Ducks & Geese

I got a new camera so decided to walk around my apartment complex and snap pictures.  I’d never noticed how many ducks and geese we have.  They pose pretty well for pictures I found…

I was struck at how pretty they were… it seems God has given every animal a beauty of its own.

Was just reading something Jesus said about birds from Luke chapter 12:

“They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!”

Three in a RowMallad Duck

Here We Go

Looking for FoodFall Colors

Homeward Bound

I’m in the Chicago O’Hare airport getting ready to spend another night sleeping in the terminal.  Oh joy.

So I didn’t kiss the ground when I got off the plane in Miami, but did step outside to bask in the aura of freedom and prosperity this country exudes.  Great to be back in good ‘ol USA!

Even though my primary citizenship is with God’s Kingdom and my highest loyalties are there, nonetheless as I entered America I felt a swelling sense of pride in the great privilege I have of being an American citizen.  For all its’ faults, the US is truly still a great place.  At least I like it. 

I didn’t know what I had here until I left and saw my other options.

Having said that, Miami airport doesn’t really feel like America proper as it gives off a dinstinctly Latin American vibe.  I caught myself trying to speak Spanish with the US customs agent who looked and talked foreign, but was indeed quite American.

One funny incident happened as I was shuffling through a lengthy security checkpoint in Miami:  An airport staffer was being downright rude in directing people through the confusing labyrinth of cordoned off security lanes.  I could tell this lady in front of me was becoming disgusted with him (as we all were) because she was making ugly faces behind his back.  I had a hunch she wasn’t American, so leaned over and asked where she was from?  “Scotland,” she answered in a thick brogue.  I laughed, then told her confidentially something to the effect, “Well, I’m from Kansas and I want to personally say to you, ‘Welcome to America!’”  She seemed better after that and even began smiling, adding, “Aye, many an American seem ah-be friendly, but not all of ‘em, eh?” 

Language is truly a big deal.  It’s great to be able to understand and talk to people again.  I can even talk to Scotts, brogue notwithstanding.  I never realized how much I depended on speaking until I couldn’t anymore.  Over the last six weeks spending so much time with kids I couldn’t help compare it with the time earlier this summer as a camp counselor in Missouri.  There I was able to deeply communicate with my campers, regaling them with Bible information and personal testimonies, not to mention administer discipline and exchange jokes and banter.  All those activities are much more difficult (impossible?) when you can’t speak freely. 

“Comprendo?” they would often ask hopefully after jabbering some important tidbit of information to me.  Sadly, the answer was often no.

Despite the language hurdle, I have built connections with Dominican’s who only speak Spanish, like the neat teenage boy below.  His name is Haziel and his 16th Birthday is next week – feel really bad I’ll miss it…

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And I’ve gotten to know kids who speak only Haitian Creole, like my favorite girl from Son of God in the picture below (she’s the adorable one who burst into tears one day when she learned I had to leave).

yayene

But regardless of what language people speak, they are all still people. 

One analogy I came up with regarding different cultures is different operating systems on a computer.  Like a Mac versus a PC: similar hardware but different software.  They act different, but do the same things.

Someone from America vs. Haiti make appear different on the outside in regards to customs and lifestyle, but inside they have the same hopes, desires, and fears.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has also frequently come to mind on this trip.

I’ve had kids literally beg me for a piece of bread (“Pen? Pen?” they would implore pitifully) as well as literally beg me for attention (and in some cases get angry when they didn’t get it).  These kids had pressing physical and emotional needs.

On the flip side, I’ve also met kids who had a consistent source of daily bread and attention ask me for help with their Math homework.  Their needs were as real as the former, but different: more along the lines of emotional support and educational guidance.

There have been other needs as well.

For instance, I’ve spent late nights with missionaries who perhaps had a need of expressing themselves with someone who could understand and converse.  I think they had a desire to debrief certain life experiences… and I had a desire to learn from their experiences.

I’ve met still others (and I may be in this category) who seem to have every need met… yet who are searching for meaning, who wonder if every pursuit in life is pointless or if there is a God who has meaningful work for them?  Work of a redemptive nature: overcoming the tide of evil in this world with a tide of good… through divine power, through supernatural guidance, and through the challenge of deep, vulnerable relationships. Is the possibility of living meaningfully pure fiction, or potential reality?

On a lighter note – and completely different topic – I’ve had fun hearing the music abroad and seeing the delight song and dance bring to young and old. 

The boys watched a movie last week with a catchy song in it and ever since have sung it over and over, often to the accompaniment of clapping and much laughter.  Good times.  They get into the singing on Sunday mornings too, but enjoy even more aiding Jon’s guitar strumming with sundry percussive instruments.  Sometimes on beat, sometimes not.

At the airports in both Port-au Prince and and Puerto Plata there were bands of live music playing “mariachi-style” repetitive upbeat tunes.  Kinda fun, yet also kinda odd as I’ve never seen a comparable equivalent in an American airport.

By far the most moving music I’ve heard in my travels was a group of Haitians singing at the YWAM base.  Their harmonies were beautiful, the language crisp and punctuated, and their lifted voices exuding such passion and emotion it nearly made me cry.  It was unique, uplifting, and special – wish I’d gotten a movie.

Below is a picture of several of us playing around with the keyboard:

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OK, enough soliloquy and waxing eloquent for one night.  Time for bed!  Thanks for reading all this if you did, hopefully it was beneficial and not too boring.

DR Update and… Are There Benefits to Being Materially Poor?

I just snapped this picture.  It is the view out the double doors in my bedroom:

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I think it’s technically jungle around here, but it seems to me more like “jungly forest” if there is such a thing. 

Oh, and I can see the ocean far better in real life than in the picture above.  It’s the view I wake up to every morning.

Highlights of this past week include 1) having a Mexican supper over at Jon and Shannon’s, then watching videos of their ministry after 2) snorkeling in clear ocean water with tropical fish 3) playing a Sunday afternoon game of baseball with the boys and 4) jogging/walking to town and back (~7 miles).

Not much else to report.  Life is pretty much in a routine here.  Eat, work, play, hangout, go to church.  Once again I find myself in a community where I eat, work, play, hangout, and go to church with the same group of people.  Which I enjoy.  Bonds happen quickly in this type of environment.

I’m currently reading What’s So Amazing About Grace by Phillip Yancey.  If you haven’t read it yet I recommend it.  His thoughts are deep, but his style is conversational and he tells lots of stories so it’s quite readable. 

The main thing I’ve been impressed with from the book is how much God’s gift of letting me be his friend is totally free.  I can’t earn his favor, He simply offers his unconditional love to me in the face of my spiritual poverty because… that’s what he does.

Notice how I wrote above that I am spiritually poor?  It’s true, I’m quite poor spiritually.  Which in some ways is a good thing as there is a blessing associated with that type of poverty (see Matthew 5:3).  It’s odd to think being poor in any category would be a plus, but according to how I read the Be-Attitudes in Matthew 5, the journey towards God begins with an acknowledgment of spiritual poverty. 

I was recently struck with a verse I read in James on the subject of poverty:

“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith…?” (James 2:5)

On this trip I have seen very materially poor people and in certain cases been immensely impressed at how they live their lives by faith: In faith they look to the Lord for the daily supplying of their needs.  The words in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread” hold literal meaning for them. 

I’ve seen those who have their faith stretched far more than mine because I have money to cover my needs (and enough to even cover most my wants as well). 

For instance, my translator (and his immediate and extended family) have many pressing needs that are easily fixable with cash, but he can’t fix them that way because…. he doesn’t have enough cash.  In fact, he hardly has any.

And it’s not just locals who are materially poor.  I’ve gotten to know a missionary family who basically live on financial fumes and I can tell it wears on them… even though they try not to worry.  God is stretching their faith in real ways because they are living at the end of their financial rope.

So that verse in James really resonated with me because it is what I have seen and experienced recently.

Almost enough to make me want to go broke myself.  Give all my money away and live by faith.  But not quite, I still enjoy my savings account.  In fact, my materialistic side has gotten quite the best of me recently – it’s really quite bad!  In the past several weeks I’ve bought a number of things online that I “needed.”  My return to the states will be kinda like Christmas.  But I really needed those things, believe me.

I heard a quote recently along the lines of how our giving often conceals our withholding.  I would say that is true for me.  There have been times where I’ve given generously but then as a reward turned right around and given back generously to myself.  Can’t remember if I’ve ever given to the point where it hurt. Don’t think I have.

I heard of a guy recently who was known as a philanthropist by any standard, he gave away generously to many.  One day his daughter told him she didn’t think he gave away enough.  “What, me? Why do you say that?” was his injured reply.  She answered, “Because you never give to the point where it hurts.”

Reminds me of the story in the Bible about the widow who put into the temple treasury two mites.  The crazy thing is Jesus said she put in more than all the others… which astonished those who heard because others had put in large sums.  How did Jesus explain the math?  Here’s what he said:

“They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:44)

In short, she gave until it hurt, which is all the more remarkable because she had so little to give in the first place.

Seeing generosity firsthand amongst those who don’t have much is inspiring. 

One day while I was at the orphanage in Haiti a group of American’s came to visit for the morning.  They lined the kids up and handed out candy to each of them: little bags of gummy bears.  Remember, these kids don’t get much and their living conditions are dismal so this was a big deal for them – they were excited!  But what did they do?  Several came up and gave me theirs!  When I protested, they insisted.  One older boy (who I had gotten to know and had spent time with) gave me all his candy. He went through the line, then promptly walked straight to me and gave me his whole bag of gummy bears and wouldn’t listen to my protests. 

I remember feeling a mixture of emotions… special and touched at the gesture, anger at the overall situation, and frustration his generosity got in the way of accepting even this very small gift. It does speak volumes to the issue of dignity though. People yearn for dignity, and being able to give something to someone else yields dignity.

Jon (the director where I’m currently at) told a story about one of the full-time local staff who works here at the Ranch (practically family, a neat fellow I know) who doesn’t have much materially but is a generous man.  Awhile back a bag of donated tee-shirts came through and were given to him.  Jon said he’ll never forget how this man excitedly just opened the bag right there, pulled out the first shirt… and handed it straight over to one of the part-time construction workers standing nearby.  “Here, this is for you,” he said.  Jon said it was crazy how he didn’t even check to see if it was the right size or how many were left in the bag or which ones he might want to keep versus give away, he just started passing out tee-shirts.  On the one hand Jon was thinking, “Hey! these were for you, not for you to give away!” but on the other hand he was amazed at this fellow’s generosity.  The time lag between accepting his gift and giving it away was instantaneous. He could have taken them all for himself (which he was supposed to do) but instead gave freely and generously.

Not sure how I got off on this (lengthy) tangent.  Was just sitting here thinking I should write a blog post since it had been awhile and this is what came out of my fingers…

In closing, here is a picture of me washing clothes with my friend Jonas:

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Anxiety Related to Expectations

I’ve noticed the less I try to accomplish, the lower my anxiety becomes.

However, it’s usually not enough for me to have just one goal.  I often have about ten.  Maybe you can’t relate to this, but I don’t usually feel good about myself unless I’m accomplishing things.

This trip has been a good example.  My goals were many:

  1. to see as much as possible of cultures outside the US
  2. to pack as much as possible into six weeks
  3. to work on learning both Creole and Spanish during my time here
  4. to figure out the local infrastructures (for instance, I’ve acquired Haiti & Dominican SIM cards for my cell phone)
  5. try to encourage everyone I meet
  6. continue reading books
  7. interview every missionary I run into on their entire life story
  8. donate Bibles and other stuff
  9. visit as many different local churches as possible (so far I’ve visited four)
  10. figure out what I want to do when I grow up
  11. never miss a day of personal devotions
  12. test the various gear I brought along
  13. keep my clothes clean (even if this means doing laundry by hand at 10pm using water from a rain barrel)
  14. continue blogging (and journaling and e-mail correspondence)
  15. get at least eight hours of sleep every night

The list goes on and on. 

Anxiety begins cropping up when my goals interfere with each other.  Which happens continually.  (Even in real life back in the US)

I’ve noticed other people have a different approach. 

The friend I went to Haiti with seemed to have only one goal: to help improve the lives of the orphans we were visiting.

That goal streamlined all his actions and decisions.  I noticed he never seemed to get stressed out, and I think his trick was that he simply kept the main thing the main thing. 

Whenever opportunities arose to do something non-orphanage related or other responsibilities encroached on his time he quickly filtered them out as “non-essential” because they didn’t align with his primary goal of spending time with the kids and doing everything he could for them.

So today I’m trying to follow that philosophy.  My single purposed goal for today is to simply give my body a good rest and chance to heal from the infection I’ve had in my leg/foot. 

To that end I’ve stayed in bed all day.  Though I have written a few e-mails, got my auto insurance renewed, finished a book, put together this blog post…

Speaking of goals, I wonder what a good life goal would be?

For starters, I think it would be healthy to have a goal of always enjoying and appreciating the “here and now.”  To not always be looking for a more rosy tomorrow, but to savor life in the present.  I could use a lot of help on this one!

The Apostle Paul said he made it his goal to please Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9).  That seems like a good one.

Perhaps Jesus laid out the best goal when he said,

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt 6)

But I wonder… what does seeking first the kingdom and righteousness of Christ look like practically?

Blessed With a Burden

Megan has lived in Haiti for a year or so – she just wrote a blog piece about a child from the same orphanage I recently visited for ten days.  Her passion comes out better than if I tried writing so I’m linking it here.  Some of the things she writes are just how I feel too…  hearing about exploitation and seeing it firsthand are two separate things.  The latter makes me angry and want to do something.  But what?

I didn’t get to meet Megan while in Haiti – had a chance to one day but it was hectic and didn’t work out.  I remember that day feeling it would be best I stayed with the kids.

Here’s the link: Where’s Gabriel