Sunday, January 22, 2017

“A truly humble servant answers not the trumpet calls of self promotion, but the hushed whispers of necessity.” ― Keith McDow

I have seen other people being Christ for others and have seen those others recognize Christ in the humans helping them.  I have experienced other people showing Christ to me through their caring and love.  The problem is that I don’t think I have ever showed Christ to others through my own words and actions and that is upsetting and a little depressing for me.  I have read and re-read “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis.  I have read and re-read “The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society” by Henri J.M. Nouwen.  “Wounded healer” is a term created by psychologist Carl Jung to illustrate how much more effective helpers can be in healing if they have suffered as well.  I know about suffering.  I know about being wounded.  I know about failing to love, to care, to treat others with respect, and to want to hurt those who have hurt me.  I have come to know Christ’s love, and it has molded and informed my life for at least the last thirty years.  Focusing on the needs of others is always paramount in my words and actions.  Yet, it seems as though my job is that of a middleman, one who hands the good to another to finally deliver it to the intended receiver.  Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Without that middle step, the good doesn’t get where it was supposed to go.  Think of a garden hose.  The hose is certainly not the water that is needed, nor is it the source of the water.  Neither is it the force that pushes the water through itself.  It is, in the end, just a hose, just a conduit, just a means to an end.  And yet, without the humble hose, the water doesn’t get where it needs to go.  Those needing water thank the water, thank the source of the water, thank the force of the  water, but never seem to think of thanking the hose.  After all, the hose is just doing what a hose was created to do in the first place.  For those of us who are just humble hoses, we have to get our good feelings from knowing that without our presence, the water wouldn’t get delivered and people and plants would go thirsty.  We will not get thanked by the folks and the flowers who can live and grow thanks to our being where we were supposed to be.  We will, ultimately, get thanked by the water and force and its source (all those being God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit).  In the meantime, if we must have thanks and gratitude to keep going, we are in the wrong business.  I have seen some great preachers who in the effusion of thanks and praise for their preaching forgot that they were just hoses and began to see themselves as the water.  The messengers beginning to believe that they are the message and not just those who deliver it.  This doesn’t mean that what they are preaching is flawed but that those entrusted with the Word have begun to believe that the Word comes from the humans in whose hands it has been placed.  I once had to write a review of “Elmer Gantry” by Sinclair Lewis about a very flawed evangelist (a great movie starring Burt Lancaster by the same name).  I defended Elmer Gantry in my paper saying that those who heard the Word were changed by it, and it didn’t matter if the one delivering it was corrupt.  I got a “D” on the paper because the professor wrote that while I was eloquent in my defense, she just wasn’t buying it.  I have struggled with and will continue to struggle with my “hoseness” and its seemingly insignificant place in the order of things, but I have come to accept it as my lot.  To be honest, I can understand and fear the seductive power of getting the messenger/message arrangement mixed up for that way leads to darkness and alienation from God.  I don’t know if I will ever find pride in being a “hose” but willingly accept that without a hose, the water doesn’t get where it needs to go.  I like the concept of “hose” better than “pipe” because is a hose is more flexible and can therefore get the water to more places than a stiff pipe.  What I have discovered about myself is that the “wounded” part of me is that I would become too vain and too self-important were I to think of myself as more than a hose.  While it may not make me ecstatically happy to be a hose in the Hands of God, it is an important job and one that is worth me devoting my life to it.  I spent most of last year fixing leaks and holes in the hose that is me, but now am better than ever and ready to be of use once more.  So, turn that tap, Lord, and let the water flow.  Point and guide me in the right direction that Your Word is heard by those who need to hear it.  Amen.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” — Thomas Fuller

Our water crisis has passed, and we are now in good shape, but it has left us feeling guilty.  It turns out we should be cleaning our well every three or four years and not let it go twelve years without maintenance.  It is now three meters deeper (total of fourteen meters or almost 45 feet) and the seams (whatever they are) are now unclogged and flowing such that we have a five-meter column of water in it before pumping, and it regenerates in about ten hours.  We saved a small fortune by not trying to hook into city water so that part was good, but we have water while so many others do not.  We couldn’t just do nothing but help ourselves, so we had the well guys clean and try to reinvigorate our shallower well, too.  They managed to get water back into it after removing all the trash and putting some gravel in the bottom.  We only have a two-meter column of water in it but that will be enough to let our neighbors get water from it twice a day.  We will have to limit use to one hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, but it will make us feel better to know that our neighbors will at least be able to get enough water for the day.  It’ll be dry by the end of the day but will regenerate overnight, for now, at least.  I can’t begin to explain how we felt when we saw the pump just hanging in the air and no water in the well—either one.  We have children to water and feed.  We need the water for just about everything and for one day at least we couldn’t flush a toilet, wash our hands, wash our clothes, wash our dishes, and had to use bottled water for drinking, brushing our teeth, and watering the dogs.  We still had some small supplies of hand sanitizer and used it often.  Make no mistake, we were really worried.  I knew how important that water was to our mission and had bought the best submersible pump I could get back in 2005.  For a while anyway, we didn’t know if we would have to close our doors and move away because of the lack of water.  Our neighbor, Bwana Jackson, has a hand-dug well like ours but uses buckets to haul it up every day.  He offered to let us use his because it is very deep, and his offer almost made me cry.  There was no way it could be enough to meet the needs of a working mission with two schools on the premises and cooking for almost a hundred children every day, but he made the offer to share what he had and that was a powerful message to me.  There are hundreds of wells in the Bunda area, and our well guy has dug most of the hand-dug ones, so he’s about as expert as we could get.  The really deep wells around the area were dug by machines and some go down 300 meters.  We are in a rocky area, but the rocks can be broken up or dug around.  My friend, Pete O’Neal, in Arusha had to dig one hundred meters down through volcanic rock for his well, so we have been lucky getting a forty-foot well to meet all our needs.   We replaced the storage tank about a year ago, and I thought that was all we’d ever have to do.  I was wrong.  God has been taking care of us and sent the right people to do the job that we needed.  Because I am a believer, I am convinced that the restoration of our well is an act of God that is telling us to continue our work because it is pleasing to God.  Others may scoff at my simplistic faith, but God has kept me alive over and over again when I should have died (several times in 2016 alone), so I guess He wasn’t going to let a clogged and dirty well keep us down for long.  We did have to have water trucked in for two days, but today we all had baths, even Sissie, and all our dishes and clothes are clean.  It’s such a relief just knowing that the living water was just hiding.  The name of our mission is Maisha Na Maji, literally “Life and Water” and idiomatically “Living Water,” so it would have been truly tragic for a lack of water to have forced us to abandon our efforts here.  God is good all the time, but it would be really nice if He could send some rain for all of us.  I have a friend on Madagascar who said it’s just as bad if not worse there.  They have not had a drop of rain for the entire rainy season.  Those living near lakes will not suffer as much as those in the more arid regions of Tanzania, but there are people near Lake Victoria who are hungry from the crop failures.  They may not die of thirst, but hunger will claim many lives before this is over.  Many of our neighbors have wells, and every day many women walk by with water containers on their heads, but I still can’t help but feel guilty that we have the water we need and can afford to buy the food we need when so many cannot.  It helps to know we are feeding and providing water to so many orphans and children every day, but we were scared for a bit that we were not be going to be able to keep helping.  We live to serve, to help, to teach, to feed, to clothe, to bring the light of Christ’s love to children and adults here in Bunda.  We are so thankful to God for allowing us to continue to do what we were called to do.  The scare we suffered was a lesson that we learned that will not have to be repeated.  God has blessed us with gifts that we must keep giving, and we are so grateful and thankful that our deeper, cleaner, and better understood wells will allow us to continue to give and serve.  You just don’t know how good you have things until they are taken away.  I pray you don’t take your blessings for granted and use them to glorify God and to serve others in need.  We have a renewed spirit to make 2017 a great year for God and His children.

Friday, January 20, 2017

“Humans can dig wells, but they can’t create water.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

  As it turns out, the city of Bunda wanted a small fortune to hook us up to city water.  It’s only about 40 meters from our place to the water line, but they insisted on 620 meters of pipe—pipe that was twice the diameter that was needed.  Pipe that big would allow them to connect others onto our line and have us pay their water bill—not that there is any corruption here.  Then, there is their notorious unreliability, so we are deepening our well instead.  We can go down another three meters for less than a third of what the city wanted just to hook into the main.  We also discovered that we had a leak in the water line to our new shower for the workers that was dumping almost 1,000 liters a day into the ground.  Shaban was able to fix the leak so that will help quite a bit, but we still need to deepen the well.  During the three days we will be disconnected from our well, we are having water trucked (well, tractored really) from a boarding school up the main road from us.  A wealthy benefactor supplied that school with a well that is 300 meters deep (ours is just ten—soon to be thirteen) into the same aquifer that we use.  For about $30 a day, they pull a big tank with a generator on top down to our mission and pump over 3,000 liters into our tank which is more than enough for our daily use, especially with the leak fixed.  We need water for about 100 children to drink every day and wash their hands before and after their meals.  Water for cooking, water for mopping the concrete floors, as well as water for flushing toilets, showers, washing clothes, and drinking water for our five dogs, too.  Until you have to do without, you just don’t realize how much water it takes to get our mission through a single day.  The well guys have already been down at the bottom of our well and have started digging.  They will make three concrete well liners, one meter tall and a little less than one meter in diameter.  Since the main well is one meter in diameter, the new liners have to be smaller to fit inside the existing well.  The twelve-year-old, solid bronze, Italian pump is working like a charm, and the well guy says it is good for another ten years at the the least.  While all this is going on, we are still helping send sacks of corn out to our churches and helping to buy water for our other workers who have no access to any wells.  In addition, Bishop Monto came by with all his official stamps yesterday so that we can get Karen’s labor permit process started.  Her residence permit doesn’t expire until July, but it will take three months to get the labor permit (a new requirement that costs $500 each), so we have to start now.  Getting the labor permit also requires that Shaban travel to Dar Es Salaam in person to sign the paperwork, sigh.  Then, when all that is complete, we can get the residence permit renewal done but that’s done at immigration here (another $250).  Both fees have to be in American dollars—why, we aren’t sure, but even our Australian and Norwegian missionary friends have to use American dollars, too.  Guess everyone trusts American dollars. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

“In the kingdom of glass everything is transparent, and there is no place to hide.” ― Vera Nazarian

        There is something that we see and yet we don’t see.  I was reminded of that the other day as I was leaving a hotel in Mwanza.  I was reminded because I walked right into a glass wall thinking it wasn’t there and I was walking outside.  I banged my face, staggered back and looked around to see how many people were laughing.  There was only a janitor, and he was worried that I’d been hurt, but it was just my pride.  Now from what little I remember from high school chemistry, glass is a solid you can see through (but not walk through).  But why can you see through it? I have a friend, Dr. David Paul, a professor of chemistry who once explained all of about glass to me.  He said that because of the molecular structure of glass, it does not absorb the radiation wavelengths of light that we can see. He also said that by a very strict definition, glass is, in fact, a liquid (okay that's weird).
           Even after Dr. Paul explained it to me, I’m still not really sure I understand, but you have to admit glass is funny stuff. Not only can you see through it, you can build with it and mold it into almost any shape.  You can use it as a tabletop, for windows, for picture frames, and there are even glass scales. It can be wafer thin or so thick it will stop bullets – yet still it’s transparent.  It is this transparency that is most intriguing. Transparent means letting light in and being able to see through it.  Translucent means letting light in but not being able to see through it.  I’m partial to the transparent kind.  I love being in houses with lots of glass. I like the light. Of course, if you can see out, others can see in – making it a kind of mixed blessing. Most of us like the seeing out part, but aren’t too thrilled with others seeing in. Hence all the cars with the heavily tinted windows.
              Metaphorically speaking, most of us like to surround ourselves with glass because we like the insulating quality, and we like to see out without letting others get too close. It makes us feel protected and safe.  I’ve been in nineteen countries around the world, but some had friendlier people than others.  I especially remember  Greece, Brazil, Peru, here in Tanzania, and the island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean. In all of these countries, the thing that impressed me the most was the absence of glass around the people—not the stuff that breaks but the metaphorical kind.  These people were friendly, open, and forthright – like open windows inviting me to look in. Oh, not everyone, but so many that I couldn’t help but be impressed by their openness. Apparently not all people have to have glass in front of them. But even if we do, we can use it to fulfill what Christ has commanded.
              A piece of glass, while transparent, is also very reflective. If you’re holding a piece of glass in front of you (outdoors on a sunny day) you can tilt the glass until someone looking at you can no longer see you – only the reflected light of the sun. Almost every one of us, at some time or another, has been behind a car when the sun was reflecting off the back window, blinding us.  Yet if the light is coming from a different angle, we can see inside of the car. This is where Jesus comes in. He tells us to let our light so shine before others that they see the glory of God – not us. In other words, if we are living as Christians, we are using our glass to reflect God’s glory and not our own. If we are not so anxious about getting the credit for what we do – then it’s God who gets the glory.  For a long time I was guilty of occasionally doing good things and then crowing about then. This was wrong. Now, I occasionally get thank you emails and cannot remember why the person is thanking me.  You can do good so often that you forget about it—like glass that you see but don’t see. 
           If you really know me, then you know that I am not yet holding my piece of glass so that only the light of the Son is reflected every moment of every day. However, I am aware that I am holding a piece of glass, and I am tilting it – I just don’t have the angle quite right yet.  When we are what Christ wants us to be, we eagerly tilt the glass because we want God to have the glory. That’s what we’re really supposed to be about as Christians anyway. We should be about glorifying God and edifying the church. We give God the glory as we build up the people of God, but we cannot do this if we want others to see what we are doing so that we get the credit.  We all know someone who reflects only the glory of God, so we know it can be done. I have met people from Athens, Greece to little Gravette, Arkansas, who do just that, and I want to be like them. I think we all really do. We just have to tilt our glass a little more.  And while I am still not sure if I completely understand why I can see through the glass, I completely understand how to use it to reflect the glory of God. So do you, and you know it.  The question is, “Do you want others to see you, or to see Christ in you?”  How you answer that question makes all the difference for now and for forever.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

“We are living through a time of sorrow. Our seed remains seed. Our nostrils are dusty.” ― Warren Eyster

      I’m not saying that this drought is the worst one ever, but for the first time in eleven years, our well ran dry.  The submersible pump that is usually covered by five to ten meters of water was just hanging there in the air.  Just last week, we could pump out 5,000 liters and it would regenerate within three hours.  Now, it takes three days to get enough water back into the well to pump for twenty minutes.  We have two wells, one is for the community, but it is shallower and has been bone dry for months.  Right at this moment, Shaban is in town talking to the government about registering our place for city water that is pumped up our hill from Lake Victoria.  Our Australian Anglican missionary friends have been using city water for the last nine years or more, so we know it works.  What we don’t know is if the water level of Lake Victoria has dropped enough to put the city’s pumps in the air.  It does happen.  If they are able to pump water, we will have to pay for the pipes and dig the trenches to connect it to the main which is on the other side of the main road, quite a ways from here.  The pipes alone will cost about a million shillings ($500), and we will have to pay for the trenches to be dug and do all the labor ourselves for everything except hooking our pipe onto the main.  Of course, we will have a water bill but it shouldn’t amount to much.  The water will have to be filtered, of course, but it will take the strain off our well.  The aquafer has dropped almost ten meters in the last year.  This is bad.  We are already into our water shortage routine which means no watering outside, less clothes washing, less toilet flushing, fewer showers, and more store bought bottled water to drink—and prayers for all our neighbors.  I have many strange things going on with my body, but one is that it doesn’t sweat, so I don’t have the normal cooling effect that brings with it.  Thus, I need two to three showers a day during the hot parts of the year, like now but no showers for me.  Not asking for sympathy, just sayin’.
I just came back from Mwanza where I had a meeting with a bishop from the Tanzania Methodist Church (not us, we are the Methodist Church in Tanzania).  What he wanted was for me to help with school fees for his daughter and I agreed—but I wouldn’t give him the money.  He drove me to the school and I paid them so she wouldn’t be kicked out this week.  Yes, I don’t trust all bishops, and yes, I am a sucker for helping children with their educations, especially if they’re girls, but what can you do?  A taxi driver in Mwanza who I had also helped with school fees for his son wanted me to meet his mother.  She had been asking to meet me, so last week I called him and told him I would be there Monday and would be happy to meet her.  When I called him yesterday afternoon, he told me she had died on Friday at age 63 of a heart attack.  We never got to meet in this life—maybe later.  On our trip back, the effects of the drought were very obvious.  Almost nine out of every ten people walking or with a bicycle had water containers with them.  The children had small pails, the adults tubs, wash tubs, buckets, anything that would hold water.  If they were walking fast or riding their bicycles, the containers were empty.  Slow walks, and containers on the heads of the women meant they were full.  If there were full containers on bicycles, the owner would be walking and pushing the bicycle.  In one four minute stretch of road, I counted over 150 water containers of varying sizes and colors in the hands of the people on the road—from a single water bottle to five gallon containers.  Some were getting thirty or forty gallons in containers on push carts, so they could sell the water to those who didn’t want to have to walk.  We crossed three rivers that were completely dry, went by a dry lake, and then as we neared Bunda, saw a huge herd of wildebeest from the Serengeti that had come close to Bunda to get water.  
Most of the electric power in Tanzania comes from hydroelectric generators whose lakes don’t have enough water to turn the turbines.  The president has said that without sufficient rain, we are looking at power outages of three to four days a week beginning in May.  It’s quite impossible for people who have never been without to fully comprehend what we are experiencing or to understand that thousands will die of hunger or thirst over the next few months just here in Tanzania.  What we do know, and what we pray that all of you will understand is that this is happening to everyone here, not just the lazy or indolent.  We need a lot of prayers.  These are God’s children and the first tears shed at the deaths that will occur will be His.  Let’s see if we can lessen God’s pain.  The very next time you pick up a glass of water, stop, and send a brief prayer His way, asking for grace, comfort, strength, and rain for those who don’t have your blessings.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

There is no blog today, but you may find this interesting.

I wrote this list for Facebook a few years ago, updated a couple of items, but here it is, twenty-five random things that I've done or enjoy.

1. Have swum across the Amazon--getting parasites in the process—upriver from Iquitos, Peru.
2. Have sailed an America's Cup 12 meter yacht, the Canadian True North IV racing against Stars and Stripes and winning.
3. Have built and slept in an igloo on top of Mt. San Antonio in California (see yesterday's blog).
4. Have attended Divine Worship with the Ecumenical Patriarch in the Church of St. George in Istanbul.
5. Studied under Elie Wiesel at Boston University.
6. Walked across Walden Pond in the winter.
7. Camped in the Serengeti on several occasions.
8. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my wife and three-year-old son, Chris, and camped there for a week
9. Have snowshoed into a wilderness area with wife and son, Chris for a Thanksgiving meal of hot soup cooked over a little propane stove
10.  After a blizzard, cross country skied to my church in Stoneham, MA, where thirty hearty people waited
11. Have had eleven surgeries here in Africa--three with no anesthetic.
12. Have helped build a church in the jungle on the Amazon in Peru.
13.  Have celebrated Holy Communion on the banks of the Amazon and at the Orthodox Ecumenical Center in Chambesy, Switzerland
14. Have an implanted defibrillator, bad feet, severe sleep apnea, high blood pressure, allergies, skin cancer, am terribly overweight, but still serving God until I am called home.
15. Love my life here on the edge of the Serengeti with my wife of 51 years and my middle son, John.
16. Wish my father had lived to see me as a missionary and bishop.
17. Welcome all who can make it to come stay with us here.
18. Didn't become a Christian until I was 40 years old, but have served as a minister for 20 years since then, an evangelist for four, a missionary for five, and a bishop for eight years--not bad for such a latecomer to the party.
19. Have really close friends scattered all over the globe, but none close.
20. Love classical music and British mysteries.
21. Have no aptitude for fixing anything but can write a poem about feeling inept.
22. Have my heart broken at least once a week by the deaths, disease, and betrayal here.
23. Need constant prayer support from others.
24. Have the love of God to sustain me.
25. Have the love of my wife to fill the holes in my soul.