Growing Doubt, a Foreshadow of what is to come for 5 years, and James and Gina Head to Kenya

A 2 month window in the summer of 2008 would be a foreshadow of what would happen for 5 years. During that time I pull back from people, and struggled with doubt. As James and his wife Gina were leaving for Kenya I slowly patched together a faith system that held for a few months before the bottom finally collapsed. This post is what happened in the late summer of 2008.

“I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light.”

John Keith Falconer

“A true friend freely, advises justly, assist readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.” 

William Penn

 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

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I am working on a follow up to this post here on PJ Smyth. I am researching and writing about the Advance Movement. Its a church planting movement that comes out of Africa that is trying to break into North America. However, it has been a lot of work to read, research and write about. Its going to take a few more days. I wanted to throw up something in the mean time.

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Today I want to take some time and look at a brief faith crisis that would be a foreshadow of what was to come. This happened in the summer of 2008, and for a couple of months I pushed back from many of my friends and people I knew in church. The doubts I was dealing with started earlier in the year. I didn’t know how to process them.  As 2008 started to drag on I was having growing problems with my faith. My doubts started to grow and I couldn’t contain what was slowly happening. As time moved on I felt like I couldn’t fit in, life had changed and I had been presented with a number of experiences that didn’t fit into the orthodox evangelical line of thought. I thought black and white and now I was experiencing life situations that were gray. I had no idea how to process them. In the course of time a lot of things were happening. Bible studies started to get dry, and I started to ask more and more questions. The answers I knew no longer worked. During this time James and his wife asked me to come over to their apartment on Capitol Hill. They sat down in front of me and told me that they had a surprise to share. Honestly I thought they were going to share that they were expecting to their first child. Instead they told me that they were going to be leaving the Washington, D.C. area to be missionaries in Kenya. I was both stunned, happy and sad. James’ wife came from a missionary family and I could see why she would want to get back into the field. She had actually spent a lot of time in India. I was happy that they were going forward in a different direction a nd that they wanted to do this. Then I was sad, sad that they were leaving Washington, and privately I was  frustrated because I was dealing with growing doubt and as faith problems for me were developing I was privately upset that they didn’t have faith problems all while being able to step out on faith.

As the problems with faith continued I had a foreshadow of what was to come for a couple of months. I pulled back, withdrew from people and started to become angry about faith. For those who knew me it was a shock. Friends who loved and cared about me were puzzled. The doubt was building to levels I had not had before and I had no idea as to what to do. I needed answers and had no idea as to where to turn. James was getting ready to leave Washington, D.C. and he sent me a text message during this time where he told me that he missed me. Looking back today I am ashamed that I pulled back from a friendship while he was getting ready to leave DC. I had become deeply cynical about faith during this time. James and his wife had a sendoff from Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse which is affiliated with National Community Church in which they gave a presentation talking about what they were going to do in Kenya. I showed up while in this period of anger, doubt, and cynicism. I made some rude comments to James and the next thing I remember is us standing outside the coffeehouse getting into the yelling match. I was beginning to look at Christianity with suspicion, as fraudulent and I mocked and tore him down. I never saw James yell like that, and for the record I never yelled like that either. I got in the car and started to drove away on the 395. As I was driving through Shirlington on the 395 I was filled with deep shame for the yelling we just had. I didn’t want to end his time here in DC or know someone was leaving with this kind of interaction. I got off the freeway and turned around and drove back to Ebenezers. I saw James and we briefly talked for a couple of minutes. We both forgave each other, and hugged. I wished him well and he wanted to talk more and keep in touch. As for me I had no idea what was starting to happen in my life. I believe it was around this time that some of those who became alarmed were people from my former McLean Bible mission team. Two of the guys including my former mission team leader wanted to speak with me. I was pretty angry about faith and I remember my former mission team leader recalling how the girls we’re praying for me and this meeting. I’m rusty in recalling this part but they wanted to know what was going on with me. Some of this was viewed as spiritual warfare as I recall, the doubt however I had no idea of what to do. However after this time I was able to get things together spiritually, however it would be brief.  On August 8, 2008 I sent James the following email 

James,

On Friday night I realized how much of a fool that I have been. My England mission team leader, another team leader form Frontline, and another guy from the small group ministry got together at Ruby Tuesday’s in Fairfax. We spent probably close to 3 hours talking about many issues.

I have hurt so many people and I have a lot of atonement to do. In addition to you I have hurt Mike Florance, my small group leader at NCC, Chris and my UK mission team and several guys from McLean Bible. There were many who reached out and out of anger I just blew them off or reacted out of anger. If there ever is an award for “Asshole of the year” I think I would qualify for it. My selfishness, pride, letting life get to my head, worrying, was so poor and reflected poor decisions on my behalf. I don’t know what came over me, worse I did not realize how many people have been hurt by how I reacted.

On Friday night the conversation I had with the guys from McLean Bible were so amazing. There were many people wondering what had happened because I disappeared for 2 months from Frontline. During this time over dinner I began to realize all the individuals who have been hurt. I started to feel sick, and could not believe I could hurt in such a way. On Sunday morning I went to NCC I spoke with Mike Florance and we are getting together for coffee. I need to have a deep talk with him and ask for forgiveness. In anger I blew him off just as I did you. I went to Frontline this evening. It was the first time I attended since last May, early June I think?

I was incredibly nervous because I would have to face a number of individuals . I walked in and worship started. I just listened to the music as I did at NCC this morning. Then something happened that was just weird. During one of the worship songs something snapped and I just broke down and could not stop crying. The guy next to me just stared but for some reason I could not stop crying. I felt so sad and sick to have hurt those in the community that God placed in my life so deeply.

After the service I saw my mission team leader and we talked, he was thrilled to see me. The conversation I had with Gil on Friday night was so helpful, and I never realized how loved I am, or that so many people were concerned or cared. After that I saw a couple of girls from my mission team Jamie and Rebekah. Both emailed as to how I was doing when I withdrew, as with you and others I blew them off. I did not say anything to them instead I just ignored them. When I saw them I apologized for what I did. I explained how life was getting to me and how in anger and frustration I pulled back from many people. I asked for their forgiveness for any hurt that I may have caused. I need to get together with several others and seek their forgiveness as well. Just as being forgiven by Rebekah and Jamee I turned around and Chris was there. He wanted to go out to dinner and talk. He was surprised that I attended church given how angry I was with God and others in a dark conversation I had with him earlier in the week. 

So we went to Olive Garden and we talked. His girlfriend was there and he wants to get together on Thursday night and have a deep talk in person.  I asked for his forgiveness if I hurt him. He was excited to see me again. In the days to come I’m going to spend some time reading about anger, pride, as well as grace and forgiveness in scripture. I’ve been such a fool, such a fool, such a fool for how I’ve treated others. As I told Gil and the other guys on Friday night I really need to be vigilant about anger, it can really take a life of its own.

 But I’ve been really amazed and humbled by God’s grace. I was afraid of how some would react and how they showed me a love the felt good. While I know you have forgiven me I feel so sick for treating you poorly before you left town. The truth James is that I really don’t deserve you as a friend and how I treated you just saddens me greatly. I can’t exactly put it into words, there are none to let you know how sorry I am. As a Christ follower I should have looked out for you and guarded your back – not betrayed you, or hut you in anger. Especially with the challenges you face in the upcoming year. I’m sorry bro; sorry for any pain, angst, worry, concern, or grief that I caused you. I’m sorry and I wish there is a way that I could make it up to you. Man I wish there was a way that I could turn back the clock and re-write this story of my life with you.

I love you James I have a screwed up way of showing it, but man I love you. I’m lucky for having known you. Again I’m sorry for how I lived. Is there a way I can make it up to you?

Eagle  

That led James to email the following shortly afterward.

What a long, good email.  I will respond to your last question- You have already made up for it big time!  Just choosing to reconcile was huge for me.  Then initiating contact several times and being interested in our move to Kenya.  It means a lot.  You bought us sweet books for heavens sake.  Thank you Eagle.  I consider you a great friend! James

Since James and his wife were leaving for Kenya I wanted to support them as much as I could, and I researched and purchased two books for them on Kenya. Those books we “Kenya’s Quest for Democracy – Taming Leviathan” by Makau Mutua, and “Culture and Customs of Kenya” by Neal Sobonia. Both books were received well and James and his wife sent me the following email.

Eagle,

Thank you so much for taking the time to research these books and send them to us. That was kind of you. They juts arrived and James had a chance to look through them, I will read them as well.

Hope you are well and that things are going okay for you.

Take care!

Gina

During this time I had scratched together a faith while dealing with doubt, and given how much love I had for James and his friendship with me I had some late nights in the month of August putting together the following letter. I emailed a respective copy to both him and his wife as they left the United States and traveled to Kenya on August 25, 2008. I write this so you can understand my Biblical knowledge and how deeply evangelical I can be.                                                                                                                                                  

 

            James-

 

            Man I’ve been spending some time this past month thinking of what to say to both you and Gina upon arriving in Kenya. In the process some of this came about as a result of random thoughts, driving home, or sitting in my cube at work and having something just pop into my noodle. I’m proud of you bro, more than you can ever imagine, and the point of this letter is to both challenge and encourage you upon arrival. While you can have a great start it’s more important that you have a strong finish. When that happens I look forward to hearing all the stories that you can tell. Also I wrote your wife a separate letter, just as a way to encourage her as well in this process. Definitely you are at the right stage of life to do this, you are young, have no kids, no major financial commitments and it’s good that you are undertaking this endeavor. Not only that but as the spiritual head of your household I commend you for taking the lead on this issue.

            But this brings me to something that I find incredibly exciting and desire to share with you as I hope you can relate. When I lived in Milwaukee the church I attended was called Wooded Hills Bible Church in Washington County. It’s about 15 to 20 minutes north – northwest of Menomonee Falls/Germantown which are both Milwaukee suburbs. Anyhow at the intersection of Highway 164 and Highway Q just down the street from Wooded Hills is this small pioneer cemetery of a nearby Catholic church. I would pass this cemetery each Sunday and sometimes reflect about it and my life. There were actually a couple of times where I parked the car, got out and looked at the old tombstones. As a history buff sometimes I’d think, ‘Man this guy lived during the Civil War, etc..’ In spiritual terms it also made me somber and on many tombstones I carefully noticed how each life had a birth and a death date. And what separated each life is the dash in the middle. That dash James is where you and I are currently at, so for example yours is 1983 –  (?), while mine is 1974 – (?). The only legacy we will leave will be passed down through our children and I believe what will be revealed in heaven. Life is short, work success, material possessions, awards and recognitions, etc.. will all be useless and will fade with us as we disappear into history. 200 years from now many people will not know James or Eagle for that fact. However, the spiritual investments that are made today will be known for all eternity. It is knowledge of this fact which should convict us to live for Christ’s glory.

            There are a few things in scripture that I want to remind you about, and my hope is that you will dwell on this and apply it to where you are at, and where you will be for the next year.

  •   Luke 18:1 – In your new home for the next year be persistent in your prayer life.
  • Luke 18:16, Mark 10:13-16, Matthew 19:13-15 – While in Kenya remember what children and orphans mean to the Lord. Study these scriptures and look at them as how Christ would.
  • Luke 21:4 – When in Nairobi give God 110%, and don’t be luke warm but when you think you can’t give more than you can, give more. Think of it like exercise, when you can’t run any further that is when you need to push harder.
  • John 3:16-17 – Remember God came for all the people in Kenya. From Nairobi to the central highlands in the center region of the country to the Rift Valley in the west. Also recall that God came for the people in Mobassa on the coast, to those in the Chaalibi desert bordering Ethiopia, to the nomads along the Somalia border. God came for them all and he sent his son so that all might know him. Each people group, Kikuyu, Luhya, Meru, etc.. will worship the Lord before the throne according to Revelation 7.
  • John 4:38 – As a farmer remember to harvest souls for the Lord.
  • John 6:35 – In a country that has food shortages, and is hungry for food never lose sight that Jesus is the bread of life and what many Kenyans most need.
  • John 8:18 – Remember that Jesus is the light of the world, and the light in Kenya. Hold him high so that the country knows there is but one person to call God.
  • John 8:34 – While in Kenya remember that you will be tempted, and will encounter many spiritual battles. Resist the temptation and stay away from sin.
  • John 10:14 – For the farmers and herders who you will encounter remember Jesus is the shepherd that they need to follow.
  • John 15:18 – Other religious groups may hate the work that you do, if so remember that Jesus was also hated.
  • John 17:20 – Know that Jesus knew you and Gina planned to go to Kenya in 2008 – 2009 and he prayed for you, and had both of you in mind when you planned to move and serve there. That should give you great comfort to know that God has prayed for you and knows where this will lead.
  • Matthew 5: 3-10 – Know the Beatitudes, and remember whether it be the those in Christian NGO’s working for peace in the country, or those in the Kenya Church who pursue God they will all be blessed in the end. Those who thirst for justice and those widows who are dieing of AIDS in Kibera will also be blessed for the last will come first one day.
  • Matthew 5:27-30 – Temptation will abound in Kenya remember your wife, the body of Christ, and stay committed to being pure. Be blameless Lund.
  • Matthew 5:37- In Kenya whether it be with those who you are giving micro loans to or your next door neighbors; keep your word, it’s a vow that you made with others and God knows to who you are making commitments. Follow through in what you say.
  • Matthew 6:25-34 – Give to the needy, remember the least of these, and God’s plan for them.
  • Matthew 6:25-34 Do not worry about your safety from crime, terrorism, disease, etc.. but remember that God will provide for your needs and has commanded you not to worry.
  • Matthew 7:24 – Obey Jesus, live by the spirit while in Nairobi.
  • Matthew 9:9-13 – When in Kenya associate with the sinner around you, eat at their tables. Have Gina get to know the prostitutes and serve them. Whether it be someone involved in a criminal syndicate, a teenager suffering from AIDS, etc.. spend time with them and tell them the good news.
  • Matthew 12:46-50 – Spend time with your new family in Kenya, get to know them well.
  • Matthew 15:1-9 – Pay attention to the cravings of your heart while in Kenya. Monitor what you desire and remember that you are God’s ambassador.
  • Matthew 18: 1-6 – Stay humble in Kenya, take the attitude of Christ Jesus and serve. Even when this is all over and Kenya becomes part of your history do not be boastful.
  • Matthew 18:12-14 – Realize that one lost sheep in a slum in Nairobi means the world to God. Pursue that lost sheep with reckless abandon and understand that you have an appointment with each sheep encountered.
  • Matthew 20: 20 -28 – Remember to serve others in Kenya.
  • Matthew 21: 31- 44, Mark 12:1 -12 – Realize and understand that corruption amongst farmers can be pervasive. Be on your guard and handle each situation with care and grace. Seek guidance through the Holy Spirit.
  • Matthew 23:37 – While in Kenya love Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love those from all the tribes in Kenya as they are your neighbors.
  • Matthew 24: 9 – 13- This is a good vision of Kenya and the neighboring countries in Africa today. Pay close attention and be careful in this environment.
  • Matthew 25: 14 -21 – Take risks for Jesus in Nairobi
  • Mark 7:24-29 – Be prepared for encountering demons in Kenya, remember with the animist and native religions in the remote areas demons will be around. You and Lydia have all authority to deal with them so take heart.  Your God overcame death, need I say more? J
  • Luke 6:32-36 – Show love to your enemies, lend to them, and show them love.

Oh and by the way I did not put this in Gina’s letter so please share. 

James I do not know how to say this but I want you to know how much you are loved, by Christ first, followed by your wife, and then the church. James I love you deeply as your brother in Christ and please know that I will always be there for you no matter how life turns out. If you became the next Senator from Kansas I will be there for you. If your life falls apart and you are on skid row in Los Angeles, I will gladly make myself available for you and help you out. Outside of Christ you have had an incredible influence on my life and I am so grateful to God that you came across my way. You modeled love and grace in a way that I have not seen. Yeah you have rough spots such as country music, beer and chew – but who does not have a few? Isn’t that what grace is for?  All kidding aside I wish I could have met you several years ago. It would have been great to know you as a friend and have you influence my life when I was new to the faith and fresh out of Mormonism. James as a guy you a rare, and there are not many people like you. At 25 you are incredibly mature, more so than me at 34, and more so than most guys I have interacted with in the church.

            Now you are diving off the deep end and diving into the unknown by going into eastern Africa. While I don’t believe I have mentioned this to my friend Tim Johnson, but one of the reasons why I love him so deeply is his ability to live out his faith and do something crazy for God. In his case he went into rural China and served Christ there for 2 years. It was crazy and yet amazing!!! Now you are your wife are doing something just as similar and my respect and admiration to you has risen considerably. Many people talk about doing mission work, yet few do. They justify that by saying “Well I have a job, bills, or student loans.” “Its just too risky…” etc.. You know the excuses. I salute you and your wife and am amazed. In many cases I am just speechless because you and your wife are among the best ambassadors for Christ that I have known.

            Before I continue I want to remind you about something I learned about God. And that is this: no matter where you go in the world God is good, and His faithfulness and love will follow you wherever you are. View stressful experiences as times of worship and offer them up to Christ. You need to remember that no matter what happens in Kenya God is in control. Realize that God is still good and that he loves you deeply. Hang on to Christ by reading and memorizing the 27th Psalm which I am going to challenge you to memorize.  The next time I see you I will ask you to recite the 27th Psalm. 

            In closing please know that I will always be there for you. I am sorry for having been selfish and letting the D.C. area get to my head when I first met you and through most of the time I knew you. For that I deeply apologize, and as I said in my email I would love to make it up to you however you seem fit. However, I am thinking about doing another mission trip, one of the guys from my London mission team led a trip to Haiti, while my past mission leader is leading an upcoming trip to the Philippines, along with another past female companion. So now I am getting asked about my next plunge, and in all honesty when in London learning about myself I realized the spiritual and mental need of challenging myself on a regular basis. So that said if you want me to help you or Gina out in Nairobi for a week or longer I am open to taking that risk. Otherwise there are so many other trips to select and choose from at NCC. Think and pray about it.  

Please know that I will always be there to support you and Gina for this next year or longer. Reach out to me James if you need prayer, or in a financial bind and need money, or even if you have a desire for particular type of beef jerky that you can only get here in the States. Let me know what I can do to spiritually guard you back, perhaps I can be like Jonathan for you, and I’ll promise you this I will be a prayer warrior for both you and your wife.

At the risk of repeating myself too much I want both of you to know that I love both of you dearly and both of you have been one of the healthiest and mostly Godly influences in my life. Both you and Gina have modeled a Godly marriage, shown love, compassion, purity, passion, and a desire to serve. Its rare to see that in the church, or perhaps I’ve just looked in all the wrong places. Thankful to the Lord is how I feel for having Christ send you my way here in Washington. D.C. Never will I understand the Father’s plans or how He works, but as I’ve been pruned of sin here he sent you along my way to help me grow and recover so that I could serve the body better. For that I thank you and for that I love you deeply and am incredibly grateful. So that said I wish you the best, and know that I am always here for you. If you need me let me know and I’ll help out in any way that I can- even in person if need be.  I love you James.  

Your Bro in Christ

Eagle

Shortly after writing that my faith collapsed in 2009, what I patched together did not work. The 2 month period was a dark preview of what was to come. The doubts overwhelmed me, and I was crushed by the problem of evil. Plus I was haunted and hurt by fundamentalism, and at a vulnerable time in life it came back to bite me. If you want to know what it felt like I tried to the best of my ability to write about it here and here. That 2 month period would foreshadow what would happen for 5 years. In closing I would like to close with a video of Kenya for James and his wife, and also a song that popped in my head as I write this closing.