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To Market, To Market

18 Jul

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Its only 6 miles to town.  The donkey carries the grain to sell.  Maybe her husband has the mini-van.  Not.  Our young mother has the steering wheel/accelerator/brake in one hand, the air-conditioner in the other and her baby on her back.  After selling the grain, the next stop is “Walmart”.  Then back home in time to fix the evening meal.  She will not be bringing home, a fat pig, even though she will be bringing home the bacon; the orthodox Christians do not eat pork.  For most caught in the web of rural poverty, meat is only for rare holidays.  This mommy has a donkey and an umbrella; she probably has more financial status than most.  It is the abject poverty that steals hope and shapes every dimension of life for rural families.  It is a cruel master and offers only false hope’s promise in the words of any evil panhandler talking of gold over the rainbow behind the next hill.  Young girls risk life and all trusting in the lies that lead them to the city for a supposed better life.

Water Brigade

13 Jul

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Trekking home.  Each girl has a yellow water container of approximately five gallons tied on her back.  You can tell they are 40 pounds full by the girl’s posture.  The direction they are headed…its uphill for a long way.  Would you guess their ages to be 14-16 years old?  This is their daily journey, school has to wait or maybe they just never get an opportunity for an education.  Their duty is to serve their families on the water brigade.  No education and no job skills is the foundation for the difficult lives we see as a backdrop for our beneficiaries.  When they end up in Addis, maybe pregnant or with a young child in tow, on the street with no certain future, we reach out and offer an opportunity for hope.  Sharing this hope in their hearts with health services, job skills training, and education support if those children are of school age.

Planting Season in Ethiopia

10 Jul

IMG_4387Farming is a grueling profession.  

Especially when you take away the 48 row planter and the GPS controlled guidance systems.  Maybe this steering  is not a global positioning system but instead, a good prodding switch.  While there is some mechanized farming done in Ethiopia, the two ox tillage technique comprises a vast majority of the agriculture production.  So as you sit in the air-conditioned cab listening to your favorite stereo music with a productivity apparatus capable of feeding the world, pray for your agricultural colleagues here in  Ethiopia who are putting in long days just to feed their families.

You’re Kidding…How much?

6 Jul

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Sometimes you just know it is not the news you were hoping to hear.  I watched as our friend descended the stairs with, hands in pockets, chin on chest, one step at a time, always leading with the same foot.  This time the “forienge wagga” (price for foreigners), was just too high.  The gatekeeper assumed that we had driven a long way and that we would pay an exorbitant price rather than walk away.  He was wrong.  We walked.  But even the exterior shots and the landscapes made the trip worthwhile.

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and

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All was not lost.  We were able to see the interior of a rock-hewn church at the next stop.

Peace in Ethiopia

29 Jun

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Tell me about your peace with God.  Tell me by saying something different than the standard repetitive phrases that are regurgitated by tongues in rote but not felt in the soul.  Tell me something from your heart that confirms to me that you have felt something given from God.  Tell me what it is not, if you are in the process of redefining after a remarkable revelation.  Don’t focus on lost and found; that is for car keys or wallets.  Tell me about the changes it has brought to your mind.  What part does it have in your worship and praise?  Do you long for a deeper relationship with a Heavenly Father; is this peace not part of the equation?

When I think of what peace could be in Ethiopia, I think of absence of conflict and hardship.  I think of good will shared by mankind of different tribes and faiths.  I know that peace within and between nations is given of God and orchestrated by men.  But mankind must truly know peace with God if they are to achieve living in it.  There is no modernly practiced religion capable of bringing peace to Ethiopia, or America, or any other country.  And contrary to contemporary thought, the absence of religion will not bring it either.  The equality of all religions is actually the most absurd hope of all for achieving peace.  It is simply beyond the selfish and zealous bent in human natural minds to achieve.  Two absolute truths cannot exist in the same paradigm.  And if compromised absolute truths are necessary for democracy’s existence, then democracies will ultimately fail.

If you can tell me about your Peace with God, then you can effectively share it with others.  Create a desire for what you have, so great, that your listener would give anything to have the same; even a change in their current absolute truth.  As we experience peace with God, only then can we talk about the eternal hope to be shared in hearts and the hope for peace of nations.  Those who would have nothing to share should be envious enough of those of us who do, to be ready to listen, if we speak with love rather than hatred, violence, superiority, or self-righteousness.

A wise prophet once spoke, “God will keep the person in perfect peace, whose mind is fixed on Him.”  Praise God there is a perfect source for that perfect peace.

Ethiopian Malady

24 Jun

(It is long, but please read, it may make you laugh)

I now have a new definition for the sickest one week period I have ever spent in my life.  That includes appendicitis, although Don and Susie may not agree with me on that one after their family accompanied ours on an Emergency Surgery Extravaganza Weekend Excursion (ESEWE for short, kinda’ like WAWASEE, only it is not a lake and you don’t need a speed boat) to Columbus, Ohio a few years back now.  And no, it was not from some critter I ate or from some critter that was eating on me.

What started as a common head cold, worsened to bronchitis and sinusitis four days before our staff prayer and planning retreat.  An antibiotic prescription, a slight recovery, a short airline flight all led up to Saturday night.  My head and ears just did not equalize when we landed in Bahir Dar and my head voice sounded like I was talking from inside of a water balloon.  I had not slept much for 48 hours and there was the Afrin nasal spray sitting on the bed stand in the hotel room.

Who reads the side effects on the little slip, all I could hear was the alluring call, “Come my darling, I will give you sweet sleep and easy breathing all night long.” After one squirt in each nostril and 10 minutes time, I began to notice two simultaneously developing parameters.  On each breath, there was actually more air passing through my nose than through my mouth on the way to my lungs.  That was the good.  With each passing minute, the little pain that started in the corner of my eye, under my brow, next to my nose, just above where the nasal pad of my glasses sat, just on the inside of that little B-B sized white thing that sets on the corner of your eyeball…oh yes, the little pain…it wasn’t so little any more.  That was the bad, but not yet to be the worse.  Time for a Tylenol.

Have you ever seen the furrowed brow of a headache victim on the Tylenol commercial?  Mine was furrowed, like a four-sixteens plow running behind a 4020 John Deere when I was younger, except we ran IH not that it made much difference.  It was digging deep and that little white thing on the corner of my eye seemed like it must have inflated in toward my brain about the size of a cherry.  Time for the Vicks salve.  According to my Dad, Vicks cured everything an IH tractor couldn’t cure.

Sorry, Dad.  I put the Vicks up my nose, on my eyebrow, on my forehead, through my scalp on my right side.  The further that pain went radiating back across my head, the farther I chased it with the Vicks.  By now that little white thing on the corner of my eyeball, grown into a cherry; it became a cherry bomb and the whole top of my head felt like it was bursting open.  I was not in bed any more.  I was quietly pacing in the dark, wanting to keep Susan from waking up and wanting to wake her up so she would make it feel better.  I stroked my Vicks oiled hair wondering if I could do Elvis, even went to the bathroom to check it out for a momentary distraction.  Elvis was definitely, “All Shook Up.”  That is when it hit me.  I know you are thinking stroke here.  Let me tell you, surviving that night was God’s comforting assurance that if I was at risk for stroke; it probably would have happened.  What hit me is, “You are going to puke!” (What would you have thought looking into the mirror and expecting to see Elvis reincarnate?)

It first hits you with the breathing rate.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Faster.  “Please, stomach get out of reverse.”  I’ll do anything if only…  You glance at the porcelain throne and in defiance say, “I will not kneel.”  “I will not kneel.”  “I WILL kneel.”

“I Surrender All”, is not a song about repentance by this time.  There are quite pukers.  Never could do it that way.  It starts in my toes.  They turn inside out and go up through my leg so they can push hard enough on my stomach for the earthquake-retching to gain “toehold” and bring results…after six or seven practice heaves.  Each accompanied with a Samson-esque bellow of exertion for each mighty effort.  (The door was closed,…Do you think Susan heard that?)  Ummh,…yep!  Then the epinephrine rush, after the trembling quits, when for a moment there is no pain, no nausea, oh so transient relief.  And the brief lingering view before the flush.  And the perspiration soaked tee shirt.  And the uncontrollable urge to blow your nose and rinse your mouth.

It happened seven times in the next twelve hours.  Long past dignity.  When our staff doctors came early the next morning before I went to the hospital, when the doctor at the Ethiopian hospital first examined me, when I went back to the hospital after the first anti-pain shot and anti-puke shots did not work…in front of a new doctor and nurse.

After two more different shots; finally came some sleep.  The next day; it was a miracle.  I am very serious now!  From the possibility of Medi-Evac. back to Addis Abba, to eating and laughing and praising God.

As far as the prayer and planning retreat.  Well, Susan and I were glad we had used our own funds for our own personal expenses.  The staff still had much time for discussions on the travel to Bahir Dar.  They went by car for it was a 10 hour plus drive.  The prayer time went on without us and even though some of that time was spent in prayer for us, it brought the staff together in unity of purpose and spirit.  We met the staff again on Sunday and shared our common hope and trust in the God who sends us to share hope with hearts each day to those children and women whose lives have a similar, yet quite different Ethiopian malady.  Not a malady brought on by sinusitis and Afrin side effects gone out of control, but by the side effects of poverty, hopelessness and sin.  Perhaps even more wretched.

PS: Does anyone need a once-used bottle of Afrin?

All Together, Me First

15 Jun

Crowded market
A crowd equals many people collected in one place.  When all of the people in a crowd hold to a unified mindset it equals a culture, a congregation or a mob.  Depends on size, location and objective.  This is market day in one of the small towns to the north in Ethiopia.  One of the mind sets of any crowd in Africa is: we all get to move forward at the same time.   Any program that exhibits exclusivity and chosen-ness for certain individuals will be met with a degree of ridicule, jealousy, and bitterness from those left out.  When certain criteria are used to determine which people are accepted into “welfare-like” programs and which are left out, it is seen by those excluded as a system for the privileged, for those included.  Exclusivity, to pick chosen individuals for receiving privileges while excluding others is not an easy position to defend in African culture.  They have seen the privileged living high and others with no opportunity throughout their generations, if not by birth, then by politics and corruption.  This is a peaceful, market day crowd.  It could change quickly.  Have a person in such an African crowd who symbolizes government, tribal faction or wealth, announce to the crowd that only those carrying barrels and umbrellas of a particular ancestry will be given a free car.

Ethiopians in this crowd can see the connect between success and work ethic, but there is also the hopelessness that comes when people have the work ethic  but do not have the opportunity.  Entitlement seems to be mankind’s default when there is no hope for opportunity.  Those who have always had opportunity must confess that they cannot say that their default toward entitlement would be any different if they had grown up as a part of this crowd, rather than the crowd of the privileged.  In Ethiopia, opportunity is not a given.  Even when it happens it is measured by comparison with opportunity in the West.  Such comparison builds an additional framework for hopelessness.  It is said that true poverty is having no hope.  “Whats the use!”  Here, one is constantly aware that, the tightrope of hope this country and its people are walking on, is relentlessly being shaken.  Those that can keep their balance, continue on in the journey, those that do not, either jump or fall off the hope rope.  Entitlement…even if you do not have a barrel or an umbrella and a particular grandfather on a particular day.  We’ll all move forward together, …me first.

From a Distance

8 Jun

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Ten kilometers away.  Not even close to 1000 thousand miles.  People live on that mountain top plateau in the distance.  I went there and shook their hands and we smiled at each other.  Nuns and monks, a few shepherds.  From this distance you would not know they are there.  One can enjoy the magnificent view of the 6800 ft mountain raising from a surrounding high plateau which is already over 6000 feet above sea level.  Marvelous is God’s sovereign handiwork and creative design.  Ten kilometers protects us from the realities in the lives of those living there.  Are they happy?  Do they get lonely?  What brings them joy or pain?   Do they think of love and hope?  Do they feel blessed or cursed in their portion?  Did they chose life in that high place or did birth do that for them?  Do they find their peace in knowing God sent them there?  From 10 kilometers we are only aware of the beauty of the view.

If the details in the lives at the top of the mountain are hard to think about, we can move back 10 more kilometers and then the mountain disappears.  With time, in our minds eye, only the beautiful vistas remain.  Our lives and those lives are lived from a distance.  We can remember shaking a hand and sharing a smile but we cannot remember the circumstances of each others lives.  We cannot say we understand and know each other from a moments greeting.  Even in that instant our lives were a thousand miles apart.

Can we care from a distance?  Yes, if our hearts connect beyond a handshake and a smile.  When we choose to erase the distance and allow our hearts the risk of perceiving another’s pain, only then can we say we understand…Enough?…to share hope in their hearts.  On rare occasions, it can be done with words.

From a distance God saw His children living on the mountain top, but He closed the gap, shook our hands for a few years, and smiled upon us from a cross.  Close enough to know our pain.  Weak enough to die.  Strong enough to conquer death with a promise and a hope.

Higher Ground

3 Jun

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The journey there is an arduous upward trek.  There is no gravity taking one closer to the final table land destination.  No coasting up the mountain side.  Stopping to rest…that needs to happen, but one cannot stay. The darkness and cold of the night are just on the other side of the sunset.  The leopards come out in the night.  And so step by step, “cusp b’ cusp”, one pushes on, climbing ever higher.  The fear of falling is the constant enemy and it multiplies the sweat of the brow.  Looking over the shoulder to see where one has been only impedes future progress and staying on the path of those who have successfully gone before.  The sun’s warm rays strain to pierce the secret places in the gorges and the shade bids one to linger there too long.  The dryness of the mouth from the toiling for breath succumbs to a cool sip of water and one searches the horizon wondering on the threating clouds of an approaching storm.  The guide says, “Follow me.  Let me carry your burden.”  One trusts him, but feels the fallibility of his own strength.

“Just a litter further, you are almost there.”  The encouragement sheds a ray of hope into your heart…enough to draw one more breath.  Keep looking up.  Get a grip…hand above hand…foot above foot.  Then suddenly it is there. The elusive promised goal is in sight.  The palpable truth coursing through your being is that of being more than a conqueror.  When you agreed to the journey the guide promised he would go with you each step of the way and he kept his promise.  His final words, “Well done good and faithful follower, enter into the joy.”  The spiritual walk is a lot like scaling a mountain.

Fidelity

18 May

I typed the word fidelity onto a document and right clicked it to check for words that mean the same.  It was an impressive list; loyalty, faithfulness, reliability, trustworthy, dependable, devotion, commitment.  We use this word many times to describe a monogamous marriage  relationship.  Sometimes banks use it in their names; First Fidelity or maybe, Fidelity Savings and Loan.  Sometimes the words on the mean-the-same list are also used to describe “Ol’ Blue”, the hound dog sleeping on the porch.  Whether it is marriage, money, or man’s best friend, fidelity comes down to relationships.  I have heard the question, “Is it a religion or a relationship?”   Does fidelity fit into this question’s answer?  Does it fit into our culture, our values, and our ethics?  Our personal lives, our spirituality?

LSM’s mission in Ethiopia involves sharing hope with some of the world’s most vulnerable kids.  We can gain access to these lives through impacting the lives of their mothers, women who are commercial sex workers.  “Shermuta.”   One question being asked of us repeatedly which may only indicate curiosity,  “Where do all the clients come from that occasion and support these ladies as they cling to their needy lives?”  “What is with the men, (what about fidelity)?”  It can be in our nature; if we can identify a root cause as being sin which is beneath our dignity, then we have permission to dismiss ourselves from involvement with relief of the pain it is causing.   While men of infidelity may be a contributing cause, it should not be a scapegoat.  Non-involvement is not what is meant when God’s Word asks us to, “keep ourselves unspotted from the world.”

These kids of our mission, the vulnerable, they are a consequence of fidelity, or rather a lack of it, but they dare not be dismissed as inconsequential on those grounds in self-righteousness.  The consequences that dictate the doom of their lives, the HIV, the probability of becoming orphans; these catastrophes are beyond their control.  Men of  infidelity, while it is only a part of the story, cannot allow us to sit in judgement and indifference and dismiss the opportunity and responsibility of  offering future hope and sharing it with innocent hearts.

Our religion or our relationship…our values and our ethics…our response and our calling to follow The Example.  We are part of the Marriage Bride.  The money in the bank is not our own.  Our fidelity should go beyond that of a sleeping hound dog on the porch.