Saturday, July 31, 2010

Taming the elephant

An old story is told, that Circus elephants are trained from when they are very young. To keep them from wandering about as little ones the trainer hammers a stake into the ground and chains one of their little legs to the stake. This serves to ensure the little jumbos are kept under control while training is in process. The ironic thing is that as the elephants grow, they have become so used to the now, relatively, little stake in the ground holding them that they remain where they are tied. The reality however is that they are now so big and strong, that little stake couldn’t begin to hold them if they actually became aware and made the effort to set themselves free.

This illustration is told to emphasize what often happens to humans when small events, thoughts, beliefs from the past hold us in the same place when they certainly do not need to! “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds” says Paul in the book of Romans. Change the way you believe and think and you change the outcome of life!

As we met with our 35 leaders/monitors who have been selected from the same number of communities to come and receive intensive training so they can return and train the leaders (now over 600) who selected them, we spent time talking about the challenge of our thinking and how if change is to happen in our homes, churches and communities, it has gotta happen inside us first!

As this week progressed I had a great stimulus to contemplate how awesome my wife is! She introduced a new manual to the leaders this week entitled “Building Healthy Communities” which she has worked on for a number of years now and which has finally gone to print and been included in our training program. Keren, an LPN who has spent ten months with us jumped into the project with Lynn and was a big part of writing some of it, illustrating it and getting it done. Together they introduced the manual and a practical guide which WILL help to build healthier communities. When one studies the dramatic difference in health and life expectancy from the first world to ours, you only get a glimpse into how important this teaching is for families here.

As we talked about the critical importance of transforming our thinking to effect lasting change, I challenged the leaders with something Tommy Newberry writes to husbands… Your wife has 10 awesome qualities and 10 not so awesome qualities…just like you! Your happiness in life and the success of your marriage is going to depend on which 10 qualities you spend time thinking about!

I internalized this thought this past week and realized that I imagine my wife may have a bigger challenge with this than I do. Finding at least 10 awesome qualities in my wife is pretty easy, but letting her know that I see them is the bigger challenge for me. I am very proud of Lynn and her achievement in getting this book done, but also because she has consistently been willing to do the hard things in life even though they stretch her hugely!

The problem is that elephant though! Someone forgot to tell me to chain your projects to a stake in the ground when they are small. Because the fact of life is things grow and that growth poses huge challenges. We have had 7 requests brought in this week to start new extension schools which would almost add an additional 200 leaders to our program within this next six months! The little elephant has grown into a really BIG one and it just simply has not been trained to stay in one place. It wants to wander about! And that wide-eyed little human hanging onto the tail and being flung around… well that’s me trying to keep focused on the 10 awesome qualities of this awesome program and the awesome people that are bringing change in many lives.

Pastor Ricardo and I with the orphan kids in Nyangoma

P.S. One of the 10 awesome qualities is that there are actually quite a few of us hanging onto that tail…although I do think we all feel the wide-eyed fear/thrill/exhaustion of the ride some days.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Burnt Offerings or Living Sacrifices

The title of this blog for some likely conjures up images of ancient rituals and terrible cruelty. The thought of someone tied to a pole amid a pile of firewood with flames ready to inflict horrible pain and suffocation as the fire sucks up all the oxygen resulting in lungs screaming for fresh air, is not a pretty one and likely would not have one laughing so hard they cried!

But the burnt offering I am referring to had Lynn and I in fits of laughter as the meat I was supposed to be barbequing melted into the fire leaving a few shards of charcoaled bone! Anyone who knows me and my propensity for conversation rather than attention to the barbeque knows that well done meat is not unusual for me. But I have to admit, this was a first. Lynn’s comment was, “Well I hope God appreciated the burnt offering!”

This past week visited us with a few much harder experiences. The first was when we heard that the very very sick baby that was brought to us last weekend, although she survived a few days in hospital, passed away on Wednesday. Although the family, very committed to their African traditional religion, would not let me pray for the child, I silently prayed God would have mercy on them and the child. And maybe He did, but the family sure grieved. What is hard to come to grips with in this climate is the cruelty at times, even to those in grief. We had provided funds for the grand-father to transport the baby home for burial, but I guess because the taxi’s often charge more for the transport of a corpse, he did not tell them the baby was dead. Somehow, however, by the time they arrived at the destination, the taxi driver or collector of money had figured it out. Well the result was not only the higher (10 times) cost for the dead baby, but a fine of that much again on top of it all. All one can do in these situations is do as much as possible to show grace and care for those grieving.

The second tough one was that we found out on Friday that one of our graduates, Pastor Pedro Rede, who had become the national leader of a local denomination of churches, suddenly passed away. Just prior to my departure for Canada, he had visited and invited me to participate in one of their conferences since he wanted us to see “the fruit of the seed we had planted in him” (were his words). Pastor Pedro was a young man in his thirties. Apparently he came down with a sore stomach at 17:00 Wednesday evening and by Thursday evening had passed away. We still do not know what caused it and likely never will because the diagnostic abilities of the hospital in the city are as bad as its treatment capabilities. Pastor Pedro will be sorely missed because he had made a significant impact in many areas where he enabled the planting of churches, and the encouragement of their leadership.

Tying the tragedy and humor together is a verse of Scripture in the book of Romans that Paul wrote, “Therefore I urge you…in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices…” The idea here is that God never really ever wanted “burnt sacrifices” (cf. Isaiah 1:10-19), He only wanted people who willingly responded to Him (in obedience); people who were willing to lay down what they wanted, so that God could give them what they and others really needed. Living for what we want, does not really get us what we want. Giving ourselves to God and to others however, brings fulfillment and joy like nothing else can and ensures that regardless of how long or short we live, we make a difference.

Pastor Paulo (not Paul who wrote Romans) lives in Honde and is living the “living sacrifice” thing. His service to the other pastors in his community and to the orphans there has been very inspiring. A pastor from Canada who visited recently and had the privilege to attend Paulo’s church cried as he shared the amazing generosity he had experienced at this church of poor people who had nothing but were willing to give so much.

It is because of this kind of leadership and example that the mission launched on the purchase and rehabilitation of a building for food storage (a food bank) and to accommodate the leadership training and orphan feeding program in Paulo's community. We anticipate this is going to bring much critical help.

Our ability to live and work in Mozambique where we have so many opportunities to laugh and cry, is because of people back home who are willing to give of themselves. We received two emails this week that are such examples of this. One from a couple who have offered to serve the mission in Canada to achieve some of the strategic initiatives we as a mission have identified, and another email from a couple who single handedly have financed (this past week) the construction of a new health post.

The harsh realities of life humble and challenge us, but beauty and joy can still result as we give of ourselves and laugh amidst the ashes!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

When the battery goes dead

This past week was a full one indeed! Monday – Fly to South Africa and drop off plane for maintenance. Tuesday – drive to Johannesburg and meet with our good friends Dr. Jason and Judy Fawcett and pick up books for the training program. Wednesday – have my flight medical done by a Canadian Aviation medical approved doctor in Pretoria and then drive back to Nelspruit, South Africa. Meet our friends for a birthday supper the same evening before their departure to the U.S.A. the next morning. Thursday - finish off all the business and pick up supplies needed for the mission, pick up the plane and make sure it was operating well and meet with some good friends at Mercy Air to plan a short-term visit scheduled for early August. Finally early morning Friday – finish packing the plane and fly back to Chimoio, central Mozambique (home)!
Francois (on the right) and I in the Cessna before the power went out
This kind of a crazy week can only happen because we have the privilege of flying; above the bad roads and crazy drivers, straight through the sky as the eagle flies rather than winding down roads that at times seem to double back on themselves to get around a bad spot, quickly through a small airport immigration post with no one in the line! I could go on, but I think you get the picture. A five hour (easy) trip instead of more than 20 hours (of difficult and dangerous driving) over two days!
But just as we got settled down in cruise at 9000 feet in smooth air with blue sky all around and the auto-pilot keeping us on perfect course and perfect altitude. All of a sudden, with no warning (other than the one I should have seen if I had been carefully monitoring the ammeter…rate of charge on the battery), the aircraft pulled into a steep climb momentarily, then dropped the nose into a steep dive and in a flashing of lights, everything on the panel went dead including the radios!
The problem started much further back, but when we had tried to start the plane to depart Chimoio, it would not turn over. We were giving Francois and Marisha (our friend's children who feel like our second set of children), a ride back to South Africa for school. So I put Francois in the pilot seat and gave specific instructions as to how he should turn the ignition on at the same time as I swung the propellor. The aircraft started with the first attempt, but since the throttle was set a little high, the engine revved up fairly good after starting. Francois' dad by this time was watching his son at the controls and with the noise and wind of the revving engine his eyes were the size of saucers as he grabbed the plane in an attempt to keep it from taking off with his kids. Although it was entirely unnecessary since the park brake was on and his son was holding the breaks, but I completely understood his feelings :).
Back to the cruise power out...mmmm! If I was not such an old pilot with a few similar experiences I would have likely been more freaked out. But a pilot is taught to 1. Fly the plane 2. Communicate if you can and 3. Systematically identify the problem. So we did and I discovered the alternator fuse popped. After re-setting it, I realized that at the rate of charge the alternator was being required to put out, we would likely have another popped fuse. So after turning off all but just the most important electrics, we flew on to our destination and the battery had a chance to re-charge slowly. As we climbed out from Vilanculos (the airport we cleared immigration and customs at), I slowly started turning on all the radios and navigation aids and everything worked just fine.
The reality is that after returning to Mozambique a little over a month ago, I have had one of those power out experiences as well. Our time in Canada, although soooo good and blessed, was hectic to say the least…a little like this past week. And since arriving back the pace has been overwhelming. When this happens too long, and the battery has had to put out more than it takes in, we gotto know a bump is coming. When it happens, there is nothing else one can do except to 1. Keep flying the plane…keep breathing, eating, sleeping and reading and meditating on God’s Word…keep doing the important things. 2. Communicate… I have shared much with Lynn and others who have so kindly taken the time to just stop, listen, pray and encourage me and 3. You do have to turn some things off as well because without times to recharge physically, emotionally and spiritually, the battery simply cannot charge up.

Ready to depart White river behind Mercy Air's 310

But in life it is hard to shut off anything. Today is the Saturday after the crazy week I described above and it is a chance to re-charge. But a couple of minutes ago the bell rang, and one of our staff was here with a grand-child baby that was almost dead. For many reasons he and the family never brought the child sooner, and so suddenly another crisis. So for a few moments we had to switch on the electrics again and Lynn in her gracious way provided the emergency nursing care she could and we provided the child and mother transport to hospital. The family refused to allow us to pray with the child, but since leaving them I have committed the child and family to God’s mercy and care.
Blaise Pascal, the 17th century philosopher and mathematician wrote, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace. This he in vain tries to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can only be filled with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
I recently read that “America is the unhappiest nation on earth, with more mental disorders per capita than any other country. Nigeria is considered the happiest.” If this is true or even close to true, it may be that our hectic pursuit for more things and more entertainment in life is killing our battery. Maybe we have to learn to shut off the electrics for a while and allow the batteries to recharge from the right source. I know I need this…have a great week.

Refueling at dawn with the electrics off!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Dangerous or just big

“Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” It’s not often one is asked this kind of question…and by someone so wealthy and so powerful they can actually give you whatever you ask for! But almost more amazing than the question was the answer…”give me wisdom and knowledge.” These words come from God’s interaction with Solomon in 2 Chronicles and the first time I read this I decided that, although there were many things I could ask for, I would strive to ask for wisdom.
Kevin who led our Monday morning devotion this week shared how that his father encouraged him to read Proverbs on a regular basis (much of it written by Solomon) and seek the wisdom to live the kind of disciplined life that results in a productive and joy-filled life. He went on to read James 3:13-18 which contrasts the wisdom we need as opposed to the wisdom of this world. The primary difference is the humility that comes from the right kind of wisdom results in good relationships, good deeds and a good life.
As I took a few minutes out of the hectic week to drive over to visit the Halo Trust camp site with Jeff, an ex-military man with 18 years of service and three tours of duty under his belt, I had an experience that left me with a life lesson. Halo Trust is de-mining in our area and according to the man we talked with; they have lifted over a hundred mines (mostly anti-personnel mines) in this immediate area. An area I should say I have spent a fair amount of time walking around in oblivious to the potential danger. One of the things Jeff did during his military service was de-mining, so he was interested to see what was happening in our area, and so the reason for the visit.
As we visited and the man got to know Jeff a little and his history, he wanted to get Jeff’s email so he could keep in contact. As Jeff squatted to write his email address on the paper provided, one of the chickens (kept for supper since there was no refrigeration in the camp), ran to where Jeff was and promptly lay down under his leg. Now Jeff is a big man and could be intimidating to someone who doesn’t know him. To this little chicken he must have looked like a giant.
It occurred to me that maybe this little chicken could sense the gentle and compassionate heart of this big man and as a result felt no fear. If you could have witnessed, as I and the rest of the team did, the way Jeff reached out to a little crippled boy in the community and fabricated a crutch out of the scraps around the farm, you would have seen the wisdom James speaks of.

The wisdom to know when something is dangerous or just big is a good thing. And so often when we mix these up we shrink back from the big challenges in life. Here on the mission we are facing some of these big things; with Rick and Heather trying to overcome the challenge of Tendai’s paperwork so they can make final furlough plans, and with us facing the unknown with Mozambique’s civil aviation authority being in confusion after terrible corruption and a complete personnel change over. There are many big things that threaten…but with God we can rest in the shadow of the giant :). We just gotta ask for wisdom and know He will give it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Father

Each morning at 7 AM we meet with our entire mission staff to start the day with a scripture, a thought and a time for interaction. This leads into a time of corporate prayer, followed by a time to coordinate our day’s work and address any issues or needs the different departments have.

As a Christian mission it is likely pretty natural to start our day out with a time of devotion and prayer, but since many of our staff are engaged in projects to assist with the longer term sustainability of the mission through income generation, and others are engaged in producing food for our orphan and child feeding programs, while others are trying to get building projects finished, there is the pressure to get everyone to work and to be productive. But because we believe, as the psalmist wrote, that “unless the Lord builds the house, its laborers labor in vain,” we sense a desperate need for God’s hand to help in the many and overwhelming challenges we are constantly faced with. And we set aside this early morning time to live out this reality.

Interestingly, as I read a book on the Leadership secrets of Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York on 9/11, he made the point that regardless of all the pressures his key people faced, he required that they all meet with him every morning for a briefing. This meeting each morning, he said, set the tone for the kind of communication, coordination and cooperation that would ensure success. This reinforced for me yet another important reason for our morning times together, even though it feels like it takes away from our “productive” work time.

This past week I was encouraged to hear the thoughts each morning as a visiting nursing team from the Prairie College of Arts and Technology shared with us. Each is graduating from a two year LPN program and their time with us is a part of their final practicum requirement.
As one young lady shared, she told about a time in her younger life when she ran away from home, and although she did not go into detail about her life at that time, she simply shared that she had been away for quite awhile with no contact with her parents at all. One night as she walked down the street, she recalls, “at the end of my rope”, “I stopped at a pay phone and called home.” It was the middle of the night, but the phone only rang once and her father was on the other end. Within ten minutes he was there to pick her up. She shared how much she felt this was like God… just waiting for us to take the time to call on him.

As this young lady finished sharing her story, I could not help but reflect on the overwhelming love and often desperate desire I as a father (so far from my kids) have to help my two children. I am sure many parents can identify with that. So the encouragement for me is this…if I am that passionate and that concerned and that desirous to intervene and help my own children, how much more must God share in these feelings. But, as a father, I am slowly learning something... I have to wait for them to invite me in, or I am just an interfering meddler who would not be helping at all. And although there are such limitations for me as an earthly father (even if I had lots of money), the only limitation for God is the invitation, because He really does have all the power in the world to “build the house”.