Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Africa Reflections #2 -- Who's Movie Is It?

Well, I wrote yesterday morning and shared about the number one highlight of the trip, so it's only fair that I would share about the number one lowlight of my trip as well and what God reinforced in my life through it. The picture above is of the 5 star hotel that Kenya Airways supplied for me and three other members of the team (we each had our own room) after they overbooked our flight by 43 people, leaving 4 members of our team, including me, left to hang out in Nairobi for an extra day. Reflecting on this again today, there is a great sadness that comes over me that I missed out on a full day with our team in Burundi because of this. It's funny, I had read a few days or a week earlier on The Journey (http://www.jointhejourney.com/) about Paul's suffering and how he boasted in things like shipwrecks, torture, beatings, sickness, etc. for the cause of Christ and I really prepared myself mentally for sufferings of no running water, bad food, sickness, etc. but I didn't prepare myself for the sufferings of a 5 star hotel. In all sincerity, that's exactly what it felt like to me . . . suffering.

I had our team read through a book on our trip called "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan (which is currently required reading for being my friend http://www.crazylovebook.com/) and in one of the chapters he says what many others have said but in a way that God has used tremendously in my life over the past few weeks. Essentially, he compares the foolishness of making this life all about me to being an extra in a 3 hour epic movie where the back of your head appears on screen for 2/5 of a second and then calling all your friends to come to see the movie about you. It makes no sense, but that's exactly what we do when we make life all about us and inevitably when we do this, we find ourselves complaining, grumbling, and turning to all sorts of selfish pursuits that leave us more empty and more miserable at the end of it all. By God's grace, this was the mindset that I entered our little 24 hour detour with, so that when the other members of our team jumped on their jet as we received cash, a transit visa, and a ride to The Stanley Hotel in Nairobi I was able to say, "God must want us in Nairobi."

Love to say that I know exactly what God wanted us in Nairobi for, but I'm not altogether sure. What I do know is that the 4 of us looked for ways to make the most of our opportunity and to that end, we hung out for a few hours with a lady named Sonia who was in a similar situation to us. She was supposed to have been on our flight as well and ended up at our hotel. We chatted during the bus trip to the hotel and then over breakfast at the hotel (or really she chatted and we listened) and discovered that she was a photographer from the Virgin Islands and a Reverend of a Unitarian church. When she learned we were from a non-denominational church in Dallas, her eyes lit up under the assumption that we, like her, believed in nothing which is something. We took the opportunity to inform her that we do believe in something and that His name is Jesus and He alone is the hope of the nations. We had a very pleasant dialogue and shared truth with her as much as possible, but the Lord didn't choose to enlighten her heart in that moment. We prayed for her and prayed that the seed that we planted or the water we threw on that seed would bear fruit in eternity, but we'll probably never know.

What we do know is that God was glorified in our lives in those moments, so if the story of my life is really all about him, then we did exactly what we should have done. It was a blessing to watch Jeff and Todd and Vince jump right in the fray with us and to see them encouraged that God was still in control whether we were in Nairobi or Burundi. Still wish we had been in Burundi, but it's your story Lord, so write what you will and may I be faithful to play my part.
Psalm 90:1-2, 10, 12, 17
A prayer of Moses the man of God
"Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting, you are God . . .
The length of our days is seventy years --
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away . . .
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom . . .
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us --
yes, establish the work of our hands."

Sunset in Makamba, Burundi when we did arrive.

Africa Reflections #1

My heart, mind and soul are full. Full but longing for more. I think about Jesus telling the woman at the well that he would give her living water and she would never thirst again, and how we are completely satisfied in him and yet in the midst of our satisfaction we long for more and that's where I find myself today. Over the next several days and posts, I want to take the opportunity to talk about my experiences in Africa. I just got back last night and have spent the morning uploading pictures and reflecting on all that I've seen and thought over the last 10 days. My prayer is that I'll never be the same.

Above is a picture that captures the moment that I consider to be the number one highlight of the trip for me personally. A little background first. We planned this trip with our primary mission being to build a clinic that Watermark had funded for the people of Makamba, the southernmost province of Burundi. But we also went into it with the mindset of "T.I.A." which means "This Is Africa" and you never know when, what, or how your plans will unfold (side note: wish our lives were a little more this way). So the third full day that our team was there, we arrived at the work site and there were no construction workers there, no foreman, and really nothing for us to do. So, we spent the entire day just being with the people. I remember Bob Pyne, one of the staff members for ALARM, meeting with us a few months ago and basically saying, "Presence is far more important than program," meaning that our Western mentality was good for nothing and that just being with people was more important that accomplishing any task. He was right.
So right before this, we were walking along when an elderly woman stopped us and asked if we could help her. She had walked from her home outside the village to come to the clinic in hopes of receiving an injection to help with her asthma. When she arrived, there were no more injections for her and now she would have to walk back home with labored breathing and little more than a few tablets of Aspirin to help (which it doesn't). We told her that unfortunately, we could do nothing for her, but we prayed and shared with her about Jesus. Tracy Lau and Merritt Olsen did a great job of loving on her and I stood back, watched, prayed and cried. I cried for her because of how simple it would be to meet this need back home and how there are thousands and thousands of doses of this medication sitting on shelves in the US that will be thrown away before it's ever used and how wasteful and foolish that seemed in the midst of this. But I cried more for the destructiveness of sin, selfishness, hard-heartedness, and all the sins that so easily entangle us that leave this world broken and fallen.
We left her and I continued to cry, pulling my sunglasses down to hide the tears. I found a pile of bricks and began to help Jeff Stanley stack them. After a few minutes, some of the kids, including my buddy Nikeza came and began to help me (by the way, can your 3 year old pick up 6 bricks at a time and carry them 10 feet? There's can!). We moved bricks for a while and then I told them, let's take a break and I sat down on this pile of rocks and told them I would tell them a story and teach them a song. Before I knew it, I was completely surrounded by kids and adults alike and Christine, one of our translators came to help me tell the story. I told them the story that Jesus told at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 where Jesus says that if you listen to what he says and do these things, you are like a wise man who builds his house on the rock, but if you do not, you are like the foolish man who builds his house on the sand. Sitting only a few feet away from the clinic that is built on it's cement foundation and with large stones that we and the team before us had moved to begin to reinforce the floor, I used it to illustrate my point. I pleaded with them to listen to Jesus, to live like he lives and love like he loves. We sang the song, "The wise man built his house upon the rock, the wise man built his house upon the rock . . ." and the kids did the hand motions. It was priceless. Then, Christine asked them in Kirundi, who can repeat the story back for us. And several of them raised their hands. Christine saw a man standing behind me raise his hand and called on him to share the story again. Verbatim, he went back through the story and told people to be wise and to build their lives on Jesus.
When he finished, we all applauded and I stood up to find him. I asked him his name and he told me it was Peter (not making this stuff up people. The guy named "Rock" was the one who retold the story about the wise man building his house on the rock). I put my finger in his chest and told him that it was his job to tell all of the people of the village the stories about Jesus, I told him that I had to go home but that he lived here and the children would listen to him if he would tell them the stories. You see, the adults, even in the churches, do not teach the kids. They send the kids outside the church to play and run around while they sing and worship inside. I don't know if he got it or not, but I hope he did.
The day continued with all sorts of moments like this, but that was my favorite. I was humbled that God would use me like that, and astounded when I thought, "This must have been what it was like for Jesus to walk through the towns in Israel and Judea during his day." The Africans would surround you, whether you were doing anything or not and just stare at you and want to touch your skin or whatever and listen to you tell them stories. It was unbelievable. The ALARM staff told us that the impact of this would be huge for these people, because typically the mzungus (white people) only talk with the rich or go and hang out at the resorts or with government leaders, isolated from the people, but we were there touching them, hugging them, and playing with them. As Christine said so simply, "You are loving people!"
I'm praying that I will take more advantage of simple opportunities to love people. Tell a story, teach a song, hug someone who's dirty, and do it in the name of Jesus, because it's all about Him anyway. Yesu arakukunda (Jesus loves you!). More later.

This is me with my buddy Nikeza

This is me and Christine. Fanta Citrus is really good, by the way.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What Kids Teach Us About God

Yesterday morning was an interesting one and not at all like what I hope most mornings are like, but they do happen from time to time. I feel a little bit like Chuck Dickens (his friends call him Chuck) because it truly was "the best of times" and "the worst of times." I've had a great season lately of consistent early morning time with the Lord and have a new hideout to do so . . . the park across the street. The benefits of this are that I get to be alone with the Lord while watching his magnificent sunrise every morning and no 4 year olds interrupting me. But it rained the night before and was a little damp, so I decided I would hang out inside yesterday morning. So Josiah woke up early and interrupted my time, which is fine, except that when I told him what he was allowed to do and what he was not allowed to do now that he was awake, he didn't like his options and massive melt down fit throwing ensued. This led to various attempts at discipline that ended with me putting him in his room and leaving him there to scream and cry all by himself and completely ignore him (or at least try to).

Did I mention that I was trying to read and journal? So as I sat attempting to hear from the Lord, He spoke to me in the cries of my little boy who was screaming, "DADDY! WHERE ARE YOU? HELLO? IS ANYBODY HERE?" And all of a sudden I was in my mind in the Psalms where David and other writers say things like, "How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?" (Ps. 89:46) and reflecting on seasons of silence that I've been through, mostly due in part to my own pursuit of self and sin, much like Josiah yesterday morning. I realized in that moment, just how gracious and loving God's silence is. You see, I believe that when we pursue self, that God will at times allow us to have as much of ourselves as we'd like, only for us to find out, like Josiah did, that all of myself, all by myself is not as much fun as it appeared to be on the front end. Consequently, we begin to scream, "Daddy, where are you?" as we ache for the intimacy of relationship with him that our sin has broken (disclaimer: not all seasons of silence are the result of sin, I realize, but the vast majority are). You see, Josiah wanted me to bend to his will (cartoons, computer games, running around the house at 6:30 in the morning) rather than him submitting to the will of his daddy. That's not how daddy's should work, because that's not how God works. He will at times let you go there, but you're not dragging him with you.

Which leads to this other observation. While Josiah genuinely began to worry that I wasn't there anymore and that he was completely alone in the house, I hadn't gone anywhere. I was here in the kitchen, writing all of this stuff down. I was continuing to provide protection and provision for him because I love him and would never leave my little boy alone in the house, and once again, I remember that this must be a glimpse of what God does with us. That even in the seasons of silence, he is not too far that his arm can't reach us. That's grace.

So at the end of it all, after the weeping and gnashing of teeth had subsided, Josiah and I talked. And I told him that from here on out, when he is being selfish, that we will let him be selfish, but it will be all by himself. I told him I would give him as much of himself as his little heart desired, but he would have to enjoy it all alone. He seemed to get it. Ironically, as I was typing this he came out again (at 5:45 in the morning), but this time he listened to the options his daddy gave him and did it. Proud of you, little man! You set an example for me. Praying that we will listen to the voice of our Daddy through His Son, Jesus, and obey and, in that way, be like the wise man who builds his house on the rock!

Friday, July 11, 2008


Just so you know, I realize that our blog is a little on the boring side visually right now, due in large part to the fact that we haven't been able to locate the chord for getting pictures off our camera and onto our computer since we moved. Until then, here's an old picture from when we first adopted Selah.
One of the cool things in the last several months since we first felt like the Lord was leading us to adopt from Ethiopia, is that the Lord has given us multiple opportunities to interact with people from Ethiopia living here in Dallas or visiting. Some has been strategically planned such as a dinner with an Ethiopian pastor at the Fournet's house a few weeks ago, but some has just been God's providence in allowing our paths to cross with Ethiopians (of course, I guess it's all providence whether it's planned or not, but let's not get technical). On Tuesday of this week, I had a lunch appointment at the Chili's down on Knox and 75 in Dallas (not my usual stomping grounds). As I try to make a practice of doing, I asked our waitress her name and didn't understand her at first. She repeated saying, "Rahel . . . it's Ethiopian." We were off!! I told her we were adopting from Ethiopia and wanted to hear more about her. So, through a handful of trips to our table, we got a glimpse at each other's stories and swapped email addresses so we could be in touch. I sent her an email later that day and here was the first part of her reply:
Hello brother Wes,

It was nice meeting you as well. It is so great when you meet someone who is outside of your ethnicity and culture but yet who is one with you through the bond of Jesus Christ our Lord. I was so touched when you told me that you are in a journey of trying to adopt a child from Ethiopia. What a heart you have!
I was so encouraged by her response and loved her theology all at the same time. It should never cease to amaze us as believers in Christ when we encounter the bond that is formed between us through the person of Jesus Christ. We have extended invitations to one another to visit each other's churches and plan to do that as soon as we're able to. She attends an Ethiopian Baptist Church here in Dallas, so I can't wait to sit through a service entirely done in Amharic and join my adopted brothers and sisters in Christ in celebrating our adoption as sons and daughters.
Rahel, I hope you'll read this and know just how much you blessed my heart over lunch on Tuesday. See you soon!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Example of Salmon . . . not the fish!

As I said yesterday, I want to be guilty of posting my thoughts much more often, so here goes. This morning I was spending time with the Lord and hanging out in Matthew 1 this morning for a little while. There, you will find the geneaology of Christ as recorded by Matthew, going from Abraham, through David, to King Josiah (just had to mention that for obvious reasons) and finally to Joseph and Mary. But I was struck by verse 5 and Matthew's mention of Salmon, the father of Boaz, who was the husband of Ruth. This verse mentions two women in the lineage, both Salmon's wife, Rahab, and Boaz's wife, Ruth. If you know your Bible, you know that Rahab was the Canaanite prostitute who helped the spies as Joshua and the boys were making their claim to the land God promised them and Ruth has an entire book dedicated to her and her story of redemption by the "kinsman redeemer" Boaz. What struck me fresh this morning was to see these two stories side by side. You see, Salmon, a Jew, married Rahab, who through her faith (as we see in Hebrews 11) was saved by God and grafted into the nation of Israel. Salmon's choice here of a bride was probably not a popular one considering Rahab's storied past, not to mention her race, but Salmon "redeemed" her. The next thing you know, we have Boaz, Salmon and Rahab's boy, meeting Ruth, a widow from the land of Moab, again, not a Jew, and feeling the same heart of compassion for her as he observes her faithfulness and "redeeming" her into his family.

So many threads to these stories to consider and I could write forever explaining this, but here's my point in making this observation. Salmon, led by God, chose to adopt Rahab into his family through marriage. In this culture, a woman on her own was as good as dead, which is why widows and orphans are most often mentioned together in the Scriptures. For all intensive purposes, they are the same and need someone to "adopt" them into their family. Salmon chose to do this and then we see his son, following in his father's footsteps, making the same choice to "adopt" Ruth through marriage. As I considered this, I thought about my own story. While my parents never adopted officially, my heart for adoption began with an observation of the way they loved kids while I was growing up. They served in many ways as a parental model for many of my friends who didn't have a dad or whose parents didn't love Jesus. I believe it was here that God began to stir my heart for the orphans of this world and continued to foster it to where it is today. Subsequently, I love that Josiah and Selah both already have a knowledge of adoption, both from their own stories and as they walk with us through this process, and pray that, like Boaz observed and followed the example of his father, Salmon, my kids will do the same.

Oh God, that there might be generations of Butlers with a Christ-like passion for orphans and a deep conviction of their role, as commanded in Scripture, to care for them and redeem them, either through adoption or some other means. And that it would spread like wild fire throughout your people, your church, to care for the millions of orphans around the world. This is Your heart, Oh God and I thank you that you "hear the needy" and that they will "see and be glad" (Psalm 69:32-33).

As a P.S. I should mention that we are walking through the book of Ruth on Sunday morning, led by my buddy Blake Holmes, and it is worth taking a listen to. Go to http://www.watermarkradio.com/ and listen to his first message from this past Sunday, "Faith in the Midst of Famine."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Home Study Done

It's been a long silence on the blogging front, so I apologize. I definitely need more time to write!!! Lots of things floating around in my head that I'm anxious to get out there.

But for now, I'll simply report some very exciting news. We had our home study this morning and all went very well. Having been our third stab at this thing, we are becoming old pros in some sense and yet learning something new at every turn in another sense. Amy Curtis was our social worker and was greeted at the door by two very enthusiastic toddlers. Our greatest anxiety going into today was that Josiah and Selah would entertain themselves enough to afford us the time to talk with Amy and answer all of her questions. We asked several folks to pray for that for us and the Lord really answered our prayers. They really didn't try to hog the attention and apart from the occasional interruption, really allowed us to talk with Amy. Amy even commented at the end of our time that she was really impressed with how the kids acted, saying that typically her home studies result in one catastrophe or another from one of the kids in the home.

We spent about 3 hours with her, answering all of her questions and giving her the tour of the house. She had told us prior to the visit that she thought it would be a short visit since we already had two home studies on file. Before she left she said, "I know I said this would probably be a shorter visit, but I just enjoyed talking to you guys so much." That was really encouraging. So, we don't have an official "PASS" on the home study as of yet, but unofficially, she said that she had no concerns and we should get a written copy of the home study within a couple of weeks for us to look over and make any corrections on before finalizing it.

One other funny story that happened while she was there. As I said the kids were really good and at one point, I thought, too good. They were really quiet back in the back of the house and eventually Josiah came out and said, "Selah colored on her doll house." Selah's reply was "No, Bubba colored on the doll house," and they went back and forth. I asked Josiah if he had and he insisted that he hadn't. So, I went back to the back to inspect the damage (despite Selah trying to block my path and yelling, "NO, DADDY!") to discover that coloring had indeed taken place. I probably would have believed Josiah too, except that someone had prominently written Selah's name (in the best handwriting of his life to date) on the top of the doll house. The moral of the story is, if you're going to blame something on your little sister who can't write her letters yet, don't attempt to sign her name to the crime scene. Funny, but punishment did ensue.

Thanks for your prayers, and I promise to do a better job of posting our thoughts as we move forward in the process.