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Last But Not Least

27 Sep

Number 200.  Somewhere in the past that became a goal and now it has been reached.  At the end of all things comes a time of reflection.  baby three 001What does Baruk see as he looks through the glass?  He is four years old.  Maybe just a white man with a camera?  He loves setting behind the wheel and pretending to be a big man driving a car.  Although he was among the least a couple years back, he is no longer there.  His future is as bright as his eyes and smile.  His mom is a single young woman, hard working, intelligent, and courageous.  She awakens early and comes to clean the neighboring office building.  Then she comes to work and makes purses.   Because she has committed herself to a positive new direction, God has given her a new heart.   Her son does not have to know being last with no opportunity.

Along the way, while writing the blog, what have I learned while standing on the other side of the glass and presenting snapshots of a different world?  Opportunity…the possibility of a hopeful direction.  Comparison…viewing those opportunities in light of the chances we perceive others have or do not have.

When we have been given a life where opportunity exists, it is almost impossible to comprehend a life where opportunity does not exist.  There is just not a framework for comparison.  In some ways we all take turns setting in someone else’s car, looking through the glass, and pretending to be in their world.  Only as adults, we do not do it in innocence, we do it by comparing.   It is said, “Those who compare themselves by themselves are not wise.”  Is that not a part of what we refer to as culture; a group of people living within and maintaining a certain set of standards by doing just that?

It is a two edged sword.  There is comfort and security in staying there.  With the have-ers.  The true have-not-ers make us uncomfortable to think on.  But the other edge, as we look among ourselves, we begin to worry that we are, in fact, a have-not-er living in the midst of the have-ers.  And then we want more so we can be sure to stay with or above the other have-ers.  And opportunities to share with the have-not-ers slip away.  Continuing opportunity must be preserved.  There are those looking through the glass and pretending that one day they will be like us.

As I think on the white man with the camera and what God is working on in him, I am so thankful that God has given me a chance to take some “pictures.”  A have-er with the have-not-ers.  That, in allowing me to do this, he has chipped away at my have-er status.  He has allowed me to experience the lives of the have-not-ers, and be a part of sharing opportunity…the possibility of a hopeful direction.  Along the way, I hope that my sharing with you has allowed you to be sifted in just a fraction of how God has sifted me and will continue to three 006Yesterday, I helped Tadelech and her new son return to their home after he was born the day before.  She came to our clinic in labor. He presented himself to the world face first and got stuck in the birth canal.  It seemed that a C-section was the only possible life saving choice.  While we waited for the doctor to come to perform this our staff prayed for his opportunity…for life.  The midwife made another attempt to re-position the baby to crown first and get him unstuck.  And he moved and entered the world.  In many ways we are like him and God attempts to re-position us.  He wants us delivered, His Crown first, for His Glory.

After this photo, we arrived at Tadelech’s home.  Eight feet by ten feet.  Mud floor.  Mud/manure walls.  Tin roof lean-to.  Two other children.  Comparison.  Will the future bring more opportunity for a have-not-er?  This is where Baruck started, with the last but now he is not the least.  Tadelech’s son is.  But we continue to share hope with hearts.

As for me, will I stop writing as I stop blogging, probably not, maybe I will write a book.

Not Yet Begun To Climb

24 Sep

IMG_4043Several months ago, while visiting the Gheralta Mountain area of northern Ethiopia, I embarked on a mountain climbing adventure with some friends.  The picture shows the very beginning of the assent.   At our first rest stop, everybody looked at the old guy and asked how I was doing.  I rehearsed the story of John Paul Jones and his famous quote but changed it slightly to fit our occasion, “I have not yet begun to climb.”  So for the rest of the climb when anybody felt fatigue setting in, they would spout, “I have not yet begun to climb.”

Perseverance in any task at times can seem daunting.    Emotions and psychology play the bigger part even in the cases of tasks which  require physical endurance.  Sometimes the perseverance is not physical.  So much so that we have coined a number of phrases: pressing on,  holding out, persistently endure,  hands to the plow, and keeping our nose to the grindstone.  But what about spiritual perseverance? While on the upward trail, do we ever encourage ourselves with, “I have not yet begun to climb!”…or serve, or overcome discouragement, or resist evil.

When we become spiritually weary, what is it that we share with ourselves to encourage hope in our own hearts that the struggle is worth the sacrifice.  When we are emotionally down, do we focus on the steepness of the trail in front of us or look behind to see how far we will tumble if we fail?  When we were on the mountain, it was hand-hold following hand-hold and foot-hold after foot-hold, focusing on what was in front of our faces.  Present challenge matched by present grace.

John Paul Jones’ ship was aflame and going down when he uttered his famous courageous phrase.  We summon equal spiritual courage from an ever faithful Father.  We continue on the steep and thorny way, and share hope with your hearts, “We have not yet begun to climb!” Forever we praise His name!

“You! You!”

18 Sep

Foreinge, Foreinge!”  Rhymes with syringe.  Like when you go to the dentist.  It means, “foreigner.”  It is about as much fun to hear as, “Open wide, this won’t hurt me a bit.”  It is really not hard to realize that there is still, after two plus years, an obvious difference, in our appearance, from 98 percent of the people we meet here in Ethiopia.  Many days we do not see another white face, but everyday we are seen…and noticed.  “Birr! Birr! Money! Money!”  Everyday, it is the consistent herald as we attempt to walk anywhere in public.  Everyday that is, except Sunday,…but only if we go straight to church and come straight home.  If we are stopped in traffic at a red light.  If we go to the post office,  grocery store, or bank.  Even if we get out of our car to let ourselves into our compound when the guards are not there.  Everyday. “Open wide, this won’t hurt me a bit.”  Is it a natural human reaction to want to avoid those things that are irritating?  Or is it better to just retort back with humorous sarcasm something like, “You’re kidding, when I shaved this morning my face was black.  What happened!”

Birr! Birr!”  These remarks are not said to non-whites, yet there is nothing even remotely racial in the utterance.  Rather it is an uneducated, slightly disrespectful, or undisciplined habit of mostly young people.  “You! You!” means that I have just noticed that you are different from me and I would like to get your attention so you will notice me and that I am different from you.  Same for the, “Foreinge, Foreinge!”  The opposite word is habesha.  On one occasion when I was called foreinge, I responded with, “Endea! Nech habesha neng!”  (Are you kidding, I am a white Ethiopian.)  Once he closed his dropped-open mouth, he forgot to follow with, “Money! Money!”

You! You!”  Even minor irritations like a drop of water falling on your forehead, done with repetitive monotony can become a major distraction,a downright aggravation, or even torturous.  Avoidance therapy does not really work all that well.  Complete isolation, for aggravation’s sake, from the people we desire to serve does not share hope with hearts.  But the temptation is there and if we succumb, our house turns into a self-imposed prison.

Aggravation avoidance… “You! You!”…for me.  Drip…Drip…Drip…

What is it for you-you?

Dare to Care

2 Sep

A couple of months ago while I was recovering from shingles and had trouble sleeping at night, these song lyrics came to my mind based on an experience that occurred on a night visit.  For some, it will be too raw.  I am very sorry, I am not trying to cause offense so please forgive me if it is a step past your comfort level.  Actually, it really ought to be more than a step past.

Dare to Care

1.  She lived down on the street by the bus depot, near Addis’ biggest shoppin’ district, Mercato.

Her eyes were dark as coal and as deep as a well, but they had to hide the secret of her own private hell.

She fluttered to the window of the van I rode; a beauteous butterfly in flirtatious mode.

One hand on her hip and the other in her hair, “Don’t you think I’m pretty, Do you care to dare?”

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?

2.  Her eyes were dark as coal and as deep as a well, but they tried to hide the secret of her own private hell.

She flaunted and she primped with ‘perience past her years, but behind those smoldering orbs; I could see all the fears.

I rolled down the window and I beckoned her there, I asked, “Where are your Mom and Dad,

Do you care to share?  Do you care to share?”

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?

3. Her eyes were dark as coal and as deep as a well, but they could not hide the secret of her own private hell.

A tear ran down her cheek as she started to say, “Mommy died of HIV and Daddy ran away.

My brother’s only four, hid behind that seat, and if I just pull a trick, he’ll be able to eat.”

With burning eyes starin’ into I don’t know where; “Just to be curious, what is the fare?”

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?

4.  “I know that my body’s not what it will be, but I have hidden treasures I am sure you will see.

Delights that pretend men want me to bare and share.”

Hardly able to breathe, I asked, “How old can you be?”  When she said her answer, I heard Holy terror.

“I am 16, good Sir; I’ll have you to know,” but those deep dark pools said it just wasn’t so.

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?

5.  I asked again kindly, “How much younger is your frère over there?”

Her eyes were dark as pools and deep as a well.

How much older would they get?  It wasn’t hard to tell.

She answered my question.  I did my math then; to my horrification, she was only ten.

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?

6.  For food worth two bucks, she took the HIV dare; another mouth to feed, …for love; she had to share.

How much did it cost her to strip her soul bare?  What if it was my granddaughter standin’  there?

When I share her story, do I dare to care?

Really dare to care?

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?  Please.  Dare to care?


18 Aug

IMG_4130 Illumination

The difference between darkness and light; sometimes it is just an open door.  The difference between despair and hope is often the same…doorways, into a dark empty room or into a dark empty heart.  A blind man living in this room-cave would not understand the difference an open door can make.  But if the scales fell from his eyes and vision was restored, at first, even a small degree of illumination might cause pain.  With his eyes physically, but just as true with his spirit in his figurative world.  There, the security of his darkness masks the starkness of his surroundings when contrasted with the lives beyond the door; maybe our lives.

Even for us who think we live in the light, opening the door of our awareness, many times brings discomfort.  It is easier to live in our own kind of darkness and lack of illumination.  It is easier to remain willfully unaware of the obscure struggles we keep blocked out of our lives on the other side of the door.  While others live in the darkness, we maintain a lite-ness in our lives through a dread of opening the door and it soothes our need for living comfortably in security.  It is less painful to keep the door shut.  Without guilt for lives in the light of affluence.  We allow the door to remain closed.   Ignorance maintains the bliss.  The hurt we fear to look upon in the lives of those on the dark side of the door keeps us from sharing hope with their hearts and opening the door to their darkness.

We can cast off our propensities for excesses, entertainment, and ego-centric, self-indulgence; then, it is easier to open the door.  It does require more than the lite life.  It requires the LIght.  A sacrifice in a life.  Open a door into someones darkness.  Share hope.  The Light flowing through you comes from an infinite supply.

Life’s Work

15 Aug

IMG_4259Interior Column of Rock Hewed Church

Go back in time.  Before the Pinta, Nina, and the Santa Maria.  Continue on back another two hundred years.  Select your favorite hammer and chisel from your tool box.  Its the first day on the job.  Your vision and your commitment for the next 40 years or so is to come to work every morning and listen to a slow beat of, clink, clink, clink.  You pause every little bit to haul away the gravel and then pick up the hammer and chisel once again.  Slowly, you work your way into a hollow spot you have formed in the mountain.  After years of toil, the hollow spot becomes a room and after more years of toil, the room becomes large enough to need a column to support the ceiling.  Maybe,…maybe others have joined in your vision.  So you carve around being careful what you leave and what you cast away.  After more years, the column and the arches above your head appear.  Your hope is to create a place of worship, but you know that someone else will have to pick up your vision for soon your time will be over and the vision left for the next generation.  And every day you pick up your hammer and chisel.  Sometimes it is not clear whether the man with the hammer is shaping the rock, or if the rock is shaping the man with the hammer. But the light of hope in your heart never dims because you sense the God who formed the rock is the same God giving you strength to transform it and that all along He had a hammer and chisel in His hand as well transforming you.  Each day you glory in the Creator and His Creation and each day you trust that in some small way, what you leave behind will be a glory unto that Creator.  In the end, your secret wish is that the room you carved with your life’s work could have been bigger…His Glory was always, and will continue to be worthy.

Remember April

11 May

When you, as an individual, not the vague reference you in pronoun form to society as a whole, think back and try to remember the previous month gone by, what comes to your mind?  On April 17-I had Cornflakes for breakfast, or on April 23-I went to Walmart and spent $33. 82, or on April 8-I put gas in the car.  You probably remember the very good, the very bad, or the very special things.

Although the whole remembering thing does seem to get more complicated with passing time.  “Did I have cornflakes yesterday morning or was that two mornings before?”   “Why did I come to Walmart?”  “Empty again, when did I last fill the tank,… yesterday?”  And if your whole month is filled with special, do you, as an individual, try to remember everything or do you settle for the best of the best?  Do you desperately try to hold onto every experience because you know it will not happen again for a long time?  What does special take to be remembered?  And why is it difficult to forget the things you would rather not recall from the bad memories?  Do you ever feel guilty for not making more memories?

When we are here on the mission field, we remember April.  It was cold and wet, but that is not the memory.  We ate out often, but that is not the memory.  We went to Walmart to often to remember, but we did not come back with the recollection of a specific number of trips.  What do we remember?

Some silly things actually…buzzing bees in a box in Ted’s garage,…that chocolate thing,…marveling at the first two black teenagers we had seen since Addis Abeba walking on the street in Bluffton,…and bacon, two kilos of weight gain worth.

But those are not things I want to hold on to fearing they will not happen again for a long time.  I am not looking forward to the next fuel fillup, but I want to remember the pancakes and donuts with my grandson.  I want to remember the last afternoon baseball practice in the back yard.  I want to remember playing bucking bronco with my oldest grandson, maybe the last time because he is getting older.  I want to remember playing dollies with a pink carriage carrying a little black baby doll.  I want to remember the little girl on the cheetah on the carousel.  I want to remember lots of curls, and first  words, cheek to cheek squeezes, being called Grandpallen and GrandmaZuan, and long hugs from grown sons and daughters, and Dads and Moms and brothers and sisters.  Last on  a list which is far from all inclusive…a swimming lesson, a vocal concert preview, and a grandson who always says, “Grandpa, I love you and shows me his latest Lego creation.”

What I want to forget…the guilty feeling for not making more memories.  What do I wish was different…the inability to hold on to the vast multitude of special moments that makes remembering April fill my heart with hope.

Break Time

27 Mar

Bahir Dar Gonder 2012 119“A Time To Relax”

There are times when it is good to sit back, relax, and enjoy good company.  Such is the case for the next month.  It is time for a break.  We will be able to enjoy some time with our family.  Dennahderu, until May.  Egeziabher Yimesgen.  Never lose hope.

Close to the Fire

19 Jan

Am I being held in the refining flame?  Am I experiencing  Holy Discomfort as it strips away my fleshly confidence and replaces it with a humility and dependence on the Lighter of the Fire?  No one longs for nearness to the flame when it hurts, but our souls long for true intimacy with the Father.  The flame offers searing illumination.  Sometimes we struggle to acknowledge what is revealed.  Are you like me?  Has our faith, at times, stood in what we thought we saw from the place of darkness where we had wondered?  The darkness of our own understanding compared to the radiance of revelation of Pure Truth.

Light and heat…they are partners.We scarcely noticed the cooling as we began to move away from the warmth of the fire.  Or the diminished dimness of the reflection of the Fire in our eyes.  In the escalating darkness we experienced the cold.  We could no longer pretend to see and the encroaching chill sucked away the self-deception that our own strength was enough.  Crucifixion of pride was the pain and the price of reentry to the presence of the glow and Divine circumstance, sometime consequence, beckoned us back.  Did we hate the hesitation, the holding back, that  accompanied to invitation to return?

Have you experienced placing nearly frostbitten fingers near a candle?  Heat is needed for thawing but it hurts.  The momentary pain and stiffness ebbs away in a process of returning blood flow through flesh.  The pain of the refining flame is the stiffness of shame.  It is still Flowing Blood that provides relief.  Resolving to remain close to the Fire results in the refinement required  for intimate relationship with our Redeemer.  Pride is replaced by reliance on hope shared with our hearts as flesh is rejuvenated by circulation of the Spirit.  Father, keep me close to the Fire.

Meaning From Stones

13 Jan

Joshua commanded one man from each tribe to carry a stone from the middle of the dried up Jordan river bed into the promised land so that a twelve stone monument could be erected as a reminder to coming generations of God’s faithfulness.  Children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would ask, “What mean ye by these stones?”  Then those who had experienced the deliverance and each generation following would have a testimony to share passing on a heritage of trust.

We should be asking ourselves, what are the stones that we are carrying through the crossing-Jordan experiences of our lives?  What is the monument we are building to leave behind?  Wealth and assets?  What will be remembered when future generations observe the memorials our lives represent?   Will they see God’s hand of deliverance and be encouraged into trust and obedience to the God of our freedom?  Will they care enough to ask the question?  Will the consistency and courage of our example offer a reason for them to engage those truths into their own lives for their own epitaphs?

What are the stones, the examples, that could comprise a memorial that would generate this kind of generational dialogue?  Paul laid out some principles in Philippians chapter four.  Check it out and hold it up to the hope you want to share into the hearts of those who follow when you pass.

1.  Steadfast and courageous

2.  Like minded thinking, unity rather than individualism

3.  Quick to the labor with helping hands

4.  Rejoicing always

5.  Moderation in lifestyle, patient, devoid of strong opinions

6.  Reject anxiety, commit all things to God

7.  Immerse into the Peace of God

8. Focus thinking with mental discipline, meditate on: truth, honesty, justice, purity, beauty, and virtue

9.  Choose good role models to emulate and be one

10.  Give with generosity when God opens opportunity

11.  Practice contentment with Godly wisdom to know the difference between needs and wants

12.  Rely on Christ’s strength to give everlasting Glory to God

These principles are legacy stones, worthy of remembrance.  An inheritance built around finance is a monument of pebbles built on a foundation of sand.