it's hard to be a hustler, pt i

Originally published by Brandon at mbjones.net.

In Kenya, hustlers hustle all over the place. A hustler is someone working hard to succeed. Typically they pour all that they have into some glimmer of success, not stopping until it happens. They tend to hold down multiple business ventures and are constantly on the move. And sometimes they even find great success (but not always).

We have some good friends who are married that really define this paradigm well: she works in a field she loves and freelances in the same industry and he cooked for a guesthouse and made the Kenya equivalent of donuts on the side - several hundred per day. For some time they poured their profits into local investments and opened a couple of small stores (basically stalls alongside the road). These profits turned into a takeaway food joint that allowed the husband to quit his guesthouse job. They’ve since added a sit down restaurant that opens in a week or two. 

They hustle. All over the place. And they are succeeding in it and having significant kingdom impact as they root what they do in a desire to make disciples and see the church planted where it is not yet.

But it’s not always easy. Poverty is a massive issue throughout the region and the worldview it naturally instills makes success quite elusive. If you don’t what I’m talking about consider this:

Poverty tends to focus us solely on our personal problems and the negative aspects of life (both ours and the life around us). It tends to embolden us to play the blame game rather than to take a serious look at the things we should be responsible for. The deeper this mindset traps us, the more inward focused we become. This in turn produces an environment where we resent successes around us and as it worsens, they actively seek out the failure of those around them. “If I can’t succeed, then why should so and so succeed?” 

Our friends are dealing with this in their success. Well the fruit of this in other people I should say. They committed to shred any vestiges of the poverty mindset some time ago but deal with those around them stuck in it. People intentionally belittle what they do, tell them they will be failures, try to curse their work and in general speak poorly of them behind their back in the hopes that if their success turns into failure, the door to success might open for them. Thankfully our friends are strong enough to ignore these voices (and even tell them to buy food elsewhere if they are only going to complain). They know their success or failure isn’t built on the beliefs of those around them. But so many don’t; living amongst it and seeing it work out - it’s easy to see how seductively destructive this poverty mindset is. 

And it’s just hard to be a hustler. Kudos to those that are able to do it in contexts entrenched in the poverty mindset.

Brandon on Simple Travel Hacks

Originally published by Brandon at mbjones.net.

I know it’s been quiet around here the past few weeks; I’ve spent most of it on the road (or in the air), traveling for work. As travel is fresh on my mind, I thought I’d share a few of my travel hacks for going to and fro in the Eastern African context. My guess is though that these hacks would apply to a number of different circumstances. 

  • When traveling via air I never go without my SCOTTeVEST vest. It probably looks stupid on me (and I fought wearing a vest for quite some time because it sounded kind of old man-ish) but it just works. And it works too well. It basically acts as an extra carryon. In fact, I can get everything I need for a long flight into that vest meaning I can maximize the space of my carryons for what I’ll need on the ground. I suppose I should thank my parents for getting this for me as I’d have never thought to. 
  • In the Eastern African context, I always travel with two charged battery packs (11400mHa Anker and a 10200mHa Xiaomi). I never know what the power situation is going to be like and these will generally keep my phone going about a week before needing a recharge.
  • When traveling via bus, keep your bags with you. This might mean you need to keep your biggest one on your lap the entire trip but this enables a lot of flexibility - you can jump off whenever you need to, your bags won’t get filthy in compartments that have never been cleaned or soaking wet due to the rain falling on it on top of the bus. It also helps prevent theft.
  • Likewise, in air travel regionally, try to travel with only a carry on. We’ve lost checked luggage a lot here. Most of it was eventually found but not always (and sometimes not before the end of a trip). I’ve got packing down to a science and can basically get all I need for about a week in my carryon. 
  • It’s worth investing in good quality luggage because it gets beat up here. Quality materials and craftsmanship will take it much better and help prevent unfortunate accidents along the way. It also means you are replacing it much less frequently. Both of the bags I regularly use have long term comprehensive warranties. I recommend the Tortuga Travel Backpack as a carryon (reviewed here) and the Mission Workshop Monty as an everyday carry. As a bonus, the Monty above packs flat when empty so it is easily packed for travel in the Tortuga. 
  • Pack light and simple. Just take what you need and not what you might want. I’ve found that I’ll take what I think I might want and then never even use it on trip.
  • A good book makes the journey faster. On these past few trips I devoured Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives series. I’ve been in a fiction mood this year (which hasn’t happened in a long time) and am really finding a lot of enjoyment in these epic fantasies.

So, what are your travel hacks?

Global Missional Reading List

Originally published by Brandon at mbjones.net.

This is such a fantastic reading list. I’m grateful for the GlobalChurch site for compiling it. It covers readings, predominantly from the majority world on church and mission. It’s vitalthat these voices are heard. These are voices that have often been ignored or sidelined by the majority world (look no further than the speaker make up of big conferences) but they have important insight and perspective that is key in our increasingly flattening world. 

I’ve read quite a few on this list and have had many others on my wish list for awhile. Frankly this list could be my wish list and I’d be perfectly happy. Anyways, read and learn and engage with the voices coming from the majority world.

On Miracle Healing Revivals

Originally published by Brandon on mbjones.net.

This is an old post from a few years ago.

Prosperity theology and its inherit pitfalls: an introduction.

I’ve on several occasions wrote about the need for discipleship in Africa in the years I’ve been here. Actually it’s a need the world over but my heart is currently captured by this beautiful continent and it’s need is quite palpable. One of the problems we face living, working and discipling in Africa is what’s often exported as discipleship or “the way” from the west. Because it’s the west who seemingly has “it” put together that a developing world looks up to, for better or worse.

It’s in circumstances like I recently found myself in that I’m unsure if our influence really does make things better or worse as all too often our worst is exported as it makes the most outlandish promises requiring the least amount of work. Actually it’s those things that reduce life and it’s accompanying joys and sorrows to a series of economic transactions. Rather than a journey to be made hand-in-hand, intentionally, taking into account all of life, discipleship is reduced to a simple consumeristic transaction; transformation is linked directly to our economic ability to pay for it. And if you want to consider things materially, what is quite sad about this, when reduced to an economic transaction, discipleship can’t break through a poverty mindset; instead it simply perpetuates it.

If we are willing to walk the journey intentionally, in good and bad and ugly, the power that poverty has over the empoverished breaks as individuals step into a hope filled tomorrow. I’ve seen it happen. I remember the first budgeting session I did with a friend in a local community. After a Bible study, we talked about what budgeting is and why someone would do it. Together we made a plan and I helped keep him accountable to it. Several months later I was visiting with him and he grabbed my hand and pulled me into his home and said, “Look!” pointing at a new fridge. With a smile on his face he explained how he had made a fridge envelope, and over several months had saved for it and purchased it in cash without going into debt. With joy, he shared the difference it had made and the excitement starting small gave him for the future. But this is a rabbit trail from what I’m wanting to share; just know that intentional, holistic discipleship changes hearts and lives in substantial ways.

Back to the topic at hand. As Americans, it’s often our worst that’s exported. The excesses of the prosperity gospel have reached these far shores and we have a generation of churches pastored by individuals that use their position to manipulate their congregants out of all they have for the financial gain of those in power. Bankrupt theology is producing bankrupt churches made of literally bankrupted individuals who really had not much to start with anyways. The prosperity gospel is best summed as the notion that we can buy God’s blessing/favor/annointing/miracle through giving to an individual rather than relationship with Him who already gave all for us. It’s a marketing and manipulation technique to make a small group of individuals quite wealthy at the expense of a large group of “others” (generally the already impoverished and least educated within a society). It’s a gospel of economic transactions rather than grace through faith in Christ. And as such it’s not good news to the poor, or anyone (other than those getting rich off of its machinations). It’s not gospel in any sense of the word. Not when it’s causing people to give away 3 months of living expenses they don’t have to pay for a miracle that won’t come through that financial transaction. And it’s downright anti-Christ when a woman spends all her money, can’t afford her AIDs treatment and dies in the background of everyday life.

It’s come to Africa and much of the developing world in a large part due to big crusades and revivals held by the big names you’ve probably heard of. I had never attended one as frankly, they aren’t my style and theologically I find them to be quite lacking (especially considering what I hear people who go come back saying). Rather than preaching on a stage to people I don’t know and will not see again after the “revival” is over, I find much more value in on-the-ground work and that’s where I’ve focused my attentions.

But as I’ve known more people to go and come back with tragic stories I knew I needed to see first hand what I was perceiving as a train wreck. I needed to understand and judge with my own eyes rather than through the stories of others. And when an opportunity came up, I joined three of my colleagues to attend one of these “Miracle & Healing Revivals”.

The events of the evening

I should preface this by saying we went with open hearts and open minds. I knew going in that I’d likely have some theological quibbles. We really hoped though to see something miraculous that ran counter to what we’ve always heard. That’s the eternal optimist in us, perhaps? At the very least we knew we’d get a better understanding of the crowd and the ins and outs of the operation. ”Know thine enemy” as the saying goes.

It all started with pre-buying tickets. According to the marketing material the event was going to be a sell out. We got our tickets and a notice to be in our seats two hours before the event was to start (so at 5:30pm). We left at 3:30 to get some grub, expecting a long night. Unfortunately though the place we were going to eat at was closed for remodeling: the first bummer of the evening. We headed on down the highway to an older mall 1km from the church and experienced our first (and unfortunately only) miracle of the evening: the place we were wanting to eat had a branch at this old mall that none of us knew about.

After quickly chowing down on some peri-peri grilled chicken we headed to the place, arriving by 5:20, and walked to the gate where we were informed to get in the long line that would be letting people in “soon”. And an hour later, it started moving and we were in our seats by 6:30. Unfortunately though at 7:30 when the revival started, the venue was still 1/3 empty (actually — not really a bad thing considering the content of the evening; there were about 600 in attendance though by my rough estimates). It was however annoying to us as we could have taken more time to fellowship together over dinner rather waiting outside in the hot sun.

Anyways — back to the event. At about 6:30 the ministries marketing director took the stage to advertise the brand new prayer shawl they were selling, as well as the books and DVDs and other trinkets and knick knacks. Really, nothing too wrong at this point. It finally started on time with a few worship songs led by a guy, a band and a choir. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

Sidebar: It was interesting watching what was going on at the back of the hall. This is where they put all of the unsightly people: wheelchairs, crutches — that sort of thing. There was at least one well dressed staffer scoping them out and doing some initial interactions. They were praying and picking people out of wheelchairs to see if they could stand at all. I didn’t really think anything about it until after the event in reading about these sorts of things. Apparantly this is a routine practice to make sure that certain types of people stay off the stage. This is tragic. These are the types that Jesus would love dearly. Anyways. More about them later.

Then, about 15 minutes later, the evangelist/healer/miracle worker/whatever he calls himself took the stage by grabbing the mic and leading a rendition of “How Great Thou Art”. This was actually probably my favorite part of the evening. He voice wasn’t that great but he wasn’t afraid to belt it out, and that hymn is a favorite. If only the rest of the evening went this well.

After the singing, the first in a string of events was the man himself promoting all of his wares: ”Oh this book is so powerful,” “Oh this is the most powerful thing I’ve written,” “Oh you’ll never hear a more powerful teaching.” This was quite uncomfortable. One of my friends leaned over to me and whispered, ”if I ever get this arrogant about anything I produce you have permission to punch me in the face. Please.” It’s one thing to advertise before a service but after it starts, in such an arrogant manner, seemed a bit tacky.

But it was to only get worse from here. He immediately moved into a 45 minute advert for a commemorative DVD from his remarriage service, that just had happened 10 days prior to the event. He “guaranteed” that it would “heal any broken marriages” if you bought it and watched. We got to see the advert with all of the big names and faces, etc, etc. It didn’t convince us but seemed to convince a large portion of the audience. Unfortunately.

Sidebar: having a baby has greatly turned me on to the blessing that children are. I love that Jesus was always open to children and specifically rebuked his disciples for turning them away. In the midst of this push to buy his wedding video, the fellow stopped and yelled at a woman and child for being unruly, asking them to leave if things didn’t change. This did not sit well with me. We couldn’t see anything worthy of this outburst.

Back to the main event though.

Wedding video sales lead into the main offering. And the lead up to it was another 45 minutes to an hour. This is where the prosperity nonsense mentioned at the beginning came into play. He went into full blown audience manipulation mode. The kicker was when it was time to pass the buckets and he said, ”Who is willing to give R1000 or more (~$120)? Raise your hands! Why don’t you stand up. Everyone else, look at them. They are willing to give at least R1000 right now. All of you come to the front! I will pray for you and guarantee you a miracle if you are willing to give R1000 or more.” They make their way to the front with a crowd watching and slowly more rise to come to the front, the guilt and desire to buy their guarantee taking root. In all somewhere around 100 people went to the front to pay for their miracle. Truly tragic.

The tragedy is compounded by the fact that the majority of the audience came likely from disadvantaged communities around Cape Town. To these people this is an incredibly significant amount. Actually the cultural insensitivity was kind of staggering. To stand on stage discussing how legal fees close to $800,000 was hell on earth just seemed a little out of place in Africa.

This part of the evening really significantly grieved me. I was done at this point. I’d seen all that I really cared to see. The worst had happened — that was that. It was also about 10:15 by the time the offering blasphemy ended. We’d been there for 4 1/2 hours, the service had been going on for 2 1/2 hours and still no miracles or healings: just a couple of schemes to get peoples money. But the guy decided to go ahead and preach so we decided to go ahead and wait it out to see if miracles would follow.

They didn’t. And the sermon wasn’t something to be proud. His Bible was never opened. It centered on a piece of a verse and stretched the Bible further than I’d ever heard it stretched before. It was no exegetical masterpiece. Actually the one thing I remember from it was the statement, “your spirit is never older than 33 1/2. Eternally you are 33 1/2. Because that’s how old Jesus was when He died.” Huh? It was 45 minutes of this stuff.

And then the final nail in the coffin: at 11:00 he says, “I don’t feel like healing anyone tonight. So we are going to go ahead and pray and close down.” The disappointment on one fellow’s face in a wheelchair that we saw leave was heartbreaking. It was the image I was left carrying as the evening ended. Remember those people they were "testing" before the night officially began? The ones in wheelchairs and with crutches? He was one of them, desperately seeking some sort of change. 

A short conclusion

It was quite the night. I was so thankful to share it with a few close colleagues and friends. It was good to have people there to assess and process and debrief with when all was said and done. There were quite a few key takeaways for me personally.

On the somewhat lighter side, I’ve always wondered where some of the ridiculous things we hear passed off as facts come from (specifically in regards to the Bible & faith). I think I know now: events like tonite and leaders like this that tickle an audience with fancy and made-up words and facts and stories.

Getting a little deeper, and flowing from the last point, you can really see the power that words have to capitivate and manipulate people. They really can be akin to magic spells, if you know what you are doing. Actually I’d say that that is exactly what’s going on in the prosperity gospel nonsense: a kind of magic that promises endless rewards and change without any sort of work or lifestyle investment. The mantra brings the change rather than an investment in a relationship with Jesus. Coming to an event like this really goes lengths to show the power of our words and this type of “magic”.

Tagging onto that, I was (but shouldn’t have been maybe?) surprised at the lack of a clear Gospel presentation. Really no mention of Jesus and what He did that I can recall. Lots of what man can do, and where man can go with the right resources but not of what Jesus did, which was a shame. You'd think a place where people are searching for miracles would be a great place to make Jesus known loudly and clearly. You'd think when you think of miracles that His power would be at the center of discussions. Alas, though, this wasn't to be.

I can also see why people get sucked in: those folks on the stage really believe what they are selling; they are truly deceived themselves by it. Desperate people see this belief and latch on to it and give of all they have in the hopes that the spells will work for them as well. Unfortunately it’s a bit too much like a pyramid scheme: in order for it to work, you’ve got to have people underneath you buying into your ability to do miracles. If you lack that, you can only give the little you already have. And their situation all too often remains unchanged or, as we’ve seen in communities we’ve worked in, it worsens.

Here are my two biggest takeaways though: (1) prayer against this sort of deception is necessary and urgent and (2) it’s somewhat a race against time to get to where Jesus is opening doors before these “revivalists” so that disciples, and not purveyors of cheap tricks, are made.

For point 1, during the prayer offering I just felt such a strong urge to pray against the deception blanketing the air around us. To pray that in the midst of the disappointment that people were going to inevitably feel that they would know Jesus as comfort, provider and healer. To pray that they would turn their hearts resolutely towards Him and leave the schemes of man behind. To pray that this prosperity deception would be found out and sent away from this continent (and the developing world). To pray that Jesus would truly be Lord, and man not. 

For point 2, we’ve had Christian leaders in countries beginning to open urge our friends and colleagues to come quickly before these dangerous revivalists get there because of how much harder discipleship becomes. Why take the hard road when you can try magic using common religious lingo? It makes the task of reaching the unreached, engaging the unengaged ever more urgent in our hearts and minds. Discipleship is key.

When all was said and done, this is what I was left with; this is how I plan to respond. I challenge anyone reading to join me. Get outside. Get into the lives of others. Join hands with them. Walk steadily towards Jesus and see if the world transforms in a way these magicians could never make so.

On The Ever-Present Dependency Conundrum

Originally published by Brandon on mbjones.net.

Dependency is always a consideration at the forefront of what we do:

  • ”Where it doesn’t exist, how do we avoid creating it?”
  • ”Where it might exist, how are we enabling it?”
  • ”Where it does exist, how could we quench it?”

I posted last year on ways we as outsiders can work with local leaders in healthy ways and it begins to address the dependency issue but not in full. 

Last week I stumbled across this article by Justin Long which begins to tackle it head on and I really liked what it had to say. 

First of all it sheds a bit of light on why it’s typically a bad thing:

  • the work isn’t sustainable when the outside money leaves
  • it isn’t reproducible or scalable
  • feeds money addiction
  • it puts outside organizations in unbalanced positions of power

Read the article for further details on what he means by these things. I think it’s an important read if you have any interest at all in the “aid” space (regardless of whether it’s religious or not).

As I read it and was reflecting, the notion that it “feeds money addiction” struck me anew as I was remembering a specific situation from some time ago. I had a meeting scheduled with someone, a local, who runs a nonprofit in East Africa, and he wanted to explore how we could be partners. Unfortunately the entirety of the conversations revolved around money (”How much can you provide for this need?” - “How much will you pay people to come to trainings?” - “Will you put our teams in fancy hotels?” etc). It definitely felt like this gentleman was used to getting lots of money from outsiders to the point of being wholly dependent on it. 

Long’s article continued on with his “rules of thumb” for dealing with money in these sorts of situations; I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was almost identical to mine. In brief, here they are (but again, read his article for further details):

  • Don’t pay salaries to nationals
  • For key meetings & events try to “find a way” for key people to attend
  • Occasional capital expenses are OK if they will have a serious impact
  • Rarely, provide funding for joint projects
  • Very rarely, provide funding for communication expenses

I think these are quite good and strike a needed balance. We know that outside money kills reproducibility and sustainability faster than almost anything else but sometimes its necessary and will feed emerging movements in healthy ways so we can’t be completely closed to the idea. Balance is important.

I might add a couple of rules:

  • If you only ask for money when we first meet I will always say ”no”. You can gauge a lot about someones motives depending on how they respond to that ”no”. If they are just looking for someone to bankroll what they are doing, you’ll often never hear from them again.
  • Always charge at least something small for training events. It doesn’t have to be the full price of attending (we typically heavily subsidize events) but we’ve found people take seriously what they are willing to invest in even if it’s something that appears to be small like $20 for a 2 week class. I’ve been involved in trainings where participants did the opposite - they were payed to be there - and most were zoned out and had no real interest in the material but instead just wanted their checks. 
  • Where possible give anonymously. This helps protect new relationships especially as it can help relieve some of the power differential and is not necessarily perceived the same as straight up “outside money”. 

I’d love to hear if anyone reading had any thoughts or any rules that they’d add. Feel free to comment if so.

Birth Certificate Shenanigans

Originally published by Brandon on mbjones.net.

My wife and I just had a son; you might have seen the picture last week. It’s always interesting making these life transitions in a new place. Things just work differently and you just have to learn to adapt.

But there is a lot that needs to get done - hospital things need sorting and then the legal aspect of bringing a kid into the world needs to be sorted as well. It’s the latter that I’m presently working on and it’s much more of a head ache here compared with what we had to go through with our first born in Cape Town (the hospital sorted things there).

I started the process of getting the birth certificate at the hospital before we left. It started with taking forms from the labor & delivery wing to the hospital records wing. There more forms were filled out and a letter was typed up and stamped and I was told to take the bundle I was handed, along with my wife and I’s passports, to city hall in downtown Nairobi.

I wasn’t looking forward to that as navigating government office downtown can be tricky.

But I got up early the day after getting home and headed downtown to be there as they opened. After getting a bit lost in the building some kind souls slowly pointed me in the right direction and I eventually found office #1 up four flights of stairs. There a nice lady looked over my documents, wrote some things on one of them, and then sent me off to the cash office. 

In the cash office I was supposed to wait in a particular line, which I did, to pay the recording fee (about $5 USD). I waited. And waited. And waited a bit longer (close to an hour and a half). I got up to the front only to be told I was supposed to go to a different desk somewhere else first. After a bit of frustrated arguing I trudged off to the other place - it’s line was thankfully much shorter and thankfully they sent me to the front of the previous line to pay (at this point the wait would have been much longer as the line was twice as long as when I got in it).

Receipt in hand I headed out of the City Hall complex to find a copy shop. They needed me to make copies of the paperwork and the receipt and my passports. Thankfully there were several copy shops across the street.

Once that was done I headed back to the first office in City Hall and was directed to a different lady. She took the receipt and my paperwork and looked over it and said, ”The hospital filled it out wrong. I don’t think your son was born anywhere. There needs to be more stamps!” After some back and forth trying to figure out what in the world she was talking about I left and headed back to the hospital. 

At the hospital records room I found some one and explained the predicament and that I really wanted to get it taken care of so I could get my son’s birth certificate. There was lots of animated discussion about how nothing was wrong. I explained what I was told. They chuckled and shook there heads. Finally a supervisor came and looked and reiterated that. I told her what City Hall had told me so she grabbed a stamp, looked at what it said and then said, ”This will be ok.” and stamped the heck out of the form. I was then able to convince them to make copies so that I didn’t have to go to another copy shop.

Documents and copies in hand I headed back to City Hall. This time everything checked out. I thought I was done. But I was wrong. They lady I talked to said the document packet needed to be taken somewhere else (after stamping it numerous times). She told me where but then said that they could do it if I wanted that it cost only about $20 USD. She wouldn’t give a receipt though so this sounded fishy to me so I decided to go myself; we try to avoid the corruption issues as much as possible so if it smells funny we pass on it if we can. 

I was told that that office was closed for the day so at this point I headed home to make the trek out another time. 

A couple of days later, documents in hand, I headed back downtown to finish the process. Upon arrival at this new office I filled out the appropriate form and went to the appropriate line. When I got to the front the lady looked at my paperwork and said, ”I can’t do this. You need to see Charles. Go to the guard over there.” I was thinking, ”what’s wrong now??” at this point in time. But I went to the guard. He informed me that Charles wasn’t in and that he didn’t know when he’d be in. Thankfully another guy at a desk heard and waved me in and took a look at my documents. There was one error in them: the form I filled out this day asked for the mother’s full name before marriage. I put this down thinking that it was what they wanted. It’s not. They wanted the mother’s full name now

He then sent me to pay at the cash counter. I had my $20 ready (remember that’s what the lady at City Hall had told me) but when I got to the front I found out that it was only the equivalent of 50 cents (I’m glad I didn’t pay at City Hall now!). I was given the receipt and then told to come back on Thursday (today) to pick up his birth certificate.

Well, I went today and was told, ”It’s not yet ready. Come back tomorrow morning.” Hopefully tomorrow it’ll be ready and I can move on to phase two: getting him a passport and legal in the US. 

If you are looking to give birth in Kenya and want to know anymore about the process feel free to ask! And, if you have an amusing or hectic story tracking down birth certificates in your country feel free to comment with your story!

UPDATE: Well I returned to Bishops House today. Got to the front on the line. The guy looked in his stacks and then sent me back to the cash window. There they took my receipt, looked in there books, wrote something and then sent me back to the first counter. When I got to the front the guy looked again, then sent me to find someone behind the counter. This guy looked in his books and wrote something new on the receipt and then sent me back to the original line. I was hoping time 3 would be the charm. It wasn't. The same guy as the previous two times looked at my receipt and then sent me to another guy behind the counter. This guy didn't even look at my receipt or say anything. He just pointed at yet another guy. This guy took my receipt and told me to wait in the lobby. I waited about 30 minutes and then he waved me back and gave me two copies of the birth certificate. Task accomplished. 

As an aside the run around I experienced was crazy. Kenyans I have talked to think people were just looking for bribes because I'm an American. It's not surprising to me that so many people give them because the right way can be such a hassle. Here's to hoping systems improve and corruption becomes a thing of the past.

On Common CPM Misunderstandings

Originally published by Brandon on mbjones.net

One common missiological method used on the field in church planting work is commonly referred to as “church planting movements” or CPM for short. It’s something not widely understood in western and traditional church settings and the language used to introduce it is often unhelpful as it focuses on buzzwords and unrealistic edge cases with what appear to be exaggerated numbers. I’ve talked to many people who are skeptical and even turned off due to the misunderstandings that these blips of vision casting they attend create. Those training and practicing often don’t take the time to clear them up either. I’ve been increasingly disappointed though with what appears to be a lack of communication between different streams of practice and would leave to see them engage each other a bit more specifically. To this end I thought I’d go ahead and write about six of these misconceptions to explain what the reality actually is. I’ve put these misunderstandings in bold below with my thoughts speaking a bit to the reality (as I know it) following. Please comment with any further question or suggestion. Also, if you have any misunderstandings you’d like cleared up let me know and I’ll try and add to this list.

Six Common CPM Misunderstandings

  • The mantra Rapid Reproduction means that everything happens really really fast. The reality is quite a bit different. It doesn’t typically happen overnight (there are cases that counter this but they are the exception not the rule). Instead, things don’t move incredibly quickly until a critical mass of local disciples living out their faith is reached. You can’t ignore all the time spent integrating into a culture and building in to these initial disciples though; Jesus spent 3 intentional years with 12 before things exploded in the days of the early church and that’s a more common figure these days as well (particularly when cross cultural work is involved). Rapid is more descriptive of the end game (when things are sustainable and healthy and reproducing through local efforts) not the messy/chaotic/learning initial engagement stages. 
  • CPM people hate the church. This is one I’ve heard a lot. When people say this they most typically mean ”Traditional Church” or ”Western Church” even if they don’t realize it. Because of the CPM emphasis on simple structures and the core values of what church is, many in traditional structures feel threatened and see CPM models as an attack on what they themselves are actively doing. But it’s important to note that all of the CPM people I’ve come across love the church; they don’t hate it. They are passionate to see it thrive. The challenge CPM practitioners offer traditional models tends to be focused on their commitment to see the core values lived out. CPM people are quick to question the emphasis placed on things like big buildings and sound systems and expansive programs because of this. They get frustrated when these things get equated with church. I’ve known some to take this frustration too far and criticize in really unhelpful ways but many would love to work on integrating CPM principles with traditional style churches. See the book Spent Matches for an example of this done well. 
  • CPM models are focused on objectifying people. When this is said, people presume that in movement situations people are only valued for how they respond (i.e., if they don’t respond they are ignored and if they don’t respond in the right way they are sidelined). They think that attention given is based on a local disciple’s ability to memorize and perform. I think this comes from a couple of different avenues: (1) the emphasis on obedience based discipleship can override the importance of relationship if people aren’t careful and (2) methodology like ”person of peace” emphasizes connecting and releasing in challenging ways. I can’t speak for every CPM model there is but I know this isn’t true for the model I’ve worked with. Instead there is a high value placed on relationship. To paraphrase one key trainer, strong relationship precedes close discipleship. Much of the language of release (i.e., ”shaking the dust off your feet”) comes from not wanting to force spirituality into a relationship that doesn’t want it. We relate to those who just want friendship and relationship as well as those wanting to explore discipleship. Where we do work that would be considered more “social justice”, all are invited regardless of their spirituality. Now, individual practitioners might behave in different ways but where CPM works you’ll find a high value placed on relationships and the importance of people; after all relationship is integral to the long term health of a community (how often does the New Testament talk about our love for one another?).
  • CPM doesn’t care about worldview transformation. This is another common one that frustrates me a bit. Many people hear the word CPM and think “insider movement”and then think “Cultural equivocation. Nothing actually changes. It’s an easy way out.” I’ve heard this numerous times. The actual reality is that worldview transformation is an integral part of any serious CPM methodology. You don’t get healthy church without it. Local leaders should know to be constantly engaging their culture and asking, ”Does this particular aspect point to the divine? Is it spiritually neutral? Or does this thing intentionally point away from Jesus?” The first two categories are things that can be culturally upheld (even if it might seem weird to me as an American); the third category they must stack against the Kingdom of God and they have to actively choose the way of Jesus. One point to note in this: Worldview transformation doesn’t mean transformation to western or American or European ways; it means transformation to kingdom of God ways. I’ve met a few folks who assume worldview transformation necessitates making American style disciples; frankly this is more tightly connected to colonialism rather than church planting. We want healthy contextualized forms of church to emerge (not just American ones). Also to note: Western, American, European and every other culture must actively engage in this process too (and it’s not always easy - just look to John Piper’s recent dust up looking at guns and American culture and Kingdom culture). 
  • CPM practitioners don’t like partnerships. While this might be true of some people, the truth is that we need partnerships, particularly in the form of coalitions, to actively engage in healthy and lasting ways. Truthfully they are going to be the only way to engage emerging mega-cities. Some practitioners might want to do their own thing and ignore the world around them but we will all go much further by working together. Partnering wherever it is relevant is a significant boon to ministry work. To be honest I think some of this reputation comes from the fact that most practitioners don’t like to waste time and partnerships can be a lot of work if everyone isn’t on the same page. But I know that they are valued and worth pursuing. 
  • CPM people hate structure. This might be the most common one I hear tossed about. This misunderstanding stems from the early and intense focus on simple church and reproducibility as things are in the initial messy and chaotic stages of CPM. The reality though is that we hold quite strongly to the idea inherent in Einstein’s quote: ”Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This means that as movement emerges and grows, structures must evolve and adapt as well. And yes, this means the formation of things like formalized theological training and even occasionally, mega-churches. The important note to make is that practitioners want to see structures emerge from within the scope of the movement rather than being forced upon them by outside influences. And structures do tend to emerge in beneficial ways that have the added benefit of being reproducible as they come from the movement itself.
  • I’ll add a seventh bonus critique: It’s all about the numbers. It’s not though (or at least shouldn’t be). It’s about the kingdom of God transforming places. This particular issue comes from the books and stories that proclaim mind boggling numbers. More often than not the numbers are accurate and are great for casting vision in regards to the scope of potential but people do tend to focus on them in unhelpful ways. But it is something we have to be careful about not using as a measure of success or pride. 

Conclusion

Hopefully this is clarifying for some of you that might be reading. I know I just loosely touch on many of these as that’s more appropriate in the blog setting. If there are any that you’d like to see additional discussion around, leave a comment. Or if you have another potential misunderstanding, leave that as a comment as well. Lets engage about healthy ways to see transformation in the world around us.

On The Role of Outsiders in Mission

Originally Published by Brandon on mbjones.net.

In development work and church planting work, it’s fairly common in this day and age to question what role an outsider plays. There has been an important shift in recognizing the great need to empower strong local leadership, particularly where sustainability and long term transformation is desired. Where this isn’t a priority you often see colonialism rehashed and projects that fall apart as soon as outsiders leave. 

I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t just be better if people like us left; in our place we’d hope that local people would establish and run with everything. It would look indigenous this way and it’d likely last. I’ve never been able to shake the sense that we are called to this though - that we should be doing what we are doing (just making sure that what we are doing is responsible and sustainable).

To back this up, I once had the opportunity to hear a strong local African leader speak to these very points in the organization we predominantly partner with. Trying to be provocative I think, another American friend asked this African man if us westerners should even be here (or if we should just pack up and go home). His response was quite helpful and I thought I’d expand upon it here for those that might be wondering the same thing. He speaks more out of the church planting context than other developmental works but he is involved in many things and partners with many groups and I think the application spans many different areas. 

In his response, he pinpoints 7 clear ways that describe partnership and details why we shouldn’t just pack up and leave. Here, find each way and some commentary on what this means and why it’s important. 

7 Ways Outsiders Can Help Fuel Movement & Transformation

  1. By Providing Clear Vision. When we partner through vision, we help to identify what local leaders are called to lead into. This doesn’t mean we necessarily provide the vision wholesale. It’s an identification process. It means we take time to listen and tease out the perceived needs and desired direction a particular community is moving in. Often we are able to aid in articulating and casting the particulars of vision. Often we are able to paint that picture of what could be and point others directly to it. This is quite important as you cannot gain what you cannot see. Further, where vision isn’t clear human nature tends to dictate that we wander, mostly aimlessly, in directions that distract from what’s actually important.

  2. By Providing Necessary Training. You can’t really understate the importance of training. With the right knowledge and training people can go much further than they could without it. Often an outside perspective is able to discern the type and depth of training needed to move a leader or community from point A to point B. Training also insures that we are working ourselves out of positions, particularly positions of power, as we train local leaders to fill them. It’s an important “high impact / low visibility”thing we can do. If we are doing our jobs well, we should be giving our best away so that we remain invisible and locals step into the forefront.  

  3. By Providing Necessary Marketing. It’s important to let the world know what is going on. As example, the Syrian refugee crisis started several years ago but is just nowcapturing the world’s attention. While we talked about it back then, not everyone did and many people across the globe were surprised at the magnitude of the problem. As outsiders we can help clue the rest of the world into what’s going on on by capturing information and events in order to make them known to the world outside. This is a sensitive process though - it’s not always acceptable and permissible to share. It’s also a process where we need to be careful not to fall into slacktivism (activism from our lazy boys that doesn’t actually do anything, like simply changing a profile picture) or exploitation: we always tell the story out of relationship and with permission and onlywhere it will bring positive impact. Where we share the story for our own gain we are not helping but hurting, often tremendously. We can aid significantly through the marketing and awareness process but only where it’s done sensitively in partnership with local leadership.

  4. By Providing Necessary Administration. Developing the proper administrative efforts for supporting, empowering and encouraging work can be quite the challenge, specifically where it’s never been done before. It’s definitely not a glamorous role (most people don’t want to be stuck in an office) but it is a vital role in many circumstances. This is something we can teach locals to do and succeed at easily particularly as more often then not administrative efforts do not have to be incredibly elaborate and complex: just simple structure to aid the effort.

  5. By Identifying Emerging Leaders. If as outsiders we are able to successful identify emerging local leaders it becomes a real gift to the community as we encourage and empower them to take an active role in the work at hand. Often we will see and encourage potential where many will ignore it, especially those within a community. Looking for the outside in we carry a different perspective that might be a boon in this area (connecting potential leaders with appropriate positions). 

  6. By Identifying What Matters. Put in a different way, it’s not about making people look like us. In the context of church work, that’s focusing on the Gospel and not my preferred American version of church. In development work that’s through identifying solutions desired by indigenous culture rather than acting as colonial overseers. By separating our own culture (that means for me my “American-ness”) from the desired message itself, we enable the message to flourish locally. Where we don’t do that we create weird hybrid people that take on aspects of our culture that just aren’t reproducible and limit long term sustainability. And by modeling this, as local leadership seeks to take the next step in helping neighboring communities as they’ve helped there own, they will carry this notion with them.

  7. By Identifying Resources Locally (And Afar). We can help identify what a community already has that they might be overlooking. And where there might be lack - we can help find the necessary resources to compensate for any lack. Often through looking from the outside in we are able to see the hidden strengths that locals often overlook. Often the flip might be true as well: we can perceive potential needs that locals might also miss. We should be helping them identify these things. And no, this doesn’t mean we always bring in the money. Resource can mean a lot of different things and is very dependent on the community, project and task. When the focus is solely on money, particularly in the context of what can be brought in, we often hurt communities more than we help them (through creating dependency, creating false expectations, limiting sustainability and local reproducibility, etc). 

So that’s the perspective of one local African leader that perceives the importance of partnering with outsiders like us. We’ve seen the strength in this as well and it drives us to keep walking in this direction. Let me know in the comments if you have any additional thoughts!

What we learned on sabbatical

We've been a little radio silent the past few months, so I wanted to write something about what we've been up to. We've been taking intentional sabbatical time in Tainan, Taiwan, since the end of September and now finishing it up this month here in Nairobi.


Our organization strongly encourages us to take three months of sabbatical every five years on the field. We're coming up on six years now, so we knew we were due for it. We made plans to take an intentional time for rest, personal development, professional growth, and to step back and get a better perspective on our lives and ministries.


I'll admit I was hesitant at first to take months out of our work here in Kenya, but Brandon convinced me it would be worthwhile. I think I was still a bit skeptical going into it, but after spending two months on sabbatical I can tell you I'm so glad we decided to do this. And I'd encourage anyone else with the option of sabbatical to take it.


First off, the location. Lots of people have asked us, "Why Taiwan?" Well, Brandon especially felt strongly that we needed to get out of our context here or we would just keep working. (This has proved especially true, because returning here to Nairobi and still trying to sabbatical has been almost impossible. Life just gets in the way!) And he thought if we went back to the U.S. we would end up doing a lot of support raising instead of resting.


So that left us looking for a third option. One of the three hubs for All Nations worldwide is in Taiwan, and we visited two years ago for a conference. At that time, we were blown away by the hospitality of the community there, and found that Taiwan was lovely, easy to get around, and pretty inexpensive. This year, we were again invited to a work conference in Taiwan in November. So we already had to buy airplane tickets to get there. We figured it would be a great place to go early and take sabbatical.


So how did it all go? Great! It was different than my expectations in a few ways. Being pregnant, I found I had less energy for exploring this beautiful foreign country than I had hoped. So we took a few short trips, but mostly just lived a low-key life in Tainan. But the huge difference between my life in Tainan and my life in Nairobi was the stress levels. I had no external or internal pressures telling me to stay busy, to always be working. I was able to enjoy playing with Mikayla, going out for lunch with Brandon and Mikayla, read fiction, etc. without feeling like I should be doing something "more productive." We also were blessed with a nice apartment to stay in while the owner was away. We could easily navigate around Tainan and even further afield with safe taxis and efficient and timely public transportation. Things were clean and modern, and we even enjoyed a lot of comforts from home that we don't have access to in Kenya (Starbucks! McDonalds!).


I didn't even realize how different our sabbatical life was from my normal life until we returned to Nairobi the week before last. Since arriving, we've been rudely reacquainted with the day-to-day challenges of life here. Our luggage was lost, our water pump broke so we had to go five days on limited water rations so we wouldn't run out, just going somewhere nearby makes you confront horrendous traffic, etc. And in general we have just had a lot more demands on our time. We only took two months of sabbatical in Tainan before returning because I'm just too pregnant to fly anymore (I'm due Jan. 16). So we planned to take December slow here, but it hasn't really worked out that way yet.


So what did we take away from sabbatical? Well, I can only summarize what Brandon learned, and then share more about what I learned. Brandon spent two days each week in Tainan coaching the staff at the All Nations church there in StrengthsFinder. He individually coached about 20 people, and then coached about a half dozen teams as well. It was invaluable experience that has increased his confidence and competence in StrengthsFinder coaching, something he hopes will lead to more supplemental income for us in the future (he already uses it a lot for free with missionary/church teams in Kenya). He also greatly benefited from unplugging from ceaseless work and intentionally slowing down. The nature of our work makes it hard to create clear-cut work/life boundaries, and that has really worn us down over time.


For me, I really benefitted from getting out of my context and taking a look at my life from a broader perspective. I spent time both before and during sabbatical asking the Lord to give me his perspective on my life and teach me things I didn't even know I needed. Well, he really came through for me. I was able to process my last five years, see patterns that I hadn't noticed before, and come up with practical things I want to apply in order to change these things in my lifestyle. The Lord revealed areas of my heart where I had built up hardness and cynicism and he brought healing where I needed it. I don't think I would have experienced all this without taking the time to make myself available to what God wanted to show me.


It was good timing for us as a family to take sabbatical. Things will be getting crazy again for us starting in January when move from a family of three to a family of four. And Brandon's schedule is already filling up with lots of regional trips to coach East African CPx students in their contexts. But we're feeling refreshed and prepared to jump into these roles.... as long as it's not until January. If we could change things, we would have started our sabbatical time earlier to get the full three months in Taiwan. We really miss the lifestyle and the wonderful community there. But Nairobi is our home, and we're happy to settle down here again.

We loved how inexpensive street food is in Taiwan. We mostly ate out, which was cheaper than grocery shopping. Our favorite place to go was a night market just down the street from our apartment. Here, a vendor makes fried sweet potato balls — delish! 

We loved how inexpensive street food is in Taiwan. We mostly ate out, which was cheaper than grocery shopping. Our favorite place to go was a night market just down the street from our apartment. Here, a vendor makes fried sweet potato balls — delish! 

This was a favorite inexepensive tepanyaki place walking distance from our house. 

This was a favorite inexepensive tepanyaki place walking distance from our house. 

Mikayla tried so hard to eat with chop sticks like the rest of us, but it she just wasn't coordinated enough. 

Mikayla tried so hard to eat with chop sticks like the rest of us, but it she just wasn't coordinated enough. 

These are pinball-type games that are very popular with kids at the night markets in Tainan. 

These are pinball-type games that are very popular with kids at the night markets in Tainan. 

Mikayla ended up making more friends than I did in Tainan! She was a hit, and we were so blessed by the people who loved on her while we were there. 

Mikayla ended up making more friends than I did in Tainan! She was a hit, and we were so blessed by the people who loved on her while we were there. 

A new team member

Hannah and the Joneses

We have an exciting announcement! Our team is growing! No, this isn't a pregnancy announcement. We're getting another actual adult on this team: Hannah Dennis (see picture of us together above). Hannah came out and visited us for the month of November last year and after much prayer she decided to join us here in Nairobi for the next two years.

Hannah graduated from university last May and attended All Nations' CPx (Church Planting Experience) in Kansas City, Mo., in July of last year. There, she learned about what we are doing here in Nairobi and it lined up really well with the work and the people the Lord had already placed on her heart. So All Nations leadership in KC encouraged her to check us out. We invited her to spend a month with us in November. She agreed, and we were all very pleasantly surprised with how it worked out. She's a mature, thoughtful, and dedicated person. We get on really well together, our callings line up well, and we're excited to be able to share life together starting mid-May when she'll arrive on our doorstep.

More team members was a big prayer request of ours for a while. So thank you to all who prayed! And we would love you to keep praying more people in!

Here's a link to Hannah's blog where she shares about how she made the decision to move here.

If you are someone interested in going overseas for missions, I'd encourage you to read Hannah's account and talk to other people who have\ done it too. I think sometimes we overspiritualize the process of "finding God's will for our lives." I've seen a lot of people waiting for some clear, supernatural sign from God, when there's a lot of steps you can take within God's will that then reveal more of his plan as you go.

If you're interested in missions, I'd highly recommend All Nations' training programs taking place around the world. There's a 3-week CPx in Kansas City in July and October, and you can find out more about here. There's also a CPx starting in October in Cape Town you can find out more about here.

One thing that helped me discern where God was calling me was a short-term trip to the location I was considering. Brandon and I would love for you to come to Nairobi on a short trip, or longer internship. We've got another recent college grad lined up to spend June with us this year. Just let us know if you're interested and we can talk through what all that would entail (and if this would be a good fit for you).

Who knows? Like Hannah, you might just end up staying.