Monthly Archives: April 2010

Chris and Ruth’s Kwanjula

I am a missionary to Kampala, Uganda sent by Simple Free Church serving Ravens Ministries (a Ugandan Christian organization that assists underprivileged young adults).  I moved back to Uganda three weeks ago.

This past weekend I had the privilege to attend the kwanjula (a traditional Ugandan celebration weeks prior to a wedding where the bride and groom’s families meet each other, specific to the Baganda ethnic group), of two good friends.  Both are staff at Dwelling Places (the organization I worked with in 2008 that rescues and rehabilitates former street children).  Ruth was  one my bosses in 2008 as she is the Education Director at Dwelling Places and I was one of the elementary teachers.  Chris works with one of Dwelling Places’ special projects- reaching out to the streets kids who come from the Karamoja region of Uganda.  Uganda (one of Africa’s 54 countries) doesn’t have just one ethnic group.  In fact, Uganda has dozens of distinctly different ethnic groups!  Historically and culturally speaking, all the different ethnic groups do not always get along with each other.

In recent history, there has been some tension between the Karamojong people (from remote northeastern Uganda) and the Baganda people (from the Kampala, the capital city, area).  Without going into too much detail, essentially these two different groups probably just do not understand or appreciate their cultural differences.  Each ethnic group has very different customs, traditions, languages, values, lifestyles, and so on.  The reason I bring this up is because Chris is from the Karamoja region and Ruth is a Bagandan from Kampala.  And of course, their wedding customs are different as well.  But what was really cool about Saturday is since Chris is marrying a woman from the Baganda people, he had the ceremony in the custom of his future bride!  So his family and friends all came from the Karamoja region and adapted their customs and ceremony practices for the family of the bride.  The bride and groom’s families respected and enjoyed each others company.  A really special sight!

Here of the photos from the kwanjula:

I am enjoying working with Pastor Abel.  I’m still learning exactly how I will fit in at Ravens Ministries and Christian Family Fellowship Church (Abel’s church), but Abel and I have plenty ideas how exactly that will all look in the coming years.  Ultimately, I desire to serve how God wants me to serve and that’s what I’m sorting through now.  As mentioned before, Abel has been really flexible in letting me catch up with old friends, helping me get my apartment in order, and assisting me (re)adapt to Uganda.  Ugandans are very relational people who really value friendships and spending time with one another.  It’s fair to say, most of my day is spent in relationships with others: my bodaboda (motorcycle taxi driver- this is my mode of transportation), Dwelling Places kids and young adults, Ravens Ministries members, with missionaries who live near me, and others in my neighborhood and community.

-Ryan Youtz


Christian History– Why?

One of the goals of Simple Free is to try to help Christians learn about their faith in ways that aren’t always offered in Omaha. One of the things we’ve done in the last year is we’ve had study groups. Some of those were on Saturday mornings. One was on women’s roles in the church (egalitarianism and complimentarianism), one was on church leadership, one was on the history of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, and our longest book study group to date (which was held at upstream brewery January-April was on a book called “131 Christians Everyone Should Know” which brought us from Eusebius and Augustine to Calvin and Billy Graham. Now we’ve started yet another book on Chuch History by Bruce Shelly. It will bring us from the time of Christ up into this Century.

Sometimes history can seem irrelevant, especially if you don’t see your place in it. Many people don’t seem to care about the history of their own family (like who is your great grandmother on your fathers side, or your nationality) or the history of their country, much less care about the history of their church. ‘

Today I got to spend some time in my hometown with my parents. Tonight there was a get together of senior saints in the church with the potential new pastoral candidate. The seniors shared stories about the history of this country church (which has about 250 people going to it) and I would say that the average age of these 30 people was probably 80. We had around 2500 years of experience in that room. One of them (who is 93) told me about stopping by a friends house (who is 99) with his wife (who is 91) to have coffee last week. I love to talk to these wise sages who have such a wealth of knowledge about the past– things most of us will never know because we don’t ask.

Some of these people in the room (like my 85 year old dad) have spent most of their entire life in this church. Some 78 year olds were talking about pranks they used to pull on people after church. Someone pointed out that my dads great grandpa and great grandkids and all the generations between had been a part of this church…thats 7 generations. That kind of history doesn’t just happen. And it does mean something, and it is remarkable.

After hearing many of these stories it was the candidates time to speak, and he said that this sort of heritage is unusual for most churches. He said many cultures have a strong tradition of passing on stories of the past to the young generations, and he said that this was really important for the church to do– for these older saints to do. He made the distinction between being stuck in the past, and being anchored in the past. Some want to escape to the past, and hide from the present and the future unknown. But the past can really help one know where to go, and where one is going. That is the healthy use of history.

That is how I see our vision for studying church history. As we learn about the history of the church– the questions asked and answers they arrived at, as well as the varieties of perspectives, many which mirror our own today, we can see models of faithfulness, steadfastness, and vision and hope for the future. We do not just copy the past, but we learn from it to remember to be faithful to our faith, its purpose, and the work God has for us in Christ.

I also just like to learn about history. Knowing is one of the ways humans can get pleasure. Squirrels– not so much. Dogs don’t like books. Hampsters do not study history, or write it for that matter. But fortunately we get to do things those cute animals do not. We get to be literate and read and reflect on things– hopefully as an act of worship insofar as we are doing what God made us to do– to live our lives thoughtfully and with real freedom.

So thats part of our motivation at Simple to study Church History. Not to be bookish or to become academic Christians, but to be fully Christian and to be fully human as God intended.

check out the study group at:!/event.php?eid=116420791711098&ref=ts

May God have mercy on us all.

Christian Hipster– You very well may be one…

Much to my surprise, my 80-something year old parents, and I are Christian hipsters, as are many people I know. So there is a guy writing a book about Christian Hipsters, and he described “christian hipster” characteristics. Its at:

Surprisingly, hipsters are a lot like my 80-something year-old parents.
My 80-something parents fit most of these characteristics as a hipster:
“Christian hipsters don’t like megachurches… door-to-door evangelism… John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart or youth pastors who talk too much about Braveheart…The Passion for being overly bloody and maybe a little sadistic …They don’t like evangelical leaders who get too involved in politics, such as James Dobson or Jerry Falwell,… TBN, PAX, or Joel Osteen…tend not to like contemporary Christian music (CCM), or Christian films (except ironically), or any non-book item sold at Family Christian Stores…they could do without weird and awkward evangelistic methods including (but not limited to): sock puppets, ventriloquism, mimes, sign language, “beach evangelism,” and modern dance. Surprisingly, they don’t really have that big of a problem with old school evangelists like Billy Graham and Billy Sunday”

So, there are a few things in his list I left out.  My parents do like flags, and call themselves Christians, and just don’t worry about phrases like “evangelism or soul winning” and they generally don’t “hate” anything. I’m with them on most of that stuff.  Many of us Christians grew up without the christian consumer culture to rebel against. It just wasn’t an important part of our christianity.   Different people have different Christian experiences and respond to those experiences in different ways (profound, I know) but, while some may describe my upbringing as fundamentalist (no one knowingly smoked or drank, we had sunday night services which focused on end-times eschatology, and we were very much oriented around the fundamentals of scripture) I never felt any disdain or frustration or need to pointedly disagree with that background.  I’m not a teetotaller (not drinking) and I’m probably less concerned about some issues than other ‘fundamentalists’ but usually my reason for maintaining an open position on something is that I don’t see Scripture giving clear direction on that particular issue– in short, I have a high view of Scripture which guides my life and practice and in that sense I resonate with the ‘fundamental’ focus of fundamentalism.  My fundamentalism leads me to not talk where Scripture doesn’t.  If its silent, I want to be silent as well.

Our country church I grew up in was not very affected by much of Christian consumer culture– it was a farmers church.  And for that I am thankful.  And that is also why I don’t have a lot of the Christian consumer culture in my concepts of Christianity– those aspects always seem pretty distant to me and foreign to my faith walk.  I think the same goes for my parents.  Its fortunate to be so out of touch with popular Christian culture that it doesn’t become an important part of your faith walk, and then become baggage for you to work through later…

On the other hand, my parents probably don’t qualify as hipsters due to the lengthy list of things that hipsters DO like:

“Christian hipsters like music, movies, and books that are well-respected by their respective artistic communities—Christian or not. They love books like Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider, God’s Politics by Jim Wallis, and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. They tend to be fans of any number of the following authors: Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, John Howard Yoder, Walter Brueggemann, N.T. Wright, Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, Anne Lamott, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, Soren Kierkegaard, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Annie Dillard, Marilynne Robison, Chuck Klosterman, David Sedaris, or anything ancient and/or philosophically important.”

I expect that most traditional Christians who are contrasted with ‘hipster christians’ probably don’t pay attention to most of the above authors, my parents included.  I, on the other hand, appreciate quite a few of them.  So I guess I’m hipster there again. 

He continues: “Christian hipsters love thinking and acting Catholic, even if they are thoroughly Protestant. They love the Pope, liturgy, incense, lectio divina, Lent, and timeless phrases like “Thanks be to God” or “Peace of Christ be with you.” They enjoy Eastern Orthodox churches and mysterious iconography, and they love the elaborate cathedrals of Europe (even if they are too museum-like for hipster tastes). Christian hipsters also love taking communion with real Port, and they don’t mind common cups. They love poetry readings, worshipping with candles, and smoking pipes while talking about God. Some of them like smoking a lot of different things.”

Again, little of this would resonate with traditional evangelicals, my parents included, and much of it does with me (although I don’t love the pope or  poetry or smoke pipes– I do like pictures of the saints, and candles and communion, and we drink from the same glass at simple free)

He goes on: “Christian hipsters love breaking the taboos that used to be taboo for Christians. They love piercings, dressing a little goth, getting lots of tattoos (the Christian Tattoo Association now lists more than 100 member shops), carrying flasks and smoking cloves. A lot of them love skateboarding and surfing, and many of them play in bands. They tend to get jobs working for churches, parachurch organizations, non-profits, or the government.”

I like the concept of skating and surfing, but can’t and haven’t; carrying a flask is not something I do, and tattoos continue to bewilder me (I do not understand the attraction).  But maybe I like to break taboos of hipsterism by not being interested in tatoos (or poetry, or flasks, or pipes, or Chesterton, or loving the pope). 

But despite the fact that I seem to have so much in common with hipsters, I still feel I am not one.  Here are my main three reasons:

1. I like to sing hymns.

2. I don’t think I have enough angst about traditional evangelical culture to be hip.

3. I really like flannelgraph, which is not hip.  I may not be into a lot of Christian culture stuff, but one thing I do have a strong propensity towards is flannelgraph, and I want to revive its use perhaps during our liturgy at simple free!  Long live Flannelgraph!   🙂

May God have mercy on us all!

PS Many thanks to Tony ‘action’ Jackson for the article on christian hipsters!

As long as it is day…

“As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” — Jesus (John 9:4)

One of my favorite songs by Depeche Mode has the following lyrics:

I’m waiting for the night to fall
I know that it will save us all
When everything’s dark
Keeps us from the stark reality

I’m waiting for the night to fall
When everything is bearable
And there in the still
All that you feel is tranquillity

There is a sound in the calm
Someone is coming to harm
I press my hands to my ears
It’s easier here just to forget fear

And when I squinted
The world seemed rose-tinted
And angels appeared to descend
To my surprise
With half-closed eyes
Things looked even better
Than when they were open
I’m waiting for the night to fall…

This song is beautiful, sad, serene, and powerful. There are times when we want to escape from the reality we see, when we want to hide and squint and hope things may be different than they seem. We hope to forget.

But Christ encourages us in some way to fight against this escapism, to do the work God has called us to, despite frustration, setbacks, and even boredom.  Jesus encourages us to be diligent and committed to be faithful workers as long as it is still day…

I like to keep busy. Work can be therapy, it can also be an escape of course. Workaholics know this. But there is a call to diligence and productivity in the Bible. God wants our lives to count for something. So it is good to consider on a regular basis: of what use is my life? What am I doing that has lasting value to God?

Paul said this in his letter to Titus:

“I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3:8)

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14)

There is a limited economy of time. Time is finite for each of us. Death is coming. Christ is coming. So it is up to us to make the most of what we have. Christ encourages us to keep at it “as long as it is day”– i.e., as long as we still have time.

If we are still breathing, we still have time.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all int he name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the father through him.” (Col 3:17)

I hope you find joy today in the work that God has given you to do…

May God have mercy on us all…

Simple Free People

Its almost Easter.  Lent is almost come to a close.  We anticipate it and look forward to it because it is our celebration of the risen Christ.

We have so much to be thankful for, and this weekend is a celebration in other ways as well for Simple Free.  One of our people, Elijah, is getting married this weekend to Liz!!  We are so happy for them and for the joy that will come from that marriage.

Monday our brother Ryan Youtz leaves the US to go to Uganda as a long-term missionary, working with young adults in Kampala, as a partner in Ravens Ministries.  We will really miss him, but we are so excited for him and know that is where he is to be.

Finally, we are doing the feeding at neighbors united on Saturday, providing HAM SANDWICHES (Zach’s idea) in honor of Easter.

For those of you who don’t come to our service, we thought it might be interesting to learn a little about those who make up our group.  Not everyone is represented on this page, but a lot are, and it gives you a feel for the mission and mindset of people who come to our Tuesday night study and liturgy:

Thanks to Ryan for putting that page together!