Haiti JeepThe unwritten rule that men will never ask anyone for directions is universal.  We drove for two hours on mountain roads that were little more than goat trails. I asked my Haitian driver only twice, “are you sure you know where you are going?” I got the same non-answer grunt both times.

If you don’t know where you are going on a mountain road in Haiti, odds are you are going to regret it. There were plenty of people to ask as there is an endless stream of people walking the roads, even in seemingly remote places.

There is a saying in Haiti, “beyond mountains there are mountains;” a lesson from its geography that when you think the difficulty is over, it has just begun. The sort-of-road we were traveling finally came to an end at a river.  A road-similar-to-this-one rose from the other bank. Water of unknown depth lay between us. I take lots of risk, but at this point, I say we turn around. Not so my Haitian driver friend. He studied the river, backed up, and gunned it. We literally floated for several seconds, drifting downstream and away from the road-similar-to-this-one. But somehow we managed to hit the edge of the bank and gain traction. We made it; it was not my Haitian friend’s first time at this kind of rodeo! But the road ended less than a mile later and so we turned around and repeated our river crossing feat yet again.

“A compass, I learnt when I was surveying… it’ll point you true north from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps and desert and chasm that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… what’s the use of knowing true north?”  (from the movie Lincoln)

Knowing the location of your destination is not the same as getting there. The older I get the more I appreciate maps and GPSs. I looked at that road from Google Earth when we got back to civilization. We missed our turnoff an hour earlier and were literally on the road to nowhere.  It no longer surprises me that I get myself into bad places because I still don’t like to ask for directions. The psalmist has something to say about directions.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

To those who love God’s voice, the Bible is a refreshing drink from a cool spring. Surrounded daily by the challenges of a fallen world, we breathe it in to feel the love of God and to lift our weary spirits.  Sometimes I need to hear His voice to simply reconnect and recharge, like coming home to family after a long journey. He is never far from me, but my heart tends to stray. Sometimes because I “plunged ahead” I need to feel His presence in the midst of the obstacles and swamps I failed to anticipate. Most times, I simply want to lean on the arm of my Father and ask for wisdom and direction…

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you,
delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech,
who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness,
who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil,
men whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways. (Proverbs 2:6-15)

The last part of this proverb is a reminder to me. This world is not our home. We were meant for Eden where our very life was sustained by the love of God in a sinless place perfectly fit for humanity. With The Fall came a new reality; individualism. Though we were destined for union with God and one another, the genuine expression of our true humanity, we are living outside of it in an inhuman place.  Yet in our brokenness we cling desperately to this unnatural individual identity though it robs us (and eventually destroys us).  We are living in a world of Darwinian design – rooted in death – the author of which would press the life out of us even as we are stretching to be the fit enough to survive. For what? For certain death. It has been the enemy’s design from day one and it dominates all we see through the eyes of this world.  In his song The Blood of Eden, Peter Gabriel captures the sadness of it all:

 “I can hear the distant thunder of a million unheard souls, of a million unheard souls.
Watch each one reach for creature comfort, for the filling of their holes.”

If we live as though this world is all we have, we would be like those unheard souls trying to fill the holes in our lives with whatever makes us feel better in the moment. This would be very bad news if not for the very good news, which is that God is calling a people away from this and to Himself. Unlike what some might suggest His voice is not distant, mystic and ethereal. He speaks loudly through what we see around us. To those who draw near to hear more, He speaks through the Revelation of Jesus Christ who has given us the words of life. His call is to those who would return to Eden to follow our heart-compass, which has been reoriented and points Heavenward.  He has a lamp to light the way; His Word. It is the start of a different journey and a new destination. It may take us to uncomfortable places near and far, but always with the promise of His presence…

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:15-26)

This is not a promise for success and comfort in a world of competing individualists. Our lives continue in the context of this fallen world. We will encounter blessings and we will endure hardship. But our reality is rooted in Kingdom awareness. We are being sent to bring good news to people who need Jesus, so we should expect to be in the hard places with them. Seeing with spiritual eyes means looking beyond the visible in order to participate in God’s work.

This is a message to those who are followers of Jesus: If we are living in relative comfort, it might be good to ask whether we have taken the road to which He has called us.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43-45)

Our external circumstances have less to do with present blessings and rewards and more to do with the place God has put us to do our unique work. What we are called to eternally begins here. We are pointed in a new direction. This world no longer has us. Jesus does.


                                           “The free bird thinks of another breeze
Caged Birdand the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing
The caged bird sings with fearful trill
of the things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”

                                             (from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou)

PerkinsDr. John Perkins, plenary speaker for the Mosaix Multicultural Church Conference in Long Beach, California, quoted from this poem. In what could only be described as impromptu and unexpected, he gave an emotional farewell address to those gathered at the conference.  He said he felt a sense of joy and completeness and it is time for him to exit the stage and live his remaining years at home.

For the past two days we heard from people around this nation who are making a challenge to what is one of the most segregated pieces of real estate in America; the local church.  In a nation that is so racially divided, the church should be leading the way to what true multiculturalism looks like. We have the promise of the Father (Gen 22:18), love of Jesus (John 13:34-35) and the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; Romans 15:13). Gifted speakers from diverse cultures shared their experiences. Many are bridging the divides in their communities through their churches. They are building, restoring and reconciling relationships in the spirit of the promises of God:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore;

but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever. (Micah 4:1-5)

Dr. Perkins said that hearing the speakers gave him both hope and closure. While there is much left to do, he says the baton has been passed. He sees a new generation of people who are devoted to bringing about the reconciliation of the church so that it can be the unified, multicultural evidence of God’s promises in a world that cannot seem to get along.

I am a politically conservative white American from rural/suburban Illinois. This black son of a sharecropper might seem like an unlikely hero to someone like me. Like a lot of kids living in the Chicago region, I indiscriminately counted among my heroes two African American men; Ernie Banks and Gale Sayers. As a teenager, I spent countless hours trying to learn the precise ways to play guitar riffs by Jimi Hendrix. Race was not something I understood. I didn’t have to. Yes, growing up during the 60s, I was aware of the civil rights struggles taking place around America, but my world looked different and it was only news headlines to me. As age has tempered my arrogance and as relationships have informed my ignorance, I am increasingly aware of the hard challenges faced by men who are like me in every way except the color of their skin.

Through personal encounters and the reading of his books (particularly Let Justice Roll Down), Dr. John Perkins gave me my first real glimpse into a world that I lived beside but never knew. He grew up in Mississippi at a time when a black man encountered barriers to just about everything in American society. Perkins grew up fatherless. His mom died while breastfeeding him (he agonized as a child believing that he caused her death). His brother was killed by a local policeman over a misunderstanding. So he left Mississippi and went to California, where he built a good life. And there he met Jesus.

Through the Word of God he began to re-imagine a colorblind society. He went back to Mississippi and poured his life into his community. Through community development he was having a significant impact on Jackson, Mississippi. Local white leaders were threatened by him. In neighboring Brompton, with his supportive community a town away, he was beaten nearly to death by the police (he still carries permanent scars from the beating). As he tells it, while getting pummeled he would have gladly traded places and beaten and killed them all with the rage and hatred he felt; blow for blow. But instead, by the peace and presence of the Holy Spirit, he forgave the men who did that to him.

His story is a remarkable story of reconciliation. Like Isaiah, he simply said to God, “here I am, send me.” He refused to let hate hold him back from loving the way Jesus did. He has held on to a dream of Christians becoming the reconciled, multicultural Kingdom society that would one day stand in stark contrast to the world. Diversity as championed by our society is nothing more than competing people feigning tolerance. We have already seen that they are quick to raise fists whenever resources are scarce. But the church cannot be like that! Jesus died in order to reconcile a people to Himself. In God’s Kingdom, unlikely friendships bridge every kind of human divide. It was a dream that drove the engine of Dr. John Perkins, and he said to the crowd at Mosaix that it was worth it all.

With that encouragement, he said he felt like Simeon when he held Jesus at the temple:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”  (Luke 2:29-32)

He finished with what he called “an old Negro spiritual:”

“Some glad morning when this life is over I’ll fly away
To a home on God’s celestial shore I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away, oh glory I’ll fly away
When I die hallelujah, bye and bye I’ll fly away”

Sing, John Perkins, sing.