Friday, August 29, 2014

An Ode to Bacon


Dear Bacon, 

 
I love you,
No matter what they say,
I dream of you, your thick slabs,
sliced to lip-smacking dabs
of delight, there is no fright
of parasites, for garlic is light
to the stomach as wine is to the soul
It'll kill after the thrill any semblance of malice
wrought by the chalice of your beneficence;
I'll take a plate, or rather a bowl
of bacon. My love, to thee I sing
I bring, my salivating glands and widening waist band
Here's a cup of coffee, and then a pancake (or five)
Then into a deep coma, I dive
and rest, for I am blessed by your love, my dear,
I'm in fifth gear, in perfect bliss,
I therefore dismiss anyone's remiss at your goodness,
Oh bacon, my help and comfort and joy.
Oh boy, it's bacon for breakfast!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Marx, Jesus, and Mohammed at War

Marx, Jesus, and Mohammed were in a war.  Marx told the followers of Jesus that Jesus wasn't who his followers say he is.  Marx then ate and swallowed Jesus whole.  Still, the followers of Jesus insisted that what Marx had eaten was that of his own imagination; then Marx had the followers of Jesus silenced and cast to the level of the proletariat, while Marx and his children ran the schools, media centers, and even the churches.  The followers of Jesus were jailed, taxed, and given menial jobs, lest they conform in thought to that of Marx himself.  Meanwhile, as Mohammed and his men spread his word by means of the sword, they galloped to nation after nation, putting to death all who stood in their way.  The followers of Jesus fed the ground with their blood and were no more, while others joined the ranks of the Mohammedans.  Soon enough, however, word of this fertile soil reached the ears of some who resisted the call of Marx and his materialist regime in which the only crime was a suggestion of an unseen world.  "For," they said, "there are good reasons to believe that there is more than meets the eye."  Marx quickly had these people thrown in prison, where they suffered til they died, but not with despair.  With the followers of Jesus gone (or so they thought), they rejoiced with Mohammed that the great enemy--the followers of Jesus--had been removed from the face of the earth.  "Now," said Marx to Mohammed, "You and I shall be one," though Marx had in his mind to destroy Mohammed as well, for he was a brutal beast, and held no sway in the academic halls of the eternal dialectic.  Marx drew from his own army in the new bourgeois, which had been the proletariat ("Funny how that happens," he thought) and did his best against Mohammed and his sword.  However, Marx had at this point in his life become a soft pleasure-seeker ever and anon, and was not able to resist the sword of Mohammed.  So filled with pleasure was Marx that he no longer knew if he were male or female; Marx turned on himself, and Mohammed waged war against Marx for ever and anon.   Now, the spirit of Jesus endured, and his followers came up from the ground like an army of ants.  Here an ant, there an ant. Marx's remnant and Mohammed's bloodthirsty men paid no attention to them, and with the world in darkness and chaos and filled with the blood of the followers of each man, the ants grew in greater number as the followers of Marx and Mohammed dwindled.  Marx dwindled in his lust for pleasure and academic power, and Mohammed diminished Marx and his followers with ease.  Soon too, the followers of Mohammed turned on each other and cut each other asunder, spilling blood in their anger and despair at the hopelessness of life and the false promise of heaven for murderer (for they knew it wasn't true in their heart of hearts). The followers of Jesus rose up and resisted the bloody sword of Mohammed by proclaiming peace.  They also buried Marx in a grave marked with sadness, and began to reason with their previous oppressors that indeed, there was more to the eye than indeed meets it.  Through patience, reason, love and faith, they endured, and repaired the ruins of war wrought by Marx and Mohammed.  They forgave their captors, their murderers, and the ones who slaughtered their own children with unmentionable brutality.  Peace then came upon the earth, forever and anon, in the name of the Prince of Peace.

Reflections on My Ethiopia Mission Trip, July 2014


For three weeks in July, I stayed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I lived at the office compound of Transformation Love, a child sponsorship ministry in a blighted area known as Korē.  During the day, we visited the homes of the women and children who benefit from the ministry, and at night, I taught a philosophy and theology class at Evangelical Theological College.

Learning about Korē

My first experience with Ethiopia was in 2010 when I went there to help with a course at ETC, and also to check out this blighted area called Korē.  Korē is an area in Addis Ababa, where approximately 80,000 people live in small, shanty homes made from sticks, mud, and metal sheeting, with severe limitations to food, clean water, and basic sanitation.  Plastic tarps are also used on homes as shelter from the rain, which comes down in torrents in the winter months (summer months for Americans).  Korē started out as a leper colony decades ago and centered around ALERT hospital, which ministered to these people.  With the industrialization and development of Addis, Korē soon became a highly populated place where lepers, HIV victims, widows, and orphans abounded.  In addition to a labor-intensive way of life, Korē is a place where there is abuse, prostitution, and violence.  The only refuge has been the refuse of the city dump, Koshē, offering scant food supplies, and plastic to be rummaged for sale. 

My first experience in Korē involved visiting women in dark, windowless, mud homes, who sat in lonely desperation with HIV while their children wandered the streets amid animal waste, garbage, muddy pits scattered among crude, stepping stones, and where men and boys played pool during the day and drank away whatever money they had in alcoholic doldrums.  Where were the husbands?  There were all gone: gone with abandonment, or death by disease, or to another city to find another meager labor position, making mere dollars per day.  I saw food stands, which was good, but on a closer look, the food was covered with hundreds of flies.  Women and children washed their clothes in dirty tubs of water.  There were blind people.  There were lepers.  These walk the streets in awkward, mechanical, uneasiness.  Some men wander the streets with nothing on but a shirt, walking in a half-daze. 

What possible hope can these people have for this life?  The question weighed me down with a heaviness too difficult to explain. This place shook me to the core.  I’m reminded of a recent song by Pearl Jam – not exactly Captain Christian K-Love– but a poignant criticism of the suffering people undergo even with the hope of a blissful afterlife.  The lyrics say, “Go to heaven, that’s swell, how do you like your living hell?” 

Well, that all sounds bleak, doesn’t it?  As Christians, even though we have the hope of a new heavens and a new earth, we are indeed called to bring hope to the hurting in the here and now.  But how?  How is this to be done?

Transformation Love

Just before I left Addis Ababa on my first trip there, I learned of a child sponsorship ministry.  This ministry helps children to go through school, all the way through college, so they can get decent jobs and have a hope for their future.  The ministry also gives families a month’s supply of food so women don’t have to forage for things in the dangerous dump.  They get soap for both bodies and clothes.  Children get uniforms and supplies for school, which is a must if a child is to go to school.  (Education is free in Addis, but families must supply both uniforms and books.  Otherwise, children are not allowed in school).

Having been to Korē three times now, I have seen how Transformation Love helps women and children, and some men, by showing the compassion of Christ through physical and spiritual nourishment.  There is nourishment for the whole person in terms of food, shelter, medicine, education, Bible study, worship, and prayer.  I have seen the youth in TL graduate from high school with high honors and pursue education in nursing, IT, business, and pastoral ministry.  Transformation Love and other ministries like it truly help people break the cycle of poverty. 

Still, there are a number of challenges that lie ahead.  Korē is developing economically.  Roads, sidewalks, banks and other business, shopping centers, and large, expensive homes are converging on Korē from its outer rim.  The city of Addis is under current plans to move the dump further outside the city, and therefore, people are investing in construction projects in Korē.  This means jobs for many people doing many different things, and it is hard to deny the goodness of this development.  However, what this also does, is raise the rent for the disenfranchised who either are unable to work these jobs due to lack of education or sickness, or both.

We have therefore a great challenge ahead of us, and this includes plans for both housing and the creation of jobs for the women.  What kind of jobs can we help create for women who are sick and carry the stigma of HIV, and who are also uneducated, and are unable to work at a bank, for example?  These are the questions we are now asking, and there is still much work to be done for these poorest of the poor.

Teaching at ETC

At the college and seminary, the course on philosophy and theology covered the history of western thought, along with major theologians and theological movements within the Christian church from its inception until now.  Wanting to maximize the potential of relevance, I asked my students to tell me the challenges to the gospel in their culture, and they said they involve primarily the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Islam, African Traditional Religion, and Cultural problems, which are similar to our own here in the U.S. 
First, the EOC teaches that because Jesus is divine, he is unable to intercede on behalf of sinners before God.  Therefore, people are to pray to Mary, angels, and saints, and receive blessings by incantations, kissing the church gate, blessings from the priest, and other similar things.  This brings in a lot of syncretism with pagan religion, and even witchcraft into the lives of people. 
Second, there is the great challenge of Islam, which comprises 35-40% of the population in Ethiopia.  There have been cases of violent persecution.  Doctrinally, however, Islam teaches the impossibility of God becoming a Man in Christ, that the Bible is corrupted, that the concept of the atonement of Christ on the cross is blasphemous, as Allah would never allow one of his prophets to suffer shame, and that people must pay for their own sins, and may not receive forgiveness by means of the punishment of another. 
African Traditional Religion is a third challenge for the gospel, as it teaches that God, the Supreme Being, is distant, unknown, and only to be feared; this means that life on earth involves appeasing good and evil spirits in order to be blessed. These spirits are arbitrary, and cannot be trusted, so it seems that fear is a constant emotion in ATR adherents.   
In Ethiopian culture, as in our own, there are problems of fatherlessness, divorce, pornography, drug and alcohol addiction, depression, abortion, & hints of homosexuality imported by the West’s dominant, secular worldview.  My Ethiopian students they are experiencing a whole host of challenges imported by the West through social & news media, movies, tv shows, and the like. 
In A Nutshell
I want to thank my local church, Corinth Reformed Church, for all the support I’ve had, and for everyone else who supported me and my family in prayer, encouragement, and in finances.  I couldn’t do this without you all.  Although I was in Ethiopia in body, you were there in spirit.  As Paul thanked the Philippian Christians for their partnership with him in the gospel, so I also thank my local church, and everyone who gave financially and prayed for me and helped take care of my family.  Our Ethiopian brothers and sisters in Christ rejoice at the visitation of their American friends.  They rejoice with hugs, kisses, handshakes, and tears.  It means so much to them to have someone come such a long way to visit, teach, and show love and compassion.  I do hope to go back next year, as the college has given me this invitation.  Thank you again.  May the Lord bless you all richly in Christ Jesus.  Amen.







Friday, August 1, 2014

The Hardest Day in Kore - Indentured Servitude & Slavery

After three weeks of constant use of hand sanitizer, bathing out of a rain barrel with a pitcher of water, existing under constant surveillance of my bodily intake due to last time's visit, walking muddy, feces-ridden streets, breathing in belching fumes inside intoxicating, sardine-packed taxis on the way to the college and seminary, I was ready for home.  Home visits, although of benefit, seemed to carry a monotony due to my lack of knowledge of the local language.  I was ready for hot wings and beer, for the warmth of my wife's loving embrace, and for my children's laughter, smiles, and cuddles.  I certainly wasn't despairing of the hardship these people endure, nor was I depressed, downcast, or even lonely.  I was simply ready for home.  Now, it was our last day of home visits, and I skipped along the road and gave my best Skylar impersonation in a song, with the last word drawn out like a string: "We're weddy to go!"  (Skylar is my youngest daughter, who, at three and one-half years, is closely related to the firecracker family).  My mood was jovial, and infectious.  Still, it rains every day in Addis in their winter (our summer); any semblance of sunshine is an instant boost of joy.

This last day, however, was especially hard.  The first family we visited was one of a man who works construction during the day and as a night guard until midnight in order to take care of his two daughters.  His wife has left the country to serve as a housemaid in Lebanon.  The mother has done this before, because the promise of high pay (1,500 birr per month) is attractive to people desperate for jobs in an impoverished sector of society, such as Kore is.  Our alarm is not without justification, and we could read the same emotions on the husband's face.  He told us what many already know by means of media outlets; Ethiopian housemaids have been raped, tortured, and murdered by their Middle-eastern family employers.  Sometimes, according to the husband, the wives of these Middle-eastern men get jealous of the beauty of the Ethiopian women, and there have reports of the housemaids being thrown from buildings.  (It's hard to deny that majority Muslim nations have a very low respect for women, and especially for foreign women).  Many of these women come back to Ethiopia psychologically traumatized, and reports of suicide are known (see above link). 

His hands are pink from the painting he was doing before he came in to talk with us.  He is a rarity as a father who remains at home and works so hard for his family. 

If we're concerned for his wife's safety, how much more is he?


According to The Reporter, an Ethiopian newspaper, the government of Ethiopia has banned overseas employment, as a response to the thousands of reports of these women being abused by their Middle-eastern employers.  This man's wife signed a three-year contract, of which she apparently loses all her money if she leaves early.  She is allowed to make phone calls to home, but just one call means one fourth of her pay.  We have to ask whether this is indentured servitude or slavery, or somewhere in between.  Whatever it is, it's a terrible situation in which to live.  We offered the family some financial assistance to bring the mother back home, but then we learned that she has done this more than once.  In fact, the twelve-year-old girl who is sponsored by Transformation Love has only seen her mother a few times in her life.  This made for a very difficult visit, in which one places the head in the hands and offers a meager groan as to a solution to this problem.

The woman left for Lebanon because she had attempted to open a small shop in the Kore area but it was not successful.  Our next move in the Kore area is finding sustainable jobs for these women.  We think this is possible because of the economic growth that is occurring in Kore.  There are roads, sidewalks, banks, buildings for businesses and shops, and very fine houses encroaching upon the outskirts of Kore.  We hope that with such growth will come jobs for those who are uneducated and sick, for it is to these women that Transformation Love ministers.

Do please pray for the safety of this man's wife, as she truly is in a dangerous situation. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Surprise Visit to Hiwot and Shewaye

Hadn't seen Hiwot and Shewaye in three years. Surprise! When Shewaye first saw me, she ran and threw her arms around my neck and squeezed so hard I had trouble breathing. She then started crying and shaking and saying "I love you so much, C'deese." We then waited in their little home (about the size of a small kitchen in the USA) for Hiwot to show up. We surprised her too. I sat next to the door so she'd see me last (there were social workers from TL with us). When Hiwot saw me, the reaction was the same. I wasn't even allowed to stand up. She clung to me and wept, and then sat in stunned silence with a quiet joy for about a half hour. Hiwot and Shewaye are double orphans, and have been so for about a year and a half.


Shewaye was happy to see me, and I her.

Ok, let's go inside and wait for your sister to show up.

Hiwot (left) and Shewaye, our daughters and sisters in Christ.  
I asked Hiwot where she wants to live after 
graduating from nursing school.  
"Some place that is easy on the mind," 
she said. 

This trip to Ethiopia was especially good, because I was able to spend a lot of quality time with our sister-daughter-friends.  These girls have a little brother to take care of, though he's now almost 15 years old.  I think it's true that without sponsorship, they'd not be in school pursuing professional careers.  Hiwot is now in nursing school, though she would probably make just enough money per month as a nurse to afford a small, clean, apartment, she would then have nothing for the essentials of life (food, clothing, transporation, etc.).  I told her that her sponsors would be happy to help out with rent.  Without this education, however, life would be much more difficult.  She'd probably have to sell coffee or corn on the street.  And who knows what else she'd have to sell?  Prostitution happens when a woman is desperate just to provide for her family.  I don't like writing this, but it's true.  Anyway, praise God for ministries like Transformation Love.