Sunday, September 20, 2009

Life, Death, or Death in life

I recently finished a reread of The Second Coming by Walker Percy - the first reading was probably 7-8 years ago. I somewhat remembered the storyline, and also had some oft-used quotes from the book. I appreciate Percy's understanding of the human condition, and his ability to unpack it within characters and story. The 2 main characters are in process of great awakenings to a) how things truly are, and b) how things might look different. I thought I'd include some portions here...

"There was the cat. Sitting there in the sun with its needs satisfied, for whom one place was the same as any other place as long as it was sunny - no nonsense about old haunted patches of weeds in Mississippi or a brand-new life in a brand-new place in Carolina - the cat was exactly a hundred percent cat, no more no less. As for Will Barrett [main character], as for people nowadays - they were never a hundred percent themselves. They occupied a place uneasily and more or less successfully. More likely they were forty-seven percent themselves or rarely, as in the case of Einstein on the streetcar, three hundred percent. All too often these days they were two percent themselves, specters who hardly occupied a place at all. How can the great suck of self ever hope to be a fat cat dozing in the sun?
There was his diagnosis, then. A person nowadays is two percent himself. And to arrive at a diagnosis is already to have anticipated the cure: how to restore the ninety-eight percent?" (p 16)

"I made straight A's and flunked ordinary living." (p 93)

"One night after the war and during the Eisenhower years the father was taking a turn under the oaks. The son watched him from the porch.
"The trouble is" the man said, "there is no word for this."
"For what?"
"This." He held both arms out to the town, to the wide world. "It's not war and it's not peace. It's not death and it's not life. What is it? What do you call it?"
"I don't know."
"There is life and there is death. Life is better than death but there are worse things than death."
"There is no word for it. Maybe it never happened before and so there is not yet a word for it. What is the word for a state which is not life and not death, a death in life?" (emphasis mine p 126)

"Wasn't it possible to believe in God like Pascal's cold-blooded bettor, because there was everything to gain if you were right and nothing to lose if you were wrong?
For a while it seemed that it was possible.
Then it seemed not to matter.
In all honesty it was easier to believe it in cool Long Island for its very outrageousness where nobody believed anything very seriously than in hot Carolina where everybody was a Christian and found unbelief unbelievable." (p 156)

"Ha, there is a secret after all, he said. But to know the secret answer, you must first know the secret question. The question is, who is the enemy?
Not to know the name of the enemy is already to have been killed by him...
The name of the enemy is death, he said, grinning and shoving his hands in his pockets. Not the death of dying but the living death...
Death in this century is not the death people die but the death people live. Men love death because real death is better than the living death. Tha's why men like wars, of course. Bad as wars are and maybe because they are so bad, thinking of peace during war is better than peace. War is what makes peace desirable. But peace without war is intolerable." (emphasis mine, p 271)

(Father Weatherbee speaking) "How can we be the best dearest most generous people on earth, and at the same time so unhappy? How harsh everyone is here! How restless! How impatient! How worried! How sarcastic! How unhappy! How hateful! How pleasure-loving! How lascivious! Above all, how selfish! Why is it that we have more than any other people, are more generous with what we have, and yet are so selfish and unhappy? Why do we think of nothing but our own pleasure?" (p 359)


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Calling to himself

When God calls someone to himself, it is like a boy, long trapped in a pitch black room, suddenly seeing before him a burning torch. By the light of the torch, the boy begins to see things around him that he couldn't see before. He starts understanding the room's design. He sees furniture, shelves, pictures, books, decorations - so much to explore. Over time he will study the things on the shelves and throughout the room, and when he feels as though he's seen it all, he finds a door to another room.

Thus it continues, room after room, and returning to rooms in remembrance and for reorientation. The rooms and halls are not always awe-inspiring - in fact, some are threatening. But the torch and the experiences in other rooms propel the boy into each new place with strength and encouragement.

Surely he will become bored - yes, at points. Sometimes distracted. Sometimes the light seems to darken and not be enough, but at that moment new assurance rushes in. The same cause of the torch in the first place is the one that gives perseverance and endurance. Such is the power of God's salvation and the risen Christ!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

traditions and fashions

"The Bohuns were one of the very few aristocratic families really dating from the Middle Ages...But it is a great mistake to suppose that such houses stand high in chivalric tradition. Few except the poor preserve traditions. Aristocrats live not in traditions but in fashions."
-- G.K. Chesterton, The Hammer of God (The Innocence of Father Brown)

These words are simply part of the beginning of a short story written more than 80 years ago - a mystery from one of the greatest collections of mysteries - yet they are provoking and profound. Did anything strike you? Sure, the language is dated, with words like chivalric and aristocratic. But there is something to catch from a simple collection of words.

Aristocrats live not in traditions but in fashions. Don't get stuck with the word "aristocrats." - unless it brings a disdain or "not that" feeling to your heart, which might prove helpful for these moments. Think about traditions. And don't relegate your concept of traditions to politics, though they might be one outlet to consider in application later. Think about fashions. Ok, don't get stuck on "fashions" either...think trends. Think gratifications.

What are some traditions? I think of family reunions. A certain type of cake or celebration for a birthday. Celebrating holidays like Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July. Eating something in particular on a certain day, or denying something on a specific day, or perhaps wearing something or saying something on a certain day.

Traditions look back, they have a sense of history, and they span generations. Traditions serve groups of people, sometimes entire people groups, and cultures. Traditions have a lot to do with being known.

What are fashions? Inherently the word "new" comes to mind. The latest this, the newest that. Trends. Colors of clothing. Iphones and "an app for everything" (and which apps are "in" now). Record albums were fashions for a time, then 8 tracks, then cassette tapes, then CD's, and even mp3 players have had their own fashions over the past few years. Atari, Nintendo, Playstation, PS2, PS 3, Wii. Anyone remember Laser Discs?

Fashions tend to only look ahead, with hope of easing the uneasiness. They can make history feel old and less useful, and they may last one generation if the stars align. Fashions serve the people in the know and the people with resources to join the party, and once in awhile affect an entire culture and people group. Fashions have a lot to do with knowing...and wanting to know more...and maybe there's a little more I can know about something even still.

Most people would seem to fall into the fashionable traditionalists category, or maybe traditional fashionists. We are caught somewhere in the middle, honoring both sides of the coin. We swing one way, then the other...maybe based on the people we're with, the work we're doing, the time of day or year, the resources we have available.

Where do you find yourself in this tension between fashions and traditions? Is it different then yesterday? What affects your perceptions of fashions and traditions? Does something from either side bring shame, or make you want to keep it secret/out of the public eye?

Of course, Chesterton is not just making a statement about the tensions between fashions and traditions, though they are part of the picture. Few except the poor preserve traditions. Ahh, it is also about preservation. Why do some people more faithfully preserve things, while others bounce from one to another? Is there anything worth preserving? What do the poor have to offer? What's the rub with aristocrats, with people who have more access to more variety of resources?

Good things are worth fighting for...but they do involve a fight. It takes offensive and defensive maneuvers in order to preserve these good things. And preservation usually takes place swimming upstream: the minute you relax, the world changes up and your senses are pulled in a plethora of stimulating places...fashions...trends. These are not necessarily evil places, but when they focus heart, mind, and spirit on simply knowing (facts, pleasures) instead of being known (family, friends, relationships, communities), they can be a danger to person, group, village, and even a nation.

Walker Percy wrote "Bad books always lie. They lie most of all about the human condition." Most fashions and trends do as well. But most traditions are still worth fighting for and preserving.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

fear and hope

Sam begins kindergarten in 3 1/2 weeks...bringing excitement as well as opening the can of fears. There are so many levels for parents to work through as a child becomes a student. One we're faced with here in Nashville is that the public school system for the metro county has performed poor enough (for several years) for the State of TN to "take control" of the district over the summer: assessing the current situation district wide and reorganizing the central office, moving principals around, etc. Its a move that should improve everything over time, yet its hard to believe more government from above that's disconnected is what's best for the kids...and our child.

We looked at schooling options in the Winter and Spring and applied for a lottery spot at several schools, none of which have come through. We visited our zoned neighborhood school several times and at the end of the day have felt ok about Sam starting there. In April I spoke with the principal for 30-45 minutes and was very encouraged by his philosophy and leadership. It was a strong encouragement and "positive" if Sam was going to attend that school. And there's not a lot to be encouraged about in the public school situation here.

Yesterday brought hard news and spun us into the emotional whirlwind again...disappointment, frustration, sadness, anger. With 4 weeks before school starts, the State and local board announced the shifting of about 20 principles (mostly moving around, a few new ones). And our school was on the list. We immediately tried to find out more about the new principal; a dead end because the info on the actual school's website hadn't been updated yet. We emailed our friend who has worked with that principal the past couple of years, wanting to know more yet dreading what may be hard to hear.

In my despair I try to keep running back to God for his promises. If I don't have the Spirit alive in my heart, I'm overwhelmed and lose hope. Colossians 3: let the peace of Christ rule in my heart; let the word of Christ dwell in me richly. 1 John 4: So we have come to know and rely on the love God has for us; There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

When I am consumed with the cares of this world, I'm a slave to fear. It rules over me. I have no hope. Only if I'm led to the fountain of Christ can I shake off those guilty fears and doubting fears and rise with hope. And this hope does not disappoint us.

This is my prayer today: that I would know and rely on Christ; that I would be a slave to love and hope, not fear; that I would feel the wounds of disappointment and anger, yet be driven to the cross 10 times over; that hope would overflow from me, not just optimism or pessimism; that the God of hope would fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in him, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Disclaimer: The decision-making process in full is by no means summarized is far too deep and wide for this entry and best served over a cup of coffee (or several).

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Beauty vs booty

Interesting - or just silly - tag line, I know. We had dinner with some friends at our house last night and had a great discussion based on "beauty vs. booty". Subtitle: Is beauty objective or is it relegated to mere subjectivity ("in the eye of the beholder"). And is something still beautiful when it has become a currency?

The discussion had a broad range. How do various cultures view beauty? Is there an underlying "constant" with beauty that is present in any and all cultures? How does the media promote beauty to a better place? or to a worse place?

Beauty brings to mind words like "unbroken" and "pure". Our eyes constantly look at good things - amazing things - that are still broken and incomplete. Directors can manipulate film to make us long for the scenery on a movie screen more than in real life. We just get bored with reality. Magazine staff can manipulate pictures so that we see beauty in an unrealistic way. We try to live up to skewed images, thinking we can achieve with our bodies (not created by us) something created by man.

Indeed we've lost much of our senses for beauty. Thankfully we still have occasions when we see or hear something and it triggers a specific reaction that we were made for. What is it objective, or subjective?

Beauty is very subjective in that every human finds pleasure in different things. But the acknowledgment of beauty is objective, always a realization that we as humans long for something beyond our imagination and capabilities.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Isaiah and Wendell, this Christmas day

Is 30: 15,18
15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it...

18 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

Healing from What Are People For? by Wendell Berry


The grace that is the health of creatures can only be held in common.

In healing the scattered members come together.

In health the flesh is graced, the holy enters the world.


The task of healing is to respect oneself as a creature, no more and no less.

A creature is not a creator, and cannot be. There is only one Creation, and we are its members.

To be creative is only to have health: to keep oneself fully alive in the Creation, to keep the Creation fully alive in oneself, to see the Creation anew, to welcome oneís part in it anew.

The most creative works are all strategies of this health.

Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to noveltyóthe faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder.

Pursuing originality, the would-be creator works alone. In loneliness one assumes a responsibility for oneself that one cannot fulfill.

Novelty is a kind of loneliness.


There is the bad work of pride. There is also the bad work of despairódone poorly out of the failure of hope or vision.

Despair is the too-little of responsibility, as pride is the too-much.

The shoddy work of despair, the pointless work of pride, equally betray Creation. They are wastes of life.

For despair there is no forgiveness, and for pride none. Who in loneliness can forgive?


Good work finds the way between pride and despair.

It graces with health. It heals with grace.

It preserves the given so that it remains a gift.

By it, we lose loneliness:

we clasp the hands of those who go before us, and the hands of those who come after us;

we enter the little circle of each otherís arms,

and the larger circle of lovers whose hands are joined in a dance,

and the larger circle of all creatures, passing in and out of life, who move also in a dance, to a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it except in fragments.


And by it we enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness.

Only discord can come of the attempt to share solitude.

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.

One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of oneís most intimate sources.

In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.

One returns from solitude laden with the gifts of circumstance.


And there is no escaping that return.

From the order of nature we return to the orderóand the disorderóof humanity.

From the larger circle we must go back to the smaller, the smaller within the larger and dependent on it.

One enters the larger circle by willingness to be a creature, the smaller by choosing to be a human.

And having returned from the woods, we remember with regret its restfulness. For all creatures there are in place, hence at rest.

In their most strenuous striving, sleeping and waking, dead and living, they are at rest.

In the circle of the human we are weary with striving, and are without rest.


Order is the only possibility of rest.

The made order must seek the given order, and find its place in it.

The field must remember the forest, the town must remember the field, so that the wheel of life will turn, and the dying be met by the newborn.

The scattered members must be brought together.

Desire will always outreach the possible. But to fulfill the possible is to enlarge it.

The possible, fulfilled, is timely in the world, eternal in the mind.

Seeing the work that is to be done, who can help wanting to be the one to do it?

But one is afraid that there will be no rest until the work is finished and the house is in order, the farm is in order, the town is in order, and all loved ones are well.

But it is pride that lies awake in the night with its desire and its grief.

To work at this work alone is to fail. There is no help for it. Loneliness is its failure.

It is despair that sees the work failing in oneís own failure.

This despair is the awkwardest pride of all.


There is finally the pride of thinking oneself without teachers.

The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner.

In ignorance is hope. If we had known the difficulty, we would not have learned even so little.

Rely on ignorance. It is ignorance that teachers will come to.

They are waiting, as they always have, beyond the edge of the light.


The teachings of unsuspected teachers belong to the task, and are its hope.

The love and the work of friends and lovers belong to the task, and are its health.

Rest and rejoicing belong to the task, and are its grace.

Let tomorrow come tomorrow. Not by your will is the house carried through the night.

Order is the only possibility of rest.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Africa time

The past couple of weeks have been a blur since returning from Africa. For one thing I've come home to a season of planning and budgeting for 2008 with BWM. This is an exciting phase but also exhausting as we try to lay out in detail our goals for next year and how to reach them. Its also busy at home, with a sick child, a car that needs replaced, and something going on every evening it seems. The weekend has brought some much needed rest thankfully.

The first week home I mostly felt a physical weariness, my body recovering from hours of travel, jetlag and different foods. The second week has been much more of a mental weariness, with the constant feelings of "I can't catch up...I can't get anything done...How do I find time to relax". This is especially true with keeping up with emails, which bogged down as soon as I felt like I had finally caught up. Email is a violent circle because as soon as you catch up, everyone replies! Ah the joys of technology.

Hope to post more this week with some video or photos from the trip. If I can find the time...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The problem is not God, the problem is the choices humans make

October 22, 2007 (cont)
It was helpful to ride to and from the memorial with Jacques, who works in the Geneva Global office in Kigali. GG is an investment research, monitoring and evaluation group whose premise is to show hard-to-translate value in philanthropic investments. We are partnering with them on some projects in Rwanda.

Jacques is from the DRC (formerly Zaire), which borders Rwanda. His story includes experiences as a refugee and it was fascinating to hear his honest and humble recounting of terrifying moments. Though he was not in Rwanda during the genocide, he has a huge heart for “national reconciliation” because of the ethnic tensions from the past that spill over from country to country via refugees. This is a key element unique to certain countries because of their histories. In “national reconciliation” people from different ethnic groups are brought together over common interests and in the process move forward together in positive interaction. It is also referred to as “peace building” which inherently promotes a future of hope as well as healing from the past. I am greatly encouraged that the projects we are funding include a heavy emphasis on peace building.

October 23, 2007
Today we drove to visit some people near Rhuengheri who are receiving rainwater catchment tanks via Moucecoure (moo-say-coor), a Rwanda-based ngo focused on spiritual and economic transformation through community-initiated self help groups. Often the groups pool together their own funds, resources and sometimes manpower to make contributions toward the water project. They also identify the poorest of the poor in their village and take initiative to improve that person’s life, perhaps by building a new house or giving some animals and crops. Moucecoure prioritizes reconciliation of relationships and restoration of hope in their work.

The drive from Kigali is about 2 ½ hours on winding roads between altitudes of 5000 and 8000 ft. The scenery in Rwanda is stunning with lush green plant growth everywhere along tiered hillsides. Every inch is utilized for agriculture, animals, and homes. I’m invigorated by this place because there is evidence of purpose and contentment in work as I look around. As we climbed up and down the roads there were steady flows of people walking on the roadside carrying food, riding bicycles with goods, or working in the foil throughout the fields. Sure, there are those that don’t work and may not be happy, but I sensed an overall pride and joy unique to Rwanda.

My initial shock upon arriving in the village was the difference in the reception of mzungus (white people) here, at least away from the city. As we pulled into the village, kids surrounded the vehicles yelling “mzungu, mzungu” and reaching their hands out to beg. Unfortunately it seems their interactions with mzungus in the past have been more in the fashion of handouts. Or perhaps traditions and lore have perpetuated those ideas. Regardless, I was saddened and reminded of the importance of community ownership and relationship.

The recipients of the clean water have done so much in preparations; they have formed groups to tackle problems in the village and already raised funds toward the projects. Essentially BWM funds are helping provide the installation of rainwater catchment tanks that each serve 4 families year round with clean water. The villagers will no longer have to walk 9 km down a 1000 ft drop of elevation—and then back—each day to the lake in the valley, which is filthy too.

As we listened to a volunteer speak about her community’s response in mobilizing a self-help group, we saw pride and joy and felt a sense of hope across typical barriers. Leading up to the initial water project, one of the groups took initiative to identify the poorest person in the village and then built a new home as well as provided some other tangible needs. BWM funds are not simply dropping a gift off, but instead are supporting and building capacity based on a solid foundation with the help of Moucecoure.

The rest of the day included lunch with our partners in Rhuengheri and the return drive to Kigali. Jacques was in our car and continued sharing freely about his life experiences and cares. His presence and steadfastness has been very inspiring to me. When we got back to the hotel we had a chance to relax and check in with emails or by phone, and dinner brought us to a fabulous Indian restaurant to finish out the day.

October 24, 2007
I had my best night of sleep yet, sleeping thru the night and waking fairly refreshed at about 6:30. The hotel breakfast has been a great start to the day with some fruit, breads, omelets, juices and tea. I’ve continued to maintain a drop in my intake of chocolate and sweets during the trip, which is probably helped by the fresh fruit consistently available for snacks and meals. I will miss that.

Our trip is finishing with a day of visiting some communities with our Rwanda-based partner AEE. They are doing amazing work in a separate rural sector north of Kigali near Buyumba. They are similar to Moucecoure in their approach via self-help groups. I had the privilege of riding in the car with and listening to stories and thoughts of Antoine, the head of AEE. One of my favorite aspects of this trip has been the opportunity to converse at length with fantastic people, and I will miss them all.

Antoine was born in northeast Rwanda and lived through the genocide with his own unique story. He and his wife had fled from Kigali toward Buyumba as the genocide approached, and spent several months in a refugee camp. They had one child at the time and were expecting another (his wife was 2 months pregnant and suffering from morning sickness frequently in the refugee camp). He, like Jacques, has a great passion for improving relationships through reconciliation nationally. This passion is obviously from the implication of moments in his life. His insight and opinions were inspiring to me; his honesty too.

We visited Nyande Primary School where BWM funds are helping provide a rainwater catchment tank. Right now the kids spend school time each day fetching water for drinking as well as cleaning schoolrooms and the latrines throughout the week. When the tank is finished in the coming months the students will be less distracted from school and have more water than before.

We then went a little farther in the bush and hiked down to a newly protected natural spring (thanks to BWM donations). The hike followed a trail dropping 500 feet over a ½ mile stretch at an elevation of 6500 feet. It was difficult to keep good footing, but after filling 15 litre jerry-cans we all started the ascent and had an even worse time. The altitude got to me quickly in addition to muscle fatigue. As we neared the top we passed by a household of an elderly couple that needed some water, so I walked over and poured my water into their basin.

It was a humbling thing to walk as they walk. Many rural Rwandans don’t need exercise because they get it naturally every day. I can understand than now and appreciate the work that goes into getting clean water. It would probably take more than 20 trips per day to get the amount of water we use in the Sands household daily. It’s a little easier to understand why kids tend to be dirtier in the rural areas and their clothes are not very clean…if you only have a very small amount of water, some things just aren’t priorities.

I know the water hike and the trip overall have brought transformation about inside me that will affect the way I talk about Africa and its people. Its one thing to connect with people via a story or video—unfortunately this is all we have most of the time. But it is another to engage with them and walk together. There is nothing like being here. But once implicated on the ground here it changes the way you speak and the motivations behind your speech. This is a gift and blessing that can be shared with other people who only hear and do not get to see firsthand.

Which reminds me, as I close, of another thing Antoine mentioned: the ministry of presence. It is a forgotten art in America, as busyness and selfishness unfortunately guide hearts easily. Rwandans appreciate people coming to help, but even more they value that you’re spending time with them…that you are present with them. Time is viewed differently, and so is family. This is one of the great challenges as we enter into American life again with families, work, hobbies, community life and so forth: to be truly present with people and live out love and mercy together.

October 25/26, 2007
We are flying over the Atlantic right now on the 3rd leg of our flights from Rwanda to Nashville. Much of my airplane time has involved reengagement into work and the busyness of home. Thankfully work didn’t pile up terribly, but there are still emails and phone calls hat start pressing the mind with weight. Before you know it you’re quickly forgetting your “presence” in another land and it takes work to maintain and grow some love and joy from afar now.

Pictures will be helpful as we re-enter our lives. They don’t tell entire stories but they are an asset to personalizing stories and speaking from the heart with grace. I didn’t have a digital camera on the trip so I have been photo-free in my blog posting. I wonder if its been helpful allowing the imagination to wander into more fullness beyond the confines of a picture. Yet if my heart and joy is to dig deep and get to know people instead of words and numbers, pictures are a part of the story. I’ll try to post some in the coming days

There are quite a few phrases and one-liners that weigh on me still, and perhaps it’s a good time to share those now. Like any words or ideas, they are not always across the board and they lack the hours of context and backdrop leading to their utterances. But I want to share them with the hope that they spur minds to think and hearts to connect and bodies to action:

On investment that fails:
Investors often operate with the minimum expecting the maximum with no risk.

On fighting poverty:
Poverty is a mindset, not just a lack of materials goods and resources. If you change the mindset, you change a nation.

On culture changes:
There is a great tension between the more modern/western culture continuously growing in the cities, all the while the majority of Rwandans live in rural areas clinging much deeper to traditions, family, relationships, and purposeful work. The goal should not be to replicate city culture in the village or vice versa, as it is arrogant and presumptuous. Unfortunately most city folks stay in the office more frequently, and become less aware, engaged and affected by situations in the places the come from or people they represent.

On change:
Part of managing change is making readjustments along the way.

On being a refugee and having hope:
God prepares you for the things in the future, not what you want, but what you will need.

Referencing Jeffrey Sachs/End of Poverty:
Good development is helping people get their foot on the first or next rung of the development ladder.

On home life:
Having a good home is not about absence of conflict; it is how you work through conflict that is vital.

On asking “Where was God in the Genocide?”:
Do we want God to be a policeman or a judge? True love must involve choice.

On asking “Where was God in the Genocide?” (part 2):
God was everywhere…there is no one in this country who would say that God was not with us in that time. They may say that religion failed, and it did miserably, but God was present and working even through these dark things. The country was bent toward terrible evil that had been festering for years. Even with the family I lost, the friends I lost (and there are so many) I am thankful the injustice came to a close so that our children can once again have hope. God was merciful in bringing evil to its head and ending it rather than sitting from afar with hands folded and letting it continue for generations.

On being present:
In Rwanda we value a “ministry of presence” very highly. If you come and help build a house, you are often concerned with if you’re being helpful or a distraction; we’re just thankful you are with us and enjoy your presence. These are conflicting mindsets.

On achievement:
You can’t work everywhere and achieve much.

On why Rwandans and millions around the globe have unmet needs and yet the global community has more than enough money and resources to intentionally approach and provide for the needs; Perhaps said as, “How does God let people live like this [in poverty and deep brokenness] and why doesn’t he do something?”:

The problem is not God, the problem is the choices humans make. God is very present and merciful, man is not, and this difference will continue to bring awful things to bear until Christ returns to restore brokenness for good.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

From Kigali

October 21, 2007
Jetlag is still in effect on our bodies as we are all now waking up around 4-4:30am and dozing in and out of sleep from there. For the most part I’ve done well with sleep and feeling rested during the day, but I’m sure I’ll get fully acclimated just as we prepare to go back to the US and start all over again.

I took my first bucket shower of the trip (I had done “wet-wipe showers” in Lwala) and it was probably better than most bucket showers since Norma had warmed water for us to use. I splashed water on my body and soaped up a little before rinsing off. The warm water felt great on my skin, since my other showers on the trip thus far had been lukewarm at best. A nice bath is very appealing right now!

After a brief breakfast of tea, hard boiled eggs and bread we headed to the hotel to pick up the rest of the crew. During the day we visited 3 communities that had received clean water in the past 6 months through the work of GWAKO and funds of BWM. The first village was fairly small, though the well serves about 1500 people in the area. I had seen video footage of what happens when we’ve visited communities in the past, but nothing is like the real thing.

As the matatu bounded from rut to rut a faint singing could be heard. We turned a corner of bushes and suddenly the vehicles were surrounded by villagers singing and dancing. I could barely step out of the back of the matatu before my hands were grabbed and arms raised in the air by some women, pulling me into the celebration. The crowd gradually made its way toward a seating area under some shade trees.

Since most homes are too small, village members will bring chairs and couches to a shaded area and set up an outdoor meeting room. As introductions are made, drinks (typically bottles of Sprite, Coca Cola, and Fanta Orange or Grape) and snack crackers are placed on coffee tables in front of the guests. Its good to be wise with how fast and how much you drink because they are quick to crack open another drink for you if the first bottle gets too low.

Introductions are great because they provide opportunities to not only hear from the community members but to also share something about yourself. In preparation for the trip I had spent some time thinking about what I would say in 60-90 seconds via a translator. I could just give my name and a simple “hello” or I could give some thoughtful words of encouragement and try to connect a little deeper. Its an honor to represent so many people in America and bring greetings from them. Its also a privilege to walk side by side with these friends in Africa and remind them that we are all impoverished in our souls and need each other as well as a reliance on God in order to wake up every day with hope.

Another portion of the program usually involved acting or singing and dancing by village members. Then a few representatives would get up to speak about the difference clean water was making in their lives. They would share about how they used to have so much more sickness that resulted in vomiting and diarrhea and that from the time they received clean water and improved their hygiene habits they had not been sick. They were living longer and feeling stronger. They could care for the widows and orphans more easily.

Jena would take an opportunity to talk with them as well. She has taken great care to learn Luo (the primary language of western Kenya) enough to be genuine and expressive with the village members. She is loved and welcomed with her charisma and ability to treat everyone at a family level. She would encourage the community members to keep up the good work, reminding them that they had the ability and knowledge to keep moving forward and that we were thankful to walk alongside them. She would also encourage the young girls and women to make good decisions with men and to go to school so that they could live out their dreams.

Sometimes meals are provided as well including foods such as rice, chicken or beef, some cooked greens and ugali (like pound cake in density and cream of wheat in taste). Great care and intention would be behind the meal, representing the thanksgiving of the village. We learned that if visiting more than one community that is serving a meal, its wise to not eat too much in order to eat a little at each place and acknowledge their efforts. They take great pride in giving back for what they’ve received.

The second community we visited was a church group. They had a pond that they had used for water during the rainy season, and otherwise they walked 2km each way to a stream of filthy water before they received a well. Another NGO (non-governmental organization) had come several years ago and never finished drilling. The community had been patient but experienced many letdowns along the way. Finally GWAKO was able to come and put in a well with a hand pump to fill the need. They were so thrilled that they requested another well within the 1km area to alleviate the pressure on the one source. I think we were all captivated by the village members’ ownership and pride. They emanated a true excitement from improved health and strength, which only they would know.

The final community we visited included some widows and orphans. During the program a dance troupe of many of the orphans performed a beautiful choreographed dance. Though orphans were likely present at any other point of the day, I was struck with the realization of how vital the community members were to each other and how helpful clean water was to them.

We dashed to the Kisumu Airport to catch our flight back to Nairobi. The airport is small, and after checking in we wandered to the outdoor eating/relaxing to get some fresh air. About 20 minutes before we were to board our plane, a representative came out and told us the flight had been cancelled, and if we hurried they would get us on the other flight that was about to leave. What a relief that they told us, as we would have had to wait until morning to try to fly out again!

We flew to Nairobi and joined some friends at a mzungu hang aptly named “The Carnivore.” It is what it sounds like: meat, meat, and more meat. As you walk in you pass a huge pit with various meats spinning over flames. The waiters bring skewers of meat to each person, and you simply tell them if you want it or not…typical meat like chicken, pork, beef, turkey, as well as exotic meat like ostrich meatballs and crocodile. I tried everything except the chicken liver and particularly liked the ostrich meatballs. I also celebrated a return to sweets with a chocolate chip brownie topped with vanilla ice cream!

October 22, 2007
We stayed again at the Gracia Gardens and flew the next morning to Kigali, Rwanda. My anticipation had been building for this portion of the trip. A few weeks ago we rented Beyond the Gates, a lesser known movie about the Rwandan genocide released by the BBC and a UK film company around the same time as Hotel Rwanda. It retold the true story of a Catholic school in Kigali that became a refuge for Tutsi’s as the genocide erupted throughout the city and countryside in April 1994. I was struck by the more humanistic/less Hollywood approach that opened eyes a little more to the raw brutality of the events before and during the genocide. It really twisted deep in Cari and me as we considered God and the Gospel in the midst of pure evil.

Landing in Kigali brought the movie to life visually; it was as if I had just been here as I looked across the rolling landscape and city. Except the city was filled with life and hope now. Every turn as we drove toward our hotel brought images from the movie and horrors that took place throughout the streets and homes. Though Rwandans can’t erase history, they have done a lot in recent years to create a new chapter and positive response to show what hope looks like in the depths of despair.

We visited with out partners at Geneva Global and heard some firsthand accounts of our projects in beginning stages and the villagers they will impact. Though Rwanda brings its own set of strengths and difficulties, a lot of the factors remain the same including the need for clean water as a good starting place in community development and health improvements.

Rich and I then went to Kigali Genocide Museum and Memorial. Words can’t adequately express a lot of the emotions and thoughts, but I don’t think you have to be here to be affected; Perhaps it implicates deeper than words on paper or scenes from a movie but being there only reignited and refueled the anger and the sadness in me over the genocide. This kind of evil pierces any beating heart.

Yet I was also struck by the love and mercy that were heroically displayed by normal humans. The dense darkness could not prevail against these things. At some point evil would run out and defeat itself, coming to its end once again. Its hard to answer the questions “Where was God during the genocide?” or How could God let this happen?”

I remember the story of Jesus and the man born blind. The disciples wanted to know why the man was born blind, looking for someone to blame to quell their uncertainty and lack of explanation. In their minds someone was responsible and needed to pay. Jesus responded by saying that the man was born blind not because of his own sin or his father’s sin, but in order for God’s hand of mercy to be displayed for all to see and believe. The fact that we’re not all born blind is mercy from God. The fact that there are survivors from the genocide and everyday heroes spread throughout Rwanda is the mercy of God on display. While we join some of the disciples in replying, “these are very hard sayings” Jesus sits next to us and with his hand on shoulder and head nestled close reminds us of His promises that never fail and the provision He always gives, particularly in sacrificing His own life in order to bring life through death. We should instead ask, “Where was God during the death of Christ”—the most unjust event in history—and remember that God was right there in his promises and fullness.

Monday, October 22, 2007

From Lwala to Kisumu

October 18, 2007
During our flights I had a chance to read and reflect on Psalm 146. It has been a refuge for me over the past year, a great encouragement that God is both capable and committed to his image-bearers on earth. The unlovable find love, the unmerciful find mercy, the betrayed find trust and reliance in him. And I am one of them! When I was dead in my sin and flesh, Christ breathed life in the Spirit into me.

I can think of few things better to focus on. That God sought me and loved me first, and I am invited and equipped to be his arms and feet into the world. That is freedom, and I ask him for grace to bleed this freedom in all I do on this trip, to the glory of God and for his kingdom’s sake.

After a good night of sleep at the Gracia Guesthouse in Nairobi, we flew to Kisumu (western Kenya) and drove 3 hours in a matatu (van) to Lwala. Lwala is a community that BWM has been working with for the past 2 years, initiated through a friendship with Milton Ochieng’. Milton came to America from Lwala to go to college at Dartmouth and is currently in medical school at Vanderbilt (his brother Fred is at Vanderbilt as well). His father had a dream to build a medical clinic in his community, but HIV/AIDS took his life before he could fulfill his dream. Milton has been working hard to bring this dream to reality ever since. After much preparation and work, the clinic opened in April 2007. BWM has been a core part of seeding the clinic in resources and planning.

The ride to Lwala was bumpy and long, but great for taking in the scenery and conversation along the way. The landscape is beautiful rolling lines of green, with lofty trees and hut roofs throughout. Occasionally we would drive through a more populated area, and a market would be in full swing or people would be walking and riding bicycles around. Sometimes it was best to not look ahead, as the road is narrow and sometimes passing cars made for close calls!

A few miles from Lwala we turned off the main road and entered a dirt road that would take us to the village. Thankfully the rains had not been too heavy, and we were able to make it fine except for a flat tire as we neared. The driver and his friends took care of it quickly and we continued a few more minutes into the Ochieng’ family’s homestead (their group of houses in the village). As we came to a stop, the ladies ran out and surrounded the van and sang “Welcome, welcome the visitors…” to us.

We spent some time meeting the locals while walking through the village. Though I only know a few words and phrases, smiles and gestures go a long way. As the afternoon went on we relaxed in the homestead and sat around and kicked a soccer ball around with the kids. A beautiful peace exists here as you sit in the gentle breeze and listen to the cows, goats, chickens and birds calling.

The sunset was stunning. The sky seems so wide and deep here. As things grew dark we grabbed flashlights and headlamps to supplement the lantern light inside. Our main hang out is the Ochieng’ “big house”, where Milton’s parents lived. A couple of people played chess and some of us played cards as we passed some time discussing the day. Meanwhile, a delicious meal of rice, beans, cabbage, and boiled egg soup was prepared for us, and we ate around 8:30. The meal provided an opportunity for us to hear some background from each of the clinic workers, whom we would spend time with at the clinic the next day.

I climbed into bed at about 10:30. This included pulling a bed net over the bed and getting things situated for sleep, and I must have done well because I don’t remember a thing (except for a few early morning rooster crows) until waking up at 7:30. I took an Ambien to assist in a good night of sleep, and wore earplugs to help block most of the animal noise, especially as the sun came up.

October 19, 2007
This morning we all went to the clinic to observe and help the staff. In its 6 months of operations, the clinic (now officially a “health centre” due to its success) has seen almost 5000 patients from the surrounding area! At least 25% of the patients were treated for illnesses that otherwise would have resulted in death, which is incredible as well. There is typically a line of people waiting along the outside of the building each day. The clinic is unique in the area regarding its cost to the patients. It is free for patients under 5 and over 70 years of age, as well as expectant mothers and those with HIV/AIDS. For anyone else it is about 60 shillings to see the doctor, which is not quite $1 (US). This includes treatment, whether filling prescriptions or dressing a wound.

The clinic has 10 staff members, including a manager, doctor, nurses, a secretary, lab technician, security guards and groundskeeper. They also have a pharmacist, named Joash, and I had the privilege of working with him to start out. He showed me the pharmacy (2 rooms with shelving filled with bottles and boxes) and explained how to fill prescriptions. Since it wasn’t too busy yet, I pre-filled some of the anticipated doses of popular medicines, which allowed him to get ahead. I used my counting skills and carefully filled packets with their respective medicines. I was impressed with the variety of drugs they have on hand, which is a huge blessing to the people here.

During tea time (a morning break—they love their chai tea here!) we had a chance to talk more with Peter, the head doctor. With all the challenges they face here, its incredible to see the progress and growth. If it closed today, it would be beyond success. People are more healthy and living longer, and that is beautiful!

After lunch we walked to the Lwala Primary School for a special presentation. There are about 350 kids in the school, ranging from 5-18 years old. When the Jars guys were here last summer they sang to the kids in the school. This brought great anticipation to our visit since Dan and Steve were coming again. All the students brought their seats into the courtyard area and Damaris the head teacher started the festivities. Jena made some introductions and then Steve and Dan sang a couple of songs for the kids. We then had the joy of receiving a song from a group of kids. One of them led the song and the others would chime in with a repeated phrase. They were dancing and clapping and by the end Jena got up and joined them. It was quite the little party.

Dan then read his children’s book to the kids, which is called “The One, the Only Magnificent Me”. Afterwards we passed out children’s books (several suitcases worth), which we brought from a friend in the US. The kids looked over the books and shared many laughs at the pictures. The books will be added to their library and enjoyed for years to come.

A little rain could not prevent the soccer match later in the afternoon. Lwala has a team and occasionally plays neighboring villages, and we had requested a game if possible. There is a formality in it all, as beforehand one team sends a note of invitation to the prospective team, which is either affirmed or denied. Thankfully it was accepted and at about 5:30 both teams went out on the pitch in their red and blue uniforms to begin play. One highlight was the mzungu (“white person”) on the Lwala team, our very own Barak. He is our 1000 Wells Project Director. What joy to see him jump right in there and play well, especially with a few close calls on scoring plays. I’m sure he was worn out from the altitude (about 5000 feet above sea level) and constant motion! The Lwala team won 1-0, scoring on a header that was pretty amazing.

From there the evening remained fairly relaxed. We were able to spend a little time reflecting and sharing our thoughts among the group, and played some cards again too. At about 9pm dinner was served: lentils, rice, some meat and pineapple. The meals have been tasty and filling, which has been a pleasant surprise from what I imagined beforehand.

After dinner came dance time as the ladies of the homestead cleared the tables and pathway around them and started singing songs about us/to us. They started a dance train around the tables, clapping and bobbing around freely while they sang. There is sadness in the midst of joy remembering that we’ll be leaving the next morning. The love, care, grace, and strength exhibited has been contagious. It changes you in many ways, which are mostly yet to be known.

October 20, 2007
I enjoyed another good night of sleep in the hut, waking around 7am. Omondi (Milton’s oldest brother and the head of the house now) made some mandazi for us for breakfast (similar to donuts). They are served with chai tea, and taste wonderful when dipped into the tea. After breakfast I played with some of the kids, kicking around a ball made of plastic bags and string. The morning was relaxed, providing a good opportunity for me to reflect and refresh.

Goodbyes are hard, especially when you’ve just gotten settled and more comfortable. Our friends were very generous beyond fixing food and hosting us with lodging. They gave of their hearts and their treasures trusting that we would honor them and speak well of them when we remember them.

Spending 3 hours in a matatu is not what I’d choose to pass an afternoon, but it was our best means of getting back to Kisumu. This time around there was less conversation, as the day promoted reflection during transition. I think it is helpful to have that in the midst of new experiences when comforts are removed. It is vital when it comes to processing events and emotions in order to best share stories upon returning.

We checked in at the University House and had a little time to clean up and rest before dinner. Then we walked a block away to meet with the staff of GWAKO, a partner BWM has been working with since 2004. They have a great gift in the opportunities and ways they work in villages around Kisumu. About 10 years ago Benjamin started GWAKO after seeing a need for clean water to fight diseases in his region and doing something about it. They focus on creating women’s groups to address village needs beginning with clean water and hygiene and sanitation training. In the process a water committee is formed and there are multiple opportunities to strengthen the community’s ownership of the project. The community members aren’t just asking for help; they are actually helping to put the wheels in motion and then carrying out programs that will add sustainability and dignity. We at BWM have learned how critical hygiene and sanitation are in the approach to clean water in addressing the needs and health of a community.

Shem is in charge of the drilling preparations and training as well as implementation. Lillian and Elizabeth lead the hygiene trainings and follow up with communities. Benjamin’s wife Norma is a school teacher in addition to the various things she does with GWAKO (particularly helping with follow up in the months and years after a project).

After a brief meeting and introductions, we walked across the street to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. “Chinese food in Africa” you may wonder? Well it was a helpful transition from the village foods not to mention good Chinese food too. Our stomachs have hung in their, but its nice to have something a little more familiar occasionally.

Barak and I spent the night at Benjamin’s house just outside Kisumu. We arrived around 9pm and his 3 kids were sleepy but so excited to see us that they hadn’t gone to bed yet. Since we were all tired we talked for 20-30 minutes and then went to bed. His home was wonderful with tile floors and bedrooms for Barak and I. They moved into the house a couple of years ago and have done a lot of work from the dirt floors and plain cement walls it had at the time. They enjoy hosting visitors and take great pride in having a place available that is not much different from a guest house or hotel.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Landing in Africa

Well here is something worthwhile to blog; not that other topics and experiences are lesser, but in a fast-paced world that unfortunately accepts (and promotes) succumbing to some things just to get by, its not easy to find a voice and feel that it is important to share. The beauty is that any person’s work can bear fruit that restores brokenness in the large and small places of the world. We just have a hard time believing that. Most of the time it is easier to ignore the background and history and simply keep the bootstraps pulled up until you reach a point of rest. The trouble is, that rest is the most difficult to accept and promote. It is not oft longed for, yet it is the very thing necessary to enjoy life.

I boarded a plane in Nashville yesterday afternoon and joined some good friends on a journey to Kenya and Rwanda. The itinerary is compelling, including visits with communities Blood:Water Mission has been engaged with for 3 years as well as meeting people for the first time and digging through what it means to sacrifice and serve together. In 2004 I traveled to South Africa and dipped into the HIV/AIDS crisis personally. I have faces and names and stories in mind as I consider the pandemic, which helps prevent paralysis and promotes acting in love and mercy. I learned that every man and woman is born in the image of God, and worthy of love, dignity and respect. That’s easy to say, yet terribly difficult to actual live out. And no matter where I live, work, and move I get the privilege of entering into that struggle with hope every day.

After a short flight to Detroit, we transferred to a plane bound for Amsterdam; about a 7 hour flight, which I filled with the lovely task of cleaning out my email inbox as well as watching Evan Almighty and diving into the #1 Ladies Detective Agency stories (set in Botswana) with The Full Cupboard of Life. Of course there were conversations with friends and a brief hour of sleep as well. Our time in Amsterdam was very brief, as we quickly made our way to our connecting flight that has brought us to Nairobi after another 8 hours. I filled the time with more of the same, but fortunately slept a few hours this time around. We landed in Nairobi in the evening so hopefully I’m worn out enough to sleep heavy tonight.

Tomorrow morning we have a lobby call at 6am to head back to the airport for a short flight to Kisumu. From there we’ll drive a few hours in a matatu to see our friends in Lwala. For some history on this community, check out the film short at

I’ll try to check in again by the weekend after our 3 days in Lwala.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Isaiah 55 -- The Compassion of the LORD
1-3 "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
4-5 Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
6-9 "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10-11 "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12-13 "For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."

Some thoughts:
"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters...he who has no money, come, buy and wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" (1)

The invitation is to all; no one is beyond need of this satisfying food and drink. One of the greatest struggles for anyone--and especially one who is successful and not "in need"--is to know his/her need; to be aware of the thirst and hunger that will never be satisfied by the stuff of earth. And to think that God offers what we need at his cost and supply!

"Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David." (2)

God desires to lavish these gifts upon us, that we may be restored in fellowship with God even in part on earth. Chasing the food and satisfaction of things of this world brings death, whereas coming to Christ brings life. And this is based on God's covenant with us, promises he keeps according to his mercy, grace and power; Promises that are not according to anything I've mustered or accomplished but instead purchased by the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD....For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." (9-11)

This is great news! By faith we can know God's goodness and mercy, having hope in all things. My motivations are always tainted, and often return empty or at least short of the goal. How great that God intends good and restoration AND he delivers accordingly! Many have been wounded by individuals, by the church, by leaders, by family; their trust is lacking and cynicism likely high. And based on experience, why not? But the beauty of faith in the Gospel is that Christians can move through and beyond hurt and trials by relying continuously on God's objective promises. He is faithful even in our faithlessness. And his promises are backed with the blood and atonement of Christ, which leaves little question of God's intention or plan. His promises are meant for freedom!

"For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." (12-13)

The images are of beauty in the desert, of life coming into places where hardness and death are persistent. This is possible according to God's promises and through his Spirit. Yet the beauty and " life" do not exist for themselves; Instead they give signposts for all to see of God's faithfulness and providence. The fruit is present to remind us that God IS who he claims to be and will deliver on future promises just as he's been faithful in the past and present.

The responses of the human heart are beautiful as well: joy and peace. These are specifically chosen and go far beyond happiness and a lack of conflict. Joy and peace are deep-seated and honor every person involved, freely entering into any situation honestly with the hope of the Gospel. And this hope does not disappoint, as we see over and over throughout history and God's word. In this we--the thirsty and the hungry--find wine and milk, as well as rest, as it only comes through Christ and the Spirit.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

water is life

Jena w/ Utamuriza at her current water source

from Barak Bruerd, 1000 Wells Project Manager (BWM) on the BWM Blog

The human body is 70% water. A 3% loss of water can reduce a person’s ability to work by 20%. For your average 60lb school-age child, that amounts to a standard nalgene-bottle full of water. Under exertion, the human body can sweat twice that in an hour. Now imagine sub-Saharan Africa, 90 to 110 degree heat depending on the season and a 2 mile hike to get water... one way. The average size jerry can used to carry water is 5 gallons, which weights a whopping 40lbs. Now imagine that you are a 7-year old girl. And you make this trek 3 times every day.

For a Westerner, this daily hardship is unimaginable. For Utamuriza, in northern Rwanda, it’s inevitable. But it’s not really the hike, or the 1000 extra calories she burns every day that keeps her just slightly malnourished; she could even live with the long lines at the source and fighting when others try to cut to the front or scarcity forces disputes between rival villages. The part that brings a sense of despair is that there seems no way out. Her treks for water comprise over 6 hours of labor every day, a task that often make her late for school, even missing classes all together. In this world, education provides the only future and most children miss anywhere from 4 to 10 days of school a month because of household work like hauling water, or the diseases that come from drinking from unclean sources.

Let’s complicate things. Water-borne disease is not just limited to typhoid, cholera, giardia, amoebic dysentery, ascaris, schistosomiasis, hookworm or trachoma - the combined forces of which infect over 50% of the developing world’s population at any one time and claim the lives of over 2 million children every year. Water-borne diseases also include common parasites like roundworm and tapeworm. Bloated abdomens are the usual indicator, and these parasites can consume up to 30% of the nutrients ingested by their host, exacerbating malnutrition, hampering the immune system, and stunting childhood development at every level. Colds, flu, and respiratory infections all have roots in poor hygiene as do skin diseases such as scabies, and fungal infections.

We’d like to think that putting a clean source of water in a community would be enough - if so, our jobs would be quite easy. But to actually reduce disease, the water has to stay clean and be used properly. Contamination between source and point of use is extremely high without proper hygiene education. Practices your mother always harped on when you were a kid, like washing hands, taking baths, and putting the lid back on containers have to be implemented for health improvements to be actualized. While the idea of hygiene may seem like a no-brainer consider this: it’s not so long ago that western civilization thought that diseases came from lighting and “bad air” and doctors performed open surgery without so much as washing their hands let alone wearing gloves. It wasn’t until the 1860’s when Louis Pasteur proved that bacteria caused disease that our worldview changed to embrace the impact of the mico-world, and even then the magnitude of that discovery took several decades to affect society. We have lived with this idea for only the last 150 years; a mere breath of time compared to the millennia spent hiding from “bad air”. So it should come as no surprise that educating rural communities on the practices of good hygiene is difficult. The processes of worldview change and actual behavior change requires relationships, trust, and above all, time.

“Water is Life” is a slogan I’ve heard repeated in most of the communities we have visited. It’s life in more ways than just one - it’s wellbeing, it’s health, it’s time, it’s education, it’s peace, it’s hope. This year our partners will be initiating a spring development project in Utamuriza’s village that will improve flow rates and pipe water to a central location near the village. They’ll begin a comprehensive program to teach hygiene and assist families in implementing it in their homes. This project will impact three communities on the region and they, along with Utamuriza will experience a whole new life.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

integration, delight, and renewal

In Genesis God reveals the establishment of His Kingdom. It is one that contains Integration, Delight and Renewal. These are not pipe dreams or goofy notions, but rather where we are headed in part on earth and in full when Christ returns.

Integration sets right the brokenness that pervades since the fall of mankind in the garden. It once again sets in motion the purity and unity of words and action, deeds and decrees.

Delight reminds that God created and recreates with the intent of goodness and freedom. So often I am bound by the laws I put on myself and my perception of how to please God. I often lose sight of God's delight in me, as well as my freedom to delight in and enjoy what is good in His creation. Instead I am enslaved to trying to be perfect in words and thought, or acts of penance to try to regain some sort of perfect status.

Renewal is the source of hope for the believer. God is the God of renewal, and He brings His promises to fruition and loves us perfectly and faithfully.

There are 2 keys to seeing Integration, Delight, and Renewal brought to reality on earth. First, the PEACE of Christ must rule our hearts. We must rest in His promises and find contentment in calling. This true peace brings freedom, and overflows into the lives of other people beautifully.

The other critical factor is the WORD of Christ dwelling in us richly. What a beautiful image, that the Almighty God would choose to live in us and do so gloriously. He does this through His Word, which should be on our hearts, taught diligently to children, spoken about and brought to life when at home, at work, waking up and while preparing for sleep. And it is His Spirit that transforms us through His Word and brings peace.

May God transform my heart and our hearts so that this becomes reality more and more. For His sake and the sake of His kingdom and glory.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:15-17)

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

from proverbs 16

“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the Spirit. Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established. The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished. By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil. When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies be at peace with him. Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice. The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. (Prov 16:1-9)

“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.” (v 1)

Man does all he/she can to plan out life: setting goals, networking, finding the right timing. These are not bad things, but they are limited to the flesh. Unless God’s Spirit is powerfully present, they are just the best-laid plans susceptible to optimism and pessimism. They miss out on hope, and true hope reveals the presence of the Holy Spirit. The mouth and tongue are great tools of the LORD.

“All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the Spirit.” (v 2)
I don’t need much convincing to believe that “I know best”. I can justify all I want and use the best ideologies and scientific methods, but miss out on glorifying God if I neglect my spirit. This is the purpose of confession, of repentance, of renewal: this is God transforming my heart and mind to be more like Christ.

“Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.” (v 3)
When we rely on Christ and trust in God’s faithfulness, we have a better ability to see God’s work in, around, and through us. It doesn’t remove pain or suffering, but strengthens us to enter into hard things with the only hope that can sustain us.

“The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” (v 4)
Yes, the sovereignty of God must be laid plain. The believer finds rest and true contentment in God’s sovereignty, but knows not to throw this idea around without thought and intentionality. Humility and compassion are vital.

“Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” (v 5)
If we take the Bible seriously and live by faith according to His promises, we must see the arrogance of every heart—the flesh—and continuously be moved toward repentance and renewal.

“By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.” (v 6)
Do I rely on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to deal with my iniquity? Do I really believe that my heart needs a Savior, that I have unclean lips and am dressed in filthy rags? Unless I go to these places, my faith is just like self-improvement tactics and trying to be a “good person” who is simply “happy” (and “deserving to be happy”). Salvation comes through a steep cost, and we should pray for hearts to see the extent of our sins even as we ask for His blood to cleanse.

“When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies be at peace with him.” (v 7)
This is the fruit of trusting in Christ, that others begin to experience joy and peace. The Spirit changes hearts. We don’t try to please God simply in order to get along; No, that is much too cheap. We please God because we were made to glorify Him, and in the process we are able to experience miraculous peace through the power of His Spirit.

“Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” (v 8)
We must always treat others with dignity, love and respect. This is the entry point toward real relationship and opportunities of real mercy and compassion.

“The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” (v 9)
This is the source of unity and reconciliation. When believers work together for God’s kingdom work, God produces fruit beyond any human effort or imagination. We must believe that God’s ways are beyond my ways, and only through His power these things are possible.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

seek conversation beyond confrontation

The brokenness of this world is easy to find. It is also easy to ignore, at least for a time. I can hang out with people who are similar to me, call the people I want to talk with, email those who are on the same page with similar interests. I can talk about great things, honorable things, hard things, yet for what benefit?

In this upside-down world, the Gospel compels the believer to not be content with easy comfortable community. It not only compels, but equips as well. When it comes to talking with people outside natural affinity, confrontation often takes center stage. It could be a simple phone call to a credit card company or bank to straighten out some charges or a discussion with neighbors about an issue that's come up. More often than not I enter these kinds of encounters with one focus: what I need to get from it. "I" am the sole focus, which means the other person or people get left in the dust. Worse yet I can package it as nicely as I want to, thinking I am doing the right thing and even helping the other person out.

The Gospel equips by giving me glasses with which to see the world. These glasses break down cultural barriers and prejudices. They lay a simple foundation of love, dignity and respect, and only from this place can "conversation" take place beyond confrontation. The focus is on relationship instead of something earned or lost. The goal is further discussion and the ability to love well even those hard to love (which we all likely represent to someone else).

Living each day with this unspoken motto -- "seek conversation beyond confrontation" -- may not seem that radical. But try it on for a day or a week with intentionality and awareness. My gut is that my motivations aren't as good as I'd like to think. The beauty is that God restores my own brokenness even as I work through brokenness with others. And that is the glory of the Gospel...Christ lived, died, and rose from the dead that I might have life and joy in abundance. He exemplified this life of conversation and relationships, even while speaking some of the hardest truths. Even His confrontations bore the fingerprint of conversation in His humility, mercy, compassion and love. May this God of hope fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in Him, that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rm 15:13)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Save Lives In Africa--Vote Today

My good friend Matthew Smith has built a Squidoo lens that is up for Lens of the Year. Lenses are webpages describing can see it right here and you can read Matthew talk about it right here. You can help him out and vote for it here.

Today is the last day so go vote!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

water for thought

From [View printable version here]

The real cost of bottled water

Sunday, February 18, 2007

San Franciscans and other Bay Area residents enjoy some of the nation's highest quality drinking water, with pristine Sierra snowmelt from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir as our primary source. Every year, our water is tested more than 100,000 times to ensure that it meets or exceeds every standard for safe drinking water. And yet we still buy bottled water. Why?

Maybe it's because we think bottled water is cleaner and somehow better, but that's not true. The federal standards for tap water are higher than those for bottled water.

The Environmental Law Foundation has sued eight bottlers for using words such as "pure" to market water that contains bacteria, arsenic and chlorine. Bottled water is no bargain either: It costs 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water. For the price of one bottle of Evian, a San Franciscan can receive 1,000 gallons of tap water. Forty percent of bottled water should be labeled bottled tap water because that is exactly what it is. But even that doesn't dampen the demand.

Clearly, the popularity of bottled water is the result of huge marketing efforts. The global consumption of bottled water reached 41 billion gallons in 2004, up 57 percent in just five years. Even in areas where tap water is clean and safe to drink, such as in San Francisco, demand for bottled water is increasing -- producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy. So what is the real cost of bottled water?

Most of the price of a bottle of water goes for its bottling, packaging, shipping, marketing, retailing and profit. Transporting bottled water by boat, truck and train involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. More than 5 trillion gallons of bottled water is shipped internationally each year. Here in San Francisco, we can buy water from Fiji (5,455 miles away) or Norway (5,194 miles away) and many other faraway places to satisfy our demand for the chic and exotic. These are truly the Hummers of our bottled-water generation. As further proof that the bottle is worth more than the water in it, starting in 2007, the state of California will give 5 cents for recycling a small water bottle and 10 cents for a large one.

Just supplying Americans with plastic water bottles for one year consumes more than 47 million gallons of oil, enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, according to the Container Recycling Institute. In contrast, San Francisco tap water is distributed through an existing zero-carbon infrastructure: plumbing and gravity. Our water generates clean energy on its way to our tap -- powering our streetcars, fire stations, the airport and schools.

More than 1 billion plastic water bottles end up in the California's trash each year, taking up valuable landfill space, leaking toxic additives, such as phthalates, into the groundwater and taking 1,000 years to biodegrade. That means bottled water may be harming our future water supply.

The rapid growth in the bottled water industry means that water extraction is concentrated in communities where bottling plants are located. This can have a huge strain on the surrounding eco-system. Near Mount Shasta, the world's largest food company, Nestle, is proposing to extract billions of gallons of spring water, which could have devastating impacts on the McCloud River.

So it is clear that bottled water directly adds to environmental degradation, global warming and a large amount of unnecessary waste and litter. All this for a product that is often inferior to San Francisco's tap water. Luckily, there are better, less expensive alternatives:

-- In the office, use a water dispenser that taps into tap water. The only difference your company will notice is that you're saving a lot of money.

-- At home and in your car, switch to a stainless steel water bottle and use it for the rest of your life knowing that you are drinking some of the nation's best water and making the planet a better place.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

another anniversary

My resolution to update my blog more frequently this year has gone where most resolutions go...not quite the trash can, but not as successful as desired. But I'm still here!

Last week we celebrated 8 years of marriage. Its hard to believe time has moved so quickly, yet I remember well the wedding and honeymoon in Aruba. A smile appears each year when the Sundance Film Festival makes headlines. I remember walking off the airplane with Cari, straight from tropical Aruba, into the airport in Salt Lake City. We joined the Jars guys to drive into the mountains to Park City for a showcase during the film festival. A little awkward, perhaps, at least until the initial, "What have you been up to?" had been asked.

Fast forward to 2007 and so much has changed. January has been extremely busy in the Sands household. I've had quite a few music opportunities, as well as an insane month in my non-profit world. December brought a tremendous response in giving and growth for Blood:Water Mission. I'm still catching up in a lot of ways, but also excited to be sharing the load with 2 new friends. This month we've welcomed Matthew Provo into the fold to head up our grassroots work in the US as well as most things marketing. Next month Barak Bruerd is joining us as the 1000 Wells Project Manager. This has been a long time coming, and we're already sighing some relief as we move into our 3rd official year.

A team just left for Africa for Blood:Water Mission...please pray for Jena Lee, Christopher and Suzanne Williams, Charlie and Sonja Lowell, Brandon Heath, Steve Garber, and Elliot Garber. They will be in Kenya and Uganda visiting many of our friends, and will return at the beginning of February.

Musically, this month I've played for projects with Justin Rosolino as well as Mitch Dane. Also in the mix were a couple of shows with Matthew West, a showcase with Michael Olson, and a show at a local club with Billy Cerveny. This coming weekend I'm doing a last minute fill-in with Caedmon's Call for a conference in North Carolina. I've enjoyed the mix of some live shows along with studio opportunities.

Each year as our anniversary date nears (or passes) I read Manalive by G.K. Chesterton. Its one of my favorite books. I love the images portrayed in the book, challenging me to take seriously Christ's admonition to see the world through the eyes of a child and to be filled with pure joy and hope. It is contagious. It is paradoxical. It is revolutionary. And it might even change the way other people live too. I think of this most in marriage...what better place to start living this way, affecting household, family, friends, community and beyond. All to the glory of God.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

good magazine

We went to Barnes & Noble for our somewhat traditional Sunday morning hang...Sam plays with the trains on the Thomas table and we pick up some magazines to relax and catch up with the world. I usually pick up The Economist, Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Affairs or some other random news magazine to get a broad view of culture and events. Right in the front was a new magazine called Good. It intrigued me immediately by the cover and story taglines, and I picked it up with a few others named above just in case it was not "good".

Good has some refreshing approaches: money has been raised to allow the magazine to be published and hopefully stay afloat, so subscribers select from 12 organizations that receive the full $20 subscription to continue their "good" work; each issue finishes with a "project", an opportunity for the reader to think about action; and overall sense of honesty and straight-forwardness.

I particularly enjoyed this article entitled Unconscious Consumption [Click here].

As always, critical thinking and discussion is vital in these things...perhaps this will lead to some for all of us.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

the end of 2006...reflection and realignment

The end of the year tends to bring two R's to my life: reflection and realignment. I often turn to one of my favorite authors to assist in this process, and Wendell Berry wrote and released Andy Catlett: Early Travels just in time.

First some reflection...

our family has increased by one, with the arrival of Willa Kile on November 26.

Sam is 3 1/2 and loving playing guitars, singing, reading, and playing with his cars, megablocks construction set, and trains. (oh, and helping make fudge, too)

Blood:Water Mission continues to grow and solidify, and my role as well. Celebrate with us by viewing our Christmas E-Card.

I also continue to grow in my music career, playing bass in the studio frequently for various projects and producers. In addition, we've been blessed through our church community and friends here in Nashville. What a joy to walk in the interwoven life God has given and continues to grow.

Lastly, some realignment...

I just finished Berry's new novel about Andy Catlett. Looking at it in the bookstore, I was a little disappointed to find only 140 pages of writing. But it is more of a "yearning for more" than a disappointment of incompletion.

Wendell offers a longing for a simpler life...less distractions, more intentionality, more cycles to carry us (seasons), less busyness for the sake of busyness. He doesn't just offer it or give it--he restores it. His stories and writing pull me from the present and show me a past, which may differ completely from my story, yet brings joy and rest in reflection of my own past along with some formulation of "what now" to live in the midst of the present and future worlds. His writing is transformational.

The past is gone, that is true. Time brings changes that usher in new generations and shut doors to some traditions. We can mourn. Yes, we can fight. But we must also step forward in hope that the foundation laid by the past will support the building of something more glorious in God's economy and kingdom. Fear is the enemy in this...and it can only be conquered by freedom. We can only be free if we give our cares and fears over the One who can bear them. After all, that is why Jesus came, to conquer death and the fears that exist because of it.

May we find peace and rest in this freedom in the year(s) to come...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

32 and still learning

Well, 32 has arrived and I continue to learn...that there is so much more to learn. If you have 30-40 minutes to listen to an mp3, I encourage you to download and listen to this sermon from Sunday night about Romans 14 and tolerance.

Kevin Twit is a brilliant teacher and thinker, tuned into the soul of culture in the context of the gospel (instead of the other way around). He's also a good friend and an imagebearer of God like any other human.

Tolerance? - Romans 14

Sunday, November 05, 2006

why i like chesterton (pt 6)

The past month has been 60-70 hour work weeks between regular life (music, Blood:Water Mission, family, church) and remodeling our utility room. Things always take longer than you intend. I'm so thankful to be done with it, and proud of all the work. Thanks to friends and family who helped along the way...typing from the desk of my new office area, and now our laundry is hidden in a closet, as well as a lot of storage for files and gear in a separate closet.

As I'm getting close to the end of Wisdom & Innocence: A Life of GK Chesterton by Joseph Pearce, another paragraph strikes:

on the past, present, and future

"We talk of people living in the past; and it is commonly applied to old people or old-fashioned people. But, in fact, we all live in the past, because there is nothing else to live in. To live in the present is like proposing to sit on a pin. It is too minute, it is too slight a support, it is too uncomfortable a posture, and it is of necessity followed immediately by totally different experiences, analogous to those of jumping up with a yell. To live in the future is a contradiction in terms. The future is dead; in the perfectly definite sense that it is not alive. It has no nature, no form, no feature, no vaguest character of any kind except what we choose to project upon it from the past. People talk about the dead past; but the past is not in the least dead, in the sense in which the future is dead.

The past can move and excite us, the past can be loved and hated, the past consists largely of lives that can be considered in their completion; that is, literally in the fullness of life. But nobody knows anything about any living thing in the future, except what he chooses to make up, by his own imagination, out of what he regrets in the past or what he desires in the present." (439)

By the way, we're still anxiously awaiting the arrival of Sands #4, due Nov 22 and expected anytime!! We appreciate prayers for patience, strength, health, and rest as the days pass.

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