Tag Archives: work

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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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.


Feel 03: Overwhelmed

Image by Gwydion M. Williams (Flickr)

Image by Gwydion M. Williams (Flickr)

“There’s steam coming out of the car!”

As the van climbed a hill in the strong afternoon sun, the temperature gauge had been climbing too. But my dad and I hadn’t noticed. Finally, the pressure cracked the plastic top of the radiator. It said, “Stop! You can’t keep ignoring me!”

Later that week, my emotions did the same thing. The temperature kept rising until the gasket broke. For three separate situations, I sat down with a list of feeling words and wrote: “I feel anxious because… I feel angry about… I feel afraid that…” It took a lot of tissues to mop up all that escaping water.

It was an answer to prayer.

Of course, I didn’t realize it at first. I asked: “What are you doing, God?”

Writer that I am, I journaled… for three full days. I listened to my feelings. I listened to music. I listened to the Bible. If emotions were like food, mine were as processed as sausages.

A Sanctus Real song echoed my thoughts: “Whatever you’re doing, inside of me / it feels like chaos / but I believe / you’re up to something / bigger than me / larger than life / something heavenly.”

Work tasks and deadlines were part of my stress. Finally, I tearfully told my boss that I was worried I would disappoint everyone when our project wasn’t done on time. I felt shame because my work wouldn’t be enough. I asked for management solutions, a more detailed plan, and clearer expectations.

They listened, then reminded me that it wasn’t my work. It was God’s. I only had to take responsibility for my part. In fact, I realized it was proud to think I could do it all myself. I read a familiar passage about Jesus’ humility. Just below it, I saw: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil 2:12-13). Work humbly – because God works in you.

I read: “those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires… the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace… The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again” (Rom. 8:5, 6, 15). Focusing on what had to be done made me feel fear and shame because I couldn’t do it. My supervisors encouraged me to focus instead on what God had been doing – and replace my anxiety with peace.

With another situation I was anxious about, I imagined the opportunity in it. I remembered what God had done before and decided this might be another step in the same direction.

Then I took a big picture look at all the emotions of the past couple weeks. What are you doing, God?

Cracks and growth

Cracks and growth

I remembered that I recently prayed for a closer relationship with the Holy Spirit.

I’d hoped for really powerful prayers and maybe a miraculous experience. But I also told God to do things his way recently. So he put me in a situation where I need the Spirit’s strength. My boss called this my “baptism by fire” into ministry work. The phrase means a painful initiation, but in the Bible, being baptized with flames is a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s presence. I often think of listening to the Spirit as sitting quietly and waiting for thoughts that are too profound to come from me. But I realized – music, journaling, the Bible – they’re all ways the Spirit speaks. I guess we have gotten closer lately.

I’d also asked to become pliable so God could mold me for his purposes. I’d prayed for humility.

Another supervisor compared this challenging time to how Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days before beginning his ministry. The devil tempted Jesus: “Prove yourself. Show your power and get the glory now – forget about the painful cross.” The liar tells me I’m not enough too, and I question whether all this is really necessary.

But Jesus fasted and chose the humble way. In fact, that’s where we get the 40 days of Lent from. We so often stuff the cracks in our lives with comforting distractions. But ‘tis the season to make peace with the cracks. This year I don’t have all the friends, ministry roles and accomplishments I often rely on to boost my self-worth. I’ve had to face the cracks and let the Spirit fill them. Maybe the Spirit’s leading me to the wilderness to prepare me for ministry, shape me for what’s next.

The crack in our radiator, annoying as it was, saved the engine from damage. Overheating forced us to stop – right in front of a car wash. We filled the radiator with buckets full of water and made it home. It took days with the mechanic, but our car is finally ready for its next adventure.

I feel… hopeful.


Not My Plan

whiteboardI love planning.

For Lent a few years ago, I felt convicted to give up my whiteboard. I realized I was consulting it more than God when deciding what to do in my day. I had “Shower” on there at one point. I’m not even kidding. I’ve been freed of my whiteboard ever since.

But I still look to my plans to give me security in uncertain times.

A friend asked me what’s next in life for me. When I replied with a five-year plan, she smiled. Maybe she could tell it’s a recent invention to buffer against the unknown. Halfway through reciting my tentative future to someone else, I realized he could’ve given me great advice if I would ask and listen. Sometimes, I rely on my plans rather than allowing God and God’s people to care for me.

Sometimes my plans prevent me from caring for others. My Dad and I have been training for a half-marathon together. One day, he got home late and it looked like we’d have to cut our run short to avoid running in the dark. I was angry for most of the run. Then I realized I was valuing my running schedule over my relationship with my dad.

So, I decided to let go of my running schedule for a few days and spend more time praying. Part of the time, I rambled about my feelings. Part of the time I sang Psalms about God’s character. I also closed my eyes and traced my finger through a mini-labyrinth I’d made.

My labyrinth artwork

My mini-labyrinth

When I first walked a labyrinth a couple years ago, I would think I was walking toward the center, and then I would hit a barrier and have to go way back out to the edges again. But in labyrinths, unlike mazes, there are no dead ends. There is only one way: the path is made by walking. Every disappointment actually pointed me closer to my goal. I compared this experience to times in my life when God didn’t give me what I asked for, because God could see the birds’ eye view. With time, I too saw that God gave me something better.

After my recent prayers, I didn’t notice much change in the areas I’d rambled to God about. But, out of the blue, someone called me back who I had been waiting to hear from for months. I was upset about a work meeting, but it ended up resolving big questions I’d had. I also randomly discovered a friend was moving to my city. The product of my prayers was not the results I’d selfishly hoped for. Instead, my prayer produced an awareness of God doing his own thing. It awakened a new Psalm in my own heart.

I sang this song in journal entry I’d written just before college: “All of my plans, all of my dreams, I lay them down before your feet. Because you are the one, only one who dared to give it all away for me.” The song suggests that Jesus gave it all – even his plans – for our relationship with God.

I don’t mean that the crucifixion was a surprise for him. He knew what he came to earth to do. But at the last moments, he prayed, “Daddy, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” He asked if there was any other way to deal with the world’s sin and glorify the Father. But he didn’t push for it. His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death and his body sweated drops of blood. But his spirit was willing. He accepted that even if there was a Plan B, he would let the Father do the best way. God submitted to God.

When Jesus surrendered to the Father, an angel came to strengthen him. It comforts me to know that when we give everything to God, God gives us strength to carry us through. When I’m overwhelmed by my responsibilities at work, I have a playlist called “Rescue Me.” Combined, the songs say: Ni Mungu, Sio Mimi, atendaye kazi (God, not me, does the work)… I can’t go on without you… Peke yangu sitaweza (on my own I won’t make it)… Please be my strength.

I want to learn what it really looks like to rely on God’s strength. Jesus’ story suggests it has something to do with prayer. So here’s a start: God, I’ve told you what I want. But your plans are better. Please do what you want in my life, even when I ask for something else. Make me weak and pliable so your strength can shape and use me. Your will be done.