Friday, July 30, 2010

An African Wedding In West Texas...

Linda Bailey wrote the following article for ACU's on-line edition of The Optimist. Linda does a great job of capturing the wonderful spirit of hospitality, love and family that flowed throughout the weekend of Serge and Esperance's wedding. Katie Lea is missing from the picture (above) that ran with the article because she was looking for an umbrella to shade us from the sun.

The gymnasium at South Side Baptist Church was transformed into an African village on Friday afternoon, the first day of the traditional African wedding ceremony of ACU student Serge Gasore to Esperance Namuseke Gasore.

The entire wedding spanned two days and incorporated both American and African traditions.

In August 2005, Serge came to ACU from Rwanda to study and run track and cross-country. Now in graduate school, Serge is studying global information technology. Esperance will attend Cisco College in the fall. Originally from the Congo, she and her family later fled to Rwanda. Two years ago, the family moved to Abilene as refugees.

Serge wanted to have the wedding in Africa, but Esperance’s family thought it would be best to for the couple to travel back to Africa only after they were married. To keep everyone happy, Serge agreed to have a traditional African wedding ceremony in Abilene.

"I love her so much so I said I’ll do everything I would do back home," Serge said.

He said they will move back to Rwanda in two years after he finishes his schooling in the U.S.

Serge's father wasn’t able to make the trip to the U.S. for the wedding, but his aunt traveled to Abilene from Rwanda. An uncle and a close friend, both originally from Rwanda but living in Haiti, were also able to join Serge’s other family and friends for the wedding ceremonies.

On Friday, the two-day wedding began with a dowry ceremony. Caroline Conwell, senior business management major at ACU, said this is traditionally the most important ceremony in the entire wedding. It is during this ceremony that the bride’s family officially gives her to the groom, Conwell said. Through a series of role-plays, the two families barter for the bride. Serge’s family gave the Namuseke family 12 cows as a dowry.

Conwell’s family has known Serge for about five years. Serge spent a lot of time with the Conwells during summer vacations and holidays because he couldn’t make the long trip home. He eventually became part of the family, Conwell said. Because of their close relationship, the Conwells attended the ceremony as part of Serge’s family.

The dowry ceremony was performed primarily in Kinyarwanda, a tribal African language. A translator was present to translate both the words and traditions to English speakers. Participants in the ceremony wore mostly traditional African apparel, but some of men wore more western-looking suits.

It wasn't until the end of the ceremony that Serge finally saw his fiancée. After Esperance's family had officially given the couple permission to be married, four female dancers, several children and a group of girls walked into the middle of the aisle. The girls surrounded Esperance as she sat in a chair, then moved out of the way to let Serge greet his bride. She gave him a traditional headband, and the couple sat at the end of the aisle. The ceremony concluded with a traditional African meal for everyone in attendance.

On Saturday afternoon, the wedding took an American turn when the couple was married at Southern Hills Church of Christ in a short ceremony complete with tuxes, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and an elegant white dress. The American customs continued during an afternoon reception at Southern Hills following the ceremony. The reception included hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, and a tiered wedding cake complete with a bride and groom cake topper.

"I like the way America does their things, and that’s why I’m going to do a little bit American, and I like the way they do it back home. It's kind of like half-half," Serge said. "When you read a book about communication, you have to adapt to that culture to be able to be in both cultures."

After several speeches and a few traditional African dances by Friday’s four female dancers, the party moved to the 6th Street Center in downtown Abilene.

At the beginning of the reception downtown, guests entered the dimly lit room in single file carrying gifts for the bride and groom. Traditionally, the bride's family leaves near the beginning of the ceremony to tell their village about the wedding. In keeping with tradition, Serge’s family escorted the Esperance's family out of the reception. After a quick outfit change, Serge and Esperance rejoined the party, where family members and guests of all ages danced to traditional African music to celebrate the newest addition to Gasore family.

"My favorite thing was the dancing on Saturday night," Conwell said. "The celebration was just so fun and everything was just so different from American culture. You could tell it was a celebration of them coming together and the families were so excited."

Even after the weekend’s celebrations, the ceremony isn't quite finished. When he and Esperance move back to Rwanda in two years, Serge said, there will be another ceremony to introduce Esperance as his wife.

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Or Old Evangelism...

An article in USA Today’s “Faith & Reason” section caught my eye recently. The article was titled "Believers Reluctant to Evangelize Family or Friends." The article's author, Cathy Lynn Grossman, makes two very challenging observations:

+ Churches are not creating new believers, they are just attracting more Christians.

+ Becoming a parent does not change attitudes toward spirituality– which reverses the assumption that once couples become parents they are more likely to become part of a church.

Grossman concludes that what she calls the "bait and switch" evangelism technique is ineffective, and Christians need to find a new, or better, way to share their faith with friends and family (to clarify, Grossman would describe "bait and switch" tactics as things like inviting your neighbor to a social gathering–without telling her you’re going to present the Gospel).

A self-described "recovering evangelical" Jim Henderson, shares an alternative. Are you ready for this?

"…get to know people, become their friends and let the spiritual chips fall where they may."

Call me crazy, but I don't think there’s anything new about this kind of evangelism. In fact, it would be more accurate to call it the Old Evangelism. As I look through the Gospels, I see Jesus getting to know people like Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, Martha, Mary and Lazarus... not to mention his disciples, and meeting their relational and spiritual needs.

On the other side of the coin, Jesus, Peter and Paul preached evangelical messages to large crowds. So, I don’t think we can say there’s only one right way to evangelize. I just don’t want to let friendship become an excuse for not telling someone about Jesus. Likewise, I don’t want any kind of "come-to Jesus" strategies to sabotage a relationship.

What do you think? Do we need a new or old evangelism? Do we just live our beliefs and hope people get it? Or do we lay out the "Five Finger Plan of Salvation" for our friends and family? What has experience taught you?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Every Little Step Counts...

The following post by Joel J. Miller offered me in the midst of a crazy busy day some much needed perspective. Read Joel's words and be encouraged.

In movies the hero runs headlong up against a problem, something that threatens his peace, safety, and happiness. If the screenwriter is at all talented, we quickly sympathize. We have troubles of our own, after all, and our sympathy and identification increase as the story intensifies. Every twist and turn of the plot worsens our hero’s position to the problem until, when all appears most dire, he finally prevails. The problem is resolved and peace, safety, and happiness are restored. The hero triumphs. All is well. We breathe easy.

It's a hopeful and satisfying formula. It presents a picture of life that has certain, limited conflicts that can be definitively overcome, in which there’s real justice, real healing, real finality to evil and toil and trouble. That's what we want. We pine for that point when we no longer have to struggle against the myriad besetting troubles of the day, when we can cease worrying and stressing and striving. We crave that singular, momentous victory at the close of Act 3 which rescues all of our imperiled peace, safety, and happiness, when we triumph, all is well, and we can breathe easy.

Pardon the moment of negativity, but real life is snickering. There are no certain, limited conflicts that can be definitively overcome. There are untold millions of them, one after another, several all at once. And no matter what you do, they just keep coming. If you make your numbers in July, you have to do it again in August and September and October. If you take superlative care of Customer A, Customers B, C, D, E, F, and G are waiting on hold, annoyed by the music, and wondering why you haven’t helped them yet. Meanwhile you've got bills to pay, discipline issues with the kids, a spouse who feels neglected or exhausted or restless or bored or all of the above.

There is good news coming, but hang with me here a bit longer. The illusion of the formula is doubly problematic when it affects our spiritual life, when we think that we will at some point (hopefully in the very near future) reach a place of total peace without struggle, of quickly answered prayer, effortless worship, sunbeams, and butterflies. The truth is that the Christian life is marked by crosses, by thorns in the side, by sacrifice. There's a reason that historically, traditionally, our heroes are all martyrs, men and women famous not for taking up their winnings but laying down their lives.

Real life—physical, spiritual, everything—is composed of innumerable, endless challenges. John Bunyan's analogy works because it's true to life. Christian didn't get beamed to the Celestial City. The story is the journey, not the end. And our personal pilgrim's progress is no different.

Philip of Neri said it well: “One should not wish to become a saint in four days but step by step.”

The steps imply work. They also imply patience. It's going to take time and attention. It’s going to take involvement in the little things, work in the small corners of our lives. We're not going to slay a few dragons and then settle down. There are always more dragons.

All of those frustrations in work and personal life, family and faith, wherever we confront them, are part of our sanctification. They are part of our journey toward holiness. They are the steps we trod. The wonderful truth hidden in this realization is that every little thing greatly matters. It all has significance, the deadlines, the soccer practice, traffic tickets, marriage conflicts, skinned knees, oil changes, all of it. We don't need to experience a singular, defining triumph to win in life. We’re not going to get one anyway. We are given a million little steps that bring us closer to God.

"Take this thorn from me," says Paul.

"Leave it be," says God. "It’s enough that you have my grace."

The deeper hope we can take away from the classic movie formula is that there really is an end, a victory, a Celestial City, an eschaton in which all the foes are turned into friends or turned to their judgment. But while we take hope in that final triumph, our days are filled with little steps. I pray for enough grace to give thanks for each one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Device Desirable, Old Device Undesirable...

This tongue-in-cheek "news" article by the clever folks at The Onion made me smile... and cringe... and think... as it thumped me on some of my consumeristic tendencies.

With the recent introduction of the latest technology, millions of consumers proceeded to their nearest commercial centers in hopes of acquiring the latest, and therefore most desirable, personal device.

"The new device is an improvement over the old device, making it more attractive for purchase by all Americans," said Thomas Wakefield, a spokesperson for the large conglomerate that manufactures the new device. "The old device is no longer sufficient. Consumers should no longer have any use or longing for the old device."

Added Wakefield, "The new device will retail for $395."

Able to remain operational for longer periods of time and occupy a demonstrably smaller three-dimensional space, the new device is so advanced when compared to the old device that it makes the old device appear much older than it actually is. However, the new device is reportedly not so radically different as to cause confusion or unwanted anxiety among those familiar with the feel of the old device.

"Its higher price indicates to me that it is superior, and that not everyone will be able to afford it, which only makes me want to possess it more," said Tim Sturges, owner of the old device, which he obtained 18 months ago when it was still the new device. "I feel a strong urge to purchase the new device. Owning the new device will please me and improve my daily life."

"It's difficult to remember how I ever found enjoyment in my old device," Sturges continued. "It is no longer appealing to the eye."

In addition to aesthetic and technological enhancements, manufacturers claim the new device comes equipped with a wide range of desirable features, including fewer buttons for pressing down and holding; a new wire for connecting to larger, less-portable devices; and fewer device-related errors and frustrations.

The new device will also be available in blue.

"Not only will I be able to perform tasks faster than before, but my new device will also inform those around me that I am a successful individual who is up on the latest trends," said Rebecca Hodge, whose executive job allowed her to line up for several hours in the middle of the day in order to obtain the previously unavailable item. "Its attractiveness and considerable value are, by extension, my attractiveness and considerable value."

Consumer Robert Larson agreed. "I'm going to take my new device wherever I go," said Larson, holding the expensive item directly in the eyeline of several reporters. "That way no one on the street, inside the elevator, or at my place of business will ever mistake me for the sort of individual who does not own the new device."

Added Larson, "The new device brings me satisfaction."

Despite the visible excitement among most consumers, some claimed to be exercising caution, choosing instead to sit back and wait for a newer version of the new device to be released before making a purchase.

"True, it appeals to my most basic insecurities, but this new device will ultimately be replaced by a newer device, rendering it completely undesirable and utterly repellent to my personal tastes," device-enthusiast Ryan Janosch said. "Also, I should start saving my money for the next latest device, which will replace the newer new device a couple months after that."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Non-Manipulative Intentionality...

Several months ago I read an intriguing book titled, "The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University" by Kevin Roose. Roose was a freshman at Brown University who transferred to Liberty University for a semester to "observe evangelical Christians." It was a fascinating read.

After reading "The Unlikely Disciple," I came across a book by Jim Henderson called "Evangelism Without Additives: What if Sharing Your Faith Meant Just Being Yourself?" Henderson uses a phrase in his book that stuck with me, especially after reading Kevin Roose’s book. Henderson said that what Christians need to become better at is "non-manipulative intentionality." What a great phrase!

I'm thinking what Henderson meant could be summed up in how we would answer this question if asked by a friend: "If I don’t become a Christian, can we still be friends?"

To some degree, I think Christians, me included, have loved our doctrine more than we have loved people. Non-manipulative intentionality requires us to love people, and not think of them or ourselves as failures if they don't become Christians.

It doesn't mean we stop praying. It doesn't mean we water down our beliefs.

It does mean we love them by intentionally being their friend, first and foremost.

How have you answered a question like this with your friends who aren't Christians? And how can we become better at non-manipulative intentionality?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The 2010 NOLA "Let's Go!" Team...

Here's the official team picture of the 2010 NOLA "Let's Go!" team (minus the two team members who were in the restroom when the official team photo was being taken). It was a privilege and blessing serve alongside this talented group of Christ-followers.