the jerusalem experiment

I had lunch with my friend Bryan today and we talked a lot about an experiment/adventure he’ll be embarking on this coming year. Bryan is a seminary student at Bethel and is about half-way through an MDiv program, so he’ll be a pastor when he’s done. As part of his studies, he’s decided to take an unpaid leave from his position as director of high school ministry at a church in Minneapolis so that he can live and learn in Jerusalem and the surrounding “holy lands” this winter and spring. He’ll take classes at Jerusalem University College to study the ancient culture, settings and languages of Christianity while also taking “field trips” to several of the key biblical locations outside of Jerusalem (places like Egypt, Galilee and Bethlehem). I’m guessing to some of you it might seem like he’s basically studying abroad for a semester — which I’m sure many of you did in undergrad — but this is where the “experiment” portion of what Bryan is doing in Jerusalem comes into play. While he’s in this holy places, he’ll not only be experiencing the stories of Scripture in new and powerful ways for himself personally, he’ll also be including/inviting all of us (the Church) to join him in his adventures and learning. In fact, the very reason Bryan is doing this is as much for the Church back home as for himself (a bit like a missionary, but opposite).

Not everyone can go to the Middle East for 4 1/2 months, but Bryan has come up with a multi-dimensional project that will allow others to travel there with him (virtually), learning along the way about the God who revealed himself to the world through a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth.

Through daily online journal entries at www.jerusalemexperiment.com (including pictures, video and discussion questions), a weekly podcast (weaving the stories and learnings of his travels into sermons) and culminating in a book titled A Land of Dust and Sun, Bryan will highlight several of the biblical sites he visits — writing about the geography, retelling the biblical narrative, sharing ways in why our lives can/have been shaped by those stories and inviting readers to find themselves within those stories and places — allowing us as his “fellow travelers” to discover intersections between our lives and the life of God’s story.

Bryan states as one of his deepest passions, “witnessing the Word of God come alive in the hearts of those who had formerly understood the ancient book as one that rarely (if ever) intersects our 21st century lives.” In light of that passoin, I believe the experiment he is taking on is incredibly relevant, and the resources that he will develop for the church as a result of this experiment will be invaluable. As you might assume, an undertaking like this requires plenty of support; spirirtually, emotionally and financially.

Here’s a few easy ways you can support this project:

  • Visit The Jerusalem Experiment website and watch the video Bryan made to explain more about the trip.
  • Add Bryan to your prayer chain at church or in your small group.
  • Tell some friends about what he’s doing (forward them the link to the website or to this entry to explain more).
  • Join The Jerusalem Experiment facebook group.
  • If you’re at all able, show your support by making a donation (big or small, it all helps) – there’s a link on his website to donate online using a credit card or through paypal. (Note: everyone who makes a donation will receive a free copy of Bryan’s book A Land of Dust and Sun, regardless of how much they give.)
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one week in Haiti: a documentary

I am leaving for Haiti tomorrow morning to film a documentary.

Since 2005, I have been involved with a non-profit organization called the Haiti Mission Project (HMP). Our group has been connected with churches, individuals and organizations in Haiti for over 10 years now, mostly through trips to Haiti, but also through the friendships that have grown out of those trips (both with other Americans from groups, but also with the Haitian people who we spent time with during the trips). We have even helped some of our Haitian friends come to the U.S. to visit, and because many of us have gone to Haiti several times, we no longer see our trips so much as “mission trips” – although we certainly do “mission work” while we’re in Haiti, currently including a building project that will include an orphanage, medical clinic and food storage/distribution center near Lilavois – but our trips are also an excuse to visit our friends.

The biggest struggle and frustration that comes with each trip is sharing what we’ve seen and experienced in Haiti with people back in the states, people who will never experience those realities in person. Perhaps some of you have experienced this same frustration after visiting other countries, or even different contexts here in America.

This frustration has been wearing one a few of us for some time now, and we’ve finally decided to try doing something in response. Tomorrow morning, I will be going to Haiti with a talented film student from California (and two others) to attempt to capture some glimpses of everyday life in Haiti by making a documentary. We realize that anything we capture will be from our perspective as Americans – how can it not be, since we will be holding the cameras? – but as much as possible, we want to let the Haitian people tell their own stories. We want the version of Haiti that is portrayed in the film to be as close to the “real” Haiti as possible. So we will have conversations with our Haitian friends and acquaintances (on film) to give them an opportunity to help us decide how to tell the story of their country…since after all, as the people of Haiti, it is their story.

We have spent enough time in Haiti to realize that hope is definitely alive and well there, and despite the difficult realities that many of them live in, the people still have plenty of energy and joy for life…even though many outsiders only see their country as a place of poverty and hopelessness. It is because of these misperceptions of Haiti (by the media, in the news) that we are going to Haiti to make this film. We want to uncover the hope and vibrancy of life that we have so often seen in a place and a people where others only see poverty and despair. That is what we want to portray in our documentary and instill in its viewers; a hope that might not necessarily make sense, yet undeniably still exists.

It happens to be my belief that there is no such thing as “false hope,” so if you see or meet someone who is hopeful, then that hope is not something you can take away from them. We see it as our role to share those stories of hope with others in hopes that they will be inspired to join us in our efforts (not only our efforts with the Haiti Mission Project, but several others who are working to raise awareness and make a difference in and for the people of Haiti and throughout the world, wherever people are in need).

Poverty, hopelessness and despair is not the only version of Haiti’s story that people should see and hear, because it isn’t accurate and it’s not fair to the people (both the Haitian people and people who have been working for years to help making a difference there). That’s why we feel called and led to make a documentary that shows Haiti for what it really is…a place of hope and joy amidst the obvious struggles and brokenness of everyday life. To do this, we will show some wide-angle images of the country, but more importantly, we will also zoom in on several individuals who each have a story that is worthy of being shared and heard. By showing both perspectives of the nation and it’s people, we believe stateside viewers will not only experience the brokenness and confusion that is often part of visiting a third-world country, but we think they might also get a sense of the overwhelming joy, hope and belief that is so evident in many of Haiti’s people.

There will be four of us flying into Port-au-Prince tomorrow and we will be staying for seven days (until July 2). In addition to myself, it will be the film student from LA, and two others from Minneapolis – a nurse and a teacher – both good friends of mine. It is truly humbling to be able to go on a trip and be part of a project like this, but it’s even more special when you’re going with some of your best friends. Please pray for our health and safety, and if at all possible, that we might accomplish most of our goals during the brief time we have there.

Walk for Haiti

Please consider supporting the people and country of Haiti by joining others at the Third Annual Walk for Haiti on Sunday, June 1st at Normandale Lake in Bloomington, Minnesota. The Walk for Haiti is an awareness event put on by the Haiti Mission Project (HMP), an organization I have been involved with the past three years. There is no registration fee for this year’s walk, but instead we are asking people to make a donation to the Haiti Mission Project–in whatever amount they are able–to help us reach our goal of raising $5,000.

(The HMP is a non profit organization, which means your donations are tax-deductible, and thanks to a generous corporate sponsor for this year’s event, 100% of all the donations from the Walk for Haiti will go toward furthering the HMP’s mission of sharing God’s hope and love in Haiti.)

If you’re interested in attending the walk and/or supporting the HMP, the links below will take you to the appropriate pages.

prayers for Haiti

Some of you have probably already read what I wrote about the current situation in Haiti a few days ago, but it’s not good. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, just google “Haiti” and then click News and read any of the recent articles.) Haiti is already an unstable and impoverished country, but lately food prices have gotten completely out of hand to the point where people who were already poor and hungry are no longer able to afford any food, and unfortunately some of them are now turning to violence out of frustration. Many people are aiming their frustration at the government (as made clear when mobs of people attempted to storm the presidential palace a few days ago). The Haitian president made a statement yesterday that seems to have only calmed people down temporarily, so people are now waiting to see what happens; expecting the worst and hoping for the best. Not to justify any of the violence and destruction that is happening in Haiti right now, but it’s worth noting that the average “working” Haitian only makes about $2 US per day (and very few have full-time employment), so you can imagine what it’s like trying to feed a family when food costs go up by 50% (and you couldn’t really afford food to begin with).

I’m not someone who gets into politics, I’m not an activist by any measure and I rarely even watch the news, so honestly, if it weren’t for my involvement in Haiti over the past three or four years, I probably wouldn’t even know what’s going on there right now, but I have witnessed the reality of life in Haiti with my own eyes and I have several friends who live in Haiti who I know are being effected by all that’s going on right now. It simply doesn’t seem fair that me and everyone I know has so much, yet the people in Haiti have literally nothing. I don’t expect everything to get fixed overnight, but I do wonder how it got this bad and I feel led to be involved in efforts to make things better, even if it’s just getting better for one person at a time.

What’s happening right now is a/effecting me even more than usual because I was planning to go to Haiti with 14 others this Saturday. We are having an emergency board meeting tonight to make a final decision about our trip, but based on all the conversations and emails we’ve had with the various people we know who are in Haiti right now, along with the news reports, images and videos we’ve seen, it doesn’t look like it would be safe enough for us to go right now…and that really sucks.

I was excited to see my friend Tijean, a Haitian teenager who has the same birthday as me (and it just so happens that “our” birthday is this Monday, so we were going to have a party together). I sponsor a boy from Haiti named Jean who I have been able to hang out with each time I’ve been there (and I was going to see him again on Wednesday). The man who drives us around in Haiti is named Leonard and he is the most joyful man I have ever known (he responds to our every request with the words “that’s no problem”). I could tell you about Gertrude who runs the guest house where we stay or her daughter Rosie who sits on our laps and gives us hugs, about Patrick who is one of the guards at the guest house who makes sure we’re safe or Karen and Randy who are missionaries from Canada and run a Christian school, about Pastor Louie at the Lutheran church where we worship or all the children in the orphanages we visit who touch our hearts in ways we never could have imagined. More than the thrill of experiencing life in a different culture, getting away from the crummy Minnesota weather or even deepening my understanding of what it means to be one of God’s people in God’s world, more than all those things I am sad that I won’t get to see my friends. It’s about people and relationships and I was excited to see my friends.

Please pray for the leaders and people of influence in Haiti, that they will find ways to restore peace and meet the basic needs of the people who are suffering right now. Pray for my friends in Haiti who are involved with movements that are making positive changes. Selfishly, if you could also pray for me and my friends who were hoping to go and get our hands dirty trying to make a difference, but are now forced to watch from a distance, feeling even more helpless than when we are there. Thanks for reading this and thank you for your prayers.

Haiti

If you know me you are most likely aware of my involvement in Haiti through a non-profit organization some friends and I started a few years ago called the Haiti Mission Project. The HMP represents a huge piece of my heart, and the opportunities I’ve had to work alongside my friends in Haiti — both my American friends and my Haitian friends — is probably the closest experience I’ve had to the mission and kingdom of God here on earth.

It’s because of my personal involvement with HMP that I want to request your prayers for the current situation in Haiti, where people have been rioting the past few days in the capital city of Port-au-Prince in response to rising food costs. Violence of many forms is not a new thing in Haiti (it is the only nation with UN peacekeepers permanently in place although they are not at war), but the current situation is of particular interest and concern to me and my friends because we are planning to go to Haiti this Saturday to spend a week in Port-au-Prince visiting and working in orphanages, hospitals and churches as well as hanging out with our Haitian friends who we’ve gotten to know over the years.

Among our good friends in Haiti is a young boy named Jean who I have sponsored through Compassion International for the past four years, and who I will (hopefully) get to see again next week. It’s been an incredible experience to meet and spend time with the child who I have been exchanging letters with, sending money to and praying for since we were randomly paired together four years ago. In the beginning he was just a kid from a country I didn’t know anything about who was in a picture on my fridge, but now I have pictures and memories with him and the country he lives in is in my daily thoughts and prayers.

Here’s a powerful video from our trip to Haiti in 2006 that was made by a talented guy in our group; it includes images of Haiti (the country and its people), a glimpse of some of the typical work we’ve done there (building an orphanage in this case) and footage of the first time I met Jean (you may recognize him from a few of the pictures in the “Witness” video).

Many people don’t know much about Haiti except that it’s often listed as the “poorest country in the Western hemisphere” (which is true), but it’s actually an island nation with a long history of slavery, corruption, violence and injustice. Yet, through our partnership with several individuals and organizations (including a Lutheran church) in Port-au-Prince, we have been able to help fuel the hope that many Haitians have for their nation and its people, a hope they have found through their faith in Jesus. It’s a hope that is often hard to understand and is rarely seen in visible/physical ways, but it’s a future (“eschatological”) hope that is wrapped up in the message of Easter; the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives freedom, life and hope to all people at all times in all places, even especially Haiti.

To be honest, looking at Haiti in the big picture often makes hope seem hopeless, freedom look like oppression and life doesn’t appear like its worth living if it’s filled with so much hunger, suffering and violence. I realize I wrote earlier that my experiences in Haiti have provided me with the closest glimpse of God’s mission and kingdom that I have ever seen, but my time in Haiti has also led to some of the most difficult questions and doubts (of faith) that I have ever faced. It just does not make sense that a world created by a loving God would include the blatant poverty, suffering and injustices that I have seen in Haiti; it’s not fair. Yet I believe that God not only created the world but God loves the world (John 3:16), all of it, and through that love, God is continually active in the world — working in and through people, powers and movements of other forms — but unfortunately this world is contaminated by sin (not just blaming sinful people), and so this means that God is doing as good as God can given the current situation. Just because things aren’t changing for the better doesn’t mean God has abandoned the situation, in fact, I believe that God can be found even in the suffering, since the understanding of God that I have is of a Father who watched his only Son die a painful and innocent death (God knows suffering and God suffers with us).

The discussion we’ve been having about missions in my systematic theology class lately has helped me realize that the group I’m involved with does not bring Christ to Haiti, in fact, we have actually discovered that He is already there in the efforts of others to help the poor and oppressed, to look after the sick and to comfort the forgotten and vulnerable. When we go to Haiti we are meeting God where God is already at work.

We are planning to wait until Friday to make a decision about whether or not it is smart for us to go ahead with our trip. We have already sent several emails and made phone calls to our friends in Haiti asking them if it’s safe for us to come (trust me, we aren’t going to put ourselves in a bad situation intentionally, and our friends there would tell us not to come if it wasn’t safe). Please pray for our team as we face the next couple of days uncertain of where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing next week, and definitely pray for Haiti as they deal with these difficult times.