Live at the McNemar House from Buckhannon WV!

So, when something hits me hard emotionally, I tend to turn inward to process and write to get it out.  Many of those writings never get shared.  Some do.  That’s what this post is… me getting some things out.  (Just a preface.)

The danger of this post is that I’m going to tell a couple stories about my experiences, and in doing that it may seem like I’m setting myself up as some well-rounded cultural superior.  I’m not, and that’s not the intent.  It’s simply to tell a couple stories and share where my thoughts are right now.

Yesterday, the report was made that the President of the United States, in another meeting about our national immigration policies, asked bipartisan politicians, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”  Specifically, this was in regard to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and “African countries”.

So I want to share with you a word about s***holes.

Several years ago I led a team of students to Kenya for the first time.  We traveled to the heart of Nairobi and spent a week serving in the Mathare slum.

Mathare is about a 5km area holding anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million residents at any time.  In our week there we worked side by side with the pastors and leaders of AIC Zion church.  This was a building made of corrugated metal walls and carried forward by God-sized dreams.

The first time you travel anywhere like this (on these “mission trips”) it’s an experience.  Everything is new.  Everything is cross-cultural.  Everything is overwhelming.  But the second and third and fourth times you go (I’ve been to Kenya about 4 times, Ethiopia twice, and Jamaica twice), while it’s still overwhelming it’s different.  Because it’s not about an experience.  It’s about relationships.  It’s about going to visit friends and family and brothers and sisters and encouraging the work God is doing in their lives.

In Mathare, the slum is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.  The density of population and the conditions of living are indescribable.  While we’ve been there, we always do visits with families throughout the slum and it is one of the most heart-breaking experiences possible.

I remember one day as we walked my wife was beside me holding the hand of a little boy of about 3 years old who knew no English other than the word for white person and “mama”, so he continually called her his white mama.  At one point, as my wife was talking with someone, the boy dropped behind her, dropped his pants and proceeded to use the bathroom in the middle of this trail where his excrement could fall into the open water used for drinking, bathing, laundry, and sewage.  He popped up, grabbed her hand and kept walking.

So when I think of s***holes, I think of Mathare.

But I also think of West Virginia.

In college, I spent a couple summers working for a state-funded program with elementary students who were struggling in school.  We would serve them each day with a fun environment to encourage reading, writing, and creative art.  At the start of the program we would do a home visit with every family who would be in our program.

On one of these visits I entered a trailer that was barely lit.  The family there had about 5 children, satellite TV, and dirt floors.  The smell was as bad, if not worse, than anything in Mathare.

And that summer, I loved my time with that child.

The statement the President of the United States made yesterday is disheartening, anger-inducing, and frustrates me even further as to the current state of politics, celebrity culture, and mass media.  But I’ll get over that.

What kills me is the leadership failure of Evangelical Christians to stand up and denounce these statements because they’re afraid to counter a politician who won the majority vote of most conservative Evangelicals.

What kills me is that the non-Christians I’m building a relationship with in our local community with the hope of seeing Jesus impact their lives are now pushed farther from him because of this arrogance.

What kills me is that if you call yourself a Christ-follower you serve and submit your life to a Messiah who was born a refugee under the threat of death in a place many would have labeled a s***hole.

What kills me is that we are so quick to defend our assumed “side” when the world is literally dying of treatable diseases, generational poverty, and broken systems that can only be fixed when the bride of Christ actually stands up and acts.

What kills me is that this becomes one more political debate, social media hashtag, or media fanfare simply built for ratings and in a week it will be forgotten.

So for what it’s worth, just a word about s***holes.

If you are here in the US from Haiti, El Salvador, the African countries, or anywhere else in the world, I believe we’re better with you here.

If you are here where I am in West Virginia, I hope you understand our own history–that we have been considered an Appalachian s***hole for well over a century and it has done nothing but hurt us and perhaps the ones in the supposed muck should be standing up for the others who can’t rather than defending false hopes in politicians who will continue to fail us.

If you are reading this and you really can’t stand church people today, or Christianity as a whole, I hope you begin to see the real story.  I hope you truly understand the very first message Jesus himself preached in the book of Luke 4:18 – what theologians call “The Gospel”…

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

You see, I believe in a God who is a lover of PEOPLE.
A God who sees dignity, value, and worth to every person no matter who they are.
A God who willingly stepped into the holes of our world to redeem all of humanity and, one day, all of creation.

And I believe that is the mission of God for the people of God today as well.

May we be so disturbed by hate that we do more than post and argue, but actually act, on behalf of love.

A great interview with a good friend from Chicago, Shaun Marshall.

More info available at

A special interview with my good friend and the Founder of the Center for Play and Exploration – Dave Bindewald

Last night, our team of 8 who have traveled to Ethiopia for the week sat around talking about our first full day of time with the children at the Care Point.  As we talked, one of our team members shared that she had received the question leading up to the trip several times…

“Why go so far away when the money could be used better here in the U.S.?”

I listened.  And I fought the instinct to respond as I have so many times to that question over the years.  And I waited for her to follow up with her thoughts.

She grew a little emotional as she recounted our home visits yesterday and said simply…

“It’s not the same.”
This is my seventh time on the continent of Africa.  The summer before my senior year of high school, just a few years after the official “end” of Apartheid, I traveled to South Africa for three weeks.  Then, with a former church I visited the slums of Nairobi four times.  And now, our church plant has been in a partnership with Children’s Hopechest and traveled to Ethiopia twice.

In my mind, there is nothing like the smell and sights and sounds of this continent.  Though every country I’ve been to has been different culturally, geographically, economically, and socially, there are also themes that I sense when I come here.  To walk through developing countries, third-world communities, urban slums and rural farm villages paints a picture of a land that is far from what constitutes the everyday existence of my own life.  I never cease to have a moment here where I catch a glimpse of a child, a mother, or a family that is surviving in the harshest of conditions with the greatest of joy.  It is a powerful experience, and one I’ve grown to love.

And yet, there is also a harshness to these trips.  Coming off of a very difficult funeral I performed last week, it has taken me about 48 hours to feel as if I’m now “present” here in Ethiopia.  There was, in all honesty, a sort of deep breath in knowing what this week would bring–time spent with 90 sweet children living in vulnerable conditions and visits to homes where in our culture we might insist it was unacceptable even for our pets.

This is not easy, but it is beautiful.

This morning, I read in the book of Acts about the church at Antioch.  It was composed of prophets and teachers, leaders who constituted a multicultural blend of an African, an aristocratic noble, and Saul the great Jew of Jews.  It was an eclectic mix who became the model of the missional church reaching not only their own backyard but sending the Kingdom of God into different parts of the world.

So, about 2 years ago as a young church plant we had a desire to make international missions a core part of the DNA of our faith community.  And while we recognized the world is so big and needs are even bigger, we knew the call of the gospel was to do something that would help bring the Kingdom to life in the hearts of those who were vulnerable–physically and spiritually.  For us, the question has never been, “Why Ethiopia?”  Rather, the question continues to be, “Why ONLY Ethiopia?”

The world is massive.  But the Kingdom of God is infinite.  It is diverse and forceful and amazing.  And it is what we are called to.

I sat on a plane recently and once it landed the beeps and clicks of cell phones and seat belts began to fill the space as passengers reconnected to the busyness of their lives.  Just in front of me, I watched as a man began to frantically respond to a text message.  I could see his screen and the feverish nature of his fingers typing away.  I couldn’t read the words (and as you’re thinking, shouldn’t have creepily spied out his conversation), but I could tell he was struggling to get the message out.

He would type a few words, notice an error, delete words, and then try again.  This went on for several minutes until finally I watched him grew frustrated, erase the entire (multiple paragraphs-long) message, and simply type two letter as a response.


Here’s the point.

There are times where an explanation may help, but simplicity is better.

In every organization I’ve ever been a part of I’ve found myself and others at times bringing unnecessary complexity to situations that were much more simple than we wanted to let them be.  There were debates that didn’t need to happen.  E-mails that could have been skipped.  We all felt these things were entirely necessary at the time, but the truth is simplicity would have been much better.

I’m not saying there isn’t a need for complexity at times; there is.  But what I am asking you right now is what are you doing as leaders with complexity that would be much more effective with simplicity?