Thursday, December 27, 2007

Costa Rica, my introduction

I spent two weeks in Costa Rica helping shoot video footage for a promotional video for MAF and one for ProMETA, one of our ministry partners.

In my mind the time was divided into two sections - my time in San Jose, the country's capitol, and an unexpected excursion out into Shiroles, an indigenous reserve in the interior of Costa Rica.

The first week I spent in San Jose, the capitol. The second week I traveled into the interior with some Costa Rican pastors to interview them while they worked on an orphanage for Bribri children. (Both these photos were from Shiroles)

The first week I was introduced to the learning technologies ministry in San Jose, Costa Rica and some of our ministry partners - ESEPA and ProMETA. Jim and I videoed some meetings where MAF-LT and these ministry partners got on the same page and explored how we might continue to help each other provide training to Latin-American pastors. ESEPA and ProMETA both work in several Spanish-speaking countries, and so I saw how distance education is helping bring people from all over Latin America together to train.

One of the most encouraging interviews the first week was with Pastor Esau Bonilla, a senior pastor in Cartago. He was so encouraged and blessed by the opportunity to take Masters courses by distance education, he was passionate about helping others get the same opportunity. In seeing Pastor Esau and his church, I was able to see in person someone who really needed the type of service we help provide, and how really distance education was his only option. There were SEVERAL barriers for Pastor Esau in receiving training - including some stigma in his congregation against it - but distance education gave him a way to do it from his church office.

Eating dinner with Pastor Bonilla in Cartago

The second week I spent on an unexpected excursion into the interior of Costa Rica with a group of Costa Rican pastors from different parts of the country who were joining together to help work on an orphanage in Shiroles. Shiroles is a small village in an indigenous reserve 45 minutes from the nearest town. It is an agricultural area that produces/exports plantains, cacoa, and bananas. This area made up mostly of indigenous people who speak the language Bribri. There are not many indigenous people left in Costa Rica, so parts of this area (especially deep in the interior) speak only Bribri and have little exposure to outsiders.

I realize that an opportunity like this comes only by invitation, and I am extremely grateful I was allowed to come along. We worked all week long on an orphanage for Bribri children, preparing it for electrical wiring, boarding up the outside, and installing windows. During this time I was able to interview four church leaders from remote parts of Costa Rica to get a feel for what their ministries are like and how we might be able to help them. I also interviewed several people from the Shiroles community to see if we might be of any future assistance there.

I shot a lot of footage in this area and nailed down as many details about it as I could, because it seems that it is ripe for growth. There are no pastors in the area who speak Bribri, and the missionary we worked with has been cultivating the area there for a pastor who will be able to speak Bribri and reach out to them. Interestingly, while I was there, one of the pastors I was with felt a strong call to return to Shiroles, learn Bribri, and begin ministry there, as a "church plant" from his congregation back home.

Me doing something I'm clueless about, and then something I'm actually trained to do.

It is difficult for me to say exactly how meaningful this trip was for me personally. I really wanted to see two things... a pastor who couldn't train before, but because of on-line training and our tools was able to do that. And I wanted to personally see the connection between the training we are helping with and the remote villages. Those were personal desires... I was committed to just going along with whatever we were given. For me it was quite miraculous that these two desires were met specifically in the interview with Pastor Esau and the trip out to Shiroles. Throughout the week I was able to see these things met in other ways as well, but those two experiences nailed it. I was able to witness the complete range of what we do... from the huge seminaries with libraries and computers and pastors with laptops, all the way out to an orphanage on an indigenous reserve where an unreached people group is being served. That was far more than I had even dared to hope for, and I'm very grateful it worked out.

I was able to see the full range of the ministry - from the teaching at the university level all the way to how pastors were living out ministry to their own people.

Traveling across a river with Pastor Jorge

(click here for more photos from the trip)

Monday, November 12, 2007

On being a guest

Please realize that I appreciate from the bottom of my heart the huge amount of work it is to invite me into your house as a guest and allow me to stay with you while I’m traveling.

This past week I’ve spent with Nathanael and Laura Lyons in Kansas City. Their house and kitchen, which was spotless and tidy when I first arrived, was soon cluttered with random notebooks and slips of paper and charger cords for my laptop. They arranged a nice little place for me to sleep in the office, and I tried my best to “contain” all my living arrangements over in one corner of the room.

The biggest causality during my stay was their neat and well-organized kitchen. The Saturday after I arrived, Nathanael and Laura agreed to host a small get-together of friends so I could share about what I’m doing with MAF. This small “get-together” ended up requiring nearly a full day of cooking and exhausted the far reaches of their cupboards for pots and pans and other things needed for cooking. They prepared four Indian dishes (Chicken Tikka Masala, Green Chicken Masala, Naan, and Lentils and Spinach) for us and the five guests. Needless to say, the endeavor left their kitchen in near-total chaos. It took us two days working in small bits at a time and at least 4 dishwasher loads to return the kitchen back to working order.

It takes a lot of work to host a person living with you, even if for a few days. I really, really appreciate it.

And Nathanael and Laura aren’t the only ones who’ve helped me out. Other people have been very hospitable along the way. Brad and Nancy Firestone helped host a little dessert gathering while I was here in Kansas City. Shane and Kristy Mattenley let me stay with them for almost two weeks in Oregon. Claude and Ilene Marsh let me stay with them at Bonita Park campgrounds for a week. And along the way Joel Tooley, Norm and Sarah Gerig, Joe and Valerie McMahan, Lee and Karla Adams – many people have opened up their homes and allowed me to stay with them.

What I’m trying to say is… a huge thanks. It means a lot to me. I couldn’t do this on my own… and quite frankly, it really wouldn’t be as much fun, either!

Monday, November 05, 2007

God's Air Taxi

The Idaho Statesman recently featured a few stories of some MAF pilots and the types of ministry they're involved in. The article is here:

Articles like this are so compelling and exciting to read. As I read these stories sometimes I have to step back and think to myself... I don't really think that this is the type of stuff I'll be doing. It's encouraging and inspiring to me to see the huge range of ministries MAF is involved in, and sometimes inside me the desire flares up to be a pilot or help with some of the more dynamic parts of this ministry. But really... I don't anticipate any close brushes with danger while helping solve computer problems or supporting on-line learning. I cut my hand once, I guess, while I was replacing a zapped PCI card inside an old 486 computer.

Medical evacuation, flight support, and disaster response are all really exciting to see in action. In Central America, where hurricanes are a seasonal reality, sometimes I envision what it would feel like to be a part of that. The first thought, brought on by my media-stimulated mind, is how exciting and exhilarating it would be to help save lives and come to the rescue in an emergency situation like that. Quickly following that, though, I recall the gut-wrenching anguish of sharing in someone else's trauma. Would I even be able to function helpfully in a situation like that, when the whole time I feel deeply involved in the brokenness and suffering of those afflicted by natural disasters? Would it be too much for me? I don't know that living in Haiti has desensitized or numbed me to issues of poverty, violence, corruption, and oppression. Maybe it's hyper-sensitized me to the immediacy of the need and the very real connection between myself and those who are somehow overlooked. Somehow I'm looking for a way to live that out on a regular basis, instead of hysterically rushing from one tragedy to the next.

It also occurs to me this is truly part of the reason why I'm willing and committed to help with education and training. Given the opportunity, I could live the rest of my life scrambling frantically to alleviate the suffering of others, only to have my efforts washed away with the next hurricane. Disasters happen regularly - I don't mean to be callous and insensitive about the suffering that follows that, but disasters do happen and we have far less control over some things in our lives than we wish. Living in the U.S. we can function for quite a while without realizing that, but every once-and-awhile we are reminded abruptly of our involvement and inescapable connection with the rest of the world. So when I think of realms of influence and things that we actually can work towards changing, these types of changes have to happen over a long period of time. The solution for Haiti and other poor countries isn't going to come with a lightning bolt of transformation or with a huge grant from Bill Gates. Or with an agreement at the next U.N. meeting. It's going to take a lot of time, a lot of sacrifice, and the willingness to make choices in our lives that will be better for ourselves and others in the long run, even if they aren't glamorous, exciting, or easy at the time. This is why I am content to be involved in educational ministry for the long run. It isn't something I can decide to do and expect results over night. Part of why I can and want to devote myself to it is because if huge-scale, long-term changes are to be made for those in need, it starts with transforming the way we think and relate to one another in our daily lives. Those choices we make don't "filter down" to anything, because they start at the bottom and creep up, like water crawling up a dry napkin by osmosis. And my hope and prayer is that through good education equipping people with the tools they need to solve their own problems where they're at, those changes will happen.

If I ever got the chance to do disaster relief or something like that, I'd do it. But before I make the journey to do it "over there," I'd better make it a daily habit to engage in relief work right down the street from where I'm staying. Otherwise I'm only shirking my personal responsibilities and doing it for the excitement and adrenaline-charged thrill. And although that might be the advertising industry's demographic for a male my age, I'll start changing the way people think right now, by deciding and working towards something I can commit to long-term.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Training church leaders

Learning technologies is a little difficult to explain. It's easy to shoot off into different directions on the tools used for training, or different instructional approaches. It's not easy to nail down. Which is good, I think, because as extension training is a newly-developing field, it's important to remain flexible and adaptable to the local needs of an area.

The goal is to enable remote learners to access some sort of training that is relevant and applicable in their local setting. This takes on many different forms. As I listen in on Learning Technologies meetings, I am encouraged to hear that several countries are finding the services MAF-LT provides very useful.

Here are some links to two videos explaining the work MAF-LT does in Kenya and Thailand:

Watch Kenya video on-line (~4 minutes)
Watch Thailand video on-line (~3 minutes)
View other MAF videos on-line

Friday, September 28, 2007

Part of a bigger picture

One of the things I've enjoyed about being around MAF is that it helps me maintain a connection with what's going on in Haiti. MAF is still very active in the area, and it's very encouraging to me to keep in touch with what's going on there by seeing the how MAF helps serve the needs in Haiti.

While I was going through orientation back in January, I trained with Justin Honaker, a young pilot who recently went to serve in Lesotho, Africa. An organization called Partners in Health asked MAF to come help with transportation in Lesotho in order to help fight the AIDS epidemic in the area. Partners in Health was founded partially by Paul Farmer, a doctor who spent the better part of his life serving at a clinic in the Artibonite Valley of Haiti. I read his biography in Mountains beyond Mountains, a fascinating and inspiring read. I was excited to see my new friend join in helping PiH reach those suffering from AIDS in Lesotho.

Last week I went over to the MAF headquarters and got to photograph the dedication of a new plane going to Haiti to help with the ministry there (article here). Again, it is awesome to remain connected to Haiti and continue seeing how God is still working there.

Monday, September 17, 2007

An exercise in not thinking from my own point of view

It's been a long while since I've gotten any news posted here, but that's because all I have is bad news. Not really, but a lot of things have been happening lately, and to keep going I've had to step outside myself and look at things from the outside. So in a way, things aren't "bad"... they're just very, very difficult. In the words of a wise man... "I can't complain. But sometimes I still do."

So the "bad news" is this: I was really hoping to train this fall, but unfortunately that isn't going to work out. I have to wait until April to do the Non-tech training at MAF. I put out an impassioned plea to get my support level up to 60%, which is required to schedule training a few months in advance. I really didn't see any way that would happen - I was at 40% and just that amount has taken months. I didn't see any way enough support would come in by August to enable me to train.

But it did. Which, quite frankly, was a miracle. I was amazed at how many people chose to begin supporting me financially those few weeks before my deadline. Right up to August 14th, the day before I needed to have the support in, people were signing up to show their support to help me be a part of this ministry. It all happened very rapidly... when I looked back I saw huge jump from the 40% to 65%, all in the course of about a month. My brain looked at that huge increase in disbelief. It was far too much. I had to break it down into pieces and figure out how that had happened.

It all added up. No one person gave a huge amount during this time. It was a whole bunch of people giving a little bit at a time. What a blessing! I sat there the morning of the 14th, nearly paralyzed with awe at the support that kept rolling in. For a few days I was too numbed to even feel completely how blessed I felt from that support. I had over 60%. I was ready to go.

But... not everything fell into place. It turned out that I was the only candidate who could schedule training in the fall. It wouldn't be practical... or even beneficial, really, to schedule a whole classroom session just for one participant, which is understandable. However, the relief I was looking forward to evaporated before my eyes, as I discovered the next classroom training available wasn't until April 2008.

Quite a disappointing blow. If you were to graph my emotions during this time, they would look like the zigzag across Charlie Brown's shirt. And really, if I think from my perspective - from what I wanted and I hoped for and what I planned on, this situation ended at rock bottom. Technically, there is some good news... for example, all of my outgoing support is in! Also, I can still start tech training as soon as I hit 95% of my regular support. Right now that's what my goal is.

When I step back, though, and look at the situation from a larger perspective, I look to myself like a whiny little kid who gets a huge batch of cool presents for his birthday, but doesn't get one little present he hoped for most. "Wipe your bleary little eyes and look around!" I tell him. Look at all you've been given and focus on that instead of complaining that you didn't get what you wanted.

When I think about it in terms of what I really needed at this time, it begins to make more sense. My prayer was that God would work things out so that I could have 60% of my support in, so I could get a break from what I've been doing all along, and muster up the motivation and renewed strength to press on. In my mind, that renewal of strength and motivation required the opportunity to train and start preparing right away. And God answered my prayer, really, just not in the way I wanted him to. Somehow (and I really am unable to explain this), I did receive the strength and motivation to complete this process. And it didn't come from getting to start training. It came from somewhere else, in some other way. I'd like to say it came from God. And in reality, I guess I'd prefer an irrational sense of peace and assurance from God than the opportunity to train, than the opportunity to escape from what I'm doing, than anything else, really. John 14:27 comes to mind, with an emphasis on the peace of Christ's assurance rather than the world's peace: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives." So the miracle I was looking for in this situation was not the miracle I got. The sooner I get over myself though, the sooner I can fully appreciate that peace and blessing.

You think that would be enough, but there's another huge miracle in the works here. And that is the encouragement and assurance I received through the participation and generous giving of others, right at my point of greatest need. Even when I felt at the end of my rope, there were others to uphold and support me. Again, if I step outside myself and look at this from the eyes of others, I see an amazing story of God's provision and the generosity of people giving. In the end, everything belongs to God, but throughout this process I am amazed to see how much people choose to share what he's given them. There's a Haitian proverb that says - "God gives but doesn't share." That part he leaves up to us. That privilege he gives to us! And when I talk about discovering how generous people are, and how much they give... I'm truly not just talking about toward this ministry I'm a part of. Throughout this process I've talked with person after person who is generously committed to supporting various extensions of God's love through the huge array of non-profit/charity organizations out there. That is a cool thing to see. And it's a blessing to be a part of.

So with all those realizations and blessings, do I still wish I was scheduled to train this fall? Yep. I really do. But if I get over my own desires and just live in the assurance and strength God has given me for this moment, maybe I'll learn something.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Simply the Story

At MAF they are experimenting with a radical new form of discipleship called "storytelling." This revolutionary approach uses the technology of human voices to transfer meaning in the form of Bible stories from one person to another. This method is reportedly cheap, effective, and very simple. I decided to do a case study to evaluate the effectiveness of this new method and test its practical impact in a real-life situation:

simply the story

Organized Rec time just finished at the Salvation Army Youth Center, and the energetic kids spew into the small sanctuary for chapel time. The pews quickly fill with upwards of twenty chattering kids, bouncing down the rows and cackling loudly.

Their energy is soon channeled into two songs sung loudly at the top of their little lungs. Twenty small vocal chords all blending together in praise makes quite a racket raised toward God's ears. I imagine the laughter between the verses is just as appreciated.

I go up to share the story for the day, from 1 Kings 17. Elijah is nourished by a poor widow who has barely enough for herself, and God replenishes her food store. A simple story, really. I ask Cassandra to come repeat what she heard from the story. She comes up and repeats, detail by detail, an almost perfect retelling of the story. I thank her and allow her to select a prize. We review the details of the story, finding the treasures God has put in it for our lives. They note interesting questions from the story: where did the widow get water if there was a drought? Did they have metal at this time? Some I do my best to answer. Others I have no idea what to reply.

I sit down and wonder if any of them “got” the story. If it will have any impact on them or how they live. It's a story thousands of years old, tweaked so many times as it is retold, written, translated, and finally told again thousands of years later. The cultures, ages, and understanding of those people and the squirrely kids at the Salvation Army are so far apart.

I look over and see Ben fiddling with one of the prizes I selected. "Where did you get that?" I ask suspiciously. "Those were only for the person who helped me retell the story."

Cassandra gave it to me, he tells me.

Maybe they did learn something.