26 July 2007

simple observations

As I sit on the upstairs balcony of the Mission House, my senses are overwhelmed by the passing afternoon, by urban Africa.

My ears accept a barrage of noises from a city that seems to be in it’s adolescence. This city, this Joburg, is growing at an incredible clip.

A jackhammer pounds away - at what, I do not know. It is joined by other construction noises coming from the lot across the street, where a narrow strip of African savannah is soon to be replaced by multistory condos, complete with covered parking and an electrified security fence around the perimeter.

The sound of motor cars, squealing breaks, hooting horns, and rumbling diesel engines, never ceases. The South African taxi, the informal instrument of mass transit, spends it’s day hooting away at those walking beside the street. The driver is desperate to fill one of his 16 seats with a customer going his way. If he can attract one, he will earn less than a dollar for the trip, which can be many miles long.

A siren can be heard in the distance. It draws closer. Louder. I watch the BMW hatchback with lights flashing fly by, certainly on it’s way to something gruesome or terrible or, for Joburg, very common. Sirens are not infrequent. There are two sets of police, the fire department, and countless “private security” firms that all race around in response to the astronomical crime rate.

Somewhere in all of the angry noise of the urban landscape, wild Africa still penetrates. A large, gray, sickle-beaked bird (which Willie almost surely incorrectly calls a “doo-da”) sqwuaks and pecks around the grounds here. I assume that it eats worms or bugs or something down in the dirt, as it spends it’s day making an incredible noise and poking it’s perfectly curved beak into the ground. Other, more delicate, birds join the symphony. A bright yellow-bird flutters around chirping innocently. Other colorful birds, some of which look like they must have escaped from a pet store (only they are normal in Africa) play and dance away the day. It has been unseasonably warm lately, lulling the wildlife into thinking that winter is ending and spring is near. I also hear what I think is a frog, although it could be crickets or some other unknown species. It is rhythmic and soothing, nonetheless.

My surreal retreat into the jungle is cut short by a dump truck backing up. It’s song is also rhythmic, although nowhere near as soothing. It is joined by a city bus, gray and double-decked with bold, blue “METROBUS” scrawled along the side, pulling up and stopping in front of the house with the familiar “whoosh” of it’s air-brakes. It is then passed by a yellow Ferrari, roaring down the street. The amount of wealth in this country is stunning. A few days ago, there was a parade of Ferraris through Soweto, one of the most infamous shantytowns in the world. Yesterday, the police responded to a protest in that same Soweto by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at a large gathering of residents who were demonstrating for access to electricity and running water. The wealth chasm here is so wide, so obvious.

A shot rings out. It is closely followed by another . And another. A flock of “doo-da”s scatter and fuss into the air, seemingly displeased by the disturbance. We will assume that in a few minutes a siren will follow the blasts and someone will be rushed to the hospital. The gunshot is easily distinguished form the backfiring car or snap of construction equipment. It rings a little longer. It pops with a different density, a deeper resonance. It, like all of the other noises, has it’s place in Joburg.

The winter, while atypically warm, has been typically dry. This dryness (we haven’t seen as much as a cloud in two weeks) leads to dusty, dirty air. Winds bring sand from the Kalahari Desert and the abundance of diesel fumes hang in the air like a thick brown blanket. Sunrise best showcases the unnatural pollutants in the air. Beams of sunlight are trapped by brown haze, and a foggy mess hangs in between the great hills of the city. The skyline rises up out of the ashes, seemingly growing taller in order to reach the fresh air above.

The air flows in through my nose, irritating every bronchiole. The altitude (6000 feet above sea level) can steal one’s breath quickly. The pollution simply complicates the issue. Stef and I both have shallow coughs at the moment, our bodies reacting to the uninvited particulates that invade our every inhalation.

Also into the nose comes the smell of urban Africa. As it is winter, the scent of burning rubbish hangs loosely in the air. Every evening, the homeless and the unfortunate millions with tin shacks to sleep in gather around fire, for light and heat. Today, the smell of the nearby squatter camps is faint, barely noticeable. Maybe the wind has changed direction. The smell of all sorts of trees is strong as well and even the red dust that clouds the air has an odor. It is difficult to describe, but it seems to have been cross-pollinated with the diesel fumes. It can almost be tasted.

Every so often, one can smell a cheeseburger on the wind. This is not the fantasy of a homesick American. It is, rather, globalization at work. Within a stones throw of the Mission House is McDonalds. And the Big Mac tastes exactly the same. As if that weren’t enough, KFC lies across the street from there, frying up finger-licking good chicken just like the Colonel would have made it.

I would be able to see both restaurants from my vantage point on the balcony if not for Campus Square, a relatively new, relatively nice shopping center across the way. It features about 30 shops (banks, restaurants, a grocery store, and drug store) and it is emblazoned with advertisements on it’s otherwise blank back wall. I am confronted by a two-story, black-and-white Virgin Cosmetics advert. In Africa, there are very few places where an ad is not placed. It makes American streets looked positively uncluttered. The days’ news is hung on placards on every streetlight pole available. Every bus and taxi seems to have some place to sell me soap or concert tickets or corn meal. Buildings downtown are ablaze at night, neon towers of persuasive thinking. They light up for cell phone companies and Coca-Cola. They top out the tallest structures in glowing blue, green, yellow, and red. The eyes, sore from the sight of the grimy city below, are drawn to the shimmering spires of capitalism.

I cough quietly again and consider my place here. In the shadow of 120 foot Australian Blue Gum trees that line Richmond Avenue, home address of the Mission House, I consider just how miniscule I am. The city groans despite me. The trees, they stretch higher without my help. The shopping mall is packed regardless of whether my dollar bills end up there or not. The birds sqwuak and brakes squeal. The taxis hoot for passengers and the police sirens whine for victims.

In the midst of all of it, I sit on a plastic lawn chair with my feet propped up on the remnants of a once-proud office chair that has been reduced to a stump - a South African ottoman.
I am unimportant here.

I am one of how many million people - six, eight, twelve? - who call Johannesburg home. We are from America and Europe, from the Middle East and, increasingly, the rest of the decimated African continent. In the middle of all of them, I sit on the balcony, simply observing the world as it passes me by.

25 July 2007

two quick things

1 - You may have noticed that we are updating this blog much more frequently than we said we would. Well, I poked around at church and found that a high-speed USB modem would be cheaper than what the church was paying for dial-up internet. Hence, we've upgraded around here and you have to hear more about us than you ever wanted to.
2 - We are leaving for Kenya on Friday morning. As a result, the blog (and our cell phone) will be silent for about 10 days. We will post one more blog tomorrow morning (a nice one, old-school) and then we'll be back in August.

for the love of money

On the way to Soweto, off a dusty two-lane road running out of Johannesburg proper, there is a small squatter village.

It is tucked between a middle class housing development and a bridge that runs over a dry creek bed. The bridge carries the Metro train, which transports the poor to work and provides a cache of victims to criminals whose only work is stealing from those who have income to lose.

As we slowly pass by, the scene is littered with unwashed children, playing in the dust left by the dryness of winter. Their beautiful ebony skin is stained red by the earth, rich with clay. They have likely grown up here, in the shanty town. They have likely never been to a hotel or a shopping mall. Very likely, a majority of them have never set foot in a school.

They play in the dust today, using an amalgamation of strung together used milk cartons as a soccer ball. Truthfully, it is useful only as a distraction from the day at hand.

The shanty town they occupy isn’t particularly terrible as shanties go. The squalor is neither worse nor better than all of the others. A couple of the shacks by the roadside even feature half-walls of brick and cinder-block. They are testaments to the fact that the tin and cardboard shack is not the end of the African ability to dream.

The children scamper around with one of these cinder walls as a backdrop, a gray curtain behind their one act play, their modern tragedy.

The wall is bare but for one line of graffiti, scrawled in deep, forboding blue.

Very simply, it reads, “For the love of money...”

Truth can cut quite deeply, stinging all the way through as it slices towards the soul.

This site, disturbingly unforgettable, reads like the heartbreaking counter to everything the gospel was about, a one-line accusation against all of us who have failed to serve the needs of the least of these due to our own desires. Too harsh? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

“For the love of money...”

24 July 2007

a psalm for our friend

Amidst all of our weeping and fretting and general sadness about our recently diagnosed friend (HIV+), Stef had the wisdom to open God's Word.

In it, she found a psalm that is the heart of our friend. We are hopeful that it might minister to all of you who are dealing with such things...illness of friends (Tiff)...doubts about your faith...whatever.

Psalm 77

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.

I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.

You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.

I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;

I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

"Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?

Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?

Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"

Then I thought, "To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High."

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.

Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?

You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.

With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.

The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.

Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Praise Him for His perfection.

23 July 2007

happy anniversary to us


Today (Monday the 23rd) is our 2nd wedding anniversary. We are now officially marital veterans. (Pause for laughter...)

We are celebrating by...well...we'll maybe have lunch together tomorrow. Anyway, enjoy a couple of photos of us with our friends. We should probably take a few with each other. :) We'll take some photos this week and post them on our photo site (link to the left).

The first is Stef with her new Australian friend Lainey. And Kyle is with his best friend Michael and Vusi (aka Section)...

21 July 2007

the missionary diet

I’ve long thought about writing a book entitled, “The Missionary Diet.”

After all, Americans spend between $30 and $50 billion (yes, billion with a “B”) every year on diets and other measures to help us reduce our caloric intake.

And moving to Africa in 2004, I dropped from a skinny 5’10” 155 lb man into an unshaven, skeletal 5’10” 135 lb Bosnian refugee. And it was completely involuntary. I even ate McDonald’s at least once a week. And I would have two Big Macs with my combo meal and a McFlurry for dessert. So, if I can accomplish the real American dream (losing 10% of my body weight) without giving up fast food, I figure that I might share my techniques with you, the reading public.

Over the next few weeks (or months, depending on when we run out of ideas) we’ll be releasing the secrets of “The Missionary Diet,” which is a way for us to share both stories of what everyday life looks like for a missionary and perhaps actual ways to emulate it and look like a refugee yourself. We hope it will prove to be a little “lighter fare” (pun intended) compared to the average update.

Stay tuned.

rich christians excerpt

I promised you an excerpt from “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”. This section helped me to visualize the reality of real poverty. Strange how it took this book to help me experience what the people we work with in the squatter camps everyday really live with.

This exercise is hauntingly accurate:

To help us imagine what poverty means, a prominent economist itemized the “luxuries” we would have to abandon if we were to adopt the lifestyle of our 1.2 billion neighbors who live in desperate poverty:
We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television set, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a wooden chair. Along with the bureaus go the clothes. Each member of the family may keep in his “wardrobe” his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none for the wife or children.

We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out so we move to the cupboards...The box of matches may stay, a small bag of flour, some sugar, and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, must be hastily rescued, for they will provide much of tonight’s meal. We will leave a handful of onions and a dish of dried beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.

Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next we take away the house. The family can move to the toolshed...

Communications must go next. No more newspapers, magazines, books - not that they are missed since we must take away our family’s literacy as well. Instead, in our shanty town, we will allow one radio...

Now government services must go. No more postman, no more firemen. There is a school but it is three miles away and it consists of two classrooms...There are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is 10 miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided that the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely...

Finally, money. We will allow our family a cash hoard of $5.00. This will prevent our breadwinner from experiencing the tragedy of an Iranian peasant who went blind because he could not raise $3.94, which he mistakenly thought he needed to recieve admission to a hospital where he could have been cured.

Perspective gained.

20 July 2007

rich christians in an age of hunger

We are now reading a book called "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger." It is by Ronald Sider.

It should be required reading for anyone who follows Jesus. And this is not a beat-down for you (to show you how righteous we are in Africa...). No. This is a beat-down for us too. Even in Africa, we are very well off. More than any guilt-trip, though, this is an eye-opener.

This book examines the way that the poor of the world live as compared to the rest of us, the way that God feels about the poor through the Scriptures, and the response that we must have if we truly believe what we say we do. I'll post an excerpt from it soon. That little bit will take the average American (or any first-world) home and family and deconstruct it to the point where it would be synonymous with the 1.2 billion miserably poor in the world. Blew me away.

Until I can post that, order it from Amazon. You won't regret it. And you'll never be the same.

a new understanding

We are dealing with the devastating news for our friend every day. It gives us a new perspective on why this is disease is such a scourge. We are now days removed from the diagnosis and there have been no meaningful perscriptions, no referrals to ARVs...basically no progress at all. And while we wait (and pray and sneak money to her to buy more nutritious food) we can see her health, both physically and mentally, declining. It is beyond terrible.

That said, Africa is still alive with possibility and beauty. The children are clinging to us already and we thank God for their wonderful smiles.

We tend to report home the news that impacts us most deeply. That is often bad news. But, please know that we are in love with the people and with each other. And, despite the difficulty that lies in the day, we are very happy to be at home here.

More updates soon.

17 July 2007

a breathtaking, heartbreaking day in africa... (feat. stef's writing debut)

(From Stef:)

What a day...

A day i’ll never forget...

Let me start off by telling you about Lindi. She just got out of prison and is living with us in the mission house for now. I’ve had a hard time trusting her... Will she take my stuff? Can I trust her? Today all of those questions faded away.

We had just arrived at church to find out what a “normal work week” at the church looked like. I was excited to do a couple of jobs for Pastor Willie, maybe practice the piano, and play with a few kids. Man, was I in for a surprise...

Lindi was downstairs to “fetch some spoons” out of the kitchen when she fell. We got word of her fall upstairs and everyone rushed down to check on her. Is she ok? No- not at all. I have never seen so much blood in my life. She had a huge gash in the back of her head. I had just found out that she has epilepsy and diabetes. I was scared...very scared. We rushed her upstairs to clean her up and I’m reminded by Kyle that I MUST wear gloves. I put on my gloves and Rosy and I were able to stop some of the bleeding and wrap up her head. It was hard...I felt nauseated dealing with all the blood...I was short of breath. We then rushed her to the hospital where I had one of the saddest and most unforgettable moments in my life. The smell that hit me when I walked into the government hospital was overwhelming. It made my eyes burn and I couldn’t breath without wanting to vomit. I told myself to get over it...I had someone to take care of. Someone to take care of... this person that i have been weary of is now depending on me to help her. My whole attitude changed. This is God’s child...one that I’m told to love and care for just as He would. It then became a whole lot easier to love on her. We sat waiting and waiting to be seen and we were just not getting anywhere. Meanwhile, the smell was still making me sick. People, even nurses, are standing around with their hands over their noses trying to keep from getting sick themselves. Finally, Pastor Willie saved the day by talking to the right people to get her seen immediately. Praise the Lord! As we entered the hallway to get to a room where Lindi will be seen, I thought the smell I had been dealing with couldn’t get any worse. It did. I thought I was going to lose it...I pulled it together as I walked by AIDS patient after AIDS patients. They were everywhere...people of all ages. I couldn’t tell if the tears in my eyes were because of my sadness for these people or the pungent smell. I simply prayed,”God your will be done.”

Lindi was finally seen and after a few stitches, a few hours, and a few scary moments she was on her way to feeling better. After such a long morning, I felt like I needed to go home...go back to sleep and try the day again. This day couldn’t get worse...Or could it?

(From Kyle:)

We have this friend. She is an incredible woman. Faithful. Humble. Beautiful.

She has four wonderful children. She lives with them in the squatter camp near the church. The five of them share a shack that is literally the size of a walk-in closet.

This woman is a pillar of hope in the community. She is always looking on the bright side of things, always smiling away adversity.

Her skin is a deep, beautiful brown. Her eyes are are a piercing white around compassionate chocolate moons. To see her is to feel good about life. To see her is to have hope for all of Africa.

This afternoon, she entered the office and our eyes locked. Something was not right. I had seen her young son earlier in the day and he said she was not feeling well. He told me that “she went to hospital.” Looking at her, I asked how she was feeling. “Not so good,” was her answer. Her eyes began to moisten at the edges.

She asked for Pastor Willie. While waiting for him, she spoke briefly with Stef, admitting she got some news from the clinic that she must first tell Pastor.

Stef came and sat with me and we both tried to hope for something less than the worst. Out of Pastor’s office came our friend, our hope for Africa.

She hung her head low as she tried to force the words out. We hugged her together, told her that we loved her. She began to weep deeply, unable to control herself. Looking up, she met our eyes briefly, and she muttered the three most devastating words that we had ever heard...

“I am positive.”

Again she broke down. We broke with her. AIDS will soon claim another precious life. The life of our friend.

I have encountered a lot in my time in South Africa. I have helped bury my friends who lost the fight against AIDS. I have watched children stand barefoot and shiver as they wait for life-sustaining food. I have seen a hopeless stare in too many eyes. None of it, though, prepared me for the crushing words from our friend.

None of it can compare to seeing the defeated eyes of a precious friend who knows that the diagnosis is a death sentence. She is saddled with a virus that cannot be stopped. She cannot afford the drugs that, though they cannot cure her, might prolong her existence. She is another victim of uncompromising profit margins from drug companies who are responsible to shareholders before the dying. She will soon be one of the 6600 Africans who die every day from a preventable, treatable disease.

Stef and I wept together Monday night. She wanted to take the disease from her friend. I wanted to put my fist through a wall. We wanted to fall asleep and awake in a world where justice prevails.

Please pray for our beautiful friend.

15 July 2007

here and humbled

Hello everyone.

First, forgive typos. We have 15 minutes to update you and that means I probably won't be proofreading. :)

Well, we did finally arrive in South Africa. We soon realized that our luggage decided not to follow us over, despite all of the assurance of United Airlines.

So, smelly and despairing, we made it. Only Saturday afternoon did we finally recieve our luggage. The blessing in all of it is this: We had the perspective of those we were coming to serve much sooner than we ever thought possible. We were gross and smelly and needing a bath. We were the object of charity from some lovely Australians who gave Stef some gear to keep warm at night. And we were forced to realized that when we said, "God, send us, we will give up everything," he intended to remind us that we might have to. In it all, we realized (again) that we would be taken care of no matter what, we are not in control, and that our joy is in no way connected to our things.

That said, what a wonderful day to finally have a change of clothing. What an incredible feeling to shower and put on washed garments. Forgive us what we take for granted.

Also, when we finally unpacked all of our belongings in our icy room at the Mission House, we were ashamed at how much we had. We felt a tremendous guilt. We went from nothing but the clothes on our backs to ridiculous wealth again. And we realized that we really didn't need it after all. (Sigh.) We are Americans. We all have too much stuff. But, oh, to see it in such a clear way - piled high as our poor friends tell us they are happy we got our stuff. I almost think we would have preferred in that shameful moment to have never recieved our bags at all. Needless to say, we are about to go on a giving spree. :)

Thanks for your messages and prayers. We are Ok. And we are learning more - quicker than you might imagine.

Kyle and Stef

11 July 2007

in london with the Geico gecko

We made it out of America. Finally, this morning, 2am your time, we touched down at London's Heathrow Airport, which some of you might remember is not my favorite place in the world. It can make Kenya look organized.

It is as much of a nightmare as I remember from my last stop here, but we made it and I am in no position to complain. Stef is, as I type, sleeping curled up on another airport bench. The girl is developing a real talent for sleeping in public. Makes me proud. Of course, I could sleep through a tornado, which means that one of us has to stay up or else we'll be the easiest target for luggage theft in the history of mankind.

We actually took a trip into central London on the tube (London Underground) today. It was easy enough, as was meandering around the city on a quest for Stef's culinary holy grail: authentic British fish and chips. After quite a good bit of meandering (in the wet, 60 degree morning), we finally found a chap who reluctantly opened his shop a minute early (11:29am local time) so we could have our meal. Friendly guy. We overtipped him and chalked up his attitude to the fact that he hasn't seen the sun in 13 years. As for the food, it was, well, fish and chips. As the Geico gecko once said, "It's fish and chips...I mean, who doesn't like fish and chips?" What more can I add to that?

Somewhere in the middle of this taste explosion, we realized we were exhausted. The flight from London is only 7 hours long, so we didn't get but a couple of hours of "plane sleep" there. Added to our Chicago napping, that equaled not much sleep for 48 hours. All of which is why Stef is now sleeping peacefully on a bench and I am rambling happily about the Geico gecko. (In case you were wondering - and you weren't - I find the Geico gecko to be quite charming.)

Here is the bottom line: We made it to London. We have tickets that say we have seats on a plane to Joburg. We are only 19 more hours away from our destination. And hopefully a shower. (Even amidst the unwashed masses of the international terminal, I fear that I may be giving off quite the unwelcome funk. Now you know.) Anyway, we are starting to get excited.

Next stop, Africa.

10 July 2007

some turbulence out of the gate

So, we had to cull 56 lbs from our luggage. We did what we could, became much lighter, and put our bags up on the scale in the San Antonio airport... 68 lbs each...

Our hearts sank. A deep sigh has become synonymous with a quick prayer for us lately. So it was a deep breath for each of us and a “please God” from my lips. The United Airlines employee saw our eyes and asked if our trip to Africa was military. He was searching for a way to give us a break.

“Missionaries,” I said. “We’re moving. Feeding kids and stuff.”

He looked over his shoulder to make sure the coast was clear. “$50 for all four bags. I can’t charge missionaries full price. Just don’t tell anyone - no one has to know.”

Our first good break. Another deep sigh...”Thank you,” I whispered intending the words to reach his ears and the heavens.

We rushed to the gate. On to Chicago. Or so we thought. Thunderstorms in the midwest meant a delay of our flight leaving San Antonio. Thirty minutes quickly became 3 hours and our plane which was scheduled to leave SA at 5pm ended up in Chicago at 11pm.

Feeling pretty helpless, we trudged what seemed like miles to the gate where our Lufthansa flight to Germany (which would then whisk us to Joburg) was supposed to be leaving at 9:45pm. As we expected, we found a quiet gate. Our plane left us long ago.

Midnight in Chicago. Midnight in a eerily quiet airport. Our stomachs rumbled. Our hearts sank again. And we found a line to United Customer Service. Maybe they had some answers.

A woman named Nalena took our worthless boarding pass and gave me a “you’re screwed” kind of look. She said that she would reserve tickets for us on the next open planes on our route - letting me know that we would be arriving in Joburg on Friday morning, a full 48 hours after we had planned. Further, she explained, there were no available hotel rooms in the area because of all of the delays - not that we had that in the budget anyway.

Dejected, we began searching for a place to sleep. Good fortune brought us to Gate B10. Around the backside of the kiosk where the gate attendant answers questions was a bench in a relatively dark, relatively quiet spot. Praise God for small blessings. Stef curled up on the bench and I attached myself to our bags on the floor. My t-shirt became a pillow. She wadded up a pink sweatshirt - a blessing - as her pillow. A short tearful prayer and we drifted off to sleep.

It sucked. But, perspective is everything. Somewhere in Joburg, a family shivered to sleep on a dirt floor in the cold winter. And they didn’t have the hope of Starbucks opening at 5am to sustain them. To have that faith.... Forgive us, Father. We said thanks for the shelter and safety.

Around 5:30am, we rustled awake. Everything hurts and something smells. We decide that it is me. My breath or B.O. or some combination of both. And we’re looking at 72 hours until a shower. Thankful again. No one beyond redemption, right? Not even smelly Americans on a sticky airport floor...

After trying to clean up in the airport bathrooms, we went to stand in the line at the United ticket counter. After a short wait, we met Sayed Najim, the ticket agent. He, like Nalena, began what looked like a futile search. Stef did the talking for us after she pointed out that I was saying things that made no sense. She was right. I was clearly nonsensical.

Sayed tried to reroute us through Paris. No luck. London. A twenty minute phone call and -YES - London!! We could fly to London at 6:22pm Tuesday, then to Joburg at 9pm Wednesday night. We would be in Joburg 24 hours later than we first thought, but 24 hours earlier than we feared. “We’ll take it,” we said. Another quiet “thank you” left our lips, again seeking earthly ears and heavenly ones.

So, here we are. 11am in Chicago. We are 11 hours through our 19 hour layover. We are smelly. We are cranky. We are sore. We are humbled. We are missionaries. We are thankful.

Father, work all of this to your good, your glory. Father, quiet our hearts. Remind us of our privilege and the blessings in hardship. Teach us to love this place of difficulty. Give us eyes to see the hearts that hurt in the seat next to us. Give us hearts to understand the plan and the ways that this all represents you and your character. Above all, be blessed. We are trying to love people (and each other) as we go. Father, give us wisdom. All the roots grow deeper when it’s dry. Bless those we can touch, Sayed and Nalena. Give us rest. Wake us anew to bless your name. Father, you are good. We love you. Amen.

09 July 2007

"you've gotta be kidding me"

we're flying out in a couple of hours...

and we've just found out that we have to cut 56 lbs from our luggage in order to get it on the plane. 56 lbs. that's a 2nd grader. (deep sigh)

praise the lord. we're moving to africa.


Very simply, we are overwhelmed.

We are overwhelmed with the reality that we are going to live out of 3 suitcases for who knows how long - and that it all starts today.

We are overwhelmed by the love we have received as we leave.

Moving to Africa, I have learned, is one of the best ways to attend your own funeral. Understandably, people have been compelled to share with us as we go. So, for the beautiful eulogy, we can only say thank you.

Stef and I cannot imagine a more generous, supportive, loving set of family and friends than the one we have been given. Your tears have meant the world to us. Your anonymous notes (one filled with cash - thank you whoever you are), wonderful emails, and heartfelt tears have reminded us why we are doing what we are doing. The fact that we have anything to live on, much less anything to feed the orphans with, is completely due to the generosity of old friends and complete strangers. We are humbled and quieted by the outpouring. And we pray that your hearts are filled as you think of God’s beautiful children, once abandoned and alone, sitting in our arms, laughing and eating and just being children.

We go because our hearts are burdened for the people. We go because God so loved the world. We go...with you.

04 July 2007

this beautiful mess

One of the most intriguing ways to connect with another human being is to read the same book. It's odd, really. You never have to touch or make eye contact. You don't need to be in the same room or even on the same continent. And somehow, it binds two souls together, so that when a hug is finally had or my eye meets yours we share something intimate and wonderful.

With that in mind, Stef and I will periodically share with you what it is we are reading. Maybe, from 9100 miles away, we can connect over a good book.

We've been wading through a thoughtful book by Rick McKinley. It is called "This Beautiful Mess - Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God". The subtitle immediately brings Brother Lawrence's "The Practice of the Presence of God" to mind. And if this was intended to be a modern companion, it does the former work justice.

Rick McKinley is the Pastor of Imago Dei, a progressive church in Portland that embraces activists and weirdos as integral parts of the body of Christ.

The most striking point of the book, as it's been interpreted by our hearts, is the idea that the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven) is not something that needs to be stoked or "advanced" as is said in many Christian circles. Instead it is to be inhabited. McKinley likens our role in the Kingdom to that of a gardener. Lovingly, the gardener weeds and waters and creates a place where growth can occur. But the gardener cannot force growth. No amount of fertilizer can make it happen. He can do everything right - but in the end he is reliant on God to bring the new life from the dirt, from the remains of a broken seed. We are to be signposts to the truth of God and the Kingdom, seeking places of beauty and wonder in the world that has become much too cluttered, in the world that makes recognition of a living God more difficult every day.

"This Beautiful Mess" is a beautiful book. Maybe we'll discuss it over coffee one day. :)

02 July 2007

not long now

Well, only 6 more nights left until we wake to leave for Africa. Time has flown by, to say the least.

We are ready to go - and at the same time we look around at our friends and family and know that we'll never be ready to leave.

Stef's sister Katy married Kyle's cousin Jeff....sounds weird but we checked out the family trees and everything is cool....and we got to spend a few good hours with so many people we love. Abilene people, Canyon friends, and San Antonio friends all made the night very special for us.

We will miss everyone much more than we even realize at the moment - but the memories from that night will help carry us until we can see everyone again. Love y'all. (By the way, gotta love that Joseph is going for the pinch there in the last pic...)