Last week someone asked me to put an article in the paper about my most recent trip to Africa. That is a difficult task, because it is hard to fit a trip with so many experiences into a few words.
The trips that I often take overseas are not like those of a tourist. They have their fare share of adventure but to be honest they can be tough. I have an unusual job that allows me to train a handful of students overseas while engaging in ministries that reach out to dark, dangerous, and despised places. Our team usually stays with the nationals, eats their food, and lives like they do. We have done ministry in a number of areas like war zones, refugee camps, red light districts, remote tribes, etc. So when students sign up for a mission trip with Unusual Soldiers they know that getting sick and pushing their bodies to the physical limit is to be expected.
If you have ever seen a bunch of strange faces showing up in Franklin during the summer months there is a good chance that they are with me. They are here participating in a rustic training event called Stranded: a team building/survival experience that helps train them on how to impact the world in risky areas. The training usually takes place in our pasture and in the old library. They are basically put to the test before traveling with me overseas. Some of those that graduate Stranded are then selected to join me overseas on a training event called Submerge. Submerge gives six students the opportunity to experience ministry in a dark, dangerous, and despised context first hand. This helps them discern their personal ministry callings and launches them to begin their own ministry endeavors.
This past trip the students were able to reach out to suffering people in Africa in a variety of places. They ministered deep in the bush among different tribal groups, in Africa’s second largest slum, and also a in a place full of Somalian refugees known as “Little Mogadishu.”
Each day on the field carries many stories, but perhaps the most memorable day on our last trip was when our team felt led to go to an illegal red light district to reach out to the ladies working the street. We went at night and were warned that this area was dangerous, but we couldn't resist the urge to go. I had done this numerous times before but never in Africa so I was unsure what to expect.
As we began to walk the infamous street in downtown Nairobi it did not take us long to find prostitutes standing on the corners. These are usually places that followers of Christ stay away from, ignore, or even judge. Many see these people as a problem or a nuisance rather than as a person in need. In the Bible, while Jesus was visiting the home of a Pharisee a woman with a bad reputation (most likely a prostitute) came to wash his feet. The Pharisee pretended that he didn’t see her, but Jesus called him out and said, “Do you see this person?” After Jesus forgave the woman for the many sins she had committed the Pharisee just scoffed at him. The Pharisee saw her as a problem, but Jesus saw her as an opportunity.
Our team was amazed when they engaged in conversation with the prostitutes on the streets. We didn’t pour out wrath and judgment on them, but rather concern and compassion. We soon discovered that every woman that we had talked to had a similar story. They were all single moms battling poverty and they were some of the most hurting people that we had ever met. They were just people trying to make it through life the only way that they knew how.
The women opened up to us about their hurts, pains, and abuse. Some of them began to cry because they didn’t know how to escape the vicious cycle that they were in. They had no resumes, no education, and knew of no other option for employment. We took them out to eat in a restaurant and remained their long after closing hours. We later circled up praying for these women. Everyone was tearing up. One of the prostitutes even led the entire group in a prayer stating that she needed God’s forgiveness and that she was done with this lifestyle, declaring that she would try hard to find a different means of income that following week. We were all blown away by her firm commitment to find a better life.
The Muslim owner of the restaurant came up to me afterward and said, “I don’t know what just happened in this place but I felt the power of God.” I just smiled at him and whispered back, “ I think what you just experienced was…Jesus.” As we strive to stay in contact with some of these ladies we are hoping and praying that this is the beginning of something good.
This is one story of many that took place on our last trip. You can usually find more stories at www.crazyblood.com or www.unusualsoldiers.com if you are interested.
It appears that my article turned into a little sermon - I guess it is just my nature since I am an itinerant speaker. Hopefully, this gives all of us a little encouragement to see troubled places and faces as opportunities rather than problems. You never know how God may want to use you to make a difference.