28 August 2007

have you got a minute?

Leave it to me...

I posted our blog about "the dark continent" and what happens next? We go through a couple of days with intermittent blackouts and our internet access decides to poop out.

I must have aroused the wrath of the gods of African technology. We'll burn an offering tonight to appease them.

(We are posting this as we check email at a pay/per minute cafe - we've been assured that our internet will work as of September 1st, so if you are waiting on a reply, expect one then...)

Anyway, let's catch up. In the spirit of Kevin O'Keefe, "Have you got a minute?" (3 of you smiled there...)

- We are in the midst of a Canadian Revival here at church. That means that a group of Canadians are here to help revive the churches of South Africa. They've been a friendly bunch (eh?) and an interesting bunch at that.

Basically, a revival means that we are having 5 services in 4 days all aimed at waking up the locals (and tiring out the missionaries who are leading worhsip for all 5 services), so to speak. We've heard from a Canadian Indian (I want to say he's an eskimo, but that may be offensive to all of our loyal Inuit readers), a Dutch-Canadian preacher who performed Amazing Grace using only bird-calls, and a full slate of other mounties and maple leafs that you would have to meet to understand. We have been able to hook up with David E White, a very cool Canadian singer/songwriter who has really encouraged us this week. He is even teaching me some guitar tricks, so he is definitely among my new favorite people. Google him.

- Stef and I have become soccer fans. We are officially supporters of the Kaizer Chiefs. You can Google them too. We watched the other night as our favorite team played to a 1-1 draw against Jomo Cosmos. Quit rolling your eyes. "Soccer isn't a sport, real sports don't end in ties, soccer players are all a bunch of fakers..." Blah, blah, blah. I'm buying a David Beckham jersey and getting one of those silly parade horns and a flag to wave and we're going to a game. (OK, I probably won't do any of that, but we really do like soccer.)

- Outside of our loyal readers in Central Mexico (you know who you are), you all managed to avoid Hurricane Dean. Congratulations.

- Running out of time....

- Did I mention that Big Macs taste the same here. They do. If you could be an expert for such a thing, I think I might qualify. Trust me.

- Vladimir Putin. Russia scares me. Plus I just wanted to write out "putin". (Enjoy that, Amy.)

- We'll be back in September. I promise. Sorry. Blame Africa. Bye.

24 August 2007

get our blog in your email

So, you want our blog delivered directly to your email? No? Oh...

Well, this is awkward. (Tapping fingers, humming a Foriegner song, staring blankly into space...)

In case you decide that you want to subscribe, just click the link on the top right of the page.

the dark continent

An article in The Economist shined a light on just how dark Africa really is.

Africa is home to 1/6 of the world's population and uses only 4% of it's electricity. Power outages are frequent all over Africa, if electrical power is available at all. The World Bank reports that 500 MILLION sub-Saharan Africans are without what it calls "modern power."

I could stare at the picture below for hours...it is an image from space of the world at night. As you can see, the US and Europe are well-lit, while almost all of Africa dwells in darkness. As for Stef and me, we live in the really bright spot on the bottom right of the continent.

Click on the picture...it's huge and is worth seeing in all it's glory.

23 August 2007

hear our hearts (read and understand)

"Rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated."

Mark Twain’s famous quote does not exactly apply to us. After all, I don’t know of any such rumors and certainly we were never declared dead.

There is some speculation that life here has not been exactly peachy. Well, that would be true, I suppose. But, then again, we never expected our time here to be a second honeymoon. Unless you’ve seen the movie “Just Married” (one of Stef’s favorite movies), in which case you might have an idea of what this time has been like for us. :-) What I am trying to say is that while we are “struggling” with life, life is not a struggle. We have little privacy, some roaches that are trying to share our bedroom, and a hundred other little annoyances that try to steal our joy. What we are learning is tolerance and patience with people, toughness in the face of adversity, and that our joy is only in Christ Jesus and that anything less leaves us defeated.

Among it all, great things are happening in our time here.

Stef is teaching a music discipleship class on Wednesday nights. She is molding an entire church of people who love music into people who also know music. They are learning to read music and understand how to use the gifts God has given them. And in it all, she is serving them with the love of Jesus, quietly breathing blessings into the lives of some very simple folks. (Of course, she is doing about a million other things as well, but we don’t have the space and you don’t have the attention span to read about all of it.)

I am teaching a leadership class, trying to raise up meek young men into being pillars of strength to lead this place for another generation. I am playing the guitar with her on the worship team and trying to rehabilitate the way that Pastor Willie’s office runs. I am trying to bring efficiency to a very inefficient place. For example, we arrived to find 1150 unread emails dating back to January. For a church that gets 90% of it’s funding from overseas (from people who like to communicate by email), failing to read emails is a major problem.

Still, we find great joys…

Among what gives Stef and me the most joy here is investing in the kids.
They cling to her and she gives out as many hugs as one person can. They look at me as some sort of divinely sent bringer of peanut butter and jam. Somehow, their giant, gleaming eyes soothe the soul.

Maybe the joy-bringer that runs a close second is getting emails from friends and family back home. I think, for both of us, it is hard to underestimate the amount of value we put into simple words on a screen. There is almost no encouragement here. We are spurred on by you and your words. We sometimes send out emails, just hoping to get one back in return. We quietly beg for encouragement, sometimes so quietly that the message never gets heard and never gets returned. Ask my mother. In a recent email I came right out and said “encourage us!!”

We are not looking for your adulation and applause, although it does feel good. We are not seeking glory that belongs to a higher authority. We are looking for love. Being displaced is difficult. This culture doesn’t “do love” like we do. And love is not easily translated. So, we check email. And we read them over and over. We cry when they come through, thankful to not be forgotten. We cry when the Inbox is empty, afraid that maybe we have been forgotten.

I hope in this blog that I paint the picture for you to see. Every day is a journey unto itself. Emotionally, we teeter on the brink from time to time. We are faced with thoughts about our future, decisions about how long this is to be home and whether we care what everyone thinks about our decisions for our life. Physically, we ride the rollercoaster offered by this land. We eat what is brought before us and sometimes we eat nothing at all. We bought a scale the other day to monitor our weight, to have some idea of whether we are doing enough to remain healthy. Spiritually, we are under tremendous strain. There is much to be done here and we are not always sure that we have the energy, patience, or the time to do it. So, the vinedresser prunes us and we recoil at the sting. We pray that growth will result when the rains come.

I hope that you will read my words and know that a human being pours them from an aching heart everyday. I fear sometimes that this journey has reduced me to being an entertainer.

I hope that my words will penetrate deeper than a daily check of “what adventures the missionaries are having now.”

I hope that when I write of AIDS and our friends that have died and are dying, you do not feel sorry for our pain. I hope you seek ways to bring justice to a world with ridiculous disparities in the standard of living between rich and poor. I hope you pray that God would inspire a scientist to find a cure for a terrible scourge that is tearing apart families – that is tearing apart a continent. I hope you hear my words in such a way so you can understand how much sorrow God must have that His children are suffering.

I hope that when I write of our sickness and the difficulty in finding healing, you do not feel sorry for our lack of comfort. I hope you think about the larger picture, that you are appreciative of the healthcare available in the US. I hope that you walk into a Walgreens just to marvel at the amount of products designed to make you feel better.

I hope that when I write of our journey, you do not think of us as some TV personalities or celebrities to be read up on and talked about kindly at church. I hope you think of two people, drifting along in a strange place that offers very little in the way of comfort to two Americans. I hope that you send us emails, with things that remind us that somewhere we have family and friends. We have friends here to be sure, but there is a strange cultural canyon that is difficult to bridge and there are very few people that we can say have overcome it with us. To know that there is a place where people think like us and worship like us and pray like us is a blessing. To hear form those people is even greater.

And we do hear wonderful things from you. We hear that Pastor Jeff had the entire church pray for the missionaries from Grace Point. We cannot explain how uplifting that was. And even though I can’t explain how, Jeff gave us strength for days just in that.

To those of you who have been so faithful, know that we appreciate it so much. Stef’s sister Katy has pretty much been the star of the show. Will I ever be able to explain to Katy how much her phone calls mean to Stef? I doubt it. I hope she knows in her heart that her faithfulness (and patience in dealing with a finicky phone system) has been an unspeakable blessing to her sister.

We are not dying or suffering. And we are not begging for emails (although it wouldn’t be unwelcome). I am hoping that hearing our hearts will give you a new picture. I hope that the picture will be more than simply “what it’s like in Africa.” I hope the picture will be “what it’s like to be us in Africa.”

I didn’t start writing today to spill out all of this. I didn’t intend for this to be about us.

Hear our hearts. Change someone’s day today. Tell a co-worker why they’re appreciated. Tell a family member why you love them. Tell your pastor how he’s impacted your life. In the disposable culture of America, remember that relationships can never be treated as disposable. They are intimate. And when they are most beautiful, they are selfless. So, make a visit, a phone call, or send an email. Change someone’s day.

22 August 2007

aids steals another friend

Another day in Johannesburg…another friend lost to AIDS.

I was ready today to write about a number of things. Instead, we will simply memorialize another in the endless string of losses to a disease that shows no signs of slowing it’s attack.

Ellen is gone. She had lived in the church for the better part of 20 years. She and her husband, Cobra, worked as the church property managers and maintenance supervisors. They cleaned. They kept watch over the premises. And they raised their two children in a one room apartment in the basement of the church. Cobra passed away not too long ago. And though it was obvious that AIDS took him, local law forbade anyone from saying so. So, Ellen’s death is not a surprise. But it is a shame. It is a shame for Ellen, who, like her husband, never saw the age of forty. It is a shame for her young son Jason, who now faces an all too common future – one that is parentless and altogether uncertain. It is a shame for this country, which spirals further into the clutches of this disease, of this crisis, every day.

Another day in Johannesburg…another senseless, preventable, treatable loss to AIDS...

For more information on what you can do to battle this terrible disease and it's causes, click on the ONE banner at the top left of this page.

21 August 2007

Pastor Willie's Words of Wisdom

"A mother cat can deliver her litter in a biscuit tin, but that doesn't make her kittens biscuits. They're kittens!"

20 August 2007

the missionary diet: tenet 2 - slow down. walk more.

Slow down. Walk more. Missionaries rarely roll in pimped out BMW’s, so the pedestrian route is probably the most popular. Now, we do roll on pimped out New Balance sneakers, so don’t think I’m knocking quality goods, here. You get what you pay for, people.

Still, imagine the places around your house where you could walk relatively comfortably. Now expand out a couple of blocks. (Those of you stuck in the back of a suburban housing enclave can probably wait for the next installment.) But, most people can probably fathom making it to the Mexican restaurant down the street, the nearest pizza place, or the corner store. And here you are thinking, “Why would I spend an hour walking to pick up some bread or milk or beer when I could drive there and back in 10 minutes?” It’s a valid question. There is a valid answer. It could be fun and it might even bring down your blood pressure.

So, take a break from typical life. Miss an episode of American Idol. Take a walk. Burn a couple of calories (even if you’re walking to pick up some more). It’s the missionary way.

18 August 2007

lesson learned (from stef!!)

Ok...it’s me, Stefani! I’m not always quick to do a blog entry since my writings look like a third grader’s compared to Kyle’s.

I wanted to thank everyone for their prayers as I battled the flu this week. Let me just say it was the most pain I have been in in a long time. I forgot how bad the flu hurts...your entire body...head to toe. And the fever...man, that just made things worse. I am healing as we speak, trying to get rid of the last bits of coughing, runny nose, and body aches.

I’m writing to share with you what God taught me through this last week. I laid in my bed for 3 1/2 days feeling sorry for myself, moaning, and generally thinking that I just wanted to go away until I felt better. I missed home. At home, you can do or get all the things that make you feel better. Things are a little different here. Kyle did an amazing job trying to find anything and everything to help the fever stay away and keep the aches to a minimum. (By the way, he is an amazing husband...in my opinion, the best!!)

So this all started on Tuesday afternoon on our way to see Andre. Andre is an ex-con who has been out of prison for about 6 months now on medical parole. He is very ill, fighting cancer with every ounce of his strength. His doctor says he is a “walking dead man”. He has 20 tumors in just one lung. The tumors spread all over his entire body, in his liver, kidneys, everywhere. And there I was, standing in Andre’s room praying for him, and I realize...this man is in so much pain. He refuses to die in the hospital, so he just lays in his bed at home praying that God would heal him. He is an example of what true faith looks like to me. We spent some time with him and then headed home. It was on the way home that I realized that I was starting to feel really bad. My head hurt, my body ached, and I had this pain in my chest...so I went home and went to bed.

Wednesday morning I was silly and tried to go to the church for a normal day knowing that I was feeling awful. There was our beautiful friend, recently diagnosed with AIDS, waiting in front of the church to help out for the day. She looked at me and could tell something was wrong. I tried to stay throughout the day...only getting worse...until I decided I had to head home to get some rest. She hugged me as I was leaving and even shed a few tears. She was worried about me...worried about ME...

God has been tugging on my heart all week and I really didn’t know why. It hit me today. I was sick this week for a reason. He opened my eyes and gave me a new understanding of what the people He has called me to serve live with. What I went through this past week....all the pain...the sleepless nights...the tears shed... is what my friends here deal with all the time. They can’t just go to a doctor to get help or to a chemist for medicine. They literally just turn to God for healing and they trust that if He wants to heal them...He will. This is beautiful to me.

Thanks for your prayers! I love you guys.

17 August 2007

we are proudly sponsored by...

Stef and I ran into a friend on the street the other day. It was a typical chilly day and we both were wearing our nice jackets and ski caps.

"Are you guys sponsored by The North Face or what?" he asked. Zing!!

We shrugged and realized that we were totally decked out in gear from The North Face. It saved me last time I was here and I have been a loyal customer since, paying more for the quality when the time to buy outerwear came around.

Laughing about our friend's comment afterward, I thought it would be fun to give credit to the products that are rocking our world over here. Be prepared. When I say that we are spoiled missionaries, these products are the reason why.

First, The North Face. We have vests, jackets, hats... And we guard them with our lives. It is the warmest, lightest, most comfortable stuff on the planet. A better investment than Google stock (especially after last week - ouch).

Burt's Bees. The greatest lip balm we've ever known. We used a gift card at Academy and bought 3 little tins of it. We haven't even gone through one yet and our lips are wonderfully, luxuriously moistened every day. Buy Burt's Bees.

New Balance. Oh, boy, how we love those nerdy, gray New Balance sneakers. They are comfy and surprisingly rugged. Well, not so surprising since I've bought the same pair of New Balance 3 times over since I was in college. Do I have a problem with brand loyalty?

Apple. Talk about reliability... Our little, white Apple iBook G4 computer is still going strong after several years of hard work. Then, we were given an iPod that is allowing us to listen to podcasts and our music from home and making us feel so connected to home. Don't forget the iPod Shuffle (the little clip-on version) that discreetly allows us to study Scripture or just rock out during the day. We love Apple. (We especially love the "refurbished" stuff on the website - same stuff just cheaper!!)

Excedrin. If there is a better medicine for headaches, we haven't found it. Tension headaches, sinus headaches, migraine headaches...Excedrin has us covered.

Takamine. I don't know much about guitars. I was told by someone who does know something about music that my guitar from the EZ Pawn Shop was a great deal. Um, OK. All I know is that mine has been a hoss over here. It has been put through a meat-grinder and still holds it's tuning, sounds good, and carries it's rainbow-strap well. (Nothing cooler than a guy with a rainbow strap on his guitar. I oughta wear suspenders too.)

USAA. We have complete access to all of our finances over the internet and we have free ATM withdrawals in South Africa. And no fees for the currency conversion. The church just drops our funds in an account designated for our time here and we go pull it out of an ATM. They even emailed us to make sure that our purchases here in Africa were not fraud. They didn't freak out. Just emailed us and made a note of it all. Someone send this company flowers, please.

God. Best thing ever. Not in a smug, arrogant way. It's just been crazy how consistent the presence of God has been in this place. Being stripped of life leaves little to distract from God. Same God as in America. Just less stuff to distract us over here...except for Burt's Bees, The North Face, etc... :)

Have a good weekend, people. Darkness into light...

day in the life

Somewhere in the middle of REM sleep, in the middle of a dream about a warm beach or a big steak or a big steak tanning itself on a warm beach, a deep buzzing penetrates our idyllic dream world.


Finally awake, sometime around 7 am, I realize that our South African cell phone alarm is going off. I wonder why it’s vibrating and not chirping, but only long enough to find the button that triggers the snooze.

Thus begins our average day in South Africa.

Gripping against the cold, Stefani and I moan at each other, trying to convince the other to move first. We then push back the covers together and find our way into the icy bathroom. We take turns brushing teeth and popping our contacts into our eyes. Slowly, we begin to realize that we are awake again. We begin to realize that we live in South Africa.

Stef then pours herself a glass of juice from our mini-fridge or finds the box of Frosted Flakes (called Frosties here) and makes some breakfast for herself. I, on the other hand, grumble and turn down any breakfast, a decision that I will probably regret in a couple of hours.

8 am rolls around and Michael (our friend and driver of the church transport) starts “blowing the hooter” (honking the horn) on the church van. Time to go. We climb in with Rosy (who works with the Prison Ministry and lives at the house with Michael and the rest of us) and Michael heads down the road towards the church.

Once at the church, we take on the really glamourous work of the day. I check the church emails and send out the messages that Willie has for the world. Stef helps Rosy with Prison Ministry administrative stuff, like filing or data entry. At some point, we usually head into the church sanctuary to practice music stuff. Stef is the musical genius of the family and she is nursing me along with the guitar. Together we lead worship at the church and we manage to practice together in 30 minute snippets throughout the week.

After all that excitement, one can get rather hungry. So, lunch time rolls around and we have a few different options.

Some days, we make the short trip down to the local train station with Michael. A Zulu lady from the little squatter camp next to the station cooks pap (thick cornmeal porridge) every day and makes some beet root and meat that goes with it. She cooks in her shack and then brings her pots out to the roadside where we pay less than $2 each for a really good, home cooked meal. There is sometimes a question as to whether the meat is donkey or sheep or something else entirely. But, really, it’s reliable and it is filling. We pile up our leftovers for the poor folks who gather around the church and we marvel at how far $6 goes.

Other days, Willie gets this look in his eye and mentions something about “feeling snackish” or “needing a coffee”. Translated, these things mean he wants to go to lunch. So, once or twice a month, we oblige and enjoy a cheeseburger or something like it.

There are other possibilities. We sometimes bring our own lunch, a peanut butter sandwich and a piece of fruit. If everything else falls through, we smile and split a Coke and we decide to wait for food when we get home.

The afternoon is when we get to feed the kids at the squatter camp. Depending on the day, they get little tubs with chicken and rice or soup or a sandwich with fruit. We load up the van and head down to the local squatter camp with Michael. As we approach, the children recognize the van and start running and screaming and generally going crazy. Somehow, chaotically, they form a line, expectant of the food that is coming. We dish out all of the food and each child, in a rather peculiar little tradition, waddles about 10 feet away and then sits on the ground to begin eating. Some of them sit right down and others squat through the whole meal, cleaning every morsel of food from the tub before politely returning it to us.

It is only a 30 minute process and we are on our way back to the church a stones throw down the street.

Back at the church, we do menial work until 4:30. I continue working on the World Hope Africa web site. Stef prepares for her music lessons or discipleship class. I get my notes ready for preaching or teaching my spiritual leadership class. At 4:30, we pack up and climb back in the van with Michael, headed home.

We leave for home so early to beat the darkness. Darkness in Johannesburg is not a good thing. Darkness brings danger, and the sound of gunshots is not uncommon. There are few places in the world that are more dangerous than Joburg after dark. Honestly, we haven’t been out after dark once since we moved here other than being at church and getting a ride directly home. It just isn’t worth the risk. Everyone in the house has been accosted or assaulted (mugged, robbed, shot at, stabbed) at some point. More often than not, it occurred after dark. As a result, we voluntarily imprison ourselves when the sun goes down.

At home, we scrape together dinner. We usually have some combination of instant soup,sandwiches, or cereal. We don’t do much cooking (although we made some killer tacos for the whole house a few weeks ago). Cooking is tough for a number of reasons.

First, one person has all of the pots and pans at the house and it is something of an inconvenience to go begging to borrow them. The kitchen is also not the most sanitary place, so it requires a brisk scrub-down. Thinking along those lines, there are quite a few roaches crawling around the room where the pots are all kept... It’s just not an appetizing experience.

Another issue is the number of people who live in the house. At any point, there are 10 or more people living here at the Mission House. We are the only ones that aren’t South African, meaning we are the only ones who aren’t riding the poverty line. Most likely, we are the only ones who aren’t chronically hungry. While we would love to feed the whole group more often, it can cost quite a bit. There is no rule saying you have to cook for everyone, but it would be too difficult to make a nice dinner for ourselves and look at our hungry friends with nothing.

On top of all of that, it is really cheap to eat out, so we supplement our meager home diet with a couple of meals out every week. On Tuesday, for instance, Stef and I snuck away for lunch. I had a 200g rump steak with chips (fries) and a Coke and Stef had a bacon/avocado burger with chips (fries) and a Coke. It was sooooo good and the total was something like $12 with tip. It ministers to us to be served, costs the same as if we made it ourselves, and is probably much cleaner than the roach-infested kitchen and cookware we would use.

After dinner, things go downhill quickly. We usually watch some TV show or listen to a podcast (check out the Village Church weekly sermon - very good) and then brush our teeth and head to bed by about nine.

Different days bring different experiences. Sundays and Wednesdays don’t see us get home until around 10pm. Fridays are bizarre in that we are supposed to go home at 3:30pm but we usually get stranded until 5 or later. Basically, no day is ever typical. There is usually a minor tragedy (someone has a seizure or dies or is diagnosed or is beaten or is missing or something) and there is never a set schedule to anything with Willie.

Somewhere in all of that boredom, we feed the kiddos, write these blog entries, talk to family, dream about summer, and do household chores. Actually, as I write, it occurs to me that our laundry is probably dry on the line by now. We better go bring it in. Just another atypical part of our atypical existence. We’ll be asleep again soon, dreaming of automatic washers and dryers or something just as exotic.

Life is different, but the same. Life is exciting and new and completely the same as it was in the US. Different faces and a different environment, but everyday life is still everyday life. And everyday life, despite some of our struggles, is good.

16 August 2007

cold thursday

It is Thursday in blustery Johannesburg. It was 32 degrees outside this morning which means that it was probably 40 degrees in our room when we woke up.

Stef has the flu and is improving but could still use some prayer, if you are so inclined.

We have gotten some questions as to what we do over here in our spare time. One thing we do is listen online to sermons from two churches, Grace Point (our church in San Antonio) and The Village Church in the DFW area (they actually podcast through iTunes as well). We have links posted to them on the right-hand side of the page if you are interested.

We should post our "day-in-the-life" blog tomorrow. Until then, darkness into light...

15 August 2007

speedy delivery!! (mailbag time)

That's right, everybody. It's mailbag time. Remember Mr. McFeely? Nice mailman. Creepy name. Here we go:

Jacob from Outer Mongolia: After looking at your photos of sickly children in absolute squalor, I thought I'd pose this question to you as I am at my opening MBA seminar (basically a full-day business summer camp without the fun) in Austin.
To quote the advertisement on my work desk "Would you like to enjoy world-class resort living at Barton Creek? (It is second home living at its finest.)"...

Kyle and Stef:
I am more inclined to accept the reality of second
homes and incredible luxuries than the first time I was here. Not to
say that I think that believers should have these things (I am still waiting for someone to tell me that they are reading Rich
Christians in an Age of Hunger by Sider), but I am wise enough to know
that they will have them no matter how much I whine about it.

I have become very interested in the concept of "microloans". Everyone should Google "Opportunity International". It has been said that if all Christians would donate 1% of their income to financing microloans for people in developing countries (helping people help themselves), we could pull out of poverty 50% of the world's poorest 1.2 billion (less than a dollar a day people).

Tiffany from San Antonio: Okay, mailbag time... I have a 2 questions
1.) If each of you could be any mythological creature what would you be and why??
2.) What are your feelings on hip hop culture, past, present, and future?

Kyle and Stef: As for #1, mythological creatures sort of freak us out. I mean, have you ever seen a Minotaur? Weird. If I had to choose, I think I would be a contestant on one of those World's Strongest Man competitions, like Magnus Vir Magnusson. Those guys can't be real. Flipping cars and toppling telephone poles and towing school buses using only their teeth? Ya, that's normal. Stef would be a unicorn. She didn't say that, I just think that would be funny.

As for Hip Hop Culture, I have read on the subject rather extensively (I actually took a class at UT about it and then read more after graduating). A particularly good read was Hip Hop America by Nelson George. (You thought this would be a question I'd have no answer to...shame on you, now everyone has to listen to my thoughts on Hip Hop.) Basically, I can't see faulting a culture for expressing their angst and disenchantment in a particular manner. I'll spare everyone my bleeding hearted diatribe. Read the book...

Aunt Tammi from Anson:
Hey guys. OK my question is tell us about a day in the life of Stef and Kyle. Do you get up early? Do you cook? What exactly do you do with your days?

Kyle and Stef:
Well, that's a lot. Let us chicken out for today and make that a post of it's own another day. Since Aunt Tammi was one of about 6.8 million people asking what we do all day, we will deliver a day-in-the-life piece very soon. Let's say that we'll have one by the weekend.

Robin from College Station:
When are you coming home? Any news about a lil' Burkholder yet? How's the winter? Cold or mild? What has God taught you?

Kyle and Stef: When are we coming home? Good question. As long as you people don't find out that we've been living it up in the Bahamas this whole time, maybe never.

A Lil' Burkholder? No. Unless you mean Mia... Isn't she cute?

The winter was pretty normal for Johannesburg, meaning cold nights, warm days, and freezing indoors. Most importantly for us, it seems like winter is almost over. It'll be back in the 30s on Thursday, but after that we are hoping to transition to spring.

As an aside, one thing that I mentioned last time I lived here is how I realized how preoccupied Americans are about the weather compared to Africans.

In America, cold temperatures, excessive rain, or a rumble of thunder lead the newscast. Then, we all wait on pins and needles for the weather segment. They tell us the humidity, barometric pressure, wind speeds, and the completely unreliable forecast for the next 7 days.

Here, weather gets the last minute of the newscast. Then, they show the map of the whole country and give tomorrows temperatures for the 10 biggest cities. In case you need it, your city is also assigned one of three icons: a cloud, a sun, or rain coming from a cloud. Just for fun, they then speculate on the next day for about 5 seconds, completing the 2-day forecast. End of weather. No radars, no high pressure or low pressure... Just a number and a sun icon.

The stupid thing is that I think I need to watch the weather in the US. Most of us do. We could get "94 and sunny" in about 12 seconds from the internet. But we wait up - forcing ourselves to stay awake until 10:15pm - so that some dork in a suit (sorry, weather guy) can tell us it'll be 94 and sunny.

I mean, really. The only two questions we should ever ask about the weather are: 1) What are appropriate clothes for today (i.e. heavy coat, bikini, whatever...)? and 2) Do I need an umbrella?

Beyond this, I think we are either really crazy or really bored.

Finally, God is teaching Stef and I and incredible amount about living in the moment. Much of this is difficult and much of you are missed a great deal. As easy as it would be to sit and daydream about warm weather and American comforts, we are learning to take every day here as a blessing and an opportunity to impact the world.

Jeff from San Antonio (had a lot of questions):
Shaun Alexander or Frank Gore, who would you draft first? What is the exchange rate of the US Dollar to (insert S. African currency here)? In an algebraic equation, can you cancel intergers when + or - signs seperate terms outside the parenthesis? On a scale of 1 (pretty much the sweetest song ever) to 10 (if it were a real object, you wouldn't think twice about setting it on fire), what is your feeling toward the classic radio and club hit, YMCA? If the world were coming to and end in 3 days (but for some reason, everyone was pretty much okay with it..apparently its been common knowledge for quite some time), what would you wanna do before you die? (Seeing family is a given. You have approximately the same amount of money you do now, air travel is out of the question, etc.) Will Hilary Clinton be the next president of The United States?

- Shaun Alexander or Frank Gore? Hmm. A fantasy football question... Seeing as how neither play soccer, rugby, or cricket, I have absolutely no idea. Can you select David Beckham? Ya, I think that's the answer. Take Beckham.

- 1 US Dollar buys you about 7 South African Rand. Using the international standard accepted by The Economist (no joke), a Big Mac combo meal costs about $5 in the US and $3 here. So, doing the math, $5 has the same buying power as R21. Confused?

- I failed high school Algebra once and college Algebra (literally titled "Math for Artists" - M301) twice before obtaining a D, so there will be no answers from me... As a matter of fact, I will now answer all math-related questions with snarky comments.

- YMCA? The only song that hurts me even half as much as YMCA is Lionel Richie's "Say You Say Me". My answer is 11.

- This question about dying in three days is bogus. There is no air travel? We live in South Africa. I guess we'd find the fastest boat ever made and try to say goodbye to our family and friends in the States. We'd probably die somewhere near the Cape Verde Islands.

- Hillary will be the next president. Although I think I would vote for a turtle if one could run. (Sneaky joke in there...wait for it, wait for it...)

- Send hate mail (or suggestions for his next barrage of questions) to Jeff at jeff_reininger@yahoo.com. Send your questions and comments for our next MAILBAG to theburkholders@gmail.com. (If you don't send them, Jeff will - and you'll all be stuck reading more of this nonsense.)

Love y'all. Thanks for the questions.

14 August 2007

happy tuesday

As the great Mike Weimer of Firstmark Credit Union was fond of saying, "Happy Tuesday!!!"

A couple of housekeeping notes today...

- We've updated our look a little bit as the last format was giving us trouble. We'll put some work into this one and make it look a little more inviting. At least now when you load the page, you'll be able to read with us...

- We have posted a bunch of photos from our Kenya trip (nightmare?) on our photo site. You can click on the link that says "Our Photos" on the side of the page. And yes, there are more stories about Kenya, but we are in the process of blocking out that part of our memory for all of eternity. :-)

- Finally, you can expect the first MAILBAG tomorrow. If you haven't gotten your questions/comments through, send them anyway and we'll use them for the next mailbag.

None Beyond Redemption...
Kyle and Stef

12 August 2007

the missionary diet: tenet 1 - eat with friends

Stef and I were going with Micahel to Johannesburg Prison to pick up a visiting preacher who was ministering to the inmates there. We had to stop to fill up on petrol (gas), so we wondered inside the convenience store attached to the petrol station.

Inside, they had the typical pre-packaged snacks and a little setup where hot food could be purchased. We ordered “Pap & Mince with Gravy” for what amounted to about $2.

Pap, as you might recall, is the South African staple, a clay-like cornmeal porridge. Mince is simply ground beef. So we were handed a plate of pap, covered in a thick stew of ground beef, carrots and potatoes.

We climbed back into the car, and with our fingers as utensils (it is the African way) we began picking away at this warm, filling meal. It was split among us. And we were all satisifed. So, eat with friends. Split the dish. Whether it’s chicken fingers from Chili’s or pap from a petrol station. You’ll be closer with your friends and you’ll consume half
the calories.

11 August 2007

stop and smell the smoke

We are all the same.

We all want. We all crave. We all desire.

Sometimes, when our perspective begins to wane and life seems to be one long journey through one big rut, we begin to wonder. Maybe I should simplify. Maybe happiness is in poverty. Maybe Jesus knew something when he said “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” as we conveniently leave out the “in spirit” part.

I have been guilty of this self-deception. There is no beauty in poverty. There is no magic in simplicity. Just as there is no wonder in wealth or lasting joy in excess.

Whether we feast or fast, it’s all smoke. It is lingering temporarily and, pfft, it’s gone. It is a man chasing the wind.

The poor look longingly at the estates of the wealthy. Over fences and through tinted car windows, the poor dream of filling rooms (tombs?) with furniture and filling closets with clothes.

The rich then look back at the poor and wonder. They long for the simple life, wondering if the key to happiness isn’t in a more minimal existence. They imagine the stress melting away as decisions about SUVs and granite backsplashes disappear.

Both long for something else, something more meaningful.

Here, we see both sides. To our South African friends, we are still very wealthy. To our American friends, we have voluntarily taken on poverty. Both sides wonder what it would be like for a couple to live on $700 a month.

We, like Solomon in Scripture, are realizing that all of it is folly. We walk the malls here and watch as those who have money spend as recklessly as the most materialistic American. And those with very little look longingly through store windows, dreaming of how they would like to spend as well. The only difference between the two is in their bank account. The hearts of both are still wanting. The desires of both are for more - bigger, deeper, better, newer, and nicer. More...

There is no magic in this poverty.

If we are happier, if we are closer, it is because we spend our days together rather than apart. If we are whole, it is because we are in relationship. No amount of more or less will bring fulfillment. Ever.

All of this is not to say that we lack admiration for those living simply. The hungry cry out to God, while the satisfied sleep soundly. We do believe that there is blessing in lack, if only because the poor, like children, often cry out to the Father. We do believe that wealth is dangerous, if only because Jesus told us so, because I have yet to figure out how a camel fits through the eye of a needle.

What all of this is to say, I am not completely sure. We are learning, though. We are learning that, outside of relationship, it is all smoke. Outside of fellowship, it is all vanity. Outside of America, it is really not so different. Pfft...

10 August 2007

stefani and the spider-pig

So, we snuck away on Women's Day (Thursday) to see a movie. A very American movie.

Desperate for a little taste of home, we watched The Simpsons Movie, drank Coke (with ice!!!), and had popcorn. It was a good day.

Anyway, there was this scene in the movie with Homer and a pig...watch it here:

I sing the "Spider-Pig" song now and Stef, in her adorable delirium, dances to it everywhere - in the kitchen, in the bedroom (see photos), in the church. Oh, that's our Stefani.

You gotta love her. :)

09 August 2007

mailbag!! (participation required)

The time has come for you, the loyal reader, to be heard.

We are going to emulate every internet writer who ever suffered from writer’s block. It is time for a MAILBAG. For the uninitiated, this is your chance to ask us questions - anything - and wait for us to post a blog answering all of them. Your questions can be serious or inane, about everyday life or Africa or my prevalent use of anabolic steroids or whether Stef is pregnant or how to change a timing belt or whether Rogers Hornsby was the best 2nd baseman of all time or if Jesus would use Google or whatever...they don’t even need to be questions. You can just rattle off a story and wait for us to try to figure out what to do with that.

Anyway, email us at theburkholders@gmail.com and make MAILBAG your subject. We’ll follow up soon enough.

put in me/stuck in a moment

We ran across something we liked while we were checking out the website of Enter The Worship Circle...

It might be interesting to the musically inclined, the U2 or ETWC fan, or the curious.

You can click on the title of this blog (put in me/stuck in a moment - above) to get to the site. If that doesn't make sense, cut and paste the site below just like the old days. :)


women's day and a wonka reference

Well, hello there.

Thursday is Women's Day in South Africa, a national holiday. (Stef asks that everyone in America help us celebrate by being nice to the women in your lives.) As a result, this week we will be posting Wednesday's blog on Tuesday and Thursday's blog on Wednesday, although since it's already Thursday and Women's Day isn't a holiday in the US, none of this really matters in the slightest. (Thanks, Mr. Turkentine...)

Anyway, we'll be enjoying our day by taking a taxi to the movies with our friends Michael and Prudence. Popcorn, previews....Mmmm, so much fun. We'll be back to post again on Friday.

08 August 2007

coming awake in kenya

I am almost certain that if you took a person, drugged them, and left them lying crumpled to awake in Kenya, particularly in rural Kenya, it would not be difficult to convince that person that the year was 1894 when they woke up. Really.

If not for the advent of the modern motorcar, there would be almost no evidence that the twentieth century had ever dawned. Houses are built by hand, from hand-mixed concrete and wood cut with a manual hand saw. Scaffolding on an unfinished, six-story office building in Nairobi was made not from steel but from trees that had been felled so recently that some still had branches and leaves. Brooms are nothing more than a collection of sturdy grasses, bundled together with string. Toilets are often nothing more than holes in the ground, also known as squatty potties.

That is not to say that all of Kenya is this way. For instance, the home we stayed in did have modern toilets, although getting them to flush was another story.

The point is that the conditions and cultural practices in the remote highlands of Kenya are probably the polar opposite of those in the United States.

As an example, time is an interesting thing in Kenya. For someone from an advanced, industrialized nation (like, say, America), time is an extremely frustrating aspect of Kenyan life. You see, there is this telling phrase in Swahili, “Pole, pole.” Translated, it means “Slowly, slowly.” Time has very little value. There is always tomorrow. Efficiency is still a foreign concept. For Kenyans, they would rather things be done traditionally than efficiently.

In the kitchen, they cook over open flame. A fire is built and a pot is placed on top of the fire, filled with who knows what. The butcher in town cut some beef for us from a cow that had been slaughtered and hung in a tin shack that morning. He asked which portion we wanted and we pointed to the lower half. Mind you, this is literally a bloody cow hanging from a rusty hook in a tin shack. All that separates us from the butcher 4 feet away is a piece of wire mesh, presumably in place to catch the chunks of cow that are about to begin flying. He grabs that back legs of the cow and pulls out his machete. Yes, his blunted 14-inch knife is his only tool. In a series of incredible blows, he manages to mangle and separate the piece of the cow we pointed at. Bit of it are all over the walls and the mesh screen. Short of breath from the immense effort of basically hacking a cow in half with a glorified butter knife, he places the beef in a plastic sack and weighs it on that scale from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. You know the scale...they used it to see if the woman, accused of being a witch, weighed the same as a duck - and she did by the way which presumably resulted in her being burned.

Anyway, that is Kenya. Some things were so rudimentary that I even began to think that moving to Kenya and starting a business would be a good idea.

I actually had the idea to start a butchery right next to the one where we bought our beef. For $500, I could have a nice steel table to cut on and a selection of sharp knives. I would be head and shoulders better than that guy, run him out of business, and have the entire town coming to me for meat. I thought this sounded attractive. That is how desperate I was for someone to run a proper business.

The roads also left us reeling. I couldn’t believe that a country would let their roads get into that kind of shape. You can be driving behind a car and then it just falls into a pothole, almost like the one that those Nazis fell into during one of the memorable chase scenes in Blues Brothers. The car is missing and you keep on driving. Maybe it isn’t that extreme, but it’s close. It is bad enough that you can go 20 minutes on a major highway without ever getting out of 2nd gear. It is bad enough that everyone in the car lets out a sigh of relief when you finally turn onto the muddy, flooded dirt road. I mean, when faced with bone-jarring potholes on the asphalt or vomit-inducing sliding around muddy trails, it has to tell you how bad the potholes are if I say we would rather be vomiting. Well, that was the case. On the asphalt, you are truthfully afraid that you might die. On the muddy trails, you just feel like you wish you could die.

Food is something most people worry about when traveling to Kenya. Truth be told, it really isn’t bad. It is, however, bland. Imagine having no grocery store nearby. Then imagine that you had no refrigeration. And now realize that you have one day a week to buy produce from a farmer’s market, with the only products available being those that are locally grown. Now, think of what is available to cook for dinner. Let me go ahead and tell you: rice, beans, pasta, spinach, potatoes. We had some combination of that pretty much every meal for 8 days. No cheese or other dairy products - they require refrigeration. Same goes for meat. And forget seasonings. Salt was available, but apparently precious as it was used sparingly. They did have some strange chili sauce in a ketchup bottle, the Kenyan answer to Cholula, which I applied liberally to everything. That really made my digestive system happy, let me tell you. But since everyone else had the same symptoms as I did (we were all running like a Kenyan marathoner), I never thought twice about using it.

We managed one incredible meal in Nairobi, at the Nairobi Java House. It is an American-owned restaurant that caters to the sizable population of white foreigners in Nairobi. They even have Heinz Ketchup sitting on the table. Stef and DeLean (our South African friend who went with us) split a cheeseburger and fish and chips. I had a BBQ beef sandwich and a milkshake. Pastor Willie, still running from 22 straight meals of beans and rice, had a veggie burger. All together, it probably cost about $12. We eat there every time we’re in Kenya (this was my third time) and it never fails us. I would kiss the owner if I saw him. He is my hero, and could potentially be eligible for sainthood. I’m not quite sure.

There is more about Kenya. So much more. We flew on an airplane that seated fewer people than a Chrysler mini van. One night, we think we heard a dog eat a rooster - or mate with it. We splashed brown water on ourselves out of a bucket and called it a shower. We met a rat named Reggie who kept us company at night. We smelled bad, we felt bad, we looked bad. And yet, lest you believe that it was all bad, we had an amazing trip. We got to connect with the orphans. We got to see the incredible mountain vistas overlooking the Great Rift Valley. When the rains passed, we saw more stars in the night sky than one ever thought possible. We flew right over the top of the tallest peak in Africa. We were blessed with a new perspective and a new appreciation for our chilly home in Johannesburg. We are alive and better for what we’ve seen. All in all, we are thankful.

05 August 2007

a thousand words

Well, let me admit something here.

I was about to recap a few of the worst moments from the past 9 days in Kenya. It's really not a bad place. It just happens that, for whatever reason, the tales of woe tend to be more entertaining than the positive stories. I was going to tell you how Stef celebrated her 26th birthday in an unforgettable way. I was going to mention the torrential downpours and helicopter-mosquitoes. I was thinking of including a rant about potholes that swallow cars and how leaving those roadways without repair is not the best way to help your nation rise out of desperate poverty. I was considering any number of stories about food or toilets or the way the two interact quite intimately in East Africa.

Instead, you will wait. We should get to that stuff later this week.

Instead, I wanted to share with you a picture of the menu in the kitchen at the orphanage where we spent the week working. I took it imagining that I'll look back one day when I forget all that I have seen here. Maybe one day I'll have a look at this picture just to remind myself how much I take for granted.

Click on the picture. It needs to be large enough for you to read the words...

home from kenya...

We are back!! Oh, sweet mercy...

Kenya was as rough as ever (at least for these two spoiled missionaries), but we managed to get an incredible glimpse of God. We are thrilled to be back in Joburg, with our drinkable running water, hot showers, electricity, and friends.

We have a lot to share from the last couple of weeks, including stories of toilets that wouldn't flush, the starry African sky, lots of vomitting, beautiful orphans, Kyle's ongoing battle with a strange plague (possibly thousands of malarial mosquito bites), and much, much more. So, like the water in Kenya, we'll let it come from the tap in a slow, cold trickle. Hope you enjoy.