Category Archives: Mission

Impossible with God: The Africa Study Bible launch

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Coworker Nyambura and I celebrate a big achievement & our big God

To be honest, there were times I doubted we would ever launch the Africa Study Bible.

A study Bible is the most complex possible type of publishing project. The layout must juggle the Bible text, notes, cross-references and more. You have to print on very thin paper with special printers. And all the notes have to be extremely high quality theologically and grammatically because they’re bound up with the Word of God.

But this was more than a typical study Bible. We designed six different types of unique features to connect the Bible to Africa, so we had to teach our writers to see the Bible differently as they wrote. And no one has ever produced a study Bible with 350 contributors, much less from 50 countries writing notes in 5 languages.

Compared to this task, our resources were tiny. Our small organization had to invent the entire project management infrastructure from scratch for this unprecedented feat. We wanted the top scholars, respected pastors, and influential ministry leaders from Africa involved, so they all did their part on top of their normal busy commitments. When a writer missed a deadline, it could be due to power outages, malaria, or bereavement. We struggled to find writers from some countries because they were facing civil war or religious persecution.

At one point, I was incredibly overwhelmed with a sense of personal responsibility for the project. After a late Skype call with colleagues, I walked home and put my briefcase down on the grass outside my house. I looked up at the stars and cried. “God, I can’t do this. This is your project. You started it. I surrender. You’re the only one in control. If you get this project done, I’m going to give you all the glory, because there’s no way we can do this on our own.”

On days when it looked impossible, I jotted down how God was at work and reminded myself of the end goal. I couldn’t think as abstract as discipling the continent, so I literally pictured the spine of the Africa Study Bible on my bookcase. “This will get done,” I said to myself. “One day, I will be able to hold the finished product in my hands.”

On March 30, the Africa Study Bible was launched to the world!

Church leaders from all the major ecumenical groups, leaders of several Christian ministries, and seminary scholars gathered in a hotel ballroom in Nairobi, Kenya. Guests and ballroom alike were decked out in African colors and patterns. We sang together, “When Jesus came down from heaven, he landed in Israel. When there was trouble, he came down to Africa. So we must praise him – praise him in an African way!

I rejoiced to meet contributors in person who I had emailed for months. I couldn’t help but notice that the 350 seats in the room represented our 350 contributors. The few empty ones reminded me of so many who had been involved in the project – our French writing coordinator, half of our review team, key editors…. They would attend the Ghana, US, Nigeria or South Africa launches. The little taste made me hungry for our complete reunion in heaven.

As we celebrated the momentous occasion, we remembered where we had come from and where this was going. A youth pastor gave a devotional, highlighting our African Christian heritage from Augustine to his grandma. He reminded us that youth are the Africa of today, not tomorrow – and this Bible roots them in their identity and the word of God. A government minister for education spoke of his vision for using the Africa Study Bible as a key resource as they reform the national curriculum to teach children values. Christians from three generations passed a kerosene lantern along, praying that the Bible would illuminate hearts for years to come.

Then the unveiling. Lights dimmed and pulsed. Young people robed in red Maasai shukas and traditional kanga wraps danced in to a drumbeat. The audience stood and clapped along. The ribbon was cut, the veil was lifted, and the larger-than life Africa Study Bible twirled around like it had jumped into a dance circle. We sang a Nigerian song with hands and hearts lifted, “Imela! Imela!” Thank you, my king!

After all the celebrations, my US and Kenya coworkers went out for a relieved and grateful dinner. Laughing around the table, I realized these people have become my people, almost family. Yet we might never all eat together again until the kingdom of God comes again. We sang a hymn before we departed: Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

When I got home, I put my briefcase down on that eventful spot of grass and took off my shoes. Hands up and teary eyed, “You did it, God!” I jumped and spun, dancing under the stars. “Hallelujah!”

And when I went inside, I opened the pages of my very own copy of the Africa Study Bible.

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Destined to edit books for the church in Africa

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Our missionary family “prayer card” – about a year after my salvation

Last month, I moved into a new associate acquisitions editor position at Oasis International. Over the weekend, I realized that God has been preparing me for this for twenty years!

I moved to Tanzania as a two-year-old and grew up there as a missionary kid. When I was four – exactly twenty years ago this weekend – I decided to follow Jesus. I don’t remember it, but my dad recently unearthed his old journal and came across the night I became a Christian. Earlier this year I noticed the file on my computer, realized this would be twenty years, and decided to celebrate my “re-birthday.” So I read over what my dad had written:

October 22, 1996        Hannah is 4

Dear Hannah,

I want to write this now for you to read later so you can remember what happened tonight. Tonight at bed time you wanted to read your Swahili book and they you wanted to read a book that your Sunday school teacher at the PEFA church next door gave you awhile back. (We had never read it before.) It was in English even though he only speaks Swahili. It was about heaven and hell and a little African boy named Mutu having salvation explained to him. You and I had talked about heaven and that Jesus died for us and what that means.

My dad writes that he explained the gospel in four-year-old terms and we prayed for my salvation.

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Mutu’s story might have come from this Christian bookstore in my hometown in Tanzania

I shared this story with a friend, who noticed, “Books have been part of your story from the beginning.”

“Wow, I never thought about that. This was even before I was reading on my own. But I guess they have!”

And as I thought about it more, I realized that it wasn’t just any book. It was a Christian book written in English, contextualized for Africa, distributed to me through a local pastor. It was exactly the literature that Oasis creates and distributes! Jesus saved this little American-African missionary kid through the same work that I do now!

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Editing Christian literature for Africa from my office in Nairobi, Kenya

From there, God weaved the rest of the story together: The second-grade teacher who told me I’d become a writer. The pastoring grandparents who always gave me Christian books for my birthday. The many childhood visits to village churches. My preteen years on a seminary campus where my friends biked to the bookstore for candy, browsed the shelves, and made our faith our own. The last-minute English major in college and the unexpected call to ministry. An Oasis job opening after graduation asking me to move back home to Kenya – literally to my parents’ house. Getting sick of Pulitzer winners and discovering African fiction. Multiple people randomly telling me last summer that I should go into acquisitions editing.

How does God do it? Not only saving me and continuing to affirm our relationship as I grew up, but designing the way I was saved to chart my destiny? I’m so in awe. I felt like I stumbled into this path, but what a comfort that God has known all along where we’re going!

So all I do is echo Ephesians 3:20: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”


Can writing about equality right gender-based violence?

I missed the registration deadline. Plane tickets were sold out. The hotel was fully booked. The leadership training was full. Over and over, I almost missed out on the “Truth Be Told” conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. So when I arrived, I knew God must have something special in store.

I was very excited – my book Good News about Gender was launching at the conference! But I basically expected to stand at a booth, sign some books, hear cool speakers, and collect a wad of business cards.

Well, was I in for a surprise! I ended up with several posts-worth of revelations (so stay tuned for the next two)!

img_1878It was no mistake that Christians for Biblical Equality and Gender Equality Matters hosted a conference in South Africa with the theme “Truth Be Told: Speaking Out Against Gender-Based Violence.” South Africa has high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence, but many of its neighbors also look to South Africa as a leader in economic development.

Yet as we saw in the conference speakers, post-apartheid South Africans are also highly conscious that ideas of inequality lead to discrimination and violence. “Ideas have consequences,” Mimi Haddad emphasized. She told the story of evangelical social justice activist Katharine Bushnell, who emptied brothels in the 19th century only to find them full the next day. Eventually, Katharine realized she needed to work “upstream” by tackling the theological misinterpretations that justified gender inequality.

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It sounds obvious, but this conference reminded me that gender-based violence is the natural and nearly inevitable consequence of beliefs that women are inferior to men. Adv. Thuli Madonsela (above) explained that when we create a hierarchy where some people – simply because of the bodies they are born with – deserve a better life than others, then anyone who steps out of “their place” threatens the system and must be subjugated with violence. You cannot believe that women are in any way subordinate to men and yet expect them to receive equal treatment in society. Remember “separate but equal” in US history?

Suddenly I remembered why I wrote Good News about Gender. It wasn’t just to advocate for myself or defend my call to ministry. Sometimes I get tired of complaining about gender issues when I have a very privileged life in so many respects. But I realized that the reason I have such an amazing life is because my parents, my grandparents, my university, and my church all lived out the belief that women have equal value to men. My education, employment, and self-esteem is a testament to the effects of egalitarian views.

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And my egalitarian upbringing is also why, when I saw women and girls in my church or school be mistreated verbally and physically, I knew they didn’t deserve it. It just took me a decade to figure out that the Bible was saying the same thing. Now I realize that, to the extent that my family and my society believed in equal treatment, they did so because they thought that all people were created equal, that is, made in the image of a Creator. Our practice springs from our ideology. In Jesus’ words, “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.

Writing Good News about Gender is not just a drop in the bucket compared to all the direct-service work addressing gender-based violence. And it’s not a trickle-down effect that leaves the masses thirsty. The reason the theology of gender equality looks small is because it’s upstream. Downstream, justice flows like a river.

…but that’s not all I learned at the Truth Be Told conference! Follow me to make sure you hear the rest of the story!


No Fail Too Epic

"Head in Hands" by Alex Proimos

“Head in Hands” by Alex Proimos CC 2.0 via Flickr

Moving from one country to another, I’ve often identified with Jacob’s prayer for God’s protection and provision as he runs away from home. But just lately, the earlier part of Jacob’s story in the Bible challenged me.

While Jacob and his twin Esau are in the womb, God tells their mother Rebekah that the older brother will serve the younger. As soon as Esau leaves the womb, it is clear that Jacob is the younger. Jacob is chosen by God before he is born. He does nothing to deserve that blessing.

Yet the rest of his life he keeps acting like he has to earn it. He acquires a firstborn’s inheritance rights by taking advantage of Esau’s hunger. He tricks his father into blessing him, again by feeding a family member at the opportune time. Then he runs away from home because his brother is angry enough to kill him. He works for his uncle Laban, using superstitions methods to increase his herds. When he meets Esau again, he sends ahead a parade of pacifying gifts. He had asked God for provision and protection, but when it comes down to it, he trusts his own conniving.

Yet God keeps turning these mistakes and selfish actions towards his initial plan – to make Jacob into a nation. Maybe if Jacob hadn’t been such a grasper, God’s plan would have happened in a straightforward way – perhaps receiving blessing without a brother’s death threat. But God gave Jacob the freedom to take the inefficient path to blessing if he so chose. Or maybe God knew all along how Jacob would acquire the blessings. But God chose him anyway.

Jacob’s sons weren’t born in happy succession either. Jacob was tricked into marrying both of Laban’s daughters – two rival sisters. Leah and Rachel kept bearing sons as a way to compete for the affection of God and their man. God used the family’s trickery and rivalry to birth founders for the twelve tribes of Jacob, also called Israel. Perhaps another way would have fostered more brotherly love. But then maybe they wouldn’t have sold one brother into slavery in Egypt, who strangely later saved them from famine. Maybe Israel would have starved before it got started.

Why did God use selfish tricksters and jealous siblings to build his people? It’s not a great fireside story about a nation’s founding father.

Or maybe it is. Maybe the point is to remind God’s people that they would keep trying to help themselves, but they didn’t need to. That even if they went wrong, God was committed to his end of the deal. As long as they were his people and he was their God, he would recycle their mess in super creative ways.

I am scared of messing up. What if I don’t choose the path God has for me? We fear the wrong college, career path, or relationship. Why did I do that stupid or selfish thing? Surely God can’t work with me now.

But God can. God wants us to obey him because it’s a lot better for us in the long run. I’m not saying that we can turn our backs on God or that we will avoid all consequences for our mistakes. But our actions do not make such a big difference that God can’t transform them for his own ends. We keep thinking we have to earn everything, but God gave us his love and forgiveness before we did anything to deserve it. If we’re sincere about wanting to follow God, he’ll work everything out for our good in the end. We can trust that things will go according to the plan of this God who controls everything. We are free to try and to fail and to fall into a cosmic net of grace.


The church in Africa deserves to be heard

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Africa Study Bible contributor Bishop Raphael Okeyo from Tanzania

I believe that the voice of the church in Africa deserves to be heard.

We don’t need imported sermon illustrations about “Prayer is not like a vending machine” – what’s a vending machine anyway?

We need stories from African pastors and teachers that give us a new perspective on familiar Bible passages. We need the story about trapping monkeys in the Kalahari desert. Monkeys know where water is found, but they want to keep the secret to themselves. So people catch a monkey and feed it salt until it becomes thirsty. Then they follow it to the water source. When we hear that Christians are called “the salt of the earth,” it can also mean that we lead people to the source of living water (Matthew 5:13).

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Photo by Craig Shaw from ForestRescue

Pastors and teachers from 50 countries have written 2200 notes like the one I mentioned as part of the Africa Study Bible. On the page next to the Bible text, notes and essays connect Scripture to African contexts to help people live out their faith without rejecting their whole culture.

This is not your typical study Bible, written by about 50 American scholars. 345 people wrote notes, edited pieces and reviewed the theology and relevance of each piece.

These writers were dedicated. Some authors were dealing with civil war, persecution as Christians, malaria, or family funerals. All of them wrote alongside their normal work in churches, theological schools or businesses. Nearly all wrote in their second language – either English, French, Portuguese, Arabic or Swahili.

But as I managed the first half of the editorial process, I saw their commitment firsthand. They believed this was crucial work for God’s kingdom. As contributor Dr. Issiakia Coulibaly from West Africa Alliance Theological Seminary (FATEAC) said, “Like Philip explaining the Scriptures to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:31), so will the Africa Study Bible be to thousands and thousands of African Christians today.”

The writing is done, and the editing is nearly complete. The church in Africa is ready to speak – we just need to give them a platform.

If you want the voice of the church in Africa to be heard, this week is your chance! Invest here through Kickstarter. Your giving enables the writers to give everyone their “rich resource for the church in Africa and the world” (in the words of contributor Bishop Dr. Isaiah Majok Dau from South Sudan).

Then be salt and lead people to the water. The Africa Study Bible is published by Oasis International Ltd to satisfy Africa’s thirst for God’s Word. Would you join me in spreading the word about the Bible for the last 7 days of our fundraising campaign? Share this overview video on social media, email or in-person.

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Instead of me telling you any more about the Africa Study Bible, listen to a Kenyan World Christianity scholar. Dr. Wanjiru Maggie Gitau shares how the Africa Study Bible reflects the exciting things God is doing in Africa today. Or, check out this sneak peek of the book of Genesis, where the authors’ notes speak for themselves!

Let’s hear what the church in Africa has to say to us.


Haggling with God

Shortly after my graduation from college, I posted a poem quoting Jacob’s prayer at Bethel: “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth” (Gen. 28:20-22).

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Jacob made his vow after dreaming of a stairway to heaven – Untitled by Michael Keany (Own work). [CCo] via Flickr

Like Jacob, I was on the move and concerned about life’s basic necessities. I had debated between opportunities with Christians for Biblical Equality, InterVarsity and my multicultural church. But I didn’t feel at peace walking down any of these paths. God called me – over Skype in the person of my dad’s dinner guest – to join the team working on the Africa Study Bible. Since my parents live on the same campus as some of the Africa Study Bible reviewers, a few months later I found myself returning “safely to my father’s house.”

But like Jacob, my life after this bargain with God was a struggle. When I arrived in Nairobi, I started from scratch. I developed systems to organize and track 2000 pieces by 250 writers through the editorial process. With my high school friends gone and most of my work being over email and Skype, I had to start over with friendships as well.

I felt helpless – like I was unraveling. But when I stepped back, I realized God was weaving threads back into my life in a providential pattern. In addition to my sociology and English majors, old skills of French and technology came in handy. Christians for Biblical Equality contracted me to write a Bible study guide for groups of young adults. In Minnesota I had planned to help out with a church plant or youth group. Instead, two months after I moved back to Nairobi, my family’s church invited us to help with a church plant nearby. I was asked to co-lead the teens class.

Like Jacob, I gave God a tenth of what he gave me. It only multiplied my blessings. Living with my parents enabled me to save money. I was able to pay off all my student loans within a year of graduation. My contract writing paid for a Kilimanjaro summit to celebrate twenty years since I first landed in Tanzania. God went above and beyond providing food and shelter.

Instead of helping out with InterVarsity, this weekend in Nigeria I met with leaders of their sister movements in the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. We were defining a partnership to create a Bible study guide compatible with the Africa Study Bible. I marveled, “How in the world did I end up in this room with international leaders working on a project that could impact the continent?”

Jacob thought he was driving a hard bargain by nailing down the specifics of God’s provision. But he hadn’t listened closely to God’s unconditional promise the night before: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying… All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land…” (Gen. 28:13-15).

When God told Jacob he would bless him and make him a blessing to many nations, Jacob haggled for clothes and food instead. But God didn’t agree to settle for Jacob’s meager terms. Jacob had no idea of the scope of what God was going to do for him and through him. I’m beginning to realize that I have no idea either.


9 lessons my 90 year old Grandma taught me

Grandma (Ruth) Rasmussen turns 90 today! I’m celebrating from across the ocean by reflecting on 9 things she taught me:

  1. I’m numbering this list because Grandma was a math teacher. I inherited her math abilities – or maybe it was her encouragement and tutoring that contributed to my success. After 6th grade in the US, I was offered to skip up to 8th grade math if I studied 7th grade math over the summer. So Grandma tutored me, both at our house and at hers for a few weeks in Grygla, MN. In any case, I never once questioned whether girls could (or should) be good at math.
  2. Grandma was also a home economics teacher. She taught me to make beds and iron when she stayed with usPineapple Upside Down Cake April 1996 in Mwanza. I still like ironing. I also loved cooking with her. I brought college friends up to my grandparents’ for Thanksgiving and we made our traditionally Scandinavian lefse. And of course, it wouldn’t be a family reunion without her donuts. Jesus fed 4000 and another 5000 men in two meals. His life was shorter than Grandma’s, so I suppose he had to pack it in. Grandma has served about 70,000 meals (including many for large crews). After all, Jesus said we’d do greater things than him.
  3. A licensed preacher, Sunday school teacher and Pentecostal pastor’s wife, Grandma also taught me to love Jesus. As a kid, I read about the disembodied hand writing on the wall in a storybook Bible that Grandma and Grandpa had given me. I had never heard that story in our family devotions. It made me curious about the Bible in a new way. In middle school, Grandma gave me a Daily Bible and promised me a reward when I read through the Bible in a year. I got stuck somewhere in the Pentateuch, but learned to value daily Bible reading. I also admire her devotional habits of early morning prayer for her entire family – mentioning by name all six kids, plus the in-laws and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
  4. Grandma’s example showed that you go wherever God calls you. She and Grandpa moved many times to pastor various churches. At age 73, she traveled to Tanzania by herself and spent 3 months helping my mom care for baby twins! When I was nine or ten, we traveled together. Grandma had come out to visit us, then help homeschool my cousins. Uncle Nathan and Auntie Karen kept expecting to move back to the US from Tanzania, and I always wanted to visit them in Kigoma one last time. I begged for Grandma to take me along. I remember boarding the six-seater mission plane full of excitement to see my cousins at my favorite beach and have my Grandma all to myself!
  5. Grandma introduced me to Christian music. She taught me the books of the Bible song. I also associate the songs, “What a Friend WeIMG_6664 Have in Jesus” and “Blessed Assurance” with Grandma. Perhaps she particularly likes them, we just sang them a lot at family reunions, or her life just reminds me of the calm assurance we have when we take things to the Lord in prayer. What you may not know, however, is that Grandma introduced me to the latest hits from Christian radio! When we moved to the US, Grandma and Grandpa gave me WOW CDs for my birthday or Christmas presents. At the time, I only listened to instrumental music, because I didn’t like the lyrics of pop songs. But with the WOW CDs, I became a normal teenager going into my room with my headphones on. I later realized that the main cultural capital I had in the US was from those CDs socializing me into Christian culture. Since I often sing along songs that are stuck in my head, to this day I often evaluate the music I want to listen to by asking myself, “If I started singing this at Grandma’s house, would I be embarrassed?” It’s almost as good as, “What would Jesus do?”
  6. Grandma also encouraged me to study. She was extremely studious herself, finishing both high school and college in three years each. When I finished my 31 tests for my British IGCSEs and my dad defended his dissertation, Grandma celebrated our hard-won academic achievements with a turkey dinner, balloons and our favorite pies in the fireside room of their apartment building. Despite having only the retirement of a teacher and a pastor, she and Grandpa also gave money to each grandchild each year for college tuition.
  7. Grandma taught me the value of giving. Aside from giving time and presents, Grandma and Grandpa also gave money to support our and Uncle Nathan’s family in our missions work with Bible schools in Tanzania. They have been our biggest supporters for years (other than some churches). In addition to financial support, they always told us how proud they were of us being on the mission field, and visited many times to teach in the Bible schools themselves.
  8. I admire Grandma’s thoughtfulness. Grandma always reminds me of when she took care of me as a baby in the Twin Cities and how I loved oatmeal. To this day when I visit her she will offer to make oatmeal. The summer in Grygla was my golden birthday. Grandma gave me 12 golden presents, which ranged from the special (a pickle fork that belonged to her Grandma) to the bizarre (a dog toy). She thought it was a strange looking stuffed animal dog, but in fact it was a chew toy for a dog.
  9. Grandma loves to serve. If Grandma were alive with the apostles, she would have certainly been chosen as one of the seven deacons (servants) to oversee the distribution of food to widows. She would have thrived in preparing food for needy people, counting everything to make sure it was fair, and doing it all as the Lord’s work. I suppose she still does exactly that. But I’m glad she’s alive with me!

The Path is Made By Walking: Summiting the Africa Study Bible Project

Walking through a cloud on KiliIn January 1995, my family flew into Tanzania. Exactly twenty years later, I saw Tanzania from a bird’s eye view again—standing at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

This time, I earned the view. I walked.

I walked through a rainforest thunderstorm, over bridges lined with Seuss-like cacti, through a cloud in the artic desert. I walked in wet clothes, with aching muscles, warding off the equator’s sun with a hot pink sunhat. I clambered over rocks in the freezing moonlight.

“The path is made by walking.” In the hours of hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro, I told myself to focus on the moment, not the distance ahead.

My hike gave me perspective on the Africa Study Bible project. As far as we know, no one has ever created a study Bible with 250 different contributors, and certainly not with writers from over fifty countries speaking different languages. If you stare at the mountain ahead, it can seem insurmountable.

I doubted that I would make it to the top of Kilimanjaro. I’ve never climbed more than a hill—could I really climb the tallest freestanding mountain in the world? To my surprise, my upbringing prepared me. Living in Nairobi the past few months helped me deal with the altitude. My college years in “Minne-snow-ta” helped me differentiate between slippery and soft snow along the crater’s edge.

The day my friends and I summited Mount Kilimanjaro, we walked a full day through clouds to the last hut. After two hours of sleep, we began the steepest part of the hike. My teammate in front of me wore a headlamp, but I walked by the light of the nearly full moon. I recalled the Swahili version of “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” One verse in that translation says, “If my path is long, he gives me salvation. If the clouds hit me, his strength is my light.”

The complexity and scope of the Africa Study Bible project have produced challenges and delays. But although the Africa Study Bible work seems like unknown traversed terrain, I recall what God says in Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead blind Israel down a new path, guiding them along an unfamiliar way. I will brighten the darkness before them and smooth out the road ahead of them. Yes, I will indeed do these things; I will not forsake them.”

Kili summitThe summit of the Africa Study Bible project is still months away, but as we grow closer, the trail is also growing steeper. I believe God is at work in the Africa Study Bible project. If we could accomplish it easily on our own, where would his glory be? But as we trust God with every step in the process, we blaze a new trail.

At the highest peak in Africa, I saw the sun rise in splendor, brighten tiny farms and towns out to the horizon, blind in brilliance off of pale blue glaciers and a snow covered crater.

With the Africa Study Bible, we are going to see Africa at its height. We will see the landscape from the heavens’ perspective. We will see that what God creates is magnificent.

So all of us—the hundreds of writers, partners, designers, and editors scattered across the continents and across languages—continue to make our path by walking, one step at a time.

~Originally published January 16th, 2015 on Oasis International’s blog.


Healing Communities – Contextualizing Responses to Witch Accusations: Published in the IBMR

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By Steven D. H. Rasmussen with Hannah Rasmussen

Published in the January 2015 edition of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research

 

Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse. . . . My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

—Hosea 4:4, 6

When I returned to the church I had attended for a decade in Tanzania, I preached on witchcraft. I knew that Deborah, the woman sitting next to me, had ministered as a pastor’s wife for forty-nine years. I did not know she was suspected of being a witch.

Just two months earlier outside Deborah’s home, a crowd of young men with clubs, machetes, and stones surrounded her, shouting, “We have come to finish you and your witchcraft!

A young neighbor woman, Ellen, crawled in the dust toward her, begging, “Stop strangling me!”

Deborah raised her hand to God and said, “If I am a witch, may I die.”

To read the rest of the article, create a free account with the International Bulletin of Missionary Research.


The Place God Calls You: Published in the Presbyterian Outlook

OUTLOOK COLLEGE PARTNERSHIP AWARD WINNING ESSAY BY HANNAH RASMUSSEN

Family members warned me of Macalester’s secular reputation. It’s true that the religious community is small. But this has been the best imaginable environment for my spiritual growth. After all, a mustard seed is small too.

Applicants seek out colleges with a low student-to-faculty ratio, where professors invest in their students one-on-one. At my school, I benefited from the ratio of Christian student leaders to mentors. Toward the end of my first year, all the leaders of the Christian group were graduating or going abroad. So our group chose me to be president as a rising sophomore. My mentor encouraged me to attend leadership training for the month of July. To complete the leadership training, I had to craft a speech envisioning our group’s future. I panicked. Our tiny group didn’t even have a current email account, much less a vision statement.

Adding my homemade Macalester pennant to the leadership camp's collection

Adding my homemade Macalester pennant to the leadership camp’s collection

Then I researched the college’s Presbyterian roots. The context breathed life into the school’s four pillars: scholarship, service to society, internationalism and multiculturalism. I resurrected the founder’s vision instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. When I returned to campus, I told our Christian group how each of the four pillars had God as its foundation — seeking God’s truth, serving like Jesus, making disciples of all nations and displaying heaven’s diversity on earth.

I realized that if my mission was tied to Macalester’s, my voice on campus mattered — and not just in the Christian community. I found myself quoting the Macalester website: “Global citizenship begins with responsible and reflective local engagement.” So I began putting down roots here.

I became a resident assiScreen Shot 2014-10-15 at 2.24.11 PMstant. I spoke up at a community forum about how sexist and anti-religious sports cheers made me feel. I assessed academic advising with a faculty task force. I was even invited to present a poem to the entire first year class during orientation about finding home in spiritual community. Discovering my values in the college’s history empowered me to be a leader in its present.

But Macalester has not simply prepared me for on-campus leadership. Since day one, my involvement with Macalester’s Lilly Program on service and vocation has stretched me to engage with the Twin Cities. I gathered with other students to teach English to elderly Somali women, tutor third-graders in an after-school program and discuss vocation. My second year, I facilitated volunteering and reflection.

The chaplain who founded the Lilly Program drew from Presbyterian theologian Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” As a missionary kid, I’d heard of callings, but had spent little time reflecting on my own calling. This past summer, I lived in an intentional community called the Lilly House. All 10 of us residents explored our vocation through a summer internship and dinner discussions. I interned at a local church that sponsors seven different ethnic congregations, coordinating intercultural celebrations and social justice work. At the encouragement of another mentor, I also presented my experiences at a discernment retreat.

With the support of family, friends and mentors, I receive an award for living out Macalester's 4 pillars

With the support of family, friends and mentors, I receive an award for living out Macalester’s 4 pillars

Up to this point, my experiences had seemed disconnected. Then I started listing them in my journal. Residents in my dorm relied on me for support, as did several friends struggling with mental health. Our Christian group needed a leader again, so I had stepped in. I read Christian books and wrote a youth group curriculum in my free time. I met weekly with a rabbi to learn Hebrew and a Christian thinker to study theology. I apprenticed and then interned at my church. Our school lost two chaplains within a few months. Heartbroken students protested. Then, I received an email that our head chaplain was leaving for another position. Reflection helped me piece together these experiences, step back and see my call. I realized the world was hungering for spiritual leadership. As I had responded to these needs, I had unwittingly discovered my deep gladness.

A school of 2,000 may be an unlikely place to grow world changers. But we have alumni like Kofi Annan and Walter Mondale. Margaret Mead’s quote seems especially applicable to Macalester: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The mustard seed found its roots. It grew bushy branches. It found its calling. So it called to burdened birds: come and rest.

Reprinted with permission of the Presbyterian Outlook (view on their website).