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Monday, August 21, 2017

The Great American Eclipse... or is it?

The Google doodle today shows a couple of happy aliens heading our moon back and forth between them (see, soccer is universally popular!). I like the doodle, but am wondering if the number of eyes is indicative of the fact that aliens (if they exist) don't see like we do...

Google Doodle - 21 August, 2017

I’ve been thinking about today’s eclipse for some time. On our neighborhood's Nextdoor feed, there is a constant stream of inquiries regarding where to purchase eclipse glasses. How many millions of eyes will (I hope safely) view this event? Let's pray the eyes that monitor our missile defense systems are not among them. You never know what Kim Jong-un will decide to do if he thinks we're all distracted.

Solar Eclipse (artist's rendering)

As always, media is presenting this event as a (ubiquitous) Once in a Lifetime occurrence. If everything that is touted as once in a lifetime actually happened only once in a lifetime, our lives would be pretty boring from here on out. The fact is, America’s last total solar eclipse happened 38 years ago. The next one will occur only seven years from now. I think the big deal with this particular eclipse is that it will be visible in areas spanning between the west coast and the east coast. In fact, the last time we had one that was visible across America like this was in 1918. So, yes, this particular brand of eclipse could possibly be considered once in a lifetime. However, if you can drive (or someone can drive you), there is no reason why you can't witness multiple total solar eclipses in your lifetime.

Another media-hyped aspect is the name. They're calling it, “The Great American Eclipse” almost like we invented the darn thing. Americans love big, important sounding names. That’s why we have the Super Bowl and the World Series. Neither involve any teams from outside North America. Hardly a world event.

Eclipses, to get back on the subject, are actually pretty regular things. The total solar eclipse that America will observe today is part of Saros series 145 and is the 22nd in a series of 77 eclipses. The series kicked off with a partial solar eclipse on January 4, 1639 and will finish with another partial on April 17, 3009. We can derive that eclipses are actually somewhat commonplace, along with a plethora of other eclipse knowledge, from a simple Internet search (my favorite is Destin Sandlin’s eclipse video on his Smarter Every Day YouTube channel).

Ancient Eclipse (National Geographic)

I suspect in ancient times, eclipses were viewed with a little more shock and awe. The image above is a portrayal of the Inca reacting to a lunar eclipse - which they believed showed a jaguar attacking the moon.

These days, we have science to rely on. The paths of major celestial bodies are tracked and recorded, which is how we know that there is a total solar eclipse today. If it weren't for astronomers et al, would we be beating our dogs and howling to ward off whatever evil the solar eclipse portended?

The Big Bang (Wikipedia)

In the Big Bang Theory, we are told that the universe expanded from a very high density and high temperature state. In other words, there was a huge explosion and matter accelerated outward to form the cosmos as we know it today. More recently, measurements of the redshifts of supernovae indicate that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, an observation attributed to dark energy's existence.

If objects are still moving around out there (and accelerating), I suppose it's a good idea to keep an eye on them.

I've found it fascinating in recent years to consider how slim the margins are for our existence. If the Big Bang is true, then we are indeed fortunate to be alive at all. The random placement of stars and planets over billions of years fortuitously allowed for life on our planet. The sun is just the right distance from the earth so that it doesn't get too hot or too cold. The moon is just the right distance from the earth so that the gravitational effects don't cause earth-altering phenomena.

Maybe this is the origin of the idiom thank your lucky stars.

It seems to me that, by any definition of luck, we are truly fortunate to be alive considering all the factors involved in the creation of the universe in general and our solar system in particular.

Or, perhaps, the creation of the universe and all that is in it was not a chance occurrence. King David wrote in Psalm 19, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world."

In today's eclipse, is God showing us that despite the infinity of space and time, He alone can arrange for these alignments of the objects Genesis reveals He created?

The Three Wise Men (Bible)

In Matthew 2, an extraordinary celestial event guided the magi (astronomers?) to the location of Jesus' birth.

I could go on...

My thought today is merely to encourage you to think about the eclipse, not as just some entertaining thing, but as a significant event. Is it just one of many that have occurred and will occur throughout history. Is it the natural alignment of objects in our solar system based on the positions they hold relative to the Big Bang?

Or is it something more?

What do you think?


Friday, June 16, 2017

Ron Wilson can't drive you to heaven...

... and neither can I.

Ron Wilson - Bus Driver

It feels good to be back. I've let the Stream of Consciousness flow along untended for over a year while I worked on my website and other projects. I came to the realization this morning that there is still a great deal of value in this blog and, perhaps, for those (few) who stop in to read. So, with apologies for my long absence (as if anyone noticed), let's get this party started!

In the film, Sky High, Ron Wilson is one of the school's bus drivers. He's responsible for transporting the superhero (and sidekick) students to the floating campus, hidden (?) in the sky. He seems like an ordinary guy, but when danger threatens to overwhelm the school, he lays down the Sky High law...

"There's only one person authorized to transport superheroes: Ron Wilson--bus driver. And I'm Ron Wilson, bus driver!"

And while Ron Wilson can drive superheroes and sidekicks to Sky High, he can't drive you, me or anyone else to Heaven.

Last night, our church finished up a great week of vacation Bible school with a family night celebration. Parents, friends, relatives, and caretakers came and heard all about the fun we'd had, and were also treated to several musical performances by the boys and girls.

I think I've mentioned before that I'm not big on the music aspect of church/worship. There are exceptions, but I can't sing or play an instrument, and I tend to enjoy learning about the Bible more. One of those exceptions is during VBS. I work with a team who lead what Lifeway calls VBX: Extreme Vacation Bible School. VBX is designed for preteens - those kids who are sort of in between. By that I mean 4-6 graders who don't fancy themselves children, but they're not quite youth yet, either.

Anyway, there was one song this year that stuck in my head. Who You Are delivers (as most VBS songs do) a simple yet powerful message regarding God's love for all of us. 

The chorus of Who You Are leads us to praise God for one of the most important gifts we have as believers:

I am made by you
And I know who I am
Because of who you are

Words/music by Paul Marino and Jeremy Johnson
(c) 2016 Van Ness Press, Inc. (ASCAP)

This song highlights a key truth that we often miss: God wants a personal relationship with each one of us - individually.

I can't have a relationship with God because of my parents, my spouse or my friends. God won't receive me into His family on the glowing reference of someone else. There's only one reference check God makes and that's to find out if we have made a personal decision to believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (His Son), or not.

As I sat in the auditorium last night and watched our preteens and the other children sing, I noticed one or two who sang the chorus of Who You Are with huge grins on their faces. I was very happy for one young lady in particular. She has a difficult home life and confided in us during the week that she struggles to see God in her day-to-day life. Sound familiar?

But as I watched her sing, her face took on a glow and I have to believe that a connection was made between the lyrics, her, and God at that moment. 

She realized what so many of us struggle to grasp. With respect to our identity, it doesn't matter what we do, who we know, where we go, or anything else. I know who I am because of who God is. 

This week, Galactic Starveyors took us from the beginning of creation, past the cross and to the very foot of God's throne. 

Some who read this might think we are trying to brainwash kids with religious dogma, but that's a false assumption. We are merely guides. We teach the Bible, we play games and sing, and provide a safe, fun environment in which children can learn, ask questions and make up their own minds about who God is, and who they are.

Last night, I'm pretty sure at least one young lady made up her mind.

What do you think?


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Am I Really Pro Life?

I consider myself "Pro Life." In 2016 vernacular, that means I do not believe in abortion.

I suspect a number of people are conflicted on what, exactly, this means. We are well into the presidential election cycle and every four years we listen to politicians dance around their positions on abortion. Those who consider themselves hard-core conservatives oppose abortion in any circumstance. Some candidates, perhaps seeking to earn that politically advantageous label "moderate" also oppose abortion, but with exceptions for rape, incest and/or danger to the life of the mother.

Although the issue of abortion is critical in and of itself, the question I have been asking myself lately is, "Am I really pro-life?"

As a person who accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord in 2001, it is my honor - and my challenge - to live a more Christ-like life each day. So how do I do that?

The only source we have to draw from, with regard to how Jesus lived, is the Bible. Yet there are those who would have us believe unless we have a doctorate in biblical studies or are at least facile with ancient Greek and Hebrew, we have no chance of understanding what the Bible really means.

In the wise and gentle words of the late (fictional) Colonel Sherman T. Potter:

As I pointed out in our small group this past Sunday, there are atheists who know a lot more about the Bible than I do. They have undertaken an in-depth study of the book, pouring through ancient copies of manuscripts, reading them in the languages they were first written, dissecting various treatises, and so on. They presuppose that by completing a logical and organized academic study of the book, they will be able to fully grasp the meaning of the Bible and thus be equipped to successfully debate anyone, anywhere, on any biblical topic.

Just like that recipe your grandmother used to make. You know the one. Every, single time you make it, there is something missing. You've got the recipe and you follow it exactly. Yet the dish never tastes like you remember when Grandma made it.

Why? Because there was something else she put in to it. She didn't happen to write it down. She just put whatever that extra ingredient was in when she made it.

Biblically speaking, that missing ingredient is the Holy Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter said to them (those gathered in Jerusalem), "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." [Acts 2:38-39]

Although I have digressed, the purpose (and point) is, if we have repented of our sins and placed our faith and trust in Jesus, God has promised to provide us an advocate - the Holy Spirit - to guide us from that point onward.

Now, having established that each of us, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, can rightly determine the truth and meaning of the Bible, what does it say about being "Pro-life?"

Exodus 20:13 is probably the best place to start. "You shall not murder." [NASB]

That seems pretty clear. Unless you are a lawyer, judge, politician or human, apparently. The modern definition of murder is something like: the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law. In the U.S., special statutory definitions include murder committed with malice aforethought, characterized by deliberation or premeditation or occurring during the commission of another serious crime, as robbery or arson (first-degree murder) and murder by intent but without deliberation or premeditation (second-degree murder).

I tend to gravitate toward a more simple definition: to kill or slaughter inhumanly or barbarously.

This, I believe, is the definition around which the abortion debate swirls.

But what if being Pro-life was more than just defining your position in the abortion debate? What if it encompassed your beliefs on capital punishment, self-defense, DUI manslaughter, and all the other ways that we as a species have learned to dispose of each other?

Biblical nitpickers might poke an index finger toward the sky and say, "Ah ha! But the Hebrew word (transliteration) 'ratsach' means 'to murder' so, as long as we are not murdering people, we are not killing them in the biblical sense and breaking that commandment."

Ratsach can mean 'murder' but it can also mean 'to slay' or simply 'manslayer'. If I perform an abortion on a fetus with a heartbeat, shoot a burglar who has broken into my home, run over someone when I'm driving under the influence, kill someone by lethal injection or any other scenario you can think of, I have slayed them.

I cannot imagine God thinking, "I'm going to give humanity this vague commandment and just sit back and wait for them to argue about what it means."

Thou shalt not kill/murder/slay.

I don't see any ambiguity there.

"But I'm protecting my family! I'm being a good steward of my home by defending it from the burglar when I shoot him."

Fair comment. I used to own a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. It had one purpose. I am thankful I never had to make the decision whether or not to use it to fulfill its purpose. I don't have the weapon anymore.

However, if we cannot agree on the meaning of the sixth commandment, let's look at something a bit more recent.

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount provided some pretty plain behavioral rules. Specific to our discussion, the instructions Jesus gave in Matthew 5:38-48 are pretty clear. Not much wiggle room there, when you consider the examples He provided.

During His ministry, lawyers, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees...seemingly most everyone...sought to trip Jesus up in some way. The Hebrews had a good few thousand years to build on those original ten instructions God provided them. By the time of Jesus, their construct rivaled that of The Matrix.

Those guys are everywhere!

If you want to put a modern spin on it, Jesus was like Neo and all those lawyers, scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees were like the innumerable Agent Smiths trying to capture Him.

One day, as Matthew 22:34-40 recounts, a lawyer asked Jesus the sixty-four thousand drachma question, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"

Unsurprisingly, Jesus gave the correct answer. However, the last part of His answer is where the rubber meets the road in the context of Pro-life. "The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

Would you clamp down on your own tender head with a pair of cold, metal forceps and pull yourself out of the womb? Would you shoot yourself as you jimmied the lock on your own front door? Would you push the button to fill your own veins with a lethal cocktail of capital punishment drugs?

I would hazard a guess that most of us would not. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Am I really pro-life?

I've got some work to do, Jesus. Help me.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Day The Music Died

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
 - from American Pie by Don McLean (1971)

There are as many meanings to Don McLean's iconic song as there are people who listen to it. During interviews, McLean has admitted that the genesis of the song was the death of Buddy Holly in the 1959 plane crash that also claimed the lives of fellow musicians Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson, known as The Big Bopper.

McLean likes to let people derive meaning from American Pie on their own. However, there are myriad sites on the Internet that will tell you exactly what it means. One such, un-cryptically named, "," expands on the popular theme of the song lamenting the years between 1959 and 1970, a decade or so that ushered in radical changes to American culture.

While American Pie and its signature sub-title, "The Day the Music Died" have a host of literal and fanciful meanings, I believe The Day the Music Died is probably closer to the year 2000.

From 1959 to today, a Google search will easily provide an extensive list of musicians, singers, songwriters and performers who have died, "before their time."

Hendrix, Joplin, Jones, Morrison, Cobain, Bonham, Lennon, Marley, Allman, Cooke, and many, many more. Based on your taste in music and/or your opinions of the cultural impact these and other artists had on music in general, their deaths - individually or collectively - could signify the day the music died.

For those who were born in the 1990s and have grown into adulthood listening to the modern pantheon of musical idols, you may want to look away now. Because I'm going to stick my neck out and say that sometime in the 1990s, the music died.

The last time I really appreciated anything new coming out of the radio, turntable, CD player, or - lately - the Internet, was likely labeled as grunge music. Although it probably began much earlier, the video for Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit (Geffen, 1991) ironically ushered in the commercial grunge era replete with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and a host of other t-shirt and flannel-wearing bands - some of which were insanely talented.

Video still; Smells Like Teen Spirit (Geffen, 1991)

Since the 1990s...? I can't really come up with anything I would consider ground-breaking, musically speaking. I know a host of Millenials - or Generation Y'ers or whatever they are labeled these days - will probably descend on me like so many angry, africanized bees for inferring that their artists have not developed music in any significant way.

But please note, I'm not saying there haven't been artists since late 1990 who made decent music. I'm just saying that I have not heard any that made me sit back and say, "Wow. That's new and different; and I really like it!"

Every generation has a plethora of talented musicians and singers. Writers who can string together a lyric that captures the magic of emotion - something that resonates with listeners of an age. I remember listening to Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in high school and thinking, 'This has got to be the best album, ever!'

And when I read the lyrics by Bernie Taupin, I was doubly blown away.

Album cover art: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (MCA, 1973)

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was followed by a tremendous lineup of double albums that included Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti (Swan Song, 1975), and Frampton Comes Alive! (A&M, 1976). More eclectic readers might clamor for The Who's Quadrophenia (MCA, 1973), Bruce Springsteen's The River (Columbia, 1980), and certainly, The Wall (Columbia, 1979) - Pink Floyd's most complex (perhaps) concept album, to be included in this list.

But again, we're talking about music that defined and advanced - in a good way - the progression of music through the ages. I'd like to hear from you. What modern artists/bands/composers/writers do you believe have contributed significantly to the growth of music since 2000?

And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
 - from American Pie by Don McLean (1971)

What do you think?


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Do clothes really make the man?

For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.
 - 2 Corinthians 5:2-3 (NASB)

Today is confession day. In the 1980's and 90's, I was a bit of a clothes horse. Maybe I was celebrating the end of the 70's, and was overjoyed that I could do away with platform shoes and nylon shirts with Tony Manero-inspired designs.

Nylon, long, pointed know

The 80's was a dangerous time to be a fashion plate. There were several trends that, thankfully, didn't stand the test of time...I'm looking at you, leg warmers. No, I was into a more classic look for the most part, but I did integrate enough of the 'now' stuff to make it cool. One of my big limitations was funding. You just can't dress out when you have a minuscule budget. I'm sure my mom wasn't the only one who said, "You've got champagne tastes on a beer budget."

So what's a young airman to do? First, I scored a nice tweed blazer. It had neutral colors so I could wear it with a lot of different ensembles. One area that I did, sort of, splurge on? Sergio Valente jeans.

Simple logo - tight jeans

For decades, people have realized that jeans are the ultimate fashion accessory. I could wear my Sergio's with a t-shirt, with a button-down, with a shirt and tie - with or without a blazer, with sneakers, with loafers...the options were nearly endless.

So why the fascination with clothes?

Besides the relatively modern trend of showing out, there is the basic need for us to be covered in polite society. 

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

From the beginning, humans have been worried about their clothes. Some would say that Adam and Eve ruined it for all of us. If it weren't for that fruit incident, clothes would never have been an issue.

Other than clothes, a lot of people worry about their houses. I see pictures on Facebook and elsewhere that friends post up, which illustrate beautiful homes, or kitchens, or even bathrooms. We loves us some big houses, don't we?

In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.

Photo courtesy of McMullen Real Estate

In fact, Christians are looking forward to having the great Century 21 agent in the sky hand us the keys to our mansion, right? The other day I posted a blog about the passing of our friend Sister Mary. I quoted Revelation 21:4, which says, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."

So what could be more exciting to look forward to? We escape the pain, the tears, the heartache of this world, AND we get a big house. 

Wait a second...I'm not sure that's how it's going to work. Up at the top, I noted what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 - he was relating to us how, if we think about it, our eternal dwelling might not be the McMansion we are dreaming of. Instead, once we cast off our human bodies, as Sister Mary has, we will receive an imperishable one - the eternal body that we can look forward to.

To my non-Christian friends, this probably makes no sense at all. But if you believe that we each have a soul - something that makes us more than just a blob of water, tissue and epidermis - then that soul needs a dwelling once our time on this earth, and in this body, is finished.

What? No dress code?

Fortunately, once we get to Heaven, I don't think we will have to worry about the fashion mistakes we made in this life.

What do you think?


Friday, July 18, 2014

Death and gladness

Tim Burton's 1989 reboot of Batman for the big screen received mixed reviews. But it had some impressive star power, notably highlighted by Jack Nicholson's maniacal portrayal of the Joker character.

From the film, Batman; Warner Brothers (1989)

In the scene above, Nicholson's character Jack Napier has begun his transformation into the Joker and is in the process of taking over Gotham City's crime syndicates. One of the bosses who stood up to him has come to a rather crispy end. In one of many memorable monologues from the film, Napier gleefully affirms, "I'm glad you're dead."

As recent readers on the Stream may recall, I returned from Haiti a couple of weeks ago. In my blog, Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 6, I mentioned that we had an opportunity to minister to an elderly lady named Sister Mary (Marie). Earlier this week we heard from our friends in Minoterie that Sister Mary had been taken to the hospital. There was concern that her illness was serious.

This morning, we received word that Sister Mary had passed away.

Sister Mary

Most people's first reaction has been to mourn the passing of this resolute woman, who lived a long life despite difficult circumstances. In recent months, she had been confined to bed and only rarely would be able to venture out of doors in her wheelchair.

Yet in the midst of our grief, should we not have some measure of gladness? Humans cling to life on Earth as if this temporal world is more desirable than anything else we could possibly experience. However, the Bible reminds us that:

...He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
 - Revelation 21:4 (NASB)

Sister Mary had friends and neighbors who cared for her, who would bathe her and feed her, fix her hair, and accompany her on those rare excursions when she could see the sky and the trees. When she could listen to the birds sing and feel the breath of God on the breeze.

So today, while we mourn Sister Mary's passing, we can't help but be at least a little glad. Glad that she is no longer suffering the effects of her illness. Glad that she is not dependent on others for even the most basic of needs. Glad that she, ahead of all of us, is standing in the presence of our Creator.

Another of my favorite films also features a tremendous line regarding the approach of eternity:

I followed you on many adventures -- but into the great Unknown Mystery, I go first, Indy...
 - David Yip (as Wu Han); Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Wu Han's demise at Club Obi Wan

In this short and potentially overlooked line of dialog from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the character Wu Han expresses some delight at beating Indy to the greatest mystery of all: What happens when we die?

"But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?'"
- 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 (NASB)

So yes, today there is mourning and grief over the passing of Sister Mary. Yet there is gladness, too, as we have the surety that her dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Rest in peace, dear sister.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 8

If today (Wednesday) were a film, it would be titled something like, "Haiti 8 - the Departure."

Everyone was up late last night; we all had to pack, separate any remaining ministry items out, sort out personal gifts to leave with our new-friends, etc. Then we still had to get up early, grab a quick breakfast, load the bus and head off to Minoterie - where we would spend the morning before driving to the airport.

Jean Justin - my new brother!

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

Jean Justin was given the book in the picture above by Christy, one of our team. Wonder how she knew an easy-to-read book about Jesus written in Creole would come in handy?

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
 - 1 Peter 2:1-3

Speaking of envy...

We spent our final morning in Minoterie, playing with kids, walking the dusty village paths, saying our goodbyes and just enjoying the fellowship that comes from building lasting relationships with people.

Chilling in the UNICEF tent

My new friend Schneider

We did enjoy a refreshing interlude during our morning when Israele was kind enough to invite us into his home. There was a place down the hill that sold sodas, so we pooled our cash and picked up Coca-Cola and Limonade for all.

Amy and Karen chumming with Michelete and friend

Israele (right) and 'King' David (left) are in the house!

We had a full house but everyone was loving the shade and a nice breeze was blowing through to cool things off just a tad. If you asked me about my favorite beverage in Haiti, I'd have to put a plug in for Limonade. You can see Israele with a bottle in the picture above. It's a lemonade-type soda and it is truly filled with awesome sauce!

Before we were ready, the clock was telling us it was time to go. Despite the ongoing improvements, Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port au Prince is tough to get into, crowded and downright busy. We knew we needed to be there early to make our flight. Reluctantly, we said our goodbyes, gave out innumerable hugs and with a catch in our throats, waved out of Bluebird's windows as the kids chased us one more time down the street and out of Minoterie.

This time there were no, "Hey you's!" We know the kids in Minoterie; and they know us. They called us by name as we drove away toward Route 1 - and we called them by name right back.

Our flights back to Nashville were uneventful. Although I did catch a few people staring at how I was dressed. Looking down, I had to laugh. A morning's worth of fun and fellowship in Minoterie was enough to get me dirty - it must've seemed to other passengers that I'd walked straight down the mountains and onto the plane. What the people in Miami thought as I savored a steaming, Cuban café con leche while waiting for our Nashville flight, is anyone's guess.

As we cleared customs and ran to our new gate in Miami, I somehow inherited a new home.

Bildad's new house

Sometime during the week, Bildad had found this young kid selling the house above. It's made completely from cardboard and a little paint, and the detail is amazing. Recounting the sale, Bildad told me how this kid had told him he wanted to be an architect. The interesting thing about it is, the lad isn't even in school (yet). And, there really aren't any houses quite like this - at least that I've seen - in Haiti. There is a new generation growing up in Haiti today. And if they want you to give them anything, it's just a chance; just give them a chance.

Beyond this's a new day in Haiti

Thank you God, for letting me be a part of what you are doing in the nation of Haiti. Thank you for the privilege of meeting Bildad, Nathanael, Israele, Frantzdy, Berdy (Jean Marie), Oswald, Daniel, Caleb, Michelete, Schneider, Ashley, David, and all of our new friends in Minoterie and in White House, TN. God I don't know what you have in store for me next. I just hope it includes a return trip to Minoterie.


As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?"

And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." 

And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.
 - Acts 8:36-39


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 7

In the last Haiti blog (Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 6), I wrote of our visit to the Delmas children's prison in Port au Prince. And how we followed up that soul-wrenching experience with a walk through Minoterie and a visit with Berry-Jeanne...

Good morning, Berry-Jeanne

After our Monday evening devotion, I spent time in prayer and contemplation. The intimacy of our relationships was deepening with each passing day and I fully expected the next day - Tuesday - to be no different. 

Christy and friends in Minoterie

Keith, Ashley and friends at Berdy's house

I suspect most people don't like to visit hospitals. We go because our loved ones are there. Or maybe to accompany a friend as they visit someone. I really don't like going to hospitals so, on the whole, I was anticipating a very mixed reaction to our impending journey on Tuesday morning. I was thinking that we would walk into a ward, spend a few moments here and there with people who were struggling to regain their health, and then head back to Minoterie.

Before anything, we had a long drive ahead of us. Our route to the hospital took us through the heart of Port au Prince. We had to drop Bildad off downtown for a meeting with one of his relatives.

It's always market day in PaP

Marché de la Croix des Bossales

As we drove through the western side of Port au Prince, we passed one of the most amazing sights of our journey: the sprawling commercial complex that is the Marché de la Croix des Bossales. The Cross of Bossales Market covers roughly seventy thousand square meters. That is a little over three-quarters of a million square feet! It is a huge complex into which - if Internet articles are to be believed - over $2 million has been infused since 2010 in an effort to improve conditions and provide basic sanitation services.

Based on what I was told, the Marché de la Croix des Bossales sits in the same location as the original Haitian slave market. Today, it is the largest marketplace in Haiti, where all manner of goods and services can be obtained. Except slaves, that is. Thank the Lord.

Probably would not opt to stay here

Ben 10 has arrived in Haiti

One of the amazing things about Haiti - and indeed, about any country outside the United States - is how American culture finds its way around the world. Personally, I'm not so sure a lot of that is a great idea, but I was stumped as to the identity of the young man on the billboard above. I just thought it was a bit of an oddity, so I took the shot. Only after I returned did I discover that Ben 10 is a popular Cartoon Network hero-character.

Go figure.

I doubt it...

Just down the street from Ben 10 was the Eternal Father lotto store. I'm not going to claim to have the inside track on what God is up to these days, but I think it's a safe bet (pardon the pun) that He is not running a lotto network in Port au Prince. If you spend any time at all in Haiti, one thing you'll notice is that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit - the Trinity - feature prominently on everything from tap-taps to roadside supply depots.

It took us about two and one-half hours to wend our way through Port au Prince and complete our journey to the hospital, which lies west of the capital. As the traffic thinned to almost nothing, Bluebird slowed, then stopped, signaling our arrival at - what the sign announced as - the Sanatorium. 

After receiving the requisite permissions, Jean Justin backed Bluebird through the gate and reversed down a long, tree-covered access road. Apparently you just don't drive a bus forward into any driveway in Haiti. On our right as we backed in we saw a school complex, followed by the hospital quad.

A number of pre-fab buildings made up the hospital quad

These two men appeared to be serious friends

On the left-hand side of us, there were about twenty to twenty-five men and women sitting on chairs or standing by, waiting for our arrival. Once parked, our team leader gave us a quick briefing; we were actually visiting what Americans would refer to as a Hospice. To put it bluntly, we were advised that most, if not all, of the patients who were there had conditions that would - sooner or later - be terminal.

The folks who had come out to welcome us were those still healthy enough to get about alright. All of the other patients were in the prefab buildings we noticed when we drove in. Just as it can be a little awkward when you go to visit a friend in the hospital, it was no different here. To start off, we just spoke with them, introducing ourselves and letting them know where we were from. We also sang for them, which they seemed to enjoy (which means they didn't hear me singing).

After the singing, we wanted to offer whatever encouragement we might, so I was asked to read a short Bible passage and lead a prayer for them.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
 - Philippians 1:3-6 (ESV)

I chose the passage above because, to me, it speaks of the hope we all have in Jesus - He who began a good work in each of us. And here, as these good people faced the stark reality of their completion, we prayed that each of them would be received by Jesus on that day.

After praying, one of the Haitian women from Minoterie who traveled with us (I believe her name was Gerdy, but I am not completely sure on the spelling) stepped forward and talked to the patients gathered under the trees. Although she spoke in Creole, one of our translators softly filled us in on what she was saying.

As she spoke, Gerdy shared how she had become very ill some years before and how, when taken to the hospital, she had stopped breathing. Gerdy looked at each of the patients as she told them how the doctors were able to revive her thanks to the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

This really touched me because we spend so much time talking about our beliefs. But Gerdy shared the simple power of her faith in God. It surely didn't matter to these people whether she was a Baptist or Methodist or Catholic or whatever; all they heard - and saw in Gerdy's eyes - was an example of the healing power of God Almighty.

That's not to say that we were telling the patients that God would heal each of them. On the contrary; we all know how mysterious God's ways seem to us. Sometimes it doesn't make any sense at all.

In the book of Job, Zophar the Naamathite responds to Job's suffering with rebukes concerning the obvious state of Job's righteousness. However ultimately wrong Zophar's motivation and wisdom were, one thing he was correct about was the limitless measure of God's wisdom and power...

Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.

 - Job 11:7-9 (ESV)

After Gerdy's testimony, we handed out small containers of sanitizer, shampoo and soap, along with toothbrushes and toothpaste for each patient. These seemed like small gifts that we could give, but we heard how many of the patients did not have even such simple things as this, and they let us know how much they appreciated them.

We also handed out hand-made greeting cards that the children in both Huntsville and White House had made before our trip. Each card had a picture of the child along with some encouraging words handwritten in Creole.

Children's greetings

Kelma sharing with one of the patients

Before we left for the ride back to Minoterie, we walked around the quad. We were asked not to go into the patient rooms but we could stand outside and talk with patients, as well as pray for them as we visited each small building.

A peaceful garden...

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.

 - Jesus (John 14:1-4 [ESV])

Our drive back to Minoterie was shorter than the outbound journey by an hour or so. This time, we did not pass through town, but along the outskirts of Port au Prince. We parked in front of Berdy's home and made sandwiches for lunch. Our midday meal was quiet; for my part, thinking about the all-too-fleeting moments we had shared with the hospital patients that morning.

After a short break, we moved the bus to a different spot in the village and several off us walked to a place nearby where we picked up trees that members of the team had purchased. We gathered back at the bus with our trees, then walked through Minoterie planting them in a yard here, a garden plot there. 

We chose places for the trees where there was some fence or other natural barrier, otherwise the goats will eat them before they can grow sufficiently to protect themselves. In all, we planted five mango, three lemon and two native shade trees. In each case the families who received the trees were very happy, eager to have us pray over each new addition, asking God's blessing on the fruit it would come to bear, as well as on their home.

Dye mon, gen mon; beyond the mountains, more mountains...

We returned late to the hotel, arriving after eight in the evening. We barely had time to wash up and grab dinner. After everyone had eaten, we met together for our final evening devotional. Tonight was the team's last night in Haiti and needless to say there were some emotional moments. Two things happened which surprised us all:

First, Nathanael, Berdy, Bildad, Israele and Frantzdy presented all of us with certificates of appreciation for the work that we had done this week on behalf of Prosperity of God ministries. Obviously, we did not (and do not) expect any recognition for the things we do on mission. However, we were humbled and honored to receive the thanks of these men who are on the Board of PoG yet worked and sweated right alongside us all week. If anyone should be given recognition, it is these hard working young men who live to support the community of Minoterie. They strive to educate themselves and the children, providing them an opportunity to become the future of Haiti.

True men of Haiti

Second, and eternally most important, Jean Justin, the man who had driven us all week joined us. This man is probably the best bus driver I have ever seen. He was able to carry us safely along the adventuresome roads of Haiti and maneuver big ol' Bluebird in and out of places I would hesitate to drive my little Saturn. After we gave Jean Justin a huge hand and many thanks for his awesome service throughout the week, he told us - through a translator - that he had something to say.

He spoke of sitting on the bus and quietly observing our activities. He spoke of how his heart was full of respect - and surprise - as he watched us with the children of Minoterie, the children in the prison, and the sick whom we had visited earlier that day. Although he knew the name of Jesus, he told us that this week was the first week he believed that he had seen Jesus at work - through us. We were all a little stunned. Finally, he told us that because of his experiences this week, he had felt the Holy Spirit move within his heart, and Jean Justin accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. 

God without borders...

Talk about amazing! We gathered around him and gave God thanks for Jean Justin's decision. We hugged, we laughed, we cried, and we prayed. We also urged the men from PoG to take up the responsibility - and the challenge - to teach Jean Justin and to guide him in the ways of the Lord.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

After all the incredible emotions of the day, we adjourned and headed to our rooms. Each of us had to pack and prepare so that we could leave early in the morning and spend our last hours in Minoterie. 

Sleep claimed us gently, with thoughts of angels rejoicing in heaven...


Monday, July 14, 2014

Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 6

"For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?"

 - Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:25-27)

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."

 - Jesus Christ (John 14:27)

Despite knowing some of the most encouraging verses in the Bible concerning worry - and that we need not - I spent a significant amount of time Sunday evening and Monday morning fretting over our impending trip to the children's prison in Port au Prince.

I've lived in foreign lands a good portion of my life and know of some prisons that are not, to put it mildly, places you or I would want to be. Thinking back on discussions I'd had on previous trips to Haiti, I recalled being told that Haitian prisons were similar to those in biblical days. Not a pretty picture to contemplate ahead of our journey.

 There's that word 'education' again...

In case the picture is not clear, the sign reads, "Centre de Rééducation des Mineurs en Conflit avec la Loi". You probably don't have to be a native French speaker to figure out that the sign on the outside of Delmas Prison translated into English reads, "Center for Reeducation of Minors in Conflict with the Law".

We pulled up outside the imposing prison walls with a busload - a busload - of people. I've mentioned in previous blogs how encouraging it was that we were not on a give and go mission. We - the blancs - were not just parachuting in, dropping off needed and, no doubt, appreciated items, hugging a few necks and then hitting the road. Our mission with PoG in Minoterie was - and is - a partnership; a relationship. That is why there weren't just twelve of us on the bus that morning. The rest of the seats were filled with men and women from the village. As far as I could tell, none of them had sons or brothers in Delmas Prison, but like us, their hearts went out to these kids.

Without relationship, the building is empty

Allow me to digress for just a moment. We drove past the building in the picture above every day. It sits in the foothills west of Titanyen, abandoned. If you look closely, you can make out some small residences nearby and some livestock grazing. So why, you might ask, is this sturdy building abandoned?

Great question. Some years ago, a group of people arrived, built the building - which was originally purposed to be a church - and then left. Before leaving, they approached the local residents and proudly presented them with the building as a gift. However, the people who built the building did not involve the residents in the planning or construction of the building. They came, they built, they departed. To my knowledge the materials used in construction were not even procured locally. So the residents refused the gift, because they had no relationship with it.

This may seem somewhat counter-intuitive to us. In a country with such deep need as Haiti, how can they justify their decision? In Haiti, children will often come up to us and ask for things. To be honest, it can be a little irksome to hear a constant litany of, "Give me, give me, give me..."

But that is children. Are ours any different? The adults in Haiti want self-determination. They aren't asking for handouts. They want the opportunity to work and provide for their families. They want to contribute to Haiti - to build something they can be proud of and to show the world that no matter how many mountains there are, they can climb each one.

Visiting hours...if you speak French

On arrival at Delmas prison, Bildad left the bus and went inside the prison to speak with the staff. As you might imagine, they weren't going to just open the gates and let us drive in with the bus. Once Bildad returned, that is exactly what we did, backing Bluebird through the gates, between thick concrete walls, topped with razor wire, which looked to be at least thirty feet high or more.

After my fears of the night before, fears that stayed with me on the drive to Delmas, the reality of the prison was quite different. We had arrived with maybe forty people to visit the (mostly) young teens who had been arrested for any number of offenses. I was pleasantly surprised by the prison staff, who seemed genuinely happy that we had come to visit their charges. I was also impressed with the the cleanliness of the general areas - we did not go into the cells themselves. Kimberly, who is an attorney back in Tennessee, remarked that Delmas prison was much cleaner than just about any county lock-up she has seen in the States.

Last picture we were allowed to take

Once we filled out the visitor's log and emptied our pockets (no cameras, phones, etc. allowed inside), we walked through a labyrinth of passageways until we were ushered into what appeared to be a classroom. After asking, we were told that, yes, it was a classroom...that's where the Rééducation side of things comes in.

To our delight, we were able to organize a game of soccer against a team of older boys. We played five-a-side in a narrow courtyard surrounded by successively higher fences and walls, all topped with the ever-present razor wire. Other prisoners - boys, just like our own sons back home - were out playing with the basketballs we had brought along with us. Although you can't see me in the picture above, I'm the one holding the bag aloft filled with basketballs, American footballs and soccer balls we had brought with us for a recreation donation. Our group - sitting together with some boys who were not playing - cheered heartily as the game went on. With one of the guards acting as referee we played hard, but fair. Considering we played on concrete at a pretty high pace, we were fortunate to escape with only one injury - Bildad's brother Caleb turned his ankle; thankfully it wasn't too bad.

After the game ended, with the prison boys beating us by one goal, we went inside one of the cell blocks and Bildad spoke to a group of the boys who occupied two adjacent cells. After being outside it was hard to see just how many boys were in each cell, but they were full of bunk beds so I'd estimate perhaps twenty to thirty in each one. Bildad presented a tremendous message, emphasizing to the boys that they could change the direction in which their lives were heading, and also reminding them that they were the future of Haiti.

After speaking for a few minutes, Bildad asked if anyone would like to share their testimony with the boys. I was as surprised as anyone to look over and see my right hand in the air. Despite my misgivings of the night before, with God's help I was able to share with the boys how I came to know Jesus. I told them of my own childhood, my love for soccer, and how other things began to take precedence in my life.

I'm not going to share those things here...but I was very specific as I stood between the cells and spoke to them. Speaking through a translator I used words that they would understand and I remember thinking to myself that many of the things these Haitian boys struggle with, I struggled with as well when I was growing up. I talked them through the details of the night God extended his hand to me and how I responded. Then I prayed for them. Standing there between two large prison cells filled with young men desperately in need of a new life, God gave me the words that I dearly hope they were able to hear and understand.

Afterward, we walked to another cell block and spoke with more boys. This time with Kimberly, Bildad's American mom, sharing her testimony. We sang and prayed with the boys, thanking them for allowing us to come and visit with them. As we walked out, young boys were crowded against the windows, high up in the cell block walls - wire mesh with no glass or other covering - watching us leave. I don't know what led me to do it, but as I walked along under the windows, I raised both hands above my head and silently clapped them together.

Looking up, I could see them clapping back.

Anyone who has watched many soccer games will know that as players walk off the pitch (field), they applaud the fans, thanking them for the privilege of playing. I was thanking the boys for the privilege of letting me come to their field, for letting me play with them and letting me talk with them. And they, in the international language of soccer, were thanking me for coming.

We spent Monday afternoon in Minoterie. First, we took a break from our peanut butter and jelly to have lunch at a small, local restaurant.

The House of Toussaint

I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Eating native was not something we did a lot of and it wasn't really recommended.

Good eating, Haitian style

My fears were laid to rest as our plates were brought, full of simple but tasty fare. Fried chicken, with thinly sliced and fried plantain chips - as well as more traditional fried plantains - accompanied by various salads and rice. The  pièce de résistance for me was the iced grenadine juice, a thick, sweet, yellow concoction that was truly wonderful!

After lunch, most of us - accompanied by the ever-present entourage of children - walked the narrow, winding dirt paths of the village, talking with people, playing with kids, and ministering to two ladies in particular.

The first was a very young girl named Berry-Jean. She was born with a couple of huge challenges. One, and I'm not sure of the exact name, caused problems with the muscles along her spinal cord. I believe she also had some problems with swelling of her brain. Add to that the fact that her mother has passed away, and she was facing a tremendous day-to-day battle.

Amy and Berry-Jeanne

Berry-Jeanne with a therapy 'toy'

An aunt takes care of Berry-Jeanne but Amy, one of the ladies from White House, provides funds each month to help with the young girl's care. Despite spending most of her life in bed, Berry-Jeanne has a phenomenal smile and clearly enjoyed the time we were able to spend with her. What she did not know is how our time together was truly a blessing for us. Even now, two weeks later, I am not a little heart broken thinking about how tough life is for Berry-Jeanne, living inside a rough stone house with no ventilation. Looking at pictures of her radiant smile provides more of a glimpse of God to me than just about anything else I can think of.

Our second stop was to look in on Sister Mary, an elderly widow who relies on neighbors to care for her. We had brought a care package for the primary caregiver, a woman from the village who bathes Sister Mary and takes care of her for the most part. We stood talking with the woman and some other folks for awhile. Afterward, we looked in on Sister Mary who was sleeping, and someone asked if I would lead a prayer for her. We stood together outside her door, unable to all fit inside the small abode. I don't know how old Sister Mary is, but we asked God to bless her with comfort and healing; most of all we prayed that God would grant her peace.

One boat on a seemingly endless ocean...

Today had been the most emotional day in Haiti so far. And I mean of any of my visits to this island nation since 2010. As we gathered for our evening devotional, it wasn't difficult for any of the group to share something that had touched our hearts that day. God had showed us so much today. Where did we start? How could we get our heads - and hearts - around young boys in prison, baby girls without mothers who desperately need a mother's loving care, elderly women who survive because of a neighbor's kindness...

I knew the next day included a hospital visit...I just didn't realize exactly what kind of hospital.