I knew being a missionary and moving my wife and our seven youngest kids to Kenya would have risks. It is one of the main reasons I prayed for so long against it. For at least five years, as the thoughts and feelings and love for Africa grew stronger and stronger, I prayed nearly every day that God would take the desire away. I was looking at the situation practically, after all. I often thought, “How can a responsible husband and father of 10 be a missionary in a third-world country?” I had so many reasons I had come up with to tell God no; or to at least convince myself that surely God would not call me to be a missionary. I must be mistaken. The thoughts and desires I had must be coming from sinful ambition, or midlife crises, or bad pizza...who knows? But surely not from God. I would constantly add to my list of reasons to doubt: (1) My wife did not want to be a cross-cultural missionary. (2) If we moved to Africa, we would be 9,000 miles away from our three adult children. (3) Weddings would be missed. (4) Grandkids would grow up without us. (5) Just think of everything our seven youngest kids will miss out on. (6) I would be risking the lives of my wife and kids. Whoa...that one stopped me in my tracks the first time I thought of it. What kind of father would jeopardize the lives of his wife and children to chase some crazy dream of preaching the Gospel and caring for orphans and widows in a continent he has never even been to? I mean sure, Jesus gave us the Great Commission, we are to make disciples, but I could keep doing that right where I was in North Texas. It would be irresponsible for me to drag my family across the world to live in a third-world country where the prosperity gospel, witchcraft, and malaria are so prevalent. I couldn’t stand the thought of taking my wife and kids to Africa and one of them, or more, getting hurt or sick or killed as a result. But God…
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7
But God… I could no longer run from His calling. I could no longer resist to serve a God like that, no matter what it might cost me. I had counted the cost of being His disciple (Luke 14:25-33) and could do no other than conclude that everything is secondary to Christ.
But God... continued to flame the fire of desire for Africa all those years, even as I pleaded with Him to distinguish it. Finally, I made a trip to Africa. In April 2016, I headed to Kenya with the president of About-Face Missions, a missions organization I had been volunteering with in order to serve and to test if my desires were truly of God. During that trip I sensed with great clarity that Kenya is where God was calling me. And when I returned home, I received my final confirmation. The most compelling confirmation. As I mentioned earlier, first on my list of reasons not to be a missionary was that my wife did not want to be a missionary. She and I are one. I knew that God would not call me to be a missionary and not her and I refused to try to convince her that this is what God had for us. I knew, if this desire I had was truly of God, He would also make it clear to my bride. And make it clear to her He did; at the very time I was in Africa wondering how I was going to do anything else but come back as a missionary. Not only that, but our seven youngest kids were ready and determined to make the move as well. We started making our plans, selling everything we owned, and saying our goodbyes. By December 2016 we were getting settled in to life in Kenya.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27
Within a few months, the construction of our children’s home was far enough along that we were able to move in and start taking in orphans and at-risk kids. Little did I know that issues were brewing with a local ministry we were working with. As it turns out, there was a plot to have me and my family thrown out of Kenya so that a local “bishop” could take over the home we had built. Many of the lies he and his pastors had been telling us started to come to light, and I suppose the pressure built for him to take action.
It was a typical Kenyan afternoon; sunny and hot. My wife and I were busy with our daily responsibilities of running Mercy Home. The kids were all home from school, some were playing while others were getting some chores done. Our gate-guard notified me that I had visitors. I went to the gate to find the bishop (I will call him “Charles”) and around 10 of his pastors there. Bishop Charles said that they wanted to come inside to talk to me. There had already been some tension and the fact that he came unannounced with so many men made things worse. I told him that we could not meet in the Mercy Home compound, but that I would go with them across the road to the school and we could talk there. As we walked together, Charles began to yell that he was tired of me, they were all tired of me. He then removed his phone from his pocket and told me that he was calling immigration to have me removed from Kenya. I told him that if that was all he wanted to talk about, then there was no reason for us to meet. I turned around and started walking back towards the Mercy Home compound.
Thankfully, years of martial arts training had prepared me for what happened next. I had never trained with a focus on beautiful forms, winning tournaments, or inflicting as much damage as possible. I had always trained with one purpose in mind; if anything ever happened I wanted to keep my family safe and to get home to them, God willing. One of the men with Charles grabbed me and attempted to force me back to the crowd. As I resisted, I saw him move to sweep my legs. I could see the other men quickly coming, and not wanting things to escalate further than they already were, I decided not to go on the offensive. I allowed the leg sweep, but going to the ground, I pulled my attacker off balance. As soon as I hit the ground, I immediately hopped back up and pushed the attacker, creating space for me to run to the gate. As I got to within about 10 feet of the open gate door, I could see the gate-guard also running towards the gate from inside the compound. He had a panicked look on his face, and as he ran through the gate door, exiting the compound and coming towards me, he hit his forehead on the crossbar causing a gash that instantly started bleeding. Within 2-3 seconds after that, my 15 year-old son, Karson, also came running through the gate door, but he was yielding a machete with a determined look on his face.
That was it; the scariest moment of my entire life. I was faced with the reality that my son was prepared to fight 10 men with a machete in order to save his dad. Later, his actions made me proud of him. Later, I added the moment to my favorite list as a Dad; the list of times I realized God is raising up my children to be better people than me. But in the moment, it terrified me. I was completely at peace to face my death if my Lord willed it, but I quickly realized I was not prepared to watch my son die. Scared for his life, I did the only thing I knew to do in that moment. I screamed at him. I yelled at him to get back inside the gate. He did so and I followed right behind him. Fortunately, Karson coming with the machete caused my attackers enough of a panic to allow us time to get in the gate door and secure it. As soon as it shut, we heard pounding and screaming on the other side. Soon, an angry crowd began to form outside our compound. Within a few seconds, large rocks and bricks started hitting the roof as the angry crowd turned into a mob. One rock passed a few inches over my shoulder as others landed near my feet. By this time, all the kids had been secured inside the house. My wife had already contacted friends to bring the police, but who knew how long it would take for them to get there. Every moment that passed, it seemed more likely that the screaming crowd outside would breach the unfinished brick security wall, and knowing something of mob justice in Kenya, I was sure they would kill me.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2
Seeing there was nothing left I could physically do, I prayed, and waited for whatever the Lord willed. Fortunately, our friends quickly arrived with police. The crowd settled down as soon as they saw them with their machine guns. Once inside the compound, the police let our attackers in as well. After speaking with them, they asked Karson and I to go to the police station, as Karson was being accused of attacking the gate-guard with the machete. We soon learned that bishop Charles and some of his pastors, after seeing the guard slash his head on the crossbar, saw it as an opportunity to rid themselves of us. They had told the crowd starting to form outside that Karson attacked the guard with the machete; the one he had yielded in order to save me. The guard, out of fear of the bishop, went along with the lie. That is what caused the crowd to get so angry and start throwing rocks and bricks. Fortunately, after examining the injury at the police station, the police did not believe their story. Later, the gate-guard even confessed at the police station that he was told by bishop Charles and his pastors to lie.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. James 1:2-3
Though many more challenges were to follow, I will save them for additional posts. For now, I will end saying that in this trial and the ones to follow, God in His sovereignty enabled us to count it all joy. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Ro 8:28) God has been so gracious to us, and we thank Him for every opportunity He gives us to serve Him.