Thursday, January 27, 2011

The value of a dime
















For a while, I wore this dime as a necklace.  But the leather kept tearing every few months, so it now hangs from my rearview mirror.  Nearly everyone who sits in my car asks about it.  One told me that I should write a blog about it.  So, Frank (calling you out!), here it is.

During my first trip to Kenya I met a man named Daniel Juma.  His home is about a 10-15 minute walk away from the compound that we were staying on.  One afternoon we walked to his home to spend some time with his family.  At that time it was Juma, his wife, 7 kids and about 17 orphaned children.  During this trip there were 9 women and 2 men, including myself.  The women were to be spending a significant amount of time working with the Neema Project.  As men, we weren't really sure what we would be doing during those times.  When Seth, the other guy on the team, saw the ceiling in Juma's home, he realized that it would be pretty easy to fix it up a bit.  So, that's what we decided to do.  Fix the ceiling.  What we ended up doing was tearing out the tiles, ripping out a bit of rotten wood and then replacing it all.  Because of some of the wood that had to be ripped out, the ceiling tiles didn't have something to be nailed into as much as they should have.  The result was that in a few places the tiles drooped down.  Things ended up taking a little longer than we expected (the joys of doing home repair in Kenya).  Not everything looked perfect either.  Every time Seth or I would apologize for something Juma kept telling us that "it's okay.  We'll worry about it another time".  On our last night in Kitale, Juma walked to our compound, which due to some early childhood sicknesses is more difficult that for most of us.  He came by just to thank us one more time and to say goodbye before we left Kenya.  Before he left, he handed me this dime and told me to hang onto it to remember him by.  And I haven't forgotten about that since.

I learned a few things from Juma.  When I saw the look on his face, and his childrens' faces when they saw the new ceiling they were overcome with joy.  It was far from perfect, yet he chose to see the beauty in a new ceiling over the flaws.  I read an interesting test some time ago:  Take a blank piece of white paper.  Ask yourself what you see.  The obvious answer is a white sheet of paper.  But next, draw a small, black dot somewhere on that paper.  Now what do you see?  Most will see the black dot.  Few will chose to focus more on the white piece of paper.  So often we, myself as well, tend to focus on the small, black dots in life and let them keep us down.  Really, I know that I need to focus more on the larger picture.  To remember the blessings that I have.  I love that as you read through the Book of Psalms, so much of it is reflecting back on the goodness of God.  The psalmists didn't forget about the bad times, but they chose to reflect on the provision of God instead.  How much happier would we be in life if we could do the same?

That's all for now.      

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A new blog site!

Okay, this I might actually keep updated now!  I started my last blog site before my first Kenya trip.  Now, the blog will not allow me to change the login to my Gmail account instead of my old hotmail account.  And because my laptop is automatically signed into my Gmail account for other things, it was easier this way.  Before you start emailing me ways to actually do it, I'm sure that there are ways.  But, this was easier.  Besides, I only had a few posts anyway.  I've copied them to this new site, so feel free to check them out.  

So, what's the point?  Well, in a few months, I'm starting on a some new journeys (see the post titled "A time for change").  I don't know where all of these adventures will lead me, but I go willingly and excitedly!

I've called this new blog Esse Quam Videri.  It's Latin for "To be rather than to appear to be".  I love this phrase.  Every morning as I shower I see this beautiful phrase on my right arm.  It reminds me of a commitment that I've made:  To be real with people.  It's only fairly recently that I've learned how to be comfortable doing this.  So, this blog will be just that:  a pure sharing of my heart.  I plan to share my adventures while in the US, and my adventures in Kenya here.

Part of this being real means that sometimes what I share will be fairly lighthearted.  Sometimes it may be deep and thought-provoking.  If you disagree with anything, I encourage and welcome your thoughts as well.  I only ask that if leaving comments, you keep them clean.

I have a few blog updates rolling around this crazy head of mine.  I think that the next will be called "the value of  dime".  And it has nothing to do with money at all.  :)

 

Final old blog post: "A time for change"

About eight and a half years ago I came to West Chester University.  I fell in love with this area.  WC is a beautiful town.  As I moved out of the dorms (er, Residence Halls, sorry), and into the community I fell in love even more.  I love West Chester in the summer.  I love being able to sit outside of Iron Hill and have dinner with friends.  I love walking though the town at night with the beauty of the street lanterns and the gorgeous, old homes.  I love this town as Christmas approaches and there are green wreaths hanging from so many of the shops and businesses in town.  I finally attended my first WC Christmas parade and it was awesome.  Events such as the restaurant festival are looked forward to much of the year.  I love the amazing church family that I have bonded with in this community.  But, like so many things, there comes a time for change.  .     

I have worked for the same company since 2002.  I started as a temporary employee, then part-time employee and for the last 3 years or so, a full time employee.  I left for a little while when I lived at camp for a year.  But I came back to West Chester and started full time work.  But, as I said, it's now time for a change...

On May 31st, I will be saying goodbye to West Chester.  

Most of you know that I have developed a great passion for Kenya.  I had the opportunity to go back to Kenya this past October on my own.  I stayed with Transformed International in Kitale, Kenya.  When I came back things just "weren't right".  Some of you probably remember just how broken and empty I felt when I returned.  A few things happened at this same time.  One is that I learned how to give more out of my emptiness.  You see, we can float through life doing everything that we can to have our own needs met.  We can chose to go to church thinking, "someone is going to meet my needs tonight".  But I learned that, even in my emptiness, I can walk into church knowing that I'm broken and empty and chose to meet others' needs.  I can sit and pray with someone else.  It's not about me.  You know what's really crazy?  I've learned that I can give even more out of my emptiness.  When I feel like I have nothing left to give - that's when the Father fills and allows me to give so much more.  I remember sitting at a prayer and worship night one night when I got back.  I really didn't want to be there but I knew that I needed to be.  As I sat there I felt like I needed to go prayer for someone else.  As I walked to my friend and asked him how he was doing, it turns out that he was having a pretty rough night.  What a joy it was to focus not on myself, but on another and encourage my friend and watch as he was filled with joy again.  

Something else started to happen.  For a while now I have felt a calling to the Nations.  I even had a tentative five, maybe even six, year plan to answer this call.  All of a sudden five years was too long.  My timing was off.  I thought that maybe, just maybe, if done at the right time, I could possibly swing a whole month off of work to go back to Kenya.  That wasn't enough.  After a lot of prayer and discussions with trusted others, I made a decision to take a step of faith.  I contacted my friend Daniel in Kenya about some opportunities that came up for me.  So, to make a long story short, here it is:

May 31st is my last day of work in West Chester.  This summer will be a time of preparation for me in a different opportunity.  Then, I will be spending the Fall back in Kenya.  What will happen after the Fall is quite honestly uncertain.  But I can say that I am trusting that the Lord will show me the next step.  I could come back to the US and stay.  Or, I could come back to the US knowing that I will be turning around and leaving again.  To be honest, this is a huge step of faith for me.  I am leaving a job that I've grown comfortable in.  I will be leaving behind some pretty good perks of this job, including my car.  But I love how Jesus said that "blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT".  Not the poor, the poor in spirit.  Heidi Baker talks extensively in her book Compelled by Love.  But to sum up what it means to me very simply:  Blessed are those who are fully dependent on God.  In our culture, we very rarely get to experience this kind of true dependance.  In a way, we don't have to.  We have everything else to depend on.  I am excited to HAVE to depend on God through this.  It's a good place to be in.  

So, what will I be doing in Kenya?  I was recently asked to think of a few things that I would like to do for the Fall.  I started thinking about why I was first drawn to Kenya.  It was about 2 years ago (I think?) during a message at church that Faith presented.  As she talked about Kenya and how we partner with Transformed International, I was drawn in by one key thing that she talked about.  The street kids.  There are thousands of boys living on the streets.  My last two trips didn't give me much time with the street boys.  I am not sure what things will look like, but during my next trip to Kenya, I desire to build relationships with the boys on the street.  I know some of what they experience.  I think that I can relate to them on a level that perhaps many others in Kenya cannot.  I know that as the time draws near, more details will come.  I know that other projects will arise.  

Although this has gone a bit long, it is still a very, very basic, watered down version.  I'd love to talk more about it in person if anyone wishes.  


-ray

Old blog post: "God already left Africa"

Catchy title, huh?  I've never seen the movie, but this is a quote from the Bruce Willis movie, Tears of the Sun.  Before I left for Kenya someone at work made mention of this quote to me.  It was brought up again when I came back nearly 2 weeks ago.  I've been meaning to write this since then.  I've been putting it off for a few reasons.  One reason is that writing this means that the adventure is over, and to be honest, I wish it wasn't over yet.  Since I've been back I just haven't felt the same.  It's not the same as I felt after my first trip.  I was able to bounce back into life here in the US much easier.  There was something different about this trip though.  I truly felt at home in Kenya.  I didn't feel fear once I got there.  Everything just felt so perfect.  During the shuttle ride to Nairobi to leave Kenya I cried most of the way.  I cried because I knew that when I was coming back home to could never allow me to feel as alive as I did in Kenya.  I cried because I didn't know when I could be going back again.  I cried because I knew that so many people back here at home simply don't care.  Sure, everybody wants to "hear about Kenya".  But what does that really mean?  What I find most people (surely not all) want to know is how the food was; how the weather was; how the flight was; what kind of animals there are.  I'm not saying that these are bad questions.  In fact, I think that they are very normal questions.  But there is so much more!  There are so many amazing people to talk about!  There are some truly amazing things happening in Kenya!  Yet it seems that most people don't want to know the deep things.  They don't care about the people in Kenya nearly as much as they care about the food they eat.  For me, I'd so much rather have a deep conversation about the people.  About things that Kenyans struggle with.  About the hope that exists and the change that is emerging throughout the land.  I struggled with this for most of the last two weeks.  Then I started taking my own advice that will show below.

So, has "God already left Africa"?  To answer this, let's take a brief look at the Kenya that I saw.  According to a BBC study there are about 32 million people living in Kenya.  Nearly 52% of them live on less than one US dollar per day.  Almost 1.1 million adults live with HIV/AIDS (not to mention the children).  The average life expectancy is 45 years old.  There are an estimate 400,000 children living on the streets through out Kenya.  Many of these children living on the streets become addicted to sniffing glue.  Why?  It kills the hunger pangs that they feel.  It keeps them warm at night as temperatures drop.  young girls (many not even in their teen years yet) turn to prostitution to earn a living.  Orphanages exist that house upwards of 70+ abandoned children.  Kenya is a country where corruption and violence are tools to advance financially and politically.  This is a land where poverty and disease can be seen at every turn. 

But to say that "God has already left Africa" couldn't be farther from the truth!  While the above paragraph paints a dark image, there is so much more!  You see, we have a choice to make.  Are we going to focus on the negative or are we going to look for the good?  Are we going to give up on the situation in Kenya or are we going to look and see hope?  Believe me when I say that there is hope!  The corruption is being cracked down on.  3 days ago the mayor of Nairobi was arrested and has since stepped down from office on corruption charges. Police officers are being arrested for the role in corruption and violence.  I sat and talked with a local Kenyan man who raises 20+ orphaned children - in addition to his own!  When you visit this man it is impossible to tell which kids are his biological kids and which are orphans because he treats them all with the same level of respect and love that they deserve.  This man does not get any aid from the government to do this.  He takes children into his home, feeds them and loves them because he believes that it is the right thing to do.  This is the same man who recently marched fearlessly into the children's ministry and demanded that they stop abusing children and start taking care of them like they're supposed to (this in itself could be an entire story here).  This is not a man who will end there either.  This Kenyan man is one who will see this fight through to the end.  And things will change.  He will not accept defeat.

I saw girls who have been taken off of the streets and shown how to love themselves; that they matter and that they are important.  They have been taught a trade and are being educated so that they can start a new life for themselves.  I saw my little buddy Martin running around the Veronica Home as happy as can be!  Martin, whom I met on my first trip last July, is a walking miracle!  During the end of our trip Martin went to the hospital very sick.  He is HIV Positive and came down with a bad case of the chicken pox.  The doctors said that he wouldn't live through the night.  Our team refused to accept that.  We sat on the living room floor and prayed over this boy and claimed a miracle of healing in him.  To go back to Kenya and hold little Martin in my arms and spin him around the yard is incredible!  I held a living, walking, breathing miracle in my arms!  In my arms was evidence that God has NOT left Africa, nor does he intend to!  This is only one story of a miracle.  There are countless more.  Children miraculously healed of HIV/AIDS.  Kids alive and well that were abandoned and left for dead.  Children that are experiencing love and peace in their lives.  

So, again, we can look at the darkness that is in the land of Kenya and be discouraged.  OR, we can look as the hand of a loving God moves across that land.  God certainly has not left Africa.  He has not forgotten about His people there.  He does not love them any less than He loves you and me. 

To those who would believe that God has left Africa, I challenge you to visit there and I promise you that you will see the presence of God.   Psalm 68:5 says "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows is God in His holy habitation."  Go to Africa and that is the very God that you will encounter.  


Thanks for taking time to read.  Be blessed.

-ray 



Psalm 68:5 says "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows is God in His holy habitation."   

Old blog post: "Why Kenya?"

"Why Kenya?"  This is the question I was recently asked by a good friend.  It's not the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last time this question is asked of me.  So, I'd like to answer that question a bit in this note. 
The other week when my friend asked me this my answer was pretty simple.  I pulled a photo out from under the sun visor in my car ans said "this is why.  I fell in love with these people".  The photo was from my trip last summer.  It was our team along with the kids of Hope Bright Future Children's Home.  The kids were all wearing brand new Phillie's hats - The only thing that could have made it better is if they were wearing Atlanta Braves hats!!! :) – (this picture is below).  It sounds like a simple answer and it kind of is.  I truly fell in love with the culture and with the people.  The kids that I met were so amazing.  They have learned to be so content with the little that they have.  These kids didn't ask us for anything other than our attention.  They didn't want to play video games or watch TV.  They didn't want the newest Power Wheels car (which I know I always wanted!).  They didn't ask for the latest Xbox game.  They didn't ask for a new laptop or a new flat screen TV.  But they did ask us to play a crazy fun game of football (soccer) with them.  One boy asked me to repeatedly carry him around on my shoulders as he pretended that he was flying.  These kids have learned a level of contentment bring joy that we should all desire. 

Before last summer’s trip I was told by Daniel, the director of Transformed International (whom we partner with), "don't come to Kenya expecting to change the entire country.  Come to Kenya expecting the country to change you".  Now, to be honest, I thought that this was crazy advice.  Ever since I was young I had dreams of "changing the world".  I was going to be the guy who, while not in politics at all, unites countries and brings world peace.  After only a few days in Kenya I began to understand that Daniel was right.  I can never change an entire country.  That’s a job reserved for God.  BUT, I can change the lives of individuals.  And I can allow the experiences of a 3rd world country to change my life.  How did it change my life?  For starters, I’m learning to be much more thankful for the things that I have.  I may complain about having to go to work in the morning, but I’m thankful that I have a job.  It may not be making 6 figures, but I’m getting by and I’m grateful for what I have been blessed with.  So many people take an experience like this and think that they need to give everything up and do without.  I do not agree with that mentality.  The simple truth is this:  We have been richly blessed in our country.  We do not need to give away all of those blessings.  Instead, we need to be content with them.  We need to be thankful for them. 

The second picture below is of a man named Daniel Juma and some of his family.  Juma, at that time, had taken in about 17 foster kids from the streets.  He received no help from the Kenyan government.  He fed, housed and loved these kids just like his own children, of which he has 7.  Since last summer I know that he has taken even more kids in.  The only other guy on our team last summer, Seth, and I helped fix up his ceiling for him.  It was far from perfect when we finished.  But it was a new ceiling and it would help keep the rain out.  Every time Seth or I mentioned that the new ceiling just didn’t look right, Juma would say the same thing:  “It’s ok.  We’ll worry about it tomorrow.”  He was just so happy that he had a new ceiling over his home.  He didn’t care if the middle sagged in a bit, or if the paint wasn’t totally even.  He was just so thankful for the work that was done.  On our last night in Kitale he walked about a quarter mile to the TI compound (which was difficult for him due to some medical complications).  He came just to say goodbye to us and to thank us one more time for helping him.  Juma is a man that I will never forget.  He has a strong passion to reach out to the orphaned children in Kenya and he is a man of high morals. 

So, in 2 weeks (Oct. 3rd) I will be getting on a plane and heading back to this land that I love so much.  I am not going as a part of a team.  I will be flying from Philly, PA to Nairobi, Kenya on my own.  Once I reach Nairobi, I will be met by Daniel from TI. I will be staying with the crew at TI for two weeks and experiencing Kenya!  I’m looking forwards to seeing people like Juma and his family again. 
Another question I have been asked a few times is “what will you be doing while you’re there?”  It’s a normal question to ask.  Here’s a not so normal answer (would you really expect a ‘normal’ answer from me???).  I don’t know.  I don’t have a plan.  I just know that I am looking to serve wherever I can.  I’ve come to really dislike the word missionary.  There seems to be this connotation that as a missionary you have to have a set plan.  You have to build a church, or build a school.  Or you have to be giving out medical care.  Please, don’t misunderstand me; those are some very good things and make great trips and are very beneficial.  However, it’s not what this trip is for me.  I desire to build relationships with people. I don’t want to go to Kenya thinking that I know what everyone needs.  I want to go, ask what they need and see where I can fit in.  Simply put, this is a trip of service.  This is a trip of love.  I deeply and passionately desire to share the love of Jesus with all that I encounter.  If that means playing soccer with some kids one day, I’ll do that.  If it means sitting and talking with a widow for an afternoon, I’ll do that.  If it means helping build mud huts, I’ll do that too.  I have no plan other than to serve. 
For those curious minds, I will be returning back to the US from this trip.  I will be in Kenya for two weeks.  I return on October 18th in the evening.  Throughout that week I will be posting pictures and updates. 

That’s a pretty watered down version of what’s in my head but it will have to do for right now.    

-ray

Daniel Juma and some of his family


Kids at HBF with our team

Old blog post: "My thoughts on poverty?"

It's been quite a while since I wrote anything on here but an experience from yesterday has had me thinking and I'd like to write about it. A few disclaimers:
1. I will probably use the word "WE" often, talking about the American Culture as a whole. I include myself in this term. I consider myself no better a person in any way. 
2. These are my thoughts based on experience and conversations with others. Some will agree with me, others will disagree. While it is not my intention, some may even be offended. Too bad. If you are that strongly opposed, offer to buy me an orange mango smoothie from Startbucks and we'll talk about it and we’ll respectfully learn from one another. 
3. Some statistics mentioned are also quoted in a friend of mine’s blog from Kenya, Africa. His name is Daniel and his blog is worth checking out: http://dlipparelli.blogspot.com/ The main source of the statistics, as well as others, can be found there. 
4. This is much longer than I thought it would be. Sorry, I have a passion for this. 
I was in Camden, NJ yesterday morning at Rutgers's University. It was hot and humid and I had the AC on and the windows up. As I rolled to a stop sign I heard this voice yell out, “YO!” I turned to my left to see a homeless woman (I can only assume homeless based on appearance and the following). Through my closed windows and radio on I heard her yell, while pointing at her stomach, “give me some money for some food!” I turned away and continued driving through the intersection. A short time later I parked my car and was walking around. As I was on my way into the student center the very same woman was outside telling people that she needed money for food and that she wasn’t going to use it to buy alcohol. I guess she knew the stereotype that she was facing. She came to me asking for money; I politely told her that I didn’t have any money on me. This was, in fact, the truth. My wallet was in my car. As I walked by I really thought about what she might be feeling. I remember childhood nights with my biological mother and sister living out on the streets. I know that feeling of hunger and not knowing when or where food will come from. It’s was a scary place to be as a child, I can only imagine how harsh the reality of it must be as an adult. On my way out of the student center I decided to buy her breakfast. I went to my car, got some money and headed to the sandwich cart nearby. As I ordered a sandwich and struck up a conversation about work things with the gentleman working, I could still see this woman nearby. There seemed to be a line in the sidewalk that she wouldn’t cross near this cart. I got the feeling (I can’t explain it, it was just a strong feeling) that she and this man in the cart had some trouble and she won’t come near his cart looking for food or money. This feeling was reinforced as I paid for the sandwich and water. I told him that I wanted him to keep the change and buy this woman lunch with it as well. He refused and finally told me that if I wanted to I could give her money myself but he didn’t want her nearby. I told him, “no, I don’t want to give her money, I want to give you money to give her food”. Still, he refused and I saw that I was not going to win this battle. I handed her the sandwich and a bottle of water, offered a smile and she began to cry. That was it and we both walked away. I sat in my car for a bit watching her in my rearview mirror. She didn’t eat the sandwich and instead continued begging for money; sandwich in one hand, money cup in the other. 
So, I need to ask this. Am I just naïve in my hope and desire for a change, or have we as a nation just become so desensitized to poverty that we do not even see it anymore. It seems that it is so easy for us to simply walk by without so much as a 2nd thought. I do not think that I am naïve. First of all, I fully understand that there are some who simply don’t want to be helped, so you don’t need to have some sort of intervention with me to lecture about this. But, there are a lot of folks in poverty that would like a change. If there is any hope for a change, I think that a few things need to happen:
1. We ne need to become aware of the situation. The fact is that studies have shown that Americans throw away almost 14 percent of the food we buy, while elsewhere a child dies every 7 seconds due to lack of food. One sixth of the world lives without electricity, while most of us whine and moan if our power goes out for an hour. A few weeks ago there was an accident here that took down a pour line. My power at home was out for about an hour or two that I was home for. As I think about it now, not once did I think about the car that hit the power line, but I talked to a neighbor complaining about not having power. There are places in this world where violence is so bad that women are afraid to even leave their homes. Not that it matters much because their own husbands are beating them as well. There are parts of the world where hundreds of thousands of KIDS are living on the streets, fending for themselves. I’ve walked through some of these places myself. I’ve prayed, “God, let that have been only a puddle of mud that I just stepped in”. I’ve seen firsthand what it looks like to cram over a million people into a little more than one square mile. I know that more than half of the world lives on less than a single US Dollar a day. In America, it seems that with every city of wealth, not far behind is a comparable homeless population. I’ll stop boring you with statistics now…
2. We need to be aware of what we have. Personally, I am a very blessed man. I have two awesome families. One of which is stuck with me forever {love you guys! } and one of which chose me {love you all too! }. I drive a nice car, I have a nice roof over my head every night. I have heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer in my house and my car. Sometimes, I even drive with my windows down and the AC on {yeah, yeah, lecture me on that one later }. I live on far more than a dollar a day. I have seen more of this country before I turned 21 than some see their entire lives, most of which was compliments of Uncle Sam. While I certainly do not make tons and tons of money at my job, I have a job. It pays my bills and then some. I could go on and on, but I won’t. But what about you? How many good things are going for you? Are your kids fed? Are you educated? Do you drive to work? Think about how many ways you’re blessed too.
3. It’s hard to look at the contrast between the 1st and 2nd point here without feeling a bit of guilt, isn’t it? Get over it. Guilt does nothing to help anyone. Here’s the deal, we’re very fortunate. If I all of a sudden decide that I’m going to stop living in my house and start living on the street, have I really done anything to help the 200,000+ street kids in Nairobi? No, no I haven’t. BUT, I should be able to look at my blessings and my fortunes and be thankful for them. 
As I reflect on my encounter with this woman in Camden, I wonder what else I could have done. I could have bought 2 sandwiches and shared a meal with her. Why didn’t I? Perhaps because I too fell into a common feeling with poverty - fear. I think that because we don’t fully understand poverty, we fear it (again, myself included). What was I afraid of? Maybe she would have asked me for more. Maybe she was a real “crazy” person and I would be able to excuse myself. How about the man who ran the cart? What was he afraid of? That she would be more visible to his customers if he allowed me to buy her lunch? That she may expect it every day then? I’m not saying that these fears do not hold validity. I’m just bringing them to light. Partially, I’m bringing my own fears to light for myself as well. It’s almost as if we take the stance that if we do not see the poverty, it must not exist. In West Chester (those of you in WC probably know what I’m talking about), we have a pretty well off businesses section. A few years ago, the city replaced the benches in this area with what mockingly became known as “bum-proof benches”. I am told that this was at the request of many business owners. These benches have bar through the middle of them separating them into two sections. This ensures that no one can lay down on them to sleep. So, the homeless population is no longer lying in town on benches. And if you don’t believe that WC has a large homeless population, go to the Holy Trinity Church on a Friday around 4PM to see how many show up for a free meal and fellowship. Drive down Matlack Street a block or two away from the courthouse and see the poverty yourself. It’s there. Take a trip to the various shelters during the winter months. Heck, walk into Starbucks on High Street and you will often find them there sipping a cup of coffee to escape the weather. 
So, how do things change? As good as it may feel to buy a meal for someone in poverty, what I did was nothing more than a bandaid for this woman. I only gave her one meal. I didn’t get to her REAL problem. You see, the problem with many impoverished people is not that they have no food, or no shelter. Don’t get me wrong, these are very real needs and I do not mean to belittle the benefit of short-term fixes. But, the true problem is WHY they are in such a state. There’s a guy from my church who runs a ministry in Philly that helps homeless people get licenses and state ID’s. Why? Because without valid ID you cannot legally work. For you and me, it’s not asking too much to shell out the $30 or so fee for a State ID. For the average person living on the street, that’s a lot of money. 
We send a team from church to Senegal, Africa. This is a medical mission’s trip; a doctor from my church heads up the team and they provide free medical care and medicine to the villagers. One could look at the situation and say that the need was for medicine. But it turns out that medicine was not the root need. It was clean water and access to it. Because this team took the time to ask the village what the needed they found this out. So, the team raised money and built water towers and pipelines. Now, the village is healthier because the water was the real need. The free medicine was a bandaid – a quick fix, but underneath the wound was still bleeding. Again, I don’t want to belittle those bandaids. Many times we need to focus on the immediate before we can think longer. I merely mean to say that in order for change to occur, we, at some point, need to go beyond the immediate. Ideally, those which we are “helping” should reach a point where they no longer need us. 
If you look at the ministry of Jesus you will find 5 very common words (or some variation of them): “He was moved with compassion”. He spent a great deal of His ministry with the poor and the sick. He certainly did not ignore the less fortunate and He didn’t walk by them without a 2nd thought. I have to wonder what it would look like if I was “move with compassion” more often. One of the things that struck me about Kenya last summer was not how little the people had, but how little they asked for. Most just wanted a hug, or someone to kick a soccer ball around with, or someone to talk with and share a smile. Simply put, they did not want someone to pity them, they wanted someone to show love to them. 
I’m not pretending to have all of the answers at all. I’m not claiming to be perfect. And I most definitely do not wish to be seen as some sort of savior to those in poverty. What I do want, however, is to bring awareness to this issue that is so prevalent not only in the US, but in our world. I desire to see a change. I desire to see the impoverished no longer be in poverty. I desire to see a more grateful attitude in my Country. I desire to see it more in my own life too! I don’t want to complain about the small things. I don’t want to focus all of my attention of the bad things that have happened in my life. I want to focus on the lessons that I’ve learned through them and move on! I’m often reminded of my friend Daniel Juma in Kitate, Kenya. We had the opportunity to repair a ceiling for him. Every time we told him something may not look quite right (paint color, crown molding, etc) he said one thing: “that’s okay, we’ll worry about that later”. See, he was content with what he had. He didn’t care if something wasn’t quite perfect. He was just so thankful for what he had. If he learned to be content in what little he had, why can’t we learn to be content in our bounty? Is enough ever enough for us? Or do we always need more and more? 
There is so much more I could write on this, but I’ll stop now. As you can probably see, I have developed a huge passion in this area. It wasn’t always there. I do not currently have plans on founding some sort of mission based organization to solve the world’s poverty issue. But I do want to bring attention to the issue. I challenge you who have taken the time to read this far to be moved by compassion. I’m not going to tell you what that should look like. That’s for you to figure out. Let’s just be aware of the issue. 

Old blog post: "Why don't we stop?"

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2009


Why don't we stop?

I wrote this yesterday on Facebook but decided to put it here too...isn't that why I created this blog thing anyway??

I was driving on I-75 through Tennessee this morning. It was raining pretty hard and visibility was getting worse by the minute. As I drove, I saw a little black car that was pretty smashed up; it looked like it hit the guard rail on the left side of the highway. I saw two people outside of the car holding each other. One was older, probably the mother, and the other was a bit younger, probably the daughter.

I pulled over on the highway a few yards past them and grabbed my phone. As I ran towards their car, I could see a baby in the back seat (the front of the car was pretty much completely gone). Luckily, everyone was okay and the daughter had just called 911. They were surprised that someone stopped in the pouring rain to offer help.

As I walked back to my car I wondered one simple question: Why hadn't anyone else stopped? How many of the dozens of drivers that drove by in that short time saw and yet continued to drive by. Some probably called 911 from inside of their own car, some may not have seen anything while others, no doubt saw and chose to just keep driving thinking that someone else will help.

Whether you are Christian or not, I believe that the following story has meaning to us all: A man was traveling when he was robbed, beaten and left for dead. A priest walked by - on the other side of the road. A Levite walked by - also on the other side of the road. Finally, a Samaritan man walked by. He saw the man on the ground, bandaged his wounds and paid for him to be nursed back to health. After telling this story, Jesus asked "which of these do you think was a neighbor to the man who was beaten?"

Again I have to ask, why did no one else stop this morning? Was it because it was raining? Were they just in a hurry? Did they have something better to do? I bet those people who crashed had somewhere to be too. I'm sure that crashing their car in the pouring rain wasn't exactly on the top of their to-do list this morning. So, why is our culture one that seems to just pass by? It is as if we (and I do not exclude myself from this) have the mentality that "someones else will help". The problem is that those in need do not need "someone else to help"; they just need help. I wish that our culture was one that stopped rather than passing by.

Dr. Herb Lee once wrote: "...As a foundation in today’s world, it is compulsory that each Friar performs his most basic public responsibility-the devotion to live most to serve others best." Though he wrote this as a call to action the Friars' Society at WCU, I believe that Herb would agree that we should all live in such a manner.

Old blog post: "Breaking out of a warehouse"

TUESDAY, JUNE 16, 2009

Breaking out of a warehouse

The following is an excerpt from Eat This Book, by Eugene H. Peterson (http://www.amazon.com/Eat-This-Book-Conversation-Spiritual/dp/0802829481/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245196175&sr=8-1).

Imagine a group of men and women in a huge warehouse. They were born in this warehouse, grew up in it, and have everything there for their needs and comfort. There are no exits to the building but there are windows. But the windows are thick with dust, are never cleaned, and so no one bothers to look out. Why would they? The warehouse is everything they know, has everything they need. But then one day one of the children drags a step stool under one of the windows, scrapes off the grime, and look out. He sees people walking on the streets; he calls to his friends to come and look. They crowd around the window - they never new a world existed outside their warehouse. And then they notice a person out in the street looking up and pointing; soon several people are gathered, looking up and talking excitedly. The children look up but there is nothing to see but the roof of their warehouse. They finally get tired of watching these people out on the street acting crazily, pointing up at nothing and getting excited about it. What's the point of stopping for no reason at all, pointing at nothing at all, and talking up a storm about the nothing?

But what those people in the street were looking at was an airplane (or geese in flight, or a giant pile of cumulus clouds). The people in the street look up and see the heavens and everything in the heavens. The warehouse people have no heavens above them, just a roof. 

What would happen, though, if one day one of those kids cut a door out of the warehouse, coaxed his friends out, and discovered the immense sky above them and the grand horizons beyond them? That is what happens...when we open the Bible - we enter the totally unfamiliar world of God, a world of creation and salvation stretching endlessly above and beyond us. Life in the warehouse never prepared us for anything like this.

Typically, adults in the warehouse scoff at the tales the children bring back. After all, they are completely in control of the warehouse world in ways they could never be outside. And they want to keep it that way.


This passage really had me thinking this past week. How often do we limit ourselves to our own little warehouse? Go back and re read the text in red. This is what really hit me. The people outside were getting so excited about an airplane, or clouds, or birds flying. I kind of missed over this at first. Then, as I read over it again, I started to ask myself why we don't get that excited over the little things. Do you remember being a child and staring up at the clouds? I feel like as we grow older it's no longer "acceptable" to get excited over small, seemingly "insignificant" things such as a shape in the clouds.

The rest of the adult world wants to call it "immature" to be so excited about minor things. To laugh and have fun at work must mean that something is wrong with you. To make time during the day to get some fresh air must mean that you aren't working hard enough. To sit in the trunk of your hatchback trunk and sip a hot cup of tea while admiring and laughing at the funny shapes in the clouds is a waste of time (yes, I did this on this past Sunday morning. My lawn furniture was wet from the rain and I didn't want to dirty a towel drying the chairs). To be thankful to be busy at work because it means you're working for a growing company means that you must be sucking up to your boss. To love a free toy from a box of cereal and keep it on your desk at work to play with randomly means that you haven't grown up yet. To occasionally turn up the car radio and rock out to a silly song is juvenile. And I could go on and on....

Please, don't misunderstand me here. There is definitely a time and a place to be serious, focused and professional. And I do know how to be those things, and I am very good at it. 
But here's the truth, as I see it. To be able to get excited over the little things is healthy! Proverbs 17:22 says that, "A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones". So, why can't I have fun at work? Why shouldn't I get fresh air during the day if it makes me smile? Why should I have to be so stressed out all day that I just feel bitter? Why is it that the rest of the world seems to want to quiet me for doing what I can to be in a good mood?

Again, please don't misunderstand me; I have my bad days too. I have times where I do get stressed over things. Days where I just want to be left alone for a bit.

But, I don't want to be stuck in a warehouse not knowing what else is out there. I want to break a hole in the wall and get out of the warehouse and see what the people outside are getting excited about. And if that happens to be a cloud that looks like man chasing a dog with a rolled up newspaper, than so be it! I'm making it my goal this summer to think more positively and love the little things in life. Who's with me? Who else will ignore that voice saying "grow up" and just let lose a bit? Who else will take some time to just watch the clouds roll by? Anyone??


That's it. Sorry this is long...

LESS THAN ONE MONTH UNTIL KENYA!!! :)

Old blog post: "Blessings"

THURSDAY, MAY 7, 2009


Blessings

I haven't written anything on here in a bit. So, for the 2 or 3 people who make read this - sorry!


I'm gearing up for Kenya in July! It's pretty amazing to see how things are falling into place. We had our first meeting a little while ago. Originally, our flights were going to cost close to $2,000. Faith, who is leading this trip, was able to get flights for less than $1,300! How amazing is that! God is definitely taking care of us here and it's so encouraging to witness it all. I've even had some people that I wouldn't have expected to donate funds that have asked me if they could help support me financially in this trip. I'm looking forward to how this trip is going to change me. When we met with Daniel a while back, he kept telling us not to come to Kenya expecting to change the country, but rather to expect that Kenya will change us. I'm already seeing it too.


Tonight, I was talking with Mike at bible study and somehow it came up that there is currently a woman in the US from Brazil speaking about her ministry there with the orphans. Mike was describing a little bit about it. I'm actually going to this dinner tomorrow night to hear her speak with one of the other guys at Mike's practice. I'm not sure what this will lead to. I'm keeping an open mind about where I will end up though. I told Mike tonight that it's not really a question of if I will serve outside of the country, it's a question of when and where. I can say that very confidently too.


This leads to the title of this particular blog - BLESSINGS. I was driving a bit tonight and thinking about a lot of things that I have experienced in life, especially before my adoption. I remember a lot of different abuses and living on the streets with my mom and sister. Long story short - it was a pretty dark time. I used to wonder why I had to go through some of it. I've reached a conclusion a while ago that it has to be to help others through it. As I spent some time driving and praying tonight, I thought how blessed I am to have experienced so much! I have experienced what it is to feel so neglected and wonder what it is to have loving parents. I have also gotten to experience the opposite end of the spectrum where I have two amazing parents that love me. I have not just one, but two amazing families that love me and support me in everything I do. It reminds me of Joseph's response to his brothers as they begged for his forgiveness. He told that that what they meant for evil, God meant for good.


I know that what I have been through is nothing compared to what so many children around the world have to endure day in and day out. I think that Mike said it pretty well when he was talking about the kids in Brazil. He said that they face every type of abuse imaginable and death every single day. These are kids who don't know what it is to experience love in any kind. These are the kids that need to know what it is to have the unconditional love of an amazing God.


I feel my calling is to love those who don't know love. I may not know exactly where that will be, but I am trusting in the Lord for a sense of direction and clarity for where to go. I know that it may be difficult to leave my family and friends here in the US, but if that's my calling, how can I say no? I really can't. There is an amazing future ahead for me and I am looking forward to it. I'm still blown away at how God can still use me after how many times I've stumbled and fallen. He has a wonderful plan