My Journey In Lagos—Part One

Lagos, Nigeria—A City Of 20 Million

“As of 2000, the population of Lagos, Nigeria, was roughly 7.2 million, somewhere between those of greater Philadelphia and Chicago. By 2030 it will be 24 million, nearly as large as metropolitan New York and London — combined.”

—From “A World Of Boomtowns”

I love Lagos. It’s an overwhelming city, but I love it.

Lagos is gigantic, intimidating, wonderful, aggressive, warm, and colorful. It’s a sprawling metropolis filled with teeming millions of people from all over West Africa. There is a vitality to this developing city that fuels the spirit.

As you enter a store or hotel, people greet you with a bright and cheerful, “You are welcome.” Or, if you have white hair like me, they say, “You are welcome, Sir.”

And traffic, you haven’t seen traffic until you’ve been on the streets of Lagos. Traffic in Lagos is a free-for-all. Whoever flenches, losses. You dare not blink. If you blink, crash. There goes the bumper.

I love the Logos church. It has been three and one-half years since I was last in Lagos, and I missed the fellowship of the Lagos disciples. The NYC church has a close relationship with the Lagos church having supported the mission there for years with both funds and leadership.

In return the Lagos ministry continues to inspire the NY church with its growth, its commitment to Jesus, and its unfailing zeal. There are 17 churches In Nigeria. The most recent church was planted in July in Owerii in the Imo State in the Southeast. There are already twenty-seven disciples there.

The Lagos church has 1,900 disciples and helps oversee ministries in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia. There are 12 churches in those surrounding countries. Counting the churches across Nigeria, there are 29 congregations in West Africa.

I landed in Lagos late in the afternoon on Friday August 10th and was scheduled to teach a four-lesson congregational teaching day on Saturday morning. I woke up Saturday morning not feeling the best, but the Holy Spirit was with me and The Spirit worked through me. The teaching day was well received by the disciple.

I taught on Generosity: Imitating the Heart Of God. This was an exposition on 2 Corinthians 8 & 9. I love these chapters. They are filled with inspirational insight and practical points of application.

On Sunday, I woke up feeling worse than on Saturday, but the Spirit empowered me to preach to one the regions in Lagos on Intentional Discipling. For a second day, the message was well received.

While at church I got to witness Christian generosity in action. One of the brothers was celebrating his birthday. For his birthday he brought a giant sack of rice to church and divided out the rice to anyone who needed it. I thought about the words of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than receive.”

I was thinking that a good tradition for every first world disciple would be that when their birthday rolled around that they would contribute at least one giant sack of rice to a church in a developing country. That would make for a happy birthday.

After church I went to my hotel room and rested. The rest helped me get over my sickness. I woke on Monday and the felt much better.

(To be continued)

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Happy Birthday Chelsea.

Today is my daughter’s birthday. I’m many, many miles away from her in Lagos, Nigeria teaching a dynamic group of around 25 ministry interns the topic of church history. The students were kind enough to share a birthday greeting with Chelsea. I’m trying to upload the video, but it’s difficult with the internet connection. If I get it uploaded, then you’ll all get to enjoy it. If not, then I still wish a happy, happy birthday to my “first child and only daughter” on this special day.

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Pray for the Peace of Chicago

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War on the Sidewalks of Chicago.

This morning I opened my paper edition of The New York Times for Tuesday, August 7, 2018 and saw a picture on the front page that cause me to pause and reflect.

It was a picture of a bicycle lying upended on a concrete sidewalk. Wrapped around the bicycle, forming a protective circle that said “Do Not Enter,” was yellow and orange police tape. In front of the bike was a small yellow police marker labeled: 9. The caption under the photo read, “A boy on a bicycle was among 12 people killed in a wave of violence that swept through Chicago over the weekend.”

I recognized the bike. It was the same bike I bought for our son Daniel when he was around 9 or 10. It was his first real bicycle. It was the bike I taught him to ride in our front yard. It was the bike he rode up and down the concrete sidewalks of our neighborhood in New City, New York. We lived in New City for around 20 years before we moved to Western New York (which some call New Jersey).

I never heard the “crack” of handgun or “boom” of a rifle being fired in my 20 years of living in New City. I never worried about Daniel racing his bike up and down the sidewalks in New City.

White privilege.

The bike was a gray trick bike with pegs protruding from the hubs of the front and back wheels. Daniel asked for that bike because he wanted to learn how to skip over the edge of sidewalks and bounce down concrete stairs.

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I wonder if the young boy who rode this bike in the photo ever learned any tricks on his bike. If he had, his days of tricks were cut short this past weekend.

The headline of the article in The Times read, “In Chicago, One Weekend, 66 Shooting Victims and Zero Arrest.” The article was written by Richard A. Oppel, Jr. and Amy Harmon.

This outbreak of violence occurred between 6 p.m. on Friday night to midnight on Sunday. Let that sink in for a moment. This all happened over one weekend.

Over one short weekend, one typical weekend, a weekend where many of us go to the movies on a Friday, visit with family and friends on a Saturday, head out to church on a Sunday morning, and relax watching sports on a Sunday afternoon, 66 people were shot and 12 died on the streets and sidewalks of Chicago.

The article notes:

“The violence reached a peak early Sunday, when 30 people were shot in a three-hour span between midnight and 3 a.m., an average of one every five minutes or so. Eight of the shootings during that period had three or more victims. Over the weekend, 14 children were shot and two, both 17, died. The youngest victim was 11 and the oldest was 62. The shootings were concentrated on the west and south of the city, leaving the downtown area, where thousands attended the Lollapalooza music concert, largely unaffected.”

The mayor and police superintendent blamed the shootings on the large amount of guns on the city streets, the failure of courts to hold accountable gun offenders, and bad parenting. (To me, that last cause—bad parenting—seems very insensitive and harsh).

Community leaders blamed the surge in violence on a lack of concern from police officers. These leaders report that the police have given up on the neighborhoods that are the hardest hit by violence.

There is enough blame to go around. Plenty of blame, but few answers. Real answers aren’t easy to find.

I don’t have answers. I’m not writing to propose an answer.

I have a response.

I’m writing because I hurt for the parents and the families of those who lost loved ones over the weekend.

I’m writing because there is a war being waged on the streets and sidewalks of a city  located just shy of 800 miles due west of me, and if I hadn’t opened my The New York Times this morning, I never would have learned about this war.

I’m writing because my weekend was so different from those who live on west and south sides of Chicago. While I was reading books on women in leadership, putting together keynote presentations on church history, eating peaches and almonds, talking on the phone with friends, relaxing in my air conditioned apartment, watching Justin Thomas win a golf tournament, and hating the fact that the Red Sox were beating up on the Yankees, on the streets of a city west of me there were children who were dodging bullets and there were moms, dads, sisters, and brothers who were sitting outside of a hospital waiting on news of the condition of a beloved family member. The moms, dads, sisters, and brothers were sitting outside the hospital because there wasn’t enough room for everyone to sit inside.

It’s tragic. It’s war being waged on the sidewalks of a city in the US. We aren’t talking Syria. We aren’t talking about Afghanistan. We aren’t talking about Northern Nigeria or Venezuela. We could. Violence abounds on those streets and sidewalks as well. Violence is tragic wherever it occurs.

God sees the violence. He hurts because people are hurting.

Do we see the violence? Do we hurt when people are hurting?

The Psalmist asks us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Peace/Shalom can mean “cessation of violence,” but it can also mean “wholeness.”

Let’s pray for the peace of Chicago. Specifically, let’s pray for the peace on the west and south sides of Chicago. Let’s pray for “wholeness.” Let’s pray for families who are grieving today. Let’s pray for those who are recovering from gunshot wounds.

Let’s pray for the peace of all our inner cities. Let’s pray for their “wholeness.”

Let’s pray for the cessation of violence around the world.

Let’s pray for the “wholeness” of people everywhere.

Let’s pray.

Separating Families [at the Border] Within Our Borders

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Separating Families at the Border Within Our Borders

“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’”

—Luke 18:15-17

At one point in Jesus’ ministry, his disciples attempted to separate Jesus from children. Jesus rebuked them. He said, “Let the little children come to me.” Jesus did not want to be separated from children. Who could blame him? Children are innocent. Children are pure. When you want bask in pure joy, pick up a child.

Much ink (and digital space) has been given lately to the discussion of the federal policy of separating children from their parents as they attempt to immigrate to the US. On July 4th, I sat in front of my television and watched a woman stand at the feet of the Statue of Liberty and wave a “Rise and Resist” shirt in protest of the policies of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). How she climbed up the pedestal of Lady Liberty to get to the base of the statue is a mystery to me. But there she was, on the 4th of July, altering the vacation plans of thousands of tourists and capturing the attention of news crews in the media capital of the US.

But what about children within the US borders? Little has been written about children who live within the borders of the US who are separated from their parents and placed in foster care or a juvenile care facility. When I recently read J. D. Vance’s excellent book Hillbilly Elegy, I became aware of the practice of separating children from their parents and other family members for small infractions by the adults.

Vance grew up a self-professed “hillbilly,” meaning he grew up poor. He was part of a poor “white” community in Kentucky and Ohio. He found his way out of poverty by first joining the Marines and then pursing an education at Ohio State and earning a law degree at Yale. I learned much about the systemic problems of poverty within Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley by reading Vance’s book. Toward the end of his excellent book, Vance writes, “In a given year, 640,000 children, most of them poor, will spend at least some time in foster care (p. 244).”

Granted, most of these children are placed in foster care for their protection. Too often they are victims of abuse. But that’s not always the case. There are times when their parents are a little down on their luck, have their back against the wall, or don’t know what to do to get a break. They are people Howard Thurman would identify as the “disinherited.” Instead of helping parents get a leg up in the world, officials step in and take their child away and give them to strangers.

 

Shaila Dewan reports about cases of children being separated from their parents in the June 23, 2018 edition of The New York Times, writing, “Some three-quarters of cases nationwide involve not abuse, but neglect, a ‘really broad umbrella” that ‘often just looks like poverty,’ said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at Cornell University.” Dewan provides another quote from Wildeman, “There’s no consistent evidence that removing kids is, on average, beneficial, and there’s substantial evidence that it does harm.”

Children must be protected from harm. That’s a given. But what would happen if more resources were given to help the parents learn to overcome their struggles so that they could provide for their children?

The Children’s Rights website gives these stats on children in the  foster care system. The numbers are staggering.

  • On any given day, there are nearly 438,000 children in foster care in the United States.
  • In 2016, over 687,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care.
  • On average, children remain in state care for nearly two years and six percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.
  • Despite the common perception that the majority of children in foster care are very young, the average age of kids entering care is 7.
  • In 2016, more than half of children entering U.S. foster care were young people of color.
  • While most children in foster care live in family settings, a substantial minority—12 percent—live in institutions or group homes.
  • In 2016, more than 65,000 children—whose mothers’ and father’ parental rights had been legally terminated—were waiting to be adopted.
  • In 2016, more than 20,000 young people aged out of foster care without permanent families. Research has shown that those who leave care without being linked to forever families have a higher likelihood than youth in the general population to experience homelessness, unemployment and incarceration as adults.
  • While states should work rapidly to find safe permanent homes for kids, on any given day children available for adoption have spent an average of nearly two years waiting to be adopted since their parental rights were terminated.

What can we do to help here? Here’s a few suggestions:

First, you can mentor parents who have their backs against the wall and help them learn skills to overcome specific struggles so that they can be excellent parents.

Second, volunteer to help children who are in foster care. Show these children compassion and love.

Third, contact agencies in your county and ask how you can help parents in need and children in need.

Fourth, consider adoption. In 2016, 65,000 children in the US were waiting to be adopted.

References

Vance, J. D.. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (p. 244). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Thurman, Howard. Jesus and the Disinherited. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1949.

Dewan, Shaila. “Young Children Taken From Their Parents: It Doesn’t Just Happen to Immigrants. The New York Times. June 23, 1018.

http://www.childrensrights.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/foster-care/

“All to Jesus I Surrender” Part 2

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Today we continue our thoughts on surrender. Certainly one of the most difficult challenges of the Christian life is surrender. It’s even more difficult to internalize the concept when we realize that Jesus only accepts “unconditional” surrender.
However, with surrender comes freedom. Freedom to trust that God’s way is the right way and the best way.
Devotional writer Katherine J. Walden wrote,
“The enemy knows that without surrender, we will never experience the freedom that God offers us. Without surrender, we will remain spiritually malnourished, ill and confused. Without surrender, our foxholes become prisons of the enemy’s making. Our lack of full surrender limits God’s ability to both work in our lives and through our lives.

God’s call to surrender is not an intimidating, angry bark heard from the other side of a battlefield. God’s invitation to surrender is expressed through the example of his Son, Jesus, as described in Philippians 2:5-11.”

Philippians 2:5-11, NIV ‘83. The Apostle Paul wrote, 
 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
Father,
Thank you for the example of Jesus who teaches me to surrender all to you. I pray for the strength to open my clinched fist and surrender all to you. Today and every day.
In Jesus and with the guidance of the Spirit,
Amen

“All to Jesus I Surrender”

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Hello and  Happy Monday,

I hope all of you begin this new week fresh and full of faith.
I’m currently teaching a course with the Rocky Mountain School of Ministry and Theology on Jesus and Spiritual Formation. This week we explore the topics of surrender and worship. These topics go hand in hand. The more we learn surrender, the more we worship God with greater abandon. The more we pour out our hearts in praise and live worship on a daily basis, the more we recognize the greatness and majesty of God and submit our will to his will.
E’yen A. Gardner writes, “Everyday, we have to ask God for our assignment, we must not assume we understand His plan but rather surrender to His will daily.” (From Humbly Summiting to Change-The Wilderness Experience). This is an excellent practice to develop in life. Wake up every morning and ask, “Father, what is your will for me this day?” 
I invite you to spend time this week praying prayers of surrender. “Father, you are the potter and I am the clay. Shape me as you will.”
I invite you this week to see worship as a daily lifestyle. Every day let’s give our lives as daily worship to the Father, Son, and Spirit.
This looks to be an exciting week of spiritual growth.
Grace and peace,
Dr. Kinnard
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God Loves the Foreigner

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Deuteronomy 10:18, “He (Yahweh) defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”

It’s been a tough week for children at the US boarder. It’s been a tough week for families at the US border. It’s been a tough week for anyone who loves children and families who have seen the images of children separated from their parents.  It’s been a tough week for anyone with a compassionate heart who has seen the images of children placed into warehouses that were built to hold consumer goods.

At times I found myself filled with anger and confusion at how US immigration policy could be this off kilter. On Thursday, the president signed his name to change the policy of separating children from parents at the border. However, that policy does not cover children that have already been separated (according to The New York Times). So I continue to be filled with anger and confusion. And even if the policy covered the children who have been separated, the hurt and damage has already been done. So as the Psalmist cried, I also lament, “How long? How long to sing this song?”

If you are like me, you sat in anger and confusion this week. Perhaps you turned away from the images of crying children and weeping parents because you felt helpless. At times, I did. Others times I stared at the images because I wanted them to burn into my eyes which are the window to the soul. I wanted to do my best to see and feel the pain of the parents and the children.

When you read about the heart of God toward the foreigner and immigrant in Israel, you see a stark contrast to the US policy that prevailed this week. Deuteronomy 10:18 reads, “He (Yahweh) defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” I’m well aware of the fact that there are larger issues here than can be solved by quoting one verse from the Hebrew Bible. However, the consistent image of God in both testaments of the Bible is that God is compassionate and loving, and he is especially compassionate and loving to the most vulnerable in society–like orphans, widows, the poor, the sojourner, and children.

What can we do to change the situation? First, feel. Feel compassion for these families. Second, pray. Prayer makes a difference. Third, make sure that we have hearts for the most vulnerable in our neighborhoods and communities. Fourth, write your representative in congress and let them know your thoughts on this issue.

I must also note the fact that this seperation of children from parents at the US boarder which prompted (and rightly so) a cry of indignation on the part of thousands of US citizens happens on a daily basis in other parts of our world without receieving much attention at all. Think of the girls who are kidnapped by the Boko Harem in Nigeria. Think of the young girls in Nepal who are placed in isolation huts while they are menstrating. Think of children in parts of Africa and the Middle East who are taken from their family by military regimes to be trained as soldiers. We need to widen our outrage to a global proportion.

Abba Father,

Protect children who have been seperated from those who love them. Allow them to be reunited quickly.  I pray for leaders around the world to act on behalf of those who are the most vulnerable, the children. I pray for every disciple to love as Jesus loved.

In Jesus,

Amen