Thursday, April 26, 2007


A lot of people ask me what a typical day is like for a missionary on Capitol Hill. That's not easy to answer. Today I started by giving the opening prayer at a breakfast meeting at the Capitol Hill Club, where I also delivered a speech on the important role religion plays in diplomacy. But that's not typical.

I met with staff to plan various outreach programs, including our Reese Roundtable, a forum for advancing the biblical principles that made our nation great. After that I dashed over to the U.S. Capitol to look at the layout for the upcoming National Capitol Bible Reading Marathon that starts Sunday evening. I also did a short video inviting you and others, including churches, to logon and join in via the Internet. Check it out at our website.

Oh, somewhere in there I did two interviews, one on radio, the other with a newspaper, about a presidential candidate's cynical remarks on religion and the "evil side" of the Virginia Tech shootings, respectively.

E-mail and phone calls to pastors involved with our work filled in some cracks. Then, two members of our "Extended Missionary Team" linked up with me and we visited for a very long time with a prominent U.S. senator, after which I escorted them to the U.S. Supreme Court for special work there. Tonight, we'll debrief about all this.

This is not a "typical" day. In fact, I can't think of any "typical" day. A day may bring the predictable, but, more often than not, it brings the unpredictable: A surprise opportunity to share the Gospel; an unexpected Supreme Court decision on the sanctity of life; an encounter with someone running for president; an invitation to meet the President!

I've learned to simply pray Isaiah's prayer, "Lord, send me!" The one thing I can always predict--and that is typical--is that God will certainly answer that prayer and send me to someone to do something that brings glory to Him!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


When my 27 year-old daughter Anna, who teaches autistic children, told me she planned to start a non-profit organization to help women in Africa’s Sahara desert, I secretly rolled my eyes.

My baby start an organization of her own? (Never mind that I formed my first non-profit enterprise when I was just 24!)

Anyway, you can imagine my line of questioning: How will you juggle your time between that and your career? What about your personal safety? How will you fund it?

To my fatherly chagrin, Anna had all the answers and they worked. As a school teacher, she used her extended vacations for travel. She enlisted capable volunteers from church and from her circle of friends. And, she came up with an ingenious plan to fund her program that included garage sales. At one such sale, she made more in one day than I often raise after a whole weekend speaking at a church and holding a dinner with our donors!

That last point is the one I’ve been thinking about a lot. Fundraising is a difficult challenge for every non-profit Christian ministry. In all my years of Bible college and seminary, we didn’t have one class or seminar on fundraising. Yet, one of the most vital things I must do as head of Faith and Action is find the resources to get the job done.

I also know the fundraising side of what we do is frustrating to many of our supporters. No one has unlimited resources. (Well, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey come to mind—but they’re not interested in what we do!) Many of our supporters tell me they’d like to do more, but they just can’t. They already give to their churches, missionaries, the local crisis pregnancy center, the city mission, and so many other worthy charities. In fact, Christian people are the most generous of any population group in the world.

But, my daughter taught me something this past weekend at her garage sale: There are creative ways to do everything! It’s a bit humbling, but I learned something from Anna, and I plan to put it to work for Faith and Action.

We will soon launch: Sales for the Soul of America. Anna is helping me put together a little information kit for our supporters on how to do an effective garage sale to help Faith and Action continue the work of “Challenging Capitol Hill with Biblical Truth and Changing the Nation One Policymaker at a Time!”

This past week I learned something much more important than how old furniture, unused kitchen appliances, worn out rugs and ugly knick-knacks can advance the work of the Gospel; I learned that I still have things to learn from my kids.

Stand by for information on Sales for the Soul of America—and start collecting all those hideous knick-knacks!

Sunday, April 15, 2007


I often speak and write about the three key moral principles of the Sanctity of Life, the Sanctity of Marriage and the Public Acknowledgment of God. This past week I spent a lot of time reflecting on the second principle about marriage.

Cheryl and I celebrated our 30th anniversary April 9. Hard to believe it’s been three decades. I know it doesn’t sound like much to couples marking their 50th and 60th or longer, but 30 years means Cheryl and I have spent twice as long with each other than we did alone. (Counting our courtship years, that is!)

Cheryl and I met at 15 in a church prayer group. My brother Paul and I had only begun exploring Christianity. Part of that search included attending a Friday night gathering of young people at a nearby Methodist church. Cheryl Smith was one of them.

I knew of Cheryl because her family made big news a year earlier when their house burned. In our little community of 25,000, a house fire was headline material. We began a conversation one night and it continued for three more years—until we graduated high school. By then, we were convinced God meant for us to be together permanently. In our minds, there was no use in waiting. So, while today neither of us would recommend it to others (not even our own kids!), we got married—right out of high school! We did everything married and later with kids: college, graduate school, world travel, ministry, everything. In fact, Cheryl and I have few memories of what it was to be single.

Getting married as kids ourselves and taking on all those challenges as a young family certainly had its downside. (I think it was a lot harder on Cheryl because she was running the house and taking care of our kids while I was consumed by other, more “exciting” things.) Still, we don’t regret it. Now, if you know Cheryl, she speaks very effectively for herself, so I’ll make this my statement: I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And, as testimony thereof, I’m more in love with Cheryl these 30 years later, than I was when I proposed!

I say I’m more in love now because I know a little more what it means to love. When I first “fell in love” it was pure rapture. Cheryl could do no wrong; she was perfect! To me, she was (and remains) beautiful, interesting and smart. I knew she wanted terribly to be a mom, and that she would be a wonderful one. (And she is—ask my kids!) I also knew I felt more secure when I was with her. I knew I wasn’t meant to be alone and that Cheryl was exactly the kind of person I wanted to be with always. Somehow I knew even at such an early age that I would be “complete” in sharing my life with her.

But, after 30 years you learn, of course, no one is perfect—not even the love of your life. (And, for Cheryl, that insight about me runs ditto times ten!) Still, it’s precisely this revelation that allows you to truly love and be loved. Nobody can have a true relationship with a fantasy.

In thinking about our 30 years together, the two children we raised, the countless good and bad experiences we’ve shared, I’ve realized anew just how “sacred” this relationship has been and remains. For me, our marriage is second only to my relationship to Christ. In fact, in my estimation, there is no better earthly instructor than holy matrimony in what a relationship to God is to be.

In a marriage—and throughout a marriage—we learn what it means to give ourselves to another. We learn how dependent we really are. We learn transparency, vulnerability, fidelity, complimentarity. We also learn how to fess up to our mistakes, our shortcomings and failures. And, I’ve learned just how necessary it is to say, “I’m sorry.” (It’s hard to remain married if you won’t accept responsibility for your offenses against your mate.)

If I could say there are any surprises at 30 years into marriage, it’s this: how much I don’t know about marriage after 30 years! In many ways, those first 29 years were easy because they were dominated by so many distractions—both positive and negative. But our lives now require Cheryl and me to face each other without the convenient deflections of raising and educating kids, buying and selling houses and cars for the first time, figuring out how we’re going to pay for things, etc., etc.

Instead, Cheryl and I must face each other and each other’s needs and desires. In some ways it’s a bit like dating again, only without the buffer of idealistic fantasies! We now know who we really are and what life really brings with it. So, 30 years into this, we’re just getting to truly know each other. Maybe in another 30 years we can move on to the next phase of our relationship!

Here’s to the Sanctity of Marriage—and to God who gave me such a wonderful gift in the woman I married 30 years ago!

Monday, April 09, 2007


I've returned safe and sound from my visit to the East African country of Sudan. Once the ancient kingdom of Kush (also known as Nubia and Meroe), Sudan is the largest country by area in Africa as well as in the Arab world. As we saw in an excursion into the desert, the ancient Nubian civilization was a lot like the later Egyptian one that built the Great Pyramid. We saw smaller but older pyramids in Sudan. They just loom out of the desert with absolutely no distracting tourists around them. In fact, there’s nothing around them but sand! (See my soon-to-be-posted Sudan video gallery at

While our home staff enjoyed a much-deserved Holy Week vacation, I had jetted first to London, then to Amman, Jordan, and finally to my destination of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. This surprisingly modern city is situated at the point where the Blue and White Nile rivers meet. My hotel sat right at the apex, its front door facing the white waters and it’s back facing the blue waters.

I was one of five members of a special delegation from the Washington, DC based Institute on Religion and Public Policy founded by my friend, Joseph Griebowski. Joe is a highly educated, experienced and gifted international advocate for fundamental human rights and religious liberty. I may be the Institute’s token Evangelical / Conservative board member, but if so, I serve happily!

The purpose of this seven-day mission was to talk to members of Khartoum’s new Unity Government about the progress (or lack thereof) of human rights and religious freedom since the January 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA was signed by the Government of the Republic of the Sudan and the break-away Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and Sudan People’s Liberation Army. This instrument was aimed at ending a civil war between the Islamic North and the principally Christian South. Atrocities were admitted by both sides, but the North is still widely blamed for a genocidal campaign against non-Arabs in the southern areas of Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei. Notwithstanding today’s exclusive focus on another conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur state, it’s the South where the worst effects of the internal conflict were felt.

The Institute got involved in Sudan because of Joe Griebowski’s long-time friendship with Sudan’s former ambassador to the United States and now its foreign minister, His Excellency Khidir Haroun Ahmed. “Kadir,” as we came to call him, is one of the most congenial men I have met in Washington. Now based in Khartoum, he was our official host and guide while in country. Helping him with our visit were two attaches named Omar and Abdulrachim, brilliant and capable young men who, like their boss, speak impeccable English.

Despite my initial apprehensions about everything from security to food, I never felt insecure or got sick. (Well, except for some prayer-laden jitters about the flight from Khartoum to Darfur.) I will say this was one of my more difficult international missions. My first experience in what I call “religious diplomacy” was to Lebanon at the height of its civil war 25 years ago. Russian Ketusha rockets whizzed over our heads. I was also in Moscow days after Russian tanks fired on their own federal government headquarters, called, oddly, The White House. Boris Yeltzin was still holed up inside. And I’ve preached the Gospel in plenty of Islamic countries where it is illegal to do so. But this trip to the Sudan was the most spiritually intense and challenging mission I have taken. Still, there were hopeful signs both in the government and among the people:

1) The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) appears to be working. Things were generally calm and people were, on the whole, happy. While police and military were visible, there is not the oppressive feel of a police state or of a country at war.

2) Much to my surprise, there are Christians in high government office. This is a result of the power sharing element of the CPA. Certain seats must go to the southern religious minorities, the largest of which is Christian. To be sure, some of these are apparatchiks and are Christian in name only, but others demonstrate a serious faith and sincere love for their country and her people. There is also a prayer breakfast movement in Sudan. (This is the same one behind the annual National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington.) It wasn’t clear to me if a breakfast has already been held, but I was told President Omar Hassan al Bashir plans to host one in the near future. (Incidentally, while we had an appointment with President Bashir, he took an unexpected trip to Senegal that would have forced us to stay in country two more days. Because of Easter and family commitments, the delegation decided to forgo rescheduling and wait until a follow-up visit is made in June.)

3) There are churches in Sudan, mostly in the South, but even in Khartoum. They do suffer significant discrimination, but it doesn’t appear (nor were we told by Christians there) that the church suffers egregious persecution. It’s more like in Egypt and other “progressive Islamic countries” (a relative term). Christians are tolerated, but just barely by the government bureaucracy, and they are limited in their freedoms, especially evangelization. Obtaining permission for building new churches is nearly impossible. Sudan also bans all forms of “proselytizing.” Conversion from Islam to any other religion, particularly to Christianity, is theoretically punishable by death. However, there are no contemporary reports of such. Still, the Sudanese people get along very well with one another. Christians and Muslims enjoy easy friendships, business partnerships and even live together in the same houses.

4) Darfur, where the eyes of the world are now focused, is more complex than I imagined it but far less chaotic. The situation boils down to a very long-standing independence streak in the Darfurian culture. It was once its own kingdom until brutally subjugated by the British and incorporated into the Sudan. Unlike the South, Darfur is overwhelmingly Muslim, but ethnically non-Arab. Separatist rebels have been staging attacks against the central government for four years. Khartoum has struck back by bombing, among other targets, civilian villages where rebels are believed to hide. It’s principally the fear of being caught in this crossfire that has driven so many Darfurians to refugee camps. (Estimates are from hundreds of thousands to 2.5 million.) We visited one of the main camps outside Nyala, the capital city of South Darfur state. We were told by the camp manager there had been up to 30,000 refugees there, but the number is down to 13,000. The camp was well run, relatively clean and orderly and there were numerous non-governmental aid groups working there, including American-based and Christian World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse. (I was distressed, though, to find a Saudi Arabian umbrella group coordinating all aid programs.)

In a meeting with tribal leaders at the camp, we learned what life is like there. These mostly agrarian people miss their farms but feel safer in the camps. The women we met said they were afraid to go out into the bush surrounding the camps to collect necessary firewood because of rapacious gangs of marauders who wander the countryside. While there is widespread reporting that victims blame the Khartoum regime for arming such gangs, nothing like that was said to us by the refugees. In fact, it appeared that the government was cooperating in every way with camp managers.

The Darfur Peace Agreement was signed between the government and rebels in May, 2006, but has failed to calm world concern for the refugees now in the camps as well as the fear of future attacks that place unarmed civilians at risk.

My estimation, from an admittedly limited perspective, is that while any number of civilian deaths is a humanitarian disaster and completely unacceptable, the numbers being used in reports (and a lot of Darfur fundraising campaigns) are grossly exaggerated for effect. There is also a dearth of information on just what is really going on in Darfur. The so-called janjaweed civilian militias blamed for much of the raping, pillaging and killing of innocents are not formally connected to the Khartoum government and never have been.

There is no doubt many in the camps went there to escape injury and death. But these many years into the crisis, it appeared there was a growing problem of people seeking refuge simply from the hard work required to plant and harvest their fields. That is a problem for any country, including the Sudan. The camp inhabitants we talked to now seem to suffer from a sort of torpor caused by sedentary routines and from being separated from their families. There’s a lot more to be said on this, but space doesn’t allow. Suffice it to say the situation is complex, involving many different groups and individuals, and that American or UN solutions don’t always work among historically tribal societies. The situation demands another fresh look before continuing on tired old paths.

My overall impression after visiting Sudan and Darfur is that there is a lot more for us to learn. 20-second sound bites or video clips can't do justice to what is happening. There are both victims and victimizers on all sides of this humanitarian problem. Tribal turf wars contribute to the tensions. No one side has the total solution. The CPA with its power sharing component and the Darfur Peace Agreement are auspicious beginnings towards a resolution. The real missing piece is pressure on the Darfur rebels to come to the table and negotiate, as have all other parties. Without such pressure, there’s absolutely no incentive for the rebels to cease fighting. Both their moral support and financial support are ensured by keeping the conflict going.

The one very certain message I came away with was from the leaders of the oldest and only Evangelical church in the national capital of Khartoum. They told me the current sanctions and threatened future sanctions will only “plunge the country into darkness” and place all Christians at greater risk. We observed the nearly ubiquitous Chinese presence in Sudan, from petro-chemical plants to hotels and office buildings, to the same inexpensive kitsch we see here in America. The atheist Chinese regime is buying Sudan. It’s an odd partnership, Islamists and communist atheists. I’m afraid, though, our sanctions are not just hurting the Christians (which is bad enough), but is thrusting Sudan deeper into a dependency on the communist Chinese. That can’t be good for us, for Christians in Sudan or anyone else. I will ask the President to reconsider his call for increased sanctions.

Thank you for your prayers (they sustained me) and your generous financial gifts that made this momentous trip possible. So much good has already come of it, including new friendships among Sudan’s top government leaders. But the most moving part of this otherwise grueling experience were the tears of one of our hosts as we left. He said he was “really touched in his heart” by the way we conducted ourselves. He also told me in an aside that he really liked “the way I talked about God. It was very deep. I never heard anything like that.”

Enough said for now. I’ll post more later.