Saturday, November 08, 2008

It takes lots and it takes little

I learned some interesting lessons while raising support. Some of them continue to roll around in my mind as I go about language training, and I took some time recently to reflect on some of the lessons I learned during that time. One thing that stuck with me was a better understanding of what Jesus taught his disciples when he spoke about the poor widow who gave her two coins to the offering.

People gave a huge range of monetary amounts while I raised support. I say with complete confidence, I NEEDED that full range of gifts - from the $1.65 to the $1000, from $8/month to $200/month. I needed both. The $1000 gave me the possibility of reaching the goal. It gave me practical progress to reach the full amount. Without the large gifts, I wouldn't have had enough to come. If my support was built up solely by "$1.65 gifts" - well, I wouldn't have enough and I wouldn't be here right now.

I am happy to be here. I believe God wants me here. I am grateful people gave large amounts - because it made this possible and I know it was a sacrifice for them. Often times those large gifts came at pivotal points, exactly when I needed a boost of encouragement. Praise God, I was often literally floored by His timing and the generosity of people.

But what about the $1.65 gifts? What about the $8/month? In what way did those help me get here, if not to the same "practical" degree as the large gifts?

I'll do my best to explain this, but I confess it isn't easy for me, because it doesn't make "logical" sense - it makes "narrative sense," if anything. What I'm saying is, although it was hard to see how small amounts helped me reach the goal, I can't tell you how humbling it was to receive a teenager's $1.65 snack money to help you serve overseas. People often talk about how many small gifts put together make something big. That is true, and the fact that I'm fully supported by small amounts put together is proof of that - but let's think to the poor widow who gave 2 cents to the offering. Christ didn't defend her gift by pointing out "it would add up." Small gifts in God's hands are powerful, not only if they "add up," but by their very nature of pure sacrifice. The widow gave "all she had," and imagine if the person receiving those two bits was right there to receive it. Small gifts are what caused me to stop rushing ahead, to pray, to thank God for the generosity and sacrifice of others, and repent for getting excited and giving more attention to the bigger gifts. What a shame.

If my support was built up only by huge chunks of giving, I would not have the blessing of having my heart completely broken by the compassionate sacrifice of those whose hearts are yearning to reach people in need. Their compassion augments my passion; their sacrifice fuels my motivation; and when I take time to talk with people on the street, when I drill myself repeating a single vowel over and over and over, when I take time to glue together a child's craft or tie his shoe - I am not thinking of the $1000 gifts, I'm thinking of the $1.65 a teenager gave me. At the end of the day I thank God that the $1000 will enable me to come back the next day, and the next, and the next. But as for the moment when I'm not doing huge projects and working with a team of people assembling a video hundreds of people will see - when I'm just focusing on putting two syllables together, that $1.65 gives me the passion and resolve to do it. And in the end - a complete project is composed of a million small moments of resolve and determination. Just as my full support is composed of many small gifts, any great accomplishment will be composed of small moments of determination.

THANK YOU for your $1000 that helps me continue this work, that often comes RIGHT at a crucial moment of need. And thank you, THANK YOU for your $8/month, as a small part of a bigger amount - but more importantly, to remind me to be humble, to devote myself fully to every single "small step," and so that your compassion can be mine as well. Thank you for your $1.65. Put together with others, it helps me to serve here. But more importantly, it impacts the manner in which I serve - not just on the $1000 projects, but the $1.65 ones just as passionately. It reminds me not to just focus on being able to conduct an entire interview in Spanish - but to also put effort into every syllable, trill, and dipthong that rolls of my tongue.

Without "small gifts," I could not be here in person. But just as importantly, without small gifts I would not be fully here in heart and spirit. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Although 90% of the journey may be "just showing up," I want to do more than just that, and I know God wants more than that for me as well. He wants me to be moved with compassion, with mercy, with dedication and commitment - and most of all, with love. Just as He is.

I need to show up. And I need to do the "small stuff." Thanks for what you teach me in supporting me in this work.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Self Contained Underwater Brendan Apparatus (SCUBA)

I'm writing this from Bocas del Toro, Panamá, where I went to join a group of students getting their scuba diving certification. Already being a licensed diver, this awesome opportunity gave me the chance to get back underwater and see some colorful ocean beauty. Bocas del Toro is a great place to do it. The licensed PADI dive instructor had good connections with the local dive shop on this island so equipment rental and logistics went smoothly for all of us. Unfortunately, a lot of rain made for terrible visibility, but we were still unable to see some lobster, a crab, a hideous toadfish, and some beautiful iridescent fish.

Into the depths


Some really cool type of Sea Cucumber

Brendan at 40 feet.

It was also nice to add a new country to my travel list (#13). Also this trip served to renew my visa which was going to expire in about a week. So... I'll be legal again! What joy!

I'm in the process of getting a long-term religious work visa, by the way, so I don't have to leave the country every 90 days. Until then, however, I "have" to leave the country every 3 months to renew my visa. Right now it's not really an inconvenience, because I love traveling, and it helps me familiarize myself with the transit system and more parts of Central America, and I get to practice my Spanish. Tack on some beach time and scuba diving to the destination point, and no complaints here!

Costa Rica - Panamá border

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Costa Rica, Part Quakers

So.. you may know this about me and you may not... but whenever I get to a new place I'm strongly drawn toward things that don't fit the cultural mold. Things that make you raise an eyebrow, cock your head, and mumble "huh?" Those are the things I marvel at, I study, and I'm drawn toward.

An example - in my Lonely Planet guidebook I happened to see the word "Quaker" in the index. Odd, I thought - what in Costa Rica merits a page about Quakers in this guidebook?

Upon further research I discovered a fascinating slice of history. To escape the war draft, a group of Quakers had settled in Costa Rica in the 1950's. Costa Rica had just recently disbanded its military and declared itself a peaceful country. Since the Quakers are staunch pacifists, they refused to sign the draft and several were imprisoned. Anyway, a small group of Quakers from Alabama settled in a beautiful mountain area called a "cloud forest." They began making their livelihood producing cheese and ice cream. They also bought up a lot of land to protect it as part of a national reserve.

Being a bit of a separatist group, they weren't too thrilled to discover that their area was becoming a popular tourist destination because of the lush rain forest. Thus, the road up to Monteverde isn't paved. "Isn't paved" is a nice way of putting it. We had to disembark from our bus and slosh through a soupy landslide that had smothered the road, continuing our journey in another bus on the other side of the washout. Anyway after several (5) hours of bussing, we arrived in Santa Elena, a few kilometers away from the Cheese Factory and Quaker Meeting house.

It really was a beautiful area. Very peaceful, and a bit magical, with clouds drifting through and morning light goldening the mist-covered mountains. We found a great place to crash for only $5 a night, and started hiking through the tropical rain forest. We saw some pecaries, several birds, but didn't see any sloths or toucans. Actually, some of the friends I was traveling with saw some toucans, but I didn't.

The highlight for me was attending the Quaker meeting on Sunday morning. I can sum it up in one word - silence. One hour of complete silence. Not a word was spoken while we prayed and listened for the Holy Spirit to speak.

OK, I confess I don't yet have the ability to quiet my spirit before God for that period of time. At least not in a public setting. In my non-spiritual vanity, I spent the first 20 minutes focusing all my willpower on not letting my stomach growl. Alas, after 20 minutes all hope was gone, and my stomach shamelessly announced to the silent listeners around me that I was famished from not eating breakfast. Not to worry, I could hear other people's stomachs rumbling as well. Amanda, sitting next to me, nodded off to sleep a few times.

I should explain briefly about the format of Quaker worship for a moment. Please note, however, that we were largely unaware of these procedures when we walked in. Copying everyone else was all we had to go by, but we didn't know how long we'd be sitting there. No one left the WHOLE TIME! All the wooden benches were arranged in a sort of circle, so we were facing many others. We arrived at the tail end of the worship (hymns in Spanish). People came in silently, no one greeting anyone else or speaking. And then we all sat, completely silent for an entire hour. About 30 minutes in, a handful of kids joined us and sat silently with their parents. During this time the idea is to listen to to the Holy Spirit speak.

This type of approach to spirituality really intrigues me. Silence, reverence, and meditation. I'm not that great at it, really. There is too much clutter in my mind to claim any sort of spiritual revelation was made to me, except that my mind is too cluttered and I am preoccupied with rather trite concerns. I concentrated on quieting my stomach, and failed at that. I prayed for everyone I could think of, but that only lasted a few minutes. I watched other peoples' faces and looked around, trying to see if anyone else was hearing a word from God. I listened to the soft purr of rain on the tin roof. I watched iridescent blue morpho butterfly flutter by a few times, a gorgeous stark contrast to the dark green jungles surrounding the meeting house. It was a good hour. I have a lot to clear from my life and from my mind before I can quiet myself before God.

The hour ended suddenly and abruptly. I don't know how everyone knew, but on some unspoken signal people began rustling about, shaking hands, murmuring greetings to each other. The spell was broken and we were all "here" again.

A few reflections on the hour were given. A few comments, announcements, and prayer requests. Then they asked to introduce the "visitors," which meant, namely, myself, Amanda, and Mandy who were visiting from San José. Everyone laughed because the person asking "the visitors" to introduce themselves clearly meant just us. And everyone knew that... except us. So we introduced ourselves and afterward everyone chatted for a while. The meeting house doubles as a school for the kids - it reminds me (almost) of something out of Little House on the Prairie or the Homestead Village I visited in Texas.

There were all sorts of little details that I highlighted in my mind, but no generalizations I could make. There was an "English dance" scheduled for next Saturday. A potluck the next. A class on worship. A few ladies in dresses and some in pants. Men with shoes on, men in socks. Men cleanly shaven, men with large beards. No crosses anywhere, no scripture that I can remember. An Obama '08 bumper sticker on someone's SUV. No one tried to convert me or asked me to come back.

So anyway - a rather neat experience. Not one I had expected to have while studying Spanish in Costa Rica. Sitting in silence with cheese-making Quakers in the midst of a golden misty cloud forest watching iridescent butterflies flutter by.

How did I begin this thought? Oh yes, finding things out of the ordinary and being drawn towards them. This is part one.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Day of Cultures

On the 10th of October, our language school celebrated "The Day of Cultures." The largest celebration was done by the younger students from the international school that meet on the same campus. The kids displayed their diversity of backgrounds, from a number of Latin American countries, South Korea, China, Canada, the U.S., and a few European countries.

I miss my church. As part of the celebration a young Korean girl whirled by in a colorful dress, and I missed the dances and songs of the kids in my church. I miss the meals we had together every Sunday. As kids went up to sing "Jesus Loves Me" in different languages, suddenly the Creole words to the song came back to me. I tried to remember them once before, but I couldn't. Now they come back - all of them, and I wished so desperately to sing them.

I get goose bumps, thinking again - perhaps I am in the right place. Not just the right place like the right place to be of service to others - but the right place for me as well. Do I dare to hope both could exist at the same time, in the same place?

Only once before did I really feel a unity in cultures like this. Strike that, twice. In my Intercultural Church in Nampa, Idaho (what a blessing that was). And in Kansas City, when I served as part of an intercultural team there. It's a feeling of "home" I rarely feel repeated. Very rarely. But whenever I do feel it... I take note. Praise God for those moments.

One never reaches home... But where paths that have affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.
from Demian, by Hermann Hesse

Friday, September 26, 2008

vale la pena

"Vale la pena" translates roughly as "it's worth the effort." Such has been the first few weeks of language school.

I love learning a new language. Every aspect of it fascinates me - from the tiny details of phonetics such as the position of your teeth and tongue, whether a sound is formed by short bursts of air or drawn out over time, words like "dipthong" and "bilabial" and "trill" - to grammatical structure, verb tenses and moods, idioms, and expressions. I'm enjoying it. It amazes me how detailed we can go into something that comes naturally to kids learning to speak. And honestly, all these interesting terms are largely unhelpful during conversation, when my mouth moves and sounds come out and I hope to goodness that the ideas I'm thinking are making sense when they're vocalized.

The thrill of phoneticsI hope this diagram helps you visualize the tremendous thrill of language learning.
Now you know what a bilabial plosive looks like.

Fun is the word to describe parts of the process. Frustrating would be a light word to describe other parts of it. Our language classes are almost entirely in Spanish. Several days a week I come home in the afternoon utterly exhausted with a throbbing headache. A few days ago my host father explained to me his fascination with the topic of "predestinación" and "elección." Lots of specialized terms translate back and forth quite simply, but explaining the ideas and beliefs behind those terms is completely impossible for me with my limited Spanish. Not that in English I could do much better. So the extent of my ability to express my theology is pretty limited to "Jesus loves me this I know." That may be able to hold me over for a while, though.

This is the Ruedas family, who've been kind enough to take me in for a few months while I'm learning Spanish.
Jonathan's on the left - Carlos - Jeanette - Irma - and the gringo is me.

Fortunately I haven't suffered many of the language blunders some of my friends have. I didn't go to the front of the church during an altar call for unwed mothers. I didn't tell anyone I was "embarazado" (which DOESN'T mean "embarrased" - it means pregnant). I did tell my host-family how much I enjoyed eating "lawyers" when I meant "avocados." There are numerous other blunders well-meaning language learners have made here, but in order to keep this entry's G rating I can't really share them.

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I love the different words for "rain." Today, by the way, we had a rather strong downpour so intense it hailed ice. Yes, ice. But there are several words for rain.
  • "Pelo de gato" is one of my favorites. It means "cat fur" and it describes the light gentle rain that brushes your skin like cat fur.
  • "Agua cero" is another one. It means a heavy downpour, I'd like to think it describes huge "zero-shaped" raindrops.
  • "chaparon" is another word for a sudden downpour. No one has explained this to me, but I'd like to think it's like a "chaparone" that pops up quickly and checks on you, and then disappears as quickly as it came.
Another great word, unrelated to rain, is the word for the guards that sit in little booths protecting the neighborhoods. They're called a "watchyman." Pretty self-explanatory.

Speaking of rain again, since I'm on a role here just writing stream-of-consciousness, please remember Haiti especially in your prayers as it has suffered severely from the recent hurricanes. Reports tell of well over 500 deaths and severe flooding in many of the lower parts of the country. It got hit by several hurricanes separately, actually, but the flooding creates an ongoing problem that's knocked out what little infrastructure was already in place. Other areas were affected as well - Jamaica, Cuba, and parts of Texas. One of my MAF coworkers here in Costa Rica showed me photos of some of Haiti's airstrips that are completely underwater. Some of the strips are still able to be used, though, so MAF has been helping with some relief efforts there. Channel 7 news in Nampa, Idaho did a short video report on their involvement if you would like to know more.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

(repaired link for guatemala video)

For some reason the link in the previous entry didn't function properly for the podcast. Let's try again.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mi primero video en español

Well, here goes take one of my first video in Spanish!

If it seems like cheating that I'm not the one actually narrating the video in Spanish, it's not. It was still very difficult to cut together something in a language I couldn't fully understand. I haven't heard any complaints yet... so I think it worked OK.

I compiled some of the video and photos from our "medical brigade" trip in Guatemala and blended them together over an interview with Gladys, la presidenta of the group of young people organizing the trip.

In a nutshell, she talks about how participating in the event is a lot of fun (playing with the kids and whatnot). The clowns and songs and activities all help give the kids hope and show them that living a Christian life is a lot of fun. A lot of the kids have very little, but they are very happy with the little that they have. It also transforms your thinking and makes you more aware of the actual needs of the people in the more "neglected" parts of Guatemala. Although there are a lot of needs, hope can be found in Christ's love, and out of obedience we are called to be a part of the solution by having a positive effect on others. The doctors treat not only with medicine but also with love and concern, addressing all of the people's needs and not just handing them a prescription.

Watch the video here:

Or download it by clicking here.
(If you're signed up to receive podcasts from this site, the video should download automatically into iTunes)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Help! I'm learning to read, write, and speak again!

I just took a rather long stroll through the Museo de Los Niños in San José (The Children's Museum). It's built in a former military base that needed another use when Costa Rica disbanded its military in 1948. I wish I'd taken a photo, but I didn't bring my camera. I walked a large part of the way through an area I was advised not to carry a lot through. Here's one someone else took from out front at a geocache hidden in a cannon. It's odd because it kind of reminds me of the Disney castle - with turrets and colorful flags and pastel-colored walls. Inside there are tons of fun activities for kids. But this was a real fortress - the turrets are real, there are pillboxes inside, huge columns and guard towers, and barred prison cells.

Quite an amazing place! They have a helicopter, a real plane you can play in, a computer lab, and interestingly - a pretend coffee shop right next to a small "farm" where coffee plants and banana trees are growing. There are activities and explanations on where the coffee comes from and how its grown. There are trains and buses the kids can climb in. It includes parts of Costa Rican history, legends, scientific information about the universe and human bodies, nutrition, and literature. It was absolutely fascinating. Oh, and the geocache hidden out front helped to satisfy my adult treasure-hunting desires.

One of the most interesting rooms I almost missed because it was upstairs in a place I somehow skipped. But I was drawn to it by a HUGE racket of noise. Kids were talking and laughing and yelling. When I found what all the ruckus was about... it was a mini-grocery store for kids. Yes, there was a huge room designed like a real grocery store, complete with miniature shopping carts, cashiers, a laser scanner for barcodes, a scale to weigh vegetables, and hundreds of "products" to buy. The goal of this room, as far as I could tell, was to educate kids to become good consumers and purchase nutritious food. You picked up a shopping list on the way in and had to try and follow the directions, purchasing healthy foods within your budget. The cashiers would ring up everything in your shopping cart - and if you messed up or went over your budget, the character on the computer monitor scolded you and you had to try again. There was nutritional advice everywhere and even instructions to parents on how to talk to your kids about finances.

Fascinating, I thought. And that room was definitely one of the most crowded. The kids loved it.

Another thing that struck me was that I couldn't understand ANYTHING. This is a children's museum, and I was running around pushing buttons and trying to read things, understanding nearly nothing. Some of my schooling will transfer over - but I still have to learn a completely new vocabulary for things I already know. Plus, an entire new set of history, legends, values, and culture.

I think every guest to a new country should visit the "children's museum." First, you'll realize you're suddenly less educated and competent than an 8-year-old. And yet, you've probably been given the responsibility of an adult. I have a driver's license in this country and I don't know the names of the planets or how to read the nutritional information on the side of a cereal box. (Oh, I forgot to mention I got a driver's license. It only took 2 1/2 hours and less than $30. I was amazed! This is in contrast to my attempts to get a driver's license in Haiti. After 5 trips downtown to the offices, I gave up.)

Secondly, at a children's museum you'll learn a lot, starting like a child when you can't even read. All you can do is push buttons and watch lights blink to indicate things on a colorful map. You can pick up different pieces of rock and feel parts of the body to guess what they're called. You'll start to tune into values and heritage almost immediately - what kind of a country would turn a war stronghold into a center for kids to explore and learn? Doing away with their military in 1948 left plenty of resources for education, developing ecotourism, and building parks. I've been to old prisons and castles before and I still get a heavy feeling of the history of the prison. You get the same feeling walking into here. But it's hijacked and immediately channeled into learning about the natural beauty and culture of your country.

What was I talking about? Oh yes, learning the values and customs of a new culture by learning what their kids are taught. I suggest it. I'm growing to appreciate the natural beauty, the parks, and the family-oriented emphases of this culture myself. It's nice to observe... now if I only knew enough spanish to talk to someone about it...

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Whirling Dervishes

(I wrote this poem in response to a comment made by Dr. Paul Farmer in a lecture to Stanford University students. He mentioned offhandedly that a great many non-government organizations seem to be operating like "whirling dervishes" in Africa. I thought that a particularly clever word picture, and I think it's a rather accurate description of the danger of getting so caught up in a frenzy of busy-ness that we take ourselves too seriously and forget who we're serving. Spinning in circles can be fun, though - it's a welcome escape from the real issues at hand.)
When I was a child
I used to take great joy
In looking up at the sky
And spinning myself in circles
Until I fell to the ground
And felt the earth move beneath me.

I have read of religions
where they spin in circles
Until from utter exhaustion
And disorientation
They fall flat
Their minds liberated
in a state of religious

I have watched entire
Look up to the sky
and with their eyes
full of hope
they spin themselves into a
Blissful Exhaustion,
Passing out on the floor
but filled with a dizzying feeling of
fulfillment and hope.

I wish I was still a child,
spinning myself silly
And looking toward heaven
as I feel the world shifting below.

But somehow whirling in circles
became more than a fun game
And now I join with the kingdoms
and religions
In thinking this dance is for some
noble purpose.

When really,
I can't wait
to fall
from spinning
and rest
while the earth moves
beneath me.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Guatemala, Part Colorful

Guatemala, Part Colorful:

Guatemala ignites your eyes with hundreds of different hues and colors. I tried to capture visually the beauty of the people and the country, which impacted me every direction I turned. I compiled a few select photos into the short photo essay linked above.

(By the way, if you're a hip young iPod user, or a bold and daring old iPod user, or even if you just use iTunes to organize your music, you can subscribe to this blog as a "podcast" and you'll automatically get any new videos I post here. To do that click "Subscribe to Podcast" on the right menu bar. Try it and let me know if it works or not.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Guatemala, Part Kids, Volcanoes, and Well-Drilling

I am currently sitting in the Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City enjoying free wireless internet. This morning I was roasting hotdogs on a volcano. Last Sunday I visited the first mega-church I've ever been to with a parking garage 8 stories high and better technology than I've ever seen used at an event. A week ago I was thigh-deep in a slimy mud pit helping drill a well out in rural Guatemala. And a few days before that I was showing children magic tricks while they waited to see a dentist or doctor at the medical brigade in Lanquín.

It's been an eventful two weeks here in Guatemala, for sure. I got to do lots of really exciting things I didn't expect to be doing, and I met some really great friends along the way. Some of them were part of "CREA," which is an NGO Gladys and her friends are putting together. Some of them, surprise surprise, were from northern Idaho.

It's hard to say which part was my favorite, because each things had it's perks. I don't know the first thing about well-drilling, so getting to help unload the rig, fill the mudpits, and start the drilling was very interesting to me. The well is less than a foot wide, and to keep it from collapsing on itself once we got deeper we mixed this slimy solution of bentonite to coat the walls. This is the only time since science class in high school I've seen the word "high viscosity" used. After every 5 feet or so, when we needed to add another segment to the drill, Jeremy took a sample of the clippings so we could see what we were digging through. At this point I was recalling to mind the little illustrations in my science book with different "layers" of earth ribboned each in a pretty color. We hit the first water table at 25', but bored farther to try and reach a purer water source. We had to quit at 37'. Jeremy and Patrick, CI missionaries who've lived here for a while now, will complete the well after we leave.

So, well-drilling was fun.

The volcano was breathtaking. Partly because of its beauty. Partly because of the 7600 ft altitude and steep hike up. Partly because of the baking heat rising from below us as we walked over the lava beds. The volcano we climbed, Pacaya, is an active volcano. Very active. The last time I was here in Guatemala in December it was spewing ash. Right now the peak is steaming and there are flaming-hot heat vents all around. Last week some of our team got close enough to throw sticks into the magma. This week, however, we brought along hot dogs and marshmellows to roast. Made for a good snack.

I should probably explain that there were no guardrails on Pacaya. They told me that if you heard cracking or felt the ground beneath you giving way, you should move quickly because you were standing on a collapsing lava tube. It was rather unnerving to be walking on rock and hear a hollow echoing sound underneath you. The fact that the rock practically disintegrated under your feet was a little odd as well. Touching the cooled lava with your hands was dangerous as well, as it was like fibers of glass in the shape of frost crystals. It was like grabbing glass - it could shred your hands in seconds.

I just boarded the plane. Hmm, what a stroke of luck, I somehow got plopped in First Class! Sweet, plenty of leg room, comfy seats, and yummier snacks. You're kidding me, they even warm your nuts. Which, I guess I should clarify, come in a little white bowl and include cashews and almonds. I guess this makes up having to ditch my sweet leatherman multitool at the security checkpoint. That was a mistake to leave in my bag.

But if I had to pick a part of the trip that was personally the most fulfilling, I'd say it would be the weekend "medical brigade" to Lanquín. Lanquín is a small village with cobblestone roads and brightly-colored buildings. It's a rather remote area with very few resources and not many opportunities for the local kids. Some of the people we met didn't even speak Spanish - we had to have Quekchi (or however you spell it) translators to give them medical advice. Anyway, we were a team of 37 young people who went to partner with local churches and schools to preach, teach, give medical assistance, and do children's activities. Some of the team were young dentists, some doctors, and some helped with the pharmacy. I shot video of all the activities and had a great time "tumbling" and doing magic tricks with some of the kids while they waited for medical attention. It really was an honor to be a part of the team. I got to practice a lot of Spanish, as most of the team were young Guatemalans. They taught me all sorts of chapin slang. I was amazed at the diligence and long hours the medics and dentists worked. We drove ALL Friday night, arrived in Lanquín at 8 AM Saturday, and they worked the whole day until evening. The school bus we drove out there didn't make for comfortable sleeping. Sunday were kids activities, which were GREAT fun with clowns, piñatas, dancing, and singing. It was SO much fun and the faces of the kids laughing and singing is frozen clearly in my mind and I captured it on video.

One of the main reasons I stopped in Guatemala was to see my friend Gladys who I met a few years ago in Kansas City on a Youth in Mission trip. Community development work is something she's passionate about and works hard to get others passionate about, and so the timing of this trip worked perfectly for me to see what she and her friends do and be a part of it. I learned more about the community outreach organization her and her friends are forming, and some of the video and photos we took will be used for their team in future trips. Many of the Guatemalan doctors and dentists on the trip were given a chance to see a part of their country where the need is the greatest, and use their skills to help the locals and give them hope. It was a real honor to be invited to be a part of the Lanquín trip. And for me, it helped clarify my passion as well - helping people like Gladys and her friends who are reaching out to others in their community. The passion and fervor and dedication I saw in the young people on that team fills me with excitement to the point my stomach almost aches. An opportunity for me, a foreigner, to be a participant trip like this can only happen by invitation, and I am very, very grateful.

And so... en route again to San Jose, Costa Rica. I'm really excited about this next year of language school. During my time in Guatemala, I realized more than ever how important it is for me to learn Spanish to a point where I'm conversational. I missed out on so many fun conversations (and jokes about myself) by not understanding clearly what people were talking about.

P.S. In subsequent posts I will put up more photos and video from this trip. The editing and organizing of all the footage and over 4500 photos will be an ongoing process, but I'll keep you posted! I enjoy writing, but photos and video tell it so much better.

P.P.S. Speaking of writing, I was tasked with writing trip reports for both the Lanquín trip and the Zacapa well-drilling trip. I've attached them if you're interested in the details.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Guatemala, Part Day One

"Loose a tree in the forest. Hide a tear in the rain."

I wonder if it was flying all night with fewer than 3 hours of sleep. Maybe it was the pain of leaving family and friends behind, or perhaps it was cultural shock of being plopped in completely new surroundings. It could have been the 3-hour ride in the rain-soaked bed of the pickup. Probably the physical strain of helping load and unload 4000lbs of food had something to do with it. Could it be the paradoxical feeling of normalcy and belonging that I feel when I see armed militia drive by and shotgun toting guards protecting orange juice trucks and flower shops? Perhaps it was even a little bit of wonder and sheer awe that even over so many thousand miles from the life I left behind to here in Guatemala City, there are still so many connections and similarities, to my life in Haiti, to my life in Idaho, to my time in Kansas City... There's such a mess of reasons that might have filled my eyes with warm tears while the rest of my body was shivering from the cold rain soaking us in the back of the truck, that it's nigh impossible to pick out any single one.

The first miracle happened upon arrival at Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. Miraculously, all three pieces of luggage had made it safely through 3 different airports and arrived on the conveyor belt in Guatemala. The second blessing was that Guatemalan customs didn't slash open everything and rummage through my luggage, which is a courtesy I have received from TSA every time I fly into the U.S.

It may come as a surprise that the first thing I did after getting situated in the guest house I'm staying at was take a hot shower and then visit a local wholesale store much like Costco. In fact, it was identical to Costco, requiring a membership to enter the huge warehouse of wholesale items stacked ceiling high on palettes.

I met up with the team I'll be joining to go do missions work this next week. We're staying at the Calvary International base guest house, and right now the core team is composed of a few Calvary International missionaries, some people from northern Idaho as a part of a "Do something worth doing" trip, Gladys (who I met several years ago on a Youth in Mission trip), a few Guatemalans, and myself. We will be joined by a team coming down from the U.S. for a brief weekend missions excursion and then a week of well-digging after that. The weekend trip was set up as a part of an outreach NGO Gladys and her colleagues have set up called "CREA." The well-digging project is done through Calvary International.

The entire afternoon was spent transporting 150 boxes of protein-vegetable mix from USAID from a small storehouse in the middle of "a dangerous place" to Gladys' house. I'd say the safe transport of the 4000 lbs of food on the back of a small Kia pickup without any spills or accidents was a miracle in and of itself. Just during the trip a car in front of us got smashed off the road by someone who wasn't paying attention. The pickup cab only held 3 people, so myself and Andy from Idaho got the royal tour of Guatemala from the truck bed. The seating became much smaller after loading all 150 boxes in the back. The food is apparently part of the Church of the Nazarene's NCM program for pastors in Izabalito. Much of CREA's work has been in Izabalito - in fact I missed their "Christmas trip" out there by a few days when I was in Guatemala last December.

So that was day one in Guatemala. I kind of hope once we get out of the city, things will slow down a little. After about two weeks here I will continue on to Costa Rica, where another surprise awaits me! I have no idea where I'll be staying! The family that was previously planning on hosting me somehow fell through, so other options are being explored.

Even though well-digging, heavy-lifting, and sorting medicines aren't exactly skillsets I put on my application to work with MAF, I think that for this first year especially, while I am tasked primarily with learning Spanish and the culture, any opportunity I'm given to be a part of things like this is a huge blessing.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Nampa, Part Leaving

I sit under my favorite "thinking spot" here at NNU beside the prayer chapel on the Brandt Center Lawn. I never looked at the dedication plaque on the bench, but it's to Douglas Farmer, from his wife Elaine. I'm not sure who they are, but this bench under the drooping willow tree branches has been my favorite spot for several years now. The electronic bells clang the announcement of the noon hour, and the new sound of the fountain spattering on the rocks blends well with the wind hissing through the willow branches.

I leave tomorrow. I returned from Texas with two short weeks to pack up my life here in preparation for at least 4 years in Costa Rica.

The first week I spent planning and preparing, and also getting a shipment tested and sent down to Costa Rica via a church team in Florida.

This past week I spent packing, attempting to think ahead for future years as well as neatly bring closure to my living space here. Packing for just myself was not too difficult. I am leaving a lot of things behind I will probably need, but I opted to take less just so I wouldn't have the burden of worrying about all my "stuff." I understand I will probably be able to buy most anything I need there, it will just be far more expensive. Plus, I see buying things there as a way of injecting more money into their local economy, in a rather pathetic sort of micro-attempt at fuleing localized businesses and economy. At what point that became a moral duty in my head, I'm not sure.

Regardless, packing reminds me of how much excess I have. Even after packing all I'll need, I still have enough clothes and things to live for 2 more people - and that's what I've used for the past two weeks. All my neglected clothes I don't need.

I also have the bittersweet joy of going through all the sentimental cards and gifts that people have given me over the past year. I'm able to carry with me very few - tucked away in books, Bibles, or my journal. I wish I could take them all, but I think that I learned this year that people's kind thoughts and words are a continually-renewing source of encouragement for me - fresh, new, and energizing every time. Part of me wants to hold on tightly to the blessings I've been given. Part of me aches as I let them go. But part of me looks forward eagerly in cool anticipation for what new sources of joy and motivation may come. God always seems to give just enough for the moment, to keep us coming back for more.

What was I talking about? Oh yes, deciding what to take and what to leave. I've capped my packing at three check-throughs, two of them overweight. One weighs in at 49.2, one at 71.2, the last at 70.0 flat. This being because when I get to Guatemala, there is a different price for check-throughs at more than 50lbs and another price for more than 70lbs. For domestic flights there's one break - at 50lbs. Neither airlines allows more than 100 lbs.

The sermon on Sunday by Dr. Gary Waller was appropriate and convicting. It was from Luke 10 when Jesus sends out the 70 disciples, saying something to the effect of - take nothing with you, be a good guest, bring peace to the home of your hosts, and eat and drink what's given you, don't go from house to house looking for a better meal. Appropriate, I felt.

I'm glad I'm not the only person taking advantage of this nice cool spot at the prayer chapel. Three hispanic ladies have gathered to take their lunch break on a neighboring bench. One of them, Angelina, used to be a custodian over in Wiley. She goes to the intercultural church that I attend and she makes the best enchiladas I've ever had. Now she works in the business building. One of the ladies is her sister (she cleans Ford) and the other is her friend.

As my mind starts to board the plane and my body travels the distance
to another world and another culture, a few words of advice ring
persistently in my ears as I go.

I want us to be completely open, and say yes to everything, even if it's shocking and painful.
  • Francis - the Darjeeling Limited
I feel as though a coiled spring is unwinding inside me, sending me spiraling into the heavens, or down into the the abyss, who knows which...
  • Ernesto "Che" Guevara
When you first arrive as a guest to another culture
- just listen.

After you've been there for a while and know how things work
- just listen.

And after the new places becomes even more familiar than the one you've left
- still, just listen.

Just listen.
  • Grampa Bruce Blowers

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Waco, Part 2: The Place - Shoot me a Waco!

Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2, and 4

Waco's lesser-known claim to fame is that it was here that the very first Dr Pepper drink was concocted by Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist. It was in a pharmacy that he first brewed together the magical 23 flavors that constitute the real Dr. Pepper. Since my grandmother is a Dr Pepper fanatic (can't stand the cheapo imitations), I wanted to see the place where it all began.

  • When Alderton first started selling his soda concoction, it was called a Waco. Thus - "Shoot me a Waco!"
  • Apparently during WWII, sugar was being rationed and since soda drinks contained so much sugar, they counted as food. Thus, the slogan "drink a bite to eat" was Dr Pepper's pitch.
  • Since people experience an energy crash at about 10:30, 2:30, and 4:30, those are the times you're advised to guzzle a DP down.
  • Dr Pepper dropped the period from its logo in the 1950's. Why? Because the curl on the end of the "r" in the original "Dr. Pepper" blended together with the period and made it look like a colon. So after that point - no period.
  • Prune juice is not one of the 23 flavors
  • Originally, Dr Pepper proudly contained no caffeine and no cocaine. This has changed, however.
  • Bottles (used to be) inspected for cleanliness by eye. Twice.
I almost bought the Dr Pepper BBQ sauce they were selling in the gift shop, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Waco, Part 1: The Place - the Branch Dividian Compound

Waco is located about 2 hours south of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area in Texas. I'm staying with the Banks family, who served overseas in Venezuela for several years before continuing their work from Redlands, California, and now Waco, Texas.

We're a few miles outside the city on a large 9-acre ranch. Mowing the entire place took the better part of a week, including not only the yard but the pasture where their daughter's horse, Diamond, roams. And it needs to be mowed once a week as well.

It's blazing-hot most of the day, and the humidity wraps around you like a warm blanket. We're within walking distance of a grass airstrip and long country roads which make for nice evening walks and bike rides.

My Visit to the Branch Dividian Compound

So if anyone's heard of Waco, the first connection that's drawn is to the standoff between the Branch Dividians under David Karesh and the FBI/ATF teams in 1993. There were a number of events that snowballed into a 51-day siege of the members holed up in their complex. It ended in the tragic burning and death of 76 people (mostly women and children) in their complex.

There's plenty of information about the events that unfolded over those months, but I was largely unaware of the controversy surrounding it. So I decided to go visit the site and explore the setting and see for myself what the story was about.

The Branch Dividian complex is within biking distance of where I'm staying, so Saturday morning I biked down the Double EE Ranch Road and through the gates of the Branch Dividian complex. A large gnarled tree looms upward at the center of the entrance, shading a short wall of bricks that commemorate the deaths of the men, women, and children who died on the day of the fateful fire. Their names and ages are listed, some prefixed by the designator "Aborted Fetus" or "Infant" as some of the babies actually died in the fire during childbirth.

(Not really sure why I'm smiling in this picture)

Further into the compound is a beautiful pond surrounded by lush greenery, with several rows of small trees planted in rows (also in memory of those killed, I heard). I biked up to the small chapel building, which rests on the original site of the complex that was destroyed in the fire. I noted there were cars out front, and I knew this to be the building that housed some of the history of the area, so I opened the door to look around.

Stupid, foolish Brendan. I walked in on a small group of people who all turned around and rather brusquely notified me I was interrupting their service. In a sudden rush I realized what a complete idiot I was - of course. They were Seventh-Day Adventists. They met on the holy Sabbath, which biblically would have been Saturday. I knew this of course, but my mind hadn't made the connection until I stepped into the small chapel building.

I flushed and closed the door. I stood outside for a few moments debating what I should do next. I don't know what I was expecting, but it didn't really look that different from any other church. I think, actually, I was expecting something more like a Mennonite-type setting, with head-coverings and conservative dress. That wasn't really the case. There were drums, instruments, and a projector and laptop. Everyone was dressed very casually and there actually a few kids. There were only seven people, though. While I was trying to figure out what to do, the only adult male from inside came out and asked me a few questions. He was running the powerpoint but when I saw him closer I noticed he had one bummed eye. He was very polite as he tried to figure out what I was doing there. I apologized for interrupting their church meeting and explained I'd forgotten that they met on Saturdays, and he made a light-hearted joke about that being the scriptural day to meet, and invited me to come look around while they finished their Bible lesson.

And so there I was, standing on the very ground where 15 years ago 76 people had burned to death and 4 ATF agents were killed in a standoff against each other, browsing over their history and reading the story of that fateful day. When their Bible study was over, some of the members explained to me their perspective on what had happened. I'll try to repeat it as accurately as I remember.

First, what happened at Waco is an "object lesson" of what happens when people follow a man instead of God. Vernon Howell (renamed himself to David Koresh) brought God's judgment on himself and the community which was enacted through the U.S. government. According to the man who was talking to me, he'd been one of the elders higher up in the denomination who pointed out that Koresh AND all their previous prophets had predicted a fiery downfall and Koresh was claiming if for himself. This was at one of the Branch Dividian board meetings. Koresh put his arm around the man and smiled, saying "This man speaks the truth. But watch what they're going to decide about me." And then the Branch Dividian board proceeded to place all their trust and devotion in Koresh and his claims to be the "Lamb" that would open the book in Revelation. According to the church's interpretation of the scriptures and even Koresh's understanding of himself, his claims would lead to violent destruction. And so, he embraced his role in the prophecy and his followers did as well.

Rather grim, I'd say. They note, however, that this pattern is repeated over and over, and one reason they keep telling the story is in hopes that other groups will learn from their experience and always look to God for guidance - never a man. They pointed out that similar things are STILL in the news about Texas - such as the mess the courts and the other group is in now about returning the kids to their families or taking them away.

Another interesting thing they explained to me was that the Holy Spirit was the "second Eve." As the first Eve was drawn from the first Adam, so the "second Eve," the Holy Spirit, was drawn from Christ, the second Adam. The Holy Spirit is the feminine expression of God that is passed on and "rebirths" in the church. Since man has no way of "passing on" anything, it was done through Eve and it is done through the Holy Spirit.

Interesting stuff. Largely drawn from Revelation and Ezekiel. They were very hospitable and kind, especially after I'd barged in on their service. And it was nice of them to talk to me. It surprised me that all the "dirty laundry" of this incident was right up there on the walls of their chapel, as a part of their history - not to defend it but kind of as a "confession."

Friday, May 30, 2008

A few thoughts on leaving

Today, for the umpteenth time this past month, I was asked about my departure in July. People always ask the same question - "Are you excited?"

"Are you excited, are you excited, are you excited, are you excited..." A leading question like that, asked so many times, convinced me of what my answer should be. Of course I'm excited! I've been waiting for this for over a year! I'm ecstatic! And then I explain all the way sin which I'm excited. Which, in all honesty, I had to intellectually contrive my excitement around certain things I deduced a person *might* be more or less prone to be excited about at this time.

Today, I realized with a shock, that when I answer that question, my facial expression and physical posture are at complete odds with my words. As I attempt to describe my excitement my face grimaces, by brows furrow, and my body shrinks into a fetal defensive posture. Internally, my mind darkens, my stomach knots up into a ball, and my back starts to ache at the base of my neck.

I realized... the truth is, I'm not excited about going. I'm stressed out of my mind. Perhaps even terrified. I almost physically crumple from exhaustion when I think of all there is to do and get ready. When I think of leaving my family and friends - it's even worse. I don't feel angry or sad or anything. It's complete non-feeling. Non-feeling, by the way, terrifies me the most because I know its an illusion. Non-feeling is what will totally floor me with sudden grief in about... say, six months.

To get rid of the physical tension knotting my body into a tightened ball, I've tried my best to boost up the active exercise - more biking, intense running, weight lifting. Anything to unlatch the clenching tightness I feel in my neck, shoulders, and stomach.

To get rid of the emotional tension - I dunno, I'm not sure where it goes. Probably into snapping out at my friends and family. What a great way to ease the pain of disconnecting - by ticking everyone off! Some of it, much of it, actually, is felt out through writing and journaling.

Some of it could be remotely construed as "excitement," I suppose. That is the part of me that is ruthlessly researching, planning, and thinking ahead to new adventures in the near future. That's the part of me that gets a thrill from going to get vaccinations. That's the part of me that is stirred with emotion whenever I hear someone speaking Spanish. That's the adolescent part of me that thinks - Central America? Sweet! Hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes! Rainforests and multi-colored birds, bright red frogs and colorful snakes! Scuba diving, beaches, jungles, and mystery! That part of me is excited.

But I'm not over there yet. The excitement of this new adventure is right now overshadowed by this slowly fading world here in Nampa. I often find myself disabled by "exhaustion;" or aloof and disconnected, or in complete shock. Minutes on end can pass by before I snap to attention and realize I was just spacing out for several minutes. I don't want to be with people, I don't want to think, I don't want to feel. I just want to incubate for the remaining months and skip to the "exciting" part.

So do I feel "excited?" I don't think that's the right word. I won't be "excited" until my feet are on the seismic soil of Costa Rica, until I'm plunged into a sea of words and customs I don't know, until my eyes are filled with the colors, sounds, and smells of a new country. Then, what I feel will probably be more accurately labeled "excited." Right now, "dread" is probably a better label. "Terrified" fits as well.

If I could make a comparison, it's like public speaking (for me, at least). Or the first time a a surgeon plunges a scalpel into a real patient. At first you're paralyzed with fear. Once you're in, it's sorta fun! That's why I use an icebreaker when I speak. To put me at ease, not just the audience!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Rope

So... I'm a dolt. When I posted "The rope" story that I was so excited about, it was all chopped up and didn't look right. Thanks, Forest, for pointing that out. I've reposted it and it should look right now- The Rope.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

an average of 5 converts per day, more bang for your buck, and other great standards for gauging efficiency in ministry

Throughout this process I am constantly pressed by questions of effectiveness, good use of time, and keeping accountable to the people that support this ministry financially. It's often difficult to measure the effectiveness or "results" of ministry, when there's something kind of threatening in the whole idea of service for the purpose of results. Meaning, results of a ministry should be descriptive, not prescriptive. I don't want to have every conversation or interaction I have burdened by the need to defend or justify the time/resources spent on doing it. Flexibility is crucial for missions work.

That's no excuse, though, for not providing a detailed standard of effectiveness and information accounting for details of how a ministry operates. This is important partly for transparency and accountability, and partly so a meaningful, honest dialogue can occur between myself and the people who support me.

The December Wall Street Journal has an article about philanthropy and charity giving. Since MAF is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit charity that has an open-door policy on its financial process, and since they (from my observation) make a concerted effort to use donor money wisely and report openly on its use of donor monies, I wanted to make information available here for anyone interested in the financial workings of this ministry. I'll also answer some of the questions that people ask me about how the money is used. Some people seem reluctant to ask... so here's how it works!

(I try not to spend too much time on these things or dwell on them, but I want to make this information known somewhere so if you're interested you can find answers here. This information only interests me at periodic points in the process, but I think it's important to be transparent about it, so here's where that information is available)

If you really want to read from my heart's perspective on this topic, though, please read this short story I wrote. I busted this out in a sudden "fever" of inspiration about a year ago. And since then I've been living it as a reality. Please read it and perhaps it will be a blessing to you as well.

Friday, January 04, 2008

"Debt-for-nature" swaps in Costa Rica and around the world

If you've followed any news coming out of Costa Rica, one recent story is how the U.S. canceled $26 million in debt to Costa Rica, with the agreement that those monies would now go toward nature conservation instead of to paying off the debt. This recent podcast from BBC explains the pros and cons of the "debt-for-nature" swap that the US and other European nations are starting to employ, to protect natural resources and discourage misuse of the land.

According to this podcast:
  • 60% of the biodiversity in the world is located in 20 sites. Costa Rica is second most important one.
  • The swap with Costa Rica was the largest one so far
  • Since countries usually focus their resources on more pressing issues, canceling the debt allows them to put the extra money toward environmental conservation without taking money from their current budget
  • Some of the farmers are concerned that their lands are being taken for conservation, and they don't receive any compensation. They fear the money and benefits won't reach them, they'll remain at the top level and not be distributed properly
  • Some worry that this agreement increases U.S. influence over Costa Rica's most precious natural resource - its land. Also, some of the major financial backers of these policies are large corporations with a poor history of environmental preservation in their operations