Wednesday, March 22, 2017

“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” — Clarence Budington Kelland

             Saw a news piece yesterday about how the University of Minnesota moved a man’s graduation up so that his father could watch him graduate as the father was dying.  It was a beautiful story and made me cry as I thought of my own father.  My father never made it out of high school but all four of his children had multiple degrees and one a Ph.D.  My father made it to every college graduation of his five grandchildren—he was so proud of them.   Dad had a long life as he was born just after the beginning of WWI.  When WWII began Dad sold war bonds and then enlisted as a private and quickly became Captain Wiggins of the Quartermaster Corps.  He was assigned to Fort Warren, Wyoming, where I was born (just outside of Cheyenne).  He served overseas and came home after the war was over and I was about one year old.  Once when I was walking home from the first grade in 1952 in Dallas, I found him waiting for me to take me to the movies.  I will never forget that.  It was an Abbott and Costello and cost me nine cents to get in (he paid and bought me a pickle once inside).  We went fishing together and played golf together until I became good enough to beat him.  Frank Wiggins was a wonderful man who was loved by all who knew him, especially his grandchildren, siblings, and nieces and nephews.  The picture at the right is one of my favorites with him sitting on the deck in Heber Springs, Arkansas, just a couple of months before he died.  Almost all of the good things I am that I like about myself are things that I learned by seeing him doing them.  He was tough and went through physical problems that would have left others whining and complaining for years, but he just did what had to be done and never talked about it afterward.  When he was within two weeks of dying (he had leukemia at the age of 89) he got a phone call from his eye doctor.  Dad knew he only had weeks to live.  He listened for a little bit and then started laughing as he hung up the phone.  We were all staring at him and he said that the doc had told him he would be blind in three years.  “That’s a bullet I dodged,” he laughed.    
             He believed very strongly in doing what was right and when he was moved to be the manager of the Sears, Roebuck store in Alexandria, Louisiana, in 1963, he was shocked to find “white only” and “colored only” water fountains and restrooms.  He immediately removed the signs and redid the bathrooms.  He hired the first two African-Americans to work in sales inside the store and for that we got our yard burned and my mother had her car forced into a ditch.  A huge white backlash and boycott was expected, but instead, so many African-Americans began to shop at Sears that in just two years every Sears store in the South had done the same.  I recently came across a letter he wrote that was attached to some letters from an attorney for the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality who worked with Dad.  Dad wrote, “Keep these letters so that after I am long gone, my heirs will know that their grandfather was a compassionate person and not a bigot even though he was born and raised in the South.”  The attorney, Louis Berry, wrote Dad when he learned that Dad was being transferred to Corpus Christi after three years of working to help desegregate Alexandria.  Mr Berry says, “I sincerely feel that because of your leaving this community will suffer an irreparable loss, but because of you we have a foundation to build a new system of fair and equitable employment procedures.  Working with you was one of the most pleasant experiences I have ever had in my life.  May God bless you and your family.”  I had known some of this, but the three letters from the NAACP and CORE attorney were new to me.  
                My father never pushed us to be like him, but the way he lived his life spoke volumes and taught us much.  With a severely limited education, he was still one of the smartest men I ever knew.  I am so proud of him for who he was and what he did with his life.  He once wrote that he was proudest of our being named the Methodist Family of the Year in 1963 when we lived in Midland, Texas.  I still think of him every day and am so happy that all three of my sons got to know him well and love him.  He used to barbecue chicken every Sunday after church, but the chicken livers that I loved never made it to the table.  He would always say they fell through the grill.  When I started barbecuing chicken for my family, those livers still never made it to the table.  Dad and I know why.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

“If people did not love one another, I really don't see what use there would be in having any spring.” ― Victor Hugo

          Got my stitches out yesterday, so I move into spring, medical procedure free--which is a good thing.  Today, March 21st, is the official first day of spring, but it’s not only not really our “spring” but is in fact the beginning of what you would call our “fall.”  The temperatures begin to dip a bit, but just a dip.   The rainy season seems to have started as we are having rain almost every day and that hopefully ends the drought—at least around here.   So, while not really our spring season, the rains do bring back the green and the flowers.  In about six weeks the annual migration of over 1.5 million wildebeests (just one herd, there are others) with 500,000 zebras traveling with them will begin in earnest following the lush new grass.  Around a half a million wildebeest calves are now being born and with just a month of walking practice, these little ones will have to cover thousands of kilometers traveling with the herd.  They come within about forty kilometers of us here, but when Karen and I first drove from Arusha to Bunda back on July 1, 2005, (with Shaban at the wheel) we had to drive right through the middle of the migration, and it was awesome.  The ground shook from the pounding of the hooves, and we would often have to stop for thirty minutes or longer as the herd poured around us on both sides.  Wildebeests are not pretty to look at as the locals think that God built them out of parts left over from other animals.  I think God sneezed as He was making them, saw what He did, and then, because they were so ugly, decided to make millions of them.  But I may be wrong. 
     No one knows for certain exactly when Christ’s resurrection took place, but celebrating it in the spring around the time of the great migration is a great idea.  The beginning of spring is a wonderful time for analogies of rebirth and new beginnings, like half a million wildebeest babies for one.  The first day of spring was such a big deal for the farmers and everyone in the past that the first day of the year (New Year’s Day) was on March 25th until 1582.  Google it, if you’re really interested in all the politics surrounding moving the date around, but you can see how the new year and the beginning of spring seem to go hand-in-hand.  
            For us, we will see green and lush vegetation and many happy farmers for the next few months.  Alas, there will also usually be flooding, deaths, and houses collapsing because bad and good are never very far apart.  The rains bring new life as Easter brings a time to renew commitments forgotten or faded in memory.  It also swells the congregations at most Christian churches in the developed world, but not here where there is little of the hoopla (no Easter eggs or chocolate bunnies here) found elsewhere.  Here, as in the early church, the celebration of Easter is a time of rededication of lives to the service of Christ and to remember His sacrifice for us.  We are the “generations yet unborn” alluded to in Psalm 22 which seems to quite accurately reflect Christ’s crucifixion—worth reading if you’ve missed it.  For us, our spirits are up as we await Palm Sunday and Easter.  I do miss the Holy Week services, but I enjoyed them when I had them.  You should, too.  Thank you so much for your prayers for rain for us.  You guys have God listening to you, that much is clear.  Now, you have to listen to Him.  He will speak to you if you just let Him.

A link to a National Geographic 16-minute video is below if you want to see more of the great wildebeest migration that happens here in our backyard.

Monday, March 20, 2017

“True beauty is not related to what color your hair is or what color your eyes are. True beauty is about who you are as a human being, your principles, your moral compass.” ― Ellen DeGeneres

                  As an avid student (and former professor) of English literature, I have always loved the poetry of Robert Burns.  He has added much to our language as almost everyone has heard about how the plans of mice and men don’t always work out.  The actual quote is “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley.” That’s from a poem called “To A Mouse” and the phrase “Of Mice and Men” is also the title of a John Steinbeck work that has been done on stage and as a movie.  
           He wrote a companion poem called “To a Louse” about a woman dressed to the nines flouncing into church where she wanted everyone to see her but couldn’t see that a louse was climbing from her hair up onto her hat.  In this poem, Burns says that (I’m paraphrasing) oh what a gift that God would give us, if we could see ourselves as others see us.  I’m not sure that would be a gift at all.  For some, it would be a really good thing but for others, it could be devastating.  What we need to be able to do is to see ourselves as God sees us.  
               I love watching car shows on television where they find an old rusted hulk in a barn somewhere and then restore it to all its former glory and the result is a beautiful car worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Our tendency is to see ourselves as only the rusting hulk because we cannot see what we would become if we put ourselves in the hands of a master restorer.  There is no greater restorer than God who can forgive your sins, wipe away your past, and create in you a clean heart and send the Holy Spirit shining forth from every pore of your body.  You know people (and may be one) whose beauty or looks are never important because who they are screams so loudly that what they look like is just insignificant.  Mother Teresa is a case in point.  I think every picture of her is of a truly beautiful woman, but she would never have been hired by an ad agency to promote beauty products.  If we fail to see her true beauty, we are blind indeed.  You are so much more than your reflection in a mirror.  What counts is how much you reflect Christ in your countenance.  What a gift we would have, if we could see ourselves as God sees us, ignoring all the warts and flaws, but seeing instead all the beauty, love, compassion, and kindness that are your true reflection.  Don’t sell yourself short.  God didn’t make no junk!  And you can take that to the bank.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

“I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” — Just about everybody, or it should be

                  I love the picture at the right because it is real and not a reenactment.  The man took off his own shoes and gave them to someone who had none.  This got caught on camera for a tv show that was being aired nearby, and when I saw it the first time on television, it made me cry.  The still photo still can move me, and I hope it moves you, too.  So often, our unhappiness comes from us not being content with what we have (the Apostle Paul knew this) and from our wanting what we can’t or shouldn’t have.  Life is not about newer cars, or bigger tv sets, or newer smart phones, or bigger houses, but about how well you are answering Christ’s call for you.  Christ does not ask you to give everything you own to the poor (not a bad idea because then you get to go shopping for newer stuff) because He is more concerned about where your heart is in relation to His vision for you.  When you have Christ living in your heart, you are just not as concerned about what restaurant to choose or whether or not you can get same-day shipping for what you just ordered.  It’s all about perspective.
                  We always seem to look at those who have more than we do and want to be like them than we look to those who have less and become grateful for our blessings.  There are lots of things that most of you have that are just fading memories for us, like fast-food places, food delivered to your door, supermarkets full of everything and open all night, fire departments, ambulances, the ability to call 911, drug stores with snack foods and clothing if you want it—we have none of that.  In fact, we haven’t gone out after dark in twelve years, but your nights are lit up bright as day and you have movie theaters, restaurants, malls, and you can even buy a new car at midnight if you want.  We have whatever we have in the house when the sun goes down, and that’s it.  Once or twice in the last twelve years, we have gone out when we needed to use our car for an ambulance to get someone to our little bush hospital, but that’s it.  We lived with a horrible sink for eleven years till we could finally squeeze in the money to buy a new one, and we are happy and grateful.  When we see how families are living in the U.S., we are amazed at the size of the houses and the furniture and gadgets therein.  Our little house is almost a slum compared to the ones we see.  However, if we compare ours to the majority of those around us—we are living in a palace and feel a little guilty, too.  I once asked one of our workers if her floor got wet when it rained and she replied, “We don’t have a floor.”  Most homes around here have dirt floors swept clean several times a day but that become mud when it rains.  How blessed we are to have concrete floors, and doors we can shut and lock, and security lights outside.  We have to buy food every day, but we can!  We can’t always get everything we want, sometimes there are no eggs, or no milk, or no sodas, but we can get most everything we need even if we have to wait a day or two.  You can see something you want online, buy it with a credit card, and have it delivered the next day.  We can see something at (we have no credit cards but Amazon will take the money from our bank account), buy it and have it shipped to my son.  His wife, Brenda, will wait till we have several things piled up and then pack and mail them to us.  The thing we saw and bought won’t get to us for four to six weeks!  Can you imagine having to wait that long?  No, you can’t.  You live in a world where the microwave is too damn slow, don’t you?  Two thirds of the world don’t even have toilets but use squat holes in the floor.  Didn’t know that?  Welcome to our world.  Maybe if you traveled a bit, you would be happier with what you have, but not if you only stay in five-star hotels.  Come see us.  Come live in our world (we can sleep sixteen and have toilets and hot water) for a bit.  Our most faithful and consistent supporters have usually been here more than once and know first hand what life is like here.  We are truly blessed to have many supporters who have never been here and some who have never been on a mission trip.  Those folks are happy with what they have and know how to maintain that happiness like the man in the photo.  He’s not giving away a Rolls-Royce, he’s giving away some shoes he can easily replace, but he IS giving away his own shoes.  That’s the message today, don’t give till it hurts, give till it’s gone.  Look at what you have as gifts from God and don’t be ungrateful because you don’t have everything you see on tv.  There is always someone who has no floor or no shoes.  Be grateful and thankful to God for what you have, and don’t worry, be happy.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

“Our life is made up of time. And yet time eventually runs out, and you wonder in your heart of hearts if those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades were spent the best way they possibly could have been.” ― Cecelia Ahern

         When you live in a country where the temperature never rises above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or never drops below 65 degrees, where the sun rises every single day between six and seven and sets every day between six and seven, it is hard to mark the passage of time.  When we lived in the U.S., we always knew what season and what month by the weather and the holidays.  There was a real spring, summer, fall (trees changed colors), and winter (cold, ice, and snow).  There were holidays every month from New Year’s Day to Christmas including Memorial Day, Labor Day, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July (I am aware these are not in chronological order), Thanksgiving, and many others that you could not miss as television events, family gatherings, special sales (Black Friday comes to mind), and lots of other things for which houses were decorated, costumes worn, and special parties were held at school and at church.  None of that happens here.  There are a couple of National Holidays, but few observe them, and we only notice because the banks are closed.  Living in America, time moved from season to season, from holiday to holiday, from school term to school term, and from Advent to Christmas, Lent to Easter, and then Pentecost, yet here only Christmas and Easter are celebrated in the churches and then only quietly with no family gatherings, no special meals, no gift giving, and no external decorations or card exchanges.  We do have the season of short rains and the season of long rains, but those are becoming harder and harder to identify as the climate changes.
            When we first came, everything was exotic.  Seeing women walking with large packages on their heads from water jugs to crates of Coca-Cola just astonished us.  Now it is everyday.  Seeing wood-yoked oxen pulling a plow in the field, watching our neighbors make bricks from the mud in their yards, seeing zebras and wildebeests grazing near the road has all become commonplace.  We have adjusted, accepted, and become used to all that used to amaze and surprise us.  When we arrived, we had high hopes of doing things that would make a difference here—and we have but not as much as we'd hoped, and we continue to do what God has called us to do.  We have started schools, built a library, taught sanitation and hygiene in the villages and here at our mission.  We have trained women to sew and given them treadle machines that need no electricity to operate.  We have begun new churches, baptized new Christians, watched as scholarship students graduated year after year to go off and become Christian teachers.  We have placed over 600 biosand filters to bring safe, clean water to thousands.  The pace and the events of the first three years slowed and stopped as the U.S. economy collapsed and mission groups stopped coming.  We have not had a mission group from the U.S. in the last eight years, yet we still have groups coming—just from other countries.  What we thought we would be doing has changed, but not the reason for our being here, and the new things we are doing are exciting and keep us looking forward.  Time is different here.  It is like the maƱana culture of South America but without that urgency.  Things do move more slowly here, but they do move, and we are happily a part of that movement.  I don’t mind the pace at all, in fact, I rather like it.  The big thing today is that I get my stitches out.  And a week from Sunday is the first Formula One race of the season in Australia.  Time does keep moving, even if I am slowing down.  The question is not how fast you do things, but rather, are you doing what God wants of you?  We truly believe that we are doing exactly what God has asked of us, so what does it matter if time seems to move so slowly, except for how fast our bodies begin to fail us?  As they say here “ndivyo ilivyo” or “what can you do—life is what it is,” so isn’t it better to be following Christ than your own desires and urges?  We think so.

Friday, March 17, 2017

“She would figure out how to get what she wanted, what she needed, even when her body was no longer young and beautiful. She'd be more than pretty—she'd be strong.” ― Kass Morgan

          Shaban drove Karen to Mwanza and back yesterday.  She wanted to get her hair done by a woman she really likes there and is willing to drive three hours each way to get her hair done once or twice a month.  She always comes back smiling and looking really good, so I encourage her trips.  When she got home yesterday, she did look good and, of course, Sissie went nuts when Karen came in the house.  Sissie always thinks Karen is gone for good and is so surprised and happy when she returns.  I went a little nuts, too, when they brought in the six-gallon hot water heater she had bought.  Seems our little gravity fed system makes the hot water for the kitchen travel too far, so Karen wanted a hot water heater just for the kitchen—and got a good one.  Now, this story is beginning to sound like the one where the man is sent by the wife to get eggs and comes home with no eggs but a hammer.  He tells her they didn’t have eggs, so he bought a hammer.  At this point, you laugh, but Karen had another box to open.  She started pulling pieces out of the box, and I thought she was making a small bicycle until it turned out to be a guitar stand.  Where she found a guitar stand in Mwanza, I don’t know, but I know my wife, and if she wanted a guitar stand, she would by golly find one—and she did.  She’s gone twelve years with a guitar and no stand, but when she finally decided she needed a stand, well, she got one.  I bought her her first guitar when we lived in Los Angeles and she took a guitar playing course at UCLA.  She’s been playing and singing for her students and her own children ever since (that was about 45 years ago).  That first guitar was a folk guitar with a wide neck and a full sound.  About twenty years ago, she told me she wanted a steel-string guitar with a narrower neck.  As I was in love with her at the time (well, always have been and still am), I bought her a C. F. Martin mahogany guitar from a great music store in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  It’s that guitar she’s been playing ever since and brought here from America.  It’s that guitar she’s playing in the picture, but she has had no place to put it except back in its case—till now.  Even the case has a story because when we knew we were moving to Africa, I tried to find her a hard case that we could use to protect her guitar while traveling.  I found a really good case but couldn’t afford it.  As I handed it back to the clerk in the store, a man standing nearby told me he couldn’t help overhearing that I wanted it so the guitar could get to Africa.  I didn’t know this man and had never seen him before, but he bought and paid for the case in which Karen’s guitar now lives.  The clerk was so impressed with the man’s generosity that he threw in a capo and some strings.  Kindness always wins.  Send my wife to get her hair done (and give her some money to spend) and you know she’ll come back beautiful and with surprises.  How can you not love someone who goes to get her hair done and comes back home with a hot water heater and a guitar stand?  Shaban loved the day, said he hadn’t had so much fun in a long time.  Karen can do that—make your day better than you thought it could be.  I’m a very lucky man, and I know it.  If there is someone in your life like my Karen, I’d give ‘em a hug if I were you.