Paying to Pray?

Astorga, Spain

We have made it to possibly my favorite city on the whole Camino. Astorga is small enough that you can see everything that you want to see if around a day, but it still has a lot to do (including a Museum of Chocolate), is a city from the Middle Ages built on Roman ruins, and has an unmistakable charm. Less charming perhaps is the fact that we are staying in some sort post-apocolyptic hotel on the outskirts of town and that one or more team members keeps getting sick. First, Sidney was running a fever. Then, I broke out in hives and had a fever this morning. Don´t tell him, but I have declared it Jimmy´s turn to be sick next. I´ve been hit twice in a row. Despite this, we continue make steady progress toward Ponferrada and meeting up with our fourth team member on Sunday. There has also been additional sights of Tank Top Jesus. This time, he was getting thrown out of the Astorga Cathedral for trying to film without prior permission - big surprise.

However, it does make me thing of a disturbing trend that I have run into on the Camino - having to pay to pray. We go by a fair amount of churches in the course of the Camino. In fact, the Camino designers make sure that you at least walk by the main church in every small town. It would eat way too much into walking time to go by every church as we went, but we do make a point to at least go into the Cathedral along the route (Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, Astorga, and Santiago.) At the Astorga and Leon Cathedrals, they use the common practice for supporting an ediface with a lot of cultural hertiage and a very small active congregation of charging admission. The fee has not been crazy - 3 to 5 euros. On the surface, I´m not bothered by it. There is a lot that goes into maintaining something that big that has stood for that long. In fact, I appreciate the opportunity to supporting their continued existence. However, at least in my memory, there used to be a side chapel where one could go and pray for free. It was usually less scenic than the rest of the building but was a least a reminder that despite also operating as a museum, it was still an active church dedicate to things like worship, prayer, and the sacraments. Jimmy and I spent some time taking picture inside the Leon Cathedral, when we exited, I wanted to go pray in the side chapel away from loud tour groups with their blairing bullhorns. I followed sign to what used to mean the free side chapel and was disturbed to find that one could only access it for free during mass. Naturally, this led to me mouthing off, unproductively, at the attendants. I hoped that this would be an isolated problem, but it wasn´t. Astorga also only had a free option during Mass and no side free side chapel. Not to go off on a rant, but while I respect the need to pay the bills, there should be some indication that these are active houses of worship. In working in churches, I often find myself uttering the words ¨this is not a museum.¨ What does it say when a great and historical church has no free space to pray? 

I continue to fail at posting pictures, but I hope to have some up on Sunday. In the meantime, Sidney and Jimmy have a Facebook album that you check out. Thanks so much for your comments thoughts and prayers.

Bueno Camino, 


Getting Stalked By Tank Top Jesus

Villadangos de Paramo, Spain

Well, as it turns out, the Camino is still the Camino. My feet still need daily patching. I still hobble around like I´m 80 years old every evening. The cast of pilgrim characters, though obviously different, remain the oddly random assortment of humanity that one comes to expect from the Camino - the late 50s Italian man who walks under the shade of a giant red umbrella and systematically flirts with every woman in the Albergue, the 40s Dutch woman who dresses like a hippy yet tolerates now noise whosoever after lights out even if she´s not asleep, and the American women in early 20s from the desert southwest who nonetheless cannot pronounce anything in Spanish. One thing has changed though, the lack of Internet cafes. The not-so-secret behind this blog in past is that I religiously sought Internet cafes when I could. These have all been replaced with in Albergue wifi, which is better in a way, but I can´t blog from my smartphone. So, my first post has been badly delayed.

Sidney and I have been on the trail for a week now, and Jimmy just joined us yesterday. The first couple days out of Burgos, we spent half the time getting passed along the Camino trail by a speeding SUV. Getting passed by cars is not totally uncommon on the Camino, when one is alongside a road. However, when there are trails, one normally expects to only get passed by the odd bike pilgrim who failed to give you proper warning. Yet, this SUV kept working very hard to constantly jump one step ahead of us. It turns out that it was a film crewing shooting some sort of Camino documentary (what a novel idea), and they were getting a bunch of background shots of pilgrims (us) scenically walking. Of course, by the middle of the day, we are not generally feeling all that scenic, and we got pretty tired of being passed with the ensuing cloud of dust. In the middle of one afternoon, we finally got a good look at the film crew as one of their cameramen, with long flowing locks, a beard, and a tank up, literally frolic-ed in a field with his camera. This man was prompting labeled Tank Top Jesus, and it seems that he and his various camera toting apostles have been stalking us on and off ever since.

On a deeper and possibly more interesting note, starting the Camino where we did teaches you something important. Sidney and I started in Burgos, which is just on the edge of the Messetta, Spain´s high plain that other writers about the Camino have described as ¨Nebraska without the Pizza Huts.¨ The town builders on the Messtta seem to have used an interesting building practice that I admittedly do not understand. Rather than build their towns up on raises in the undulating plain, the towns have all been build in the depressions. this often leads to the situation where you will be walking along, know that you are close to a town, and be completely unable to see it until the last possible second. While everyone likes a little bit of surprise in their lives, at the end of 30km of hiking, I am looking for more certainty than this build practice often affords. However, consistently, where the town suddenly appears out of a curve in the road, or you are in one of the bone flat parts where you can see the town coming for miles, the first thing that you always see is the church tower. It functions as the beacon that guides you into civilization. One can easily imagine that this has changed little over the centuries. The pilgrims from the Middle Ages on where guided in from the trail to the comfort of civilization by the tallest thing for miles around - a church bell tower. It goes to show how the Church has so deeply shaped this landscape. Each little town has their church with its tower. In most cases, it represents both the town´s highest point and its center. Most of the time on the Camino, you are guided by some version of the ubiquitous yellow arrows, yet there is something deeply comforting and theologically significant about being guided how by a cross lifted high on a tower. 

Bueno Camino,


A Weekend Too Full

Banado Sur, Asuncion, Paraguay

Food has been a big theme of my life for the past year. As many of y’all know, I have been on a weight loss journey for about fourteen months now. That being said, the following has an underlying theme of gluttony that does not actually represent my normal Paraguayan experience. With that disclaimer out of the way, I can actually tell the story.

So, a couple of weekend ago, Cat, Rachel, and I went to the region of Paraguay known as Misiones. It is named that because it was the area where the Jesuit missionaries setup short a few hundred years ago – similar to the network of missions that are still standing in California. It’s a little strange because very little of the actual buildings are still standing, but they have been able to preserve a good amount of the art that would have adorned the churches. What makes the art particularly interesting is that is was all cared in Paraguay first by a Jesuit artist and then by local artisans trained by the Jesuit. You can see the difference in the faces from Saints that look distinctly Spanish to Saints that have more of the faces that you see on Paraguayans today. The Paraguayan artists gave their Saints, Christs, and Marys faces that they could identify with.  

Beyond the art, we ate a lot. We had a wonderful hostess, Gladys, who is one of our connections from the National Institute of Health. We stopped at a famous roadside fruit stand along the side of the Paraguayan version of Route 66, and she made sure that our plates were heaped in traditional foods. She invited us into her family’s home for two lunches and wouldn’t take “no” for answer around the issue of dessert. She took us out to dinner, and no one went hungry. She was incredibly gracious and made it incredibly difficult to say “no” to anything that she offered. We may have done some eye-rolling when it was time to eat again, but through her sheer hospitality, she made the experience enjoyable.

The weekend was also not without its own adventure either. We started driving back fairly late in the afternoon, and Misiones is not all that close to Asuncion. It was dark and raining, and we all could tell that these were not Gladys’s favorite driving conditions. I grew up driving across Texas through its often-fascinating weather and have developed a true love of driving. About two-thirds the way through the journey, I offered to take over. Gladys gladly accepted, and my Paraguayan driving adventure began. The visibility was low. The lights and wipers didn’t work really well, and I still don’t quite understand Paraguayan driving norms. However, I drove us through the winding roads of Route 1. We dodged crazy trucks and crazier pedestrians, tried not to get blown off the road, and played telephone directions with Gladys saying them in Spanish and Cat translating them into English for me. My Spanish has come a long way, but not at 60 mph in the deep of night. To add to the fun, there was a dearth of street lighting, and who ever paints lines on the road needs to be fired for not actually painting the lines. It made for a bit of a white-knuckled ride.

On top of all that, it was another time when I reminded about why a seminary education is an important part of theological formation. While I was driving, Gladys and I had a deep theological conversation. She would ask me a question in Spanish. Cat would translate it to me in English. I would answer in English, and Cat would do her best to contain my ramblings back to Gladys in Spanish. It was a wonderful conversation, but in the circumstance, I was again reminded that as a Pastor, you have to know your stuff because you will be called upon to theologize at the drop of a hat and under direst.

 The weekend didn’t stop there either. We had an Asado, essentially a barbeque, with David and Alexis’s host family that Sunday. They have become an adopted family for all of us, and a meal with them is a real treat. Also, as can happen, I have gained a reputation for the total amount of meat I can consume in one sitting because of a strong performance at a previous Asado. It has become a running that I can eat 2kgs of meat. While I don’t think that it actually true, I rose to the occasion and did my part to fend off the successive waves of meat.

After all of that, I dragged myself back home to spend an uncomfortable evening in a meat coma. However, that wasn’t to be. I lay on my bunk tossing and turning for around an hour, and then Ulpi, the father of my host family, came in and asked me to go to a birthday party for one of their family members. So, off, I went.

The party was pretty low key. Two dozen assorted family members sitting outside on the sidewalk, dancing, drinking beer, listening to music, and enjoying each other’s company. There was an adult soccer team off to one side with a large trophy. I was dragged on to the dance floor twice, one time by a guy, ate more asado despite feeling like I was fit to burst, and spoke broken English/Spanish with Jorge, who was really into the idea of speaking English with someone. On the whole, it was a nice party.

However, it had a heart breaking side. The honoree of this birthday wore a baseball cap over visibly thinning hair. I couldn’t place his age, but based on how frail he looked, I figured that he must be quite old. He had a sadness about him that I couldn’t place and seemed out of place at such a nice party. The truth was that he was dying. Jorge explained it to me as best he could. The man was HIV positive and was suffering from an opportunistic cancer taking advantage of his weakened immune system. He had had such a negative reaction to ARVs that he stopped taking them. Thus, his disease had progressed to full blow AIDS with all the associated consequences. From the way Jorge told it, this would be the man’s last birthday. Yet, Jorge and other family members made the point to me over and over again that they do not cry. They throw a party instead of being sad. They celebrate the man’s life as if the birthday party was some kind of living wake. The captain of his soccer team gave a speech. Everyone drank, laughed, and celebrated life.

As a seminary student, I spend a lot of time using buzzwords like “radical hospitality.” The examples from Gladys and my host family tell a much more tangible story than any buzzword can contain. It was a crazy a weekend but not one that I will soon forget.

Hopefully, y’all can expect two more posts out of me before I return to the States on Aug. 7. There are a slew of photos up on the Flikr page (link on the right hand side). It is getting towards the end of the journey. Thanks as ever for your thoughts, prayers, and comments. 

Halfway There…

Banado Sur, Asuncion, Paraguay

It occurred to me about a week ago that I passed the halfway point in this summer’s adventure. At this point, I am six and half weeks out with four and a half weeks to go. I could probably give it to you in days and hours if you pressed me. Thus, it seems to be as good a time as any to take shock of what I’ve accomplished so far.

In terms of researching a potential intervention, the team has made a lot of headway. I have interviewed 27 teenaged boys. Cat has interviewed 15 teenaged girls, and Alexis has met with five or six mothers out of the women’s cooperative that runs the library. Between those and meeting with clergy and other key stakeholders both within the Banado and in the health/development infrastructure outside the Banado, we have conducted close to 60 interviews – not bad, given that we’ve been doing them for less than a month. It’s not even just that we have done a lot of interviews. Some of them are actually informing what the intervention could look like. For reasons of confidentiality/not wanting to jump the gun before we more thoroughly analyze the transcripts, I can’t give a whole lot of detail now, but the interviews are painting a picture of what this community needs and possible sites that could facilitate an intervention. All in all, the project itself is moving and relatively on track, for once.

One of the things that I always find remarkable about this kind of investigation is what people will tell you if you just give them a space to talk. We have seen laughter and crying, faith stories, and deeply personal experiences. One of our interviews ended with a closing prayer. In another, we had to stop halfway through so that someone could take publicity photos. In yet another, a youth walk out halfway through the introduction. You just never know what you are going to get, yet for some reason, the community and key stakeholders seem willing to talk to us. So, who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?

Despite the progress, life for me this summer is a story of hard swings. It is not exactly a straight up Tale of Two Cities “best of times, worst of times,” but there are definitely some striking contrasts. Some mornings, I wake up. It’s relatively warm outside. The hot water is working, and I enjoy my calm breakfast of whole milk coffee. Other mornings, I wake up in my bunk wondering why I feel claustrophobic only to realize that the duct tape securing my mosquito net to the ceiling has failed, and I am essentially a giant mosquito target wrapped nicely in a net.  I really hope that Dengue season as officially passed. Sometimes, I have interviews where a Pastor, Priest, or (even more remarkably) a teenage boy will talk for close to an hour. Other times, I’m end up interviewing someone slightly below my ideal age range, and the interview itself lasts eleven minutes. On the language front, there are times where I have huge successes like conducting my own interview in Spanish only having to get bailed out by one of our local assistants at the very end. Yet, every time I can’t understand a basic idea that someone is trying to express to me, I am reminded how far I have still to go.

Speaking of contrasts, the other thing that is stark is the division between rich and poor. This gets expressed, to a certain extent, by the difference between the top of the hill and the bottom of the hill. As I’ve probably said before, the Banado, where I live and where we are trying to get an intervention going, is at the base of the hill in the flood plain of the river. At the top of the hill, everything looks basically like the rest of Asuncion. There are a couple nicer neighborhoods close by, a Catholic university, and even a picture perfect German bar/restaurant/inn about a five minute bus ride away. In the Banado, we are pushing our luck if we stay out past 6:00pm. At the top of the hill, the gym and the grocery store are both open until at least 9pm and crowded at all hours. In the family that I stay with, I’ve hardly ever seen the youngest child leave the house in the evenings, but only a mile and a half away is a roller rink where I saw a birthday party starting at 7:00pm. We, as Americans choosing to live in the Banado, have the privilege to take a slight risk and go out to dinner or do our shopping up at the top of the hill. We have the resources, but even for the families that we live with, that is not always an option for them.

If you are looking for something slightly more light-hearted than the general top of the post, check out the link to my Flikr site on the side bar of the page. I have posted a whole bunch of photos from my weekend getaway to Argentina to see the Igauzu Waterfall. Thanks as ever of your thoughts, prayers, and comments.  

Faith in the Shadow

Banado Sur, Asuncion, Paraguay

The rituals of life often help us stay connected to who we are. For some, it is their daily penance at the gym. For others, it is the first morning cup of coffee before anyone else is awake. For me, it is going to church on Sunday. It is one of the few things that is consistent in my life no matter where I am in the world. My other daily rituals of my Atlanta life, showering every morning, staying up until 2am, and drinking a Snapple Tea with breakfast, usually go right out the window, but the adage holds true that every town has a bar and a church. So, I can usually count on that ritual, and while I make no claim of always having spiritual mountain top experiences every time I walk into a church, there is great comfort and connection in the rhythm of Sunday worship every week.

Last Sunday was no exception. Continuing the trend from Kenya and the Camino, I am spending my summer in Mass as my options in the Banado seem to be Catholic or Assembly of God. I actually went to Mass twice last Sunday, but it was the first one at 8am on the outskirts of the Banado that was really impactful.

Due to logistical challenges and a sinus infection, I had not been able to go to church at all the week before. I really wanted to attend a service led by Pa’i Oliva. He is the founder and force driving our in country partner Mil Solidarios. Pa’i, as he is referred to in the neighborhood, came to Paraguay as a Jesuit missionary in 1964. In the 1970s and 1980s, he lived in exile in Argentina working with Paraguayan refugees because the ruling regime of the time had tried to kill him and left him for dead in the Paraguay River. He then swam across to Argentina and continued his work from exile. If you looking for the actual “Most Interesting Man in the World,” you would be hard pressed to find a more qualified candidate. In short, Pa’i is pretty much everything that I want to be when I grow up. Though, having just turned 27, we can debate whether or not I should have done that already.

By asking around the neighborhood with assistance of the one of the host families, I finally found the early morning service that Pa’i was leading. Right as I walked up to the church, the whole setting struck me. The building was a plain one room church structure with a small steeple stuck on to the front. Right next-door was something that resembled a barn. The church itself did not look like a place where a national hero and near saintly 85 year old Jesuit preached. It looked like a far-flung outpost. The most striking thing about the setting was where the church was located. It was on the edge of the Banado in full view of the city dump. I have mentioned before that the main industry for this community is recycling things from the dump because the people live in the shadow of this mountain of trash. In most of the Banado, the dump is present more through smell than sight, but at this church, the stories high mound of waste dominated the landscape. This was the poorest part of the Banado – those living on the margin of the margin. I said that I don’t want these to turn into sob stories, but the setting made the rest of it more remarkable.

My last post was about the shades of hope, but this about joy and faith. I felt both inside that church. There were no more than 20 people there. They all clearly knew each other and lived close by. There was no church bell, so instead, the service was rung in by beating a piece of metal against an old steel rim off a car. There were a lot of children there, and they sang loud and off key in a way that was more joyful than annoying. The prayer requests were very real. It was Father’s Day, and one of the children offered up a prayer for all those who did not have fathers. Another prayed for those who were not good fathers. In the spirit of John Wesley, it was a service that left me feeling strangely warmed. I felt God in that place and moving within the people. It was a Spirit field service in a place where one might least expect it – the shadow of a garbage dump.

One of the questions that I have been asked in the course of the United Methodist candidacy process is “what does the kingdom of God look like to you.” My answer to that question before focused on the small Methodist church that I attend while doing my Teach for America training in LA where truly diverse congregation including a large homeless contingent met for worship and lunch every Sunday and built a skate park as part of their church grounds. I’m adding this church that list. It was a service led by a national hero yet in the humblest of circumstances. It is a group of people who, on paper, have little to celebrate; yet the children sang with infectious joy. To me, it reminds me how much strength and joy can be found in God – no matter the location. 

Let’s Start with Hope

Banado Sur, Asuncion, Paraguay

Tonight, I sit up late listening to a thunderstorm rage outside. It sounds like it is right overhead making sleeping difficult at best. I began writing this post partly out of guilt for having gone so long without posting. Things have actually begun, but I have left y’all in the dark for two weeks. Part of my procrastination has come out of the fact that I’m not sure how to tell the story. I could tell of the condition within the Banado, about how people live by scavenging out the dump, how the streets and streams flow with mud and trash, but that would sound more of a sob story. There is more hope, life, and vibrancy than the physical surroundings would suggest. I could tell of the family that I live, about how I’m a grown man sharing room with another twenty something and sleeping on a bunk bed with my mosquito net, but that wouldn’t capture the kindness and love that I have experienced within that family. I live with the Mendozas. Their eldest son, Junior, works for our in-country partner, Mil Solidarios. He is also my roommate. Last Sunday, they took me fishing, and out of sure dump luck, and moments after almosttangling my reel, I caught the largest fish of the day. This was probably the first time that I had been fishing in 12 years, but it was a beautiful day out on the water in a boat that had clearly been in the family for a while. I could even tell of the organization that I work with and the struggle to form into interview guides the ideas and questions that we have set for ourselves, but even I do not want to hear the scholarly details even though it’s technically my job here. No, I have thought through and even outline posts on all of these topics, but none of them really capture what is going on here.

Rather, last week, I attended the re-opening of a library in the Banado. The library had originally been constructed as part of a community gathering space, but had fallen into disrepair and was about to be eliminated. A women’s collective had organized to save the library and bring it back to life as a resource to the community. When Cat and I got there, we got busily bossed around carrying tables and chairs, hanging things from the ceiling, arranging refreshments for the grand re-opening, and try not to get dirt on the now pristinely mopped floor. There were three or four members of the women’s group along with a couple kids (including one who really liked the idea of taking pictures with my camera). We seemed to be setting out quite a bit of food and chairs. We hauled in a microphone and speaker, so I got curious as to how many people that they expected to attend. The answer that I got was 50. I doubted it. It sounded ambitious to me. However, when the appointed hour rolled around, we had to set out more chairs. It looked like every member of the women’s collective was there along with a contingent of community leaders and a large pack of teenagers. Pa’i Olivia, the Jesuit Priest who is the founder of Mil Solidarios, spoke and blessed the library. There were speakers from the women’s collective and a development organization working on women’s microfinance. Then, everyone poured in filling the library and eating the good in an instant. The teenagers hung around in the shelves looking at the books. The happiness and excitement hung in the air. It felt like a good thing had just happened here.

This is really the first impression that I wanted to impart about the Banado. Yes, things are hard here. People are poor and struggling to get by. At times, the conditions can be shocking, yet there are homegrown organizations like Mil Solidarios, the women’s collective, and others that are trying to make the Banado into something more. There are weekly meetings that plan protests and action as the Banado my get torn down and replaced with an industrial park. When talking about this, Junior said that the concern is that they we told “fuera,” which literally means “away.” However, it is the same language one would use with a dog. The Banado is barely a recognized part of the city, so they live in a tenuous position. Despite all of this, there are people trying to do something different for their own community. There will be plenty of time and space for me to fill in this story, but I wanted to start with hope. 

Liminaly Quieted

Asuncion, Paraguay

As is probably obvious from the fact that I am able to sit hear and write this, I have made it to Paraguay safe and sound. My luggage (or American Airlines) decided to act on a whim, so the bulk of my possessions did not arrive until a few hours after I did. Beyond that, the actual traveling was pretty uneventful. I had a lay over in Brazil, but since I did not leave the airport, I’m not sure that I can count it as having visited the country. Currently, I am hoping that I am in the “calm before the storm” phase. We haven’t yet met with our in country partners and won’t until Tuesday. Until then, our jobs seem to be getting to know the city of Asuncion, meet with random people, and trying various forms of empanadas for eateries all over town. As much fun as that sounds, it is difficult being so far away and yet stuck in this liminal phase.  

To add to this, I made a major miscalculation. You see between middle school and high school, I took six years of Spanish. I have spent two different summers in Spain, grew up in Texas (which is rapidly becoming simply another part of Latin America), briefly taught in Los Angeles, and have even done short stints in Peru, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Also, I have known for almost six months that I was coming to Paraguay and that my life would be operating mostly en Espanol. However, thanks to an outstanding personality conflict between me and Senora Galivan for Spanish 3 and 4, my grasp of Spanish is much more limited than my credentials would indicate or even than I remembered. You know that old saying about if you don’t use it, you lose it? It turns out that Spanish falls into that category. For the most part, I understand about 70% of what is said. In terms of speaking, which is essentially what I do for a living in my mother tongue, the results are not so good.

In one of my other lives back in the United States, I work as a video editor for a Candler professor, Dr. Ellison. One of the major things that he talks about is this idea of the “unseen.” The people that exist in our world, but for whatever reason, social position, prejudice, historical inequity, we don’t actually notice them. A perfect example of this is when we were in Peru, Dr. Ellison became good friends with one of the grounds keepers who was meticulously planting grass. Despite this being a convention of pastors, no one else spoke or even really took notice of that grounds keeper. I bring this up because my inability to speak means that I am less spoken to, less looked at in conversation, less seen. It is an interesting and educational reversal.  

The last time that I was “unable” to speak was my freshman year of high school. Some youth group friends and I cooked up a ridiculous plan to make a couple of them seem more sympathetic to some girls that they were trying to impress by having me play their “mute” friend. I understand that the logic of this was questionable, but at the age of 15, logic seldom enters the equation when it comes to mating rituals. So, whenever we were around these two girls, I deliberately did not speak, and instead we communicated through our vaguely made up sign language. Despite my historically talkative ways, I only slipped up once. We were at Disney World riding some water ride, and I unexpectedly got hit in the back of the head with a wave of water. Even then, I only made a small gulping sound that the girls did not seem to notice. However, this time around, I am more involuntarily mute, and it is a valuable reminder of what it is to be unheard and unseen.

Theoretically, my Spanish will get better. Even still, as some one who claims to stand up for those that often get left behind, there is value in spending summer not being the loudest and most vocal and experiencing what it is not be able to speak up or get my ideas across. 

A Bit Broken in the Leg

Lima, Peru

In the past 72 hours, I have learned a vital life lesson. If you are going to suffer a major injury, there is not better place to do it than a conference full of Methodist and Baptist pastors. Last night in a spectacular feat of youthful exuberance, I fractured my right foot during a cultural demonstration in which I was dancing to Punk Rock (at a Methodist conference of all places). In high school, I could dance like this with no consequences. However, the last time I tried this dance at Nyumbani Village, I nearly tore my ACL. Friday night, I did the same dance again, landed wrong putting all of my wait on the front corner of my right foot, and low and behold, it fractured.

Being me, I did not seek medical attention immediately. It felt pretty bad right away, but I thought that the pain might go away with time. I got back to work on the soundboard and just made sure to lean against things. However, about an hour an a half later, the pain and swelling hand only gotten worse to the point that I had to take off my shoe. It also just felt like there was something wrong with the bone – not muscle or tendon. At point, I went to Winston, the director of the conference, and said, “I do not mean to be a bother, but I think my foot really is kind of broken.” From there, I was in the hands of Christian community. Dr. Ellison, Luciano, Lilliana, Regiano, and I piled into Luciano’s car and headed to a clinic near the conference center. After having to drive around the town for a while, we finally found the clinic, but since it was almost midnight, I did not have X-Rays available and could not do much for me. Our options were to go to one of the larger cities, two of which were an hour away. Luciano simple said, “We got to Lima,” and again, off we went.

Despite the fact that I had a clearly injured and swelling foot, the hour car ride to Lima was fun. Luciano speaks Spanish and Portugesse. Lilliana speaks some English and, of course, Spanish. Regiano speaks Spanish, Portugesse, and learned English while staying in America for two months. Dr. Ellison speaks only English, and I speak some Spanish. Between all that mixture of languages, we were able to have many great and wandering conversations sharing about our lives, our vocations, and our experiences in ministry. Regiano and Luciano are both missionaries out of Brazil. Lilliana is a seminar student like myself. We built a definite bond as we drove into the night. 

Once we arrived in Lima, there were two private clinics that could treat me. We went to one went through the routine of transferring me from the car into a wheelchair and rolling me in. We got their price for services but found that an even better clinic would offer the same services for basically the same price and would have an orthopedic specialist on hand to treat me. Thus, we loaded back into the car and drove to a third clinic where I was finally treated.

Despite the craziness in getting there, once at the clinic, things moved like clockwork. Almost immediately upon being wheeled in, I was taken to an examination room. I was in that room less than 5 minutes before being wheeled into get X-Rays done. Those were done right away. I was wheeled back into the exam room and waited no more than 10 minutes before the orthopedic specialist arrived to examine by X-Rays that already been loaded onto the server. He, then, told me that I had a small fracture, explained that since I’m 26, it will heal fully, and informed me that I would have to wear a cast up to my knee for a month. Before I could fully process the implication of this, he had asked what color cast that I wanted and was wrapping my leg in blue acrylic. In total, I was in the clinic for less than 40 minutes and all for the price of just $384.

Since then, the past few days have been a struggle. It was not until last Saturday evening that I got crutches, so before that I had to be literally carried everywhere by up to four people. As I put it to Cary, the communication director that I have been working with, I am now the largest piece of gear that needs to be loaded places. I am having to relearn how to do pretty basic things like get around in the bathroom, put on pants, and pack a suitcase without putting any pressure of my left leg. Despite the frustration and physical exhaustion, there have been definite bright spots. While I was stuck in my room on Saturday, 12 Methodists from Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Columbia piled in to pray and sing with me. Whenever I needed to be carried somewhere, there were more than enough people to help. One of the Bolivians can to help me pack my suitcase. Two Peruvians brought me a snack, and Dr. Ellison helped me get dressed until I figure out how to do it on my own. One of my American team members and friends, Xavier, is still managing my luggage for me making sure that it all gets where it needs to go. Dozens of people signed my cast, not with just their names, but with words of encouragement and scripture.

As I said in the opener, there is no better place to be injured than in a group trained in Pastoral Care. I have definitely received my fair share. It is humbling for certain, but it also reminds me how God works through Christian community. We always said that God will provide and that everything will be okay because God is here. What we often leave out is the mechanism that God uses to bring this about, that is fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ. It is Christ’s work, and we are called on to do the physical moving. It may have been Cary and Mikiel that carried me out to the van, but it was Christ moving in them that was taking care of me. There is that old cheesy story about the footprints. During good times, there were two sets of prints. During tough times, there was only one set of prints because God is carrying you. I have been literally carried by God for the past couple days. The real lesson is that I was always been carried. I just see it now that I cannot feign independence. I am extremely thankful for all my brother and sisters in Christ who have shown me God’s love over the past few days.

Today is my last day in Peru. I fly out at 12:40am and should arrive in Atlanta by 8:35. Please keep us in your prayers as we travel. This should be uniquely challenging as not only am I on crutches, but the crutches seem to be actively trying to kill every time we walk on tile. There are new pictures up on the photo page from the seminar, and I should be putting some up (taking by others) documenting my process of getting a cast. You can expect one more post upon my return to the US, and then that will close out this summer. Thanks as ever for your comments, thoughts, and prayers.

Check out the photos at

Vaya con Dios,


A Christian Tsunami

Kawai – Mala, Peru

I just survived, or rather returned from, my first ever Tsunami drill. It basically consists of meeting at an initial point and then walking in a straight line until you are safely away from the onslaught. The principle behind is that you will have about 24 minutes warning before the wave beaks. I’m not sure what this number is based on, but they told us that we did a good job. I’ll take their word for it. Our drill involved “rescuing” some children who are also staying at the conference center. This meant that we chased them from their rooms to meet us at the final meeting point. I got to firemen’s carry and “injured” child to great applause. For once, it was not me being overly dramatic. I was handed the kid to carry.

As I write this, a group of Bolivian Methodists is rehearsing the music for tomorrow’s worship service. To fill y’all from my last point of writing, I am now at an evangelism seminar with Methodists from all over South America as well as United Methodist leaders with an interest in evangelism such as Eddie Fox and Bishop Michael Watson (of the North Georgia Conference). I spend most of my time in the tech booth running the video switcher and managing the 3 camera operators. I am also blogging for the conference and trying to participate as best as I can. This is another instance where I wish that I might have paid slightly more attention in high school Spanish and not spent my time perfecting the art of texting without having to look at my phone. Thank the Lord, there are people from all over South America attending this conference. However, this means that they all speak Spanish and not English. I can’t cheat, like in Kenya, and use middle school or high school students. During the sessions, there is translation, but for everyday life, I have to get by on what I should have learned in high school. I am even in a small group where I am the only English speaker. Luckily, I understand Spanish much better than I speak and can at least follow the conversation. We did introductions today, and they were at least able to understand what I said. No doubt, it sounded fairly ridiculous. Again, thankfully, they are fellow Methodists and did not give me a hard time about it.

We arrived here at the conference center on Tuesday. Before that, we were on the no sleep, no rest tour of Cuzco and Machupicchu. Here is the timeline, we left Atlanta at 5:20pm and arrived in Lima around midnight. We then got helß up at customs for trying to import the sound and video equipment that we are using for the conference. We had to check in for our flight to Cuzco at 4am, so we just hung out that airport until check in opened. We boarded the flight at 6am and arrived in Cuzco at 8am. We got to our hotel and finally got to rest at 9:30am after having been awake for over 24hrs. However, it didn’t end there. Two hours later, we had to get up and shower for a 5hr walking tour of Cuzco. When I hear walking tour, I think of wandering around city streets. Oh no, this meant visiting Mayan ruins scattered in the hills surrounding the city. Again, this does not sound like that big a deal. However, Cuzco sits at 10,000ft above sea level. IN WWII, this was the altitude at which the bomber pilots were required to switch to Oxygen tanks. We did not have tanks or Oxygen either. At that altitude, just climbing up stairs is exhausting, and on 2hrs of sleep, we were climbing hills, steps build by the Inca, and trying not to pass out.

I would love to report that at the end of that day, we got to rest and relax, but alas, no. We got to bed around 9:30pm and had to be up at 3am to catch the first leg of our journey to Machupicchu. From there, we caught a train at 6am and another bus and arrived at Machupicchu around 9am. We then did a whole day of climbing until about 3:30pm at a mere 6,000ft above sea level, when we started to head back. Between dinner and the various legs of transport, we did not return to our hotel until 10pm. In all, we slept a maximum of 7.5 hrs in a 60hr period.

Whirlwind aside, I have two reflections. I will write a post covering the conference more in depth later in the week after it has really gotten going. However, Machupicchu is by far one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been. Although I certainly made an attempt, it is difficult to capture all of it on film. The Inca built it about 600 years ago as a center for religion and commerce. They nestled in a space between two mountains using stepped terraces as its support system and needed a trade network to keep it supplied with food and supplies. The stonework literally fits together like Lego bricks. However, the evidence seems to indicate that they abandoned it before the Spanish arrived. The ruins themselves are beautiful. The mountains are beautiful. The cloud forest is beautiful. What makes Machupicchu so stunning is that it combines all three of these things into one testament to the human spirit and the beauty of God’s creation both through nature and through humanity.

The other major take away that I had came out through the two tour guides, Karina and Beto, that took us around Cuzco and Machpicchu. In our tour of the Cathedral, Karina made a point to show how Inca religious traditions had been incorporated and encoded into their expression of Catholicism. We saw Mary wearing a traditional Inca outfit, guinea pig being served in a painting of the Last Supper, and a painter signing his work with the traditional Inca snake. Beto made two key statements in our tour of Machupicchu. One was that the Inca believed in one supreme god of the universe and the other lesser deities and spirits were merely expression of or avenues to this supreme being. He also taught us that Inca life was grounded on 3 principles, love, work, and knowledge. I had not spent much time studying Inca religion, and both of these tour guides opened my eyes. What Beto taught us speaks to me of Previnient Grace - this idea of God going before leading people to God’s path. Karina’s statements helped me see more clearly how we all express our Christian faith in metaphors and images that we understand. In Kenya, I often saw images of a clearly African Jesus hanging on the cross. European art often connected Biblical figures with images of Greek and Roman gods. The Incas, after converting to Christianity, did the same thing. On one hand, it kept their own culture alive and passed it down. In another way, it helped them understand who God is by using ideas that are familiar to them.

In other, less serious news, I fulfilled a bucket list item. I ate a guinea pig. I named him Fred. There is a story behind Fred. You see, when I was in 4th grade, a girl named Anna was my best friend. She had a guinea pig that was named Fred. One day, Fred bit me, and it hurt. From that day on, I have had in for the entire guinea pig race. Guinea pig also happens to be a delicacy here in Peru. This led to the perfect confluence of circumstances where I could get revenge and enjoy local culture. I ate a deep fried guinea pig (called Cuy), and it was delicious. There are a couple of great images below. Similar to chicken heart, it tastes like nice, dark meat, chicken.

As I am already blogging for the conference as well, you can expect at least two more posts this week and then one to wrap up the summer. I am getting into the truly the home stretch. There are about 90 new photos up on the photo site for y’all to enjoy. Thanks as always for your thoughts, comments, and prayers.

Check out the photos at

Vaya con Dios,


An Olympic Scale Journey

Lima, Peru

As I write this, I am 37,000ft above the Gulf of Mexico flying to Lima, Peru. We will catch an early morning flight to Cusco and, on Sunday, visit Machupechu. I had a two-day break in Atlanta to see Sidney, hang out with some friends, and repack my bags. However, now, it is back on the road and another international flight. I’m at the point now where I know what movies are in the airline rotation. Having now seen it twice, I recommend the Best Exotic Marigolds Hotel. It has a great cast and a good figure of humor and deep heart.

I am very glad that I had a chance to visit my brother Drew in London. It was only two whirlwind days, but it was great to see London as he lives it, visit his work, and check out the 2012 Summer Games. I have been to London close to a dozen times in my life, but this visit felt quite surreal. Although the opinion of the average Londoner is that they cannot wait for the games to be over and for life to get back to normal, seeing Olympic athletes riding the Tube or walking along the streets transfixed me. It’s not like I didn’t know that the athletes would be there. I’m just not sure that I realized that meant that they would do normal things like a ride a subway or go to the mall. The night of the mean’s 100m final, I was in this gigantic new mall that was built for the games adjacent to Olympic Park called Westfields. During the 9.6 whatever second race, I was crammed into the Bose store with close 100 other people. Within our tightly packed group were athletes from 3 countries. Since that mall is right on site, it is basically flooded with Olympic team members. Just walking around buying supplies, I saw Serbian shot putters, Spanish field hockey players, and a group of Finnish athletes. London always has tourist, some of them even wearing vaguely athletic clothing, but seeing groups of people in exactly matching outfits added a whole new dimension to s a city that I thought that I knew well. By the way, the trick for spotting an Olympic team member besides the name badges is the shoes. Olympic team members have shoes that color match their uniforms.

Drew also managed to get tickets to an Olympic event. We saw one of the women’s soccer semi-finals, Japan vs. France at Wimberley Stadium. Admittedly, neither of us had anything in particular invested in the match. Japan was predicted to win, and they did. France made a much bigger effort in the last 30min of so, but it was not enough to overcome the deficit. Still, it was the first time in my life that I got to watch the Olympics in person rather than on a television usually thousands of miles away from the action. There were tens of thousands of people there cheering for a huge gamut of countries. There were of course French and Japan fan, but also Brits wrapped in Union Jacks supporting Team GB, Spaniards wearing superhero outfits and singing, and even some other Americans. It was definitely a new and unforgettable experience. I will, no doubt, someday annoy my future grandchildren with the story. 

It is hard for me to believe that on Saturday, I woke up in Limuru, Sunday London, Wednesday Atlanta, and this coming Saturday Cuzco. This will make 4 continents in 7 days. Despite my best efforts, my body is not entirely sure what time zone it is in, but it has gotten used to being able to shower every day and eating non-rice and beans based food. I had an amazing revelation on my first night in London. I would drink the water that game out of the faucet again. In Limuru, I got running water back, but I still was not supposed to drink it. London was the first time in 10 weeks that I could drink the running water. For me, these kinds of things are a stranger adjustment than all the time zones that I am racking up. My life in London or Atlanta is so different from my life in the village, which I only left 2 weeks ago. Can my life go back to normal so quickly? In some ways, it clearly has. I connect showering to humanity, but in other ways, it probably won’t be quite the same. In a prep meeting for Peru yesterday, we talked about “reverse culture shock” that is the experience of reintegrating back into your own culture after a long stint in another culture. This is not the first time in my life that I have been through this process, but it is the first time that I have a name for it. One never quite views their “normal” life the same way.

In logistical news, expect a post and accompanying photos covering my first few days in Peru sometime Monday or Tuesday. From there, things will be a little more complicated. I am the official blogger for the conference that I am attending, so I will be posting material here and over on their site. I will post more details when I have them, but it does mean nearly daily content from me. Thanks as always for your comments, thoughts, and prayers as the journey continues. 

There are Olympic and a final few village pictures up, so as always check out my photos at 

Mungu Akubariki,


So Hard to Say Goodbye, to Nyumbani

Nairobi, Kenya

I left the village exactly a week ago. It is somewhat of a surreal feeling sitting here in a Nairobi hotel waiting for my airport shuttle to begin my journey to London, then Atlanta, then Peru. For the last week, I have traded prayer visits for class discussions and blogging for paper writing as we had a week of wrap up classes at St. Paul’s University outside of Nairobi in Limuru. A fun fact about Limuru is that it is one of the coldest places in Kenya. As it is winter here now, I had to buy a sweater and basically lived in it the whole week. The place where we were staying gave us a hot water bottles every night to help keep us warm. Despite the frigid, okay sub-50 degree, weather, it was good to see everyone again, get back in the habit of taking a warm shower everyday, and generally wash the dust off. It was nice to have running water and electricity again, but there is definitely a large part of me that misses the village.

The last few days there were truly something special. At my last Sunday Mass, all the departing volunteers were asked to go up and say a few words. After I said my piece, there was applause and cheering. The whole congregation then sang us a song of blessing (video above). On my last Tuesday, I finished setting up the main computer lab at the Polytechnic. On my very last workday, with the assistance of a chemistry PhD from Spain named No-No, we got all the computers in the facility lab working in what felt like 5 miracle hours. I had never made so much progress in a day.

The night before, at Bible study, one of the Polytechic teachers, Godfrey, asked if I was free any time on Friday. I told him that I had my final teen club, but that I was free from 2pm-3pm. He said that I should come up to the Polytechnic to “meet with a group.” I had no idea what this meant, but I was willing to do whatever. When I got there, it turned out that they had planned an entire going away celebration for me thanking me for the work that I had done on the lab. Every member of the facility, the head boy, and the principal all gave speeches. All of the students were in attendance. The schools traditional dancing troop gave a performance, and I was presented with a certificate of appreciation. It was so much more than I was expecting, and I was deeply touched. I was asked to give a speech also, and I talk to them about how there are many ways to build the Kingdom of God. Normally, as a preacher, I am expected to do this through my word. However, in working in that lab, I had a chance to build the Kingdom with my hands. This is the same opportunity that they have as future builders, carpenters, tailors, metalworkers, and farmers. It was even a chance to use the phrase “Jesus was a carpenter,” and have it not come off as cheesy.

Besides saying goodbye to my cats and my friends, by far the hardest part of leaving was saying goodbye to the 8th graders of Nyumbani Teen Club. During the club, on the last day, we mostly just played games, but I worked my schedule so that I was preaching in their class that morning. There was definitely emotion on both sides as I reminded them that I left the next morning. Instead of my usual stump speech about how concentrating on education is a way of worshipping God, I shifted gears and told them my call story and the lessons that I learned on the Camino. I told that I only had 3 pieces of advice that I could give them. One, the love of God is all around and supports you through your community (even if you don’t see all the time). Two, listen when you pray to know what path God wants you to take, and three, left every action you do be an act of worship.  

I closed out my last full day in the village with a final round of prayer visits with Pat. Our professors, John and Mimi, came to pick us up at 10:00am the next morning. As I rode down the dusty roads of the village, dressed more like my normal self in jeans, and white t-shirt, and my green track jacket, I felt a lot of emotions well up in me as the familiar buildings flashed by. I will miss Nyumbani Village. I will miss those people, and the work that I got do to with them. I will certainly miss my 8th graders, praying with the families, and leading worship services with those for HIV and AIDS. However, in a way, I know that it is not goodbye. I may never return to Nyumbani Village, though I hope to. The point is though that this summer confirmed for me what I have thought for a long time. This kind of work is my calling. It is what God wants me to do, so I will always find myself down more dusty roads building the Kingdom of God in partnership with communities.

This may be the end of my time in Kenya, but the summer, and so the blog, continues. Expect a post in the next couple days from the 2012 Summer Olympics and from Peru a week for today. Thank you so much for your comments, thoughts, and prayers for this leg of the journey. I hope that you stay continued as we continue on together.

As always check out my photos at 

Mungu Akubariki,


Walden Revisited

Kitui County, Kenya

Forgive me I pray, it has been more than two weeks since my last post. As a matter of penance, there are more than 150 new pictures up on my photo page mostly from my safari on the Masai Mara.

The other night, I was strongly reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden. As some of you know, I am not exactly Mr. Thoreau’s greatest fan, and I hold special enmity in my heart for Walden. In the book, he waxes eloquently about the joys of living in nature, while in fact; he is living on a corner of his friend Emerson’s estate in a completely civilized part of New England. I can go on, but I am told that people actually like the book. My problem is that despite my dislike for it, it stands out in my mind at odd times. There is a section in the book where Thoreau talks about the travails of warring ants. No doubt he meant to make a larger point, but the image that I always get is that he was so bored or lonely or something that he was watching ants. This struck me as relatively insane until the other night when 6 of us sat around a table for close to 2 hours watching ants carry away some bread that the were ripping off for them seeing how large a piece that they could carry off the table without falling to their doom. This was no passive activity either. We were all standing around the table eagerly, cheering loudly when they fell, videoing the action, and overall being completely fascinated. The episode testifies to the limited options that we have more evening entertainment. We have no television. The guesthouse’s electricity has been spotty at best lately. We all already spend a lot of time reading, so ants consumed our interest for quite a while.

This may look like score more to Thoreau, but despite the equally limited options for entertainment, there is a sharp distinction between Walden and Nyumbani – community. Last night, Patrick (a new long term volunteer from America) and I were leading a college group from Chicago around on prayer visits. The first home that my group and I went into started out fairly normal. We found one of the older children who spoke English, asked what they wanted to pray about, and prayed with them. Just as we were getting ready to leave, our impromptu-translator Florence asked if we could sit back down because the Shushu wished to give us a gift. Not knowing what to expect, we sat back down. It turned out that the Shushu kept a number of chickens and wish to slaughter and cook one for us. I admit that I had to think about this for a second. On the one hand, a chicken dinner represents a major expense for her family. One chicken equates to about 3 days wages a minimum wage. However, what won out in the end was the sense that she was giving us this incredible gift, and it would be a terrible thing not to honor that. So, we stayed. We ended up hanging out with the family for almost 3 hours watching them cook, singing worship songs, and learning more about each other. There were a couple 8th graders from Nyumbani Teen Club that came by. The Shushu did a dance to recognized honored guest, and we sat down to eat. The food itself was excellent. Along with the chicken, the made soup, chipati, and potatoes. It was sometimes difficult to tell what part of the chicken one was eating (I definitely ate the lungs and the heart), but it was an absolutely unforgettable experience. After the meal was over, the Shushu prayed over us. I will never know what words she said in her prayer, but the force and spirit behind the prayer was palpable. In missions, it is sometimes easy to slip into the idea that we minister to the people in our assigned community. However, tonight, with the meal and the Shushu’s prayer, it reminded me that we are in ministry with the community. We all ministered to each other last night sharing the love of God.

Patrick’s group had similar success. At their first house, everyone from every house in the cluster of four squeezed into one room to pray together, and they perfuse in their invitation to come back again. Overall, this was the single most successful evening of prayer visits yet. In a way, it is sad to think that I leave the village so soon.

Everything else here in the village is starting to wrap up for me as well. I finished the student computer lab in the polytechnic and help convince them to start upgrades on the facilities to prevent so much dust from blowing in and killing the computers. Construction on the new walls has already begun (much to my surprise). My teen club partners Suzanne and Dee left at the beginning of the week, so Nyumbani Teen Club is in its last week. Friday, I taught my last preschool lesson with Lettie. I leave the village on Saturday to return to Limuru for a week. In less wistful news, I now share my room with two kittens, Ginger and Sir Stripes-a-lot (I take no blame or credit for their names), and their mother, Lulu. They were born about a month ago and previously lived with another volunteer who left, so, now they live with me. They are fairly adorable and mostly wander around my room doing things that are cute. It gives the place more of a homey feeling.

In terms of upcoming logistics, expect one more post this week either Friday or Saturday wrapping up my time in the village. From here, I am in Lumuru for a week doing more class, then London for 2 days to visit my brother, Drew, and then it is off to Peru. In short, you can expect updates all the way through August 22nd, when I go back to class. Please stay tune, and as always, thanks so much for your thoughts, comments, and prayers.

Mungu Akubariki,



Lost in Translation

Kitui County, Kenya

There is an old quote attributed to Woody Allen that says “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” It seems to derive from a Yiddish proverb that roughly translated says: “Man plans, God laughs.” Either way, the meaning is clear. God sends the best laid plan of mice and men astray. I set out last night to do prayer visits with families. I have to admit that it is still quite a process to psyche myself up to it. Like stage fright before a show, I feel fine once I am out doing the visits. However, getting started is hard. There is something that feels fundamentally awkward about walking up to a house in the dark, and saying, “I am a pastor. May I pray with your family.” Anyways, I got to my first house last night, said my usual formula, and was asked to take a seat as usual. I did what I usually do next. I asked the children if there is anything that they would like to pray about. At this point, there is usually a long pause, and the children, hesitantly at first, start offering things up. This is not what happened last night. Instead, one of the kids simply said, “No,” and a high school student sitting next to me slid her math book in front of me and asked me about a problem.

For the next hour and ten minutes, I was homework help. We worked on Algebra II, Geometry, Geography, and even Trigonometry. Half this material, I had not covered since leaving The John Cooper School, in 2005. Even still, I dug deep in my memory banks, checked the reference section in the textbook, and plowed forward. I kept thinking that before too long, we would get to the praying, but no, we kept working on homework until 9:00pm.

As the title of the post suggests, I think part of the problem was translation. On Friday and Monday, I had been a guest lecturer in the high school geography class talking about what life is like in cold climates. My job was to give them a bit of context and here what cold climates are like from someone who lived there. While I may have lived half my life in Houston, Texas where the fur coats fly out anytime it dips below 50 degrees, I have also lived in Belgium, England, Philly, and DC. Still, anyone who knows my reaction to cold weather may find this minorly hilarious. How this relates is that the student how shoved the math book in front of me was also a student who I taught geography to on Friday. Thus, she was used to me as a teacher and used me as a teacher.

I really enjoyed homework help prayer, but it goes to show that no matter what we set out to do, God is in control. Helping with math was a higher priority than prayer time apparently. I was just glad to be in the right place at the right time, and it is somewhat of a miracle that I remember Trig. Thanks be to God.

Mungu Akubariki,


Motorcycle Diaries: Nyumbani

Kitui County, Kenya

Despite my recent fascination with the show American Choppers, until Tuesday, I had never ridden or been on a motorcycle. Thus, almost needless to say, I had never been in a motorcycle accident. Well, then, Tuesday was my lucky day. I got to have two life firsts within 10 minutes of each other. Yes, my streak of accident free motorcycle riding lasted mere minutes until I found myself laying on my back watching the clouds go by at the bottom of a gully with Dee and a dirt bike on top of my left leg.

And now, as usual, I will fill in some back-story. Lilian, Dee, Suzanne, and I spent two days this week travelling to 3 primary schools in the surrounding area testing the preschool children for malnutrition. There is a really simple test that can be done involving measuring the circumference of the upper arm, and if the kids are in fact malnourished, there is a program of prescription food that they can be enrolled in through USAID.

The work itself is both interesting and heartbreaking. The interesting part is that is it very different from the work that I have been doing so far. Up until now, the work that I have been doing has looked a lot like pasturing or being an IT guy. I have worked with young people, preached in the primary school, prayed with families, and exorcised demons from two computer labs. This work represents my first foray into the ins and outs of public health fieldwork. A lot of what one does as a public health professional is gather data to make informed decisions about programs and resource allocation. To me, this is a good lead into my first year at Rollins School of Public Health in the fall.

The heartbreaking aspect is perhaps more obvious. At each school, we found 6 or 7 children who were malnourished. Their upper arms have a circumference less than 5 inches. Many of their stomachs are swollen because they suffer from intestinal worms. They are thinner and less energetic than the other children. Nowhere we have gone so far was it the majority of the class, but for all the talk of ‘starving children in Africa,’ it is an entirely different thing to meet them first hand. There are lighter moments too in these school visits. We play with the kids. They love having their picture taken and will chase you down the drive as you walk out. However, this does not take away from the human tragedy that is malnutrition in a world that produces more than enough food to feed its population.

Back to the mixture of comedy and tragedy that I opened with, boda-bodas are dirt bike taxis that are a common form of transportation out here because many places are either not accessible by car or are just too expensive to operate. For instance, here in the village, we are about 10km from the nearest paved road. I have spent a lot time riding in the back of the village’s flat bed truck or pickup truck riding into the nearest bar to watch the Euro Cup Final or riding with the primary school’s drumming and dancing team into Kitui. A lot of these bouncy, hair-raising journeys in the backs of trucks, often sitting on wooden benches, were to avoid the ubiquitous boda-boda. As my father will tell you, I have never had much skill in riding a bicycle. I bought one for college but swore off riding it after I launched myself over the handlebars going down a hill into a brick sidewalk. We also have family lore about my great, grand-something having a wooden peg leg because of a motorcycle accident. In short, I don’t do two-wheeled transport.

However, it was unavoidable in order to make these school visits. The distances were too far to walk, and the villages two trucks were needed elsewhere. This meant that on to the boda-boda, I went. Now, they way that they normally work is that the driver and two other people pile onto the relatively small dirt bike. Most of the time, the drivers do not have helmets, and none are on offer for the passengers. The saving grace of these things is that they do not go very fast.

On my first ride, it was Dee, the driver, and I. Dee was in the middle, and I was on the very back holding on as best as I could. We got to the bottom of a gully, and the bike stalled and came to a stop. We all flung out our legs to stop the fall, but it was no good. The bike went over in what felt like slow motion. I landed first and rolled a little to my side. Then, Dee and the bike landed on my leg. Despite the accident, there were two pieces of luck in this. One, the bike was completely stopped, when we fell, and two, it was not the side of the bike with burning hot exhaust pipe that landed on my leg. It is about as lucky as a motorcycle crash can be.

In the subsequent days, I have been on three more boda-boda rides, all without incident. We learned a valuable physics lesson in that since I had usually the person with the most mass on the bike, I need to be the middle rider to decrease unsprung weight and thus, increase stability. This does not mean I like riding the blasted things. It just means that I am having a little more success staying on them.

In other less humorous news, my historically unreliable digestive system is once again staging an all out rebellion necessitating a lot of time with my eco-toilet. This might be somewhat of a result of the all American feast that we held to celebrate the 4th of July (see the photo gallery for details), but either way, please be in prayer that I can go back to my normal work and not have to stay within dashing distance of my dear friends the eco-toilet and my “pet” bat more lives in there.

As always, thanks so much for your thoughts, comments, and prayers. There is link to the photo gallery below. There are about 60 new images up.

Link to the Photo Gallery

Mungu Akubariki,


Sunrise, Sunset

Kitui County, Kenya

Life here now has taken on a distinctive rhythm. I work on computers in the morning, teen club in the afternoon, and leading prayer in the evening. The weekends are completely quite. I read, watch TV on my laptop, and catch up on my years worth of sleep debt. Between naps and sleeping at night, I get close to 8 hours of sleep a day. My meals are equally predictable, bread in the morning, and some combination of beans, rice, and corn for lunch and dinner. I buy fruit, chocolate, and peanut butter in town, so every day; I have a piece of fruit, some peanut butter for my bread, and a few squares of chocolate. Roughly once a week, I go into Kitui and have a meal at a restaurant. Last week, it was a place called Bavaria Paradise, run by a German immigrant. The menu has everything from ribeye to pizza to Chinese, but in true European fashion, it takes two hours to cook. We do not always have water at the guesthouse, so showering can be once every one to three days. It is the dry season here, so literally everything is covered in a fine brown-red dust. This includes my laptop, my camera, the computer labs, my feet through my socks and shoes. Nothing escapes the dust. The Internet only really works outside, so as I write this, I sit at a picnic table outside the guesthouse, while Sunday dinner happens around me. Things usually shut down for the night around 8-9pm. This may seem like a boring opener to a post, and it probably is. However, I wanted to give you a sense of the everydayness of life here. One can easily get a romanticized view of life in an African village. It can come off as exotic, but it settles into a rhythum that reminds me that everyday life happens everywhere. This is drastically different from my life back home that of a young, urban, semi-hipster, seminarian. This isn’t that, but it is the daily life of the people who live here.

When I graduated from high school, my family went with the Hoffmans on a trip to Rome and Venice. Hotels in Rome can be frighteningly expensive, so we stayed outside the city and took a bus in. My brother commented that it felt weird to him staying as a tourist in a place where people were living their normal lives. I have never given him enough credit for that comment. It does sometimes feel weird visiting among someone else’s daily life, especially when I missed things that seem so fundamental to my own life. I do miss easy access to electricity, running water, and eating a wider variety of foods. It is the same feelings that I had when I’d go to scout camp. However, I am not at camp. I am living in someone else’s daily life. It is only by accepting this as my daily life and not dwelling on the difference that I can move beyond the discomfort Drew felt in Rome and become a part of this daily life, a part of this community. At the meeting of the Shushus last week, they gave us each Kamba (the local tribe) names. Mine is Mutuwa, which means “the one who comes and stays.” In order to separate mission from tourism, I must live up to my name and be the one who comes to stay and not the one who longs for what he misses.

I’m not sure that I intended this to be an essay on the nature of missions, but despite my intentions, the differences in lifestyle can be quite striking. One of the things that we joke about is Kenya time or Shushu time. This means that nothing starts on time and sometimes, starts comically late. I had a meeting with a tech support guy scheduled for 11:00am. He arrived at 12:45. Kennedy and I were supposed to meet some high school students at 2:00pm. No one really showed up until 3:30pm. My favorite was the Shushu meeting that we had last week. It was scheduled to start at 10:00am. Lilian told us not to bother to show up because no one gets there until around 11:00. The meeting did not actually commence until after noon. The phrase that they use here for this is “pole pole,” which roughly equates to “no worries” or “take it easy.” This may seem a little bit like the pot calling the kettle black. I am notoriously slightly late to everything and more than slightly late on many assignments. However, it would seem that we have found even my breaking point. Shushu time has been the hardest thing for me to adjust to.

I promise a post later in the week that is more news report and less Sunday editorial. If you want some idea of what has been going on check out my photos. I am going to start putting a link to them at the bottom of every post because I have noticed that people are having trouble getting to them There are about 150 up so far. As always, thanks so much for your comments, thoughts, and prayers. Please let me know when y’all get tired of my rhapsodizing about the nature of Christian missions. Seminary is ruining my blog.

Mungu Akubariki,


Seeking Deliverance

Kitui County, Kenya

I mentioned in my last post that I had begun making home visits praying with the families here in the village. I have only done this for two days, Thursday and Friday, but already, I have had an experience that I will never forget. The easiest way to begin the story is to paint the scene that I found myself in. I am sitting on a wooden stool in the small living/dining areas that typifies the homes here in Nyumbani Village. The room is completely dark except for a lone kerosene lantern that sits on the table casting a faint yellow light on the weathered face of the Shushu sitting at the table. The children of the house stand around my stool in a semi-circle lit only by the faint shadows cast by the lantern. Behind me is Lillian, the village’s therapist/counselor, who is acting as my translator. The expression on the Shushu’s face is pained as she speaks in rapid Kikamba. I am relying on Lillian to give me the actual meaning, but just watching her speak, I hear anguish and need. Before hearing Lillian’s translation, I am struck with two divergent feelings. I have an intense sense that God has led me to this moment that something important is happening. Also, I have an intense desire not to screw this up.

I do not usually give into long descriptions that belong more in The Scarlet Letter than a blog post, but it is an image that will stay with me for the rest of my life. At this point, a little bit of back-story would be helpful. Friday afternoon, Lillian approached me saying that a particular Shushu had requested that I come pray with her family. The grandparents had reacted well when I mentioned that I would be coming around and praying with them, and I had said that if they saw me around that they should invite me in. I figured that someone was just taking me at my word and was pleased if a little annoyed because I had not planned on making home visits that night. I told Lillian that we could go after dinner. I showed up slightly late to dinner, and as I ate, Lillian was pestering me to get going. It was not until we were walking through the dark the village with one of the social worker, Anton, that she told me that the Shushu had invited me in specifically because the family was having “some problems.” However, Lillian did not provide any further detail. After walking about half a mile by flashlight, we arrived at the house and the scene that I set above.

After the Shushu finished speaking, Lillian translated it for me. There was a lot of discord in the family. The children were not respecting her. Her own biological grandchildren were having particular problems, and it was keeping them out of school. Her vegetable garden was failing, and she felt that evil spirits beset the house. The Shushu said that when she heard me speak at the meeting, she knew that deliverance had come to her house, and she trusted that if I prayed with them, God would answer that prayer. She had been trying to track me down for two days. This did not exactly ease my nerves, my sense of responsibility, or my awe at how God chooses to use God’s servants. With a little prompting for Lillian, I talked to the children about how a family is a place to share the love of God with one another that if we are open to it, the Holy Spirit can move through a family providing love, comfort, and strength. I also said that their Shushu was God’s servant their to help them that showing respect to her was a way of honoring God. I finished up with a piece about forgiveness that since God has forgiven us, we should not hold anger or grudges toward each other. After that, I prayed with the family for the deliverance from evil. I do not have the same concept of evil spirits as the Shushu, but I prayed that they turn from evil and discord and towards sharing the love of God with one another. After I finished praying, the Shushu said that now she will trust in God that God will help the family make a change.

As one might imagine, several things struck me about this experience. I am deeply struck by the depth of the Shushu’s faith. She truly believed that our prayer that night could make all the difference and that God would heal her family. I was also humbled that she thought that I could be a part of that process that God could use me as part of this healing process. In a way, this may be just part and parcel of being a pastor. It is part of the calling to be use by God in God’s mighty acts of redemption and healing. However, understanding that theoretically and sitting in a lantern lit east African home seeing it take place is an entirely different thing.

The final think that I was left with may seem a little out of place. I was hit with how necessary a good theological education is. I did not know going in what I was there to do beyond to pray. I ended up giving a 15-minute talk about how to live as a Christian family and then pray a 10-minute prayer about turning away from sin and towards a more Christian life. Back home, I am merely a pastor in training. I am not expected to ride the bike on my own. The training wheels are still on. Out here, those distinctions disappear. That family was listening in my words for the direction to take, and I was speaking completely off the cuff. In that moment, you really have to know your stuff, or one could do real damage. I did not have time to reference a book, or notes, or the Internet. I just had to know. As a Pastor, one just has to know, and that takes two things – trust in God and diligent study. In talking to my mother about this, she reminded me of a line from Godspell that seems to fit. “You better start to learn your lessons well.”

Mungu Akubariki,



26 and on the Move

Kitui County, Kenya

I realized this week that I have celebrated seven birthdays outside the US. I turned 9, 10, and 11 in Belgium, 14 in Canada, 20 and 22 in Spain, and now 26 in Kenya. One never knows what to expect when having a birthday 7,000 miles from home. I will never forget when a group of 20 pilgrims sang me happy birthday in 5 languages and an 80-year-old pilgrim from Denmark gave me a birthday present. I have another experience to add to the list of unforgettable birthdays. My friends and colleagues threw me a birthday party here in the village. Rachel and Anna gave me a jar of peanut butter right when I came to breakfast. We then went into town to buy supplies for the party including fixings for a chocolate cake. When we got back, Rachel, Anna, and the staff from the clinic swung into full preparation mode. They purchased and slaughtered 3 chickens (including a funny moment where Anna tried to kill the chicken with the wrong side of the knife) and baked the cake using the African version of a Dutch Oven. Once everything was ready, 12 of us squeezed into Carol’s small apartment to eat and celebrate. The Clinic staff even got me a birthday card, which now hangs on the wall of my quarters in the Guest House. It was touching that there was such an outpouring from people that I have not known that long. I felt a strong sense of belonging and community. It reminded me that there will always be more that brings us together than drives us apart. My camera was out of battery, but Rachel took a bunch of pictures. Once I get them from her, I will post them to my Flickr account.

My work life has seen a similar boost. This week marked the beginning of the Nyumbani Teen Club. We work with the 8th grade students every day from 3-4pm during their afternoon break. The idea is that this will continue at least for the rest of our time here and maybe becomes an ongoing sustained fixture of village life. In the near term, we want to use this as a place to talk to the students about health and relationships and give them a safe space in tumult of adolescence. Also, it should be fun. To that end, we spent this week focusing on getting know the students and playing games. Thursday, we did a chant competition between the boys and the girls complete with me taking a page from Remember the Titians leading the boys in an army chant complete with me as the drill sergeant. Friday, I was without my usual co-facilitators, Dee and Suzanne, but I have a group of 10 American high school students from Chicago. We played dodge ball, keep the balloon in the air, and soccer. By that, I actually mean that the students threw volleys of juggling beanbags at each other a court made out of church pews without any other regard for the rules of dodge ball, stood on the stage laughing hysterically hitting 6 balloons around until they (the balloon) popped, and maybe actually played soccer. However, the point was to create a fun space for the students, and we accomplished this in spades. Although I personally hate camp songs and shows that require audience participation, part of my role in the group seems to be to lead them in songs, chants, and the wave to help keep the energy up. Serving God often seems to involve a heavy dose of irony.

Last week, I was stretching for content, but this week, there is almost too much to fit in. On Wednesday, the Shushus (grandparents) invited Suzanne, Dee, Natalie, and I to there weekly meeting. I gave a plug for how I was going to start doing home visits, which actually garnered applause from the Shushus (much to my surprise). However, the most amazing part of this meeting was that it ended with dancing. There are great pictures up on my Flickr and a short compilation video below, but the gist of it was that they Shushus danced and sang traditional songs. They also, one by one, got Dee, Suzanne, Rachel, and Natalie to join them even wrapping them in traditional skirts. After this went on for a while, they expected us to show them dances from our respective countries. For Dee, from Ireland, this was a no brainer. She brought along her iPod speakers and performed a short demo of Irish dancing. For us 4 Americans, this was somewhat more challenging. Natalie and Suzanne did the Macarena (mostly correctly), while Rachel provided the music/beat. I attempted a punk/ska dance that while it garnered more applause from the Shushus, I narrowly avoided tearing my ACL trying to it on an uneven dirt road.

The overall sense of this past week is that things are finally moving for real. The Nyumbani Teen Club (NTC) requires daily planning. I have moved onto physically rebuilding the computers at the Polytechnic, and I have begun making home visits. It turns out that all that I had to do is turn 26. Thanks so much for your birthday wishes, comments, thoughts, and prayers. They are a great source of comfort and strength.

Mungu Akubariki,


Settling in and Fighting Evil

Kitui Country, Kenya

I’m sorry for the long space between posts, but frankly, it has been a slow week. It is not that nothing happened, but it has been more of a compendium of small experiences rather than an overarching theme. It has been a week of settling into my life here. Some of it now just feel like routine: eating surrounded by chickens, limited electricity, sleeping under a mosquito net, using the eco-toilets. Some of it however sounds like it belongs more in a Laura Ingles Wilder book than in my 21st century existence. Currently, while I am writing this there is a goat bleating about 100 yard away. This goat will be slaughtered later this afternoon for a feast that we are having tonight in honor a large group from Wisconsin who is leaving. My big excitement for this week is that I get to go into town on my birthday to buy the fixings for a chocolate cake. Almost everyone else goes to bed between 8:00pm and 9:00pm because with limited electric light/electricity in general, there just isn’t that much impetus to stay up. Even I am getting more than my normal quota of sleep. In all, it is a drastically different existence than life back home.

In terms of actually doing work, things are very much still in flux. This is has been the main reason for my delay in writing. While I have an exorbitant amount of free time with which to write, I have not had that much to write about. Last Sunday, I was introduced to the community during Mass and participated in a fundraiser (There are a bunch of photos of this up on the Flickr). Attending Mass here is a quite unique experience. Although it’s mostly in Kikamba, and I’m a life long Methodist, I went to enough Masses on the Camino to follow along. However this being Africa, the Mass last significantly longer than 2 hours. There is also a lot more singing and dancing than I remember from Santiago de Compestella.  I meet with the Chaplain almost every day and have found some places to fit into the religious life in the community. On Friday, I preached to the 8th grade class related education as an act of worship. It went fairly well. They were attentive, for 8th graders, but did not fair as well with group participation. This makes them the exact opposite of the 8th graders that I thought in DC, but it was not an unwelcomed change. The plan is still for me to make home visits around the community, but I have yet to work up to doing much of this. The language barrier remains a bit intense. However, I hope to start to make good on this part of my task in the coming week. I actually have a fair amount slated for this coming week. On top of home visits and turning 26, I have speaking the primary school on Friday again, this time to 6th or 7th graders (No matter where I go, I never truly escape middle school), Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will be working with a small group of high school boys, and I am meeting with a girls Bible study on Saturday. Now to be fair, this past week had a similar looking schedule on paper, but things have a tendency to not work out quite as planned.


The fighting evil part of my title refers to what I did for most of the week. I fought the evil of computer viruses. Yes, I traveled 7,000 miles from home to a rural Kenyan village, and I am being brought computer to repair and secure. This started when my colleagues from Emory, Anna and Rachel, asked me to take a look at the computer in the Clinic. Working on that particular computer has turned into a four-day project. Part of it is that the Internet is so slow out here that it takes a long time to download things like virus scanners. The other problem was that 20% of the computer’s files had been infected by said viruses (at total of over 12,000 files). I should be done with that computer first thing tomorrow morning, but I have a stack of three more laptops to look at. I said above that I could not escape middle school, nor can I escape what I did in middle school - fix computers. Still, in the words of Elwood Blues, “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” in this case, through tech support.

I do not want to pitch this as a story of trials and tribulations. It is more of a slow start and an adjustment period. There are also many unexpected joys. I spent Tuesday evening learning how to cook Kenyan tortillas with some of the clinic staff. The cantina got an unexpected shipment of small Cadbury’s chocolate bars (I only bought 2), and one morning as I was walking along in front of the social hall two small children, no more than 5 years-old, randomly took me by the hand laughing and smiling. I started to swing them around in circles and pretending to use them as barbells doing arm curls. After a few minutes of this, they went on their way, but I was left just smiling. They couldn’t have known me by more than sight, but they gave me a strong reminder of what I am doing out here.

With the way next week is shaping up, you can hopefully expect more regular updates from here on out. Thanks as always for your comments, thoughts, and prayers.

Mungu Akubariki,


The Scale of the Difference

Kitui, Kenya

Thing are on the cusp of settling in the village. I have met with the chaplain twice. He seems excited that I am here, and we have a rough outline of what I will be doing. I will be introduced to the community at Mass tomorrow morning, and from there, I will start making home visits in the evening talking and praying with the residents. It has not yet begun in earnest, and there are still some logistical matters to attend to (such as translation). However, for two days work, it is not a bad start. The most important thing is that the chaplain seems excited about my presence and seems to trust me. On the life outside work front, I currently spend a lot of time resting. Since my work has not yet started for real, I am able to spend a fair amount of time recovering. I have watched through the beginning of season 5 of Mad Men, read Top Gear Magazine, and taken naps (when I am not being chased out of my room by wasps). I hope to have pictures up on my Flicker page soon (link to the right of the post). However, I have lost the cable that connects my camera to my computer, and I cannot just nip down to the store to by another one. Hopefully, someone else around here will have one, or I will have to head into Kitui next weekend to try and track one down there. Tech failure has been a general theme of these first few days in the village. My solar battery does not charge enough during the day and has trouble charging my laptop if my laptop is on. The solar batteries in the Guest House can charge my laptop, but only if no one else is trying to charge something. This is definitely the Kenyan version of “first world problems,” but anyone who knows me well enough also knows that this is quietly driving me insane.

The idea of first world problems has also come up in my rambling conversations with the chaplain. In order to go to high school in Kenya, each student must pay a school fee. There is no such thing as a free high school education in Kenya. The chaplain lives on the small income that his poor parish is able to provide for him. A young woman came to him needing help with school fees, and he agreed to help her. It has taken her until the age of 26 to reach the equivalent to a junior because she has not always been able to raise the school fees. These fees are actually a huge barrier to students, particular female students, who are often viewed as not worth the expenditure. The chaplain has been struggling to support the girl who came to him because of his limited means. The way that I tell this story, it sound similar to the story that many American families come through when it comes to college tuition. There is one stark difference. The schools fees are around 200,000 Kenyan Shillings per year, which sounds like a lot, but is in fact, about $250. This is half an iPad, 1-3 fancy meals out, or about what I will spend on the next iPhone when it gets released. For that amount of money, a Kenyan student can go to high school for a year. Even to me, a grad student living on a teacher’s salary, it seems like a nominal fee, but here, it can be the reason that many students will not complete high school. This Sunday, we will be holding a community collection to try and help a student remain in high school. The chaplain is uncertain whether we will be able to raise enough since the community is poor. When I was travelling for Worship Team at William and Mary, even the smallest Methodist Church would be able to give us $250 from the offering. This more than anything has shown me a stark difference between the places. For $1,000 over four years, a future could be altered.

I will get off my soapbox now and sign off. It is a quiet Saturday here, and my main task for the rest of the evening is to try to find a way to hook my camera up to my computer.  Pray to God, light a candle to the patron saint of lost things, or something, but here is hoping that I find one.

Mungu Akubariki,