Hope and Fear

Inauguration Day:

“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

Today:

“This recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits . Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.”

NO TIME TO LOSE! DON’T READ IT, JUST PASS IT! PASS IT NOW OR WE WILL NEVER RECOVER! WE NEED THIS MASSIVE SPENDING BILL OR THE WORLD WILL END, CIVILIZATION WILL CEASE AND PUPPIES WILL DIE! DON’T READ IT! DON’T DEBATE IT! CATASTROPHE, DISASTER AWAIT UNLESS WE CONVERT TO MARXISM TODAY! TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF PORK ARE NEEDED IMMEDIATELY, OR WE WILL ALL DIE!!!!

Even if Obama is from Kenya, this is the largest Nigerian financial scam ever.

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Bits and Pieces

The news isn’t interesting yet again today. Republicans admire the Democrat’s desire to surrender. I don’t disagree that the Iraq war must end eventually, I just don’t think Congress should be dictating it. But I’m alone on that point, I think. Tammy Faye Bakker is preparing to die, but aren’t we all. I don’t spend a lot of time reading about her, but what little I know, she didn’t do much to improve the image of Christians. The Pope gives a warning to Catholic politicians. Good; pro-abortion catholic politicians are hypocrites.

Personal stories? Fresh out of them at the moment. I work all day, go to the gym, get home late for dinner, then go to bed. Rinse, repeat. I’m teaching bible class this Sunday, so I’m not likely to have any personal stories this week.

Christian Carnival should be posted soon, if not already. Let me go look for it… Nope, not yet. It’ll be posted at Light Along the Journey this week, but it’s not up yet.

I’m enjoying the built-in RSS reader in IE7, so I haven’t used Shapreader or Bloglines in a while. Hard to make a story out of that, but I suppose geeky tech writers, poor souls, have to write 1000 word essays on stuff like that so other geeky tech people can read about it. I don’t know many people like that, and trying to explains what RSS is to most of my friends would be like speaking French to a cat. But it has a great advantage; you can see if a website like this has been updated without ever visiting the site. Saves a bunch of time on clicking and loading web pages.

Um…. what else…. oh, Starbucks has a new sugar-free syrup to go with the vanilla and the cinnamon dolce; now they have sugar free caramel. I still like the vanilla best. And it has to be sugar-free, those full-fat, full-sugarlatte’s have like 6000 calories in them, enough for a small African village. I’m still losing weight, but I’m not sure when I’ll stop. Some friends the other night told me I looked “gaunt” so I suppose I’m almost through. It’s taken over two years, but I’ve lost 60 lbs. Another 10 lbs to go, maybe. The last 10 lbs, the hardest, were suddenly made easier when I signed up for Nutrisystem, so I’m going to recommend that program. Easy, almost never hungry. Email me if you want a coupon and we’ll both save $30.

What’s going on in your life?

Review: On the Move

On the Move

Bono, the lead singer of U2, was asked to give an address at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006. Bono discussed his personal faith, the faith of nations, and the plight of the poor in Africa that are dying from AIDS. Based on this speech, “On the Move” was produced with images of the faces of those affected.

Bono’s speech was challenging, calling AIDS the “leprosy of our age;” at first criticizing churches for the initial reaction to this disease, then praising churches for taking the lead in this fight. Bono quotes liberally from Old and New Testaments (and once from the Koran); how poverty is mentioned 2100 times in the bible, and how all the charity in the world has hardly made a dent in the problem, but that if we truly believe these people are equals in the eyes of our God who made them, then justice cries out why that continent suffers so much more.

Instead of asking God to bless what we are doing in our relatively mundane lives, get involved in what God’s already doing. God has already blessed that.

Bono’s advocacy group DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) is a member of One, the Campaign to Make Poverty History. All royalties from this book go to the One campaign.

“The one thing, on which we can all agree, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. God is in the slums and in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. 6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.” —Bono

ON THE MOVE by Bono (W Publishing Group; Hardcover; April 3rd)
Thanks to AuthorsOnTheWeb.com for the evaluation copy of this book.

I Need a Shower

I was at the gym last night, working on the treadmill. My usual habit is to listen to stuff on my iPod Shuffle, a mix of Country & Western, 70’s Rock, 90’s Folk Music, Spike Jones, Contemporary Christian, A Capella African Christian, Jazz, and sermons. Ok, so there’s no real coherent theme there.

In front of the treadmill are 3 TVs. I don’t watch them much, preferring to listen to stuff of my own choosing, but sometimes there’s a football or basketball game that gets my attention, or some new clip that’s interesting.

Last night, though, everytime I lifted my head and caught a glimpse of the TV, I was nauseated by the choices we had. If God decides it’s time for a god ol’ smiting in the manner of Sodom and Gomorrah, I’m going to get me a front row bleacher seat and sit there nodding my head, saying “Yup. Coulda seen that coming.”

My 3 choices last night were –

a) CNN showing a 30 minute special on how beneficial atheists are to our country, how Christians oppress them, and how we should be ready for an atheist President by now;

b) A local news channel that alternated between showing Anna Nicole Smith’s cleavage and covering the story of an NBA player that’s announced he’s homosexual;

c) A sitcom called Wife Swap that put a Christian Mennonite woman in the home of an alcoholic punk rock family. They made the good people look bad, and the bad people look good.

After working out and watching that garbage, I needed a shower. Yuck.

Kenya Mission, Day 7

January 2, 2006

Today’s Swahili phrase: hakuna matada, which means “Disney marketing phrase.” No wait, it means “no worries.”

I’ve received a lot of encouragement to continue this series – we’re about halfway through – but this next day was a very important day, full of eye-opening experiences, and frankly, just hard to get a grasp on everything that happened and put it into words. I probably started and stopped this post a half-dozen times in the last month, and I think you’ll see by the end why it took so long. While bathing the orphan children was a revealing experience 2 days ago, today really impressed upon us the great need and problems of the people of Kenya.

Sister FredaToday we went to visit Sister Freda and her hospital, and I met one of this planet’s finest women. Sister Freda runs a hospital near Kitale, Kenya, as well as an orphanage and a school. She told us that only 2 of every hundred patients can afford to pay, so she provides most of the care for free and operates entirely on faith. We had come to serve Sister Freda for the day, but she waited on us hand and foot and humbled us by showing us what a real servant was like. Here is Sister Freda; click the thumbnail to get a full size view.

Sister Freda's HospitalSister Freda first gave us a tour of the hospital. In the US we’re used to gleaming stainless steel so the concrete building didn’t appear exactly state-of-the art, but it was very clean and sterile. Plenty of care was taken to keep things clean and neat. We met some of the patients. A woman with AIDS and malaria who had had an allergic reaction to the drug combination and who’s skin appeared to be disappearing; in her case, the rich black skin of a Kenya had turned an off-white color. We stopped to pray with her. We met a pregnant woman; pre-natal care is almost non-existent here, but this woman had stopped in for a checkup and some vitamins. We met a little girl with sickle cell anemia. Another young child, perhaps 2 years old, was asleep; her mother lived in the nearby forest and had carried her baby in a backpack for so long her legs were folded under and misshapen from the lack of use, and Sister Freda was providing the physical therapy to help her walk. The baby was taken from the mother by other villagers when the mother drowned her eight year old daughter.

Breakfast at Sister Freda'sSister Freda serves breakfast to the orphans Next, we went outside to visit the orphanage and school. In Kenya, they don’t have public schools funded by taxes like the United States; instead, each parent has to provide money to pay for their children’s education. The result is that many children from the poorest families and all orphans remain uneducated. Sister Freda not only has 30+ children she feeds and educates, but she’s been doing this such a long time that some of the earliest orphans have grown up and now work in her medical clinic. Here we visited the children while they were having breakfast.

The children of Sister Freda in schoolThe children of Sister Freda in schoolWhen breakfast was over, the children returned to the classrooms. I think there were three rooms, each about 20’x20′ with a door, a window, and a blackboard, and not enough chairs for the children. That didn’t seem to be a problem for them, though, as the children happily sat on each other when necessary. The children sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in English and were genuinely surprised that we knew the words, too.

Bananas from Sister Freda's orchardSister Freda presents fruit from her orchardSister Freda also has a fruit orchard and we toured the bananas, papayas, and avocados growing there. Many of the medicines prescribed are supposed to be taken with food, and for many of the patients food can be difficult to come by. Sister Freda solves that problem by growing her own food and cooking in her own kitchen. We were blessed by lunch with her as she served a meat stew with ugali and some of the most wonderful bread I’ve ever had called chapati, made by rolling whole wheat flour and salt into a circle, browning in a pan, then held briefly over an open flame to puff up.

Sister Freda was a fabulous host, and we found out the reason our day of service in the town of Mbasagan was cancelled was because of a funeral being held that day. On a moonless night, dark black men are hard to see, and such a recent night saw the murder of six people in town. Possibly in retaliation for a tribal disagreement, the six were murdered in their homes. We were reminded that we were far away from home and not necessarily as safe as we felt. Sister Freda instead served us lunch and presented each of us with a rungu, an African fighting stick. (I’ve tried to look this up on a web search, but the rungus I found don’t look like the ones we received. Ours look more like a samburu war club.)

Kenya girl carrying brown waterAfter lunch, we went to Mbasagan town to visit. When Mzungus like us visit, we cause a stir, and all the children turn out. The children are incredibly friendly and have none of that “stranger danger” has ever been taught to them. They walked right up along side and took our hand – those that were brave enough to come so close to a mzungu, that is. They ask for nothing but their needs are great. Some of the children would hold our hands for a while as we walked… then would also help us hold our water bottles. One by one we relinquished all of our water to the children, for we knew we could just get fresh water bottles later. What were the children drinking? The children save their bottles and walk to the river daily to refill it. Take a good look at the color of the water in this water bottle this young girl was carrying. How could we refuse? We only had maybe 6 or 8 bottles among us and there were two dozen children and I didn’t know how to choose, but that was my western materialism at play again. It didn’t matter which child we gave the water to, all the bottles ended up in the hands of a single, older girl. We were told once they had collected all the water, she’d divide it among the children fairly so they could all have a taste of fresh water.

One of the women we met showed us some maize that was at the foot of her house. It didn’t look like much, and it wasn’t. She told us that it was all she had to eat until October, but she wasn’t going to eat it. She was saving it for the rainy season to plant. She was an educated woman with a university education, and then married a local Mbasagan man. There was no opportunity to use her education and said matter-of-factly that this was just her lot in life. Her husband provided the living, carrying fruit from the market to the highway for about 35 shillings a day, about 50 cents. With that, they bought food daily. It was her job to collect firewood and water every day.

She told us of the needs of the town; many of the adults and children were dying of dysentery, cholera and malaria. The town shared a latrine, dug by hand 30 feet down, then covered with a board with a hole in it. The only well in town was also dug 30 feet down, and waste seepage had long ago contaminated the well. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was no cemetery, so people buried their dead on their own land, about a 20′ x 20′ piece of land. They only buried them two or three feet deep, so heavy rains would wash remains into their neighbor’s yard where they cooked. They asked to get word to a group like Living Water who could drill water wells 200 feet, well below the contaminated layer of ground.

We walked back to Sister Freda’s in a somber thoughtful mood, but our day was just beginning. When we got there, a man on a bicycle had carried a woman to see Sister Freda. The woman was in obvious pain; her ankle was very swollen, she could not move her arm, and she was bleeding from one ear. She had been riding on a boda-boda, a bicycle, and had a bicycle accident. She had leaped off at the last moment. Sister Freda took her inside, cleaned her up, but said she needed x-rays, something Sister Freda could not provide. We had a van, so we split into two groups. One group went back home, picking up groceries for the night. The rest of us gave the injured woman – her name was Rosa – a ride to the Kitale hospital. Our experience here convinced us of two things. One, I would never complain about US hospitals, and two, if we became injured in Kenya, please ship us to England for emergency care.

The hospital had an admission room where they grudgingly admitted Rosa because of Sister Freda’s letter, and that’s where the hospital care ceases. There are no orderlies, no nurses, nobody that comes to help. Injured people must be accompanied by friends or relatives to move them around or… they just die. There’s a payment for admission, and all transactions are handled up front with cash. If you don’t have cash… well, I guess you die. We found a metal gurney and lifted Rosa onto it and she yelled in pain; it had been several hours since her accident and she had no painkillers. Then we waited for a doctor to arrive to take the x-rays. He was traveling among other hospitals at the moment, taking x-rays, and nobody was sure when he would arrive at this hospital.

After two or three hours, Rosa lying on the metal gurney in pain, we decided we had waited long enough. It was getting dark and Rosa was getting cold, so we went back into the ward. Beds were available back here, but there were three times as many patients as there were beds, so injured and ill people shared, 2 or 3 to a bed. When we brought in Rosa, one woman moved her injured child into another so three children shared a bed, making room voluntarily for Rosa to have a place. We wheeled her as close as we could, then lifted her to the bed, cringing because she yelled in pain. We felt hopeless, unable to compensate for her hurting.

And 2 minutes later, we found the doctor had arrived. And we lifted Rosa again in pain onto the gurney, bumped her across the concrete walkway back to the x-ray room. Then we lifted her for the 4th time that day onto the x-ray table. The doctor looked at us seriously and asked us some direct questions about whether we were missionaries. I don’t know if that would have been a problem, but we answered truthfully that we were visiting sister Freda. One of us was a pastor, the rest were engineers, accountants, miscellaneous. Not full time missionaries. The doctor looked at us for a while longer, then asked for payment. We paid the doctor and waited outside.

After a few moments, he told us her foot was merely sprained, but her clavicle, her shoulder was broken. The blood from the ears indicated some head injury, but his equipment could not x-ray a skull. There would be no way to tell if her head was damaged seriously, nor any way to treat it.

We lifted Rosa for the 5th time back onto the gurney, wheeled her along the bumpy path, then lifted her for the 6th time back into bed. We now had a prescription for a painkiller, so again we divided up, half walking down the street to get the medicine, the rest staying with Rosa for comfort. We could pray for her, but she spoke no English. Jason translated for us that we had been visiting a local church and would stay with her as long as we could. At a nearby store before they closed we bought a shawl for Rosa to stay warm, milk and fruit for when she became hungry, and made a quick trip home to grab some personal pillows we had brought from the US so she would have something to rest her head on.

In the meantime, the rest of our group, waiting in the van, had spent the afternoon witnessing to the security guard. I didn’t get the whole story, but he was Muslim and afraid of what would happen to him, but then gave his life to Christ. I hope one of our group gets the courage to post in the comments below what happened out there. 🙂

That was all we could do for Rosa that day, so we left, vowing to come back and check on her when we could. Her brother was with her so her needs could be met. The needs of the Kenyan people showed so greatly in even this hospital – no assistance, no food, no medicine, and you had to pay first or you didn’t receive care. The Lord had opened our eyes today on many things, things we would never forget.

Again, I apologize for the length of time it took to write about this day, but it was such a powerful day, and I haven’t had the time at lunch lately to write like I did earlier in the year. If you thought our day of bathing the orphan children was the most emotional experience, today was exponentially more powerful. And tomorrow? In Day 8 we will find that there’s even more needs than we could have possibly imagined. That’ll take a while to write as well, so I hope you’ll be patient. And those of you that went to Kenya with me, and especially those friends still in Kitale, please comment and correct anything I didn’t get quite write, I’ll be happy to fix it. Just comment below or email me.

Kenya Mission, Day 6

January 1, 2006

Today’s Swahili phrase: Jambo, which means “Howdy” in Texan. We used this word more than any other, I think, and it was so easy to pronounce.

I meant to write these faster and closer together, but the work load skyrocketed on me the last couple of weeks. Several of you have encouraged me to write the rest, and I’m happy to oblige. It was a powerful trip and the needs are great.

We woke up late because of the midnight service last night, then back to the same church for a late morning service. I confess that even with the dual Swahili/English translation, I had a very hard time with the accents and following along with the sermon. I immersed myself in my bible for much of the morning.

Afterward, this being New Year’s Day, there were limited opportunities for the day. We went to the Kitale Club and the 8 of us signed up for 9 holes of golf. And since we didn’t have any golf clubs, we all shared a set. Very amusing, and it took 3-1/2 hours to play 9 holes. The real goal for the afternoon, though, was to give some work to some local caddies. Job opportunities are scarce, Kitale golf isn’t exactly a money-maker, and the caddies were glad to work for an afternoon. The monkeys running out onto the golf course was fun to watch, though.

Then we stopped at the grocery store called Trans-Mattresses and picked up dinner supplies. I think we named the concoction “African spaghetti” and it had a very unusual flavor. I didn’t ask what the spices were. The grocery store had teenage boys begging on the street. These boys had no money, and what little they gained by begging they immediately spent on bottles of glue. It was very disturbing when they pressed their faces against the van windows, eyes glassy and yellow with a glue bottle dangling from their lip. I recognized one of the boys from an earlier stop there and commented that 7 hours of sniffing glue seemed a very long time. Our pastor said that boy had been there since 2002.

After the African spaghetti, we sat down to make bracelets to give away. These prayer bracelets were made of a rawhide string and 5 colored breads: gold, black, red, white, then green. We would share a story when we gave these gifts; the gold represented Heaven, but we were separated from Heaven because of sin (black). Christ’s blood cleanses us (red) so that we appear spotless and pure (white). To grow in Christ (green), we should then spread the Good News. Some funny translations came up – we had been told to use the word “dark” instead of “black” with these beads, but Swahili word was the same wither way. In other words, it made no difference. We also had trouble with “white as snow,” since there was no snow in Kenya. “White as milk” was as close as I could get.

No pictures for today, sorry. Tomorrow, though, we meet Sister Freda and see the good work she’s doing on behalf of the Lord. Stay tuned.

Kenya Mission, Day 4

December 30, 2005

Goodness, can it be Friday already?  We left Houston Tuesday afternoon and we’re still not at our final destination.  It’s like Africa is on the other side of the world or something.  😛

We woke up in the Methodist Guest House in Nairobi, and in the light we could see how quaint this place is.  We me in the breakfast room for fruit and toast and coffee.  Something I had never seen before, the cream for the coffee is heated, very hot.  Makes sense; why pour cold milk into hot coffee?  Then we had a short prayer and discussed our plans for the day.

Piling back into the van was an interesting exercise. The van seats 10 and counting the driver, we had 9 people. In our case, though, the van also had to seat all that luggage. There were 13 very large bags plus 1 or 2 carry-on items per person. It looked like we were building little forts inside the van. I took the far side window behind the driver which gave me some leg room (I have really long legs), but getting in and out was like a combination of Yoga and the game Twister.

The roads out of Nairobi was gentle at first, but then turned into terrain almost indistinguishable from the terrain. A good driver is mandatory because staying on your own side of the road isn’t part of the culture. Kenyans drive where the potholes are not, so there is significant weaving from one side to the other. There were several times I thought a head-on collision was imminent, but at the last moment both cars would swerve to their side of the road.

Road from Nairobi to Kitale

Out the window of the van, far off in the distance, we saw wild zebra. And once we stopped to let a baboon family (unrelated to me) cross the road. And far off in the distance we saw pink flamingos covering a lake so that it looked pink. No pictures of any of these; most were too far away, except for the baboons which were too quick.

Our morning break after about 2 hours of driving was at a scenic overlook above the Rift Valley, looking toward the Chogoria mountains. The scenery was just spectacular.

Rift Valley Kenya overlooking Chogoria mountains

We stopped for lunch in Nakuru. I eat adventurously when traveling so I had irio for lunch. It was mashed potatoes blended with spinach and then maize stirred in. The maize was sort of like corn, only bigger kernels and not nearly as sweet as our yellow corn. Anyway, it sort of looked like this big green mush with yellow lumps and tasted about the same, too. I have no idea why this is a Kenyan favorite, I won’t order it again on purpose.

Back on the road after lunch, we were stopped several times by armed policemen. They stop cars by laying down a strip of 6″ spikes across the road that you have to drive figure-S style through them. We asked the driver what the police were looking for; he said, “money.” The general consensus was that they do not have enough money to buy the bullets to go into their guns, but I don’t know of anybody that would ever test that hypothesis.

We finally arrived at Kitale, our destination, and checked out our surroundings. We were staying in a nice compound (we wouldn’t know until later how nice it really was), with a couple of buildings with a variety of bunk beds and multiple showers and bathrooms. We dropped off the gear and headed to town to buy breakfast for the morning. The grocery store for some reason was called “Trans-Mattresses,” complete with a picture of a mattress on the billboard. Most of the signs for businesses were in mostly-English, I’ll call it, with a mix of Swahili thrown in.

Buying groceries in a strange country is an interesting experience. You wander the aisles trying to figure out what the ingredients are and what you can combine to make something edible. They had eggs, fruit, and bread, so we mostly settled for items we recognized.

Outside Tran-Mattresses we came into one of Kitale’s developing problems. Boys outside the grocery store, living off of handouts, sniffing glue in broad daylight. Even though Kenya adults discourage this among the street children, the street children get enough handouts and a sympathetic adult somewhere to buy them glue. Shopkeepers told us that these children live to maybe 20 or 25 years old before dying of violence or their brain rotting. One of the hard lessons for missionaries to learn is that giving money directly to those in need can have devastating consequences; it’s far better to contribute to an organization that will provide food, shelter, or medical care. Even if you give these street children something that they need, like shoes, they are likely to sell them for glue money.

We took our breakfast groceries, our bottled water, and mosquito netting back to the compound where we probably spent 3 hours trying to hang them. We were handicapped by a lack of tools, but the bunk beds were handmade and oversized and the netting wouldn’t stretch properly. Some nets were cut with scissors (ok, it was tiny nail file scissors) and then duct taped back into a larger net. I hadn’t seen a mosquito all day, and it was the dry season and very likely to see one. I was also taking malarone to prevent malaria, so given all that I went without netting.

Tomorrow’s a busy day; the plan is bathe street children and orphans at a local church.