Tag Archives: Christian

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.”


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.


Dumpster Diving Artist

Dirty White Trash (with Gulls), 1998 by Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Dirty White Trash (with Gulls), 1998
by Tim Noble and Sue Webster
6 months of the artists’ trash, 2 taxidermy seagulls

When I started this site a year ago, I had just read Daring Greatly by Brenee Brown. I intended to share vulnerability in healthy ways.

I stepped out blindly onto a path and soon found myself climbing a mountain.

This year I faced my feelings, including loneliness and homesickness. I faced shame about my work and my worth. I faced hurt from the past and anxiety about the future. And that’s only the list of what I shared on the internet!

I didn’t want to deal with pain. But God had thrown away the painkillers I’d always used to escape. I realized I needed to find healing for my hurts. When I brought them to God, I heard: “You are my daughter, in whom I am well pleased. You are understood. You are home.

So this year was harder than I expected, but I was also braver than I thought possible. It’s been an adventure, I suppose. As Nicole Nordeman sings, “sitting in the rubble, I can see the stars.”

In Mark Shaw’s Work, Play, Love he talks about how theologian Jonathan Edwards’ categorized beauty: Simple beauty was symmetry. Complex beauty was a harmony of opposites, where beauty absorbs and transforms ugliness. Moral beauty was love for persons. God was complex moral beauty. This year I have seen how God absorbs the sin and brokenness of the world and makes something deeply beautiful.

When I first began to grasp the concept of grace, I wrote a poem about God using the imperfections and brokenness of a lightbulb to create a stained glass masterpiece. I called God a dumpster diving artist.

The creator made us beautiful, but we hurt ourselves and each other, resulting in a broken mess that should’ve been thrown out. But God wasn’t ready to give up on us. God dove into the dumpster of this world with us and became a human. Jesus immersed himself in people’s sickness, poverty and hurt. He opened his arms to our pain – and kept them open wide in a torturous death.

But God – what infinite moral complex beauty! – turned death into life, defeat by torture into eternal victory. And that’s why in heaven, there will be no pain. In the presence of such a God, bones take on flesh, ashes become beauty (there’s a song about that too). This is not the art that we envision. But the Holy Spirit invites us to join in. We too can make a collage or quilt from scraps.

Creating art and writing to share here has helped me look at my life in a new light. I can see that this year’s trash has been recycled by a dumpster diving artist into a new creation. And I hope I’m joining the Creator in making some garbage art.


Feel 01: Anxious

Feel - Matthew ElliottI knew something was wrong when I started craving chick flicks and feeling sick of Christian books. I’ve never been a movie fan, and Christian writing is my livelihood. I think I’m tired of thinking. I feel like it’s time to feel.

I should have seen this coming. First there was the powerful sermon in March on emotional maturity. Then the mentors forcing me to list feelings (apparently “confused” doesn’t count – it’s an intellectual state).

When I visited Ethiopia, an engineering grad about my age told me how she’d learned to pay attention to emotions. She suggested reading a Christian book about feelings. I laughed. What a solution.

Then I remembered my new boss was the premier scholar on emotions in the New Testament.

I’ve been devouring his book Feel the past couple weeks. I feel excited.

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Estranged poet

I prefer
“How are you doing?” to “How are you feeling?”
The extra verb muffles being with activity.
When I want to be heard above the shuffle,
I feel not,
except to grasp my trusty “I think,”
wield my hard head,
shield the squishy parts.

But today, ask
“How are you?” and
I’ll be honest:
Lately I feel my heart
beat against the bars of its rib cage
to come out now
and I feel scared.

Stay posted for more on feelings.


Worth It? A Single’s Story

Mug labelled Keep Calm and Carry On

Sometimes I worry that since I haven’t dated yet I’m missing out on companionship and adventure. What it would be like to date someone? To avoid feeling this way, I create grateful hypotheticals:

If I’d dated during college, I wouldn’t have had time to invest freely and deeply in as many friendships. Singleness gives me a different kind of relational satisfaction.

If I’d been engaged after graduation, I couldn’t have moved to Kenya at a few months’ notice for my dream job.

If I was married, I couldn’t have travelled to Ethiopia recently on less than a week’s notice. Singleness frees me to go wherever God calls me (1 Cor. 7:34).

While I’ve had embarrassing moments and regrets, I’ve never gone through a breakup. Maybe I’m missing out on painful personal growth. But I’ve had more energy for other areas of personal growth, like exploring a call to ministry.

I treasure my freedom to make friends and follow God – the side effects of being single. What wonderful gifts!

Gratitude works when I’m being practical, when I see singleness as a situation. But if I start to see it as an identity, I can be ashamed of myself. Is something wrong with me? Maybe I’m some strange species of extra-virgin olive oil.

My friends from Christian colleges post facebook photos of engagements and weddings at alarming rates. I loved going to a secular college. Maybe I would have had more access to eligible Christians at a Christian school, but I didn’t actually want a ring by spring. So I feel behind and at a disadvantage in a game I never asked to play.

My secular school had different social rules to play by. In reaction to shame around sexual activity, sex positive teaching says all desires concerning sex are good. Therefore you shouldn’t feel ashamed of acting on them (as long as your partner agrees and it’s not harming anyone). If I didn’t want to be sexually active, then I was acting on my desire – no problem. But if I had desires I didn’t act on, then I was acting like the repressive Victorians that sex positivity was fleeing from. In that case, virginity was shameful – precisely because in Christian culture, sex outside marriage was shameful. I couldn’t win.

Since men traditionally ask women out, if a man hasn’t gone on a date, people will assume it’s due to his lack of interest or initiative. If people shame him for his lack of agency, he could do something about it. If I’m single, people assume it’s because no one’s interested in me. I can’t do anything about being single.

To explain why, allow me to adopt economic vocabulary. The worth of a good is determined by supply and demand. A Christian purity book asked me and my friends to reflect: “Are you a Styrofoam or china cup?” The implication was that staying pure (limiting supply) would increase our value in the eyes of men and God. That kind of thinking almost makes a girl fantasize about someone asking her out so she can reject him and increase her worth.

If there’s no demand, a woman’s value will plummet. She might use the tried and true marketing tactics of flirting, fashion and fitness to tempt customers. Or she might try to initiate something. But if her attention isn’t reciprocated, she’ll be “cheap.” She supplied too much of herself to the world, so the demand for her attention decreased.

This system encourages women to be passive before relationships even start. Good Christian girls wait because acting is irrelevant. External factors determine our value.

You can’t fault a woman for something she didn’t do. But when her identity is tied to others’ evaluation of her, you won’t have to. She’ll shame herself. And she’ll keep looking to her evaluators for love.

Donald Miller suggests our greatest desire is “to be known and loved anyway.” Shame tells us we’re unworthy. We look for kindred spirits or “the one” who will evaluate us and decide we are enough.

At least I do. Loneliness shaped my childhood. Friends broke playground alliances or moved away. The conditional love of teachers and authority figures was more attainable and predictable: Do your homework, follow the rules. Earn the label of good girl, smart kid. But conditional acceptance created fear, because if I messed up it would be gone.

I idolized made-up soul mates. Maybe God kept me single so I wouldn’t recreate my date into an idol.

Only the one who made my soul is worthy of worship.

Last week I listened to an old Relient K song that says: “You recite my words right back to me / Before I even speak / you let me know / I am understood // You’re the only one who understands / completely / you’re the only one who knows me and still loves / completely.”

God never left, never loved me conditionally. All my fear, shame, anger, sin – God saw it all. And if we’re talking economics – Jesus paid for me with his life. He invited me to become part of his bride and his family – the church. He promised to be with us forever.

God’s perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18) and shame (Ps. 34:5). We don’t have to play hard-to-get to boost our self-worth. Our Maker determined that we’re invaluable long ago. The Father said to Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Jesus said to his followers, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9).

I picture myself approaching the God who knows everything about me. God shakes a smiling head, offers me a hug.

Single or not, this love flows into all of us – and overflows to everyone else. Like a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, the Lord rejoices in the chosen people (Isa. 62:1-5). God takes great delight in us, quiets us with love and rejoices over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17).

I know, because last week, God sang that Relient K song to me. And we talked drinking tea from a comfortable mug. Like soul mates.

~Originally published July 2, 2014 on Christians for Biblical Equality’s blog (link)