Leading TEAM's Creation Care Initiative in order to restore people and their environment into flourishing, sustainable, Christ-centered communities. View this email in your browser

The land is groaning...where is the hope?

I began 2020 in central Africa, leading an Agabus Team of 5 men with backgrounds in environmental biology, agriculture and missions. Our purpose was to see what the environmental problems were in a specific region, evaluate them, and give our recommendations to those who are committed to bringing the gospel to the local community. We wanted to help them be a blessing to the people and their ecosystem as they bring the hope of the gospel to those who have not heard.

There were signs of death and decay all around us on the trip--a natural consequence of the Fall, our sin. The conditions of the soils were poor and there was trash everywhere.
Erosion was significantly affecting life in the city, in the dry season as well as the rainy season.The increased population pressure due to civil war in surrounding nations has brought thousands of refugees into this land. Changing climactic patterns have caused drought and famine more regularly, and brought internally displaced peoples (IDP's) flooding into this region, limiting the resources available for the everyone. Click here to see a video of one of the many IDP communities that develop on the outskirts of established towns--I recorded this video as we drove through "the bush" on our way to an active farming project location.

There are a number of different people groups who have come to the region for various reasons, such as trade and better crop growing conditions. The dominant population is an unreached people group, the Daju. We spotted many nomadic Arab herders, including this family who had just packed up to move on to another spot. Typically it is the women who lead the camel caravan--the men and children herd the goats and donkeys.
One of the challenges is that the gospel has not taken root in this region. In fact, there is a Christian church that was started in the city 34 years ago as a result of national Christians that moved there as government employees. However, not a single person from the dominant religion has publicly come to Christ in this region as far as the local Christians know. Two elders from this local church met with us and even shared that they "need a new approach" to reach their neighbors. After asking questions and digging deeper, we were able to spend some time praying with these dear brothers for their community.

Signs of Hope

One of our discoveries was that there used to be quite the diversity of wildlife in the region, such as elephants and lions, and different varieties of antelope. But as the population exploded, animals that weren't killed fled to safer areas in the country, such as where there is a protected national park now. The diversity of the ecosystem has significantly decreased in the last couple of decades.

On the other hand, there were also signs of hope! There is so much beauty in this country--the people, the land, the vegetation, and the animals that have remained! Just take a look at these photos one of our team members took!
The culture lends itself to spending time with others, to sit and talk, and relax during the heat of the day. Community happens on "the mat". You can observe and learn so much as people walk past you and greet; others sit for some time and you get caught up on what's happening in the community.

It is interesting to think that when Jesus spent time with his disciples, they often sat and relaxed over food and drink. We did just that, and at times literally laid down on the mat and closed our eyes in the shade of a tree on a hot day. We always had a sip of hot tea due to the hospitality of the people. No matter how little you have, you always provide for your guests. This is a great time for fellowship and informal instruction, similar to the days when Jesus was on earth. 

There are great challenges ahead for the work in this place. However, we saw the possibilities for what could be done in this region of the world by caring for creation and working with the people here. The recommendations by our team are almost complete, and the mission will be using them to bring the reconciliation we already know through Christ to the people desperate for Jesus in this place.

One more thing: walking around in sandals every day gave me fresh insight into what it may have been like to follow Jesus around Galilee or the hills of Judea...and for the Messiah to wash his disciples' feet has new meaning!

While I was away...

Thank you for praying for Becky and the kids while I was away. Three weeks is a long time, but after a few days they got into a good routine. They actually did a lot while I was gone, including fishing, visiting the Knoxville Zoo, going to the TN Aquarium in Chatanooga, biking with Nana Smith who came to visit from NY, building a fort out of a fallen pine tree in our neighbor's yard, watching The Wizard of Oz play put on by our homeschool co-op, hugging our cats and dogs at home, going out for ice cream, birding at a state park here in TN, and doing school too!! I wish I could have been along for the ride those three weeks, but I'm glad they enjoyed themselves so much.

I am thankful for my three weeks in Africa, but my favorite moment was when I got home to the airport in Knoxville, TN and my kids all came to give me a hug! I'm not sure who was happier that I was home! Me or them!

Surgery for Ben

Friday, February 14th, I (Ben) underwent surgery to repair my right hip labrum. It had been damaged from years of impact on the joint...doing activities I love such as ultimate frisbee and competitive soccer. If you know me, I don't do things half-baked, I go "all-out"! So not being able to run, and at times walk, without pain since August of last year, we decided it was time to have surgery. Recovery involves crutches for three to six weeks, no driving for four weeks, and lots of physical therapy. The doctor said I could be back to competitive soccer by July 4th. However, Becky has reminded me that I may have to try to "tone it down" a bit once since I will be 40 this year! In my mind I don't think I'm almost 40, but my body is letting me know for sure!!

So please pray for quick healing for myself, patience for all of us while I heal, and continued strength for Becky caring for all the kids, the house AND me as I can't do much to help for some time.

We are so thankful for you prayers and support. Please let us know how we can be praying for you and encourage you in your walk with the Lord.

If you want more detailed observations of my trip, click on my blog link here.
If you want to see more photos, let me know be replying to this email and I'll send you a link.
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