Thursday, November 30, 2006

May these minister to you

Psalm 139: 23 "Search me O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts."

Psalm 105:4-5 "Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he pronounced."

Isaiah 43:4 "Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for your life."

Hebrews 12:11 "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

Colossians 1:28-29 "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me."

John 17:5 "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began."
-this points to the fact that Christ became a pilgrim like us by leaving what he had.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Three book reviews

"Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder

I highly recommend this book. It is the story of Dr. Paul Farmer as he basically uses all his experitise as an MD to treat AIDS/TB patients in rural Haiti, Russian prisons, and the slums of Lima. It is very inspiring as he devotes twenty years to treat hundreds of these patients as they would otherwise die through lack of funds and healthcare availability. Farmer has written numerous books and journal articles and considers himself a doctor to the poor.

"East to West" by Ravi Zacharias

This is Ravi's autobiography and is very powerful especially for those interested in evangelism and pastoral ministry. He details how he came from the depths of poverty in India to eventually get opportunities at education through his dads increased business success. He was not a very good student however. He even tried to committ suicide, but has obviously risen to do so many great things in many hard countries for the Lord. It's worth your time.

"Jesus and the Fuhrer" by Ravi Zacharias

This is another addition to the series Ravi does on certain people having a conversation with Jesus. This one features Jesus and Adolf Hitler. He includes the voice of the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer along with others who knew Hitler. It gives a powerful picture of the gospel as it is explained in many ways through Hitler's endless questions and misunderstandings.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

November 06 Update

Dear Supporters,

Psalm 94:18-19 “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”

This passage has been of great encouragement to me lately. It is good to know that when tough times come, he is there to keep us from falling. He even knows our thoughts and can comfort us. As you can see above, falling can be a very bad thing when rappelling. Rappelling is analogous to missions/ministry. There is a lot of faith and trust that must be built. I was able to spend some time outdoors while training in Colorado. My journey in Ethiopia no doubt will be a testimony of God’s faithfulness in keeping me from falling. In fact, his faithfulness has already been made manifest in my journey. In March, I randomly and hesitantly stipulated October 31st as my date to have all my support. I am excited to declare that he provided over 100% of my need before that date!

I have bought my one-way plane ticket to Africa and will be leaving Memphis on Saturday morning December 2nd. I am not excited about saying goodbye to people, but it helps that my commitment is only short-term. It is important that my monthly supporters begin sending in gifts in December if they are not giving through automatic deduction.

My training in Colorado has been very fruitful in preparing me for the field. We have discussed many in depth issues that missionaries go through such as conflict resolution, personal soul care, and the importance of keeping the Sabbath. Honestly, I romanticized missions when I made my commitment. This training has been like a painful shot in the arm and has sobered me to what I have committed to. But hopefully with that shot will come very important preventative immunity or awareness to what is to come. I am on the boat towards Normandy, but I have now been given armor and a gun. I have found the training helpful for Ethiopia as well as my life in ministry.

The plan at this point is for me to spend most of December assimilating and settling into the culture and meeting my team members. Then, in January, I will do language school in the morning, and in the afternoon I will learn my place in the ministry and meet the beneficiaries. I am very excited to serve all the many needs the team and patients have. My team leader has informed me that I will have a cell phone there so the team can keep in touch throughout the city during the workday. I will give you that number in my next update. You can buy cheap calling cards on

It is scary to think that I am about to leave. The Lord will do amazing things in my life to prepare me for seminary and a life of service as well as enriching the lives of those hurting in Addis. Thanks for making this happen. My next email will be from Africa!

Prayer requests

1. Ability to say a temporary goodbye to people while feeling a sustained call to do this work.
2. Safety in flying home from Colorado on November 17th and flying to Ethiopia on December 2nd.
3. That the Lord would bring together all the details (shots, packing, visa/passports) that need to come together before I leave. It can be stressful.
4. That the Lord would prepare the team and the work in Ethiopia for me, so that I would be less of a hindrance and more of a help to all involved.
5. That I would adjust quickly to my new environment so I would be able to begin serving quickly.
6. That I would have “elastic” relationships with my friendships that won’t fracture while I’m gone.
7. I am still somewhat grieving the loss of my college friendships. I would appreciate prayers for how to move through that process.

In Him,

Jim Plunk
Missionary to Ethiopia

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ethiopian Coffee and Fair Trade

I just saw the documentary called "Black Gold", which is about how the coffee industry has negatively affected the Ethiopian Coffee farmers. I suggest looking on their website, , and see if when it is playing in your area. There is also a trailer on the website you can watch. Basically, the coffee industry has become second only to oil in the global market. With this boost, many companies have profited included Starbucks, Nestle, Proctor and Gamble, and two others. But the farmers are only getting paid about 1 Birr in Ethiopian currency, which is about 8 cents per kilo. They simply can't live on their income. Their co-operative leader is trying to talk buyers into giving them 10 Birr (50 cents), but the farmers say even 5 Birr would radically change their life. They are being forced to grow "chat" alongside their coffee. Chat is a narcotic that is widely used in East Africa and sells for about 35-50 Birr. They do this "not because they want to, but to avoid death." You need to watch this documentary.

On another note:
I also went to the Airforce academy for church this morning. It is a beautiful campus and it was snowing. The worship was good, but too bad the chaplain barely cracked open the bible during the sermon. The world needs good preachers.

Oh and I went rappelling yesterday for the first time. It was a lot of fun, but scary. You have to conquer your fears and really put your faith in the ropes. The experience is very analagous to missions and ministry in general. I'll put up some pictures when I get them.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A project update from my team leader

Missionary: Andy &Beverly Warren
Mission Board: MTW
Location: Ethiopia

November 7, 2006

Dear Friends,

When Bev and I started working with AIDS patients one of our
principles was that we would always do everything we could for the
people God brought to us. If someone needed food, we provided it.
If they needed medicine or medical care, we found a way to get it for
them. If their children needed school fees or a uniform, we provided.

Sometimes people thought they needed things and we disagreed and we
reserved the right to refuse. Selam, one of the children on
treatment, thought a television was a necessity, but we decided she
could survive without one.

Over the last four years what people need has changed. At the start
we spent a lot of our budget on funerals. Now we spend more on wrist
watches because people taking AIDS drugs need to take their medicines
on time and a watch with an alarm is a big help.

Besides changes in how we work and spend money we have changed in
other ways. One of the biggest changes has been in the number of
people in the project. We have grown to 220 AIDS-affected families,
which means we work with about 600 people.

We started work in one small part of Addis Ababa called Lideta and
this month we expanded into a new community. Bole (pronounced bo
lay) is usually thought of as the "rich" part of Addis Ababa, but as
we explored where the greatest needs are we kept being directed to
Bole. We found extreme poverty and need and found that these people
were being passed over by all the other organizations helping people
with AIDS because they lived in the wrong place.

After visiting with national, city and local officials, and after
visiting several slum areas and doing household surveys we selected
one community in Bole to begin a second project. A very generous
donor has funded the first year of this work, and we have started
screening and registering new beneficiaries.

We are looking for a small office in the community and hope to be up
and running by December. We have asked the local government office
to help us find a good place for an office and they will take us to
see several places later this week.

Some things we need prayer about.

As we begin taking in new beneficiaries pray that they will see and
hear the Gospel and respond.
Covering two areas is stretching the project staff. Pray for Danny,
Mekedes and Darci as they visit potential beneficiaries and begin
their screenings, and pray that God will bring us new staff members
with hearts to serve.
Pray that we will find an office in Bole that beneficiaries can
easily walk to and that will have enough space for project activities
and offices.
Pray for our current beneficiaries. Many are on treatment and doing
well, but others struggle with depression, difficult family
situations and frequent illness.
Pray for new beneficiaries. Many are sick, malnourished and
homeless. Pray for wisdom in caring for them.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

New Life Church and Ted Haggard

Each weekend the organiation training me has stipulated that we are to go to churches that are out of our comfort zones. So, I went to Ted Haggard's church here in Colorado Springs called New Life Church. For those who don't know, he was dismissed today as senior pastor for sexual immorality. The church is non-denominational, charismatic and has 14,000 members. The service was very interesting.

Here's a bit of the story from CNN.

I stood the whole time because there was so many people there. The ushers all had small microphones on so they could coordinate where more seats were available. Many had to sit outside in the foyer. The service was contemporary with guitars, drums, a 100 man choir, and everyone in the first 10 rows jumping up and down. The music was good praise songs and the worship seemed powerful and well meant.

They established an interim pastor today who made some good comments about their church polity. They have about 70 deacons and a session made up of senior pastors from other churches. These people met last week when legal charges were brought against Haggard. As I already said, the interim pastor told the congregation that Haggard is being dismissed, so his sin was not glossed over. Then he said that this was an opportunity for forgiveness and reconciliation and that was the goal of this team of pastors. He read in Timothy about the characteristics of overseers and that their serious sins should be publicly brought up, which it was.

So there was a sense of sin being dealt with, but also reconciliation as a goal while still tending to the needs of the flock. Last week we were taught about dissonance and that difference is not always right/wrong. This service gave me a lot to think about in regards to how I think the church should be run and look like. I do not like churches that are that big because the sense of fellowship and discipleship is easily lost, which I think are essential. They do have lots of small groups to combat this, but you just can't know everyone in that church.

I also struggle with non-denominational churches since they lose a lot of needed structure and accountability. This church did a good job of trying to create a session of elders/overseers, but they aren't even from that church and probably most people don't even know them or the 70 deacons. However, it sounded like the church and pastors will handle this situation in a biblical manner.

Both Haggard and his wife had letters read to the congregation today that they wrote. Ted confessed that he was in sin and that all of this was his fault. His wife stated that she is wife Ted till death does them part and hopes their actions through this are a witness. Both were powerful letters.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pike's Peak

The brighter side of my job.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ecclesiology, Cultural Relativism, Language Games

Okay, this is a huge philosophical/theological post based on discussions we had today at training. Many questions circled around the concept of church in a cross-cultural setting. In a cross-cultural setting, what is eternally true and what is culturally true. For example, what do we do about infant baptism or even the Lord’s supper? These are things I would argue are necessary in a church, but what modes do you use? And is it only an ordained person who can perform these functions as well as preaching? What if a minister is not around or what if they went to some weird seminary with dissimilar beliefs? What about dancing in church, which could be the case in Africa? Is this inappropriate for worship or is that our culture talking? There is the concept of what do we consider essential to Christian praxis and what is negotiable. What about the gifts of healing and tongues? We believe many of these gifts were held for the apostles, but many missionaries have stories of healings etc. Should these people be barred from church work or sharing testimonies? These views are incredibly practical because if a person becomes a Christian overseas what kind of church would you send them to.

Also, it says in the bible that bribes are bad. What if I am imprisoned and will be tortured for 3 months, or just be in a jail where I will likely catch nasty diseases. Acts 24:24-27 says that Paul was kept in prison by the government. He often was in prison and it didn’t seem like his followers would get him out, but only tend to his needs. Would you commit to a fast rule of never paying the bribe even if it’s your wife or kid? Or would you pray as a family/team that patience is needed to see if the Lord will work amidst suffering. Many Chinese pastors, as nationals, are under incredible pressure to not run house churches. They are often arrested and tortured for days. A guy with me at training who is going to China said that he knows of a pastor who said, “Please tell your western supporters to not pray for the torturing to cease, but that the Lord may accomplish his will through it.” So what do you do about bribes or ransoms?

Theology of Suffering Excersus
We also discussed a theology of suffering. Basically it echoes the Chinese pastor. What are we focused on, the temporal circumstances that we can see, or the Lord’s perfect will, which we can’t see. Maybe by losing our luggage, experiencing death, etc we have a rough time, but the Lord uses that to bring us and others closer to him. Psalm 84 speaks about pilgrims passing through the Valley of Baca and making it a place with pools. Baca means suffering. By us passing through the Valley of Suffering, we experience God, and therefore can provide refreshment/help to others. This is a very different attitude from our culture, which tells us to flee pain and run for comfort/happiness. Our culture says pain is bad, but God says it has uses. Notice how the former is self-centered and the latter service centered and even empowering for those who have had traumatic/devastating experiences. In regards to living by faith, Hebrews 11 is a great chapter, one of the best in the bible in my opinion. It depicts people stepping out in faith, not sight, and doing things that sometimes gained glory (conquered kingdoms, administered justice) and sometimes accomplished things through suffering (stoned, sawed in two, death by sword). The question is what/who are you living for? Is it to know the Lord and make him known through your life, or to preserve your comfort/happiness?

Cultural Relativism/Language Games
We know as Christians that values are not culturally relative. But Australians come here and see paying tips as bribes. And Africans could see bribes as tips. But then we could be promoting a corrupt African government and system. The early 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein had a theory called language games. He said in society/culture there are many different spheres of life and each has different language games. (I haven’t studied this in a while so this might be rough). For example, in the Australian sphere of life the language game for bribes is different than the language game for bribes for Americans. However, one could not say that one was better or more right than the other. They are just different. You can see that he had a profound influence on the development of postmodernism. I understand the many arguments against relativism and how it basically negates the entire concept of “truth” since “truth” is, by nature, exclusive. But in these contexts with practical applications with real people there aren’t easy answers.

It is the goal of the missionary to not step on cultural mores of their host culture, but to also not commit sin by following wrong habits or customs. Maybe they have something right and we are wrong and maybe it's the opposite. So whether in Ecclesiology or actual practical decisions or both, the question is “Is this essential to my belief system or is this culturally negotiable?” And the problem is that there usually is not a clear answer. Most of us do not have the mental categories to process these questions because we’ve never seen the world/reality outside our own cultural glasses. It can be hard to even ask some of these questions especially about the church. But it is possible that many of our beliefs are culturally tainted. We have been show that as missionaries if it critical to know and be able to defend what we believe. Personally, I would argue that it is important not only for missionaries and church workers but for all Christians to be able to do this. That’s actually biblical. Yes, this requires studying and thinking, which I like.

There was a lot more cultural stuff, but this is a start. For the record, I am still Reformed Presbyterian and not a cultural relativist. But I am a thinker interested in these issues and being open/honest about them in that my system might not have all the right answers. Now I will sit in my room and stare at the wall for the rest of the evening to recover from 8 hours of social interaction and thinking deeply.