Thursday, May 28, 2009

28 May 2009

As each day passes, my time is Africa grows more distant in time and memory, like a numbed pain fading into the forgotten. My mind betrays many of the details that were, are, and one day will be once again upon my return in the unknown future. I struggle to recall both the drudgery of daily routines and the excitement of a promising new adventure. I expect that soon I will have lost most of such experiences to the void left by my physical and emotional detachment from that place. Even now, like a dream, I struggle to piece together coherent portions of fleeting memory, and, like a dream, I am only certain that I have forgotten so much. And like the morning after a friendly dream, the best parts remain forgotten, only recognizable by the shadow that suggests their presence, only obligating me to desire to remember what once was so much more. Fortunately, i know it was a good dream and that is enough; for if we forget the "why's" and the "how's" of life we lose the route to our happiness, the path leading us to our state of reserved satisfaction, but we are still in that peaceful bliss nonetheless. So it is with Africa. My peace remains, though I forget exactly how it was first gained.

Like childhood. I could not exact every reason why I am so fond of my upbringing, nor could I provide too many complete stories exemplifying the great times I had in my most youth of youth. But the thought of growing up softens my heart and warms my soul, and for this reason alone I know with sternest assurance that it was good. In the same fondness with which I miss my old home in Tennessee and cements my endearment for my childhood I reflect upon the months in Zambia. I remember it was good in every sense of the word so I need not the details. What a Blessed Assurance... Yet somehow I think the vagueness allows my mind to fill in the gaps time has created with my own more ideal details if I so choose. And I do so choose...

It is a said thing that something so bright can be dimmed by the events that have unfolded, but so it is and so it forever dimmed will it be.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


But a few days ago, here sitting among the chatter and revel, I wrote my prayer to the Lord, asking him to give me burdens belonging to others, the punishment I don’t deserve yet are necessary, the pains of future troubles so that I may truly shrink into oblivion and allow the Great Spirit to take my place. I did not expect to know this passion immediately and on so vast a scale, but I am honored that he sustains my faith while enduring so much. Lord, you know the limits of my strength and courage. You know how far, how hard you can bend my will, to the breaking point, without needing to test me. But you answered my prayer, you will force me to face challenges that I cannot win alone. I will seek you in the wind and rain, and even in the most violent of storms I will find you. Lost, shaking, disoriented, and at the point of losing everything, on the brink of giving in to my plight, I will look one last time upon the horizon and there you will be, beating away the thunder and lightning, coming to save your good and faithful servant, reaching down and offering your hand so that I may again find my feet and finish the race that I have prayed and pleaded to enter. You will carry me. One arm under mine and helping me to the finish, I will know your love, your compassion, and your pride. I will need you, and you will come. Together we will cross the last gate, the final threshold, and you will be glorified.

Mark 15

Mark 15:3 KJV
“He answered nothing.”

The day when Jesus stood alone
And felt the hearts of men like stone,
And knew he came but to atone –
That day “He held His peace.”

They witnessed falsely to His word,
They bound Him with a cruel cord,
And mockingly proclaimed Him Lord;
“But Jesus held His peace.”

They spat upon Him in the face,
They dragged Him on from place to place,
They heaped upon Him all disgrace;
“But Jesus held His peace.”

My friend, have you for far much less,
With rage, which you called righteousness,
Resented slights with great distress?
Your Savior “held his peace.”

There is a place of stillness that allows God the opportunity to work for us and gives us peace.

A Devo

Though the winds are wild,
And the gale unleashed,
My trusting heart still sings:
I know that they mean
No harm to me,
He rides upon their wings.

Today you see only your loss, but then you will see how God used it to break the evil chains that had begun to restrain you. Today you cower at the howling wind and the roaring thunder, but then you will see how they beat back the waves of destruction and opened your way to the peaceful Land of Promise.
- Mark Guy Pearse

Aerosmith vs. James 5

Sing with me
Sing for the year
Sing for laughter
Sing for the tears
Sing with me
Just for today
Maybe tomorrow
The good Lord’ll take you away!
Dream on
Dream on
Dream on
Dream as though the dream’ll come true.

Dream as though your dream will come true.

James 5

Carry On

Courtesy of Kansas:

“Carry on my wayward son. There will be peace when you are done. Lay your weary head to rest. Don’t you cry no more. . .”

Carry on. Continue. Don’t stop. Stay the course. Don’t stray. Keep going.

Seems simple enough. Ideally, it takes little effort to continue doing the same thing. In fact, continuity is basic, natural. Even Newton recognized the simplicity of the concept, placing its main principle in the heart of physics, which ironically has become quite the complex study despite such basic foundation. So why is something so basic and Spartan often times the hardest to carry out? Because it is the nature of humanity to tire, to slow, and to struggle through life. For one who desperately needs to carry on in search of purpose and reason in life, the wayward, doing so is just that much harder. Being wayward, in our world, means that one has already strayed, stopped, or messed up. Discouragement in the form of failure grabs and pulls at the feet of those who have once been lost but now seek the right end. Such a fight, though simple, is a harder battle than what those who have found the goal will ever need to face because they are fortunate enough never to have wandered. Praise Father, for they already get it. But those who will likely never be clear of the brambles and thorns of our veering can own the assurance that one day, when the long, winding road ends and the sun is setting we will find peace. We will be enriched for our recovery instead of critiqued for the faltering. We will lay our weary head to rest; our tired bones will find sanctuary for their determined journey. All that is now inglorious will be turned into triumph, whittled down from a rough branch into a pure and righteous trophy. S, to myself and all else tripped up and distracted, disheartened and downtrodden, take heart for one day the sun will set, the day will be drawing its final breath, we will be weary, and in that moment of twilight when the last ray of light tucks behind the horizon another light will appear. That light waits for us. Calls to us. That light will warm you from the inside and illuminate your victories in life while guiding you the final staggering steps to the end. When you see that light, don’t you cry no more.

Garth Brooks Lyric

You’re a friend of mine and I want to thank you, I thank you for always being there, anywhere, where only fools would dare and now here I am, my friend, reaching out my hand needing you again to leave a light on. Leave a light on for me, so I will shine. Maybe then I can see you are my destiny. You and I, keeping love alive ‘til the last tear is cried. So leave a light on. . .
- Garth Brooks


Oh! That I may bear
Those burdens that are not my own
That I may receive
Those lashes due to others’ backs
That I may give
Those words of life I myself long to hear
That I may offer
Those sacrifices I cannot afford
Oh! That I could give
All of me for naught but a smile
And that look in the eye
From one who cannot understand why
I do what I’ve done
But says thank you in kind.
All because You are the One.


I will never know myself until I do this on my own. I will never feel anything else until my wounds are healed. I will never be anything ‘til I break away from me, and I will break away. I will find myself in you.

Keyboard. A couple simple notes, bouncing back and forth. Tense and anticipating. Synthesizer now too. Giving depth and something inside me causes me to nod my head just slightly. Two and four are obvious. The mood is patient, the mood is waiting, knowing what is sure to happen in a handful of beats. Then it begins. The lead guitar begins. The symbol begins. The guitar string is silent momentarily, but there it is creeping in, prowling, coming faster and faster, the music grows. The guitar howls that single note, holding at the fret all the pressure, all the tension; the volume is peaking. Now the crash. Bass pedal. Crash symbols. The torrent streams into my mind. The waiting is over and I feel the music flowing through my soul. The waves of sound, minor chords pulling the major strings of my heart. Drums beating furiously, I can not do anything but sit still, brooding and marinating with every note, but the beat fights my stillness. It’s bothersome, it’s active, it’s tired of waiting. Rather the beat desires action, change, the beat craves an alteration of the frustrating status quo. The word is angst, the word is love. The lyrics are I-can’t-take-it, and yet they are I-will-endure-this. The message is of hope for hopelessness, and strength for the weak, determination for the empty spirit. My song is violently meditative. My song is silently instigative. My song has silence, but it has a voice. It says I will not stand by anymore with such a world spitting at my feet. The voice says I will show you the just and right way and you will learn of this wrongful life and its terrible fate. But I will show you the just and right way. I will show you Him.

Pay Attention

Pay attention to the things around you, the buildings you pass on the way to work or school, the people you run into every time you pull up to the drive-through window at Starbucks, the lyrics of that new hit on the radio. Is it just another dilapidated dump, or is it something more? What great story would it tell you if it could speak? Does that building have a story of once being splendid and home to a popular business joint for all the well-to-do in town? What genuine men stopped by that barbershop before the owner passed on? Did the same handful of old men sit around and sip coffee, shooting the breeze and discussing politics or brainstorming how the coach should make the local high school basketball star pass more often so the boys can make it back to State? Does that beat up, run down shack house memories of a flowering young marriage just before he went off to the war and she was left with nothing but a ring and a folded up flag to soften her sorrow? What about the employee making your drink? He’s caught up in a rough patch with his first love; as he steams your latte, he is hoping that the discussion they have tonight will salvage a relationship he desperately longs to keep but currently is nose-diving with one engine flamed out and a stiff throttle stick. You went through the same thing, and came out on top, but what would you tell him if you had the chance? What if you asked the guy handing you a tall Pike Place Roast how life is going and actually stuck around to listen beyond just the expected “Fine, and you?” and insisted upon an honest answer. Would you know where is coming from, what he is dealing with, as he shares with you what he wishes he could say to his fiancé if she would just listen? The next song on the playlist will touch your mind in a way no words or melody has in years? The Great Love Story is all around us. We all can be a victim of tragedy and triumph just around the corner, so I try to see the magnitude of the little things in life. The little things are prone to being missed because of such miniscule size and relatively little importance, but it’s the small things that make the big differences. Life wants to share God’s love, though it may come in the form of just a small whisper, but it’s a whisper nonetheless and if you are intent on listening and not just hearing maybe one day. . .

If You Could Only See

“If you could only see the way He loves me, then maybe you would understand why I feel this way about our love and what I must do. If you could only see how true His words can be when says, when says He loves me.

Well you’ve got your reasons and you’ve got your lies and you’ve got your manipulations that cut me down to size. You say you love, but you don’t love, but you will. If you could only see. . .

See, the road less traveled shows happiness and wonder. So, what will you give up to keep what you love? ‘S what you gotta do. You say you love, but you don’t love, but you will. You say you love. Will you stand tall when you should? If you could only see. . . “

Take a look at these lyrics. The song was a popular alternative hit in the late nineties, and is one of my all-time favorites. Originally just another rock song about love for the apple of the singer’s eye, I have slightly altered just a few of the lyrics in order to shift the object of such passionate love from a woman to Christ Jesus. The music and lyrics maintain the deep emotional connection of the original but I am amazed at the similarity in such love, such desperate and longing desire for a connection as these most vulnerable and intimate lyrics suggest, with the relationship of I have in my life walking in the way of the Lord. This new version might as well be a worship song or Christian rock anthem. What I am suggesting is that we can, we are allowed to and should, view our love for God as having the same fire and heart-wrenching pulls as a man who desires nothing other than to be with that one special woman and let her know how sincerely he cares about all of her being. Our love for Jesus, and consequently for the world and for life, should be worthy of such high praise as the best of love songs. God gave us such a wondrous capacity to love another individual because he wanted us to share in his divine power, his image, his being, his love. Though we pervert and manipulate such love in our thist for gratification, lust never truly satisfies. It is false, but the true form of love, the kind that brings life, the true love from which the resonating lyrics of musical genius spring forth, can not be replaced. It is pure, it is holy, and it is all that is so good and sweet in this world.

If you could only see the way He loves me, then maybe you would understand. . .


Greatness is an attitude. It’s a way of seeing the world. In life, some are great. Some are the agents of impact, some for the positive advancement of mankind while some hold progress back, and yet others take the world neither backward nor forward but rather they veer off the road sideways, leading us all to an entirely new horizon. Some great individuals focus whole peoples in times of desperate need, shepherds for a tumultuous flock. Still others remove the blinders from the bridle and introduce a whole new perspective outside the existing narrower focus. But no matter the way a great individual shapes the world, each has been set apart from the crowd, either by one’s own works and courage or by the appointment of circumstance. Either way, by such separation the masses begin to see more than just flesh. For at the time of need, when greatness is born and the leader is no longer of the crowd, humanity is shed like clothing and the person must bear the robes of an idea. In this new skin, the transformation is complete, and now the decision must be made between fates. Where will greatness lead? What destiny will come of this new symbol, this idea? How far will he take it? How far will it take him? The cameras are here, the spotlight is on, the mic is balanced, and the wall of noise has been quieted, hushed in anticipation of greatness taking its rightful place.

If you are what you say you are, a superstar, then have no fear.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

March 5th, 2009

“The Way I See It” #233

“I used to think that going to the jungle made my life an adventure. However, after years of unusual work in exotic places, I realize that it is not how far off I go or how deep into the forest I walk that gives life meaning. I see that living life fully is what makes life – anyone’s life, no matter where they do or do not go – an adventure.”
- Maria Fademian
- Geographer, Ethnobotanist, and National Geographic Emerging Explorer

I read Maria’s two cents on the back of a Venti coffee black, free and courtesy of John, Paul, and Simon, my local Starbucks’ employees who also just so happen to be some of my closest friends. I love freebies, especially when some other people are struggling to purchase their favorite new indulgence, from a Soy Skinny Extra-Dirty Caramel Macchiato to a Banana Chocolate Vivanno, for less than four bucks a pop with coups. I don’t feel too bad, though, about it all. I mean I DO tip the Three Wise Men whatever change I have in my pocket for their generosity. But somehow I don’t know if John, Paul or Simon is seeing much of it ever, mainly because the slave-driving wench manages the local branch. I have never met her, although I do recall hearing “her” name once or twice. We’ll call her Beelzebub. For instance, two employees recently left and the vacancy in staffing will not be filled with either new employees or increased hours for the remaining baristas. Some are not scheduled enough hours anymore even to utilize the insurance package by which they used to be insured. The workers are all experienced (maybe not necessarily capable for one or two, but experienced nonetheless) but yet couldn’t BUY a raise for their hourly earnings. They have possibly the fewest average floor hours per day in the area but are the top selling branch all the while. Hands down, these guys kick ass. And hands down, they deserve better treatment and leadership from the higher ups. Did I mention that the Three Wise Men will be attending law school in the fall? You’d think that the company would want to piss them off least of all because they just might come back and sue the pants off this joint. Maybe even one large general suit against all major coffee corporations. I am not sure how or with what claim but there is always something. If at the very least for too small a “Caution: Hot” disclaimer on the cups. Ya know, like that old geyser did Mickey D’s a few years back. Caribou Coffee, you better get your act straight too or these boys might just be paying you and all your granola-type customers a visit here in about three and a half years. Hold on a second, I have hardly touched my free coffee yet. Did I mention yet that it was free? K. I’m back. Where was I going? I dunno. Where ever I want! That’s where I am going with this! Now hold your horses. I’m getting there, where ever that is.

I originally was going to try and relate my personal experiences in life with Maria’s, so that’s what I’m going to do. Like her, I also thought that a full life meant doing what few others do, going where only a few dare go but most only dream, talk or write about. I did do all that. I rode on the top of Land Cruisers through the African bush; I saw people living in straw huts; I met the face of AIDS in person; I held her hand; I even told her a joke and got her to laugh as she lay on her mat on the dusty earth. I heard a lion roar two feet from my face. I met a real witch-doctor, in person, and learned they do exist outside of National Geographic and Scooby-Doo. I even crept into President Mugabe’s backyard without him knowing. Trust me, though I’m only twenty, I’ve seen some things you won’t see. I’ve done things you won’t do. And as sure as this coffee I’m drinking now was free, I’ve learned some lessons I hope you will never have to learn. And you know what? No, I know you don’t know yet. I haven’t told you yet. It was rhetorical, Buddy. I haven’t made my life any fuller by any of this. I’m not sad or emotional about it so don’t go having a pity party, but I have learned what does make life full. So let me tell you this.
The secret to a fuller life is not doing outrageous activities. The secret is finding out who you want there by your side doing them right along with you. Who is the one person you would want to sit next to you riding on top of a safari rack as you bounce your way through the grasslands or ford a flooded stream as some impalas bound alongside? Find her. Keep her. If you want a fuller life, find out who are the people that can bring the fondest and dearest memories to mind if you were a world away from everyone you know. Only then do you really grasp who truly matters in your life. Spend time with those old friends. Facebook that fool from years ago if you need. Find out what issues really tick you off, I mean the things that you just can’t STAND anymore, what you will still lose sleep about even if you weren’t in your daily routines but on vacation on some island in Fiji. What is it? Then, do something about the situation to make it the way your gut tells you it should be! I don’t a baboon’s bare backside how old you are, how poor you are, how fat you are, how dumb you are, how depressed you are. Really, I don’t! Most likely you’ll be that way the rest of your life because you’re reading this instead of changing the status quo. I am genuinely furious right now! Give me a sec to chill out. Go get a cup of coffee and then come back before you finish this. Seriously, go ahead. That’s what I am going to do.

Have you ever read “A Dream Deferred”? It’s a short piece. Open another browser tab and Google it, read it, sip your coffee, ponder it, think slow, let your mind mull it over a bit ( I know, it’s going to make your head hurt, but that’s what Tylenol ES is for), and then come back to this. Do you understand what it’s telling you? It’s telling you to move, to act, to VERB. You’re a stagnant puddle, with mosquitoes hatching in the bottom and all that stuff; you’re a festering sore if you don’t go out and just do, just be, just live. Think, believe, write, or even sue! Just do. But don’t believe for a second that all that will help you find a fuller life, because it won’t. What it it WILL do is help you understand what you’re missing, who you’re missing, and things that really will fill up your life I can tell you this much as a teaser trailer of sorts for what you will probably find:
The emptiness some feel, the love some may not be receiving, and the confusion about what life means; all these cannot be answered here on Earth. You’re going to have to as the Big Guy about all that. And you’re going to have to be willing to listen.

“If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Mental Side Note: I just saw in the paper that Clinton (Hilary, that is) has been Iran jive for their missile activity. Good for her, but is that not exactly the approach that the Dems were telling the GOP would not work anymore just a handful of weeks ago? And weren’t the Dems getting on Bush for his spending? And now tell em how much has Congress okayed for Obama already? And how do mass tax cuts and breaks to the masses help the deficit? And only how many months has President Obama been in office? And how much sense does that make? I remain hung up on the fence about it all while the federal government just plain hangs itself period. Are the Jeffersonian Democrats still around? I want those boys back. Give me strict construction!!

Monday, March 2, 2009

March 2nd, 2009

I’ve never written on a napkin before. So, because I am sitting in Starbucks and wanting to save the battery on my laptop I will sketch out this entry on the brown napkins that are “Made from 100% recycled fibers with at least 40% post-consumer material in a bleach free process” – Whatever all that means.


 I was taught in high school that introductions should catch attention, embody the main subject of what is to follow, yet withhold most of the story. Otherwise the reader could just be content with  your opening ideas and not wait for everything else you have to say. So, keeping this in mind, for today’s reflection’s I’ll just start out nice and softly and then ease into what has been hanging heavily on my consciousness for the past two weeks now; all in the aforementioned style I’ve so graciously learned from my omniscient AP English teachers. Are you ready?


I was exiled from Africa, given the boot from the program, and I might not ever be able to return to that place I have grown to love over the past two months.


The details are too innumerable, the experience was once in a lifetime, and the whirlwind that swept me up for a crazy ride back over the Atlantic Ocean devastated me. Unfortunately, I do not have enough napkins to provide you with everything you are going to want to know, so please do not act like an only-child-spoiled-brat-who-won’t-be-getting-her-way. And yes I did consciously decide to make the “brat” a “her” because my experiences have convinced me that they are the worse of the two in the greater intensity of brat-like behavior. I digress. Ten of the fourteen students in the inaugural IWU Zambia Study Abroad Program went to a particular establishment, namely the Diva Nite Club, one Friday night, danced, caroused, mingled, left, were confronted by administrating officials representing both World Hope International and IWU, waited for over a week and a half to learn what would happen as a result of the fateful evening’s events, heard arrangements had been made for an early exodus back to the States, made the puddle-jump, and now are working out all the details of what is still to come now that they are back in the States. On top of all this, two of the ten who were ordered home contracted Malaria, holding them back several more days and postponing their glorious return to the homeland until they were well enough to fly the thirty-three hours from Livingstone to Johannesburg, to Dakar, to D.C., and arriving in Indy. What a wonderful life!


Just know that this IS based on the real event, the life and times of Yours Truly, and I now have another great story to include in my biography once I’m famous. E-mail me and I’ll send you a personal, authentic Starbucks napkin, including my authentic signature and a one line personal message for only a small fee. PayPal may be accepted. For any questions, contact my consultant Mr. Paul Barlow of Global Wealth Management, Naples, Florida.


Have fun filling in the details on your own, and please feel free to do so, even wildly creatively if you would like. It is no longer my story to tell. Own it yourself. Make it yours. What happened? If you would like to, post a comment to this blog, with your own details. How would you tell the story? What would YOU say happened to make this story grow? Would you claim that Zimbabwe’s hackjob of a president invaded the Southern Province of Zambia and we were forced to leave regardless of the incident that Friday night? Or, did other more unimaginably scandalous events take place that then merited the exile? Is it all a misunderstanding? Though we students might have made a mistake in judgment (maybe), were there other factors on the part of the irrational administration that complicated the matter? Fill me in! I want to know what YOUR version is.*



How did I do Mr. Lakes? Did I get your attention? Did I “leave some to the imagination”?


*The employment of italics indicates parts of this blog that were not in the original manuscript on coffee shop recycled napkins. Rather, they were added during the final editing process as a curious after thought by Y. Truly.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

February 13th, 2009

I went with David and Solomon to the railroad tracks again last night. The tracks are just outside our neighborhood on the road to Chomatown and they lead to the right in the direction of Lusaka, to the left between the market and mainstreet and out of the city towards Livingstone. During the day the tracks are the pedestrians’ highway, the quickest way for the communities outside of town to reach the local trade center and the most enjoyable walk due to the lack of exhaust in the air from the trucks, unlike the paved sidewalks running alongside the roads. The tracks bustle with business all day without rest. Men carrying sacks of coal or maize to the market, women with their children clung across their backs and some freshly milled meal teetering on the top of their head, children running and playing as they end their school day heading home half undressed out their proper school code trimmings, drunks stumbling across the ties trying to catch up to a muguwa who just passed and looking to beg for a few thousand kwatcha for another day’s supply of spirits to was away their broken stature and plight imprisoning their mind, meanwhile their daughters must sell their bodies just to afford Mealy Mealand school enrollment fees. Yes, the tracks see the full measure of this nation’s, even this continent’s, bleakly hopeful present. By nightfall, the tracks are worn, weary from the traffic but never the kind of traffic it was built to serve. The railways see less trains than ever before due to the closing of many of the mines in the Copper Belt, and with fewer trains comes an even dimmer outlook on the economic future of the people. The tracks welcome the dark, they welcome the peace, they welcome the serenity that can ease the mind over such draining and saddening thoughts passing over them each day. The tracks are the heart’s beat that sustains this world in its cyclical life of struggle, hope and perseverance for the days when change is no longer idle chatter’s toy but a true presence across the land that has finally been redeemed. So when the sun sets in the distant African rolling hills and paints another masterpiece of tangerine, rose, violet, and then finally washes it all over with the deepest of navy hues; only then do the tracks find solitude.
Now, when they have been tucked in for a much needed night’s sleep, I accompany King David and King Solomon in search of the nightly sanctuary from our won day’s events and find an audience with the tracks. Pay no attention to time when you enter the sanctuary. Leave all worry and tension and over-bearing passion at the railroad crossing’s arms, checking that which is dangerous and selfish there so as not to encroach on the reverence of the coming solitude. The slow and calculated padding from the crossing to no particular ending destination provokes the opening up of spirit of the hour, the regular prancing of our feet from cross-tie to cross-tie drums in rhythm with the restful breathing of the tracks, in time with the heartbeat of the people of the land. The arrival upon the indefinite theatre for the night’s play has no markings, nor does it have a particular distance; for all that signifies a sufficient place to end is the spark of real conversation. David, Solomon, and I chat on the way, yes, but about nothing in particular. However, when our words turn from whim to reality, from any other conversation to true dialogue, we have found our night’s sanctuary. Our lady welcomes us. She spreads her metal arms wide enough for us to just rest our heads on one and dangle our feet over the other. She cradles our bodies with the cross-ties at our sides. We three kings, welcomed into our madame’s court, rest and enjoy each moment as if it were the only moment, as if we were the only ones anywhere, and mistress who has suffered so much over the course of another tedious day is happy to listen. Our words turn into fingers of masterful dexterity as we begin to turn ideas end over end, toss them around and up and down gaining more and more truth by peeling back the casings our society has wrapped around it, hiding, masking real form and brilliance and between the three of us we create such a show but having no witnesses but our resting lady and millions seated in the cosmic audience, twinkling above in their heavenly balcony. The grandest topics are our toys, the most complicated is passed down the line until our fingers are satisfied, or another more striking toy is set on the shelf before our youthfully desirous eyes. Meanwhile, our lady quietly holds us, just listening, just resting. If only our knowledge were as well travelled as hers, what a spectacle would take place! The spirit of the night wets our lips and relaxes the thoughts so that we play freely and without reserving inhibition. The fire, held in our very hands, smoothes the air as we light up our imaginations, still examining the subject of our minds but not breaking the silence that has now settled among us. Such moments call us back every day, when the sun stumbles lower and our lady sets her first brushstroke on another stunning African sunset; she is beckoning us to come and lay in her arms once again. We are her lullaby and she is ours. And as when we came, we set our feet before us, one and then the other, keeping time with all life around us, treading softly in order to maintain the tracks’ slumber. She has another day ahead, full of pleasure and sadness, hope and disappointment. The least David, Solomon, and I could do is allow her to enjoy such sanctuary as she grants us. We gather what we left at the crossing arms, those guards of peace; but only do we take what is necessary, leaving behind forever that which is foolish for any soul to carry. What a night. Now we will rest, for tomorrow she will be calling her three kings back to her chambers under the stars one more time.

February 11th, 2009

My father’s surgery went well and he will remain in the hospital for the next while as he recovers. God has answered our prayers as only He can . . . yet again. Alleluia!

I woke up Monday morning late, maybe a little after ten thirty, and walked to the sink room to splash some cold water on my face as I do most mornings to help me pull out of the grogginess and gain my bearings for the day. I couldn’t have been awake and out of bed for more than a minute when I reached the sink and turned the cold water knob full circle. Looking up I saw Mrs. Garner shuffle to the doorway and peer in at my reflection in the mirror. She asked me in no strange or unfamiliar tone, “Have you heard the news about your father?”

. . . Yah, that’s what I thought too. I knew something had happened, right away (obviously), with my dad (least person I would expect to hear such news about), back in the States (now being in Africa doesn’t seem so appealing anymore). This felt like news that some one, some many, knew of; something I could tell Sydney had expected me to have heard already through someone else before she got to our house (why did I take a Tylenol PM the night before so I could sleep in longer?). I bet if I would have gotten up at my normal time, I would have heard it all before and not when I am still half asleep and splashing faucet water all over my face. The Garners received the church prayer request e-mail from Judy Huffman that morning and on that list was my father’s name and a mentioning of the words “hospital” and “Pancreatitis”. I had probably splashed my face with the water that was now filling the partially clogged sink several dozen times as I listened to the news that Sydney Garner had brought.

Usually in movies upon hearing such unwelcomed news, the actor feigns a faint and shrinks to the floor against the wall with the back of the palm resting on the forehead as the character appears to slump into his own world of wild imagination and “what if” scenarios, escalating the intensity and drama of the moment. Cue string quartet music here. I was confused. I felt like doing nothing like what we see in movies, but instead I just dried off my face with the towel hanging on the back of the wash room door, thanked Mrs. Garner for the news, and walked out. As I passed the living room, I could see in the corner of my vision several team members turn in the sofas and follow me out the front door with their eyes; I felt their thoughts. “What’s he thinking? Where’s he going? Is he alright? What should we do? Should someone go out there with him?” I made my way through the shoe room and gently opened the screen door and slipped onto the patio. I was not sure where the composure, both physical and emotional, had come from, but this . . . poise . . . came at the same moment of the news. I looked out over the wall of our compound into the distant landscape of semi-urban Zambia. Nothing else was disturbed in the scene in front of me, the late African morning, and it was the same as any other morning around that time. Everything was calm, everything was as it belongs. I was calm too, belonging to the serenity before me, surrounding me. Something was a constant in this world, something bigger held it all as it should be.

The peace followed me the rest of the day and carried over into the following week. I thought about home a lot over that time. Not just in the United States or Marion, or even my immediate family, though they were never out of my thoughts long. Home is where your heart is, and all day Monday and Tuesday I was home. My heart was with my father, my mother (no doubt she was at his side), my brother (the momentary man of the house and my best friend), those at IWU who I deeply love, my families around Marion, my brother in Lafayette, my brother in Lexington, my families in Cleveland, my family in Harrison Bay, brothers and sisters in Knoxville, my brother in Athens GA, Indy, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Naples, Tennessee, and Ohio. My heart was with each of these because I was home, at peace, and I have Him to thank.

February 8th, 2009

“Why are you downcast, O my soul?”
- Psalm 43:5

Is there ever any reason to be downcast? Actually, there are two reasons, but only two. If we were still unbelievers, we would have a reason to be downcast; or if we have been converted but continue to live in sin, we are downcast as a consequence.

Except for these two conditions, there is never a reason to be downcast, for everything else may be brought to God “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving” (Phil. 4:6). And through all our times of need difficulty, and trials, we may exercise faith in the power and love of God.

“Surely I am with you always.”
- Matthew 28:20

Never look ahead to the changes and challenges of this life in fear. Instead, as they arise look at them with the full assurance that God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them. Hasn’t He kept you safe up to now? So hold His loving hand tightly, and He will lead you safely through all things. And when you cannot stand, He will carry you in His arms.
- Francis de Sales

This is the day’s excerpt from Streams in the Desert, my daily devotional.

February 5th, 2009

“My Immortal” by Evanescence. . . Redone

Man - “These wounds won’t seem to heal. This pain is just too real. There’s just too much that time cannot erase!

The Lord - “When you cried, I’d wipe away all of your tears. When you’d scream, I’d fight away all of your fears. I held your hand through all of these years, but you still have ALL OF ME.”

Man - “I tried so hard to tell myself that you’re gone, but though you’re still with me, I’ve been alone all along.”

The Lord - “When you cried, I’d wipe away all of your tears. When you’d scream, I’d fight away all of your fears. I held your hand through all of these years, but you still have ALL OF ME.”

This is actually my rearrangement of the song “My Immortal” by the rock group Evanescence. I have created a dialogue between a man and God out of the lyrics to the song. I have NO idea what the lyricist of the song was meaning, but I know what I have gotten out of their words and made them my own.

Man’s first lines are a crying out from his soul. His words are a pure and honest revealing of all that he has locked up inside. The Lord responds and says that whether you have chosen to see me or not, I have been alongside you the whole time and never forgotten you. The Lord says that even though He has done so much that Man does not acknowledge, Man still has all of the Lord. This reminds me of the words to a worship song that goes like this:

“and all of You is more than enough for
All of me, for every thirst and
Every need. You satisfy me
With Your love, and all I have in You
Is more than enough.
More than all I want, more than all I need;
You are more than enough for me.”

Even though the Lord has just told Man that Man still has all of the Lord, Man will still not believe that He has not been fighting through all of this himself. Man cries out in his second line words with this effect, “I did not choose to acknowledge Your presence in my life. For that reason, even though You WERE there, I was alone because of my pride and unwillingness to let You guide me through.”

The Lord’s words remain the same when He speaks again, for the second time. He still means every word that He says. However, this time, I imagine Him thinking something along the lines of this before while He is speaking, “SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO WHAT I AM SAYING! I am still here with you. I don’t care anymore that you ignored me for so long! Just come back to me! Let go of your pride, let go of your desire to do it all alone, because you can’t! I have put all of this hardship in your life so that you will draw NEARER, not so that you will shy away! So again, SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO WHAT I SAY! YOU STILL HAVE ALL OF ME!”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

February 4th, 2009

Don't hold your breath... Might want to grab a drink and order some pizza too. It's a doozy.

Sunday, I woke up a few minutes early and washed a couple pieces of clothing in the bath tub before having breakfast and walking down for church at nine. I had Kellogg’s Frosties, aka Frosted Flakes, for the first time since being here, and I just want everyone to know that cereal will never be the same again. The mild they have here is nothing like milk in the States. It’s “full cream” and is not refrigerated. Basically, it’s like dumping twenty of those restaurant cups of coffee creamer onto perfectly crunchy cereal and witnessing the transformation to mush in about three seconds. Not to be defeated by the Zambian Dairy Gods, I recognized the challenge and proceeded to shovel the bowl into my mouth as fast as possible, racing the eternal clock of cereal sogginess, to see if my last flake would have given into the Parmalat boxed milk or resisted to succumb to such a travesty and held out its crunchiness until the bitter end. Needless to say, I won the culinary Ridge Racer out of dedication, determination, and total disregard for any Dairy Deity and its devoted, damned demons. Indubitably! (“Damned” is used here as a reference to the demons’ hellishness, just a disclaimer for anyone who would totally flip out and probably tell their R.A. In the words of Maity Pete, “Get serious!”)

The guest pastor Sunday was . . . interesting. He began by prefacing his sermon with a pastor’s version of a Surgeon General’s Warning about his level of charisma. Now, you know when a pastor has to warn an already boisterous congregation of his super-cosmic decibel level, one of two things will happen. The first is that he actually has the voice of God and that we should flip off our sandals faster than Moses before the Burning Bush, else we risk being smitten by some unseen force of the Holy Ghost, like Mel Gibson and his hatchet in The Patriot. Or secondly, this guy is going to be utterly ridiculous. My soul is glad that the latter proved to be true. My ears took the beating of his voice like a couple of champs, especially since he kept going until almost 13:45 (yah, it’s like that here) and our group from Mochipapa Church nearly missed lunch entirely.

Later in the afternoon, we had our Sunday vespers and for the second week in a row our beloved, invited guests, the WHIZ staff, failed to show. And for the second week in a row, we just spent the time as planned, going through our order of worship and reflection with the company of each other. For those who may be curious about our weekly vespers, you are more than welcome to join us every Sunday at 16:00 at Mochipapa Pilgrim Church. Just kidding! But seriously, if you would want to do so, and make the two days of travel one way to join us, you are most welcome to. We might even let you have some of Mrs. Bhota’s famous peanut butter cookies, if you’re lucky… Back to vespers; what we do is read one passage of scripture each from the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms, one of the four Gospels, and an epistle. Interspersed between these readings are worship choruses, times of prayer for confession or governments around the globe or whatever has been predetermined for that week, and readings from other sources such as the Common Book of Prayer or one of our own daily devotionals. Each segment of the service is presented by a different member of our team and emceed, or directed, by the real MC himself, yours truly, Michael Clarke. I have never done a single thing of the sort before this semester, but I truly feel that this is something the Lord wants me to do while I am here, maybe just for the reason of never doing anything like it before. Who knows? But I enjoy it very much. I hope the WHIZ staff begins to join us soon. I think they would enjoy the differences in worship styles like we appreciate at our churches.

Monday, I read, slept, ate, and went for a walk with Brandon, Leah, Kara, and Mama Margie. At the point where we decided to turn around and head back home, it began to rain. It was not just any ordinary rain storm either. I am talking about monsoon from the Discovery Channel kind of rain, God’s wrath kind of rain. I didn’t shower that day; the Lord already did that for me. I think Brittany got some pictures of us once we got back so I’ll ask her to try and put one up on the internet. She brought her Macbook Pro. I have a Fujitsu LifeBook Car Booster Seat Edition. Mine is just not the ideal multi-media machine for such advanced things like up-loading photos, you could say.

Tuesday, yesterday (Halfway there!), was the most eventful of my last several days. Leah and I worked with Henry, Rhoda, and Peggy in Reach4Life, which is their more spiritually focused of the two youth-abstinence and AIDS prevention programs that World Hope offers. In the morning, we went over how leaders are trained and the basic logistics of R4L, but in the afternoon we visited Choma High and saw the classes that were participating after school. The muzungus, or white people, aka us, were welcomed to each class like rock stars. It was weird. Henry, the director of R4L in Zambia, said each of our names and asked a couple of us to give a few words each time, and we found out that the more energetically “cool” we waved, the louder they greeted us when we said our names. The salute was wildly popular. It was unnerving, truthfully, to know that most of our visits, and interactions with most youth in general, were just short bits of entertainment for those we have met. I would venture to say that over three quarters of the time we are someone’s special guest; our purpose is to play the role of celebrity muzungu rather than going beyond being gawked at and actually talking genuinely about anything of depth or substance. It angers me. I’m taking a break to relax before I come back and finish this entry. I need to cool off.

Alright. Today. Wednesday. I woke up at 8:16am, needing to be down at the World Hope compound by 8:30 for morning devotionals with the staff. I do not know how I got dressed and ready down to the church without killing myself. My vision was still rather cloudy half-way into the worship time! That was after mall-walking the ten minute road in less than five. I was so out of it. After devos, I sat down on our porch at the picnic table with a cup of coffee and started writing this. So far, so good today, I guess. Later, we have a meeting called to discuss our time here so far. I am very ready to voice some of my concerns about our effectiveness, especially in tandem with out World Hope friends. I will let you know more of my opinions once the meeting is over and I have listened to the others, and especially our leaders, for their rebuttal and reasoning.

Okay, so the meeting went alright; it could have been better or worse. Our team met with World Hope’s Country Director Elvin Chilundika and the Central Office of Johannesburg’s Director of Community and Orphan Trusts for all of Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, and Zambia. I will not venture to spell her name. These two individuals are the big deals for World Hope in Africa. For those of you familiar with IWU, imagine individuals like Todd Voss and Bud Bence, or even Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. Again, I think that last one was over the line, but you get the point. We went over broad topics like weather or not WHIZ is meeting all of our needs, expectations from before arriving, things we have learned, problems we face, and the like. They seemed most interested in things concerning comfort and daily life. I, along with many others, feel surprising at ease here in Choma. In fact, I am disappointing comfortable. I do not feel stretched in most capacities. World Hope provides for ever aspect of life. I am frustrated. I live in another bubble. I left IWU to be uncomfortable, not replace the cushion for another just like it. I did share this view, albeit in a much more professional vocabulary and an appreciative tone; but I also wanted certain understanding of the situation. My other main issue that I brought to light during the meeting was the lack of “study abroad”; rather we have a “social service abroad”. I have accepted this fact, but I also replaced the vacancy left in its absence with a concern for significance in our partnership with World Hope. Because of our schedule and rotation of work groups between the three main vocations of the organization, I do not feel that our extended time, relative to the typical ten day missions teams’ short stay, is not being utilized most effectively for the most benefit. As soon as we become comfortable with one program, we are moved shortly after to the next for orientation and a quick look of that program. It comes down to the question of either going a mile wide but only an inch deep or going an inch wide and a mile deep. Being an individual who seeks optimization and true, deep understanding and knowledge, I prefer staying in one area the whole time and truly being effective for WHIZ. I had a taste of the shallow but widespread idea in Jim Vermilya’s Philosophy 180 class and absolutely hated it. In the end, I left with nearly as little understanding as when I first sat in his class. This experience is no different. I am equally deeply unsettled about this.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 28, 2009

Wednesdays are typically uneventful. We have morning devotionals at eight thirty with the WHIZ staff at Mochipapa Church, and classes are held later in the afternoon after we all have a bite of Mrs. Bota’s cooking. I don’t generally do much on days like today apart from the necessary schoolwork and napping. The latter probably being the most exciting on any day of the week. Naps here are often unplanned and gratefully accepted whenever the mood strikes. The squawking of the larger, crow-like birds are incessant but welcomed, as the wind is the only other soft sound that muffles the traffic through the neighborhood. The larger diesel engines are not exactly conducive to an ideal afternoon ciesta. I could read right now but after finishing three books in the past three days outside of my required reading I am content with enjoying the company of the others out here on the porch and sifting through the thoughts.

“I just wanna shoot that bird!” Brittany is evidently quite fed up with the background noise I have come to enjoy. Ethan is adding to the “Porch Philharmonic Symphony” with a finger roll drum session on his book and quite the exaggerated expulsion of mucus via “Snot Rocket”. Hmm, that last part was a bit much but is already making me laugh to myself enough to merit various glances from everyone around me. Ben is sitting at the same wooden picnic table as I am, clicking away on his laptop with enough speed to make me question the rental computer’s ability to keep up. In all seriousness, it once took my loaner computer over five minutes to load the “My Computer” window after I double-clicked on its desktop shortcut. Two words: un, real. They double better as expensive booster seats for Leah and Mrs. Garner than they operate for their assumed intended purpose of RAM-hogging, hard-drive crashing things like word-processing and saving files to a USB drive. Leah and Kara (Brittany is cracking me up! “I’m going to rip that bird outta that tree and rip ALL its feathers off!!) are “sun-bathing” while they go through whatever books they have to read.

The power-lines’ transformers just blew across the street for the second time since we have been here, so I can see the sparks flying. This time it wasn’t nearly as loud, or spectacular. I think the reasons for the early Fourth of July celebrations are all the rich Indians in our neighborhood sucking electricity up faster than I would an Ivanhoe’s dessert by turning on their satellites that would make NASA jealous so they can catch up on all the exciting cricket developments. I wouldn’t think that they have to keep it on all day, because –let’s face it- cricket takes all year to finish a single game with all those crazy rules and ways of scoring. If you have ever heard of Calvinball, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, then you know exactly the type of sport I think cricket is. It’s getting close to lunch time, at least my stomach says so, and my stomach is slowly taking over decision-making responsibility as of late. I could really go for more of that Nshima (pronounced sheema) and chicken right now.

One last thought for now: I really want to bungee-jump off the Zambia-Zimbabwe Bridge overlooking Victoria Falls whenever we visit. However, the more I think about it, the more sheer terror takes the place of genuine desire or intrigue. It’s so FLIPPIN HIGH above the Zambezi River! Look at some pictures right now of that bridge. Google it. Seriously. Now tell me why on earth I seriously want to do it? I’ve lost my mind.

Three Books I Just Finished and My Thoughts:
1) The Shack: mediocre; decent story; corny; predictable; “feel-good” fiction
2) Epic: John Eldridge, author of Wild at Heart, has a pretty fresh perspective on life; also is sweet to read about my namesake, the warrior archangel
3) The Infidel: great book. Story of John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”; realistic; frustrating; historically relevant

January 26, 2009

Today, we returned to the village trust of Jembo. Seven members of our team piled into the Land Cruiser, along with the driver, three World Hope staffers from Choma, and we picked up two more Field Officers once we were part of the way there. Thirteen of us crammed into one vehicle. We rode with three in the front, four in the back seat, and SIX in the very back with no seat. Clearly, it was not the best traveling arrangement for a two ride through the African bush.

We have been to Jembo once before for a Trust Assessment, which is World Hope’s way of evaluating their financially-supported communities on development and ability to provide food and finances for their people. On this visit, Leah and I split from the rest of the group and accompanied two World Hope staff members to Jembo’s primary school. World Hope wants to establish one of their HIV/AIDS awareness programs at the school in the coming months. So, our objective was to meet with all students in Grade 9, and discuss various topics about the virus to gain a better understanding of what information the students may already know, what they still need to learn about the virus and methods of prevention, and whether or not the program would be effective if placed at the school. The students’ lack of knowledge concerned me, but even more disturbing was the resistance to discuss the issue at all. I knew that they have never had the type of health education that we receive in the States, but the stigmatization that their culture adds to the already difficult issue creates a pretty tough barrier to overcome when organizations like WHIZ and World Vision are trying to increase awareness.

Once we finished at Jembo and met up with the rest of the group who had gone to do something at the secondary school (I am not sure really what they did while the four of us were at the primary), the thirteen of us loaded back into the Cruiser and started back towards Choma. We stopped about a third of the way back at Pemba to do the same thing. Unfortunately, the bumpy “roads” were really getting to me and I had to sit this session out. I tried to sleep in the back of the truck, seeing if that would help, but it did not work. I ate some lunch, just a PB&J sandwich that we had brought along, and hoped I would not lose it on the rest of the ride back home. Brittany was my lifesaver and volunteered to ride in the very back, traditionally the place where the guys ride because there are no seats, so I could sit in backseat. It was still super cramped but this time I was facing forward, next to a window, and on a cushion. I love the Land Cruisers, but every once in a while, they get pretty tough for my stomach to handle.

In the end, we all made it back and I was able to go to bed. I just woke up recently to the smell of Mrs. Bota’s cooking. Though when I went into the kitchen, I could not tell what exactly it was that she was preparing for us. Oh well, maybe it’s one of those things where I don’t really want to know until after I have already finished and it has been digested.

Monday, January 26, 2009

January 21, 2009 (I know, it's out of order, so CHILL OUT!)

“I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me.”
-Acts 20:24

“When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him.” (The moment we receive anything from the Lord worth fighting for, the Devil comes seeking to destroy us.)
-2 Samuel 5:17

When the enemy confronts us at the threshold of any great work for God, we should accept it as evidence of our salvation, and claim double the blessing, victory, and power. Power is developed through resistance.

Great is the easy conqueror;
Yet the one who is wounded sore,
Breathless, all covered o’er with blood and sweat,
Sinks fainting, but fighting evermore –
Is greater yet.

For Christmas, my brother framed a picture of me playing in goal at last year’s national tournament. Below the image was a poem entitled “Heart of a Champion”. It was written before our win at the national tournament this year, making it all the more special to me. The title was so perfect. It showed that he knew what meant the most to me in every season I’ve played, both the seasons of soccer and in the greater game of life. Winning isn’t just coming out on top. True winning isn’t being able to put a ring on my finger or a medal around my neck. Winning, or even better, being a Champion is something that rises up from the soul, an attitude you carry each and every day of life. My championship trophy actually has very little to do with anything that happened on the field down in Florida this past December, though I will cherish the memory forever. I get to enjoy it whenever I’m with my family. My trophy is an everlasting one. My trophy is in my heart, and He keeps it safe.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 23, 2009

If you have yet to realize that my blog and my journal are one and the same, know that I write for myself as I would in a journal but, also, that I write for the sake of those who may so happen upon my blog. So, I do note some things I would otherwise keep to myself and my journal, while taking the time to remember and recount the particulars I do not necessarily need yet are provided for those far away and seeking a window into my life as I can be with them for some time. Think of it as an open confidence of sorts.

Every good piece of writing answers a question. And life is full of puzzles, struggles, and questions. Each individual answers these with different replies, arrived upon through different views and experiences. I think that since journals are meant to reflect a brief moment in our lives, then it is only right to think about the questions I am dealing with in my time here in Africa, recording my thoughts in a way that highways have scenic overlooks to provide a place for travelers to rest and take in a moment of brief reflections or ponderance for a worthy landscape view.
My question, one that has sat and risen in my mind over the past couple of days like a batch of good homemade sourdough bread, concerns a very circumstantially relevant topic. When I am surrounded, or even completely submersed, with a culture that is lacking so many “things”, what can I extract, what can I gain, what is it that I can take away from my time here in Zambia.

Maybe the lesson to note, the idea to learn, the thing to keep is given to me in the answer that is really part of the question. Maybe what I should gain is hidden in what I need to lack. But such backwards and riddling thoughts develop another, tougher question: Can less actually add to the whole being? Even as I write these words, I have begun to develop another retort. The answer is obvious in my mind, and actually I am quite sarcastic as I argue with myself. Is not simplicity of the soul what we gain from emptying ourselves to the Lord so He can take root in the vacancy? If the Lord lives inside my heart, my consciousness, my everything, then there cannot possibly be room for anything more that is not of Him. If I want to grow, then I must also want to let go, to lose, and to give up in equal amounts to vacate the space for what truly belongs in my life.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 16th, 2009

Today I received a message from one of my closest of friends. As I had jokingly done with many friends back home, I promised to bring him back some African wildlife. His choice was a lion. Much to my dismay, no wild lions are to be found prowling the streets of Choma. I don’t know what I’m going to say to him when I return empty handed. “Sorry that I promised to bring you the most ferocious animal in the world and failed, not because I was unwilling or inept or without the courage to go out into the bush with a chair and whip to tame it myself, but because they just don’t have many right now at the local flea market. The only ones they do have are young and without mane.” Just look at it this way. If I am going to import any Kings of the Jungle, they sure as Hades better look and act the part. I mean, what would it say about my discretion if I just bring him back an itty bitty cub that would be in danger of being beaten up by my two drastically over-fed, lazy house cats? Well, the answer is “not much”.

Anyways, this friend that I promised such a wild gift upon my arrival back in the States told me that he was praying for me. Before this message, he had only told me this once before. It was the on the eve of my journey to Africa, at Buffalo Wild Wings. Usually, I consider it very caring and thoughtful when I hear those words from anyone. I know they mean it, and I do appreciate it very, very much. Coming from this individual, however, those words mean so much more. The reason why what he said, twice, means so much to me stems from the nature of our friendship.

He is one of my best friends, and has been for many years now. We played soccer together and took all the same classes in High School. We have many of the same friends. We visit each other’s house regularly. He is one of the guys who was nicest to me when I first moved from Tennessee to Indiana before my freshman year at Marion. The only area I ever felt out of place or lacking in our friendship was in our spirituality. He knows I am a Christian. He knows I go to a conservative school at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is very familiar with the rules and lifestyle at my school. I know that he believes in God and I always thought about and guessed about his faith. However, for some reason we never really talked about it much. To be honest, I cannot say for sure what exactly he believes. My BEST FRIEND! I feel very disheartened by this and I am so discouraged by the idea of not knowing such a crucial part of the life of someone I consider to know so well. It hurts me, at this very moment, to think about how cowardly I have been to not even bring it up. Even now I hesitate to bring this out in the open, being vulnerable where I know he will see.

So to you, best friend, who has so often accepted me as family, I tell you this:

Your prayers mean more to me than you could ever know. Just the fact that I am comforted more by your statement that you will keep me in your prayers than by anyone else’s brings me peace. I want you to know this. So, in return, I would have you know that I, too, am praying for you. No matter where you are, whether it’s at the Sig Ep house or at Taco Bell getting a couple chicken quesadillas, always with extra jalapeno sauce, or back at home playing with Kona, you are in my prayers. I love you as a brother. I can’t wait to see you when I have finished what God has planned for me here in Zambia. I miss ya man.

~ Bravages

January 12th, 2009

Amazing, blessed, and kind are the men and women of World Hope.

Today, our team ws invited to join the Whiz Staff in their annual grand meeting. It was basically a Who’s Who of the staff, with each attendee sharing what their title is, what program or trust they lead, and what news the rest of the staff should be informed of. Some of the people were program directors, some were officers, others were support staff, and another eventually was introduced as World Hope International’s Country Director himself. These guys were the big deals, and yet they all spoke with a certain humility that, by their presentations alone, one would hardly suspect these people are responsible for the daily sustenance and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people. The character evident in each member of the staff is a testimony to the quiet strength of the people of this land. Who else in this world could suffer through HIV/AIDS epidemics, malaria epidemics, cholera epidemics, poverty without parallel anywhere else on the planet, starvation, and much much more? And all the while, they smile and rejoice, praising the Lord for his unending grace, mercy, love and providence. I have never experience anything like this.

Back to the conference. I forgot to mention how long it was. It was six hours in length. Now that does not sound unbearable, long and uncomfortably maybe, but not unbearable. Then, add no air conditioning or even a fan for circulation. Also, throw in the seating. Are you familiar with the wooden benches at many campgrounds? Ya know, the ones that look as if someone just went to Lowe’s, bought some 2 X 4s, and nailed it all together with only the minimum of sanding and preparation. Needless to say, they are not the most comfortable benches. I am complaining. I’ll stop now. I’m truly sorry for that. But it was LONG.

Towards the end, we were all given the culture’s traditional piece of clothing called a “chitenge”. The Country Director himself then named us brothers and sisters of Zambia. I never would have thought that being honored with a 3 ½’ X 3 ½’ brightly colored, patterned material would make me feel so special and loved. Thus presentation spoke to me the most by far.

Jeff, the area Chief, the leader of WHIZ in Choma, has told us many times that we are a special group. He shares many stories with us that he claims not to have been shared to most other teams. And from hearing the stories of other missions teams that have come here, that means we are in for some wild but fantastic things. In the words of a fellow Zambia Teammate Elijah, “It’s Gametime! God is about to do WORK up in this piece!” I am not one to throw around the “M” word much (miracle, that is), but Jeff knows missions and has been around for a long, long time. If he says it is possible, then I believe it is possible. More importantly, because the Lord says it is possible, I know it is possible.

Today, Monday, was our third day in Africa and our third day in one of WHIZ’s rental homes. The compound, originally projected to be finished by New Year’s Day, is still needing lots of work. We visited our future home compound down the road and the construction foreman said it should be a little over a week before we get to move in. Another staffer gave it two weeks. By the looks of it, I give the finishing of the construction four weeks. I know the workers are good, but no one is THAT good. Cross your fingers though, because I have yet to access the internet and any learning tools necessary for my independent study. This is new building in crucial to my lack of stress in the coming months.

Today was eventful, to say the least, so I’m looking forward to sleeping in until 9am tomorrow morning and then playing soccer with the children for the first time later in the afternoon. So at that, I leave this for another day. Goodnight!

P.S. The mangy dogs are fighting again. They are so loud, it’s unbelievable. Why won’t one of them win already?

January 11th, 2009

Back for more, eh? You English Kiniggits! (I apologize for that, but so far I have not found a soul who can relate to Monty Python with me.)

On a more serious note, I would like to share the topic verse of my devotional today and my thoughts, a quotation, and a poem on the same idea.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Isaiah 40:1

You will be wounded so that in the binding up of your wounds by the Great Physician, you many learn how to render first aid to the wounded everywhere. You will know why you are afflicted.

“God comforts us not to make us comfortable but to make us comforters.”
- John Henry Jowett

They tell me I must bruise the rose’s leaf,
Ere I can keep and use its fragrance brief.
They tell me I must break the skylark’s heart,
Ere her cage song will make the silence start.
They tell me love must bleed and friendship weep,
Ere in my deepest need I touch that deep.
Must it always be so with precious things?
Must they be bruised and go with beaten wings?
Ah, yes! by crushing days, by caging nights, by scar
of thorn and stony ways, these blessing are!

For here I sit, thinking of her once again,
Though I swore never to do so again,
To leave the scars to heal, but no.
No, I again peek into dear Pandora’s Box,
I uncover the wounds from their wrappings,
Experiencing that which is raw and untamed,
All. Over. Again.
For how many years will this go on?
For how many years will the memories,
Memories of what once was and should forever be,
For how many years will they torment me?
I suspect it is all in vain, as it has been ever since.
Cursed Hope! Leave me Alone!

- Author Unknown

January 10th, 2009

We have arrived in Choma. It was another long day of traveling, yet again. We left Wednesday, flew through the night to Amsterdam, flew most of the next day to Johannesburg, and spent the night in a hotel. Today’s flight took us from Jo’burg to Livingstone. The distance of this leg of our travels pales in comparison to the others, but it was no less draining. The unplanned stop over in Victoria Falls did not help, nor did the fact that single runway airstrip was situated on the Zimbabwen side of the falls, Mugabe’s backyard. If you are not one to follow much on the international politics and news scene, let me just tell you why this unfortold lay-over is a big deal. Mugabe has been accused of such atrocities as slaughtering his own people, withholding the distribution of funds throughout the country, staging his own coup to seize such power in the first place, and reducing the value of the local currency’s exchange rate with the dollar to something very to close to 5,000,000,007.2 : $1. If you still don’t understand the plight of Zambia’s southern neighbor, well, I don’t know. Go read a book or something. Anywho, it’s nothing to be worried about. After all we are much more likely to die from one of the many epidemics sweeping the continent than being killed by some dictatorially raging buffoon. Well, at least Malaria and Cholera are more threatening to us than President Mugabe, but not so much HIV/AIDS. At least I hope we all have better discretion than running around this country contracting STDs from random strangers. After all, we have had World Changers and that prepares us for ANYTHING… ever, right?

So, we arrived at last at the Livingstone airport, disembarked, and immediately were overcome by the heaviness of the heart. Sure we expected Africa to be hot, but the sweltering sun soon assured us we were in a place altogether separate in every way from our home. We met Jeff Johnson after proceeding through customs. Jeff is the big deal, head honcho, founding missionary of the place we are staying. We then loaded up the bus with all of our luggage, all sixteen of us from IWU, Jeff, his friend Maureen, and some other random dude and headed towards Choma. After approximately ten minutes and thirty three and one half seconds, the road became more of a guideline or suggested path of travel than anything else. Pavement still existed, but it must not be very well liked by the drivers, as I found myself being thrown up and down and sideways as the bus traveled along the shoulders of the road. I guess it was necessary though since the road itself had so many gigantic potholes that it looked more like a mortar-shell practice range than anything else. I mean, this thing they called a highway made the Marion streets seem like the Yellow Brick Road or something.

The road was bumpy, we were tired, and I was ready to ask if we could get out and walk the rest of the way, or maybe buy a bike off some kid and get all Lance Armstrong-like and Tour de Zambia my way to Choma. Then I remembered a few things. First, there weren’t really any road signs. B) We stopped a couple minutes after the thought crept into my mind. And Four, Lance Armstrong retired. I actually heard he’s coming out of retirement to race in le Tour again. I hope he doesn’t pull a Brett Favre. But all of that is neither here nor there. We stopped for a brief period in Zimba, halfway to our destination and three quarters of the way to “I’ve Had Enough of This Stupid Bus”. The home at which we reposed for a short while belonged to a missionary who had graduated from Indiana Wesleyan many years ago, and the rest was much appreciated. It was after meeting her and laying on her couch that I had an epiphany. It was the last big of proof that my mind required before conceding that IWU is in fact seeking to take over the entire world. The faculty at school are not actually developing students in “World Changers”. Rather, we students are being molded into a weaponless missionary gustappo, a righteous variation of Hitler’s Youth, sent out by the Fuhrer himself, Henry Smith, to bring all of God’s creation into the IWU bubble. And here I am, naïve in the extreme, thinking the Wesleyans only held an Atilla the Hun-esque thirst for anything and everything below 38th street. Man, was I wrong! Am I still rambling? I apologize, but not really. I’m having way too much fun to stop now.

After about twenty minutes rest in Zimba, Zambia, we loaded back onto the bus, closed the sardine can, and made our way onto a read road not made of the finest swiss cheese Africa could offer. The smoothness of the road was much appreciated, as was the rain that began shortly and continued until we had arrived in Choma. God then saw fit to turn off His sprinkler-system-on-steroids-gone-rogue immediately after the guys finished unloading the baggage in the torrential downpour, with the fairer members of the team waiting so patiently under the porch to carry it all inside. We then got cleaned up and had a dinner of chicken and rice, sheema, green beans, and bottled orange Fanta to wash it all down. I decided it was more delicious and much more nutritious than anything you suckers still having to eat Baldwin have. Okay, that was mean. I love Baldwin. But this sheema stuff is unreal. If I had to compare the goodness of it to a regular Baldwin meal, I would put it up against the amazing grilled cheese and tomato soup with sweet potato fries, which is one of my favorites back at school. After several rounds of tasting and judging eat item from both meals, the cafeteria food versus the native food, I would give it a tie. Honestly, I like them both a lot. However, the tie breaker goes to Zambia and Mrs. Bota, our cook, for the bottled orange Fanta and the fact that she threw it all together in a very, very short time. It was a great run Baldwin, but I must challenge Robby and the rest and of the Baldwin Dining Hall staff to step up their game. These people make some good grub.

Las but not least before I go to bed, I just want you to know there are some dogs fighting just a couple blocks away. I can hear them because the window is open for hope of an airflow, and the insects. The insects are tight. These bugs are ginormous, and any color you could imagine, even clear! I mean seriously, God had his A-game going on in the creativity category when was working on these puppies. Three dogs it sounds like. Two smaller ones and one larger one, by the sound of their barks and snarls. They’re rather distracting, really. Kind of annoying even. Michael Vick, if you’re reading this, you could probably start a pretty lucrative operation over here once you get out of that cell with your best friend, cellmate, and probably unintentional lover named “Bubba”. It’s now way past when I should be in bed in order to get up for church on time, so with no further ado and with no more gilding the lily, goodnight and good luck…? That doesn’t make any sense.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Setting the Right Mindset...

"Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen."

This quote is a prayer by Peter Marshall, Senate Chaplain, offered at the opening of the session on March 10, 1948. It seems so wise and enlightening, inspiring, and even motivating to the point where one feels that pull deep inside to bring justice and righteousness to a world we envision to be lacking in such areas. I, too, have a great desire to be an impact in my time in Zambia, and actually in life in general for I have always heard a calling from deep inside my soul that cries out and demands that I leave this world enhanced in some capacity, whether great or small, from when I first came into it. For this reason, I have a heartfelt attachment to this quote, and many maxims similar to it, as I long for such a legacy. Marshall's words encourage me to do, make, mend, build, and affect in any way I can as soon as I can. 

For such attachment, I feel betrayed by my own pride. God does not call us to do His will in this way, and if we are to truly impact the lives of those we meet in our time away, we must do the exact opposite of what Marshall would have us do. Other cultures do not approach life in the same way, with the same mindsets, that we do. We look upon the world, upon what is different, and we see potential. We see opportunity for change, improvement, and correction. We critique, think of other and "better" ways to do things. These ways are "faster", "better", "more efficient", "less costly", "stronger". As I analyze my surroundings, I cannot help but want to DO. I cannot help but desire to HELP. Unfortunately, this often means that I fail to truly UNDERSTAND, and if we as a team are to make any difference in the lives of these people we will live among we must WAIT, BE PATIENT, and TRUST that what needs to be done, if anything, will be done. All will be accomplished in due time, and that due time is actually HIS due time. The Lord's timing is the only timing that matters in this world, regardless of how meticulously I schedule my day or how punctual I arrive at an engagement. 

The places we will go will not run on such a hurried pace, and though problems may be dire and a needing desperate change, my first duty is to RESPECT, WAIT, and LISTEN to the people, the situations, and circumstances before ACTING or DOING or HELPING. Only in this manner do I believe I could truly understand the people and be ready to provide assistance, if such assistance is still needed. Changing my typically Western Culture mindset will not be easy, but it is most necessary and the sooner I put these words into the practice, the more effective I can be.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bratcher Goes to Zambia - Spring 2009

Hello to any and all who read find, or stumble across, my account of my adventures in Zambia. However, I have never done a "blog" before so bare with me as I try to get the hang of this. Eventually, I plan to be posting regularly about our events of the day, week, special trip, or event. I might even be able to put pictures on here, but I will have to double check. Like I said, I'm new at this.

Also, feel free to reply, comment, post your own stuff, or whatever you desire to do. If you have any questions you would like me to answer regarding my trip, the scenery, or anything else, ask me and I will do my best to hook you up with a satisfactory retort. If there is anything particular you would like me to photograph, such as our compound or the local kids playing soccer, tell me. I would be more than willing to oblige. After all, my parents, uhh I mean "Santa Claus", got me a digital camera for Christmas.

Okay, well that's good enough for starters. It's late, and I have orientation bright and early tomorrow morning (and oh how excited I am to not sleep in anymore!). Enjoy!