Tag Archives: Africa

God Revealing, Then and Now

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them…”
Exodus 10:1 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I have some connections to east Africa. We have, for years, supported a Compassion child in Kenya named Joyce. Taylor and Clayton spent time working in Uganda, and Clayton’s doctoral research has taken him repeatedly to Tanzania where we also support another Compassion child, Michael, who is slightly older than Milo and they share the same birthday.

Because of these connections, we tend to pay a little more attention to the situation there. In case you didn’t know it, they have been battling locust swarms this year. Massive locust swarms that I would tag as being of “biblical proportions.” A second wave of swarms hit the region just as they began fighting COVID.

In my recent series of podcasts, A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story, I talk a lot about context. An adult can’t reason with a two-year-old by getting him or her to sit and listen to you read a psychology textbook that explains his or her need to modify behavior. In the same way, understanding ancient stories require me, a 21st-century reader, to think outside the box of my 21st-century thought and sensitivities. They require me to think about how God is meeting with and interacting with humanity in the context of the way they lived, thought, believed, and interpreted their world. Today’s chapter is a great example.

Locust swarms have been part of the ecosystem forever. They happen on occasion just like floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornados, and viral outbreaks. Our post-enlightenment, educated minds turn to science to understand these things, deal with them appropriately, and lessen the negative effects.

In Moses’ day, no one thought in such a way. In Moses day, natural phenomena were always considered to be a manifestation of the gods. If something bad happens, the gods must be angry. If something good happens, the gods must be pleased.

In today’s chapter, God tells Moses that the plagues had a purpose. The purpose was to reveal Himself and His power to Pharaoh and his officials. What is lost on a 21st-century reader is the fact that the types of plagues being visited upon the Egyptians had connections to various deities they worshiped across the pantheon of more than 1500 gods they worshiped. Because many, if not most, of the plagues were natural occurring phenomena, the Egyptians may have historically associated them with other deities. Now, the God of Moses turns them on-and-off at will, which is a direct challenge to Egypt’s religious system. Each time a plague is turned on or off by “stretching out” their hand and staff, it is a direct challenge to Pharaoh’s claim of being a god who rules by “my mighty hand.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about God revealing Himself. The story of Moses is an early chapter in the Great Story. There has been no described system of worship. There is no Bible or sacred text. There is no institution or organization. God has simply revealed Himself to Abraham and his descendants in mysterious ways. The plagues we’ve been reading about are the first recorded time in the Great Story that God attempts to reveal Himself to another people group in contrast to their own gods. This is a major shift in the narrative, and this theme will continue.

Interestingly, Jesus also made it clear that His mission was one of revelation:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants;

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him”.

God has always been in the process of revealing Himself, and does so in multiple ways, including the very act of creation:

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.

Along my earthly journey, I have been ever-grateful to live in our current period of human history. Despite the doom and gloom peddled in the media, we live in a period of human history that is unprecedented with regard to low levels of extreme poverty, disease, starvation, war, violence, and high levels of education and safety across the globe compared with any other period of history. Humanity is in a very different chapter of the Great Story, and I believe God is revealed very differently in our world than in Moses’ day.

The basic dance remains the same. God revealing, inviting, drawing in. Me asking, seeking, knocking, humbly accepting, and receiving.

I’m glad it no longer requires a plague of locusts. In my quiet time this morning I’m praying for those who are actively trying to help the people of Africa to minimize the damage and for those who are suffering because of it.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Drilling Down to Spring Generosity

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
2 Corinthians 8:2 (NIV)

About 12 years ago Wendy and I made the decision to purchase my parents property at the lake. At the time the property had a  70 foot single-wide from the early 1970s which I used to refer to as “The Love Shack.” At the end of a gravel road, the property requires a well for water and a septic system for waste management. After agreeing to make the purchase my dad walked me through the process they went through each year to have their water supply tested and treated against the nasty things that can get into a natural water supply. It was pretty gross just thinking about it.

A year or so later we had a new well dug on the property. I’d never experienced this before, and I was fascinated by the process. The young man who owned the drilling service loved his work and I’ll never forget the passion and enthusiasm with which he went about his drilling a well. By the end of the day he’d explained to me that the old well on the property had been way too shallow which was why the water was prone to some of the nastiness that had to be tested and treated. The driller had to go much deeper than planned and get through some tough stretches of rock to reach the aquifer which would pump clean water to our house. I’ll never forget the guy grinning from ear-to-ear. “You’re pumping ‘crystal clear’ now, dude!

That little experience really got me thinking just how much I take for granted the luxury of a clean water supply that I don’t have to think or worry about. That got me digging a little deeper for information about water in the world. The good news is that since 1990 great progress has been made. In just 25 years a staggering 2.5 Billion people have gained access to an improved water supply free from fear of contamination. I love it! That’s huge progress that we can feel good about. [cue: We are the World]. Nevertheless, there’s still 665 million people in the world who don’t have access to a simple, clean water supply. Most of them are in Africa. For many years Wendy and I have been supporters of Blood:Water Mission, a group actively working to improve access to clean water across Africa.

Along life’s journey I’ve had to confess that it sometimes takes an  experience for me to wake up to the needs of others, and the opportunity I have to make a difference.

In today’s chapter, we discover one of the major reasons Paul was writing his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. There was a severe famine in area of Syria and Israel. Historical records confirm that a massive famine broke out in that region in 47 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Claudius. People were literally starving to death, and Paul had been taking up an offering among the believers in Greece and Asia Minor to take much needed supplies to the believers back in Jerusalem.

There was kind of a cool spiritual principle at work. Back when Jesus was tempted to turn stones to bread He quoted a verse from Deuteronomy to the enemy: “You shall not live on bread alone, but on every word the comes from the mouth of God.” The believers in Jerusalem had blessed Greece and Asia Minor by sending the Word and spreading Jesus’ Message through Paul and others. Now those believers in Greece and Asia Minor had the opportunity, in turn, to save the believers in Jerusalem from starvation by providing for their physical needs.

Yesterday I wrote about Paul finding joy in “all his troubles.” He uses that same same spiritual principle again, and takes it a step further, as he describes the believers in Macedonia who found joy amidst their trials and generosity amidst their poverty.

This morning in the quiet I find myself counting my blessings. Our hot water issue was fixed yesterday. It was a pesky annoyance caused by build up of ice that choked the flow of air to the system. Ultimately, it was a small problem. Such a luxury, and what an opportunity I continually have to make a difference in the lives of others through the abundance with which I’ve been blessed. The Macedonians, Paul wrote, had been generous despite their poverty. How much more generous can I be out of the wealth with which I’ve been blessed?

Featured photo courtesy of Seeds of Hope International Partnerships: http://sohip.org

Taylor’s Senior Show

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The buttons were bustin’ off of Wendy and me as we stopped by the campus of Grandview University to attend the senior art show for our daughter, Taylor. It was fun to join with Grandma Jeanne and our nephew Sam as we shared Taylor’s artwork along with the work of her fellow students.

Taylor’s work was obviously influenced by her experiences in Uganda and the work she and Clayton did with Child Voice International. Wendy and I were struck by the unpretentiousness of her pieces. On our drive home we also talked about Taylor’s willingness to embrace experimentation with different genres and artistic styles that might be foreign to her. Both of our daughters have experienced so much of the world and we like to think that their travels and experiences have allowed their hearts, minds and artistic expressions to be open to diversity in the ways they communicate themselves.

If you are in the area and have the opportunity to stop by, you should slip into the Rasmussen Center (SW corner of E 14th and Boyd in Des Moines) on the campus of Grandview University to see her work!

Following Their Passion. Making a Difference.

One of the most fascinating aspects of being a dad has been watching our girls grow into their own persons and launch on their own paths. Seeds of passion that subtly presented themselves in childhood slowly and beautifully bloom as they step out on their own journey as adults. Having survived the weedy entanglements of adolescence and the arid plain of academia, you begin to see the person they are becoming blossom in amazing ways.

Taylor has always had the heart of an artist. It never presented itself in any kind of clearly focused way when she was young, but it was unmistakably there. When she was deciding on courses of study for college it was always in the background. Her choice was always [fill in the blank] and Art Therapy. My personal favorite combination was Archaeology and Art Therapy. The playwright in me conjured a comical sketch of her sitting with a troubled soul showing them pictures of cave drawings and hieroglyphs. Eventually, she abandoned the various and sundry choices for a primary course of study and stuck with the one constant: Art Therapy.

During her teen years, another seed of passion emerged for Taylor. Becoming aware of the larger world, she would come home from high school with books and dinner time stories of tragic conflicts in Africa. I watched as the unfathomable horror stories of child soldiers in nations like Uganda branded themselves on Taylor’s tender heart. Slowly I began to realize that my meek daughter, the tender artist and healer, was developing a steely passion for helping others and for the world.

Then a boy named Clayton came along. Wendy and I knew that these two young people were going to end up together. We saw it from the beginning. I think every dad feels that unmistakable, gut-wrenching moment when you realize your little girl’s eyes and heart have shifted focus to another man. Not just the wandering glance of infatuation or the unadvisable day-trips of misguided lust, but the unmistakable “this is the man who is taking your place” moment.  I saw it happening before my very eyes. Clayton, the passionate African Studies major and Taylor, the Art Therapist wannabe (foregoing her first year of college to work with handicapped children in Morocco) shocked everyone by choosing to get married far younger than seems wise or culturally acceptable in today’s world. They both had a lot of growing up to do. I’m convinced they were supposed to do it together.

It was last fall when Taylor and Clayton began mentioning a group called Child Voice and a place called Lukodi. Lukodi is a village in Uganda. A few years ago the town was ravaged by the unspeakable atrocities of an evil thug named Kony and his followers, profanely dubbed the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Children were forced to kill their own parents. Little girls were raped, forced to be “brides,” and impregnated. Let’s just say that this post can’t contain the volume of horror thrust upon the people of that small village. In the terrible social aftermath, a group called Child Voice is trying to bring healing and redemption to the survivors and to the town. Taylor and Clayton applied for a summer internship to help in the efforts.

And so, the picture of who our daughter is becoming continues to come into focus. The young girl with the heart of an artist, burdened by the plight of child soldiers is going to Uganda. She will put her Art Therapy studies to work to help and to heal, to love and to learn from victims of suffering that is incomprehensible in our everyday context. Clayton, her husband and partner in passion, is by her side. As happens with work in the third world, their itinerary seems to be changing from day to day. Nevertheless, the two of them are flying out of Chicago today. As I’ve told them many times, I couldn’t be more proud.

It seems like everyday I read or hear stories about disenchanted, entitled, and self-seeking young adults who are aimlessly struggling to find gainful employment and meaningful existence. I’m so grateful for children with passion, talent, faith, love and purpose who are actively doing something to make a positive difference in this world. As I’ve tried to constantly tell them, I couldn’t be more proud.

You can follow their story and their adventures at http://boeyinksinuganda.wordpress.com.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 20

There was no water there for the community, so they ganged up on Moses and Aaron. Numbers 20:2 (MSG)

I am so spoiled with the basic necessities of life. Water is a staple. Water is everywhere. I flush without thinking about the luxury of having running sewers. I wash my face, shower myself, and wash my dishes without even thinking about it. I can even water my lawn and have the luxury of spurning the water in the tap to drink a bottle of “better” water.

For ten days in 1993, the Des Moines area was without water as floods overtook the Water Works. I remember living in an apartment with two young children. Ten days without showering. Ten days without flushing. Ten days of filling jugs at water stations and hauling them back home to cook and bathe. Ten days is nothing. Ten Days is a blip on the time line. But, we still talk about it like we were martyrs. How quickly people grumble when you take away a basic necessity of life. Ask Moses and Aaron. They know.

Around the world, millions of people live without access to clean water every day. In fact, in Africa alone more people than the entire population of the U.S. are without this basic necessity. For the last several years, Wendy and I have supported Blood:Water Mission, whose goal is to help communities in Africa dig wells so that they can simply have clean water.

Today, when I shower, wash, and drink, I’m going to think of the people of Israel who grumbled as they ran out of water wandering in the wilderness of northeast Africa. I’m going to think of the millions of people in that continent and around the world who can still grumble these many thousands of years later.