Kenya Mission, Day 5

December 31, 2005

Today’s Swahili phrase: Mungu aku bariki, meaning “God bless you.”

Woke up this morning and fixed a group breakfast. Staying in a compound with very considerate Christians is a blessing – every helped with breakfast preparation and cleanup almost to the point where were were tripping over each other. We were almost too helpful. Afterward we had a 30 minute devotional to start our day and began with Philippians. It was a good choice for our devotionals; Paul is writing in Chapter 1 about preaching God’s word and regardless of why Christ is preached, whether false motives or true, that it is still cause for rejoicing.

mosquito netting and duct tapeBefore I go on, let me fill in some pictures from yesterday. Here’s a picture of our bunk bed / mosquito netting / duct tape engineering. I’ve learned a new trick today – just click on the image if you want to see a larger picture. Saves on bandwidth. 🙂

Hey, not bad. Mosquitoes (pronounced ‘mo-skwit-os’ here) generally suffer from a lack of education and probably won’t be able to figure that out.

the Kenya vanWe piled into the van which is now far more comfortable since all the luggage has been removed, and we headed to Deliverance Church. I didn’t know it at the time, but this van was home more than the compound we stayed in.

Kenya Deliverance ChurchWhen we arrived at the church, we were all stunned at the reception. Children had lined up by the hundreds and were cheering and applauding when we arrived. Here we are inside the gate, while the children wait outside.

During the month, the Deliverance Church fills their water tower from a local well that was dug during a previous mission trip. The church now has outdoor showers and toilets, and they provide bathing water for these neighborhood children, many of them orphans. The very young, 5 and younger, need help getting in and out quickly, so we have bars of soap and burlap rags to scrub the kids. After, the church leadership provides a little dab of petroleum jelly for them to rub into their skin to help with the dry, ashen color their skin takes on during the month. We spent the whole morning here; I think someone estimated 500 children but I think that was a little on the high side.

Deliverance church serving ugaliAfterward, the church cooked up a big pot of ugali. Ugali is sort of a corn cake; it’s made by boiling water and stirring in crushed maize until it’s thinker than mashed potatoes. To me, it sort of tasted like a very weak corn tortilla with the texture of a very think cornbread. Here’s the minister’s wife and you can see the pot of ugali behind her.

Serving the ugali was interesting. The ugali was scooped out of the pot and plopped on a plate which was handed to a volunteer who handed it to the next volunteer and so on, starting with the back of the room. Maybe 15 people handled the plate passing it from one to another, starting at the back of the room. They didn’t have enough plates to go around, so the kids ate quickly and handed their plates in so they could be reused for another plate of ugali for another kid.

children of Kitale KenyaAfterward, we took a tour of the neighborhood behind the church. We caused a commotion – mzungus (white people) don’t visit Kitale often, and certainly don’t visit the housing areas. And English isn’t widely spoken, but all the kids know a few phrases like “How are you?” and “I’m fine.” It was quite a sight to see 50 children running up the hill toward us, waving their arms above their heads, yelling, “I’m fine! I’m fine!” And when we whipped out a camera, the kids almost trampled us to get in the picture.

Housing in Kitale Kenya Although later we would visit people in even more need, we were struck by the living conditions. No water or sewers, no electricity, no services of any kind. These houses were some of the best construction in Kitale.

After the tour, we headed off for dinner at the Pine Club (we had a choice of either Chinese or Indian food again), then to rest for a couple of hours.

But it’s New Year’s Eve! So late that evening we piled back in the van and joined the church for a midnight rebuking and encouragement. I have to admit I hadn’t acclimated to the accents yet so I had a lot of trouble following the sermon. The sermon is preached by two people, one of who translated instantaneously. The preacher may preach in either Swahili or English and the other person translates on the fly. It’s a very vocal service. We found out that New Year’s Eve is one of the most crowded times for the church as everybody wants to come and be forgiven for their sins over the last year and make a fresh start on next year.

We arrived at the bunk house tired and decided to sleep in late before tomorrow’s New Year’s Day service.

I probably already mentioned this, but I’m typing all of this from sparse notes and memory. I know there are Kenyans and missionaries reading this, so please feel free to drop a comment below correcting my memory or adding even more detail. I’d appreciate it very much.

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A Non-Christian Narna

People that hate Christians should not go see “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

The Guardian Unlimited, England’s ultra liberal rag, says “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion.” Exceprts:

The Christian radio station Premier is urging churches to hold services on the theme of The Gospel According to Narnia. Even the Methodists have written a special Narnia-themed service. And a Kent parish is giving away £10,000 worth of film tickets to single-parent families. (Are the children of single mothers in special need of the word?)

I would say “yes.” I don’t know what the author has against single mothers, but apparently she’s opposed to them receiving Christian aid and encouragement in any form.

The president’s brother, Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida, is organising a scheme for every child in his state to read the book. Walden Media, co-producer of the movie, offers a “17-week Narnia Bible study for children”. The owner of Walden Media is both a big Republican donor and a donor to the Florida governor’s book promotion – a neat synergy of politics, religion and product placement. It has aroused protests from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which complains that “a governmental endorsement of the book’s religious message is in violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution”.

That would certainly be hard to prove since the words “Christ” and “God” never appear in the movie in any form.

Disney may come to regret this alliance with Christians, at least on this side of the Atlantic. For all the enthusiasm of the churches, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ bombed in Britain and warehouses are stuffed with unsold DVDs of that stomach-churner. There are too few practising Christians in the empty pews of this most secular nation to pack cinemas. So there has been a queasy ambivalence about how to sell the Narnia film here.

If you were unsure of the author’s hatred of Christians, that should have cleared it right up for you.

Most British children will be utterly clueless about any message beyond the age-old mythic battle between good and evil. Most of the fairy story works as well as any Norse saga, pagan legend or modern fantasy, so only the minority who are familiar with Christian iconography will see Jesus in the lion. After all, 43% of people in Britain in a recent poll couldn’t say what Easter celebrated. Among the young – apart from those in faith schools – that number must be considerably higher. Ask art galleries: they now have to write the story of every religious painting on the label as people no longer know what “agony in the garden”, “deposition”, “transfiguration” or “ascension” mean. This may be regrettable cultural ignorance, but it means Aslan will stay just a lion to most movie-goers.

Explain to me again that if “Aslan will stay just a lion to most movie-goers” why the Americans United for Separation of Church and State are complaining? I find this sad, that the European young have lost touch with their faith and are no longer being taught by their parents.

Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?

Goodness. How repugnant. I wonder if the author feels free to insult all other religions, too, or if she’s reserved a special hatred for Christianity. The answer, by the way, is no, we did not ask Him to. God did it for us, unasked. It is a gift, it is grace.

There’s lots more hatred of Christians (and conservatives) aplenty if you’re interested:

  • So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion’s breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged. (The author doesn’t say what part of Edmund’s new behavior is repugnant.)
  • Philip Pullman – he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials – has called Narnia “one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read”.
  • Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America – that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right.
  • I once heard the famous preacher Norman Vincent Peale in New York expound a sermon that reassured his wealthy congregation that they were made rich by God because they deserved it. The godly will reap earthly reward because God is on the side of the strong. This appears to be CS Lewis’s view, too. In the battle at the end of the film, visually a great epic treat, the child crusaders are crowned kings and queens for no particular reason. Intellectually, the poor do not inherit Lewis’s earth. (The author has mistaken earthly riches for heavenly riches and so misses the point entirely – Michael.)

Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come. Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can. We need no holy guide books, only a very human moral compass. Everyone needs ghosts, spirits, marvels and poetic imaginings, but we can do well without an Aslan.

So ghosts and spirits are great, but not a faith in a redeeming savior. The author has preformed ideas about Christianity and uses those ideas to bash Christianity. Setup the strawman and knock it down. Do Christians use their faith to avoid taking responsibility, or do Christians feel their faith calls them to devote their lives to service in faith? There are thousands of Christian faith-based service organizations feeding the poor, helping the homeless, with millions of volunteers. That’s a far cry from the author’s portrayal of Christians.

And all of the Christian-bashing over a movie that never utters a scriptural word.

A Simple Light

Like you, I’ve noticed the days getting shorter – and not just the hours of daylight. The actual 24 hour cycle is getting shorter, as we hurtle from the calm eddy of our county’s brief experience of Autumn into what we call the Holiday Season.

It was only a few days ago when the trees were showing off. I noticed the chinaberry trees in bright yellow robes – startlingly bright – in yards all over town. And the cypress trees’ needles were just starting to rust. Then the winds blew one night and these splendors were dumped in halos on the ground around newly naked trunks – looking like discarded bathrobes – and it seemed Fall had fallen until I remembered we still have some maples showing and the red oaks have yet to blaze. The pecans and sycamores are littering the ground just now with bran-colored drifts. Still, the sight of millions of cypress needles dusting the river made me realize it was time to gird for the onslaught of the hardest season of the year.

Our old black mailbox groans daily with catalogs of delights – most beyond our means, and certainly all beyond our needs. We’ve been offered clothing (lots of clothing), fruit, travel, books, gadgets and whatnot, all presented in vibrant color, all with guaranteed delivery by Christmas, page after page of gifts. The stack of catalogs we’ve received this month alone is more than two feet tall.

I’ve seen, on my way home from work, delivery trucks parked in the dark, their headlights on, delivering gifts. This must be a tough time to be a driver for the parcel companies – and the volume will continue to grow, swelling like a crescendo, until the last few hours of Christmas Eve – as entire mountains of gifts pour from their tributaries right to our doorsteps.

In all of this haste, all of this shopping, all of this worrying about budgets and finding the right thing for that difficult-to-shop-for friend, amidst the travel and houses full of family, the grumpy uncles and the weepy aunts, it’s hard to remember this time of year offers some beautiful opportunities.

Churches will offer special musical presentations, opportunities for worship and service. Several local charities will be collecting gifts for the needy, and all of us will find appeals in our mailboxes from worthwhile groups. While many of the appeals ply on our sense of guilt (I’m thinking about the seemingly endless fundraising efforts of a San Antonio radio station), a precious few of the groups will offer a chance to share in the hope they bring to others. To those it is easy to give, and to give joyfully, if in secret.

Overhead I’ve noticed the moon dancing farther and farther away from bright Venus in the sky. A few weeks ago the moon, just a crescent, seemed close enough to the shining planet to touch it. As the gap between them grew, the moon grew fuller and fuller until it got so bright several friends complained it was interfering with their sleep. I guess the approaching holidays are like that – as the noise and spectacle of the holidays grows bigger and bigger, until it seems to occupy all the available space of our feeble attentions, it gets more distant from the simple single light that is the reason for the holiday in the first place.

What I Have Seen Since Katrina:

The poor and the wealthy hurt by the storm, Black, white, Hispanic,
oriental and Indian all hurt by the storm.

Christian people giving, giving, giving.

Churches going all out to minister in Jesus’ name Neighbors going door to
door helping one another Thugs and hoodlums going door to door looking
for someone vulnerable.

Ice and water being fought over as police tried to keep the peace.

People coming up from New Orleans taking over empty houses because
shelters are full.

Out of town volunteers coming with food and staying for now a week still
serving it.

The Churches all over this part of the country doing what Christians do
in a crisis.

Fema doing a wonderful job in getting help to us The red Cross doing a
great job in the shelters.

The Salvation Army doing a great job in the community.

Four Hundred crewman from everywhere bring back the power to our homes,
churches and businesses.

Lines at service stations a block to a mile long.

National Guardsman patrolling the streets of Mccomb along with Kentucky
policemen protecting us from the hoodlums and thugs of McComb, Pike
County
and New Orleans (the most dangerous city in the world before Katrina).

Drug dealers working outside shelters.

Doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel working tirelessly, even
sleeping in the hospital to do the job God called them to do.

WHAT I HAVE NOT SEEN:

The ACLU setting up a feeding line. People for the American Way helping
in
the shelters The NAACP doing any work whatsoever The American Atheist
organization serving meals in the shelters. Jesse Jackson directing
traffic
at the gas stations

I could go on but you get my message. Its the Christian people with love
and compassion who do the work. The gripers in Congress should come on
down
and get in line to pass the water and the ice.

Boy I feel better now.

Ill Wind May Not Blow to the Whitehouse

Will Hurricane Katrina spell the end of George Bush’s Presidency? Almost certainly yes, with a few caveats. 😛

As the full horror of Hurricane Katrina sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if this is the end of George Bush’s presidency. The answer is almost certainly yes, provided that every copy of the US Constitution was destroyed in the storm. Otherwise President Bush will remain in office until noon on January 20th, 2009, as required by the 20th Amendment, after which he is barred from seeking a third term anyway under the 22nd Amendment.

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if the entire political agenda of George Bush’s second term will not still be damaged in some terribly satisfying way.

The answer is almost certainly yes, provided that the entire political agenda of George Bush’s second term consists of repealing the 22nd Amendment. Otherwise, with a clear Republican majority in both Houses of Congress, he can carry on doing pretty much whatever he likes.

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if the Republican Party itself will now suffer a setback at the congressional mid-term elections next November.

The answer is almost certainly yes, provided that people outside the disaster zone punish their local representatives for events elsewhere a year previously, both beyond their control and outside their remit, while people inside the disaster zone reward their local representatives for an ongoing calamity they were supposed to prevent. Otherwise, the Democratic Party will suffer a setback at the next congressional election.

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if an official inquiry will shift the blame for poor planning and inadequate flood defences on to the White House. The answer is almost certainly yes, provided nobody admits that emergency planning is largely the responsibility of city and state agencies, and nobody notices that the main levee which broke was the only levee recently modernised with federal funds. Otherwise, an official inquiry will pin most of the blame on the notoriously corrupt and incompetent local governments of New Orleans and Louisiana.

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if George Bush contributed to the death toll by sending so many national guard units to Iraq.

The answer is almost certainly yes, provided nobody recalls that those same columnists have spent the past two years blaming George Bush for another death toll by not sending enough national guard units to Iraq. Otherwise, people might wonder why they have never previously read a single article advocating large-scale military redeployment during the Caribbean hurricane season.

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnist are asking how a civilised city can descend into anarchy.

The answer is that only a civilised city can descend into anarchy.

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if George Bush should be held responsible for the terrible poverty in the southern states revealed by the flooding.

The answer is almost certainly yes, provided nobody holds Bill Clinton responsible for making Mississippi the poorest state in the union throughout his entire term as president, or for making Arkansas the second-poorest state in the union throughout his entire term as governor. Otherwise, people might suspect that it is a bit more complicated than that.

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if George Bush should not be concerned by accusations of racism against the federal government.

The answer is almost certainly yes, provided nobody remembers that Jesse Jackson once called New York “Hymietown” and everybody thinks Condoleezza Rice went shopping for shoes when the hurricane struck because she cannot stand black people.

Otherwise sensible Americans of all races will be more concerned by trite, cynical and dangerous political opportunism.

As the full horror of that sinks in, this columnist is simply glad that everybody cares.

* From a tip from Right Voices and Slugger O’Toole. Original article by Newton Emerson in the Irish Times.

Church for Men

cover

When Diane & I discuss dating topics with other church singles, always we end up discussing the proper roles of men and women in both dating and in marriage. Usually we end up agreeing that men are not taking the role of “spiritual leader” properly in accordance with Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 11.

The women often complain that the men are not strong enough. The first big stumbling block is usually pre-marital sex. The men profess to be Christian, then pressure the women to have premarital sex. The women submit, then lose trust in the men because the men were supposed to be the spiritual leader. While what the women did was also improper, it was the men that were supposed to lead here.

What happened? Author David Murrow in a book called Why Men Hate Going to Church says that 90% of all American men believe in God and 5 out of 6 call themselves Christian, but only 2 of 6 attend church. They see no value in it; they believe church is for women, children, and seniors.

These two are very much related, I think. While Christian men should be motivated to study the bible and practice God’s instructions, they don’t do it like they should because they do not subject themselves to accountability with other Christian men.

Is there something the church can do? Right now, many men feel the church has been feminized – where Jesus commanded, “Follow me!” it has been replaced with “Let’s have a relationship with Jesus.” Women love the idea of Christian relationships. Men on the other hand want challenge, risk, structure, commands.

In Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox, he excerpts several things churches can do to reach out to men. While churches have volunteer opportunities for singing, nursery, cooking, planning social gatherings, churches can add more masculine activities such as working on cars or fixing houses. Or even just encourage the men to get out with each other to do “guy things.”

Men want a masculine leader, not a love object. Yes, Jesus was tender and empathetic, but presenting a “soft” Jesus every week can turn men away. Churches should present the masculine side of Jesus, too. Jesus did what was right in the face of adversity, He died for what was right. He led 12 male disciples. He threw himself on a grenade for us. It’s hard to recognize Jesus as a man’s man when the church looks like a ladies’ garden club or a baby shower. The goal is not to get men to cry; it’s to get them to walk with God.

More links on this subject here and here and here and here and here.

Broadband over Power Lines

My brother has been waiting for this for some time… high speed internet over electric power lines. It’s coming, bro!

BURNET — High-speed Internet service is coming to about 120 homes in this town of 5,000 using a novel technology that connects residents to the Web through power lines.

Broadband Horizons, which provides Internet access to about 6,000 customers in rural parts of Central Texas, is paying most of the estimated $50,000 cost to install a network in a neighborhood of Burnet, about 40 miles northwest of Austin.

Once the system is in place, scheduled by year end, they say that houses will connect by plugging a simple modem device into a wall socket.

Companies have been trying to develop the technology — called broadband over power line, or BPL — for nearly a decade, and now the technology is being tested in a few places. The city-owned electric utility in Manassas, Va., launched a pilot project last fall. Ohio-based Cinergy Corp. is also testing a system.

In theory, electric current runs along power lines at low frequencies and doesn’t interfere with Internet signals at much higher frequencies. Advocates say the technology would be a cheaper way to wire rural towns like Burnet.

Bob McClung, a Blanco entrepreneur, believes he could provide broadband service for about $30 a month with the cooperation of public and private electric utilities. He told the Austin American-Statesman that the technology could be much more common within a few years.