“We had a Field Day out there today.”

I think this picture makes me look exceedingly cool. The fact that I think that probably makes me exceedingly not.

I think this picture makes me look exceedingly cool. The fact that I think that probably makes me exceedingly not.

This post will go up roughly one hour after the completion of the 7th annual WECC Field Day (here is the newspaper write-up from 2013’s edition). At this event, ETBU students put on a series of physical activities for roughly 280 students from the Washington Early Childhood Center here in Marshall. Despite the fact that WECC’s students are 3 and 4 years-old, things actually run pretty smoothly, and since we don’t have Toby come take pictures with the kids anymore, we don’t have those 4 or 5 kids per year that participate in abject terror. We want it to be fun, after all.

Terrified kids aside, Toby used to always seem to enjoy the experience.

Terrified kids aside, Toby used to always seem to enjoy the experience.

When people ask me how it started, I tell them that it “originated” as a major project grade for KINE 4301 Organization and Administration. Since then, due to my teaching different courses in the department, the activity then passed on to KINE 2303 Lifespan Motor Development and now to KINE 2309 Teaching K-5 Physical Education.  However, that isn’t exactly how it got started.

The following paragraph is an excerpt from my written comps for my PhD from the University of Arkansas. It was written only a couple of weeks after my being hired for my current position at ETBU, although I had not yet completed my dissertation. (Side note: before reading this response, my academic advisor there was not happy with my decision.)

“5. What specific areas are you interested in researching? Why?

I am interested in studying/implementing lifelong activities and community activity programs. As young children, we have plenty of opportunities to take part in sports: soccer, baseball, basketball. As we get older, those opportunities fade. As adults, there are little or no opportunities for social interactions in physical activity unless we join an expensive club or league, and most team sports become impractical as we get older and our bodies break down. Not all people can afford to do activities that they want to do, and not all people that can afford to want to participate. Through ETBU, I want to eventually do things like community play days and free health seminars to encourage people to keep exercising. I want to eventually help the local school develop a curriculum in the high school P.E. programs that emphasizes lifetime activities like aerobics, jogging, and weight training rather than kickball and wiffleball. Through the city of Marshall, I want to possibly develop public walking trails and cleaner parks to encourage physical activity. It is far too easy now to get home from work, be mentally drained, and blow the rest of the day watching TV or surfing the Internet. People want to be entertained, and unless we as Kinesiologists make an effort to extend enjoyable activity beyond K-12 and college-age, what have we really done but delayed the inevitable activity drop-off? Why not eliminate that drop-off? That is what interests me.”

Today’s post is about goals.

Even before those goals were written down in 2007, they had been written on my heart. Everyone is driven differently. There have been several times in which people have asked me “where do you see yourself in 5 (or 10) years?”, and I can’t answer the question to their satisfaction. As an adult, I have never had any goals beyond being a good husband, being a good father, and doing what I am called to do. That last part is what confuses people, because it is hard to quantify “doing what I am called to do.” However, I believe through our life experiences and through a “still quiet voice” God speaks to us about what it is we should be doing and should be pursuing. Any personal planning beyond that seems futile. That is not to say that a person shouldn’t plan at all; it’s just that “the Plan” shouldn’t be the end-all be-all. After all, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

Now, because I think that way doesn’t mean that others are right or wrong about their own approach. God creates us in different ways for different reasons. If a person says “I want to be a Head Coach/President/CEO in x years” and he or she doggedly pursues that goal because that is what God placed in the heart, then go for it! Conversely, just because I do not desire to be a Head Coach/President/CEO today doesn’t mean I am incapable of doing so or that God won’t put that calling in heart later or that I won’t be needed to serve in such a capacity unexpectedly. For example, I began a 3-year stint as the Kinesiology Department Chair when I had just turned 28 because I was unexpectedly needed, and just last year I fulfilled a “dream” of serving as a head coach at the college level.

Of course, it was in tennis and not basketball, but it still counts!

(This is video hilarious and feels like 100 years ago.)

Just a 1/3 clock-wise swivel of my desk chair away at all times.

Just a 1/3 clock-wise swivel of my desk chair away at all times.

I keep that excerpt from my comps next to my office desk to keep focused on those professional goals that God has placed on my heart when I started this position at ETBU.

I have met some of those goals, but in my estimation, I have not met near enough. The WECC Field Day is part of reaching those goals. In Marshall, Texas, there are now 10-year-olds that took part in Year One of the Field Day that hopefully have positive memories of having participated in physical activities at ETBU in a fun environment. In the Spring, for only the second time, one of my classes will be putting on a workshop for local Physical Education teachers. Part of that is exposing local Physical Education teachers to “a curriculum…that emphasizes lifetime activities”.

What does all of this have to do with “when faith and academic disciplines collide”?

In two weeks, early academic advising for the Spring semester begins.

Here is what is right next to students as I help them “plan their course”.

Here is what is right next to students as I help them “plan their course”.

During these meetings, I always ask the students “What do you want to do with your life?”, and they answer. Then, I look at them much more sternly, and I ask “What are you supposed to do with your life?… Why did God put you on the planet?” When advising my students, both academically and in life, if I can exhibit the important of those “supposed to” goals over the “want to” goals (ideally they would be the same), I feel that I have done my job as academic advisor, which by the way, is part God’s purpose for me at ETBU.


If you’ll be my sunny day, I’ll be your shade tree

Photo Credit: DaveLawler via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: DaveLawler via Compfight cc

Maybe it was moving to Texas. Maybe it was watching The Voice. Maybe it was a Pizza Hut commercial. But lately, I’ve really been enjoying Blake Shelton’s music.

Judge me if you must, but I’ve always thought he seems like a genuine guy, and I’m always impressed with celebrity couples who can stay married for longer than a few days. Blake is married to Miranda Lambert (a country star in her own right), if you were wondering :)

Why am I talking about Blake Shelton today? Well, to be honest, I heard his Honey Bee song this morning, and it has been stuck in my head all day!

It is a catchy, sweet song! You can click here for the YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZjosn2u1gA, or read the lyrics below

“Honey Bee”

Girl, I been thinkin’ ’bout us
And you know I ain’t good at this stuff
These feelings pilin’ up won’t give me no rest
This might come out a little crazy
A little sideways, yeah maybe
I don’t know how long it’ll take me but I’ll do my best

You’ll be my soft and sweet
I’ll be your strong and steady
You’ll be my glass of wine
I’ll be your shot of whiskey
You’ll be my sunny day
I’ll be your shade tree
You’ll be my honeysuckle
I’ll be your honey bee

Yeah, that came out a little country
But every word was right on the money
And I got you smilin’ honey right back at me
Now hold on ’cause I ain’t done
There’s more where that came from
Well you know I’m just havin’ fun, but seriously

If you’ll be my Louisiana
I’ll be your Mississippi
You’ll be my Little Loretta
I’ll be your Conway Twitty
You’ll be my sugar, baby
I’ll be your sweet iced tea
You’ll be my honeysuckle
I’ll be your honey bee

Your kiss just said it all
I’m glad we had this talk
Nothing left to do but fall in each others arms
I coulda said “I love you”
Coulda wrote you a line or two
Baby, all I know to do is speak right from the heart

If you’ll be my soft and sweet
I’ll be your strong and steady
You’ll be my glass of wine
I’ll be your shot of whiskey
You’ll be my sunny day
I’ll be your shade tree
You’ll be my honeysuckle
I’ll be your honey bee

You’ll be my Louisiana
I’ll be your Mississippi
You’ll be my Little Loretta
I’ll be your Conway Twitty
You’ll be my sugar baby
I’ll be your sweet iced tea
You’ll be my honeysuckle
And I’ll be your honey bee

I’ll be your honey bee 

Photo Credit: R.H.Sumon™ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: R.H.Sumon™ via Compfight cc

Am I crazy, or does this describe God’s plan for marriage? 

Ok, I am a little crazy, but given what I’ve heard Blake Shelton say about God and marriage, I don’t think I’m completely wrong!

I think we’re all pretty familiar with the Genesis story…

Genesis 2:18, 21-23
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper that is right for him. … 21 So the Lord God put the man to sleep as if he were dead. And while he was sleeping, He took one of the bones from his side and closed up the place with flesh. 22 The Lord God made woman from the bone which He had taken from the man. And He brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She will be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother, and will be joined to his wife. And they will become one flesh.

One of the many things that can be taken from this passage is that men and women aren’t meant to be alone. God made women for men, to complete them, to help them.

And this is the main message of Honey Bee, I think.

It doesn’t work for all the lyrics, but you certainly can’t have sweet tea without sugar. And you wouldn’t need a tree for shade if it wasn’t sunny outside.

Whether you phrase it in terms of Southern charm and a catchy tune, or not, the fact remains that men and women need each other. And I always love when God’s message comes out in pop culture!

Not to burst your bubble, but in the interest of ethical blogging, it must be noted that Blake Shelton did not write this song. In fact, Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip did.

But I’d like to think that Blake really believes in what he’s singing – otherwise, it wouldn’t be so popular, right?

In a recent interview in Redbook magazine, Blake described how important his wife is to him, and gave his advice on being a good husband.

Photo Credit: Daniel CJ Lee via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Daniel CJ Lee via Compfight cc

 “I think you’ve got to be confident and a little bit of a pushover. Obviously, you’ve got to be a loyal person. I’m never going to listen to someone trash my wife. I think you have to be willing to take a bullet for somebody if you’re going to stand up there, take your vows, and be married to them for the rest of your life.”

Sage marriage advice from the expert!

Ok, obviously, God is the real expert. He knew Adam could not do it without Eve, just like He knows how much I need my husband, and how much every marriage depends on the partners relying on each other.

A beautiful plan, don’t you think?

“I Knocked on Every Door but Now What?” A Skype Session with Naghmeh Abedini

Pastor Saeed Abedini has languished in prison in Iran for more than 800 days.

Screenshot of Save Saeed Campaign

Screenshot of Save Saeed Campaign

On Monday, October 20, 2014, Naghmeh Abedini participated in a Skype session with students, staff and faculty at East Texas Baptist University describing her own personal journey of faith and offering an update on the situation facing her husband.

Raised in Iran, Saeed’s journey to personal transformation grew out of a surprising origin: his desire to kill an Iranian pastor whom Saeed heard say, “Jesus is God.”  This process culminated in a series of visions of Jesus that led Saeed to convert from Islam to Christianity.

Married in 2004, Saeed and Naghmeh eventually became important leaders in a rapidly growing underground house church movement of over one hundred churches located in thirty cities.  However their activities increasingly brought them to the attention of the Iranian government and late one night in 2004 they were arrested along with one of the house church pastors by the Revolutionary Guard.  Naghmeh recounted how one of the guards held a gun to her head and said, “If you are a Christian you will die” and promised her certain torture and rape.

Miraculously, all three were released and the following year the young family would transition to Boise, Idaho where Naghmeh had been primarily raised.  However this 2004 experience would foreshadow what was to come.

With government approval, in 2009 Saeed and Naghmeh helped open an orphanage in Iran and for the next three years Saeed would complete multiple short-term trips to Iran to assist in the work of building this important and officially sanctioned humanitarian project.  After a three week trip in July 2012 and not long before he was to board a plane and return to the United States, Saeed was pulled off a bus, arrested by the Revolutionary Guard, and sentenced to eight years imprisonment under charges  related to protecting the national security of Iran.

The ensuing five months were filled with forceful interrogation, regular torture, confinement in horrible conditions, and provision of only the most minimum bread and water.  Saeed continues to suffer from injuries sustained during this period.  Though the intensity of his torture would decrease beginning in January 2013, pastor Saeed continues even today to receive periodic beatings as well as solitary confinement and according to one recent report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, “subjugation to three months of a constantly lit cell with a brief glimpse of sunlight once a week.”

Now into the third year of Saeed’s imprisonment, this time has been difficult for the Abedini family and perhaps most especially for their two children who at ages eight and six have not seen their father for more than two years.  Two months ago the children released an emotional video appeal to President Obama to intervene on behalf of their father.

While acknowledging these real challenges, Naghmeh also noted, “we forget that part of our Christian walk is to suffer for Christ… From the days of the Apostles people have paid the price.”

Conversation with Naghmeh Abedini at East Texas Baptist University

Conversation with Naghmeh Abedini at East Texas Baptist University

Naghmeh further described that while she had previously prayed and read the Bible in a consistent manner; in many respects her Christian faith had exhibited only minimal actual dependency on God.  This has dramatically changed as she has been released from worry and anxiety and in the midst of this crisis the Lord has become exceedingly and intimately real.  As Naghmeh noted, for many Christians “Christ can become a theory, a thought, a story” but at the end of time “Jesus is going to ask do you know me?”

Naghmeh’s own personal background perhaps helped prepare her for these years.  Born in Iran her first years were spent witnessing the wrenching effects of the Iran-Iraq war including seeing the homes of friends bombed and the remains of scattered dead bodies.  When her family relocated to the United States, Naghmeh and her brother became Christians.  Though her parents would also eventually become followers of Christ, from the ages of 9 to 18, Naghmeh and her brother were closely scrutinized by her family for their beliefs, forbidden from going to church and denied the use of a Bible within their home.

Today Naghmeh continues to live in Boise, Idaho and work for the release of her husband Saeed.  These endeavors have led her across the world including sharing in front of multiple Parliaments, at the United Nations Human Rights Council, and at the 2014 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.

The challenge now, according to Naghmeh, is to keep hope alive.  Despite statements by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, little actual advocacy work has been undertaken by the United States government on behalf of American pastor Saeed.  As
Naghmeh herself noted, “I have knocked on every door and now what?”

Though there are definite complexities related to advocacy and Iran, Christians and others of good will could undertake the following four steps to help encourage an end to the incarceration of Saeed Abedini:

  1. Pray.  In particular, Naghmeh requested prayers for continued hope both for Saeed and for the family and friends working on his behalf.
  2. Remain Informed.  Efforts to help Saeed actively utilize social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter that can be easily accessed and shared.
  3. Advance the Story and Particular Situation of Saeed.  Standing in solidarity with those who face religious persecution is often accomplished through the careful attention and advancement of known individuals.
  4. Contact Government Officials.  While official statements are beneficial, a sustained campaign to release Saeed is only possible when multiple government officials across the spectrum are working towards a similar end.  Contact your elected representatives and send a message of encouragement to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry requesting their further efforts to #SaveSaaed.

As Naghmeh concluded her conversation with East Texas Baptist University she reflected, “It would be a miracle from God for [Saeed] to be released anytime soon.”  Let us work towards that miracle.


Assumptions and Choices

(Note: some of the imagery in this week’s post deals with a mature subject that may bother some readers. However, it must be understood that situations like those described DO occur and thus it is appropriate to discuss in a college course.)

One of the great things about my job is that I get to teach a wide-variety of courses. There is always something new to teach and some new challenge in how to best-teach that material, depending on the way that group of students would use that information.

I once taught a now-defunct course called Health and Fitness for Elementary Schools, in which I was tasked with teaching all K-8 Health TEKS to a group that was generally about 50% Elementary Education majors (they had to take it) and 50% people taking the course as an upper-level elective towards a Kinesiology degree. It was a truly unique demographic mix of students.

As part of that class, students presented over assigned health topics; part of that assignment entailed creating questions from each of the levels on Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy. In that context, two of my students that were not Elementary Education majors came up with the original version of the question posed below; since then I have made very small changes to the question, re-purposing it and re-using it in that class (until I stopped teaching it) and in other courses. It has turned out to be the question I use in classes that creates the best discussions: “Susie Goes to a Party”.

“Susan goes over to her friend’s house for a party. She decides to wear her really short denim skirt and a low-cut halter top. When she gets there she has a few drinks. A cute guy starts flirting with her, and she flirts back. They decide to go into a bedroom, where it is quieter, so that they can talk. He then rapes her. Is it Susan’s fault or not? [If you want, assign a percentage of blame to each of the people involved.] Support your answer.”

After that first time it was used in class, I made it a required take-home writing assignment each subsequent semester of Health and Fitness in Elementary Schools. In general, probably 90%+ plus of all of the students would assign some percentage of blame to Susie; I would estimate that in the writing assignment about 1/3 of the class would say it was at least 50% her fault. After the assignment was graded, we would spend a significant amount of time, up to an entire 80-minute class period, discussing the scenario and all of its related implications, especially as it relates to health.

There are a variety of discussable factors brought up in that question, ranging from drinking, to appropriate dress, to sexual practices, to the role friends should serve in social contexts, to rape drugs, and so on. What I have found most-remarkable about it is the layers of subtext that it has. What do I mean?


When you read the question, you automatically make some assumptions. You generally base those assumptions on your prior experiences. Go read the question again. I’ll wait…most college students imagine Susie as a college girl that goes to an off-campus party of some kind, drinks alcohol, is overly flirtatious, and then is raped.

But the question does not say those things; the reader assumes them.

Yes, maybe Susie is at a kegger, but what if Susie is an older adult at a swingers party? Does your percentage of blame to her change then? What if Susie is a 9-year-old at a child’s birthday party, the drink is literally Kool-Aid, and the “cute guy” is an older man? Do you feel more sympathy for Susie then? What if the party is a kegger, except that something was slipped into Susie’s drinks? What if Susie is known to be promiscuous? What if Susie was a virgin prior to the party? What if Susie’s name were something more suggestive of a specific race? How might that sway your opinion? (To really go next level, what if Susie was “Steve” and the “cute guy” was a “cute girl’?)

Anyone seen Jurassic Park? Right after this scene the group is taken to a lab and it is explained that the dinosaurs are re-created using incomplete DNA and that the gaps are filled in with that of frogs. In other words, the scientists are filling in the unknown with their “best guess”. SPOILER ALERT: it doesn’t work out very well. Similarly, if we do not know the entire picture of a person or a situation, we should look a little closer to find out what we want to know (2nd video with episode 109) rather than just guessing based on our very limited experiences.

That is a tremendous lesson for all of us to learn, and especially so for college students.


To be clear, at the end of every discussion of the “Susie” question, I would make sure that the students were told that no matter the scenario, rape is always 0% the fault of the victim and always 100% the fault of the perpetrator. Period. End of discussion. If you are raped, it is NOT YOUR FAULT.

Billboard that went up in Marshall over the last couple of weeks. There is another that says "Just because I was drunk doesn't mean I said yes!", or something to that effect.

Billboard that went up in Marshall over the last couple of weeks. There is another that says “Just because I was drunk doesn’t mean I said yes!”, or something to that effect.

That said, from a teaching perspective our students must know there are choices we make that do expose us to risk. During the discussion on the “Susie” question I would ask “What are some things Susie could have done differently?” Here were some common answers:

  • Not gone to the party at all.
  • Not dressed provocatively (if she did).
  • Not had alcohol (if she did).
  • Not led him on (many students assumed this).
  • Not gone into a private situation with a stranger (or for that matter, with someone you know, as “acquaintance rape is the most common type of rape”).
  • Made sure that anything she ingested was “vetted” in some way, i.e. bring your own food/drink, don’t drink from an open punch bowl, don’t let a guy give you a potentially manipulated drink, etc.
  • Attended the party with friends with the express purpose to watch out for one another.

There were other suggestions, but those were the major ones; the common thread is that they all involve a choice.

The vast majority of human health comes down to making wise choices. Yes, some health problems exist that are outside of our control (more on this later), but the vast majority of health comes down to choices. You can choose to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. Do you exercise, avoid alcohol and other drugs, get flu vaccinations, floss, wear a seatbelt, or not expose yourself to unnecessary risk?

It is tremendously important that we impart upon our students that making wise choices is vital to health, both on this earth and elsewhere. If we can do that, maybe we can help save future “Susies” (no matter the nature of the risk behavior) from unnecessary despair.


Like eagles y’all!

“East Texas? Why do you want that job?”

Photo Credit: Patrick Feller via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Patrick Feller via Compfight cc

“Are you sure you like it here?”

“What’s in Marshall, Texas anyway?”

“Isn’t that far from home?”

I’ve been getting questions like these ever since we moved to Marshall – mostly from my parents and grandma – because they just don’t see the whole picture.

If I’m honest, I don’t really see it either. But that’s ok. God does. It’s just our job to trust Him.

In fact, I’ve moved around more than you’re average young adult. And my parent’s aren’t even in the military!

I was born in Shreveport, LA. We lived there until I was 7, when we moved to Euless, TX  because of my dad’s job. When I was 10, we moved to Omaha, NE, again because of my dad’s job. Then I got my bachelor’s degree at Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln, NE. I moved to Saint Louis, MO to get my Masters at Saint Louis University, and moved to Lawrence, KS to get my PhD.

For those of you keeping score, that means moving to Marshall was my my 6th move!

Photo Credit: Frenkieb via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Frenkieb via Compfight cc

My dear, sweet husband has been with me for two of those moves. And that’s a lot for most people we know! Not to mention six!!

Has the path always been clear? Absolutely not!

There were a few veeeeeeeeery long months where I was about to finish my Masters degree, didn’t know where to apply for PhD programs, wasn’t getting accepted anywhere, couldn’t get a regular job, and almost lost all hope.

But then I got accepted at the University of Kansas – my ideal program! I prayed about it, and God said that He told me to wait, and everything would work out.

When I was about to finish my PhD, I had some choices available. I was receiving a tuition grant in exchange for teaching undergrad Communication classes, and it would have been possible for me to stretch out the work on my dissertation another year, and just stay in Kansas for the 2013-2014 school year. I was comfortable there, so I thought I’d just see what kind of jobs were out there to apply for.

There were some veeeeeeeeeeeeery long months where I was looking for jobs, applying, and getting rejection letters. I was thinking that maybe I was supposed to just apply for  positions again the following year, because NOTHING was working out.

But then I got a job at ETBU – my ideal program! I, very excitedly, prayed about it, and God said that He told me to wait, and everything would work out.

Sometimes, in moments like these, God’s voice sounds a little sarcastic to me – like, silly, you know that I will take care of you and that I have a plan, you just aren’t patient enough to see it through. Does that happen to anyone else?

Throughout all of this, I continually turned to Isaiah 40:31. I even had a sticky note on my computer with that verse, so that I would see it every time I sat down to fill out ANOTHER application.

Isaiah 40:31 New Life Version (NLV)

31 But they who wait upon the Lord will get new strength. They will rise up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weak.

Does anyone remember that scene in Remember the Titans where the large, white football player recites this verse in song? That’s how I always think of it :)

If you need a refresher, check out this clip:


Well, the moral of this long, drawn out story is that God ALWAYS has a plan.

Photo Credit: EladeManu via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: EladeManu via Compfight cc

And it is ALWAYS better than any plan you or I could dream up. We just have to wait to find out what it is, which is definitely the hard part.

Since coming to Marshall, other wonderful things have happened to me and my family, and it is a constant reassurance that we really are living out God’s plan, and it feels good!

I know that lots of students are staring graduation in the face right now, or in six months, and it is scary.

But take it from me, God’s in your corner, and things will work out if you just wait for His plan!


Human Trafficking: A Practical Response

On Friday, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The Norwegian Nobel Committee recognized Yousafzai and Satyarthi “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Photo Credit: Ira Gelb via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Ira Gelb via Compfight cc

In an interview with the Associated Press, Satyarthi noted:

Child slavery is a crime against humanity.  Humanity itself is at stake here.  A lot of work still remains but I will see the end of child labor in my lifetime.

Unfortunately, slavery remains all too prevalent in the world today with an estimated 29.8 million individuals trapped in bondage.

According to the Global Slavery Index, 76% of all slaves are found in ten countries: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.  India alone is estimated to have 13.9 million slaves.

This sobering reality imperils families and communities and according to Free the Slaves:

  • Generates $150 billion for traffickers each year
  • 26% of victims are children under the age of 18
  • 55% of victims are women and girls
  • 78% of victims are in labor slavery
  • 22% of victims are in sex slavery

In the words of Seba, a young woman trafficked as a domestic house worker into Paris, France, and recorded by Kevin Bales in his provocatively entitled Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy:

I slept on the floor in one of the children’s bedrooms; my food was their leftover.   I was not allowed to take food from the refrigerator like the children.  If I took food she would beat me.  She often beat me.  She would slap me all the time.  She beat me with the broom, with kitchen tools, or whipped me with electric cable.  Sometimes I would bleed; I still have marks on my body.

Though slavery can be found in 160 countries, far too often slaves themselves remain little more than silent and suffering silhouettes in our community.

Acts 16:16 begins the narrative of a young woman trapped in this reality:

“Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future.  She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.”

As the Scriptures record, this young woman earned “a great deal of money for her owners” while she herself was a slave who did not profit from her proceeds.  Though it is not known how much the owners charged for a consultation, a Greek author named Lucian who lived near to this time wrote that owners could charge one drachma per question.  A drachma was worth approximately one day’s labor.  Scholars estimate it was therefore quite possible for someone such as this young girl to earn 70,000 to 80,000 drachmas over the course of a year.  To put it another way, if one drachma equals about $7.5 it is estimated that this young woman made approximately between $525,000 – $600,000 a year for her owners.  This was a very lucrative business but not for the young slave girl.

Most likely inhabited by a python spirit connected to the ancient site of Delphi, this was a woman who was doubly enslaved.  Spiritually she was enslaved.  Physically she was exploited by her owners.

According to the Word Studies in the New Testament, Luke the physician very intentionally and carefully chose unique words in order to connect the physical actions that he and Paul and their team were witnessing with the “phenomena identical with the convulsive movements and wild cries of the Pythian priestess at Delphi.”

The picture of this young woman is not of a quiet and tame woman calmly following behind but speaking loudly.  It would be more appropriate to envision one wracked with convulsive movements, wild, disruptive cries, interrupting Paul and those on their way to worship.  Sometimes the cries of our community must disrupt our worship.

How can individuals and churches practically respond to this pressing problem?

Picture taken by Amy Brown, used with permission

Picture taken by Amy Brown, used with permission

Those being trafficked are often transported along interstates and highways and sometimes smugglers will stop at gas stations and other public restrooms for breaks.  Individuals, churches and civic groups could adopt a project to identify every public restroom in their area and ask to post a sign within each stall detailing how individuals currently being trafficked could receive immediate help.  The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) maintains a 24-hour confidential toll-free number as well as an email address available for tips and for immediate response to individuals reporting to be trapped.  The NHTRC recommends the following template posters:

Trafficking Reporting Poster in English

Trafficking Reporting Poster in Spanish

There are other steps that could be pursued in order to practically address the reality of modern day slavery such as praying with intentional consistency, distributing local law enforcement officials with emergency hygiene kits distributable to rescued individuals, and providing financial support for organizations engaged in this area.

Slavery and human trafficking remains a sobering reality but there are practical initiatives individuals and churches can adopt in order to combat this pressing problem and create communities of refuge.  Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus as he himself articulates his mission in Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Wait a second…HOW big did you say?

I have not yet had the opportunity to watch the new version of Cosmos that Fox put together this year, but earlier this week I saw that it is now on Netflix, so I have added it to “my list” for viewing in the near future.

Pale Blue Dot

Source: Wikipedia “Seen from about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40 astronomical units), Earth appears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space.[1]“

Upon first hearing that Cosmos was going to have new episodes, I thought about the famous “Pale Blue Dot” photograph. I don’t recall the exact time, but at some point in my youth I was made aware of the existence of this photograph and how it had been taken as the request of Cosmos’ original host, Carl Sagan.

Now, this is not meant to be a discussion over Sagan’s particular viewpoints, although I do find it amazing that given the exact same evidence two groups of people could be so absolutely sure of two polar opposite possibilities (deists and atheists). Perhaps that is another discussion for another day.

This post is about our place in creation.

As much as the “Pale Blue Dot” photograph and Carl Sagan’s famous speech from his audiobook of the same name puts all of human existence in a small place, this video, which I came across just this week, makes us seem even smaller in the grand scheme of things:

The above video takes the idea of the “Pale Blue Dot” and literally multiplies it infinitely.

Why bring this up?

Last week I wrote that Alan Huesing, myself, and everyone else that has experienced God’s influence should make a point to “write it down” as a testament to future generations. Well, in KINE 1301 Intro to Kinesiology (mostly freshmen), I try to get the students to think about how many books their total life’s story would actually entail. That part is easy for most of them…they realize that such a collection would, even at 18 or 19 years-old, be so expansive that no library could contain it. Then, I literally ask them to look at everyone else in the room, emphasizing that each of THOSE individuals also has a life’s story that is already near-infinite in nature.

To Kill a Mockingbird” taught me that to understand people you have to walk a mile in their shoes. To foster any positive change, regardless of occupation or God’s calling for your life, understanding people is a bare minimum requirement. That said, to walk a mile in others’ shoes you have to realize that the complexity of all of the factors in someone else’s life is just as complicated as your own.

Beyond the person next to you in class or working with you at your job, there are over 7 Billion people currently on the Earth with untold others before, and each of THOSE people also has or had a story that would fill entire libraries.

Here is the point: We have no concept of the expanse of God’s creation.

When made aware that they live on “a fraction of a pixel”, some people might feel overwhelmed or worthless. However, while we may be only a teensy-tiny part of creation, we are not insignificant.

Students must understand that regardless of their stature (relative to the rest of creation) they are important cogs in God’s creation. “The body is not made up of one part but of many.” If I can help students reach that state of mind and accept it, I have succeeded in part of God’s purpose for my life.


Life Hacks for … Life?

Photo Credit: TheeErin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: TheeErin via Compfight cc

Do you have a big project that you’re trying to finish before the end of the semester, the year, or the decade?

Maybe it’s a big paper at the end of the semester, or to graduate from college. Maybe you signed up for the Bible in a Year program and, like me, have fallen off the wagon a bit. Maybe you have big plans for your career or grad school or writing a book. Maybe you’re working up to sharing Christ with a friend.

I recently read an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about working on a writing project: Scholarly Writing Hacks

The idea is that you have to set aside a time every day to write, and that you need encouragement from other writers to keep you going. Then you will achieve success and come out with at least a solid draft of your paper/book.

About a year and a half ago I finished my biggest writing undertaking: the Dissertation. Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuuuun.

Photo Credit: chnrdu via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: chnrdu via Compfight cc

I can’t say that I purposefully did any of these tricks, but looking back on it I can see that I did try to write a little most days and I did have others to talk to about it with. So maybe it does work. Maybe I’ll try it out on my next paper!

The point that really struck me about this though is that these tricks would work for anything – not just writing.

If you’re trying to read the Bible in a year, setting aside time to read every day is important. Otherwise, you’ll never make it. And if you’re trying to finish a big paper, putting if off until the last days WILL NOT WORK!

In either of these situations, you need people around you to encourage you, keep you going, and give you guidance.

It works for scholarly writing, and it works for being a Christian.

You can easily see in the Bible that there are many references to the need for community and accountability partners. Like in Hebrews 10:24-25 -

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely have days that I would like to just relax and be lazy… not calling that friend to check on her, or not keeping up with my Bible reading.

by Jimmie @ Flickr commons

by Jimmie @ Flickr commons

I also have times when I struggle to make the right decision, or need some help deciding what to do. And that is where community comes in!

I hope that everyone here at ETBU has found a sense of community and that we can lean on each other in times of need. But it’s hard to be vulnerable!

Sometimes all we can do is open up to that one special person, make sure we listen for God’s guidance, and surround ourselves with community. If we work on it every day and talk with others walking the walk we just may have a chance at finishing the biggest project of all - following God’s plan for our lives. 


Ebola: How Should the Church Respond?

Photo Credit: NIAID via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: NIAID via Compfight cc

Ebola is ravaging West Africa killing roughly 45% of those infected.

The worst Ebola outbreak since the virus first appeared in the 1970s, according to the CDC there have been 6 countries affected, 7,494 total cases and 3,439 deaths.  Underreporting, however, has led the CDC to state that as of September 30th there were likely 21,000 cases, the number of cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone is doubling every 20 days, and that by January 20, 2015 there will be a total of 1.4 million cases.

A recent New York Times article depicted a scene of a “hospital from hell”:

A 4-year-old girl lay on the floor in urine, motionless, bleeding from her mouth, her eyes open.  A corpse lay in the corner — a young woman, legs akimbo, who had died overnight.  A small child stood on a cot watching as the team took the body away, stepping around a little boy lying immobile next to black buckets of vomit.  They sprayed the body, and the little girl on the floor, with chlorine as they left.

Perhaps no country has been more profoundly affected than Liberia, home to 4 million people.  Established in 1822 by the United States as a country for freed slaves, poverty remains an all too pressing reality where 80% live below the poverty line and 85% are unemployed.  In a recent memorandum, Richard Wilson, president of Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, described the compounding impact of Ebola on the nation as a whole:

The demands for isolation to prevent the spread of the virus undermine the basic economics of a nation where 90 percent subsist on $1 U.S. a day.  When the markets are emptied and the streets are barely filled, the merchant has an impossible task to secure small money… Hunger is growing in Liberia.  It will continue to become the most critical issue… Hungry people become desperate.  Desperation breeds violence.  Violence leads to conflict.

Though news agencies have been covering this outbreak for several months, the reality of this horror has only now begun to settle on many in the United States with the report this week that Thomas Eric Duncan had been admitted to a Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas as the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States.

Many are scared.  This is easy to understand for Ebola is a disease without a cure or vaccine at present and horror film symptomology with high fevers and hemorrhagic bleeding.

How should the church respond?

Perhaps it is helpful to frame this question through a different lens: why did Jesus have physical contact with leprosy?  Wouldn’t the spoken word have been enough?

Matthew 8:1-3 and parallel passage Mark 1:40-45 describe a man with leprosy kneeling before Jesus and asking for cleansing.  Shockingly, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man” (Matt. 8:3).  Against the best medical advice, in a culture mandating forced isolation as the best means for containment, fully knowing the danger of contagion, Jesus intentionally touched and healed an individual with a disease spread by contact.  Would we do the same?

Even more pointedly, are we doing the same by following Jesus’ example and engaging in a healing ministry among those with a feared infectious and isolating disease?

Jesus loved with proximity those with a contagious disease. (Tweet This) He often healed by spoken word but in this instance specifically chose touch.  Touch cannot happen from a distance or be undervalued.  In no way am I suggesting the disregard of the appropriate use of personal protective equipment or other safety measures, but as Christians we must move beyond the stigma and fear and offer healing ministry where sickness is found, right in the physical space of people’s lives.

I must be quick to admit that such a ministry would be personally challenging; frightening even.  There is however a long history of the church responding in this compassionate manner. As recorded by Rodney Stark, in the third century Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria wrote a pastoral letter to members who were offering care in the midst of a devastating plague:

Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another.  Heedless of danger; they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.  Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.

In the midst of this significant medical crisis facing the Roman Empire of the third century, Stark believes that the unnamed numbers of Christians who intentionally choose to provide medical care to those infected reduced overall mortality by as much as two-thirds.

Building upon Jesus’ example of touch to those with infectious disease and the historical example of Christians sacrificially offering health care in the midst of outbreaks, the church today could compellingly respond to the Ebola crisis in the following ways:

1. Regularly pray for individuals infected with Ebola and those seeking to help them.  

Though the exact true number of those infected with the disease is unknown, the lives impacted via relational and economic impact is likely in the hundreds of thousands.

The All Africa Baptist Fellowship, one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance, has specifically asked for churches to set aside Sunday, October 12 as a day of prayer related to Ebola.  This call for prayer has been further endorsed and echoed by the American Baptist Churches USA and the North American Baptist Fellowship.  Ethics Daily has compiled a helpful video of local footage from the Ebola crisis in Liberia that can be utilized as part of a day of prayer.

2. Speak calm and truth in an environment prone to hysteria and misinformation.

Within the United States, over the next few weeks there will likely be an uptick in the coverage of this subject and the amount of individuals being watched for Ebola.  While precautions are warranted, Christians must avoid responding out of alarm, fear or misinformation.  An outbreak of Ebola in the United States remains unlikely and pertinent facts are readily available.

3. Pursue support for those physically offering medical care to the infected. 

As an interconnected family, Christians in the United States should share equal concern for those already living in the terror of a devastating outbreak and seeking to respond with care and compassion at great personal risk.  These are individuals facing a harrowing experience who have chosen, like Jesus, to engage in a ministry of touch and deserve the best support that can be offered via prayer, logistical support, and an influx of medical supplies and personal protection equipment.

4. Strengthen health care systems especially those in the affected countries.

One of the reasons this particular outbreak has been so damaging has been a lack of medical supplies, adequate health care systems and trained personnel in the affected areas.  While the Ebola virus is not yet curable, it is treatable with symptom management: fever breakers for dangerously high fevers, rehydration for dehydration, and blood products for blood loss.  Immediate response is critical but a long-term solution strengthening local training and health care systems is also needed.

5. Contribute to churches, ministries and other organizations already addressing the Ebola crisis in West Africa. 

A number of agencies have responded including the Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery and the Baptist World Alliance.  Whether to these or other ministries and organizations, it is essential that our response to the Ebola virus wracking the lives of thousands of individuals includes both prayer and ministerial action.

Ebola Crisis in Liberia from EthicsDaily on Vimeo.




Write it down so you won’t forget.

Late one night in a Polish hostel, wide awake due to jet lag, I asked my roommate Alan Huesing, “so how exactly did you get started in the ETBU International Program?”

This innocent question led to a roughly 4-hour long conversation in which Alan told me of the most fantastical set of circumstances a person could ever hope to hear:

  • Being prematurely selected as an ETBU BSM student leader led to a trip to a conference in Dallas with an ETBU international student.
  • This led to a volunteer missions opportunity in Hong Kong (mainland China was still closed).
  • On the way, Alan’s flight got delayed and he somehow ended up on a new connecting flight sitting next to the man in charge of the entire mission operation, which was spread across many Hong Kong churches.
  • While waiting for the connection, this man had received a telegram (or some other type of hilariously outdated communication) that the leader at one of these outreach churches was ill (or died?) and was unable to do his job. Who could be found on such short notice to step in?

In this way, at 19 or 20 years-old Alan became the leader over a major international mission at a church in Hong Kong. Then some other completely unlikely thing happened, followed by another, and another, and another…

The stories almost seemed fake; I half-expected him to tell me about how he rode a unicorn through Mordor on his way to blow up the Death Star. (Just thinking about that makes me giggle. The first person that Photoshops that image together and adds it to the comments gets at least $20 from me.)

I believe it was the great 20th century philosopher Forrest Gump (YouTube) that said, “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if weren’t all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”

Alan’s story could easily be a movie, too, and at the minimum, it would be a tremendous book that would demonstrate the reach that God has in directing His chosen people to His purposes.

I also believe that book should be written.

Now, I will never be Alan Huesing, but neither will he ever be me. I also have a unique set of astounding circumstances that have helped me reach this point in my life. Often, while sharing a story with a class, I will in fact suddenly remember an instance in which a seemingly minor or fluky thing resulted in a total change of direction for me and my own walk. The part that makes me disappointed in myself is that I could ever forget. A sampling…

In 2000, had I not read an obviously premature report about Type I Diabetes being cured soon and started thinking about other possible career options, I might now be a Pediatric Endocrinologist. Sorry Dr. Cone.

In 2005, had I not had the encouragement of Dr. Jim Webb in a single unplanned face-to-face encounter, I likely would have started a Junior High job teaching history here in Marshall instead of receiving a full-ride + salary fellowship at the University of Arkansas. A PhD had never even crossed my mind.

That same year, had a tree not fallen on my first-ever home, on the third night my wife and I lived in it, I would probably still be coaching basketball, because I would not have had to quit my non-paying volunteer position with the University of Arkansas’ Women’s Basketball Team to take a paying job at the Jones Center for Families.

In 2007, had I not emailed Dr. Danny Essary about something completely unrelated, I might not have gotten this response: “P.S. A job is opening. Do you want to interview for it?”

Those examples are only occupational. These seemingly insignificant moments happen in all facets of our lives constantly, but often through no effort of our own they become completely life-altering. It might even be something as flippant as sitting down next to a stranger the first day of chapel…

Week06Wedding…and you end up marrying her.

But here is the challenge: How can my life be a witness of God’s miraculous works in people if I don’t pass that information on in some way? How will my kids at home or my “kids” at school know about God’s intervention in my life? At ETBU’s 150th anniversary in the year 2062, how will people know the miracles that took place for an underclassman in the 1970s to transform our International Program, reaching thousands of students in dozens of countries?

We already have that mandate:

18 Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD.

I think Mr. Gump was right; we simultaneously “float on a breeze” and “have a destiny”. However it is up to us to recognize the divine nature of so-many happy accidents and use our stories as a witness to our students and others around us. To adapt Romans 10:14, how can they hear about these things if no one tells them?