Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Somewhere over Sudan...

Somewhere Over Sudan…

June 15, 2008

I am currently somewhere over Sudan, hurtling through space in a long metal KLM tube, heading for Amsterdam. This is been a Spring to remember. In March, I was privileged to be in the Caribbean nation of the Dominican Republic, in April I traveled throughout eastern China and South Korea. Now, I am returning home from an intensely emotional experience in East Africa with my wife, daughter, and a team of students. It has been a unique experience to enjoy so many varied cultures in such a short time. My life is rich.

There are so many thoughts that echo through my mind as I leave Uganda. Our departure was a difficult, gut-wrenching experience, softened only by the thought that I may be able to return someday to again meet friends that have become so dear.

What is it that compels one to return to the red dirt and lush tropics of Uganda? The journey is long and difficult. The travel in-country can be slow and treacherous. The malaria medicine? Mind-warping. Still, I know I must return. I cannot stay away from the “Pearl of Africa.”

It’s not the beauty of the flourishing banana trees, the mangoes hanging large and juicy, or the allure of the coveted coffee beans that grow wild along the rutted roads and trails. It’s certainly not the food. Even so, the rice, beans (and occasional rock) and chapati were tasty and satisfying. It’s not the “glamour” of traveling to Africa; the flights are long and cramped, and you wonder if you can even endure.

It’s none of those things; and, so, I keep asking myself, “What is it that makes me want to return to Uganda, when I have barely left?” We haven’t even reached the Mediterranean! Am I insane? In the last eleven weeks, I’ve endured as many international flights; touched the ground of seven very different countries on three continents, and been away from my peaceful bed for thirty-eight of those seventy-seven days.

So what is it? I think I know. I’ve considered the reasons that I am drawn back after barely leaving the East African humidity. It’s Ronald’s haunting eyes that betray a life of hurt and abandonment. It’s Robert and Betty and Samuel and Alice and Vanessa; five beautiful children abandoned by parents who were, no doubt, suffering themselves as they made the gut-wrenching decision to dispose of their children. It’s 100 year-old “Grandma” Alice sitting in the dirt in front of her red mud house and refusing help as she struggles with her stick to get up one more time. It’s strong and immoveable Prossy, who loves 200 striking children with everything that is within her. That’s it. That’s why I must go back.

The scale of need in Sub-Saharan Africa is beyond understanding. We were working outside of Kampala, in Gganda village; just one township of many hundreds or even thousands across the continent. One cannot comprehend the extent of the suffering in this part of the world, let alone recognize the depth of need in earthquake-shattered China, or typhoon-battered Burma. It is staggering.

In the face of such overwhelming need, there is a temptation to ignore what is happening to these people one-by-one. There is a temptation to simply throw up your hands and berate the African people for not taking care of their own.

In truth, they are taking care of their own. I’ve learned that the grandmothers are the heroes of Africa. While enduring the grief of losing their adult children to the scourge of AIDS, they are taking in their grandchildren; and, they are taking in children who are not their own flesh and blood. Neighbors care for children in the village who cannot care for themselves. Still, there is too much to do.

We can say that foreign aid is causing the ruin of the African continent by causing her residents to become dependent on the help of others. We can say that the white man only cares for himself and that the West isn’t doing enough to alleviate the suffering. We can blame other people and do nothing, while looking at uncomfortable photographs and sipping our four dollar designer drinks. We can do all of those things and not help anyone.

There is another alternative. There is something we can do. We can come to the aid of the widows. We can take up the case of the fatherless. We can work to relieve the oppressed. You see, the West is actually producing many hundreds, and maybe thousands of people who are answering the cry of those in need, in spite of how they ended up in their desperate situation.
I’m not talking about the UN, or USAID, or any of the many other governmental organizations pouring needed money into Africa, even though the work they do is valuable and necessary.
I’m talking about Sylvia, from New York, who is building a school for needy children just north of Kampala. I’m talking about Allison, who is researching AIDS prevention at Harvard, and hoping to slow the plague that is killing a generation. I’m talking about Mike and Lori, who are coming alongside motivated African nationals and funneling the resources of the West into Uganda to bring change to Africa through visionary Africans. I know these people. Simply said, the work they do is good.

I’m talking about Jeannie, my wife, giving up her comfort to cradle little Susan who smiled her first smile in maybe months. I’m talking about Hannah, my sixteen year-old daughter, who helps provide monthly support for Alice and has become “Mama Hannah” to a little girl who needs to know she is loved. I’m talking about Jill, a teacher who stepped away from her everyday life to provide comfort to hurting children who have lost their parents. I’m talking about Mikell, a normal mom, who started to think about Africa, and now, even as I write this, is on a plane to Uganda to begin an adventure from which she will return radically changed. I know these people. Simply said, the work they do is good.

I’m talking about me. I must return to Africa. At the rIsk of sounding presumptuous, I must continue the work that we have started in the lives of the children that are now a part of our hearts and lives. I cannot ignore their cry.

I’m talking about you. If you are uninformed, ask some questions. Read a book about the AIDS crisis. Give to organizations that you know are doing a good work and use funds responsibly. Yes, maybe even sponsor a child.

You see, he who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will cry himself and not be heard. There are no qualifiers on that statement. It is simple truth.

Don’t ignore the cry. That’s why I must return.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

More New Experiences...

(Written somewhere over the Pacific on April 21, 2008)

Kite-Flying in China

I awakened Sunday morning, April 13th, in Shenyang, Northern China, and decided to go for a walk! I had an hour or two of free time, the sky was sunny, and my spirits were high!
Going for a walk along the broad streets of this northern Chinese province is an interesting experience. One must have a measure of confidence in order to deflect the stares of the curious Chinese who rarely see a Caucasian strolling down their streets. I didn’t see another Caucasian, besides the members of our team, the entire time we were in this city.

I decided to walk south and turn left at the first intersection. After about five minutes, I came to a large plaza, with a huge, ornate gate at its northern end. Parents and children were interspersed across the plaza, enjoying the sunny Sunday morning through the ancient and beautiful Chinese tradition of kite-flying.

I spied a dad and his daughter with their kite soaring high in the sky and realized it was a great photo op. After non-verbally getting permission to take their picture, the dad non-verbally offered to let me fly his kite!

I suck at kite-flying in China. (No, I don’t usually talk like that; but, in this case, it accurately describes my performance.) After taking the reins and watching the kite slowly descend towards earth, I quickly gave the twine back to the Chinese daddy. Of course, it immediately soared back to heaven and I was chagrined.

Oh well, the Chinese have been flying kites for thousands of years. They have more practice.

Biking in Beiling Park…

After my embarrassing and brief kite flying career, I deduced that beyond the gate was a huge park, and that one must purchase a ticket to enter the park. (Keen observation skills are necessary in the absence of language competency!) I got in a long line (there are no short lines in Asia) with a bunch of short Chinese people, watched what they did, and waited for my turn at a ticket window that was just about the height of my zyphoid.

I realized that if I bent over to peer into the zyphoid-height ticket window, my American-sized derriere would be in the face of the tiny little Chinese lady behind me; and, since I was the only Caucasian in sight, the giggles and pointing fingers clearly indicated that I was already a topic of Sunday morning conversation and I didn’t need to add any derriere humor to the situation. So, I simply held up one finger, stuck it in the little ticket window along with what I hoped would be enough Chinese Yuan to pay for the ticket, and wondered if a ticket would come out. It did! So far, so good!

I went to the gate, gave the attendant my newly-purchased ticket, and proudly entered the park! Shortly after passing through the gate, I discovered an orderly row of bicycles beside a very beautiful pond. Again, after making the best of my non-verbal communication skills, I was successful! I now had a rented Chinese bike and was going bike-riding in China just like most of the three billion Chinese people do every day!

I tooled around the Emperor’s Tomb, enjoying the astounded looks of the Chinese strolling the park who were not accustomed to seeing a Caucasian on two wheels on Sunday morning! Actually, most of the people seemed oddly pleased that I was enjoying their park, judging from their friendly smiles and waves.

This was one of my all-time favorite, but simple, travel experiences. I only wish my Jeannie had been on the seat behind me on my rented, Chinese, tandem bicycle!

Almost Stranded…

Novice travelers lose things. Seasoned travelers do not. I thought this was immutable truth. It is not. I am a seasoned traveler. I lost my passport. My travel pride has been shattered. Seasoned travelers DO loose things like passports. It is NOT good to loose your passport in China. Simple sentences reflect simple truth.

On April 14, 2008, my international travel pride was shattered into a million tiny, humiliating little pieces. After a satisfying breakfast of Chinese dumplings, noodles and spicy cabbage, we dressed for the afternoon’s work, packed up, and boarded the bus to the airport for a flight to the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao, and an afternoon and evening of work.

As we bussed through the crowded Northern China city of Shenyang, one of our Chinese staffers yelled from the front of the bus, “Who left the passport in the hotel?”

Of course, we all wondered who the nitwit was who left a traveler’s most important document in the entire world. And, of course, we all looked to make sure we had our passports because one always looks to make sure he ha his passport when coming and going in a foreign land!

Think adrenalin rush! I am stuck in China! My passport was not snuggly tucked away in the pocket of my bag reserved exclusively for my well-loved little blue book! For a brief moment I considered not admitting my foolishness, balancing my own ridiculous pride against the trials of replacing my passport while in China! It took one nanosecond to come to my senses!

In front of the entire bus, I admitted my mind-numbingly stupid act, and the bus turned around to go back to the hotel. They had my passport. I had a scarlet face. Never again.

"I am a Poor Prince..."

(This was written the evening on April 16, 2008)

When it seemed like coming on this trip was the right thing to do, it seemed to me that there was a goal beyond presenting the ministry of Santiam Christian School to parents and students in a communist country. That is a wonderful opportunity in and of itself; and, is an important chance to build bridges into the lives of people the Father loves so much.

It seemed to me that I needed to watch and wait for some kind of opportunity the Lord would bring my way. We’ve done presentations and had adventures in Beijing, Shenyang, Qingdao, Guangzhou, and now we are in Shenzhen, departing tomorrow for Korea at 6:00 a.m. I’ve been watching and waiting.

Last night, in Guangzhou, I met a young man named Huang Bo. He goes by the name Mike. When I met him, it seemed the Lord was prompting me to get to know him a little more. Today, here in Shenzhen, I had that chance, and I believe that meeting Mike was at least part of the reason that the Lord had me travel all the way across the Pacific and though China to the city of Shenzhen.

Shenzhen is an interesting place. This city of at least nine million people is less than thirty years old. It was created to be a “special economic zone” (SEZ) in 1979, due to the proximity and success of Hong Kong. (Shenzhen is just 45 minutes from Kowloon, Hong Kong.) The SEZ was created to be an experimental ground of
capitalism in "socialism with Chinese characteristics". Think about this for a minute…Here is a city of at least nine million people, living in a place that is less than 30 years old. That creates some interesting dynamics if you think through the implications…

On with the story…

Mike works for the agency that is sponsoring our stay here in Shenzhen. This student recruitment agency is unwittingly cooperating in guaranteeing that some Chinese students have the opportunity to come to the US, study in Christian schools, live with Christian families and hear the Gospel…something most have never heard.

Today, when we went to the Shenzhen office to meet with parents, Mike was there. I was hoping for some time to visit with him, as he impressed me as a gentle, kind person. During a lull in student visits, he stopped at my table. I realized that this was, perhaps, my divine appointment. We began to visit and the visit quickly went beyond small talk and into Mike’s personal concerns.

I often ask about the facets of economic life of the people I meet in other countries. Mike said that he doesn’t have a wife because he can’t afford to support two people and he is often sad because he can’t buy a lot of things. Remember, now, Mike is living in a city that is only thirty years old and was built primarily to facilitate commerce and consumerism. In the last ten years, this city has had over 30 billion dollars in outside business investment to capitalize on the booming Chinese population and it's growing affluence.

I quickly responded that Mike is, indeed, a rich man due to his kind disposition, and that a young woman who would become his wife would come his way soon! (There seven females for every male in Shenzhen, and the average age of the city is less than thirty years old!) He seemed genuinely encouraged. We visited for some time, and I began to feel a divine love and care for this young man that the Lord loves so much. He told me that he felt encouraged as we talked, and he noticed that no one else on the team, besides me, remembered his name after last night.

The conversation took quite a turn when I went out on a limb and told Mike that I believe in God, and that I believed that meeting Mike was a part of the reason why I came to China. He seemed quite astounded and said, “You believe in a God?”

I told Mike that I did believe in the God of Heaven and that I also believed that God loved him and knew about him; and, that He had an amazing plan for Mike’s life. Mike seemed quite incredulous at this, and responded quite seriously, “God knows about me?” I then related some of what the Scripture says about God’s knowledge and care for us.

I told Mike I believed the Bible was God’s words written down for us and that what was written was true. His response was, “You believe it is true? Unbelievable!” He had never met anyone who talked of God and trusted Him and His Word!

We continued to visit, and I knew that Mike was my divine appointment. I could feel a love and care for this young man. I asked him for his email address, as it was getting close to time for us to leave. I asked him to write it in English so I could read it. He wrote a word that I didn’t understand, so I asked him the meaning and why he chose it for his email name. He wrote the transliteration, “gaibangshaoye.”

I asked him what it meant, and he said that the Chinese characters for those sounds actually mean, “I am a poor prince.” That deeply impacted me. In a sense, Jesus was a poor prince. (Actually, a king, but a king is a prince before he is a king!) This 25 year old man, who doesn’t yet know the Father, has actually chosen a name that reflects the character of the Lord Jesus. Amazing.

I told Mike that he is actually a rich prince because of the depth of his character and kindness, and that his abundance is not dependant upon possessions; that the God of Heaven loves him so much. He then said, “If there is this God, I will trust him, too, as you do.” Among other things, I told Mike that if he looks for God with all of his heart, he will find him. He responded, “Who will tell me how to look for him?” I will help him find God.

At that point, it was time for us to leave. Mike looked into my eyes and said very seriously, with both of my hands held in his, “I will be your son.” I believe that he was actually referring to being a disciple, and that he was placing himself in the position as a student. Still clasping both of my hands in his, he asked if I promised to email him. I vowed that I would.

I believe that today’s short, eternal exchange, is one of the main reasons I came to China. I am continually amazed at how God guides and directs, as we keep our eyes looking straight ahead, taking only paths that are firm, one step at a time.

I am looking forward to further exchange with “I am a poor prince” and know that we will see one another again. Please take a few minutes to pray for Mike; that the enemy will not be able to snatch away the seeds that were planted today, and that he comes to know his true Father.

An Inconvenient Trip

(This was written on the plane while traveling home from China/Korea on April 21, 2008)
What a long and interesting jaunt through Asia! Experiencing other peoples and cultures is always an incredible experience and I am thankful to have enjoyed the opportunities that have come my way. Though this trip was particularly rigorous, it was a mind-broadening experience for which I am very thankful.

Over a period of 12 protracted days (4/9-4/20), I have completed five uncomfortable international flights, two domestic Chinese flights, multiple mind-blowing bus rides and one four hour bullet train trip. I have “slept” in five attention-grabbing hotels in five gigantic cities in two astonishing countries. I’ve met countless anxious parents hoping for a fresh opportunity for their children, realized I was the only Caucasian in a sea of hundreds of Asians , and eaten multiple, needlessly prolonged “business” lunches and dinners. I’ve been stared at, jostled, pushed, prodded and squished on crowded Asian streets and disgorged from packed subways along with many hundreds of Koreans. Would I do it again? Indubitably!

I would do it all over again because interspersed between all the work and travel, I have been privileged to climb the uneven, stone steps of the Great Wall. I have strolled though the history-filled palaces of Beijing’s Forbidden City. I’ve circumnavigated on bicycle the tomb of the second Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. I’ve haltingly visited under a willow tree with a lovely elderly Chinese woman whose face has seen history I cannot comprehend. I’ve wiggled my fingers in the South China Sea, slurped plum-sauce covered Peking Duck, chewed and swallowed curried octopus tentacles, and experienced a master-planned city of nine million people that has only been in existence for thirty years.

I struggled with little sleep in a humid room, while angry Chinese mosquitoes feasted on my fresh American blood. I got up too early, boarded packed planes, flew from Northern to Southern China, got off packed planes and went straight into the day’s work.
I enjoyed a too-short sixty minutes with my Korean son on the crowded, bustling streets of his home country and witnessed the continuing fruit of God’s work in his life. I’ve considered a flock of geese flying from South Korea to North Korea, across the no-man’s-land of the DMZ, and realized that the freedom they experience is unavailable to millions of hungry people who are just across the fence from me.

I watched a Chinese man’s eyes light up the very first moment he recognized that there may be a God beyond the veil that has been so cleverly placed over his eyes. I explained to a fourteen year-old girl from northern China that the warm feeling she experiences when she thinks about God is actually the drawing of the Holy Spirit that the God of Heaven sent to teach and comfort her.
Would I do it again? Without question. Am I dead-tired? No need to ask. Do I miss my family? Of course. Were my incredible Junior High teachers required to shoulder extra responsibility during the time I was working in Asia? No doubt. Was this trip convenient or easy? No.

I enjoyed the adventure; but, more importantly, because of this inconvenient trip, students from a Communist country who have been taught to not believe will attend an excellent Christian school, live with caring host families who will model the character of Jesus Christ, and develop relationships with teachers who will educate with compassion and genuinely care for them. The blinded eyes of these dear students will gently be opened to eternal Truth.

At least they will have the opportunity to choose. Because of that, it was all worth it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I'm in China...

Without question, today's visit to the Great Wall of China was a great new experience! It was one of those surreal kind of things where you have to stop and ask yourself, "Am I really here?"

I WAS really there! Today, in fact! We climbed. We climbed more. We climbed hundreds of worn stone steps that had seen the soles of many, many feet! It was a very cool experience. I wish you could have been there! The picture above was taken from part way up my climb, looking across the valley to another part of the wall. It was amazing!

Beijing really is an amazing place, and is becoming even more amazing as they prepare for the Olympics! This is actually my fourth trip to China, but my first visit to the Great Wall. It WAS great.

Thoughts over the Pacific...

I haven’t posted since January 20th…A lot has happened since then. My original goal was to have four new experiences a month during my year of “crossing over;” that mile stone of turning 50 years old. I haven’t changed my goal, but I guess I do need to do a little better job of sharing my thoughts lest they “leave my mind” as my great aunt Maude used to say.

Because I haven’t posted in awhile, I am going to simply list the top eight new experiences/insights from the months of February and March. If you keep reading, I am honored!

Here we go, in no particular order…Oh yeah, I am writing this from a crampy little seat on Northwest flight #5, somewhere over the Pacific. I am on my way to China and Korea for some new experiences; but, that will have to wait…It’s April and this is about February and March.

Perfect Temperatures in March…I left the US on March 6th, leading a team of SC students to the island country of the Dominican Republic. Visiting a new country is tops in my desired list of new experiences! We left the dreary, gray, late winter of Oregon for the sunny, warm Caribbean to come along side a ministry in the village of Juan Tomas. Our task was to help complete some work at the Christian school in the village, do what we could to share the love and mercy of God with this very needy village, and generally support the work of Paul, the local missionary. It was a great experience, and served to broaden my world view and see another aspect of God’s heart for the nations. As you will see, some of my new experiences came out of this trip to the DR. One of them was the beautiful experience of absolutely perfect temperatures at 7:00 am when it was time to get up, and between 5:00 pm and 9:00 pm; beautiful, skin-warming, extraordinarily fine, perfect temperatures! Unbelieveable!

Loving Brutus…Brutus was one of my friends in the above-mentioned village of Juan Tomas. I shared a room with him, and he generally kept me company in the evenings when I was in the room. He was very regular in coming to visit and was faithful to be there each evening when we returned from the day’s tasks. It was interesting how many of the team wanted to meet him and get pictures of him! He was small, very quiet, actually had very red hair like two of my sons, Scotty and Jonathan; and, he was pretty private. He was a tarantula! In the first sixty seconds of arriving in my very third world kind of room in the DR, I had several new experiences! I pushed open the creaky door of my room to see a large, very ugly rat running towards me. That was a little startling, so I decided to put my things on the bed so I could check out the room a little more in-depth. As soon as I did that, the largest cockroach I have ever seen scurried out of the mattress to escape my presence! Okay…I was getting the picture…I was going to be sleeping in the zoo! I took my things off the bed, and went over to put my bag on the counter by the rusty, dripping sink, only to discover that Brutus had already claimed that as his territory! I deduced that he lived in the over flow slot of the sink, eating the little critters that came to the dripping sink for a bit of liquid refreshment! After my initial hesitation at sharing a room with the wildlife, I actually became friends with Brutus. He would come out each evening, I would carefully reach out to touch his large, hairy abdomen, and then we would all shutter and he would jump and run back into his home. I miss him.

The Barclay Intercontinental…Staying at a five-star hotel in Manhattan is an experience not to be missed! On our return from the Dominican Republic, our team had a 24 hour layover, so we decided to help our students experience Mid-Town Manhattan. With substantial discounts from the hotel, we were able to put four to a room, and enjoy the amenities of a fine (Did I say it was fine?), beautiful (Did I tell you it was beautiful?), very fine (Did I tell you it was very fine?) hotel! Picture this…the marbled bathroom floor was heated so your feet stayed warm while you did your business watching CNN (or whatever) in the bathroom mirror! (Okay, maybe for some of you this is no big deal. I’m from Oregon, okay? I didn’t know mirrors could be TV screens.) Actually there were two mirror/tv screens. I guess they wanted it to be convenient if you need to turn your head while in the bathroom. It was fine! (Did I tell you the hotel was very fine?)

The Village Witch Doctor…Well, this was a new one! I had heard of witch doctors, but I had never been to the home of a real one! One day while walking and praying in the village of Juan Tomas with a group of our team members, Curtis (one of our students) and I thought it would be a great experience to visit the home of the witch doctor and share the truth about the God of Heaven…So, we did! We walked to his house, were invited in (he wasn’t home, but his family was), and I proceeded to share that the God of Heaven is very powerful, and that He actually created us with purpose, to know and glorify Him. While the rest of the team prayed for the eyes of this family to be opened, so they might see the truth, the Lord enabled me to tactfully and carefully share about God’s great love for all people. It was a very significant moment. Who knows, maybe God’s Holy Spirit will impact this family and they, in turn, will impact the village witch doctor, who will impact others. We plant, others water, and God gives the increase. In any case, sharing about God’s great love in a witch doctor’s home was a new experience!

Shattering the Silence, or, Too Much Estrogen?…Our home dramatically changed last summer! Those who know our family know that for many years, our home was full of boys; big boys, little boys, dirty boys, clean boys, noisy boys, quiet boys, American boys, Korean boys, Japanese boys, all sorts of boys! This past summer, things changed dramatically when James, (our “Korean son”) who lived with us for five years while attending Santiam Christian, returned to Korea. Scotty, our second son found a woman and married her. Jeremy, our social-networker moved into Corvallis for attendance at Oregon State University (and for additional social opportunities). Our noisy, active home was left with me, my lovely wife Jeannie, and my darling daughter, Hannah. Jonathan (our oldest son) lives in the backyard in the “man-shed” and is around some, though he is largely nocturnal and spends much of his time studying at OSU and creating cool stuff in his rented, cryptic shop space near our home. He’s basically not around much. So, as you can see, our home became a quiet oasis of calm after years of controlled, much loved chaos. I had backed off on some time commitments, and we no longer had basketball games, football games, or wrestling matches to attend. Jeannie, Hannah and I learned what it meant to relax on quiet evenings…maybe even watch “The Amazing Race” which quickly became our favorite show. (This last season of the show was the 8th season…we had never even seen the show. What does that tell you?) Basically, we were transitioning into a little more quiet home life.

Suddenly, in January, Helen and Rebecca showed up! We decided to host these two little ten year old Korea girls…The silence was shattered! Though they were each charming in their own ways, they did shatter the silence! We enjoyed having them with us. But then came Yena and Mina!!! Two more Korean girls who stayed with us for a week! We now had four Korean girls eating kimchee and yelling in Korean! Then….oh my goodness! Here come Bridgette and Ronita from Uganda and India who were visiting Corvallis as part of a childrens choir! Can you say, “Too much estrogen?” We went from a boy house to a girl house very quickly! I am not complaining, but I must say that there were a lot of girls around!

Many of you already know this, but my wife and my daughter are heroes! During the three months we had Helen and Rebecca, Jeannie and Hannah were the epitome of patience. During the Week of Women when we had six (Did you get that?)…I said SIX additional girls in our home, they were amazing!

I will say that it was an amazing thing to sit down to dinner with my wife, my daughter, and six girls from three countries. It was a new and unusual experience, and reminded me of the blessing it is to share what you have with others. I believe that simple sharing of who you are and what you have goes a long way in showing the world the love of the Father. Try sharing your life with others.

Chopsticks in the Park…A Saturday afternoon in February…Jeannie and Hannah are gone shopping with Helen and Rebecca…I am home to finish some jobs around the house. I’m hungry. Really hungry. Kabuki roll? Aomatsu? Without question!

Kabuki roll is my favorite dish at Aomatsu, our favorite local Japanese restaurant. Now here is something simple I have never done! I just took myself right out to Aomatsu, got my Kabuki roll to go, went to the park near our home and ate Kabui roll with my chopsticks! A simple new experience, but not every new experience needs to be in another country, or cost a bunch of money, or whatever! This one was inexpensive, but very enjoyable and caused me to see the area near our home in a whole new light.

It is actually a very beautiful place and I am very privileged to live where I do. I can walk to work, grab my fishing pole and walk to the pond to fish if I want to, or walk to the park and watch the stars. I can walk seven minutes and be in the university research forest and enjoy the kind of beauty and solitude that others only find on their summer vacations. I can go on vacation any day I want to! I can get on my bike and in a few minutes be riding on miles of abandoned roads on an old military base turned wildlife refuge. I can drive an hour and a half and be in one of the best cities in the US, Portand, Oregon! I can drive sixty minutes and enjoy the rugged beauty of the Oregon Coast. I can stay in my backyard and feel like I am in a tree-surrounded sanctuary that is reserved just for me and my family. I am a blessed man. May I always be thankful.

I Like Goat Milk…I didn’t know it before my DR experience, but I like goat milk. I don’t like feta cheese (That’s a kind of goat cheese, isn’t it?) so I thought I hated all things goat. I ate too much goat for breakfast in Uganda last summer, so I was pretty convinced after that experience that I am not goat-friendly. Well, several mornings we had cold cereal with goat milk in the Dominican Republic. I like it. In fact, our missionary goat farmers convinced me that all of humanity should be drinking goat milk instead of cow’s milk. They said it is better for us and I believe them. (I do think I’ll do a little research, however.) Cow’s milk comes from tits. Goat milk comes from tits. (Is it better to say teats? I think it’s funnier to say tits, so I hope I’m not offending you.) If milk comes from tits, and cows and goats are both animals that give milk from those things, why is one milk better than the other? Paul’s wife (I can’t remember her name.) explained all the benefits of drinking goat milk to me and I was pretty excited at the time. In fact, I was so thoroughly excited about ingesting milk from goat tits that I asked her to find the names of goat farmers who live near us in her “goat farmers of the world” directory. I’m not kidding you. She actually has one! I think I need to email her about all the benefits of goat milk that I have forgotten. I want to be goat-friendly and I do like goat milk. You should try it, too.

P.S. I don’t like horse milk. I drank some in Mongolia a couple of years ago. It had a big glob of horse milk butter in the middle of it. I also ate dried cakes of horse milk yogurt. I never thought of horses giving milk until them. I mean really, did you ever think of milk coming from horse teats? You did not.

Hah-Hah, Little Mosquitoes!...Well, my battery only has about 30 minutes left, so I need to write about one more new experience to meet my goal and write before the battery dies!

Until March 7th, I had never slept inside of a mosquito net in a tropical country. I already mentioned Brutus the Tarantula and Ratty the Rat in an earlier piece. Well, I didn’t want Ratty to chew on my toes or crawl on me while I was sleeping, so I slept with the light on in the DR in hopes that the light would keep Ratty at bay.

(It did…I know because I did a little experiment. The first night, I slept with the light on because I just thought it might keep Ratty away. The second night I designed a wonderful experiment! I put a small pile of mixed nuts on the floor and slept with the light off. In the morning the nuts were gone! The next night, I put out another little pile of nuts for Ratty and slept with the light on. In the morning the nuts were still there! Conclusion…burning lights keep rats at bay.)

Well, an unexpected benefit of sleeping inside a mosquito net with the lights burning is that you can see all the little critters flying around trying to find a way in to suck your blood and make you itch. Hah, hah, Little Mosquitoes! They didn’t get me and I slept soundly.

I actually liked sleeping inside my large, protective, green, wombish mosquito net. In fact, I became so attached to it that I brought it to school the day we returned and draped it over my desk in hopes that my students would ask about the DR trip so I could tell them impacting, life-changing stories and they would be in awe of me. They thought I put it there because it was green. The day I got back to school was St. Patrick’s Day. I took it down before 10:00 am. Oh well, they are junior highers.
I am going to hang my mosquito net over my hammock this summer; and shine my flashlight to attract mosquitoes and watch them not bite me. I’m easily entertained.

Bye…the battery is leaving.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Under the Overpass...

"Under the Overpass" is a simple book that changed the way I think in many ways. It is an account of two young college guys who decide to be "homeless" for a year in five major U.S. cities. During their year "under the overpass" they document the responses received by those with whom they cross paths. This simple book changed the way I see, and respond to, the homeless and destitute around us. Since reading that book, I have stopped ignoring homeless people. I challenge you, too, to stop pretending the scruffy guy outside of Safeway doesn't exist. He does. In fact, he is created in God's image. That could mess with your theology a little.

In the mid-90's, I met 19 year-old Zero. Zero's real name was Jimmy. I met him while serving breakfast to the homeless in Avery Park, a well-known local park. It was a Friday morning, and I was visiting with Zero, asking about his family and his life...how he ended up in Corvallis, Oregon. He told me he didn't get along well with his father, experimented with drugs, and had now found himself on his own, with no resources.

I asked him where he lived and he said his home was under the overpass just north of the park. Being curious and somewhat adventurous, I asked him if he would show me where he spent his nights. He was more than happy to share this part of his life with another human being, so we took off walking towards downtown Corvallis, across the railroad yard, and up the brush-covered side of the Highway 20/34 overpass.

Zero moved aside a grimy piece of plywood, and there was a dark tunnel entrance in the dirt about four feet across. He went in head-first and immediately disappeared. I promptly decided I had made a serious mistake. I wasn't going into the hole. I heard him shout my name from inside the hole and decided that I could be a coward and risk ending this new friendship, or I could enter the unknown. I entered the Twilight Zone.

As I slid through total darkness in this dirty tunnel under the highway, I seriously considered my sanity. What was I doing in a dirty hole under the highway? I was a respectable school teacher with a wife and children! I even attended church on Sundays! After what seemed like an eternity, I noticed some light, and eventually entered a small cave, directly under the median line of the highway! There was carpet covering the dirt floor, shelves carved into the dirty walls holding lighted candles, and various personal items scattered about the small room.

Entering that little home under the overpass gave entrance into the tumultuous life of Zero. From then on, he would occassionally stop by our home, have a meal and play with our son, Jonathan. We would meet at the park for breakfast, and visit downtown near the river. Eventually, Zero found his way to our church and, most importantly he made peace with his Creator.

Zero eventually returned to his New York home and restored relationship with his family. I lost touch with him for some time, only to find out a couple of years ago that his old demons had eagerly returned and had finally snuffed out his life. My friend was far too young to die.

Being involved with Zero changed me in some small ways. I took a few steps towards those on the margins of society during my time with him. Then, as is often the case, the pressures of family, job, and outside interests pulled me away from those who live ignored lives under the overpass. The aforementioned book brought me back to memories of Zero and my desire to extend a hand to those in need.

As I stopped ignoring the homeless and needy, something began to change within me. I no longer wanted to just buy a bag of food for the guy outside of Safeway. I wanted to visit and talk, hear their stories, and give some respect to the ones with whom Jesus would likely be spending his time. I wanted to bring others with me so they could experience the unique pleasure that comes from serving another without hope of recompense.

That brings us to Friday night, January 18, 2008...New experience #2 for January. A group of 42 students and adults left for Portland at 4:30 pm Friday afternoon to partner with BridgeTown Ministries in showing the love of God to the homeless of Portland under the Burnside Bridge. After a brief meeting in a storefront across from the Portland Rescue Mission, we walked a couple of blocks through Portland's old town to the Burnside Bridge.

There, we set up barber chairs, foot washing stations, clothing give-away stations, and tables for distributing and eating meals. And, they came. They came expectantly, hoping for some kind conversation, warm soup, maybe a haircut or a new pair of clean socks.

I saw things I had never seen before...I had never seen one of my 8th grade students kneeling on the ground, visiting and washing the feet of a rough-looking homeless man. I had never seen several of our cute, clean, blond senior girls carefully and cheerfully grooming the greasy hair of some of Portland's street residents. I had never seen previously shy high students confidently approaching some scary looking street people simply to be a friend to them. It was remarkable in many ways. Every single participant shared how much they enjoyed the evening.

Over the last few weeks, I have been considering why it is such a deep pleasure to wash the dirty little hands of children on the second Tuesday of the month when we volunteer at Southside Youth Outreach. Why is it that a sense of deep satisfaction washes over me when I buy a meal for a down-and-outer? Why would I rather be freezing under the bridge on a Friday evening when I could be at a first-run movie, or warmly tucked in my chair at home? Why are there so many people in our churches who are unfulfilled and dissatisfied?

I won't say I have all the answers; but, I do think that I am beginning to understand a little about why serving others is so rewarding. First off, I do believe that the Bible is true. I will also say that some of our cultural interpretations of the truth contained in the Book are likely not really what God meant. The Book says that we are made in God's image. Either that is true or it is false. I believe it is true. There is a difference between me and a slimy, though interesting banana slug.

If we look at the core of the Gospel; that Jesus came to earth to redeem sinful man, we see the incarnation of God dwelling among sinful man. We see Emmanual, that is, "God with us." We see the greatest story ever told echoing throughout eternity, pounding into the hearts of men. God cares. He loves us. He sees our sin and He loves us. In spite of my weakness He loves me. He loves me. He loves me. We cannot escape it.

At the center of God's nature is His desire and plan to meet my need for redemption; a need that I cannot meet on my own. The coming of Jesus Christ and the cruel death He died on the cross demonstrates that God wants to meet my need. He laid aside His own comfort in order to meet my need. In forgetting His own comfort, and reaching down to man, He provided to us a picture of who He is.

When we put aside our own comfort and do what we can to meet the needs of another, we are reflecting the very nature of God. Created in His image, we are actually functioning in the purpose for which we were created. That is reason we are so satisfied when serving others.

Under the overpass is one of my favorite places.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

My First New Experience!

This is not what I had planned. That's me in a semi-fetal position, out of my mind in pain, with Vicodin coursing through my veins!

Ever since my kids were very small, my wife and I have piled them all into the old VW Van and traveled to the Oregon Coast for a few days during Christmas Break. What a great tradition! This year, with everyone on this continent; and, with Scotty having a new wife, we still kept the tradition alive and scheduled four days and three nights on Moolack Beach, north of Newport, for our glorious Christmas Break getaway!

The morning of Wednesday, December 26th we were to leave; and, as I got out of the shower, I noticed my lower back was a little stiff. Then, getting into the car to drive to Newport, we went to a new level of discomfort. Upon our arrival, I realized I was headed for an entirely new adventure!

Fast forward to Thursday morning...major pain. Not a little pain. MAJOR PAIN! MAJOR, OBCENE PAIN! Beginning with my 6:30 am wake up for a bottom fishing trip that didn't take place due to inclement weather; and, progressing throughout the day, the pain increased to unbearable levels. We're talking about staying in the bed all day in the fetal position while everyone else is downstairs enjoying the beautiful house and the incredible view. We're talking about making loud, involuntary noises while trying to turn on the bed.

Finally, at 5:45 pm, when it became clear that this was no ordinary backache, my compassionate wife called our equally compassionate doctor who was kind enough to call in a prescription to the closet pharmacy. That brought me Vicodin...my first new experience in my crossing over!

Thursday was hellish. Friday, I was able to move without making noises; but, I still couldn't put on my shoes or even complete the most basic elements of human hygiene. (Read between the...lines!) Saturday was a little better and I ingested my last little V-friend at noon. I've never spent a vacation curled up on a bed ingesting narcotics! (Not a good experience!)

During this new experience filled with excruciating pain, I learned some things about myself! (Isn't that the purpose of new experiences?) I learned that I have been very fortunate in my first 50 years and I have not experienced obscene levels of physical pain as I did this week. I learned that I have not extended the necessary compassion so needed by those in physical pain, even though I am often thought of as a compassionate person. I learned that I have often made critical, inaccurate judgements about the choices people have made as they experience unusually high levels of physical pain.

Would I do it again? Certainly not by choice! Am I a better person for this experience? You bet. As I said in my earlier post...I'm going to the forest in the morning and I am very grateful that I am able.

Crossing over...

Crossing over...strange term to use, isn't it? I think it actually makes perfect sense. I have crossed over from my 40's to my 50's and have now received an application from AARP. That is definitely crossing over!

To the right you see my handsome self stopping in a scenic spot in Lisbon, Portugal, where I was privileged to travel this last summer. What does it have to do with crossing over? Plenty.

You see, in my "crossing over" I plan to have adventures. I plan to do things I have never done, whether big or small. I plan to enjoy the daily things in my life I have taken for granted; the stable presence of my wonderful wife, the solitude of the forest across the road from my house, a latte with my beautiful daughter, the exciting new stages in my strong son's lives. I plan to seek that which I have not yet experienced, just like my walk through the streets of Lisbon in June. I'll be working with students in the village of Juan Tomas, Dominican Republic, in March. I'll be able to travel again to Uganda in June. I'm going to the forest tomorrow morning.

Since I have now crossed into my 50's, I've made a new goal...four experiences. I will attempt to have four new experiences every month in my first year of crossing over...I plan to share the journey. Feel free to read on...