African Trip Journal: Part Nine

The Saturday I left Kenya, I had the chance to attend a wedding @ the church. Nice! Quite similar to American weddings but with more singing and greater involvement by the parents. We signed a card as a group and gave them a cash gift.

One of the things we prayed fervently for is unity of the team. I could not have been happier on that count. God truly grew an affection in us for one another and we worked so well as a team, each using their gifts and loving God and one another.

It is my hope & prayer that we can continue the frienships we've developed. I love them all.

* * *

Scripture from service at Milton's church--Acts 13:23-35

On poverty...

I have seen extreme poverty unlike any I've encountered even in my work with the homeless in Chicago. It's hard to fully grasp it, both on an invidual level (i.e., How does one survive/go on in such a state?) and on a societal level (i.e., How can such deep poverty be so widespread?). It is more difficult for me in a place like the slums--South B, Kibera, etc. The people there know that ther are those with wealth & comfortable lives nearby. The Pokot, except for a small number, presumably don't know much better. They are not living in such proximity to other people & their filth either. I wonder if the poor moms avoid attaching themselves too closely to their babies due to the high mortality rate. I will be processing this for some time to come.


Acts 20:34-34...a new perspective. Not only is it "better to give than receive," but we should work extra hard so that we may give well. Hmm...

On pastoring...

I was greatly encouraged by my experience preaching @ City Harvest. God really gave me the words to talk about confession & reconciliation. Because City Harvest didn't didn't know my title, my name appeared in the bulletin as "Pastor Nate Coleson." Pastor Nate...time was when I told God I wasn't going to be a pastor, so He shouldn't bother asking. Now I am open to it. I don't know that I am called to that but am beginning to wonder. One African, when I told him that was my first time preaching, said, "You cannot convince me." I love the Kenyan turn of phrase. I'm surely not worthy of this on my own, nor does my flesh desire it, but if God wills it, I will obey.

* * *

Enjoying a pineapple Miranda soda @ the Uganda Christian University canteen. 700 shillings. A chicken is wondering through; no one pays it any mind.

* * *

The beautiful flat-top trees in Africa are Acacia trees. I think I knew that.

* * *

We got a taste of Nairobi violence on our first day there. Very distressing. It appeared to have been a fender-bender gone bad, but the mob mentality quickly ignited. I saw at least one man hit in the head, possibly w/ a tire iron. Not sure if he survived. Nothing we could do but pray...

9-24-2008 - Victoria Station, London

Well, I had Ugandan breakfast in Mukono and am now having dinner in London. Crazy. I'm beat. I've been walking all around the city. Many things aren't open in the evening, but I saw the Thames, Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral & the Eye. I've also ridden the Tube. All in all, London is much like I expected, thought I'm disappointed it's dark & I'm so tired. I have to say that people in Africa are the walkingest people I've seen, but Londoners walk fast. I'd hoped to get fish & chips and even found a pub close, but their kitchen was closed--drinks only. So, I'm @ the food court @ Victoria Station having a Beck's NA & a goat cheese veggie burger. The waitress is east Asian. Oh well. I need to bring the fam back to the UK (& Africa) anyway.

* * *

Now I'm @ Heathrow. Couldn't get a Yotel booking and don't really want to spend the money anyway. Thankfully, there's a little coffee shop open 24/7. Just killing time until my flight.

It seems that I've run out of journal before I've run out of thoughts, so look for a continuation of my travelogue on the back of my itinerary and other odd bits of paper. [Verbatim from my little Moleskine journal. More to come...]


Africa Trip Journal: Part Eight


Traffic is crazy in both Kenya & Uganda. Kenya has no stop signs and only 2-lane roads for the most part with cars, buses, mutatos, bota botas (motorcycle & bike taxis), cyclists and pedestrians all competing for space. There are stop signs in Uganda, but they're merely decorative. Otherwise, it's much the same. Many vehicles are diesel, too, so a ride be a fragrant combo of diesel fumes, dust, dirt, garbage pile odors and cooking being done with all sorts of fuel.

Ugandan traffic cops stand by the roadside. If they want you to stop, they simply flag you down. If you don't stop, they call in your plates to their friends down the road. In Kenya, there are regular police check points where the road narrows to a single lane bordered by tire-cutter strips.

* * *

Security in both Nairobi and Kampala is very high. Even the unlikeliest places have walls--many topped with barbed or electric wire--and gates manned by guards. This was the case at each guest house where we stayed and even the building where City Harvest is housed.

* * *

Just had fresh-roasted peanuts made by Hilda, the Tweheyos' niece. She is very sweet. She works as a servant of sorts here, but she seems to have a good attitude. It's awesome to hear her singing worship songs as she mops the floors & works around the house. She recently graduated from a secretarial course and will soon be looking for a job. It's kind of weird having a "servant" in such a modest place, but I try to treat her with respect and as one of the kids.

The younger Anne (not Milton's wife) is very sweet, too. She is quite shy but seems to enjoy school. She has trouble understanding my accent, so Milton often has to translate for me. I asked her what her favorite school subject was. "Maths," she said. Least favorite? "English," she said with a shy smile. The Tweheyos adopted her in the past couple years. She is their niece and was orphaned when her parents died from AIDS. So sad. it was nice that she joined us for our fun outings yesterday. She's had a difficult life.

The Pokot have no written language. Most speak Pokot, some speak Kiswahili and a number of the children also speak English. In the past, many of the kids were kept out of school to herd goats, but we've encouraged the parents to send all their children to school. The men are surprisingly open to this and some of the older ones expressed embarrassment @ having to be translated from Pokot to Kiswahili to English. They seem to have realized that their way of life has left them hungry and in danger from other tribes like the Karamajong in Uganda. Though we ultimately want to them to come to Christ, we are trying to fuel development there as well. They have so many resources, and now that they have ready access to water and a school for their children, with a church likely to come soon, they men need to get off their butts (sounds harsh but it's true) & be productive farming and being good fathers and husbands (albeit of several wives). We expressed as much in a breakout session with the men. They seemed open. It came from Apakamoi Renson, one of their own who came to Christ and has adopted more Western ways.

It's tricky. We tried deliberately as a team to allow the Africans to take the lead and want to allow the Pokot to retain as much of their culture as possible. Westernization isn't the goal, but some of that may be inevitable.

Brian S. preached to the Pokot in a church service under a few trees. He taught from Daniel about Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Talked about how earthly kingdoms--America, Kenya, even the Pokot--will pass away, but God's Kingdom will last forever.

The women's breakout session was largely about hygiene. They washed some of the young ones, supplied some baby clothes and instructed the women on how to keep their families clean & healthy.

* * *

I believe our team may have had the biggest impact through the easy way that we love and served one another. We interacted with the children, too, something which men did not normally do. I helped fill water jugs @ the well and Diane & I chatted and both did "woman's work" (prepping vegetables for dinner) in full sight of the men of the tribe. Raised some eyebrows.

We also interacted w/ and submitted to our African partners--Mercy, Cynthia, Nick, Alex, Peter, Humphrey, Renson. It important for us to demonstrate Christ's love crossing ethnic & gender barriers. I believe God was pleased with this.

* * *

The Pokot gave City Harvest a plot of land on which to build a ministry center/church. Pretty amazing. The vision @ this point seems to be to have a few people go & live with the Pokot. They'd help with construction, discipleship, development and agricultural education/demonstration. At the moment, things are largely peaceful, but I don't believe they'll have lasting peace until they live out the Gospel and become good stewards of what they've been given. Of course, faith doesn't ensure a peaceful life, only a peaceful heart. God is definitely @ work there, though, and I can't wait to see how far they'll have grown this time next year.


Africa Trip Journal: Part Seven

9-22-2008 - About the Pokot...

The Pokot homes are gathered in familial homesteads not in a village. The homes have surprisingly small doors in order to keep predators out. The clasps & padlocks are presumably a recent addition.

Getting to the Pokot was quite a trek. We took a Range Rover driven by Peter, the church driver, and a 4WD Toyota Hiace mini-bus driven by Humphrey (the driver not the pastor). The ruggedness of both vehicles was needed often. Near Pokot there were times we were on roads like you'd see in an adventure movie--dirts, single-lane, hairpin turns and unguarded cliffs just a couple feet away. Cows, too. Quite exciting.

We got in close to dark and pitched our tents in an abandoned, half-finished church building. We were then serenaded in the dark by a group of 30-40 children. Such beautiful, pure voices. Really amazing. We ate dinner in a dimly lit kitchen building. That night a large group of drunken Pokot warrios slept in the church around our tents. They were committed to be our protectors, but that apparently didn't rule out a party beforehand.

The next day we visited the existing bore holes (wells)--six of the pluse the future site of a seventh. We prayed @ each and learned how dramatically this has changed life there in just one year. Sometimes, women & children had to travel up to 10km. to pick up a jerry can of water. Now it is only 1-2km and allow much greater freedom in the home for other activities.

The Pokot men really do little beyond sitting around talking, raiding cows and, theoretically, guarding the area. Many still dress in the shukas, or wraps--usually brightly colored and sometimes floral. Their heads are shaved and they wear sandals and generally carry a walking stick and small carved stool on which they sit. They also wear beaded bracelets and necklaces and earrings. Some prominent ones wear an ivory ring shaped something like a domino with a hole toward one end. Some have begun to wear pants/shorts, though that's a more recent development. Apparently, the men have traditionally worn the loose wraps and often preyed sexually on the young girls visiting the watering holes. They've been encouraged to literally keep their pants on and seem open to it. Their visit to Nairobi and the Massai last year seems to have made a difference in the perspective of many of the men. Though they carried bows & arrows occasionally, they were completely peaceful toward us, except when trying to trade for my watch. I told the young man "I need it to be sure I catch my flight in time." Pretty dumb of me, I know.

The area is lovely. Much like pictures I've seen of the Australian bush. Lots of thorns on everything, generally pretty dry & hot, though pleasant @ night. it is very near the Ugandan border and the misty mountains there made for a magical backdrop. The terrain was rugged, but there were really no predators of the animal sort. We walked for miles during the day without any apparent risk and I wandered off into the pricker bushes @ night to "go potty" before discovering there was a latrine (and supposedly a real pit toilet somewhere). No worries except getting scratched in sensitive places. This was a great surprise. I was expecting to @ least be mindful of snakes and hyenas. To date I've seen no snakes. I've seen other wild animals only in the park, by & large.

The Pokot women work hard tending the home, caring for the children, cooking and carrying water. They and the children are generally segregated from the men. It seems that some of that attitude pervades even the "civilized" parts of Africa, though there are increasing numbers of career women here.


Africa Trip Journal: Part Six

9-20-2008 - Mukono, Uganda

[Our original trip was intended for a shorter period and I made arrangements to visit an old friend from grad school in Uganda. So, on Sept. 20, two flew back to the States, I flew to Uganda and the remaining six stayed on in Kenya. I'll get back to my time in Kenya--just giving you my journal as uncut as possible.]

I'm at Milton's now. He picked me up w/ his driver, Livington, and his two kids. It was an eventful nighttime drive from Entebbe Airport to the Tweheyos. Lots of traffic--cars, trucks, mutatus, bikes & lots of people.

Milton's home is nice by some African standards but is still quite modest. Everything is fairly worn but clean. Thankfully, the bed is quite comfortable. Or maybe I'm just super tired.

I am terribly homesick for my family (more family-sick than home-sick, I guess). I tried to call them but my phone doesn't work here and Milton's internet is not connected yet. It was different w/ the team because their friendship distracted & supported me. On my own I'm rather lonely. God be with me & help me not to dwell on my feelings.

* * *

Luganda words:

webare = thank you

twakushemererwa = welcome
agandi = how are you?

oryota = hi

* * *

9-21-2008 - Bujagali Falls

We have been to the source of the Nile & are now downstream @ these falls. We took a boat ride @ "The Source" and discovered underwater springs bubbling up @ an outlet of Lake Victoria. The Nile travels 4,000 miles to the Mediterranean & takes 3 months to do so. Wow! I bought a round of Cokes and a can of Pringles for the bunch of us. Such a simple thing but a huge treat for them, it seems. It does not seem that there is much for "extras" or luxuries.

I'm feeling better today. Slept well and am enjoying my time. Still, I look forward to Wednesday AM when I begin my journey home.

We worshipped @ the large Anglican church on the campus of Uganda Christian University [where my friend Milton is the Dean and he and his family live]. It was good--reminded me Church of the Great Shepherd & Church of the Resurrection where I used to go. I was one of the few "mzungus" (white people) there and sat on stage w/ Milton & and his family because he's ordained and faculty. Conspicuous yet again.
* * *
I'm sitting in a hut-style bar @ the falls. Men are gathered around a radio listening to a Manchester United game. Funny. Peaceful otherwise.

Oh, now the acrobats are here. Pretty amazing. I tipped them...somewhat begrudgingly. By and large I've found very few beggars. People always do something or ask if they can do something to earn a couple hundred shillings. Occasionally, though, you'll get the hard sell. People are people, wherever they are.

* * *

Well, I've been bitten by mosquitos and am drinking the water in Uganda. Thank the Lord for protecting me thus far.

* * *

Milton is much as I remember him, though his ordination and position @ the university seem to have given him a great air of authority, though he was always a wise friend. Anne, his wife, is as sweet as I remember, though tired. I feel that we relate well. Thankfully my palate has grown quickly accustomed to African food, so I've been able to eat heartily without complaint and often with genuine enjoyment. This evening we ate fruit & vegetables that had been bought on the way back from Jinja. And tilapia from Lake Victoria. Whole fish--just cut into portions. Quite good.

* * *
Exchange rate: $50=80,000 Ugandan shillings

Mututu driver saying - "Kill one to save many." Refers to the crowded buses, the rivers of pedestrians and cyclists and the need, apparently, to choose between a head-on with another vehicle or killing a pedestrian.

* * *

At the falls we saw two young boys who kept saying "mzungu! mzungu!" Then one picked up a long stick and began singing a song of which the only lyrics were "American soldier, American soldier..." (referring to me). Not sure if it was a good or bad thing.
* * *

Had corn on the cob, a banana & instant coffee for breakfast. And the roosters around here crow in the morning and pretty much throughout the rest of the day.
* * *

Met a couple of Americans here at the university. Small world. Was able to get a single email out to the folks in Nairobi to let them know I'm OK. Got a tour of campus, as well, from a Wheaton grad. Funny. It's a nice school. 6,000 students and growing. It's raining now and the only shoes I have left aren't waterproof, so I'll be inside reading Ugandan newspapers for the afternoon.


Africa Trip Journal: Part Five

9-15-2008 - Nakuru

Let me work backwards. I have never experienced such unity in a group. God is so good! I am overwhelmed by His grace, the way He has called us to this time, place & people. Kenya is a heartbreaking, encouraging, beautiful, ugly place.

We arrived on the 12th, but I have not written because I was doing sermon prep for Sunday. On Saturday, we went to City Harvest in the morning and visited with the PACE group. , primarily widows and others impacted directly by HIV/AIDS. Brian Jones shared a devotional about Jesus healing the man with a withered hand. He did a great job and was translated into Kiswahili. We at lunch w/ them.

* * *

Exchange rate: $1 USD = 67-69 shillings

9-18-2008 - Kitale

I'll have to go back & catch up on our time w/ the Pokot. So much going on.

9-20-2008 - Nairobi Airport

I've ditched the bus ride to Uganda as I've spent too much time on the road the past week. I was able to find a flight from Nairobi to Kampala through 540 for $170. Twin-engine turboprop. Should be exciting. Was able to go to Kenyan wedding today & spend extra time w/ everyone. Also, got to go to Alex's home in South B. Very modest. Tin siding, cardboard insulation & only enough room for a mattress & narrow table. His rent is $6/month...roughly 1,000 ksh. I spent 2,700 ksh for a photo album @ Nairobi airport to get rid of my shillings. Sad.

It was tough to leave the team. Diane's flying to Kisumu. Jamie & Brian S. leave tonight. The other 5 are staying on throught next Friday. I'm eager to be home but will do my best to make the most of the time w/ Milton & in London. My desire to share stories w/ those @ home is so great.

* * *
Plane cruises @ 20,000 feet. Nice to fly low enough to see the country. Interesting to be in my first prop. plan. Vibration's intense but takeoff not as exciting as was told. The flight's only 1 hour 2o minutes but they're serving a meal. Wow! Money well spent.

Africa Trip Journal: Part Four

9-11-2008 continued

I hate the last-minute rush. I had so much to do and just didn't feel I had the time/stamina to fit it all in. Hopefully we remembered everything. Pretty sure we got the important stuff. Being the leader of this team has been a dubious honor. I can handle all the details, but it's sure not my favorite. Some of it is just perfectionism coming through. God's stretching me a lot already. It's good--scary at times--but good.

In big & small ways God's hand is on this trip. From providential donations to my charger being found ONE MINUTE after I prayed for it to Jess Croom deciding to stay in Kenya rather than go on to Uganda.

The church commissioned us on Sunday. I was nervous about speaking in front of everyone, though not as much as the Ethiopian dinner. We had lunch afterwards then had the prayer team pray over and with us. The Spirit moved. Manifested Himself, I'd say. When Jeannie prayed over me I had goose bumps all over and felt like I was lifting off the floor. She had a word for each of us and shared what she felt were gifts being given to us for the gift. Mine was interpretation of tongues. What?! Yep. On top of that, I'm preaching this Sunday at City Harvest. Didn't want to, but I thought it would be best to take the first big slot. I feel like I haven't had much sermon prep time, but it'll come together. God wants to speak through us if we make ourselves ourselves available. Lord, help me to be available to you.

* * *

Just south of Greenland & Iceland. It's amusing to pee in a bathroom at 38,000 feet going 600 mph.

* * *

It was hard to say goodbye to Jen & the kids. The last-minute rush helped in a way, because I just had to plow through. I hope they know how much I love them, though. If I didn't feel called to do this, there's no way I'd choose to spend weeks away from them. Hopefully they understand that. Maybe the video "Goodbye" and bedtime stories I made will help. Can't wait to read the cards they gave me. I know I'm going to miss them particularly tonight when I crawl into bed.

* * *

It's so strange flying over the ocean at night. I look out the window and see nothing but black. No clouds, no lights, no water. Just black.

There's a baby crying in the back. That's got to be rough. Nothing you can do. Not everyone's sympathetic, though, and that's hard. Some people are just hard-hearted.

Woah. Feels like driving on a gravel road with bad shocks. Dramamine seemed to help take-off, but this is...interesting. Glad I didn't wake up to it. Yikes! Might have something to do with the 93 mph tailwind. Nice that they have the entertainment units to distract...

Africa Trip Journal: Part Three

9-11-2008 - 38,000 ft.

I'm writing this from a 747 over a dark Atlantic. We're on our way. So much has transpired since I last wrote; perhaps I'll recap a little here before moving on.

In my last entry I was wondering how the finances would all come together. Well, it certainly wasn't early, but it was on time. That's how God seems to work sometimes. OK, most of the time. Through support letters, coffee sales, the Ethiopian dinner, and the yard/bake/haircut sale, we have raised over $26,000. Not quite the $30K I'd hoped for but enough. We didn't even have to ask the church for anything. Though six didn't raise their support, I raised 50% more that I needed (!!!). It's made us interdependent and that's a good thing. God knows what He's doing.

* * *

Outside air temp = -58 degrees F!
Tail wind = 57mph!

Hope everyone made it on their flights... [we had three separate flights to London]

* * *

Kyle discovered some time back that he needs a heart valve replacement. At the same time, he needs an aortic aneurysm repaired. This was and is devastating news. Here's a guy who lived recklessly for a number of years then had a change of heart and decided to start living for Jesus. He got active, ate better, lost a bunch of weight, recommitted to his wife and is really on fire. He saw doctors. We talked & prayed. We were and are concerned for him but none of us felt God saying "No." I debated it from a risk-management perspective and, practically speaking, it didn't make sense for him to go. But I felt that he was supposed to, he felt the same (but was willing not to for the good of the team) and, ultimately, the pastors consented.

* * *

From the prayer team:

1 Samuel 10:6-7
Ephesians 4:1-9
Matthew 8
Psalm 57

Africa Trip Journal: Part Two


Sermons Ideas:

1) "I believe; help my unbelief."

2) The power of secrets (Props? Roots destroy sidewalks, walls)

3) The unity of the Body.

* * *

I spoke w/ P. Edward last week. It was so encouraging. He is excited to have us and already I am fond of this brother and grateful to be partnering w/ him & City Harvest. It was good to get perspective & be reminded that the petty trials I encounter, the annoyances & interpersonal difficulties pale in comparison to what Kenyans struggle w/ daily.

* * *

The coffee came in this week and P. Kevin pitched it this morning. I'm eager to see how that goes and wonder if it will end up being a much bigger part of our support that I'd anticipated. The coffee's good, too--thankfully. Green Mtn. Coffee Kenyan Highland Cooperatives.


Less than a month to go now--wow! Tickets have been purchased. Our itinerary is in order. I'm excited & anxious both. I know God is working in us & will work through us. He has provided above & beyond my expectations, yet I wonder how the gap will be closed. We are very short financially @ the moment. I have faith that God can bridge that gap, but should I be making a contingency plan?

Africa Trip Journal: Part One

I recently lost my job, so I finally have some time to catch up on blogging about the Africa trip. My trip journal was pretty thorough, so I'm simply going to post it here with as few edits as possible and you can share my musings. Enjoy!


...We've now had two meetings for the Africa trip & I nearly have the team nailed down - 9 total. This journal's meant to be a record of my thoughts, prayers & experiences up to & through the trip to Kenya in Sept. I'm getting a late start but will try to recapture a bit of what has transpired to date.


Last year I got involved w/ the preparations for the trips to Africa. Years ago, I'd never have thought of doing foreign missions. I'd told God that I wasn't going to be a pastor, "so don't bother asking," and mission would've fallen right in the same category of stubborness. But my heart has been softened and I actually wanted to go to Africa. It wasn't my time, though. So I acted as on outfitter for the trip, participated in fundraising and dropped off/picked up the team from the airport.

This year, when the trip was announced, I applied. Circumstances were less than ideal - Jen has a new studio getting off the ground; New Life is letting me go and I don't know what my next job will be or whether they'll be OK with me taking time off for Africa; we don't have the money; we have two young kids and it's a busy season for Jen's work; and so on. From an earthly perspective, it made no sense for me to apply. I felt called to it, though, so I applied. Not too surprisingly, I was accepted. I'm office mates with the decision-maker and have been involved for years at New Life.

Not long after I applied, I was asked to lead the Kenya team. Lead the team! Not what I wanted to do...


...but I kind of suspected/feared I would be asked. So I thought about it, prayed about it and aksed a few trusted people for their thoughts. In the end, I concluded that the entire trip was God's way of stretching me & growing me. From an earthly perspective, me going on this trip is ludicrous. The leap to me leading the team is only slightly more nuts than me going on the trip in the first place. Laughing nervously, I prayed "God, what are you doing?!" and agreed to lead the trip.

So we've now had three meetings and the team stands at 10 people.


Been busy mostly w/ family time. The fundraising support letters have been out for a couple weeks and the response has been generous. It's humbling really. Some gave far beyond expectations, other less (but no hard feelings). One woman who's out of work gave $100, the equivalent of the "widow's mite"--truly a generous sacrifice. The financial support is encouraging, particularly on those days when doubts creep in.

One of the tentative team members emailed me this week and said she was backing out of the trip. She just doesn't feel that she's in a good place on several fronts right now. My hope & prayer is that she will be protected from discouragement and use this time to draw close to Him.

I have only declined one person for the team. He was passionate & seems to have a heart for Africa, but his application was quite belated and I just had a sense that we had our team. I feel peaceful about it.


The Nine

Jessica Croom, Jamie Vonk, Jessica Chislett, Diane Mardavich

Mina Herrera (who somehow managed not to get in the picture above)

Kyle Flanner, Brian Jones, me, Brian Sanders

Before I get much into the stories about our trip, I'd like to take a moment and thank God for bringing together such an amazing team. These nine people, many of whom didn't know each other at all prior to the trip preparations, truly came together as a unified team. From the beginning we prayed consistently for unity in the team and, in spite of some forces that could have splintered us, God answered our prayers and knit us tightly together as a family. It was such a pleasure serving alongside and living life with each of these men and women. I was proud to be the team leader and couldn't have asked for a better bunch. They worked hard, complained little (if at all), submitted themselves to God and the team and loved one another and those we encountered generously. And they had a lot of fun doing it. I love them each.

Brian Jones, I miss you guy, but I'm so glad you went with us before making the move to the East Coast. I appreciate the fact that on paper we might butt heads, but in Christ we can respect one another's perspectives and share in His work. I've been so encouraged to see your vulnerability about some of your past wounds and about the bold steps you took prior to the trip to seek reconciliation in your life. You are a courageous man, a bold adventurer and a super talented photographer. Not too shabby on the recorder either ;) I'm convinced that as you remain open to Him, He is going to do some great things in you and through you.

Brian Sanders, you are full of surprises, my friend. You are constant, reliable, faithful...and prone to busting out the dance moves--even offering to teach me some! Too cool. I was glad you applied for the trip and had no doubt you'd be a great asset. Thanks for your humble spirit and your willingness to worship unashamed, to teach what God leads you to teach and to learn. And, I think I can speak for all of us--especially the men--that the term "fluffed your butt" will be forever etched in our minds :D

Diane, from a difficult start to this process through the lost passport, you have handled everything with such grace. It's been a pleasure to get to know you, and I think we were all inspired to see the genuine, deep friendships that you'd struck up with those in Kenya the last time you were there ('07) and were able to pick right back up. I could tell how blessed they were that you remembered the details of their stories and genuinely cared about them. You never hesitated for a moment to let any real or perceived barriers keep you from showing them Christ's love and relating to them as a genuine sister. Such a blessing to see. Thank you for pushing through the difficulties and sharing in this adventure with us. (Don't let me forget to loan you a stack of great foreign films, too ;)

Jamie, you crack me up. Not only do you have a wonderfully quirky sense of humor, but you are a great encourager. It was such a blessing to have your upbeat, game-for-anything attitude along on this trip. I've been excited by the work God's done in you in such a short time. Sorry we didn't get you baptized in the waters of Kenya, but I hope I'm there to see it when it does happen. Thank you for your faithfulness and your openness to do whatever needed to be done and go wherever we were directed. And, I have to say that the colorful chaos of the Noah's Ark story told in that crowded school room is not a memory that will soon be forgotten!

Jessica Chislett, you are a peaceful presence to those around you. That and your winning smile put people instantly at ease. I loved having you in my small group for a time and was so glad you joined us on this trip. To see you nestled in among the locals--the children, in particular--warmed my heart and I could see it on your face when God allowed you to be burdened for a person or situation. Your gift of mercy is a beautiful thing, as is your unique perspective on the world. Thank you for being willing to be Christ to anyone. You never let anything stand in the way of loving people in your gentle, sincere way. It's such a blessing to see.

Jessica Croom, after some initial uncertainty about the trip and where God was leading you, it was exciting to see you jump in there and say, essentially, I have my own sense of where God might be leading me, but I feel like I'm supposed to be a part of this. Then, to see you truly submit yourself to God's leading, pour yourself wholeheartedly into the work of the trip and to see your love for the Pokot blossom and to have you make the Uganda connnection, well...it was a beautiful thing. Thanks for being obedient. You were a blessing (and I do have a Uganda map for you ;).

Kyle, you're nuts. From a worldy perspective anyway. I am still trusting God to complete the healing that He began in you, but it was a huge step of faith and obedience to go on this trip and not allow your heart condition to affect the condition of your heart, if you will. You're a psalmist in the Temple of the Most High God, my brother, and your faith and knowledge of the word are an encouragement. Thank you for submitting when it was called for and taking leadership when needed. I continue to lift you up and look forward to seeing what God will do with your story.

Mina, you are an inspiration. Though quiet by nature, you are a warrior. You went to Kenya last year, found your burden for these people grew and returned this year to continue the work and the relationships you'd begun. Your prayers covered this group and to see you come to a crossroads, one that could have understandably had you going in a different direction, then to truly trust God with the most valuable people in your life, your family, was so encouraging. Thank you for following God even when it's tough and for being such a great example. I can't wait to see what He has next for you, maybe even in Africa!


We're Back!

I was holding off until all nine of us were back in the U.S. Now, after a nutty weekend for one of our party involving a lost passport, we are all back!

Thank you, Lord, for providing for us, protecting us throughout our many travels, and for teaching us and teaching through us.

I believe we have all been powerfully changed by this experience and can't wait to share bit by bit through this blog and in person. Thank you to all who made this possible--the prayer warriors above all, as well as the financial donors, those who bought our coffee, shopped our yardsale and got their hair cut, those who loaned us camping gear and those who held down the fort while we were gone (especially our spouses!).

The picture above is of West Pokot in Kenya, just to give you a taste. I'll share many, many more as we go along. Thanks for stopping by!


To Africa

I've taken a bit of time off from blogging for a number of reasons, but I thought it worthwhile to mention that I'll be leaving for Africa next week. Ten days will be spent in Kenya working with a Kenyan ministry based in Nairobi. The remainder will be spent visiting an old friend of mine in Uganda.

A tremendous amount of work has gone into this trip already. I have the dubious honor of leading the trip and was initially reluctant to take on the responsibility. But God has stretched me through it, and I feel honored to be laboring alongside such a neat bunch of people. I see growth in them, as well, and we haven't even boarded the planes.

Though I could write a bit about the process to date, I suspect the tales from the trip itself will be most interesting to readers in general. I still have much to do, but I'm excited to see what God has in store for us and the people we're going to serve.
I do want to thank all those who contributed financially to this trip and/or are supporting me in prayer. It's humbling to be the recipient of such tremendous generosity.

I have to say the one downside to this extraordinary opportunity is that I'll miss my wife and kids terribly. I already do and I haven't even left yet. Sweeties all three.


Power to the Peanut Gallery

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but as news has gone online (and print newspapers die off), your ability to “color commentate” on that news has increased dramatically. No longer do you have to submit a Letter to the Editor and have it go through some type of review to determine its relevance, fairness or interest to the general public. Now you can simply make up a pseudonym (or use your real name if you’ll gutsy) and let fly with any opinion you may care to share.

Online comments are EVERYWHERE—on Facebook, blogs like this, online stores through buyer/seller feedback and product reviews, all over the place. But is it a good thing, particularly when it comes to the news? This is debatable—and I welcome some good debate—but I’m inclined to say that it is a necessary thing though maybe not always a good thing.

With the advent of the internet, journalism has changed. No longer can journalists be relied upon to simply report the news in as unbiased a way as possible (no one is wholly unbiased). Now people don’t subscribe to one daily newspaper and watch one world news program after dinner. They have access to nearly infinite news sources, both local and global. Journalists—or at least media owners—must compete. Rather than mass appeal, they’re going for niche, editorialized news and pseudo-news.

Are you an urban liberal with a college degree? The New York Times and Jon Stewart are pitching for you. A staunch conservative in middle America? Rush and Fox News may tickle your ears. Whatever your demographics and persuasion, you can find news that suits you and covers the stories you want the way you want.

What does this have to do with comments? Plenty.

Because the news media have become increasingly biased to target these niche markets, it has become more difficult to get “the straight story.” To do so, one really has to sample multiple sources. The person who gets their news exclusively from Fox News or CNN scares me a bit. You have the ability to get multiple perspectives, and I’d encourage you to do so. At the same time, where you see inaccuracies, lies being portrayed as truth, or blatant editorializing, take full advantage of the “Comments” section. I do FREQUENTLY.

Democracy has its downsides, in politics and in the world of online news. All opinions get equal weight, no matter how educated or ignorant. So, while I like to take full advantage of correcting errors and taking editorializing reporters to task, the online agitators (“trolls”) get equal time.

I guess that’s the price we pay. If we’re going to be given what we want (choices! choices! choices!), we’re going to have to deal with spin, slant and bias. One of the few checks and balances we are afforded in this vast marketplace is the ability to comment. So, it may be futile, but I’m going to do my part. I hope you will, too.


Apropos of this Political Season

It's A Personal Thing
by Steve Taylor

The press conference
It's a personal thing, and I find it odd
you would question my believing in a personal God
I'm devout, I'm sincere, ask my mother if you doubt it
I'm religious, but I'd rather not get radical about it
the old-time believers had timidity and grace
but this new generation doesn't know its place
You're entitled to believe, but the latest Gallup Poll
says you mustn't interfere--that's the government's role

'Cause when you throw your hat in the bullring
before you know it's a personal thing
and when he comes to the day of reckoning
he's gonna tell 'em, "uh, uh, uh, it's a personal thing"

The nomination speech
It's a personal thing, and I boldly state
that my views on morality will have to wait
'til my personal life's out of the public eye
and the limitations statue can protect my alibi
I'm devout, I'm sincere, and I'm proud to say
that it's had exactly no effect on who I am today
I believe for the benefit for all mankind
in the total separation of church and mind

The victory night
It's a personal thing, and I plainly speak
(from the same code of ethics that I held last week)
as I promised if elected this election day
with the help of God almighty...I'll do it my way


Dear Closet Smoker,

clos-et smok-er n. one who hides his/her smoking from everyone or one who smokes openly with one social group while hiding it from another

I don’t normally target my posts to such a narrow niche, but I feel this topic warrants more attention than it gets. If you are a closet smoker, I know you’re going to read this. If you’re smoke-free, give it a read anyway. You might find some words of encouragement for your own struggles or those of loved ones.

I quit smoking nine years ago last month. No, don’t applaud. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t me. It was the right decision, though, and I still try to celebrate the anniversary each year.

Prior to my final quit date, I tried over the course of a couple years to kick it. Everything but acupuncture and hypnosis, I tried it. I tried the gum. ($25 box of Nicorette vs. $3 pack of smokes? No contest.) Rationing cigarettes into envelopes. (I was forever “borrowing” from the next day, thinking I’d somehow want fewer then.) Rolling my own to make it more difficult. (It did slow things down a bit, but I had a couple pipes around and just ended up stuffing the tobacco in those and “going all C.S. Lewis.”)

I didn’t smoke everywhere—just in my apartment, restaurants that allowed it, with friends who also smoked or tolerated it, and in my car, unless I was headed to class, church, family or to be with friends that wouldn’t have approved. I hid it from a lot of people. Or thought I did. I suspect I was extended more mercy than I know.

I was pretty meticulous in hiding my smoking. I’d get up, smoke two or three cigarettes, then take a shower, get dressed and head to class/church/wherever I couldn’t reek of smoke. If friends were coming over, I’d Febreze all the fabrics in my apartment, open the windows and burn a scented candle/incense. I always had breath spray/gum/mints on me somewhere. I washed my hands regularly (smell a person’s fingers if you want to know if they’ve been smoking). I even avoided having things like fleeces or wool clothes out when I was smoking; they absorb smoke like crazy. If I were going somewhere for some time where I simply couldn’t smoke, I’d buy a box of Nicorette and smile and chew my way through. This is not a How-To Guide to Secret Smoking—if you do it, you’ve no doubt got your own tricks—but an example of the lengths I’d go to to hide mine.

Generally speaking, I got away with it. No one ever confronted me about it, whether they suspected or not. I was a functional closet smoker. And I was a hypocrite. If you’re a closet smoker, I hate to tell you, but you’re a hypocrite, too. It’s not just that it’s unhealthy, malodorous and, especially in Chicago, quite expensive ($7-8/pack!). It’s that you’ve split yourself.

If you know me, you know I’m not a harsh person, so please accept this as firm, loving exhortation. Not only will you feel better, smell better and have more money in your pocket, you will have INTEGRITY (in-teg-ri-ty n. an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting). There’s nothing like the freedom of having nothing to hide. Try it. You won’t regret it.

So you say that you’ve tried it or are trying it and it’s just not working. You can’t quit. Yes, you can. The thing is, though, that you can’t do it on your own. I won’t recite the 12-Step liturgy here, but it’s true that you’re powerless. Here’s where you can find the power:

1. Pray. No, really. Tell God why you love smoking and how it makes you feel. Then tell Him that you desperately want to quit, but that there’s still a part of you that really doesn’t want to. He’s the only one who can get at that root and give you the strength to take the next steps.

2. Seek professional help if you can. It could be informal meetings with a pastor, talk therapy or even prescription medication like Wellbutrin (just not anything that has nicotine). The more axes you hit this addiction with, the better.

3. Tell your friends and family—even (or maybe especially) those whom you’ve hidden your smoking from. Nothing like raising the stakes to keep you motivated.

4. Break off any social activities where you’re likely to be tempted, at least for a couple years. I’m serious here. This is a little easier with smoking being prohibited in so many places now, but it can be super tough. Friends who are true, though, will stick with you and applaud your effort.

5. Quit cold turkey. It’s really the only way. I’ve never known anyone who’s been able to taper off of nicotine. It’s going to suck going through it, but it doesn’t last forever. You will survive.

The last step may seem unimportant, but it’s critical for long-term success:

6. Celebrate. For the first month, celebrate every week. For the first year, celebrate every month. Beyond that, celebrate every year. Thank God for bringing you through. Enjoy your new-found health and integrity. Think of all that effort, sacrifice and the sheer number of days that have piled up in that Recovery Account and measure it against the fleeting temptations that will come. You will truly find it easier and easier to say “no.”

If I can pray for you or encourage you in this area, feel free to contact me directly and I’ll do my best to be another ax at your disposal.

Grateful ex-smoker,


More Products I Endorse

Since you’re probably tired of hearing political endorsements already, I thought it’d be fun to do a follow-up to an old post I wrote: “Products I Endorse.” Once again, feel free to add your own or second my endorsement. Perhaps if we get a groundswell of support going, we could be spokesmodels one day.

ANCO WINTER BLADES—I have a thing about visibility while driving. Rain-X got my pitch awhile back. This time it’s Anco Winter Blades. You’ve likely seen them—they’re the ones with the red tips. Regular wiper blades collect ice and tend to smear in the winter. These bad boys are real rubber and the frame is encased. So, they stay pliable, don’t collect ice and wipe your windshield crystal clear. Granted, it’s a little late in the winter for this recommendation, but they’re a snap to install and there’s a good chance—in Chicago at least—that we’ll have another good month of snow, at least.

CABLE TEMPLES—Frankly, I don’t know why all eyeglasses aren’t made with these. If you wear glasses, you’ve experienced “slippage.” You get sweaty or your skin’s a little oily, and your glasses slip down your nose. The dynamic duo of silicone nose pieces and cable temples almost completely eliminate this. Cable temples are the type that wrap around your ears rather than simply resting on top. Some associate them with Ben Franklin, but many styles are available with cable temples. If you are sedentary or just use your glasses for reading, use whatever kind you please. But if you’re active at all, do yourself a favor and get some of these with your next pair of specs or get the ones you have modified. I managed to flip a jet ski a few years back, went in the drink and came out of the water with glasses still attached. Hopped back on and continued my recklessness. Because I’m nearly blind without my glasses and I was in the middle of a large lake, there’s a good chance I’d never found my way back if it hadn’t been for those blessed cable temples.

FISH TACOS—If you’re never tried them, you don’t know what you’re missing. Inevitably, someone will turn their nose up when you mention them and that’s fine—more for those in the know. I first ran into these in California, but I’ve also had some good ones in St. Louis and recently discovered a place in Chicago that has GREAT ones. Here’s the perfect way to try them: Go to Rockwell’s Neighborhood Grill and order the blackened fish tacos. They come with tortilla chips, black beans, salsa and chipotle mayo. For a truly perfect meal, I recommend a side of guacamole, a Beck’s Non-Alcoholic Beer and a good friend/date (my wife’s great for this role, but only you ladies can take her—sorry guys). Try it. If you don’t like it, I’ll come pick up your leftovers.

MIGHTY PUTTY—This was an impulse buy. A buddy of mine and I were staying at a hotel when this infomercial came on TV. It was for this miraculous epoxy-type stuff in easy-to-use-Play-Doh-like form. It could fix anything; we were mesmerized. Neither of us knew of any specific need we had for the stuff, but we were sure we needed some. So we split an order. Some time later, the Mighty Putty arrived and I immediately began pondering projects I could use it for. Thus far, I’ve used it for two projects—one minor and one miraculous. I actually reattached a shelf bracket thingy inside my freezer with Mighty Putty and it cured and held. Wow! Can’t wait for something else to break around here. Mike H., if you’re reading this—this stuff works!

WAHL HAIRCUT KIT—I bought this some time back and never used it. I was going to shave all my hair off, but I lost the nerve...until very recently. The kit comes with nice quality electric clippers, a number of clipper guides, scissors, combs and a “bib.” With renewed determination, a bit of patience and lot of cleaning afterwards, I gave myself a buzz haircut. It feels great. Sure, I gave myself a bit of a “whitewall” on one side, but I hate going to the salon/barber shop and paying someone to cut off my dead hair cells and make me look like a dork for a week (if I’m lucky). Now if I could only learn home dentistry...


Political Predictions, Subject to Change

OK, I'm not going to opine at length on the candidates vying for the Democratic and Republican nominations. These are just my gut-level predictions as to who will win the presidency depending on how the primaries pan out.
  • Clinton vs. Huckabee=Clinton (though both candidates are off-putting to the center, I believe Clinton's greater "political machine" backing will give her an easy win)
  • Obama vs. Huckabee=Obama (though most of Obama's ideas are retreads from the '60s, he's simply more suave than the very religious friend of Chuck Norris and seemingly more friendly to the center)
  • Clinton vs. Romney=Romney (I think this would be close, but I think if the field were narrowed to this point and these two forced to debate, Romney would be able to easily best Clinton, though the vote spread wouldn't be huge)
  • Obama vs. Romney=Too close to call (both have a sense of being somewhat out of the political mainstream, both are bright with specifics on how they'd approach the presidency and both are relatively inoffensive to the center)
  • Clinton vs. McCain=This might be close, but I suspect Clinton would take it simply because McCain lacks the solid support of Republicans due to his frequent collaborations with the other side of the aisle.
  • Obama vs. McCain=Obama (I think Obama's younger age and cooler head would make this an easy win, though the debates might be entertaining)

You'll notice that I've left out a number of candidates, including Edwards, Giuliani and Thompson. This is for a reason. Feel free to weigh in, though, and tell me your likes/dislikes or simply your predictions regardless of your preferences.