taxi drivers, to find another brother, Naftali, who helped me get to my hotel. Seriously, I just ignore all the hawkers, carry my own bags and push through the crowd. What we consider normal civility is only normal in the U.S., people aren’t going to make way for you in most of the world and they will keep hollering at you louder and louder seeking your money, so you literally must just bull your way through the mass if you don’t have someone waiting for you. I spotted someone I “knew” was a Christian—turned out the discernment was correct—sought them out and went from there.
My plan had been to sleep in Nairobi then catch a morning bus to Kampala, Uganda… you know what they say about the “best laid plans”, well I learned my first Kenyan term, “Poli, Poli” (pronounced with long o’s and an e sound for the i). It is possibly their national slogan, (tongue in cheek) and the concept translates, “No Hurry”. Literally, I believe it means, “slowly, slowly”. Well, I got bumped from an oversold bus… the online reservation did not provide me an actual printed ticket from the bus company and they wouldn’t honor the confirmation slip that had been emailed me. My choice then was a Makatu—the local bus that they pile full of people and luggage and goods and freight, and has an abysmal safety record, or waiting for another run of the nice coach bus. “Poli, Poli” So, I had a 7:00 PM bus TICKET in hand for the 12 hour (turned into 14) drive to Kampala. The 7:00 bus loaded at 9:40 PM, which didn’t concern the bus company at all related to the schedule and afforded me the opportunity to stand for 3 hours with my backpack on the cobblestones outside the bus terminal on a noisy, congested, exhaust choked street in city-center Nairobi and make friends. But that skips another part of my day and the first time Father chose to use me to teach…
When I saw my day was “open” I called Naftaly and he came to the Kipepeo to pick me up… we didn’t communicate well with both of us in noisy environments and unable to hear… with the intention on both our parts for him to just drive me to Kampala. But what I didn’t realize was that the price he was quoting was his charge for driving his car and didn’t include the fuel cost, which when we started crunching numbers (1340 kilometers round trip for him with gas over $5/gallon) was going to cost about $250-300 for gas. The $28 bus ticket and the wait suddenly seemed reasonable so we spent the day with him showing me Nairobi, taking me to a wildlife park, me going to an African Railway museum while he ran some errands, and then him dropping me back at my hotel by about 4:00 in the afternoon.
And then comes the first open door… (and the subject line of this letter)
Background: I packed with a backpack for moving around easier, but because of some of the extras (medication and first aid supplies, food (esp. protein), water purifier, extra flashlights and batteries, and I ended up bringing dress clothes and extra shoes) my backpack ended up being a bit heavier than I would have liked. (latest Marine MARPAC II) Then I have a smaller sling style backpack that I used as a carry-on and holds my computer, electronics things, daily needs, etc. THEN I ended up with a third smaller bag (also military issue) that I packed my CPAP (breathing device for sleep apnea). Because of the great way that the military equipment all attaches, I was able to combine everything together with the large backpack but I now had a significant load… not a problem!
So, here I am in the hotel dining room where I had dinner prior to my bus trip, with my backpack sitting on the floor next to the table. After visiting (on Skype) with Kellie at home, and catching a program on TV that engrossed everyone in the small dining room, and visiting with a brother who was also at my table who is involved in an NGO working with the very issue that was addressed on the program, I decided it was time to go. Well, the girl in the restaurant had just mopped the tile floor (which she did about every half hour), my shoes which have great traction outdoors are slippery as can be on wet tile, and so when I hefted my backpack, lifting it and as I stuck my right arm through the strap, swinging it around with enough velocity to carry the pack around to where this stiff, fat old man can slide his left arm in and catch the load, the weight of the pack swinging around me on this slick tile floor started me into a pirouette that I’m sure would have made any ballet dancer proud! There were only about 30 people in the dining room, both Europeans and Africans, and as I spun into the center of the floor amazingly staying on my feet, I was immediately the center of attention. Well, let me tell you, people in most of the world aren’t really sensitive about other’s feelings and have no difficulty laughing out loud at another’s folly. I have never liked being the center of attention and hadn’t a clue what to do, so as I shrugged into my pack, snugging the should straps, fastening the waist belt to shift the load and clipping the chest strap, I just spoke to a table of Kenyans who were all enjoying the show and just said, “40 kilos” indicating my backpack (that’s 100# to save those of you reaching for calculators the trouble), then as the crowd was a little surprised by that, I thought I heard God say to my inner man, “Really???” as though to chastise me, so I finished by adding, “But that’s not really the problem. 150 kilos (I said, patting my stomach) that’s really the problem.” Now, they went from surprise at the weight of my pack (which I later realized wasn’t nearly that heavy (actually 71# with all three packs combined)) to shock at my weight and were asking, “Really?” to which the answer is yes, I weigh nearly 340#. And in that moment, God spoke to me clearly and said, “Jack, I have given them to you for this moment.” and HE gave me the words. I had everyone’s attention and everyone was friendly and open and smiling and a little astonished as this apparition of huge white man and large pack standing amongst them. I said, roughly remembering:
I’m just like that man on TV was there a few minutes ago… I spend my time trying to blame the load that I’m carrying for my problems when MY problem is inside ME. No politician’s “program” or “regulations” will solve social problems that aren’t really the problem. They are just the visible effect of the real problem which is inside the hearts of men. For most of us, in our homes, in our communities, in our nations, we are focused on the loads on our backs and trying to FIX that when that isn’t really the problem at all. The problem lies inside us, it is our sin, our selfishness, our pride, our arrogance. The “program” that politician spoke about is like putting a band-aid on a cancer; it might cover it up for a while so that it doesn’t look so ugly, but it won’t cure the cancer… that will just keep growing and spreading until it kills us if we don’t see that the cancer inside is the problem and address it directly. It’s the same in your home, in your community, everywhere. We all have a God sized hole in our hearts that screams out and we are trying to fix it by putting band-aids on it. We think that having more things, gaining more power, looking better will fill the void, but it won’t. The hole inside of us can only be filled by God, through Jesus the Christ. Look inside yourself; understand that your pain, your fear, your insecurity, your anger… all these are INSIDE you, they aren’t caused by all those things we blame. And there is only one cure for the broken spirit, that is to be restored to THE SPIRIT who created you in His image. Only He can fix your real problems. Seek Him and you will find Him. He is not hiding, but standing, waiting for you to knock on the door looking for Him. Look at the things being accomplished around you that benefit people… everywhere I’ve traveled in Nairobi, I see schools, hospitals, orphanages, aid centers that have been built and are run NOT BY GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS but by men and women whose lives have been healed by the transforming power of God. Everywhere I look I see Christian ministries, God healed these people and so they are reaching out to others’ healing and helping them… but ultimately trying to heal people’s deepest problem—the hole inside that is a spirit separated from its Creator crying out to God. Hear that voice inside yourself and find the ONE who made you in His image—then you will know why you are here and the pain inside will go away. Seek God, hear His love poured out for us when He became flesh and lived as one of us in Jesus Christ. And now I have a bus to catch.
Most of the people in the dining room gathered around me shaking my hand, wishing me good travels and good fortune and thanking me for speaking truth to them. Did that 5 minutes make any difference in the end? It did to me, acknowledging the reality of my own problems and speaking His truth to these people. And I know God assures us, His word will not come back to Him void.
It was only about a quarter mile to the bus stop and the weight on my back and on my feet disappeared as I floated in the moment to my next adventure. And it was not long coming… but I must stop and will continue later. I am now in Mubende, Uganda where Pastor Moses and Gloryland orphanage is. I met with a group of pastors last evening and addressed their questions, struggles and concerns. They had begun the evening addressing me as “Pastor Jack”, but a couple of hours into the evening as Father opened my mind to teach and their hearts to hear, they began addressing me as “Man of God” and so each question or comment would begin, “Man of God, that is a hard teaching, but rings with truth…” or some such. It was more humbling than the hippo ballet across the dining room floor in Nairobi, though not as humbling as my stomach illness (probably a food poisoning) on the trip Saturday afternoon (3rd leg of the Nairobi to Mubende journey) had been… but that is another story.
This morning I am preaching in Mubende and have been instructed to preach a FULL hour or longer unless the Holy Spirit directly tells me to shut up and sit down. Hear that, Tim?
I will conclude by drawing a humorous picture in your mind. When I arrived in Mubende, still not feeling well from the stomach illness, there were no taxis (traditional taxis, as in cars or vans for hire) at the bus stop… really quite incredible here, but perhaps God’s sense of humor for me. Because I didn’t yet have a Ugandan Sim chip for my phone (yes, they are different in each country) I couldn’t download a map of the city to my GPS so didn’t know where the hotel was or would have walked. So, here I was, I couldn’t walk because I didn’t know where to go, there were no taxis other than the botas. These are lightweight motorcycles with 1 cylinder ½ horse motors that can reach a top speed of about 30mph. I have seen up to 5 people on one. (and yes, they get right out on the highways with the busses, trucks and cars) One of the bota drivers was insisting he could get me to the hotel, so you picture this… 340# of big man with a 71# backpack, 411# total on the back of this bota with a driver that was probably 5’6” and weighed not over 90#. The people along the streets sure stopped and looked and pointed and laughed. When we turned the last street up the hill to the hotel, we both had to have our feet down running along to keep the bota going forward with this load the last 40 yards to the hotel! And I had to hop off while he kept trying to go forward so it wouldn’t start rolling backwards down the hill. And now, with that picture in your mind, go and have a glorious Lord’s Day!
Jack was raised in a Christian home where he spent his youth preparing to preach God’s word. First published at thirteen, writing and speaking became Jack’s passions. Whether through newspaper columns, magazine articles, radio broadcasts or public speaking engagements, Jack continues to share his heart with his readers. His life’s motto: To Know God, and To Show Him To Others.