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, na├»ve 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!