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.