Friday, December 26, 2008

Plus 24 Years

Me with our first child.

Me with our first grandchild.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Value of Experience

As I have aged, I have accumulated a lot of experience. At 58 I have experienced the segregated south, hippies, peace marches, cocaine parties, the bar scene (several varieties), small companies, big companies, being on a school board, being chased by a bear, raising four kids, true love, several hairy car wrecks, numerous broken bones, black outs, pass outs, several major surgeries, low income, high income, 48 of the 50 states, visits to a dozen countries on four continents, conservative politics, liberal politics, a few weeks in a wheel chair, blizzards in the mountains, rip tides at the coast, parasites, LSD, assault with a deadly weapon, twenty years of teaching Sunday School, snorting meth, ballet recitals, SAT, GRE, BS, MS, opiate addiction, high tech, steel mills, abandoned mine shafts, hurricanes, winos, con artists, encounters with God, communion with saints, attending child births, rocks concerts, drag races, zipping my father into a body bag, body building, engineering, managing, studying. I could keep going, but you get the idea. I have experienced many things.

I would like to think that all of that experience has earned me a special status as a wise man. However, I have long since realized that experience is only valuable when one learns from it. One person gains more wisdom in a trip to the mall than another might in a trip around the world. Do I learn? Do I remember when I need to? Do I act according to what I know to be true?

I will continue to enjoy, endure, and accumulate experiences. Lately I feel little need to seek them out but neither do I want to avoid them. I want to learn from the experiences I have, even if it is via hindsight. I want to remember what I learn, even when the distractions and temptations to forget seem overwhelming. I want to use every second of living to grow closer to God and to love my neighbors as I want to be loved.

I also want to drop the idea that being a geezer gives me much of an edge on anyone else. Perhaps the one thing I can say is that I have certainly been given many, many opportunities to learn and to put that learning to use. That makes me blessed. It doesn't make me better than anyone else.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

How to Make a Difference

"I want to make a difference" . Yes, it is a cliche. "Vote for Change" is also a cliche, yet it seems to be effective decade after decade. In either case, the presumption is that the difference or change will make the world a better place. In most contexts it is presumed that the world will be a better place for all people. That is particularly true for "make a difference".

Of course, we all make differences all day long. Every breath we take diminishes the supply of oxygen in the atmosphere and adds a bit more carbon dioxide. Every step we take causes a bit of wear on any surface. In ancient temples gentle steps by small men have worn ruts into hard stone. However, is difficult to imagine that every such difference contributes to a better world.

We certainly long for a better world, even when our time in this one has been relatively pleasant. A young, healthy person sooner or later discovers that pain will come to them. The pain of loss. The pain of sickness. And if a person has the least bit of compassion, they will surely be aware that all around them are people suffering. Some suffer a greatly.

There was a time when I could have thought of exhaling as being neutral at the very least. Now I am told that each breath brings the world closer to destruction via global warming. No matter how lightly I tread upon the earth, I contribute to a sort of decrepitude where life is destroyed and buildings are rendered unusable. My impression is that many people have begun to perceive the human race as parasitic at best and perhaps even cancerous. As a Christian, I believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That is the bad news. The good news, the gospel, assures us that God loves us and has paid the price to redeem us all and promises a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more death, no sorrow, no crying, no pain. In no way does that mean that we should simply endure this life and wait for the next. We are called to action. The desire to make a difference is a wonderful Godly trait.

So where's the rub? Why do people speak of wanting to make a difference as though it were difficult, perhaps impossible. There is a lie abroad that discourages us. The lie is that right now, given our current constraints, we make only insignificant differences. First we must grow stronger, richer, wiser. The difference we make should be easy to see, not only by us, but by all those around us. Preferably it should be such a noteworthy contribution, that we must struggle to remain humble in the face of popular acclaim.

It is a terrible lie that snares us and squeezes tighter as we fight to escape it. But a lie is not destroyed by our struggles. A lie is destroyed by the truth. It is the truth that can set us free.

The truth is that every tiny act of compassion, every feeble attempt at patience, every halting effort to love has an eternal impact. Even better, each microscopic contribution to the common good strengthens us to enable us to do just a little better in the next moment. The truth is that we participate in the redemption of the entire universe each time we choose to do good rather than evil. Faith is required because most often we will be unable to see the difference we have made. Courage is required because we may feel very much alone in our efforts. Focus is required because we will be tempted to look about and see whether our contribution is appreciated, rather than look forward to see what we might do next.

Humility is required so that we will remember that we participate in creating a better world but we cannot orchestrate it. God conducts the orchestra. We simply seek to sound one harmonious note, followed by another and another.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Church With The Mbugwe

This post will have some photos of the Sunday that Julia and Viggo took us to a church located in one of the Mbugwe villages. First, below are a couple of photos of the first "workshop" that Julia and Viggo had at one of the villages a few weeks before that Sunday. I think it is important, because you will see that we were welcomed warmly and with a lot of special events. That is because Julia and Viggo had already been traveling from village to village, getting to know the Mbugwe pastors. The various pastors and their congregations are excited about the prospect of getting scriptures in their own language. The language is currently only spoken, no writing. So there will be lots and lots of hard work of which the workshop was just the very beginning. Julia and Viggo have to accumulate vocabulary, understand the sounds and decide how to represent them with an alphabet. They will have to learn the grammar for Mbugwe. While they are doing all that, they need to gain a deeper understanding of Mbugwe culture. Cultural context will be important in deciding how to best translate so that they will communicate effectively and help the Mbugwe understand the scriptures.
This first workshop is taking place in the middle of an Mbugwe village. You can see houses and fences in the background.
The church that we visited had one of the largest church buildings in the area. It is built of bricks with a dirt floor and a metal roof. The windows and doorways are openings in the walls.

We sat in the back so that we would not distract people during the sermon. Here is shot looking forward in the building before everyone had arrived.

Eventually the pews became filled until there was standing room only. This shot shows Julia sitting on the women's side of the aisle. The ladies helped out by holding Daniel during the church service.

Worship was lively. Lots of hymns were sung accompanied by a battery powered keyboard. One of the local pastors preached a sermon in Swahili. Even though the audience was almost 100% Mbugwe, the hymns and scriptures are in Swahili, so the sermons are in Swahili. Comprehension of Swahili varies widely, and any one of these folks would find it far easier to understand the sermons and biblical concepts if they were presented in Mbugwe. Below a line of dancers enters in for a special period during the worship where the singing was in Mbugwe and traditional dancing was performed. It was a treat for everyone. The crowd loved it.

The striped sticks are used a lot. I asked how they were made. The bark is removed from slender poles. The stripes are burned by holding a hot iron against the stick while rotating it.

Barbara and I are sorry that we forgot to bring our video camera that day. The still shots cannot convey all the movement and sound. The Mbugwe have a particular dance where they gather in a circle facing each other and bend at the waist while undulating their shoulders. There is a still shot of that below.

Near the end of the service, Barbara, Samuel, and I were asked to step up to the front. We were given gifts and many kind words were spoken. Julia translated.

In the shot below, we posed with a couple of the pastors. Folks had come from a number of different villages to attend. I was asked if I wanted to say a few words. Fortunately, I had seen one lady wearing a T Shirt that had "Jesu ni Bwana" on it. I knew bwana was a word like boss or lord. So I was able to call out "Jesus is Lord" in Swahili. Julia had learned a few words of Mbugwe, so she thanked the congregation in Mbugwe. That was a big hit.

After the service we were treated to a dinner of rice with stew on it and bottes of soda. We sat on folding chairs with a number of the local pastors. For Sam, Barbara, and I the language barrier was a bit of problem. But Julia was able to translate back and forth between Swahili and English.
Below is a shot of a few of the many children who gathered around to stare unabashedly at us. Occasionally a child would call out "Good Morning, Teacher", which was one of the few English phrases they knew. One little girl counted to ten in English while I tried to match her in Swahili.
As we first began to drive out of the village, I got the shot below of one of the houses. Sticks are loosely woven into a wall. Then mud it packed among the sticks to fill all the spaces. The roof is thatch.
It was great to be able to actually meet a representative group of the people to whom Viggo and Julia will be pouring out their lives. Active Christians are a minority among the 25,000 or so Mbugwe people. So the translation work will be important for the churches, but it will also be very important for enabling evangelism. Wycliffe often works with the translators to supply literature and films, such as the Jesus film, in the local language as the translation progresses.
The Mbugwe are primarily farmers, so the villages are small and scattered widely. After Julia and Viggo have learned more of the language and the culture, they will very likely want to find a house in one of the villages, rather than live only in Babati. They will also be recruiting workers from among the Mbugwe to join them in the translation effort.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Life in Babati

I had trouble finding data, but I believe the population of Babati is in the tens of thousands. It felt smaller (more like Philomath, population 5000). I suppose the narrow streets, relatively few cars, and small buildings all contributed to that smaller feel. Nonetheless, Babati is a relatively large population center compared to Mgugu a half hour away. Mgugu is sort of the epicenter of the Mbugwe populated region. For now, it was much easier to find housing and get established in Babati than it would have been to move into a village like Mgugu.

Here we are walking down the side street that goes to Julia and Viggo's house. Julia and Viggo live in a neighborhood that is about a 45 minute walk from central Babati.

Here is a neighbors house (below), but that is also a neighbors house above. I didn't get the impression that there was zoning or rich versus poor neighborhoods. A really nice house might be next door to the simplest of huts.

Here is a roadside stand on the outskirts of town. There are lots of these. Each has a variety goods and services to offer. Each seemed a bit unique in it's offering.

Below the road enlarges as it approaches city center.

This is a new school building, one of the nicest public buildings in town.

You can see the small hospital next to the school.

Now we begin to approach the central part of town.

Public transport varied. Often folks rode in the backs of trucks or trailers. There were also minbuses that were packed with 15 or 20 people (about the size of a VW van).

The streets were lined with low buildings like this one. There were very few larger buildings.

A shop that was big enough to have a room in a building usually spilled out onto the sidewalk as below (and yes, I have a gut, but here it is amplified by my travel wallet under my shirt).

You might think the scene below was out in the country side. No, it is the road immediately across from the shop I am standing at above.

Here is the interior of the local produce market. There was a central building shown here. The market spilled out into the square nearby.

One day I got really hungry, so we stopped shopping and had a meal at one of the nicer restaurants in town. That really isn't saying a lot, but the food was good and we didn't get sick.
The plate of rice topped with a meat stew would be a typical upscale meal.
We also ordered a half kilogram of bbq'd meat. There was a fly covered carcass hanging nearby. When someone ordered, the cook hacked random pieces off and tossed them on the grill. There was no discernible order to how the pieces were hacked off; bone, fat, skin, internal organs?, and meat are heaped together on the platter.
The white stuff next to the meat is "ugali". That is boiled corn meal that the waiter referred to as porridge. It is completely bland and has been boiled and cooled to make a thick substance something like very stiff mashed potatoes. Ugali is the local staple. One fellow told me that rice cost about four times as much per serving as ugali. Although it is bland, if it is the main dish it will usually be topped with some boiled greens or other vegetables. Adding meat is going upscale.

That's BBQ sauce and a little pile of salt on the plate next to the meat.

This square surrounded by low buildings full of shops reminded me of a strip mall. Some of the larger squares like this were full of people. Intercity buses literally hurtled into the busiest square honking like crazy. I have to believe that people get run over on a pretty regular basis.
The buses drive as fast as possible wherever they go. We saw one flipped over by the side of the highway as we were driving home one night. We saw another going around some stuck trucks by driving through a ditch that was plenty challenging for our Land Rover.

We drove into the square and parked near the seamstress shop that was making cushion covers for Julia and Viggo's new living room furniture.

Bicycles were much more common than cars. But people on foot were much more common than bicycles. I was hesitant to photograph people head on, so you don't get much feel for the fact that the center of town has lots of pedestrians. Many carried bundles on their heads. A lot of the bikes were pushed and loaded with heavier loads.

The sign must be old, because this is not a guest house or bar. This is the entrance to the tiny carpenters shop where the wooden parts of Julia and Viggo's furniture was built. If you want the wood stained, you have to buy pigment and bring it to the carpenter who mixes it up into stain and applies it.
Everyone stared at us every where we went. Especially if we got out of the car and walked. Babati is hours from the nearest touristy area. So white faces are still unusual enough to attract a lot of attention. If we stayed in one place very long we soon had a crowd of children milling around us. Often they would say "Good Morning Teacher", apparently that was the one bit of English they got at school. One little girl showed me that she could count to ten in English. Of course the kids (and adults) seemed to enjoy it when I stumbled through the few Swahili phrases that I learned.

Grandpa Gone Wild

I felt this overwhelming urge to share Daniel pictures. At least I'm not mailing a 50 megabyte file to my whole mailing list :-)