Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Beauty of God's Creation

Different places in the world have a uniqueness regarding the ecology God has placed there. For instance, here in central Brazil it's the end of dry season. It's basically a savannah type region. It's brown, dry, and dusty. Even still, there is so much life! You just have to have eyes to look for it! Thankfully it rained last night--a light rain--but it helps with the dust in the air. Here are some of the pictures I took this morning early. The birds were out and about, enjoying the cooler air and some of the moisture that stuck around.




Typical scene in rural central Brazil.

Mangoes are almost ready!

What I call an LBB, or "Little Brown Bird". Didn't identify this one. :-)


A Yellow-Chevroned Parakeet chilling.

This is a White-Eyed Parakeet, or White-Eyed Conure, and below as well.

I spy... How many can you find? Also very loud birds!

Toucans are common here, but I haven't been able to capture a clear shot of one yet. This one was flying overhead and I recognized it by the silhouette as well as the characteristic flight pattern. I'm hoping to see one closer soon, as well as a macaw.

This is a Buff-Necked Ibis in flight, and below.


Buff-necked ibis pair feeding. They are super loud!

The beauty of creation is all around us--unfortunately, the farther we remove ourselves from the outdoors, from being in creation, and instead stay in urban environments, the more disconnected we become from creation, and the less we remember about our role to be good stewards. I hope you take some time to see the beauty in God's creation, even if still in an urban environment.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Sabbath rest for Creation?

COVID-19 has changed so much already, hasn't it? Nothing seemingly is back to normal (ok, well, maybe politics). One thing that I've noticed the world over has been something people wouldn't think of normally. However, over the last few months, I began seeing reports of wildlife walking through towns in Europe, of other animals expanding their ranges in North America and Asia. I saw before and after pictures of massive cities in Asia that used to be choked with pollution in which no single person had ever seen the blue sky. Rivers and waterways in Europe, such as in Venice, were so clear, people could see the algae growing, or fish returned to the rivers once desolate of fish.

One thing COVID has done, for those who "have eyes to see, and ears to hear", is that "creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-23).

Though COVID has been incredibly painful and difficult for millions of people, and suffering more than we care to even think about, maybe a single encouragement to us can be that much of Creation has had a break from the effects of humankind's greed and selfishness. Creation has had a Sabbath Rest from our activities--I think it was overdue for a few hundred years... We have not cared for creation the way we have been called to by our God. To me, that is an added sadness to this time of COVID, since it has brought the product of our sins to light: all the pollution and lack of stewardship of what is supposed to shout glories to God!

Maybe, just maybe, we can look at the beauty that has come about from the invisible or unknown parts of God's creation during these last few months, and take some practical steps to be more careful in how we live, stewarding all the things God has given us in His creation, as we live for Him each day. What do you think? I hope you agree.
Spruce Flat Falls, GSMNP, TN

COVID-19 a blizzard?

Let's be honest--this COVID thing has been hard. I mean, it's basically changed how we do life, all over the world! My trips have been cancelled, or post-poned until next year... But when will things get back to normal? Or, should I say, "a new normal"... That's really what we're seeing.

It's been interesting to see people's reactions to the COVID pandemic. There was an article I read early on this year when COVID was just starting to have a significant impact in the US. I thought the authors had quite the insight, comparing COVID to not just a blizzard, or a period of winter, but an Ice Age. They were saying that it would change A LOT. These were business people that wrote it, Christians doing business in the US and the world, but they were stating that it would change how we do church, how we do all kinds of gatherings, and that back THEN was the time for our churches and businesses and community groups to figure out how to adapt. You see, when we have a blizzard in the winter time, what do we do? We just hunker down and wait it out, right? That's what people did during quarantine for a month or more. That's what made it "doable", right? Parodies and Videos galore. But like the authors said, it wasn't going to be a blizzard. But it wasn't going to be just a "winter" period, either, they said. For with winter, we simply know it's going to be a longer period of time, so we prepare for it, and look forward to spring! Problem is...COVID isn't just Winter. It's what the authors called an Ice Age. Something that totally throws us for a loop, something we can't really prepare for, something we've never faced in our lifetimes! The point the authors were trying to make: "this is going to be hard, it's going to be so different, it's going to change everything about the way we've done things. We need to think quickly how to adapt to this situation, in our businesses, in our churches, in our communities. Especially so that we don't let anyone fall through the cracks".

It was hard for me to believe at first, but as the virus spread, and the whole world went into lockdown/quarantine (for the most part), I realized they were right. I shared the article with some leaders I know. I expected a little push-back, or a comment or two disagreeing or questioning, but to my surprise, I didn't hear a single comment from the more than 20 people. Now, does that mean anything? Maybe, maybe not. What I do think it means is that in our society here in America, we are stuck in the status-quo. We like things the way they are, we want to keep things the way they are. We don't take risks.

Now, ask my wife, I'm inherently a risk-taker. I'm an adrenaline junkie. I'm a thrill-seeker. Which is why I'll never own a motorcycle. I wouldn't survive my first ride I'd go so fast and do something stupid. Back in college, when we first started dating during our senior year, she went on a long bike ride with me a few miles from our college, just to go bridge-jumping into the river. And in case you think I've slowed down because I turned 40 this year, you'd be wrong. As I type this, I'm sitting on a hemorrhoid pillow in my office chair because almost two weeks ago I went down a double black diamond mountain biking trail and got some nice air...but when I landed, I bounced off my bike, fell hard on my tail bone (coccyx), and commenced sliding down the side of the hill curled in a ball (yes, I wear helmets ALWAYS), until a tree stopped me quite quickly by blunt force trauma on my left shin. Yep, I stopped quickly. The colors of the bruises and cuts are quite amazing! You'd think I would have learned from my first jump in the day when I fell and shredded up my right lower leg and lower right forearm....but, no (I'll spare you pictures of the bloody wounds--you're welcome). The desire for the "rush"kept me going...until the tail-bone incident. At THAT point, I told my boys: "OK boys, it's time to go home. We're done for today". Thankfully I didn't break anything and was able to drive home.

I mention the risk-taking not only for a laugh (I did laugh, even at my own falls), but because change, to a degree, comes easily to me. Some things I don't like to change, like anyone else, but when something big is about to happen, when a big change is on the way, I get energized, excited, and push full-steam ahead. Maybe it's the fruit of being a missionary kid, who basically lives with change his/her whole life. The only constant for a missionary kid (or military kid, for that matter), is change. So we learn to deal with it, and I'd say most of us deal with it well. So, with COVID, yes, it's hard, but as a risk-taker, and a realist, it's the place where people like me can possibly thrive. Entrepreneurial people often are those risk-takers. They can see things before others do. We should listen to them more. Yes, there's risk involved, and many people are risk-averse...but if we can see the early adapters with open eyes, listen to the visionaries and test them, we might come out stronger, better, healthier on the other side of this "Ice Age".

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Observations of an outsider in a central African country

Waking up with wood smoke in your nostrils. Everyone cooks with wood. Sand everywhere you walk. Some is so fine you don’t get very far as you step. No point in wearing shoes as sand finds its way into everything.

Sounds of donkeys braying through the day and night. Stares of people because you’re the only white person they’ve seen in years. Feet that are stained filthy because of walking in sandals all day, taking them off at each person’s mat to sit for hours.

Sun that is so hot it will sunburn you quickly, and air that is so dry in the dry season you don’t notice you are becoming dehydrated. Sun stroke for the unprepared.

Multiple greetings are exchanged in the street as you walk by people. "Peace be upon you" I say. They respond with "And peace to you too". Other greetings continue back and forth, done without thought sometimes, but out of habit. Give eye contact and you need to greet usually. Don’t use left hand to greet. If unable to use right hand, use right forearm, or forearm of left arm if needed. On the mat, talk goes on for hours. Time is NOT money—people are. Hospitality is natural. The more food and drinks offered by the host during your visit, the more honor they are showing their guest.

Running water is a luxury. Delivery of water is often by donkey.

Traditional systems of governance are still present but increasingly in conflict with modern, western systems. Sultans, kings and chiefs normally have the last word on issues, and are highly respected within the community. Conflict has arisen between the modern federal government and traditional system limiting their authority, forcing them to pay for certain things when normally, for instance, it was the sultan’s decision to give land away or make decisions that were best for his region.

Fresh milk only in the morning. Camel or cow, no refrigeration, so use it that day. Camel milk is SALTY, yet very rich. Milk delivered by an Arab woman. Arab women drive the camel caravan when moving camp. Fancy shaded structure on top of camel. Men drive goats and other herds in front or behind caravan.





Everything transported by donkeys, the affordable transportation. Firewood, fencing, food, water.
Camels used by Arabs. 





Camel crossing.




Dried fish at the market


Though the only white person around, and everyone stares at you, knowing the proper greetings disarms people as they are almost obligated to respond in kind. However, with kids, a long look with a smile always works.

Above: Mealtime--using hands in a common plate. Or silverware for that which can’t be picked up with hands. Never use left hand during eating since you wipe #2 with it.

Speaking of the bathroom...


 Don't forget to wash your hand(s).


In the Xian church in town, surrounded by M’s, multiple languages being used during the same service: French sermon translated into Arabic. Each Sunday a different ethnic group sings a couple of songs in their own language. Worship primarily in French, but prayer in other languages depending on who’s praying. I was asked to do the prayer before sermon, did it in Portuguese instead of English so more might understand. For offering and tithes everyone makes a line and makes the round up to front of sanctuary then back to seats.

Men on the left side in church. 
Women on the right side in church.
Kids outside during service. 



At the end of service, everyone goes out one door and shakes hands, lining up at the end of the line so everyone shakes everyone’s hand at some point. No one is allowed out the back door they used to enter church.


Realizing I'd fit right in as an Arab. 




New friend from spending two weeks together learning about culture, language, and the local environmental challenges. Also a brother.

IDP's


I recently returned from a trip to central Africa, from a place that is groaning, longing for the reconciliation that the cross brings...the death and decay, the suffering is evident, and only the gospel will really have a lasting impact to bring true transformation to the people and the land. One of the challenges is that due to decades of drought and famine, many IDP's, or Internally Displaced People move to other parts of the country where they think they'll be better off--be it for work, or simply for growing crops to survive. This video shows a drive by view of one of these villages of IDP's that pop up outside established cities/towns.