The Richest Man I Know

I’ve been very humbled and blessed to spend some time today with Salonique Adolphe, who’s the director (and one of the founders) of Living Water Christian Mission in Gonaives, Haiti. I’m so impressed by, and appreciative of, people like Salonique who have given their lives to serve on the mission field. And he serves in an extremely poor country with no modern buildings or homes, a place where most people get around on foot or by bicycle, and a place where the cost of eating out for just one meal is equal to the cost of eating at home for a whole week or longer. I have to admit I felt guilty driving him around in a decent car, and ordering coffee and tea at a drive-up stand, and getting custom artisan style pizza superfast. But I also felt very blessed, even (dare I say) rich? I may not be wealthy by American standards, but in comparison to most people in Haiti, I’m rich indeed. And, in more important ways, I might call Salonique the richest man I know.
As Living Water’s website describes, the first decade of the 21st century brought major natural catastrophes to Gonaives, Haiti. There were hurricanes Jeanne (2004), Hannah (2008), and Ike (2008), which claimed thousands of lives of people and animals. The hurricanes also destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, farms, and businesses. Yet the people refused to give up or be defeated.
Under Salonique’s direction, the mission operates three churches and assists three others. They also provide two elementary schools, one traditional high school, and one high school for adults. Many of the students need sponsors to provide meals and an education. In addition, they operate a farm and a school for people to learn a profession. Eventually, a seminary will be built on the farm land (the seminary currently meets at one of their other schools). What’s more, Living Water provides a health clinic for many in the neighborhood who would not otherwise receive health care.
Salonique knows Jesus and he understands the blessing of serving Him and reaching out to help others come to know Him. Salonique lives by very humble means, in a very poor country, and he’s one of the richest men I know. Of course, he’s not rich financially or materially, but he has received the true reward of giving up everything for the cause of Christ, and knowing that God will provide for his every need.
I would encourage you to support this ministry if you’re able. To learn more, to sponsor a student, or to donate to help with God’s work in one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, please visit
Troy Burns

Are You Glad When I’m Sad?

My lovely bride finds great joy in making me really, really sad. That sounds terrible, I know, so let me explain. Kelly and I are the proud parents of three amazing kids, the oldest of whom now spends two-thirds of the year in a city 1,400 miles away from us. My wife, the adoring mother of said oldest child, likes to read posts from the “Grown and Flown” community on Facebook, a group that’s intended to offer support and sympathy to parents of college (and high school) kids. Kelly finds great comfort in these posts, and then breaks my heart by sharing them with me.
Here are a couple of examples:
  • “But when I hugged my daughter good-bye and watched her walk down the city street, away from us, her family, her protectors, it was like watching her walk straight out of her childhood.”
  • “Being a college parent means learning to say goodbye again and again and again.”
Do you see what she does to me? Since we’ve been fortunate enough not to face the death of a child, I would have to say that the initial college drop-off, when we first left our son in Phoenix and headed back to Spokane, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a parent. It’s a dirty trick, this business of raising a child and being around them all the time, only to have them leave you.
Since we’re coming fresh off the Thanksgiving holiday, when our son was home with us for a week after being gone for three months, we had to say goodbye again (and we’ll keep having to do that again and again and again). These “see you later” moments are getting slightly more tolerable, but they’re still a far cry from anything remotely enjoyable. And then there’s that wife of mine, sending me reminders of the emotional wreck that I am when our son is not here with us (and especially when he leaves again).
Okay, enough whining. My bride is in fact lovely and she does not in fact find great joy in making me really, really sad. We’re partners; we’re in this together. In fact, we are one. We share everything, including the great joys of life and the great challenges as well. She’s not glad when I’m sad, she just wants me to be sad with her. “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
Or, to quote a much less important source: “You know I can’t smile without you / I can’t laugh and I can’t sing / I’m finding it hard to do anything / You see I feel sad when you’re sad / I feel glad when you’re glad / If you only knew what I’m going through / I just can’t smile without you” (Barry Manilow). There’s no other person in the world I want to be sad with, or glad with, or laugh with, or sing with… or anything else for that matter.
Troy Burns

Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going

Where I’ve been: Author James Baldwin put into words my life so far: “Man does not remember the hand that struck him, the darkness that frightened him, as a child; nevertheless, the hand and darkness remain with him, indivisible from himself forever, part of the passion that drives him….”
Living in almost constant fear as a child marked me and made me, in many ways, who I am to this day. There’s an obvious drawback to this reality. Certain people and situations frighten me and I can’t prevent it from happening. However, on the positive side, I hate this reality so much that I have a passion for raising my kids in a more loving and graceful manner. While I want my children to respect me, I absolutely do not want them to be frightened of me.
Where I’m going: Author Lewis Smedes put into words what I want the rest of my life to be: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” As a dad, I’ve worked hard to break the cycle and help my kids keep “the hand and darkness” from remaining with them when they’re adults. But as a son, I want to stop dealing with the hand and the darkness. I want to render them powerless as a fuel for the passion that drives me. I can do this through forgiveness.
A couple of words in the Greek New Testament are rendered “forgive” or “forgiveness” in English. One of them is aphesis, literally meaning “to send away.” That’s one place I’m going. I’m releasing those who hurt me and scared me; they’re in God’s hands now, not mine. The other term is charizomai, which signifies “to bestow a favor” or to “show kindness.” I’m going there, too. I’ll choose to show kindness even when it’s completely unnatural and undeserved. My kind acts will free me from the emotional prison of unforgiveness.
We read in 1 Peter 3:9, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” Hatred imprisoned me, but kindness gives me my ticket out. I will love my enemies, as Brian Jones writes, “personal enemies with names and faces and horrible parenting skills.” I’m going there. Want to come with me?
Troy Burns

Here’s Looking at You, Kid

Lately I’ve been on this kick of reminiscing over my college years, when English was my major and my days were spent reading and writing, writing and reading. Last week my blog began with a quote from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. This week, my thoughts drifted toward a stanza from E.E. Cummings’ Somewhere I Have Never Traveled, Gladly Beyond:
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose
While the poet Cummings likely wrote those words with his love interest in mind, I’ve always understood them as describing a father’s love for his child, even when I first read them over 10 years before my first child was even born. Now, as a parent of three children, with more than 19 years of “dad” experience, I find Cummings’ words even more descriptive of a father looking at his child.
Before I had kids, I almost never cried (I had always “closed myself as fingers”); now I get choked up and the tears flow often (my kids have “unclose[d] me,” have opened me “petal by petal”). The last line of the poem also pulls at my daddy’s heart strings, especially as I recall the first sight of my kids while holding them as newborn babies: “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.”
Ultimately, whenever I think about myself as a father, I’m led to consider my own Dad, not my male parenting figure on earth, but my Father in Heaven, who calls me His child because of what His Son Jesus did in dying on the cross and taking on the punishment that I deserved. I wonder what He sees when He looks at me. I’m not worth His love, but He couldn’t love me more. He’s looking at His kid when He looks at me, His imperfect kid made perfect by his Dad.
Troy Burns

Of Flowers and Unsung Heroes

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen / And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” – Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
Consider some unseen “flowers” who did not waste their sweetness:
— Neerja Bhanot, a flight attendant who was murdered while saving passengers from terrorists on board the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 in September of 1986. Posthumously, she became the youngest recipient of India’s highest civilian award for bravery.
— Lee Jong-rak, a minister in South Korea who created a “baby box.” He attached the box to the side of his house, allowing parents to deposit their mentally handicapped or unwanted babies, to stop them from being abandoned on the side of the road.
— Megan Coffee, a specialist in infectious diseases who has been working in Haiti since the earthquake in 2010. She established a new sanatorium at that time and still works there, without pay, taking public transportation to get around.
— Scott Neeson, the former head of 20th Century Fox International who left Hollywood to save children scavenging in Cambodia’s garbage dumps. He sold his mansion, Porsche, and yacht to care for destitute children.
— Irena Sendler, a woman who grew up in Nazi-occupied Poland who risked her life to save 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto from 1942 to 1943.
Before reading about these unsung heroes just yesterday, I had never heard of them. I’m guessing the same is true for you. The Bible is also full of flowers who did not waste their sweetness, of relatively unknown people who did great things for God. Or, more accurately, God did great things through them. For example, beginning in Genesis chapter 37, we read about Joseph the shepherd boy—sold off by his brothers, falsely accused, left to languish in prison, forgotten by both time and family, and wasting away in utter and complete obscurity—to find himself eventually elevated to the second-highest position in the land.
But that’s who God is and what He does to accomplish His purposes. He takes a flower that seems to blush unseen and waste its sweetness, at least according to the standards of this world, and gives it a meaning and influence that impacts others, even saves lives.
God did this very thing with His Son, Jesus. As we read about our Savior in Isaiah 53:2b-3, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” And yet the life, death, and resurrection of this seemingly ordinary man, this flower, this unsung hero, changed this world forever and made heaven and eternal life a reality for all who believe in Him.
Troy Burns

Giving Up on Giving Up

A high school friend posted the following quote on his Facebook page (the words come from the main character in the movie, The Green Mile): “Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world every day. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head all the time. Can you understand?”
These words resonate deeply with me. Life can be tragic enough on its own without the horrible, unbelievable things people do to each other. And in this age of online news and social media, we hear about these terrible acts on a regular basis. Sometimes, it’s almost enough to make me want to give up. When I think about the people who commit horrific crimes, abuse others, and just generally have no respect for life (their own or that of others), I become judgmental and feel rather hopeless.
But no one is beyond the reach of God. The fourth verse of 1 Timothy chapter 2 tells us that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” No sin is too awful for His forgiveness. No person is too far, too dirty, or too hopeless for the Father to want them.
We should never give up and we should never live without hope. I’ve heard it said that human beings can live for forty days without food, four days without water, and four minutes without air. But we cannot live for four seconds without hope. If I had no hope, I would not almost give up, I’d already be done. Thankfully, we need not live without hope. Here are just a few reasons given by the organization World Vision for us to have hope in 2018:
  • Extreme poverty is giving up ground.
  • We are 99 percent of the way to eradicating polio globally.
  • The end of the HIV and AIDS pandemic is in sight.
  • We can solve the global water and sanitation crisis within our lifetimes.
  • Many kids in Africa will soon walk minutes instead of miles for water that will no longer make them sick.
  • Restored relationships are possible, even in the worst of situations.
What’s more, the hope we have in God is different than the hope this world has to offer. As we live our lives on earth, we might say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I hope it happens.” Then, if it doesn’t happen, we may want to give up. But when we read about hope in the Bible, (for example, in 1 Peter 1:13, “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”), we’re not just being taught about wishful thinking. Christian hope is when God has promised that something will happen and we put our trust in His promise. Our hope gives us certainty that things will happen; they haven’t happened yet. Since I have this hope, the only real hope, I’m giving up on giving up.
Troy Burns

Lost and Found Party

During our Spokane Youth Rally this past weekend, the featured speaker (Arron Chambers, Journey Christian Church, Greeley, CO) shared about a frightening experience he had many years ago, when his young son was lost at Sea World in Florida. His incredibly powerful point was that during this time of severe distress, while frantically searching for his son, it never once occurred to him that he had three other children who were not lost. He never said something like, “it’s fine if I lose one child; I still have three others.”
This example gets to the heart of what we read in Luke 15:11-32, a passage widely known as the “Parable of the Lost Son.” In the parable, the younger of two sons asks his father for his share of the estate, which basically means he’s telling his dad, “hey, I need you to be dead, but since you’re not, give me my inheritance now.” The father obliged and the son proceeded to squander his wealth in wild living. He finally came to his senses and decided to go back home to his father and acknowledge his terrible actions.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. The son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But instead of getting angry or seeking revenge, the father threw a huge party and celebrated the return of his son.
The older son witnessed this celebration, found out why they were partying, and became angry, refusing to go in and join the festivities. He couldn’t believe that his dad would celebrate the return of his younger brother, who squandered everything his father had given him. To this, the father replied, “‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Just as Arron (our youth rally speaker) discovered, it didn’t even occur to this father that he had another son who was not lost. What mattered to him was that the lost son was now found. What a picture of our Father God, who frantically searches for lost people and celebrates when they are found. May we not only appreciate this amazing quality of God, but also demonstrate the same type of love to people in this world who need nothing more than to find their way back to God, no matter how lost and far away they are from Him.
Troy Burns

A Heart Full of Garlic

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to travel with some good friends to Seattle for a couple of Mariners games. A huge highlight of the trip (for me) was eating an order of Safeco Field’s popular garlic fries, loaded with lots and lots of chopped garlic cloves. The fries were absolutely delicious and truly enhanced what was already a magical experience at the ballpark.
If you’ve ever eaten a large amount of garlic, you know what happens for some time after you eat. You smell very strongly of garlic and there’s not much you can do about it. You can brush your teeth, scrub your tongue with a paper towel, chew gum, eat breath mints, wipe the gum or mint juice all over your face, etc., but the smell will likely stay with you until at least the following day.
A few of us on the Seattle trip had eaten garlic fries and then drove back to Spokane the next day. The day after that (now two days removed from the garlic fry consumption), the wife of the guy who had driven our group to Seattle and back got into her car and said, “this thing reeks of garlic!” The issue with garlic is that the odor doesn’t just come from your mouth, it’s actually expunged through your pores as you sweat, as well as through your mouth. In other words, you can’t contain the smell no matter what you try.
When we struggle to undergo genuine change in our lives, we often deal with the exterior, surface-level problems and not the true, foundational issues. Take our struggle to forgive others for example. We might read some books and go through some counseling, but if that’s all we rely upon, it’s like rubbing gum or mint juice on the problem—over time we realize that the core issue is still with us. Forgiveness is first and foremost a spiritual issue; therefore, we must engage in uniquely spiritual activities to allow God’s grace to heal and change us.
Deep down at the heart level, what’s the source of your “garlic odor?” For me, I think it’s relying too much upon myself and not truly giving everything to God and letting Him do the work that only He can do. Whenever I find myself in the driver’s seat of the car that is my life, I need to get out, move over to the passenger seat, and let Jesus take control of the vehicle. I still get a front-row seat, but now my life is led by the One who is only good and always good, who is for me and not against me, and who can cleanse me in ways I can never cleanse myself.
Troy Burns

Lessons in Pain Relief

One of my biggest struggles as a dad is when my daughter is hurt by someone and I want to solve the problem instead of offering advice and allowing her to work through the issue herself. I’d much rather lash out or crack some skulls or otherwise knock some sense into whomever caused her pain. But, fortunately, I’ve come to understand that my initial, natural reaction does not typically lead to the best solution.
This balance of trying to help and protect my daughter, while also striving to train her in solving problems and dealing with people on her own reminds me of a book my friend Ann-Luise gave me years ago, when I was in the trenches of youth ministry. I continue to find refreshment and inspiration in this collection of devotionals from the heart of a fellow youth worker. The book, written by Glenn Procopio, is entitled So That’s Why I Keep Doing This.
In one of the devotionals, Glenn describes a situation where his son was harassed at school by a group of older thug-jocks who were cruel and abusive. After Glenn guided his son through some options and strategies, the young man confronted the group of boys and made them realize they weren’t going to get the best of him, while remaining calm, cool, and Christlike in his words and demeanor. Through a trial in his son’s life, God reminded Glenn that He is faithful; here are a few words that Glenn wrote to sum this up:
Faith in Christ becomes more real when shared. The enemy is tinier than he appears. God is infinitely larger than He seems. Victory comes to those who dare to trust God’s ways. God comes to those who dare to trust Him. Standing alone is never easy. Standing alone is always worth it. Your Father will always be there for you. In times of hurt, someone else hurts with you. There’s no feeling like being loved.
What this teenage boy showed his father, and what my daughter shows me when she’s brave and learns to fight her own battles, is that faith and life in Christ works, not just in church but every day. Having said that, though, I would still advise you not to hurt my little girl. After all, she is my heart walking around outside my body and I will do whatever I can to protect her. 😊
Troy Burns

Serving the Second Most Selfish Person in the World

We sometimes joke around in the office, saying that “ministry would be great if all these people weren’t around!” We laugh because people (including me, unfortunately) are difficult, but also due to the ironic fact that people are the most important reason we serve in ministry.
It’s notoriously challenging to deal with people in general, let alone difficult individuals. After all, when I serve another person, I’m trying to help the second most selfish person in the world. Guess who’s the most selfish? When John D. Rockefeller was asked which character quality he was willing to pay for the most when hiring employees, he responded without hesitation, “The ability to get along with people.”
Loving and serving people can be extremely difficult, but it’s always worth it. After our love for God, nothing is more important than our love for other people. When Jesus was asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” he replied “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-39).
Our love for others is even so critical and foundational that the Bible tells us we can’t love God if we don’t love people. Notice what we read in 1 John 4:20-21: 20 “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
Would ministry be great if all these people weren’t around? Well… Not really. It might feel that way at times, but during those moments, I’m just confirming that I’m the most selfish person in the world.
Troy Burns