31 January 2008

we now conclude our broadcasting day

One of the most difficult, and yet most comforting, realities in life is that all things have a beginning and an end. There is an unspoken and wondrously natural progression. Purposes are fulfilled and the life then fades away. Some things last longer than others and some seemingly go much too soon. Still, all things have an ending. I find the endings most beautiful when those things, having satisfied what they were created to do, quietly fade away.

darkness into light

So, one last time, "why darkness into light?"

One reader found a connection between Hasidic-Reggae artist Matisyahu and the blog title. Others, we can only assume, created their own realities (or more likely never gave it much thought).

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The truth is that the blog title was dually influenced by the bible and a certain Matisyahu song.

The bible-writer John, in particular, talks a lot about darkness and light. Never is it more profound than when Jesus drops “I am the light of the world” on everyone in John 8:12. He goes on to say that, “whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John later says that whoever wishes to be in the light must "walk as Jesus walked."

So, I think, in a very simple way, that is the essence of the blog title. Jesus is light of the world. And we can feed hungry kids, but it won’t satisfy them. We can bring water to the parched lips of the desperate here, but that will never quench their thirst. The only thing that will last is Jesus, the light. And so, we seek darkness (injustice, oppression, poverty – spiritual, physical, or otherwise) and we seek to bring the light to it.

A second, much more subtle idea that sits behind the blog title does indeed come from Matisyahu and his song “Warrior”. As a Hasidic Jew (read: orthodox – Google it), Matisyahu raps about some very deep, profound subjects. He also shares our history through the Torah.

During a performance of this song, he took a minute to explain where the idea came from:

“Hasidis explains that everything in this world, everything in this life has an inner essence and an inner soul. And when it started out, before the soul was reincarnated into this life, into this body and time and place that we find ourselves…it was basking above in the rays of Godliness. And it comes into this world for one reason, you know: that it should transform the darkness into light. It should take the darkness of this world and make it light…”

Now, the word “reincarnated” scares a lot of people. But this isn’t the idea that I will die and come back as a gerbil or a carburetor or something in my next life. This is the idea that our soul was known to God before our physical bodies existed on this earth. This is the idea that somehow, we existed with Him in paradise and that He has hidden that beauty and that “light” deep within us. It is this idea that leads many Christians today to believe that when we encounter “Truth” (i.e. God’s glory in Jesus), we know it to be true not because of some evidence or emotional experience, but because we “remember” it.

So, Matisyahu quotes an idea that says that we are known to God and He sends us into the world in order to bring the darkness into the light, in order to bring glory back to His name.

There are Bible passages that correspond. Check Ecclesiastes 3:11… “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

“He has set eternity in the hearts of men…” That is a really rich idea: That, somehow, we know what eternity is like. That maybe the reason that no amount of money or sex or power or status can please us is because we know of something (somewhere in the depths of our soul) that surpasses all of those things. Somewhere, God has set eternity and its beauty within us. Mysteriously beautiful…

2 Corinthians 4:6 says this: “For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,'made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

God made His light to shine in our hearts. Is that incredible to you? It freaks me out. God did this to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ? I cannot even fathom the glory of God, much less that somewhere within me I possess the knowledge of it. Like I said, mysteriously beautiful…

Darkness into light...

bafana bafana versus senegal

South Africa came into tonight's game with Senegal almost assured that they would be out of the tournament. They had to win BIG and get help from other teams to move on...

Well, they played valiantly in their first game away from Tamale, Ghana (Mmm, Tamales...), but only managed a 1-1 draw. Bafana managed to threaten to score the whole game, hitting the cross bar and every other surface but the back of the net. Oh, well. We'll see them again in 2010.

bring out your dead

January is now officially drawing to a close. We leave for Cape Town tomorrow (see post below) and then for Kruger Park next Thursday (Google it). We are worn out and very ready to get away for a holiday. Very excited...

You heard it here. We're not dead yet. In fact, I feel happy...


on to cape town

Stef and I leave for Cape Town tomorrow. We have been anticipating this holiday for a long time. We are going to sleep in a nice bed in a nice hotel. We are going to go to the beach. We are going to have seafood in a nice restaurant. We are going to be in heaven.

What we are most excited about is strange, almost embarrassing. We are excited to be going to the airport - for ourselves. Since arriving in South Africa, we have been shuttling foreign missionaries to and from the airport to the tune of about a dozen round trips at this point. It can be exhausting (the airport is not close) and it can be discouraging. We get to see the relieved faces of foreigners anxious to return home walking assuredly through to their terminals while we return to the roaches and the power outages. Well, not this time. We are getting on a plane (a Mango Airlines plane!!) and going somewhere nice ourselves - and it feels good!! We are excited to go through security. We are excited to wait on our baggage. And we are excited to do something a little out of the ordinary. And all of that begins when we drive to the airport and actually get on a plane ourselves.

29 January 2008

crazy games

Our new favorite Tv show is called Crazy Games. It is basically an excuse to put people in ridiculous costumes and set them up for spectacular falls and terrible spills.

Men in giant chicken costumes try to run against an oversized turntable. Women in flippers try to run down a moving slip'n slide while carrying buckets full of water. Men in oversized snail outfits have to ride bikes through an obstacle course.

Impossible to describe. Funniest show ever.


28 January 2008


You, the readers of this blog, are a diverse bunch. You come from all over the world (including Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Italy, Britain, and France last week) and you come from all types of backgrounds. You are business-people and church-people, yoga-lovers and couch potatoes, rich and poor, young and old, etc...

And I must admit that I think of those of you who I don’t know to be Christians more than the others – not to influence you or persuade you, but to do my best to keep from misrepresenting what I claim to believe. Really, I want to avoid influencing you at all costs. There are enough people selling half-baked, man-made, eternal life schemes out there. I sometimes sit back and hope that somewhere a group of folks are having a discussion about how irritating Christians are and you’ll mention that you know at least one who seems to be somewhat different, even though his proclivity to write about the rain and the fog is, admittedly, a bit vexing.

And that is not to say that I hope to blend in. I probably couldn’t if I tried. I just want to avoid being one more reason for people to say (as Gandhi did) “I would consider following Jesus if not for the Christians.”

All of this to say...

I am reading this book called unChristian. It is the result of years of research into what non-believers (in particular those aged 16-29) think of Christians.

And it confirms all of my worst fears. Christians are seen as hypocritical, overly political, judgmental, intolerant, argumentative, irrelevant, and generally out of touch. What I did find some solace in were the numbers that showed that Christians of the same age felt the same way towards, well, themselves.

We find ourselves to be hypocritical, judgmental, overly political, intolerant, argumentative, irrelevant, and generally out of touch. At least we can be honest, huh? Ashamed, but honest.

We see clearly that we Christians have become decidedly, well, unChristian.

The reasons that people avoid Christians are the same reasons that we find ourselves embarrassed at times to call ourselves such. We’ve hijacked Jesus and turned Him into a bumper-sticker or a way to sell CDs or a way to make all of our co-workers and friends uncomfortable.

In fact, as the book points out, Christians have become famous for what they oppose (don’t make me name them – abortion, Islam, homosexuality, media, liberals, and on and on) rather than who it is they are for (namely this loving, merciful, graceful, sacrificial, tolerant man named Jesus).

And it becomes difficult to get around those things, especially for Christians who don’t fit the stereotype. I hesitate to tell people we are missionaries for the simple reason that missionaries have a negative connotation, being thought of as folks knocking on doors trying to convert every man, woman, and child. I tell people we are on a justice mission, trying to redistribute some of America’s wealth. I say that we are representing some people from America who recognize that the world’s poor are our responsibility. I say anything to avoid saying we are Christian missionaries.

We’re not ashamed of who we are. We simply know that too many people have been burned by religious nuts and political fanatics to give any credibility to someone traveling around the world promoting religion.

Am I rambling?

Here is what I guess I am getting at: We Christians have jacked a lot of things up and we have flipped out priorities around to such a degree that we turn Jesus into a capitalist and a republican from the suburbs and we sleep soundly as we have made God in our glorious image.

I would issue a blanket apology to all those who have had to deal with us in that manner, but that would be less than genuine. I don’t know who thinks what about whom. So I’ll save the canned apology and tell you that I honestly consider you when I write, if only to be a voice in the wilderness reminding people that radical love can be liberal, tolerant, merciful and all about Jesus at the same time (as I pray we are).

What I do know for sure, thanks to this book, is that Christians have a lot of work to do (and undo) before anyone will look at us for what we are supposed to represent (love of Jesus) as opposed to what we have come to represent: overly political, judgmental, intolerant, argumentative, irrelevant, and generally out of touch folks. As a start, we have to abandon our attitude that says, "I don't care what they think of me" and adopt the attitude of "How does what they think of me reflect a reality that I need to change?"

If we truly desire to be the light, we must walk as Jesus walked...

27 January 2008

familiarity breeds contempt

Have you ever heard the quote from Mark Twain about how familiarity breeds contempt? He actually said that "familiarity breeds contempt - and children."

(I also like the saying that "necessity never made a good bargain." But that's neither here nor there, so let's move on.)

Of familiarity, we often hear people say such things. And we are often guilty of allowing familiarity convince us that something is not as special as we once thought it to be.

Today, thinking of how long we have lived with the unfamiliar (to the point that it has now become familiar itself), I decided to list some familiar things that I am excited to experience again.

- A home-cooked meal. Remember, cooking in our house is almost impossible. I cannot wait to steam some veggies or plop something in the oven. Then to eat it....

- An American grocery store. Long story. You'll have to trust us.

- A dirty-burger from Bigz. Order a cheeseburger and ask them to make it "dirty". Your burger comes out piping hot, wonderfully fresh - with a runny fried egg on top of the beef patty.

- A rainy day at a coffee shop - even a Starbucks. The freedom in being able to just sit freely in a public place, enjoying something as simple as coffe is something that has never been quite right here. Always looking over your shoulder, always afraid to pull out the laptop.

- Proper electricity. Power outages are not frequent. They are nearly a daily ritual. We could do without that. (They are so prevalent that I just stopped to save this post before typing further for fear that the power will drop out any minute now...)

- Seinfeld. Insanity. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chicken_Roaster

- A newspaper. Completely in English.

- A clear television. Our rabbit ears are pitiful.

- A bed without the inverted camel-hump thing going for it. Stef and I always wake up piled on top of each other in the middle of our bed - thanks largely to it's taco shell shape. High class.

- Much, much, more... :)

No matter, we will try to be less contemptuous with the familiar in the future.

bafana bafana versus tunisia

Tunisia 3, South Africa 0. It isn't even halftime. Let's just pretend that this one never happened.

26 January 2008

south africa's blade runner

The following is from the European edition of TIME magazine about South African runner born without bones below his knees. His use of prosthesis have become controversial and altogether fascinating...

Link: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1704675,00.html

It was only a matter of time before the challenge of Oscar Pistorius would run headlong into our cherished notions of what's equal, what's fair and what's the difference between the two.

Democracy presumes that we're all created equal; competition proves we are not, or else every race would end in a tie. We talk about a level playing field because it's the least we can do in the face of nature's injustice. Some people are born strong or stretchy, or with a tungsten will. But Pistorius' advantage comes from what nature left out and technology replaced: his body ends at the knees, and from there to the ground it's a moral puzzle.

Born in South Africa without major bones in his legs and feet, he had his lower legs amputated before he was a year old. As he grew up, so did the science of prosthetics. Now 21, Pistorius runs on carbon-fiber blades known as Cheetahs. He won gold in the 200 m at the Athens Paralympics in 2004, breaking 22 sec.; but now his eye is on the Olympics in Beijing. It was up to the world body that governs track and field, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), to determine whether using Cheetahs is cheating.

A runner's stride is not perfectly efficient. Ankles waste energy—much more, it turns out, than Pistorius' J-shaped blades. He can run just as fast using less oxygen than his competitors (one describes the sound Pistorius makes as like being chased by a giant pair of scissors). On Jan. 14, following the findings of the researcher who evaluated him, the IAAF disqualified Pistorius from Olympic competition. He is expected to appeal, arguing that the science of advantage is not that simple. Tom Hanks is interested in his life story. No matter what happens next, Pistorius is changing the nature of the games we play.

Our intuition tells us there's a difference between innate advantages and acquired ones. A swimmer born with webbed hands might have an edge, but a swimmer who had skin grafts to turn feet into flippers would pose a problem. Elite sport is unkind to the human body; high school linemen bulk up to an extent that may help the team but wreck their knees. What about the tall girl who wants her doctor to prescribe human growth hormone because her coach said three more inches of height would guarantee her that volleyball scholarship: Unfair, or just unwise? Where exactly is the boundary between dedication and deformity?

Imagine if Pistorius' blades made him exactly as biomechanically efficient as a normal runner. What should be the baseline: Normal for the average man? Or for the average Olympian? Cyclist Lance Armstrong was born with a heart and lungs that can make a mountain feel flat; he also trained harder than anyone on the planet. Where's the unfair advantage? George Eyser's wooden leg didn't stop him from winning six Olympic gymnastics medals, including in the parallel bars. But that was 1904; legs have improved since then.

The questions are worth asking because in them lies not just the future of our sports but of ourselves. Why should nature be allowed to play favorites but not parents? Science will soon deliver unto us all sorts of novel ways of redesigning our offspring or re-engineering ourselves that test what we mean by human. The fight over doping in baseball will seem quaint one day when players can dope not with drugs but with genes. Already there is black-market interest in therapies developed to treat muscular dystrophy but which could potentially be used to build superstrong athletes.

But there is no honor in shortcuts. Today's dopers are like Rosie Ruiz's winning the marathon in 1980—because she took the subway. Are Pistorius' blades the equivalent of his attaching wheels to his running shoes? "We end up with these subtle, fascinating debates about what the meaning of competition is, and endless debate over where to draw the line," says Tom Murray, president of the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank. "Don't underestimate how difficult it will be to evaluate all the technologies that are likely to filter into sport."

We honor heroes—in sports as in life—for grace and guts as well as natural gifts. When something comes easily, it's easy not to work at it, like the bright kid who coasts through class: talent taps persistence on the shoulder, says, You're not needed here. But put the two together, Tiger Woods' easy power and ferocious discipline—and he makes history. There's some sweet irony in the fact that before Pistorius came along, there was no need for the rules that now ban him. Only when the disabled runner challenged the able-bodied ones did officials institute a rule against springs and wheels and any artificial aids to running. That's a testimony to technology, but it is also a tribute to the sheer nerve and fierce will that got him to the starting line in the first place.


as is becoming the saturday tradition, volume up, press play...

25 January 2008

starbucks for a buck?

(An extra post today just because...scroll down for the first Friday post.)

As you may have gathered, I am a curious onlooker towards all things Starbucks. The company is a remarkable commentary on our culture (why do we buy the venti when the grande will do?) and a fascinating look at the way that business runs in the US (is there a more ubiquitous, visible brand around?).

I am a former employee, a (very small) stock-holder, and Starbucks' corporate home happens to be located in Seattle, my favorite city. So, I follow Starbucks like the average Texan follows the Dallas Cowboys. Now you know.

So, a few weeks ago I posted the news that McDonalds was jumping into the fancy coffee arena. Now, Starbucks is hitting back, albeit in a test market in Seattle. Starbucks has begun offering $1 coffee in select stores around their headquarters (see photo). What's more, they are offering free refills on that same purchase.

So, coffee for a dollar, with free refills... The fascinating McDonaldization of Starbucks continues.

24 January 2008

answered question and a sincere thank you

Once upon a time, there were a lot of questions about how we would survive here.

Once upon a time, there were a lot of questions about where the money would come from to feed us, much less to feed the hungry surrounding us.

We had (still do) student loans that we were paying off. We had to figure our how we would exist here with “regular” contributions of about $450 a month. Everything else would have to arrive by faith.

And it has. People we have never met have sent money that have not only supported us, but the ministry that is being done here. People we know very well have decided that they wanted to send us money just because. And time and time again it has floored us. We head into each month wondering whether the need will be met. And somehow, every time, there is enough for us and enough for us to take care of all of the special needs around us.

If nothing else, being a missionary is a faith-building exercise. It is a way to lose sight of your own western self-determinism and embrace a larger picture of provision.

We wanted to say thank you to all of the people who continue to support the work here. We could never tell you all of the stories. We could never explain the joy the children receive in the sandwich you bought or the looks in the eyes of the street kids who know that we always have something to give them...from you. In fact, we could never fully thank everyone since we don't know who donates or what it is they send. We just get a sum and go to work with it. So, even though we don't even know who you are, we can simply and clearly say "Thank you".

For the boxes and the quiet checks that get deposited...for the email of encouragement or the physical visit to labor with us...for the glory of it all, thank you.

a gadget with stories hiding inside

From author Stephen King:
“…Can a Kindle enrich any reader's life? My own experience — so far limited to 1.5 books, I'll admit — suggests that it can. For a while I was very aware that I was looking at a screen and bopping a button instead of turning pages. Then the story simply swallowed me, as the good ones always do. I wasn't thinking about my Kindle anymore; I was rooting for someone to stop the evil Lady Powerstock. It became about the message instead of the medium, and that's the way it's supposed to be.
And did I mention that you can also look up definitions of words that puzzle you as you read? My definition of Kindle: a gadget with stories hiding inside it. What's wrong with that? “

23 January 2008

bafana bafana versus angola

In their first game of the African Cup of Nations, Bafana Bafana (SA's national soccer team) played to a draw against Angola. The local boys looked like they were in for a sure defeat when they scored the equalizer on a laser of a shot (from about a mile away) in the 88th minute (only 2 minutes left in the game). A great game, incredibly exciting...

Next up: Tunisia on the 27th...

bafana bafana and the afcon

So, the biggest soccer event in Africa, the African Cup of Nations, began on the Monday. Most of you don't give a lick about a soccer, but this isn't your blog is it? :) We're going to go ahead and assume that you like soccer as much as the average South African - that is to say, as much as this guy (see photo).

I am going to be posting all of the South African results here. (This will be in addition to regular posts so don't give up on me on those days - soccer posts will be extra.)

The South African national squad, known as Bafana Bafana (literally "the boys") has a big test ahead of them. They are one of the weaker teams on the continent, but are in need of major improvement to avoid embarrassing themselves in 2010 when they host the World Cup.

white noise and the peace within

For those of you who are sure that I’ve written too much about rain already (not to mention rain’s sinister cousin “fog”), prepare yourself. Here comes another one.

It has been raining for days and days and days. We haven’t had thunderstorms recently, just consistent, considerable rain. Even when it stops raining for a brief minute, water still drips from the sky (some people would say “drizzle” but that may or may not be a dirty word here, so we’ll just leave that there, ok?), almost taunting us, reminding us that any time now it will start pouring again.

And so it pours again as I write this, buckets of precious water. And in this latest deluge, I’ve realized something more that we can all love about the rain.

You see, everybody says they love the sound of the rain, but why? I believe that the white noise it provides allows us to escape the hustle and bustle of our lives. It drowns out the sirens and the traffic. It ushers people indoors, finding them captive and waiting. It encourages us to turn off the TV and just stare blankly for awhile - out a door or a window or just into space. It is as if the rain is nature’s way of reminding us that there is peace out there for those willing to stop long enough to find it.

If we will only stop long enough to find it...

22 January 2008

lost in transation?

Sometimes we have a great deal of frustration in South Africa. The culture is often wacky and the barrage of languages sometimes makes it difficult to know what exactly is going on.

Recently, we got an email from some missionary friends in China. We realized that while translation and communication is often difficult for us, it could be much worse.

I don’t think this was quite the intent of the sign...

the fog becomes much more personal

Our last post told you about our early Saturday in the fog.

Funny how things happen in the timing that they do…

After a long nap Saturday afternoon, we awoke to even more fog, this time surrounding an area of our future that we thought was gaining clarity. Somehow, through a myriad of circumstances we don’t fully understand, we found ourselves in a deep place of uncertainty.

Our news surprised us. It humbled us. And it forced us to return to faith and trust in things unseen and in a future that is again unknown.

And, to be honest, we struggle to find the beauty in the soupy gray before our eyes. It is easier to use about such hypotheticals, but much different to embody those musings when life takes a twist.

We can only pray that the setback might grow us and challenge us to have more faith in what lies before us (whatever it is).

20 January 2008

the gray of the day and the beauty of the unseen

Saturday is usually a day for us to rest. The work-week brings any number of busy days, late nights, and unexpected challenges. Sunday is always a long day, getting to church at 7am and finishing the day at 10pm. So, Saturday is where we find leisure and rejuvenation.

I tell you that because this Saturday we woke up at 4:30am. On purpose. A friend of ours invited us to the top of Northcliff Water Tower, which is the highest point in the city. Joburg is a city of massive hills, but Northcliff is the largest. And directly atop the hill sits a 100ft tall water tower. And our friend Gavin actually met the security guard and organized that we would be able to get on top of the water tower (which is strictly off limits to the public and surrounded by razor wire).

He and his wife wanted us to see the sunrise from the most spectacular point in the city.

So we meet him at the Mission House gate at 4:45am and we make the short drive to the area and climb in 2nd gear to the top of the hill (really a small mountain). As the light of the day arrives (the sun rises early here – around 5:15am) we begin to notice that a thick blanket of fog has engulfed the city.

And where one can see for miles and miles, visibility has been reduced to hundreds of feet. We can barely see the base of the hill, dotted with multi-million dollar mansions.

Still, there is a sense that the perspective from there is greater, that our ability to know what is beyond is somehow heightened.

And it hit me.

God often brings us to places with expectations raised. He has splashed creation as far as the eye can see. He has seen what lies before us. And we get to the point where we believe that He will lay it all out before us and we find the horizon to be clouded, the view to be mired in the fog. And I think He smiles and holds out His hand, asking us to trust a little more, to blindly come a little further down the path. Because He could show us everything out there, the beginning and the end...but where then would faith reside?

So He allows us to imagine and dream and guess at what’s around the next corner. What comes after 40? When will I meet that person I have been praying for in my life? How will this problem ever arrive at a solution? Where, in the fog, is He?

At the top of the highest point, with the potential for unlimited visibility, we often find the fog to be nothing more than a layer of disruption before our eyes. Today, I will choose to be in awe still. His gray is just as beautiful as His green. His clouds are as majestic as any Technicolor sunrise. His plan for us is just as perfect, just as glorious...whether we can actually see it or not.

19 January 2008


Oh to be a light in the darkness...

17 January 2008

the unnecassary demise of doubt and why it is all okay with me

A song from the David Crowder Band album 'A Collision" really got into my heart recently.

The song is called “O God Where Are You Now (In Pickerel Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)” (it turns out that it is a cover of a Sufjan Stevens, whoever that is...)

And, for me anyway, it reawakens the ability of the believer to doubt. Read the Psalms and listen to the schizophrenic David go from fear and doubt and desperation to beautiful praise and love and adoration.

We all feel that way sometimes. We all question God to some degree what is going on or where he is. We all wonder what motivates his wrath versus his mercy. We all sort of find those doubts when things get really bleak.

And doubt is OK. His plan is better. But in our humanity, we can take the freedom to ask and hope that His revelation will come.

David Crowder has this to say about the song: “I happened to have been quite moved by this particular Sufjan offering while a close friend of mine was dying with cancer. Sufjan’s words expressed the doubt and fear we held. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that somehow there was hope in his address of God - ‘O God where are you now?’. I mean if the absent God wasn’t really anywhere to be found, what’s the point in asking where He is? In the question is the answer. And in the questioning even, hope. I simply wanted others to experience the same hope, born from such a desperate place of questioning that I had found in Sufjan’s simple words.”

(Post Script - The picture at the top really is Pickerel Lake from the song title. How about ol' Google Images?)

15 January 2008

the ultimate ironman or a father's love or i cry every time

A boy born severely handicapped.

Parents told to put him in an institution.

A decision made to raise him like any other boy.

A boy's desire to run, swim, and feel the wind in his face.

A father's dermination to see his boy's dreams realized.

A Father's love.

A picture of hope.

The Ironman Triathalon.

of disintegrating spines and cd4 counts

Do you ever feel like your spine is disintegrating? Do you ever feel like it is just dissolving away and you’re going to wake up tomorrow morning and everything will feel fine except you can’t move your head because your spine is nothing more than a line of dust down your back? Do you ever wonder just how your neck manages to hold your head up all day long, every day of your life?

I especially feel like that (like my spine is disintegrating or dissolving – I’m not sure which word I prefer) after days like we had recently.

As you know, Willie has been living large in the US and we’ve been seeing to the church here. That, in and of itself, is tiring enough.

Recently, a close friend of ours who has full-blown AIDS went through a rough patch and we went along for the ride.

First, we learned that her CD4 count was 60. A healthy human has a CD4 count of around 1000, meaning that she was running on 6% of the normal level of this particularly important cell in her body. People with counts of 1000 are doing great. HIV positive patients whose counts fall below 200 are immediately put on ARV drug therapy in a hope to sustain life. Our friend made 200 look nice. Sixty. Six zero. Sixty is not good.

It may have stemmed from the stress she had been experiencing from carrying a child from a man who “forced himself on her”. It may have been the stress that results when one’s own status is declining and one is worried about passing that status along to her unborn child.

We tried to put a positive spin on the CD4 count. We looked for ways to de-stress our friend (a single mother of 3) and Stef offered daily neck massages.

The massages helped a little, but they couldn’t take away the other pain that was bothering our friend. Her stomach/abdomen had been hurting sharply for weeks. When a pregnant AIDS patient has stomach/abdominal pain, it usually isn’t good.

She tells us that the baby is not moving so much anymore.

So Stef and Tiff take her to a clinic to find that the baby’s heart is barely beating, 29 weeks into pregnancy. Also, the baby is very small for how far along it is in the term. Worries mount.

On to the hospital, where a long day leads to a battery of tests and a “come back tomorrow”. All they would say for sure is that the heartbeat was normal again.

Still in pain, our friend and her three children come to stay at the Mission House for one night, so Stefani can be on call in case an emergency room visit is necessary and because we promised that we would take her back to the hospital at 5:30am the next morning. Yup, five-thirty. In Africa, even South Africa, it is first-come, first-served and any mother-to-be showing up at the hospital after 6ish is turned away. The hospital doesn’t even begin to see outpatients until 8am. Africa...

So we welcome the children, buy some polony and bread and make a little dinner. One of the children (the youngest) finds herself in fire ants and Stef rescues her with a nice long bath and her first encounter with a “loofa”.

Then, concerned about our friend and worried about the future of her children, we have the dreaded talk about what happens IF she is not there to be the mother anymore. We struggle to find answers, but at least the subject has been broached.

Slowly, sleep comes and the morning then comes too quickly. We are on our way to the hospital. Then, we return to the Mission House to collect the school-age boys of our friend and we proceed to take them to school. Joburg traffic bites us and we are stuck for an hour after dropping them.

We return home, Stef showers, and it is off to work....

We wait nervously to hear from our friend, hoping that prayers will be heard and the baby will be found to be OK. We hope that her pain will subside. We get the call and when we again see our friend she has brought her file, complete with a sonogram and a heartbeat that looks just fine. She even says that the pain is going away.

Quietly, we are thankful. For now, she is OK. For now, the baby survives. Her AIDS continues to push her and we live with the realization that our friend is dying. We can only hope that it is a very slow process and that years from now her CD4 count will offer proof that she is not exactly dying as much as she is living in spite of her condition. We can only pray.

I now sit in our room typing away. It is maybe 5:30pm. It is certainly not dark and nowhere close to bedtime. Still, I can feel my neck throbbing and my spine slowly returning to the dust from which it came. We are tired...Spine-dissolvingly tired.

Praise the Lord that Willie is back tomorrow. And praise the Lord that we have a holiday only two weeks away. Now you know. And if you need us, we'll be sleeping. :)

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time (more of what we're reading)

Whenever I tell you about a book I’ve read, I have to think about how to form the communication so as to best frame the book in hopes that you might read it. I don’t want to recommend things, but I suppose I sort of do that anyway, just in a passive-aggressive manner.

Anyway, the most recent book that I have read is one of my favorites already. It is called, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and it was written by Mark Haddon.

Occasionally, I step into a good piece of fiction to relax my brain a little bit. More often than not, that book stimulates my brain even more and opens up a new world to me entirely.

The most recent window that has been opened to me is one into autism. And almost everyone knows someone with autism. This book is told from the point-of-view of a 15 year-old autistic boy who is mathematically brilliant, hates brown and yellow, loves detective work, and is looking for the killer of a neighbor’s dog.

The book is simply fascinating.

It was a Today Show Book Club selection, if you watch the Today Show. Ignore that last statement if you think morning shows are stupid. It would be in my book club if I had one. Maybe that’s not such a good thing either, considering the other books that I’ve mentioned in this space.

No matter.

If you need a break from the real world…or if you need a new insight into someone else’s real world, go ahead and read it.

pastor willie at grace point - in case you missed it

In case you missed Pastor Willie's appearance at Grace Point, here it is for you to hear:


13 January 2008

of legend and longing....commonality and my dearest companion

We went to the movies on Saturday, blindly walking into a theater to see “I am Legend”.

My friend Daniel recommended the movie in an email. And I miss Daniel immensely. I probably miss him more than I know, actually. Everybody has their trusted partner, the one person (besides a spouse - love you Stef) that just knows. They just get you. For a few years now, that has been Daniel for me. We have had a lot of early mornings and a lot of bad cups of coffee while we talked about life and truth and where it is all headed.

In hindsight, I think I might have gone to the movies just to feel close to him in some way. Like maybe a common experience could bring us closer.

The movie was big and creepy. Somehow it was endearing. Will Smith’s character, Dr. Robert Neville, is the last man on earth and he is seeking to find a way to save the earth all the same. (Confusing plotline? Not really...if you see it, you’ll know.)

And I was really moved, touched, by Neville’s determination, his perseverance. The stakes were incredibly high, matched only by his resolve. In many ways, he represents a Christ-like figure... He even resorted to the phrase, “Light up the darkness” (a man after my own heart). The whole thing was beautiful, haunting, and very emotional. I sat in quiet tears at the end, charged to find more darkness to which I could bring the light...

So, Sunday morning (Saturday night for him) when I actually got to speak to Daniel on the phone (for only the 2nd time in 7 months), I anxiously told him that I’d seen the movie. I told him that I couldn’t really stop thinking about it.

Daniel said that he really identified with the “urgency” that the character had in his mission. Urgency. I had never even considered his urgency. But, wow, it opened up another layer of depth to me. His eyes saw, his heart perceived, what mine did not. And I got the benefit of his eyes. I guess that’s the beauty of walking alongside someone. Perspective. And companionship...

Maybe he’ll read this and feel the same way. Maybe Daniel never considered Neville’s perseverance, I don’t know. What I do know is that for just a minute I felt like I was back with my friend, completing each other’s thoughts and filling in the gaps. For a minute, I felt like I was back alongside him, doing life together.

I guess I just miss my friend.

12 January 2008

blood:water - walk as he walked

"blood:water mission" is an organization that works to get clean water to those who need it most.

This video was made to challenge the church to be first in line to respond to the needs of the desperately poor.

If we say we are followers of Jesus, we must walk as He walked.

11 January 2008

the wisdom of crowds revisited: of 9/11 and collective intelligence

Remember a couple of months back, when I told you about the book I had just finished, The Wisdom of Crowds.

Just today, we saw a pretty grisly traffic accident. About 20 feet away, group of onlookers tried to catch a glimpse something interesting. It was the perfect example of the wisdom of crowds.

Why do they stand 20 feet away? Who decided that 20 feet was the safe distance? The answer is “collective intelligence”. They just know. Like a school of fish avoiding a predator...they just know.

Remember September 11, 2001? Who could forget, right?

One of the things that really sticks in my mind about the day is the way that people congregated on street corners near the WTC. At first, onlookers were only a few blocks away. Then, as the second plane hit, they progressed further from the site, collectively sensing danger in the air. Finally, as the towers fell, the citizens of New York began fleeing in masse. The scene of office workers crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on foot is burned into my mind.

They moved as a collective. No government, no meetings, no leaders. The wisdom of crowds kept many people safe that day.

And while heroes are the ones who rush in while others rush out (think of the firefighters' bravery on that terrible day), the crowds often find safety in their collective wisdom.

10 January 2008

have you got a minute? of drizzly summers, home affairs and toothpaste

- We woke up this morning to a blanket of 50 degree drizzle. Tonight, as we get ready for bed, it is 50 degrees and drizzling. Welcome to summer in Joburg. Sigh...

- We put our laundry up on the line last night. I think it’s more wet now than when we pulled it from the washing machine.

- We spent a few more hours at the Home Affairs Department on Wednesday.

- Got an email today. Kindle is on the way. I’ll keep you informed.

- Stef is my favorite person in the world. She makes me smile every day. So many times a day. Incredible.

- Kenya is still embroiled in all kinds of violence. Keep praying.

- Ever seen the show Pirate Master? It is some American reality show that comes on here. Worst television ever...

- Did I mention the Home Affairs Department? You wouldn’t believe the story.

- Pastor Willie will be in San Antonio on Friday. He will be preaching at Grace Point on Sunday at both services. In the spirit of all great used car commercials, “Tell him Kyle sent ya.”

- So, the Home Affairs Department broke their rules and their immigration laws and extended our visas through the end of our time here. Apparently, some special board members got a hold of our applications and decided we would be legal here after all.

- Seattle is my favorite US city. Chicago is in mourning.

- Why isn’t toothpaste sold in bigger tubes? Wouldn’t that make sense?

- Ya, we’re going to be legal here after all. God works all kinds of things out.

- Hilary or Barack? Or Huck or McCain or Mitt? You tell us. We’re a little out of the loop.

- That’s all today. Life is good.

09 January 2008

the truffle-shuffle and living a life of inspiration

The other night I found myself entranced. At the end of a long day, I found myself fighting off exhaustion in order to keep my eyes open long enough to enjoy one of the all-time greats, at least for people of and around my generation.

Goonies was on SABC2. And I was all over Goonies.

It is one of those movies that has somehow stood the test of time.

I found myself enjoying every ounce of it. The Truffle Shuffle....booby traps....the inhaler....the Fratellis...Sloth....Baby Ruth....I was even jamming along with all of the Cyndi Lauper songs that are spliced into the film.

And, really, for the first time, I found myself identifying with the protagonist, Mikey. Mikey is the kid that never says “die”, never says “quit”. Mikey refuses to settle for less than every last drop of life.

Mikey leads those around him, whether they be older or smarter or more clever. And he refuses to allow the obstacles, slow him down as they may, dampen his enthusiasm to achieve the goal. Mikey seems to have an inner reservoir of strength and motivation.

Mikey will find the treasure of “One-Eyed Willie”. He will succeed where others, like Chester Copperpot, failed. He is an unstoppable force.

I desire to have a life like that.

I pray that Stef and I can go through life with blind passion, endless enthusiasm. I hope that we can continue to make the difficult decisions, the ones that lead us to the ultimate rewards at the end of the journey. I hope that we will forfeit short-term for long-term and security for freedom and beauty. I hope that no matter how many obstacles we face, we will continue to press on towards the goal, mindful of all of those who have gone before us and propelled by the Truth within us. I pray, finally, that in living that life, we might one day be someone’s Mikey, someone’s picture of determination and inspiration.

what we're reading: "the one thing"

So, I finished "The One Thing You Need to Know" by Marcus Buckingham last week.
There are few books that really stick with me.

“Life of Pi” is probably the work of fiction that has most haunted me.
“Love is the Killer App” is a business-book that captured my imagination in so many ways.

“Tipping Point” and “Blink” reminded me how much fun it can be to learn.

And I always find myself recommending them. They are perfect for everyone.

We may have to add “The One Thing You Need to Know” by Marcus Buckingham to the list.

Buckingham tells managers to “Discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it.”

He tells us that “The job of a great leader is to rally people to a better future.”

It is a difficult book to explain and it is aimed at “managers, leaders, and those seeking sustained individual success”. That didn’t make me want to crack the spine and read (and I could understand your hesitation). But reading the book of a man who worked for Gallup for 17 years, with endless fascinating anecdotes, is a simple joy.

07 January 2008

goliath takes on goliath and everyone is well-caffeinated

Every so often, I across a business story that completely takes my attention.
How about this one: McDonalds is going to take on Starbucks.

That's right. McDonalds is apparently planning on putting Starbucks-style coffee bars in 14,000 US stores. They will offer all of the fancy drinks that Starbucks does and will be staffed by dedicated baristas.


I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the McD's executive board room. And how is old Starbucks handling this news? I would love some insight. (I am the guy who read the 400 page book about a year of Starbucks stock and wished that it wouldn't have ended.)

This is going to get much more interesting - even if I am the only
one fascinated by it.

(Check out the poll to the right - time for you to weigh in...)
And check out the full story in the Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119967000012871311.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

our night in a real hotel

On New Year’s Eve, Stef and I got the distinct privilege of staying in a hotel. You read right. We stayed in a real hotel.

We received a gift from a very generous someone who told us that we had to spend this sum of money that she donated on ourselves. So, we chose to stay in the Milpark Garden Court Hotel for one night.

(This gift contributed to a growing number of people who tell us that we can’t give their gifts away. You people are getting clever.)

I cannot begin to tell you how cool it was. We felt like 8-year-olds staying at Embassy Suites for the first time.

As opposed to being trapped in our room all day, we laid out by the hotel pool, enjoying sun and a sense of freedom.

Instead of showering with the roaches of the Mission House, we showered in a proper, functioning, clean shower with plenty of hot water.

Where we usually watched whatever fuzzy nonsense was on our TV (in whichever language it happened to be broadcast in), we were spoiled with 20 crystal-clear channels, including CNN, Discovery, and 7 (seven!!) Sports Stations.

As opposed to sleeping in our bed that is graciously described as having the shape of an inverted camel (instead of a hump, we have a huge dip right down the middle), we slept in a pristine white, clean, comfy, and (oh so) firm bed.

Instead of waking to the prayers of Muslims next door or to the squawking of birds, we slowly woke to find the New York/Times Square New Years celebration happening before us on our aforementioned TV.

And where we usually we slap some peanut butter on a piece of bread and call it a balanced breakfast, we were treated to a breakfast buffet, complete with eggs, toast, bacon, coffee, and fruit.

To say the least, it was a very good start to our 2008.

04 January 2008

"i don't really know what we're doing"

Sometimes, we missionaries get bored. Some nights, we missionaries get delirious.

This video was taken not too long ago.

Stef and Tiff...Arrested Development...The Shower...The Running Man...South Africa.

You really have to see it to believe it. (After the opening credits, give the video 10 seconds or so...then give it another ten seconds to show up in the screen the right way - it's worth the trouble.)

03 January 2008

the piper and resolutions

An adaptation of one of Aesop’s fables goes something like this:

A piper with a grand villa went to the seaside one day, looking to collect fish to live in the waters of his estate.

He played his flute with great mastery to entice fish to come to him. Yet no fish jumped toward the jar of water that he set out for them. He played another song, again with no positive results.

Finally, frustrated, the piper called a fisherman and had him cast a net, bringing in a great haul of fish to the beach.

As the fish flopped on the beach, gasping for precious life, the piper looked at them and said,

“I piped and you didn’t dance. I played a sad song and you did not weep. Now it is too late for you to respond. Your fate is sealed.”

I used the story in my sermon last week, hoping to illustrate the two ideas. First, our time is limited. Second, our window (and self-determining ability) to make a decision may be shorter (and smaller) than we know.

I spoke Sunday morning on New Year’s resolutions, challenging the church to commit to only two:

1) I implored the church to recapture the joy of salvation. In reading the story of the Exodus, the salvation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, we get a look at our own stories. We also get an idea of how incredible the God of salvation really is. He surely parted seas in our lives to bring us unto Himself. The beauty and joy of that should be rediscovered daily.

2) I begged the church to begin to understand that we are to bring hope to those who are suffering. Suffering is acute here, but people all over the world are suffering from things: loneliness, poverty, depression, disease, hunger, loss, and so much more. We, as the church, can commit to seeking out the suffering and finding ways to bring hope into hopeless situations. Moses did so for his people, leading them through great suffering, both in Egypt and in the wilderness. We should do the same.

pastor willie in san antonio (and houston)

It is a bit strange for us to think about, but Pastor Willie (our South African pastor) will be preaching in San Antonio on January 13th. (Especially strange will be that I will be preaching in his church in South Africa while he is doing the same in San Antonio.) Anyway, this is your chance to hear from the man who teaches us so much.

So, if you are interested in meeting the man behind the legend, he will be at Grace Point Church in San Antonio, http://www.gracepoint.org/. Click the link for directions. Service times are 9:30am and 11:00am.

(Any of our beloved Houston readers can also see Pastor Willie at Houston NW Church on Sunday, January 6th. Go to http://www.hnw.org/ for service times and directions.)

miracle drug

Something we pray for often is a "miracle drug", some unforseen solution to the AIDS-related suffering here in Africa.

I don't buy the "sin = sickness" nonsense that some people try to sell in order to remove from themselves responsibility. It is a lame excuse and no one who has held the dying would hold that stance.

Jesus came and healed lepers. He touched the sick. He offered himself as comfort and hope to a forgotten and needy people. He asked us to do the same in Matthew 25.

AIDS is in its third generation in many families here in Africa. And a child born to an infected mother did nothing to earn his/her HIV-positive status. So, together we will continue to pray that somewhere God might spark an idea in a laboratory that leads to a truly miraculous discovery...a miracle drug.

Maybe this year, 2008, will be the year.

02 January 2008

freshlyground - just for you


We aren’t completely sure why, but you people continue to show up here by the hundreds. Another boat-load of people have this blog delivered in their email everyday. So, for whatever reason you keep coming back, thanks for making this place a part of your day.

I have to believe that one reason you’re here is because we share something. Some of you surely share DNA with us, but others share something much simpler. Maybe our paths crossed somewhere. Maybe we have a similar sense of humor. Maybe the Jesus quietly contained in these words resonates in the depths of your being. Maybe this is simple escapism from a world that tends to be one letdown after another. Maybe you stumbled here and don’t quite know why you keep returning. Maybe Africa is calling you and this is your vicarious living until you can get here. I don’t know.

What I do know is that we share enough that you are here. And that’ll be enough for me.

Today, we want to add to the things we share. Now, we haven’t recommended many things in this space. Sure, I tell you about what we’re reading, but really, we have never come out and said “YOU HAVE TO BUY THIS!!”

Well, we would like to introduce you to FreshlyGround. They are everything that is wonderful about the new South Africa. They are a music group, with a fun, ethnic, approachable, and altogether wonderful new album called “Ma’Cheri”.

No matter who you are, we think you would enjoy this, so much so that we are ready to say, “YOU HAVE TO BUY THIS!!”

Listen to the Album on the FreshlyGround Website - Click Here

01 January 2008

chaos in kenya

We interrupt this regular blog post to bring you a special report...seriously, though.

We had planned to tell you about our new favorite music group, FreshlyGround. We'll get to them tomorrow.

Instead, we want to tell you about something close to our hearts that is getting a lot of airtime in Africa but is probably not being talked about much in the US.

Kenya is falling into chaos, tearing at the seams.

A disputed presidential election is taking an immense toll on Kenya, a previously peaceful country. An election that has had multiple accusations of vote-rigging has uncovered centuries-old tribal rivalries which has then resulted in much (too much) bloodshed.

Among the areas hardest hit by the violence and unrest is Eldoret, the major city nearest the orphanage we were at only months ago.

From the New York Times:
Dozens of people seeking refuge in a church in Kenya were burned to death by a mob on Tuesday, according to witnesses and Red Cross officials, in an escalation of ethnic violence that is threatening to plunge the country into chaos.

Up to 40 people died inside the church, a few miles from a town called Eldoret, after young men from a rival tribe poured gasoline on it and set it on fire, the witnesses and officials said.

In Nairobi, the capital, tribal militias squared off against each other in several slums. Witness reports indicate that more 200 people have been killed in the past two days in violence connected to a disputed election Kenya held last week.

A knot of rage seemed to be moving across the country, from the slums of Nairobi, the capital, to the cities along the Indian Ocean, to usually tranquil towns on the savanna. Many people were furious that President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner on Sunday in the country’s most fiercely fought election, despite widespread evidence of fraud.

Please pray with us that our brothers and sisters in Kenya would soon find peace.

caffeine-induced bonus post

I am up late tonight. We were treated to dinner out and I decided that 4 cups of coffee and a waffle was a good idea. Thus, I am in a caffeine-induced writing frenzy and my Stefani is peacefully sleeping next to me.

She is amazing. Still. Quiet. Precious. Beautiful.

I wonder what she dreams about, what images race through her brain as her body lies motionless. I hope she dreams of children. She is going to be an incredible mother. I hope she dreams of home. She is going to love the familiar embrace of community. I hope she dreams of old-age and grandkids, of slurping Jell-O and reminiscing. I can’t wait to journey there with her.

I hope...

I think I’ll sleep now. I hope I dream of her.

remembering 2007 in musical slideshow form

We think we figured out how to do this. Our 2007 slideshow...On YouTube.

Please forgive any audio or video quality issues. We're learning.

Oh, and the song is called "GoGorilla" by FreshlyGround. More on them tomorrow...