Too Mutch

...a safe place to dance with ideas, play with theology, and re-create a life implicated by God

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Voice

Have you ever experienced this phenomenon? You wake up in the morning and no one else is home (probably because you've slept later than the rest of the world considers acceptable). You jump in the shower and somewhere between shampoo and conditioner, you get lost in a conversation you had last nite...or one that you are going to have today that you aren't looking forward to. Now, you've used enough water to fill a small pool, but then again there isn't anyone home to point this out to you. Next, feeding time. Coffee, cereal, fruit (after all, you do care about your body). Perhaps it is your day off of work, so you are going to read the paper or get lost in novel on the front porch. Lunch comes early when you sleep as late as you did, so you have a light lunch and decide to face the world. You head out to run some errands, going here and there. Bank. Gas. Finally, you head to the grocery store. You meander around getting more good things for your body, paying close attention to MSG and local farmers. You proceed to the checkout when out of nowhere the clerk says, "How are you doing today" which you reply..."Au righ nd yo"--but it comes out like you are saying it into a glass of water. In the absence of human interaction and conversation...even if for a brief momentarily lost your voice. Thankfully, you are able to clear your throat and get a hold of your speech skills and repeat what you meant to say, "All right and you?"

We've all seen what can happen if you don't exercise your voice for several hours, but I wonder if it is possible to lose your voice if you quit using it for a long period of time. So far, the internet hasn't been much of a help on this for me, so I'll just be left guessing until someone comes forward with a story about a person who had been hidden in a closet and when they came out, they were unable to talk like they once had. However, that turns out, is seems feasible to me that if you don't exercise your voice, you could lose it...or at least have it significantly altered, weakened, and/or garbled.

That is, to some degree, my fear after having returning from Burundi. After spending two weeks seeing what I saw, talking about the needs of the people, getting to know people, etc., I have so much within me that must come out somehow. Or be lost...forever. I want my church community to know about the things we did in Burundi. I want them to know the stories of the people we met. I want them to experience what I've least in part. And mostly, I want them to know that there is so much more we can do.

Our church, Mars Hill Bible Church, has committed itself to the Great Lakes region of Africa. Most specifically, it has teamed up with World Relief and Turame in the country of Burundi. I want to speak into this partnership. I want to share my experiences and stories and let them infuse life into the projects we are going to work on. I want to bring fresh ideas and new opportunities that our community of faith can get involved in. I want to be in the conversation. I want to share where I've been and what I've seen. I want, simply, to have a voice.

But I'm afraid. I am afraid that I won't be invited into the conversation...and all that is within me will begin to wither, shrink, and atrophy. Right now, I feel very engaged with the people and country of Burundi and I don't want that to change. I want to continue reading about the problems faced by this country...and to think and dream creatively about potential solutions. I want to brainstorm and strategize ways that our church and partner churches can be and send resourcing to Burundi. I would love to lead teams of people a couple times per year--teams of counselors who can train counselors in Burundi; teams of theologically estute brothers and sisters who can begin building up the church leaders in Burundi. And on. And on. And on.

It's an overstatement to say that I'm "only afraid." I'm hopeful too. At times, hope is leading the way...and at times fear is running amock. But my prayer ought to be obvious to anyone who reads. May God continue to call my voice out of the depths of my experience and passions. And those who have ears, let them hear.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Grafted In To The Good Tree

The image here of the tree was somewhat randomly inspired and dreamed up by a graphic artist we know who was willing to help us design T Shirst for our Burundi Team. The image is becoming less random…and this friend is becoming more unknowingly prophetic. Let me explain…

There is an illuminating quote in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which gripped me when I first heard it. Now, it is helping me understand how I feel now that I have gone and returned from Burundi, Africa. The quote comes from a character that is a lifetime missionary…a man whose wisdom and spirituality is forged in the trials and beauty of kingdom work in the Congo. He shares this insight with some frustrated missionaries that he has stopped to visit…in an attempt to say, “Press on. Be faithful to the Lord and faithful to these people you are here to serve.” Here is what Brother Fowler says to them:
We are branches grafted on this good tree…the great root of Africa sustains us…

Since leaving Burundi just about one week ago, I have been trying to make sense out of how I have been feeling. I have asked questions of myself, written in my journal, dialogued with my wife and friends who were on the team. This feeling has been elusive and has a knack for remaining undiscovered and unnamed. Pesky little thing! It taunts me and talks trash. Lord, have mercy.

Reflecting back on this quote, however, has shed a sliver of light on the whole situation. Like a light shining through a keyhole into a pitch black room, it doesn’t unlock the door, but it can provide just enough light (and hope) to reveal the way out. So, I wouldn’t say that I’ve stumbled upon Clarity, but I do think I’m making some headway. While I have made the 2 day journey home from Africa, unpacked, taken a hot shower, and spent 2 days at work…I still have not returned home from Burundi. Not fully. Not all of me. Part of who I am was grafted onto that good tree. Part of me has been intertwined with the roots who are the people that bring life the country of Burundi.

When I think about this good tree, I think about other branches that have been grafted in: Sara, Seth and Trina, Dan and Tambry. I also think of some of the roots I’ve been intertwined with: Sophonie, Irene, Emmanuel, Pastor Pierre. To be completely severed from these branches and roots would require a significant loss…even a death. I may have returned back to Grand Rapids, MI USA…but I remain in Burundi. To change that, you will have to hack away, burn, destroy what has been grafted together. Go ahead and try. Lord, have mercy. On you…

The ongoing question, then, is… “How do I stay connected to the part of me that remained in Africa? How do I sustain the seed and life that was sown on this 2 week trip to Burundi?” I think there are a multitude of answers to that question. Simple answers. Hard answers. Answers I will continue to listen to, ponder, and (hopefully) live out. But, in the mean time, these questions unearth a fear that I have. That fear will be the focus of another entry soon to come.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Amahoro from Burundi!

Amahoro (hello)!

You don't know how much it means to know that we have so many people back at home with us in their prayers. Thank You.

After a few hiccups on the travel end of things, we arrived in Burundi pretty much on time and have been getting acquainted and rested up for our retreats and other projects. We have been so fully welcomed by the World Relief Staff. Yesterday afternoon, we had an orientation session up at the house of Dan and Tambry Brose, who are the country directors for WR-Burundi. A great lunch, followed by coffee, a long walk to the lake, and mango cobbler. Unbelievable. This morning, I got up and went for a run with Trina and Seth Chase, one of my teammates, and Immanuel, who is from Burundi. Halfway thru the run, we stopped to admire the beauty of the lake and the sun coming up over the mountains. Then, I walked up to the Brose's again to send out this email. Know that we are doing well and loving our time here.

We have also had the opportunity to see and hear more closely about the Turame Microfinance project here in Burundi. We met with their staff yesterday, then went for a walk through the largest market in Burundi to meet some of the clients. Avocados the size of my head! However, I couldn't imagine going there as a Muzungu (white person) with a shopping list and having any success. Today we are heading to a city called Kayanza, where we will work with the a group of about 20 who are living with AIDS. Please pray that we would find a way to encourage them and love them, without being presumptuous about the situation they are in. No one on our team has faced such a daunting reality. However, we so desire to cover their shame, brokenness, and despair with grace, dignity and hope.

On the health update, we are all doing pretty well. A couple of folks are struggling a bit with their malaria meds, but otherwise, nothing serious. Christine has felt normal, without any issues with energy or trips to the water closet! The mosquitoes are not as bad as one might think...and the water is better than most places! And we have had plenty to eat, including a fresh banana birthday cake for Jason the first nite we were here!

Again, thank you for all of your support. I hope to email again or blog in a few days when we return from our first retreat. At that time, I'll post some pictures we've taken thus far.

With love from Burundi,


Saturday, June 16, 2007


For those that would like to walk with us daily by praying for us, we give you our...

Burundi Prayer Calendar
June 17 – July 4, 2007

Sunday, June 17
Leave Grand Rapids, MI at 3:44 pm. Fly to Chicago and then to London.

Prayer Request: Please pray for safe flights and good attitudes during our long days of travel.

Monday, June 18
Arrive in London and tour the city. Depart for Burundi.

Prayer Request: Pray for safety while in London as well as the health of each one of our team members.

Tuesday, June 19
Arrive in Bujumbura, Burundi. Lunch and swimming at Saga Resha. Team time and orientation in the evening.

Prayer Request: Please pray for smooth transitions and attentiveness to our new surroundings and the World Relief team.

Wednesday, June 20
Welcome to Bujumbura and World Relief.

Prayer Request: Pray that we may gain a better understanding about the lives of the Burundians and how we can serve them.

Thursday, June 21
Leave for Kayanza. Begin retreat for People Living With AIDS (PLWA) and stay in Kayanza.

Prayer Request: Please pray for the people living with AIDS and that we can be the hands and feet of God as we work with them.

Friday, June 22
All-day retreat for PLWA. Stay in Kayanza.

Prayer Request: Pray for emotional, physical and spiritual healing of these people living with AIDS. Pray for our strength as we work with them.

Saturday, June 23
Travel to Kirundo for a day off at the lake and to debrief the retreat. Travel back to Kayanza for the night.

Prayer Request: Pray for our team and that we may bond during the time we debrief and spend at the lake.

Sunday, June 24
Work with different local churches in Kayanza for the day. Return to Bujumbura for the night.

Prayer Request: Please pray that we are the lights of Christ as we go into the different churches. Pray for physical and emotional strength as well.

Monday, June 25
Work with local churches in Bujumbura helping with construction, clean-up, etc… Stay in Bujumbura.

Prayer Request: Pray for strength and diligence as we work in on the churches in hopes that we can accomplish a lot.

Tuesday, June 26
Lead workshops for counselors who work with people living with AIDS in Bujumbura.

Prayer Request: Please pray for the counselors we will be working with and that God uses us to encourage and support these people.

Wednesday, June 27
Continue to lead workshops for counselors who work with people living with AIDS in Bujumbura.

Prayer Request: Pray for emotional strength for our team and for the counselors. Please pray for honesty and openness as we converse with these people.

Thursday, June 28
Leave for Gitega. Lead a retreat for Turame (micro-finance loan officers) and stay in Gitega.

Prayer Request: Please pray that we become educated by the micro-finance officers and that we are able to offer them encouragement in return.

Friday, June 29
Continue the Turame retreat. Return to Bujumbura in the evening.

Prayer Request: Pray for the Burundians that are receiving loans for these loan officers. Please pray that they will see God through the actions of the loan officers.

Saturday, June 30
Debrief the retreat and spend the day in Bujumbura. Farewell dinner in the evening.

Prayer Request: Pray that this day of rest will rejuvenate our spirits and
re-center our team. Pray for health and fellowship.

Sunday, July 1
Visit local churches in Bujumbura. Lead a service at the Bujumbura International Christian Fellowship

Prayer Request: Pray for our team as we lead the service through worship. Christine Mutch will be preaching at BICF. Pray that God speaks through her.

Monday, July 2
Leave for the airport at 7:30 am. Depart for Nairobi to spend the afternoon touring the city.

Prayer Request: Pray for safety while in Nairobi and we can continue to be the lights of Christ as we travel.

Tuesday, July 3/4
Days of travel. Arrive in Grand Rapids, MI at 12:30 am on July 4.

Prayer Request: Pray for a safe flight home and that we can adjust quickly back to our lives here in Michigan. Please pray for opportunities to share our Burundi experiences with others.

Monday, May 21, 2007

To Burundi, From Mars, With Love

Our preparations are moving right along. We've been meeting on Tuesday nights for about 6 or 7 weeks now. We've hosted a Burundi Benefit night at church, gone on an overnight retreat with the rest of the teams going to East Africa, and a few other...shall we call them...gatherings, of sorts. 4 Weeks from now, we will be "in country" as they say.

As part of our team preparation, we worked through the formation of a covenant--no animals were harmed in the making of this covenant. Below is what we came up with to guide us as we bind ourselves together with an identity and a mission. Feel free to interact with this covenant, giving us feedback, pushing us forward in our commitment to bind ourselves to something larger than ourselves.

Identity—who we are…

  • We are not a collection of individuals going on a mission trip. Rather, we are a representation being sent out from Mars Hill Bible Church, which is a Trinitarian community living out the way of Jesus. Thus, the eleven of us are bound together and committed to living and serving as ONE.
  • We recognize that we are not ‘saviors’ of the people of Burundi. However, as ONE, we set out to be the hands and feet of Jesus, demonstrating and announcing the whole Gospel. We commit to doing this with a posture of humility and teachability, expecting to learn from and be transformed by those that we engage with.
  • Though we are being restored, we recognize that we are broken and so desire to engage this mission in the spirit of Philippians 2:1-18.

Mission—what we covenant to pursue…

  • Inasmuch as the Spirit of God chooses to work through us, we long to bring heaven to earth, to cover despair with hope, to drench brokenness with grace, to speak courage into places of fear, and to honor our fellow image-bearers of God however we can.
  • Our project goals include: 1) Speaking into the crisis of HIV/AIDS by partnering with the local church to rescue, recreate, and restore the future for the youth of Burundi. 2) To see and learn more about the growing role of micro-finance in Burundi. 3) To sacrificially give our ‘selves’, our time, our gifts, our strengths and weaknesses…all we can give…to the men, women and children of Burundi.
  • We commit as a team and as individuals to be a living and breathing connection between the lives of those we meet in Burundi and the life we live back home. We will initiate and maintain a mystical relationship across hemispheres, allowing this relationship to pervasively infect the consciousness of Mars Hill, West Michigan, and beyond.

Our Commitments…

  • We will meet weekly as a team to prepare our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies to fully engage in our identity and mission in Burundi. We will honor our teammates by being on time, being fully present, encouraging one another, and serving one another through hospitality, prayer and authentic relating. We will fast on Tuesdays as an effort to create solidarity with some of those we will serve who go without food and water on a regularly basis.
  • While we are in country, we will give ourselves completely and sacrificially to the service of the local church and World Relief staff, recognizing that we are not their for our own agenda, but for the agenda for Him who we serve.
  • When we return home we commit to being involved in the East Africa group at Mars Hill, the refugee ministry as appropriate, and being a catalyst for awareness of and engagement with Burundi and her neighbors for 1 year ending April 2008.

Monday, April 30, 2007

A Confession of a Prospective Short Term Missionary to Burundi

Honesty is not always the best policy. Honesty can be painful--viscerally painful. Being honest with someone can invite a harsh response. In fact, it could go beyond invitation to provocation. Beware of being too honest. On the other hand, honesty can be wielded as a vicious WMD. Insensitive honesty is often a horrendous policy. In an attempt to be honest tonight as I share some thoughts, I hope my honesty is taken as intended. This is not intended FOR anyone in particular, yet it could very well apply to many. It is not intended to thrash or wound, but it could perhaps bruise the ego. Now, I've just about talked myself out of writing the rest. I'm tempted to "delete" and change topics and ideas. Hmmmm.

What I've been wanting to say for some time now is more of a confession. Our team of 11 is leaving in one month to go to Burundi to serve and honor the country and people of Burundi. We are 11 white--pasty white if you disregard the lotion that can give you the appearance of a tan--Christians from West Michigan. More simply...just the West. Our team has written into our team covenant the need to engage this mission with a posture of humility. I love that we have talked about this need to recognize that we will be learning FROM the people of Burundi and that they have as much to offer us as we do to them. But...

It just won't sink in. I am struggling to believe it with any depth or conviction. Instead, I see the resourcing and education and experience that I bring to the table. I am guilty of believing that I have MORE to offer. I confess that I am living in the dream that though I will have some peripheral benefits from the trip, most of the benefit will go to the people and country of Burundi.

Does it make it any better that I'm ashamed of myself? Will it help if I read something to set me straight? Will God set me on my roof and tell me to kill and eat? If that happens, I'm more likely to get a fresh prescription of a psychotropic and go to bed, hoping it all to be a wild hallucination. And if someone comes to the door, I'm sending my wife to answer it! No, I'm not sure that much of any of this will help ME. Who or what, then, will help ME?

Two things come to mind. The first is that I must again remind myself to live in in the gray in the fog. And I'm happy to do this, but I fear for the "other" b/c I'm likely to do a lot of damage if I go playing "save the world" in the fog. Secondly, I'm trusting that the experience itself will provide some teachable moments...some fodder for sanctification...even some brokenness. Perhaps this is one of the answers to the question, "Wouldn't it be better just to send the money over there?" Without having the experience, won't I remain stuck in the same prideful and shallow mudhole?

Deliver us from the west...from the deception of our prominence...from our arrogance...

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just...

Lord Have Mercy

Monday, April 23, 2007


While there are a lot of questions to engage with here (and I'm having a hard time finding space in life to get to them all), it seems prudent to give those who are connecting to the medium the basic gist on micro-finance. Our support letter mentions that we are going to spend a day (or perhaps a couple) getting more familiar with the micro-finance projects and initiatives in Burundi. Why? Mars Hill has committed to resourcing micro-finance in Burundi in hopes of helping the most economically challenged people in a country with a struggling (that doesn't quite say it) economy. Micro-finance is a promising future for many. Keeping in mind that I am not an economist or an expert on this, here is how it works...

Imagine that you are a woman in your 30's with three children of your own. Several years ago you became a widow when your husband was killed in an ethnic clash that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and women. Your household has swelled to include 3 more, who are the children of your sister. You have lost her and her husband to AIDS. You are doing all you can to faithfully serve and raise this family. Some days there is just enough food for everyone. Other days, some go without. Education? Only a dream that must take back seat to breathing and drinking.

But you are blessed with a skill--you are a gifted weaver of baskets, purses, etc. You work fevereshly everyday, but you can't get ahead. Because you have no capital, you have to borrow money from the man who provides your materials. He charges you high interest and requires that you sell almost all of your products back to him for a price he sets. You hover somehwere between "barely scraping by" and "I'm ready to give up."

Do you have any idea what it takes to help a woman in this situation begin to make a sustainable living? A sustainable life looks something like this...

*Enough food to meet the needs of the entire family

*A proper shelter/home where they are protected from the elements, which helps them stay healthy and strong and less likely to develop illnesses that for many are life-threatening.

*It enables you to send some or all of your children to school, the linchpin to a more sustainable future.

Again, what do you think it costs? If you are like me, you'd have guessed the figure to be reasonable, but still in the hundreds or low thousands. While figures vary depending on the country and need, MANY women like the one I've described can get out from under the oppression of the loanshark and into generating a sustainable income for between $1-$40. I know that sounds ludicrous, but story after story will confirm it. Here's generally how it works, understanding that it has a different setup and expression in different parts of the world.

A small group of women will be gathered in a town or village. Their group will be oriented to the philosophy and rules of this lending method. They will function as a communal recepient of the help, meaning that their individual success is tied to the success of each of the others in the group. Each will apply for a loan, usually smaller loans for first time borrowers. Upon receipt of the money, they will put it to work and begin paying it back weekly at little or no interest. You will pay each week by gathering with your team and a representative from the lending organization. In this way you are held accountable and resourced all at the same time. If you have a difficult week, your team must cover you. And you cover them when needed.

Having this small loan means that you can buy materials at a competitive cost, rather than being taken advantage of by a swindling loanshark. You've been empowered. The playing field has been ever so slighly leveled. You are also able to set a reasonable price for your goods and participate in the local and nearby markets. Over the next several months, you have paid back your loan in full while also being able to provide proper food and shelter for your family, who is now healthier than they have ever been. There is talk of sending your oldest son and daughter to school next year. In the next several months, you have taken a second loan to expand your business and you now employ three other women and are able to pay them a sustainable wage so that they can provide for their families.

And the story goes on. Small loans leading to a bright future. Does it really work? Yes, unbelievably well. But won't the poor just take the money and run? It doesn't happen. The repayment rates, especially with women, are in the 90-95% rate. Those that don't pay back are often the subject of some catastrophe (natural or otherwise) that makes it impossible for them to pay back the loan. Why women, you ask? Research and experience have shown that women funnel the benefits to their children and families. Men often do not have the same track record, but progress is being made in that dimension too.

When the $40 loan gets paid back, it gets redistributed to others--not dropped into someone's deep pockets. The money keeps getting put into action where it can help desperate families lose the title of "desperate." Can you think of any better way to spend $40? It goes a long way...and with great impact. Micro-finance isn't so "micro" after all. And it is changing the shape of economies and people's lives all over the world.

If you want to read how Micro-finance got its start, you can read Nobel Peace Prize-winning Mohammud Yunus's book Banker to the Poor. Yes, it's an Oprah selection!!!

NOTE--PLEASE go into the comments section and read Jason's (aka wicked smaht guy) comment/clarification on micro-finance organizations. This is why we are going as a team!