Thursday, November 19, 2015

House Fires

I have written blogs about him before, but I have rarely known a more dedicated servant among our churches. Jacob Korinda is now an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church of Tanzania. He was one of the first local pastors I met and he introduced me to the history of the Mara District which I unknowingly would later assume leadership of. Jacob is the pastor of Ingrichini UMC, circuit leader of the Rorya Circuit, and chair of our district development committee. None of these jobs earn him a paycheck, but he does them lovingly anyway.

On a recent visit to his home we were talking about different housing styles and building materials and he shared with me a story from when he had just started working as a local pastor. He was out in the field with his wife and they had had to leave their children at home in care of the oldest brother. While they were gone one of the younger children accidently knocked over the wood cooking fire and sent sparks into the roof of his traditional mud and grass roof house. By the time that Jacob and his wife reached home the house had already burned down. All the children were okay thanks to the oldest who rescued them from the house, but the family lost everything expect the clothes on their backs. Even through this episode the family stayed faithful to the church while slowly rebuilding their home, purchasing new clothes, and making it though a tough time.

Since that house fire many years ago Jacob have led the church members in building a church for Ingrichini UMC. This is the only church in our district where I found a roof already on the building and simply had to finish some of the layers of brick and doors and windows. Yet in all of that time Jacob has continue to live with his family in a traditional house with a grass roof. I feel like people as dedicated as Jacob should have safe, dignified housing.

Please consider supporting us on December 1st, 2015 as we participate in Giving Tuesday and work to transform the lives of the people we work with. You can head to and search for “Church Construction and Development - # 3021923.” More information on how donations are matched is below.

UMC #GivingTuesday, Dec. 1

On Dec. 1, United Methodists will once again come together to support the work of Advance projects and missionaries on UMC #GivingTuesday. And once again, every gift made online through The Advance at on Dec. 1, 2015 will be matched up to $1 milion.* The missionary who receives the highest amount of online donations on UMC #GivingTuesday will be able to direct $10,000 to an Advance project of his/her choice!

* Global Ministries will allocate matching funds dollar for dollar up to the first $1 million in gifts to Advance projects received online on Dec. 1, 2015, between 12:00 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. CT. A maximum of $2,500 per individual gift to a project will be dispersed as matching funds. A project may receive a maximum of $25,000 in matching funds.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Why I Don't Ask Street Kids Their Names

I can’t say when exactly it started, but I have always had a soft spot for kids living on the streets. Maybe it was my first international mission trip in Dominican Republic when they came up to us with small wooden boxes full of shoe polish and brushes and offered to shine our sandals. Maybe it was even before that, I just know that no matter what city I am in, if it is of any size I tend to be able to spot kids on the street, and they seem to find me as well. My first priority, if language is not a barrier is to talk to them. I feel like sometimes what is needed most of all is gentle, genuine human interaction. That is often what seems to be lacking in their life of being ignored by most passer-byers who either find it awkward to start a conversation or some who even seem to find it insulting that a child reduced to sleeping on the street should ask for a little money that day.

Despite this soft spot, and a tendency to strike up conversation there is something that I rarely do…I don’t ask them what their names are. At least not at first. It is not callousness or a disregard for their identity. It is more from a guess that they have precious little and that what they do have, such as their identity should remain theirs for the keeping. I don’t feel that I have a right, even as an occasional contributor to their livelihood, to any part of them that they are not ready to give themselves. It is on par with the feeling we get when that one over nosy person tends to ask personal questions that you aren’t quite ready to share in a new group such as why you are on your fourth marriage or what is up with that kid of yours. Most of us have a natural reaction to those that seem to think that too much of our lives is their business. I feel like when you live out in the open and most all of your everyday living including washing clothes, bathing, etc. is done around people that you have a right to keep a certain part of yourself to yourself, until you choose to share it. I may not be right in my thinking and I am sure there are people who can say the opposite and that everyone likes to be known by others, that our connection is part of our humanity. And you may be right. However, I know that too often those with perceived power feel like they have a right to set the terms of their interactions and that in the end we often take more away than we give if that is the assumption with which we operate.

A year in to living in Mwanza and I know one name of the roughly 15 kids I interact with on a weekly basis. And for now that is enough. Hopefully as I continue to get to know them they will trust me with more of their stories, but that is up to them.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Always falling until...

The water flows down and then plateaus,
Stopping only long enough in its chaotic swirl
To show its beautiful sparkling light
Swirling ever closer,
small hope present in the last calm breath before it plunges again
Falling to an unknown depth, an unknown place,
a level of loneliness that keeps us separated in our similarities,
a level of humanness that keeps us locked in conflict over our perceived differences.
Always falling until…

These were my thoughts as I stood at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City last fall. 14 years is a long time. So long that high school freshman were not alive when this tragedy hit our nation. 14 years is also a short time, short enough that we are still involved in conflicts reignited on that day. What struck me about the 9/11 Memorial at the time was the way that it represented my understanding of chaos and conflict in the world.  An edge…a response…a pause…a choice…a path.

9/11 was not an isolated event, it had its beginnings and it has had many repercussions, but it was an edge, a place where the world seemed to hang in the balance and pause in the silence. Certainly it will always count as a watershed moment in history.

The thing about edges though is that they need a response. The initial response to 9/11 was what many people have focused on today in remembrance. The heroic acts of emergency personnel that performed a duty that they had trained for, that they had performed before, but which took on a new height that day in the face of unknown chaos. The response was a nation coming together.  We came together to mourn even though many of us didn’t know personally those who died. We came together to comfort one another as we each wondered what this meant for the future of our country, our families, and our communities. Our response was needed, and it was good.

The 9/11 Memorial at this point is like a big pool, a place with water sprays, rainbows, and a calming, cascading sound. It is a place of calm. This was our initial response as a country, that we found a peace in each other’s arms, in prayer, and the action of our heroes even in the midst of chaos.

Unfortunately this pause, this calm was temporary, and it was quickly followed by a choice which has set us on the path that we are on now. Because the 9/11 Memorial is not a calm pool, but there in the middle turns into an abyss of rushing water falling to depths unseen as you stand before it.  It is an abyss where one action has led to multiple wars, even more numerous and sophisticated terrorist groups, and a world that seems to be sinking further into division and hate and anger, both inside the US and outside of it. In the choices following the pause we gave into hate and anger, and worst of all fear. And the unknown depths of that memorial, so well depicted by the artist is where we now are 14 years later after that watershed moment.

Every day we have choices to make both big and small. As I reflect on 9/11/01 I find that the immediate response of rescue workers to save lives even at the risk of losing their own and the choice to honor and mourn lives because of their sanctity is the right choice for us as Americans. Yet the many choices that followed did not hold up that honor and did not honor that sacrifice. We gave in to our baser instincts and into the mindset of our enemies, and the world is a worse place for it. Now 14 years later we still have that choice and I hope that at some point we choose to come out of the unknown depths of fear, hate, and anger and to live in the light again.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Racism, Economics, and the Church's Prophetic Task

While largely quite myself, I have followed the news in the US in the last week about the shooting in Charleston. It hit a little harder than usual because of the common table connection of the AME and United Methodist Church. It was felt more closely that these are my people, my tribe, even though I have not ever met them or had the privilege of worshipping with them. 

After I heard the news I kind of braced myself for the expected social media debate to follow about gun control, but I have been honestly surprised about the debate raised in regard to the confederate flag and whether or not it is a symbol of racism. As I have watched both sides of the argument on social media, having a wide range of friends, I have by and large seen people talking past each other as if they are not talking about related subjects. One side is focusing on the racism inherently displayed any time the confederate flag is visible and others about the flag as a symbol of “heritage and not hate” and with a history of standing for economic rights and state sovereignty.  What has failed to be stated by anyone is that we are actually all talking about the same thing and if we continue to fail and put them together in the historical context of the American Civil War than we will also continue to fail to put them together in our many current contexts of conflict, war, and oppression.

This morning I read Ezekiel 27-28 and appropriately enough found this:
Ezekiel 28:16 – “But because of your trade, your oppressive business practices piled up, and you became impure. So I expelled you from God’s mountain.”
Ezekiel 28: 18 – “Because of your corrupt trade, which surpassed your many other sins, you made your sanctuaries impure.”

Of course the American Civil War was about economics and state sovereignty…And it was just as obviously about racism because that the fact of the matter is that the majority of institutionalized racism (which is simply oppression based on ethnicity instead of a different categorization) is based in economics. The above Bible passage talks about Tyre, a port city who became rich through corrupt practices including oppression of others. This oppression and corruption according to Ezekiel is the chief sin, the largest offense. Female Gentile Mutilation (FGM) in my part of the world is largely about the worth of the bride, the money paid to those elders performing the ceremonies, and to make the practice of polygamy easier, which is another practice based in economics. FGM and racism are connected in that they are both oppressive and they were both at different times economically motivated. While people may talk about tribal traditions in the defense of FGM the reality is the it was started because of family economics and has seen a decline in recent years because those economic practices are themselves changing. Racism in pre-American Civil War south is much the same way. The slave trade from Africa to the US, started when the US was still a colony, was economically motivated and racially justified. It was done initially not out of a hatred of Africans, but out of a need of labor. It was however accepted because of an arrogance about racial superiority and it was maintained by sermons, false science, and a lowering of a group of people to a status that was less than humans, numerically defined by the American government at one point in its history as 3/5ths human to be exact. The American Civil War was a war over economics and state sovereignty, but we cannot forget that the economic factor being debated was not industrial versus agriculture or capitalism versus socialism, but rather a justification of keeping human beings enslaved so that an economy could continue uninterrupted and those wealthy individuals in power could continue to stay that way. It was economically motivated racism. That is the problem that many do and should have with the confederate flag. It symbolizes a group of states that at a point in history felt justified in the oppression and dehumanization of hundreds of thousands of human beings because it filled their pocket books AND because these humans were of a different race. Justified enough to go to war.

The challenge today is that while the economic motivations of racism in the US have largely (though not totally) died out the institution still remains. We have allowed the feelings of racial superiority that made permissible the owning of another human being for economic purposes to continue long after the economic reasons have faded. We have allowed them by continuing to lift up the heritage, not as a piece of history where it rightfully belongs, but as an everyday part of life, as a flag flying over (at full mast) a currently operating government building. When we allow the symbols to continue to live on than we are also perpetuating the feelings that accompanied them, long after the economic value that started the whole enterprise has faded.

When you say that the war was over economics and has nothing to do with racism, remember Ezekiel and remember that so many of our biggest sins are perpetuated in favor of our pocket books, from slavery to FGM to Boko Haram to many of our wars in the Middle East. That does not justify the sins or excuse us, but when we continue to see the results of those sins over a hundred years later still haunt our streets, our cities, and our churches it should not call us to defense of those old symbols, but rather repentance, reconciliation, and reformation.  Oppression, conflict, killing, and hate the world over happens for economic reasons. That is not a justification. Money often motivates our most grievous sins as the prophet Ezekiel points out. The question remains that as Christians are we willing to follow the path laid out by our faith? Are we going to repent, reconcile, and transform? Are we going to leave behind the symbols of institutionalized racism and find better ways to celebrate that which is best about our culture instead of some of the worst?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Help Me Celebrate the Big 3-0!!

First of all, for anyone that might be worried, you did not forget my birthday. It is not for another six months, but I feel like I need some time to prepare before I turn 30. I am not sure
why that number looms so big in my head, maybe because of what I had hoped to do in my 20s.

Nevertheless, the reality is that the last decade has been a great blessing to me. I have had the chance to study at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Though most of the truly important lessons, and certainly the most important tests have taken place outside of a classroom. I have had truly amazing opportunities to live my life not just to wade through consecutive days on a calendar. That living has come with its own price and its own challenges, but also its own rewards. Learning a new language and having my life opened to a whole new world. Daring to love a family that was only able to become fully mine five years in. Starting and trying to maintain friendships on multiple continents. Having so many homes, and yet sometimes no home. Being led by faith into a life I never could have imagined all because I dared to think that I can play my small part in turning the world in some direction other than the one it is going in right now. Maybe someday I will manage to get it on its head.

I have been supported by so many amazing people though all of this. When I take the time to pause and consider the type of people I have come in contact with over the last 10 years I am sometimes amazed at how much the good ones outweigh the ones that your mother told you not to talk about. I really do know generous, thoughtful, action oriented, down to earth, stretch for the stars type of people. And best of all they continually reach out to support me, care for me, and remind me that I am God’s child. They really do a better job at it than I probably do for them. I am most importantly impressed with the love I constantly receive from my family, both the ones I see regularly and the ones that are an ocean away. I will never get tired of a child running to greet me and calling me baba, or hugging my wife after another time apart, or relaxing with family during those rare, but treasured visits. I am blessed with people that will support me through anything.

For my 30th birthday I really cannot think of much that I want, certainly nothing that I need other than one thing…to pass on the blessings that I have received. I have had opportunities to grow and test my potential, and I have had people behind me to catch me when I fell. I want to give that same blessing to others. I think I can do that in part, by providing an opportunity to study. Specifically I spent some of today figuring out how to be able to provide students with both a high school education and a college education at the same time so that those who missed their chance the first time around can have a second go.

So here are the numbers…

It just so happens that $1000 can provide a student with a year’s worth of education, including some help with room and board. So by the time I turn 30 at the end of this year I am hoping that I will be able to raise $30,000 and provide 30 years of education to students at Wesley College, a college we are working to open here in Mwanza. Since I don’t have that much money readily available to me this year, I want to invite anyone interested to send me a birthday present or two in the form of money to be designated to fund scholarship students at Wesley College. Being able to pass on the blessings I have received is what I really want this year for my birthday.

If you are interested please let me know and I can get you all the information you need. Love you all and thank you for the blessings that you have already given me.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Adoption That Already Happened

I think that this year is going to be a year of hardships, punctuated by highlights. Maybe I will cover some of those in another post, but one of the definite highlights of this year has been the successful adoption of Derrick. It kind of figures that the day we get the call for us to be in court in Mwanza the following day we would both be outside of Mwanza, not together, with Liz flying to the US in less than 48 hours. If you know much about our lives this just kind of fits into it. I was able to contact Derrick’s uncle, the Tarime Social Welfare Officer, and Liz in about 15 minutes and get everyone moving towards Mwanza, including sending money by mobile transfer for transportation for Derrick’s uncle. Personally I was heading 1 ½ hours out from the closest town towards one of our village churches with a 13 person volunteer team. Liz was in Tarime with the GBGM auditor showing him some of our recent projects. Long story short we all made it to Mwanza that night, me spending 3 hours on the back of a small motorcycle, 2 hours in a public shuttle bus, and 4 hours driving in order to do so. But it was all nothing more than a thought because this was the day we have been waiting on.

Liz and I have been married for 7 years and for 5 of those years we have been waiting to make our family legal on paper the way that we felt in our hearts. Derrick is the one that first made us parents, yet is the last one to be able to be recognized as fully ours. During the 5 years that we have been waiting for the adoption process to reach it conclusion we have had two other children, I finished my master’s degree, Liz has almost finished hers, we have had two different jobs, and multiple adventures. 


Yet Derrick’s point of view has really come out in the last year as we started to see true progress, first being approved to foster in April of 2014 and then finally approved as adoptive parents in May of 2015. What has been most touching in this process has been Derrick’s reaction to hearing that we are his foster parents and then his adopted parents. He NEVER once reacted with the idea that we were his parents…

When he heard that we could foster him he was excited that he no longer had to go to boarding school. When the judge said that we were granted the adoption order Derrick got this huge smile on his face and as he walked out the door he turned to Liz and said, “Does this mean I get to go to America?” The fact of the matter is that Derrick never once doubted that he were his parents. He understood in his own way that fostering meant he could live with us and adoption meant that he was now free to travel anywhere we as a family would travel, but never did any of that news ever make his ask if we were his parents. He already knew that, there was never any doubt. Through all of the ups and downs of these last few years we had already, unknowingly accomplished what we decided in our hearts in 2010...we had been a family. 

I wonder sometimes, especially during what is both a joyous and very hard time in our lives, what signs we often wait on in order to recognize that we are God’s children? God knows us as his children. What are we waiting on in order to be able to live with him in our hearts or invite him to travel with us in our lives? And how are we helping others to know that they are fully children of God? No restrictions, no more boarding school, no more staying home while everyone else travels, but fully adopted, faith-filled, children of God.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Giving Tree: My Mother's Award

The only way that this is not a completely late post is if I get it posted this week, but this has been growing on my heart since mother’s day and I still wanted to put it out there.

Let’s establish a few things first…

1) If my mom was still alive she would not be on Facebook anyway, or she would be one of those people who just uses it to stalk others and never posts anything herself. My mom, one of the best supporters you could have in your corner did not like being the center of attention and I think would have cringed at some of the narcissistic ways that self-promotion has exploded in the seven years since she passed away.

2) My mom did not like pictures of herself. That is in truth what got this whole post started in my head. Just like many of you, I spent most of Saturday and Sunday reading many beautiful, some sappy, posts about wonderful mothers, posted alongside family pictures or pictures of moms when at various stages of their lives. My mom would have loved reading all of them, but would not have appreciated a picture of herself showing up on Facebook (refer to number 1 above).

So I started thinking, if mom was still alive what could I have done to show my affection while avoiding the small provocation of posting a picture of mom on social media? It was then that I had this thought…

I could post a picture of one of mom’s favorite books, The Giving Tree. A book that she not only loved, but also, for so much of her life, embodied. Now, no one is perfect and my mom is no exception, but she was pretty amazing by all accounts, not just my own. Just as the tree in the Giving Tree gave away all it had for the boy it loved, so my mom continually gave to others, always assuming and seeing the best in them. It is an attribute that I try hard to copy even though I all too often fail. She was always ready to help, offer encouragement, and many times simply a quiet, “you are not doing as poorly as you think. You will make it.” to someone who needed it. I think that if I called her right now, amidst the many challenges that we are currently going through as a family that she would have similar words of encouragement.

So I want to start a tradition. I will probably continue this tradition on her birthday from now on, instead of Mother’s day, but this is when it was born so it will start now. Besides, it is my tradition. Every year I want to award The Giving Tree Award to someone who embodies my mother’s spirit. The award will have no meaning whatsoever, expect to maybe me, and hopefully my family, and those who knew my mom.

This year I want to give the Giving Tree Award to my wife. Not before everyone starts groaning from sentimentality or unfair rules, let me finish. In two weeks Liz leaves for the US to finish her master’s. This has been a work in progress that she started in 2010, almost five years ago. She has patiently pushed through and also selflessly put her studies aside for work, family, and even her husband’s master’s degree in the meantime. I finished my master’s degree last week after only two years of working on it, yet there were no hard feelings, only celebration. If she had wanted to ignore her call as a mother, missionary, or role as a wife she could have been done already, but instead choose to make sure that everyone else was taken care of first. Now that we are ready as a family and at a good place in our work she is returning to finish were she started. I think my mom would be proud and would have a few words of encouragement for Liz as well.

So for this year, Happy Mother’s Day, and congratulations Elizabeth Soard, on The Giving Tree Award of 2015.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Prayer of Gethsemane: A Mobilizing Peace

Maunday Thursday has finally come during what can sometimes be a long week of prayer and reflection.

Often times on Maunday Thursday we look at the meal, the fellowship, the establishment of communion, and the servant symbol of washing each other’s feet. All of those are staples of our Thursday worship services and activities, but today I want to look more deeply at the after dinner events. I want to look more deeply into the spiritual preparation of Good Friday and the crucifixion. Continuing the thoughts this week on suffering and Christianity, I want to look at how we pray for peace versus how Jesus prayed for peace on this very important night. It was an important prayer that Jesus offers up, yet it looks so different from the prayers of peace we often pray for Nigeria, Syria, DR Congo, inner city areas of the US, and other seemly abandoned places.

Matthew 26: 39 – “My Father, if  it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However – not what I want but what you want.” (emphasis added)

Jesus was not someone that sought out pain and death, but he was prepared for it. I see his prayer in Gethsemane being a prayer for the peace of his soul in readiness to make whatever sacrifice is required of him. I see the prayer of Gethsemane echoed in the writing of Paul in Philippians 4: 6 “Don’t be anxious about anything, rather bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” You notice here that asking God is followed not by a promise that prayers will be answered, but rather by peace itself. This is especially significant as it is this same chapter that Paul talks about learning to become content in blessing and in suffering. When we pray for peace correctly we are not praying for a calm life, but rather a calm within whatever may be happening in our lives. The peace that Paul talks about here is not given for us to feel good, it is given in order to mobilize us to enter into danger and make us steadfast in the suffering we are led to in following Jesus. I firmly believe that the peace of God that passes all understanding is not the peace of a tranquil garden and the soft passing of a butterfly but rather is reflected in the ability of Jesus to sleep in the midst of a storm or heal the ear of a solider in the process of being arrested. It is the peace that allows us to stand in the midst of chaos and be a healing presence to OTHERS. It is a peace of action, not of stillness, which is why in the armor of God it is the shoes that are used as the symbol of peace.

Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane is the type of prayer that causes my father-in-law to talk about ‘if you dare to pray’ because God can and does call us to the messy, dangerous, crucifixion sites of the world and in doing so does not promise us calm lives, but rather calm in the midst of a stormy life. This Holy Week are you praying for an easy life or are you praying for the peace to step into the places where God may be calling you?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Chosen by God: to Sit on a Donkey

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the day that the kingdom of God clashed with the kingdoms of this world in one of the most simple and yet jarring statements, when Jesus road into Jerusalem on a donkey. It was simple in his understatement of power and jarring in that he simply refused to play the game. Jesus, a master of the third way of power, doing what he did best, what he would spend that week in Jerusalem doing, not answering the question, but rather finding a better question for us all to ask ourselves. Jesus refused to side with the Romans, the Zealots, Herrod, or the Pharisees. Jesus instead chose to display a lack of power and therefore show what it truly means to be chosen by God. I think that Holy Week is a perfect time to look at that one special question, as we are led up to the cross, a cross which Jesus says we should take up daily, what does it mean to be chosen by God to carry that cross?

In an Open Secret Lesslie Newbigin says, in reference to what it means to be chosen by God, “Again and again it had to be said that election is for responsibility, not for privilege.”

I have never seen Jesus’ metaphorical donkey ridden by anyone as well as it was ridden by Mama Zach. Mama Zach, an amazingly strong woman, was the eighth wife of her husband, and has children that were born from 1957 – 1987. Mama Zach is also a strong Christian who would wake her children up to go for prayer at 5:30 am. If her husband happen to be up when they all returned from prayers he would beat her for trying to indoctrinate his children, he wasn’t a Christian. This never did stop Mama Zach though. She continued waking her children up, taking them to prayers, and getting beat upon her return. This continued for years, and while I do not advocate staying in an abusive relationship or intentionally marrying someone with the goal of converting them, Mama Zach is a testimony to what it means to be chosen by God to change someone’s life. After years of this treatment, before he died, her husband was saved and helped her to build a church on the family’s land. He also completely changed how he treated her, the rest of his wives, and all 52 of his children. She bore her cross, and understood that to be chosen by God was a responsibility to continue to live as a Christian, faithful in any situation, and the truth that makes many of us, in many different contexts uncomfortable, that to be chosen by God does not always many an over abundance of blessings for us, but to be a blessing to others. It is a difficult thing for many of us to accept and learn, and almost no one I know has ever mastered what one of my friends calls smiling through the tears.

Ezekiel 14:9-11 “As for the prophet who was seduced into speaking a word, even though it was I, the Lord, who seduced that prophet, I will use my power against him and cut him off completely from my people Israel. The prophet and the enquirer alike will bear their guilt, so that the house of Israel won’t stray away from me again or make themselves impure with any of their sins. They will be my people, and I will be their God. This is what the Lord God says!”

This picture in Ezekiel, of the chosen of God being chosen for suffering and being given over as a sacrifice so that not everyone is lost, is not the picture of God’s chosen ones that we normally have in mind. The Prosperity Gospel is on the rise with a pastor recently asking for $65 million from his church for a private jet. The elitism of the US claims that the blessing of God is synonymous with wealth, affluence, and power. Yet this week, this Holy Week that starts with our Lord riding in on a donkey and ends with his crucifixion as a common, political traitor is a good week to pay attention to what we as Christians are truly being chosen for, and it is not always the comfortable path of blessings that we make it out to be.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Child's Car Seat and My Morning!

Let me just start by saying that it has been one heck of a day and it is currently 9:09 am. The morning started off well, the kids slept through the night for the first time in like a week and a half, I was able to get up, get a new solar unit I just bought ready to take to a pastor who is going to use it to start a business charging mobile phones, have some prayer time, shave my head, and get ready for the day. It didn’t last long. I walked out with the kids to get in the car and head to school when I found out that the tire I fixed yesterday was flat again. This put us 20 minutes behind schedule, but that was recoverable, which is important since I am spending part of this week as a solo parent and am also flooded with school work, proposals, liturgy to prepare to consecrate the church in Gamasara on Sunday, and all on top of the normal work load. We were almost back on schedule when one of the kids I take to nursery school as part of a carpool group vomited all over the front seat. I am now sitting sipping on coffee and waiting for the car to be cleaned. Back to square one with little chance of getting the tablet fixed and ready for a volunteer coming in two weeks to work with churches on communication technology or visiting Vulnerable Children, a group here in Mwanza that works with street children whom I am hoping can help us take our parent training and reintegration ministry in Tarime a step further, and no time to meet with Tunza and set up a meeting space for the writer’s workshop that will be here in three more weeks (one week of which I will be in Nairobi). For those of you wondering, you may also be getting a glimpse of why I don’t blog much anymore.

All of that though (and you can call it whining if you want to because it probably is), to lead up to my main point. Since we got to nursery school late I left at the same time as a nanny that was dropping a child off and I gave her a lift back to her house (running late or not we still have to take time to help others out)…and she sat in the car seat. Granted the front of the car was still full of vomit so she couldn’t sit there and there was only a small space between the two car seats in the back, but, I just…Why? This has happened to me a lot actually, and while I understand that most of the people who choose to sit in the car seat have never probably used one themselves for their kids and understandably should question what it is, but why squeeze an adult body in a kid’s space in the first place? It brought to mind a conversation I had with a friend at the end of February. He told me that the poor pick the best, worst choice. He didn’t mean that they make bad choices, just that they are often only presented with bad choices and therefore try to pick the best, worst choice. Sitting in the car seat is preferable to walking…they have conditioned themselves to be resigned to the best, worst choice. It is a pattern of survival of mental and emotional health that the world around them tries to daily grind into dust.

This is why Amartya Sen wrote Development as Freedom, because while poverty is an economic state it is also about the freedom of choices, not the best, worst choice, but real choices about good education, good health care, and a life that gives a person more dignity than sitting in the child’s car seat, which in all reality is an apt metaphor for any development work done that treats the recipients as children to be cared for instead of adults to participate in the growth and flourishing of their own lives. This is why, even though most of my day looks like it will be spent playing catch up and deciding what can be moved back a week or two so that the essentials can be completed, I am excited beyond belief that this morning I plugged in and tested a solar unit that will go to help a pastor start a business. It is not a gift, this is the second round of money donors have given us as small loans. It has already been paid back once and is now going to someone else, who will have to use this new business tool to pay back an interest free loan as well. But having that choice, being an active participant in the development of himself and his family…that is what development is about.

Friday, February 6, 2015

How Bad Indicators Put Joy in My Heart

One of my classmates has put up a countdown on-line to encourage us as we get close to finishing up our master’s program. We are now in the double digits and it is pretty exciting to be coming close to the end. I will have to say that I have learned so much about development, its real implementation in the world, and how development and faith intersect in people’s lives. That last one has come largely from the lives and testimonies of fellow classmates, professors, and others practitioners I have met along the way. I have also learned that sometimes the textbook way of doing things isn’t necessarily the most faithful.

The first class we ever took was on project planning and management. We learned how to write a good indicator, something that was specific, time bound, and measurable. Indicators are the targets that you have to meet that tell you whether or not your program is being carried out successfully. Indicators let us know whether or not we are doing a good job. Earlier this week during a meeting with the Emmanuel Center Executive Committee I heard an indicator of our work in Gamasara in trying to change the attitudes of the community in regards to women’s and children’s rights. It was not specific, time bound, or measurable, yet it filled my heart with joy as if we had passed a major milestone, and I guess in some ways we have.

A woman said that she had attended a church activity, returned home after dark and her husband had not beat her…First of all we need to pause there and look at the fact that this was something worth mentioning, which means that most other times that is exactly what he would have done. It is also worth observing that the woman expected to get beat when she reached home after dark and yet still found church a worthwhile place to be. However, what I am most excited about is that she was not beat by her husband, specifically because he had seen the benefit of the church and the benefit of the Emmanuel Center, and what these places had done for her life. His respect for the changes taking place as a result of the church and this program was enough to change his behavior and he is not even directly involved.

When we first started even we ourselves felt like we were taking the long way around the issue of women’s and children’s rights, but instead of rushing headlong into something that complicated we decided to take the slow path. We decided to economically empower women, then educate them, and lastly start working with the community only after our heart for them became evident. While we still have a long ways to go and while my trained mind knows that this is a bad indicator in that it is not transferable to others, meaning we don’t know if we have affected this kind of change on anyone outside of this one family, it still feels like a huge victory and something to praise God for.