Last week I went out to Kili Ma Moja for the last time before we leave Tanzania. I was excited because it was just going to be us guys. No teams to take care of, no wives to look after (I love you Sonja!), just…dudes. Not only that but I was looking forward to saying goodbye to somewhere that has been a home away from home for the last 8 months. One of the evenings we found ourselves at a friends curio shop. He has always given us a good deal on different souvenirs so we are more than willing to give him our business if he is fair to us in return. His shop is nothing more than some wood posts with a tin roof and tin walls but it is situated in possibly one of the best spots in the entire area for wazungu business. It is located barely 60 feet from the dirt airstrip used by the more wealthy tourists who prefer to fly into their safari rather than drive.
I’ve been fascinated with this airstrip ever since I first saw it. Firstly, the fact the planes land right there in the dirt inspires visions of missionary pilots from an age before this one flying into abandoned grass strips, something I’ve always wanted to do. Secondly, this particular airstrip is located at the top of a 1,000 foot cliff that overlooks Lake Manyara National Park. So when the pilots take off they only need to get off the deck 15 or 20 feet before the ground drops away beneath them.
We have been to this Tanzanian friends shop before and I have always wanted to see a plane take off or land. I’ve never seen a plane take off or land on a rural strip like this and to a geek like me it would be awesome. However, this time we were there there was a safari truck with it’s driver who looked like he was waiting. I went up and asked him if a plane was coming in and he said yes. So I stood with him and we talked while waiting for the plane to come in. I was so stoked that I was finally going to see a plane land on the dirt strip! Sure enough about 30 minutes later the plane landed and taxied to a stop. I was curious to see what kind of person would exit. Safari in Tanzania is expensive, it’s expensive to get here, it’s expensive to stay and to see animals you would only ever see in a zoo. But to fly around is even more expensive.
So they lowered the stairs and an pretty, overweight, middle aged mom exited first followed by a couple of cute kids, maybe 7 & 9, and lastly the dad who was rather rotund as well with a bushy, Amish-type beard. The kids climbed into the safari truck straightaway and our Tanzanian friend convinced the couple to look in his store. We quietly exited, as we knew the prices were about to skyrocket. They inquired about a beautiful, carved, wall-hanging that I had asked about earlier and was told that for me it would be $45, to them he quoted $250. They balked slightly and said $200 to which my friend quickly agreed. The husband then looked at some Masaai clubs and walking sticks and asked how much. The wife started squawking about how many sticks he already had and he didn’t need anymore. I piped up and said, “A man can never have too many sticks.” They both turned to look at me, the husband with a wry but distracted smile and the wife with frustration at first and then interest as she took us all in. 3 of us wazungu and a short Tanzanian. My buddy Alex with his Moses beard, our easy-going friend Doug, short mischievous Peter, and whatever I am, dirty from walking all day in the dust and probably mismatched clothing chosen for comfortability and reliability rather than style.
Now that I had her attention I asked where they were from and she responded that they were from the States but live in the Bahamas. That got my attention and asked her which island as I was in the Bahamas for the first time last year. She told me which island and told me they’ve lived there for the last 14 years. Her husband wrote code for an extremely wealthy gentleman’s personal hedge fund. More than a hedge fund it was his entertainment, using his massive wealth to accrue more wealth. The mom home-schooled the kids on the island which was another point of connection between her and I as I have been home-schooled as well. She was witty, smart, and easy to talk to and for about 10 minutes I had a brilliant conversation about everything from CERN to education and the social skills of home-schooled children. They left in the same whirlwind they blew in with after laying down nearly $400 for a few wooden trinkets.
My head was kind of buzzing first from seeing the plane land, I was literally like a little kid. And then from imagining what life must be like for someone who lives in the Bahamas, vacations in places like Tanzania and Switzerland, and whose main job is to make a rich man more rich.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like much to you but here things are simpler. I am used to simple conversation more or less. My Swahili is childish so I am reduced very simple conversation with Nationals. My conversations with our missionary friends here are usually on light subjects as well. Most of the my deep thinking is confined to my own head. So to interact with someone like this woman was a little outside my normal day-to-day routine.
Something I picked up by being home-schooled was the ability to remember conversations nearly word for word. I would do this because most of my social interactions were limited church events, Sunday & Wednesday. So throughout the week as I stared out the window instead of doing school I would think back to these conversations and relive them. I would wonder what made so and so say such and such. I would remember facial expressions and the cadence of their speech. On and on like a weirdo I would review conversations and see what I could have said differently or try to decipher what was really being said.
I did this as I walked away from this family that would probably never have to worry about money again. As we passed the gates of the airport I looked sharply to my left and saw a garbage pit that one could find anywhere across Africa. A pit anywhere from 10 feet to 3 feet deep into which goes anything you don’t need anymore. After a few days you light everything on fire and are left with ashes and whatever the fire didn’t catch. In this particular garbage pit sat 3 children. I didn’t really see what they were wearing because I was mainly looking at their faces. Dirty, melancholy, and with big dark eyes. They looked up only for a moment as we walked past and then they returned to their work. Sorting through the trash and ashes looking for something that might be of use. Maybe something that was accidentally thrown out or something they could use as a toy or something small to eat.
We see similar things like this most everyday but what really struck me was the contrast between what I was looking at and what was still in my head. Fantasies of Bahamian beaches, palm trees, icy cocktails, and a bottomless bank account. Not that I was yearning for that but something from that family jumped on me and I was just trying to picture what that life would look like. And here, as the sun was setting over the distant mountains were 3 children who had no where else to go other than trash heap to look for something useful. I stumbled a long trying to make sense of everything I was just slapped with.
Not more than 30 feet down the road was a young girl, maybe 14 who was hacking at a live tree with a machete for firewood. Next to her stood what may have been a younger sister who was collecting it and tying it into a bundle they would carry on their head to their home. Cutting firewood is now illegal in Tanzania as they say it is damaging the environment to burn the wood and cut trees down. There is some truth to this but it would take too long to explain. Nevertheless, her cutting a tree down in such a public area is a very desperate act. The thing about rice, ugali, and the other staples of the African diet is you can’t eat them without cooking them. Can’t cook without wood. Gotta steal wood to eat.
Our Tanzanian friends were whispering to each other as we passed the girls and I couldn’t hear what they were saying so I asked them to speak up. They were embarrassed and Peter explained the situation in Swahinglish. One of the men hanging out at the curio shop with us, a clean, well-dressed, very muscular man was actually a soldier with a good job. Just the day before he had taken the girl cutting the tree and paid her to have sex with him. Nevermind that he was 40 years old with a wife and children. I asked how much he might have paid, not that anyone would know exactly, the answer was; Sijui, sio sana, labda elfu moja au elfu mbili. “Not much, maybe 1,000tsh or 2,000tsh” About $1.30 at the most. Another punch to the gut.
I was officially crash landed out of my Bahamian dream. My thoughts swirled through the well defined path they normally do at these moments. Thoughts like, “What the hell are we doing here if we aren’t stopping stuff like this from happening?!” The truth is this is why we are here. To think that we are going to stop every evil from ever being committed is not a thought based in reality at this moment.
And here is where I find myself. Shaking hands with the upper class of my home country to seeing dirt streaked faces of children digging through trash and the used and abused young girls who span across not only Africa but also the world. As we have run our Acacia Apparel fundraiser I was discouraged at different parts struggling with the voice that said, “People really don’t care”. And it’s true for the most part, people could care less about the state of the rest of the world. It’s crushing to me because I feel the poor, marginalized, and mistreated of the world are my portion, my inheritance from my Father. People are more concerned with the next iPhone, their new TV show, party, weekend plans, and fancy toy that they think will bring them happiness.
This has been my struggle (one of many) in preparing to return home. I can work within myself the struggle and tension created by shifting cultures in such a big way, from leaving the third-world, the place I consider home, to the U.S. But to be surrounded by people who don’t give a flying fig. Whose lives are aimless, without purpose, and without conscience to the rest of humanity seems a burden that I can hardly bear. I’ve brought this before the Lord and asked Him to numb whatever part of me will feel indignation towards others who may have not been as blessed as I to see the things I have. No numbness came and I don’t think it will come. All that came was the soothing voice that simply said, “Find the ones who care and inspire the ones who don’t.”
Then I realize the beauty is found in the tension. As with all delicate truths the power rests in the ability to balance reality with delivery. Sure, I can beat people over the head that they are selfish, uncaring, and ignorant but that will probably be the end of any influence I have with them. They very well may be all those things and more but so was I once upon a time. The only difference is I have had an Awakening that has changed my entire being. A revelation that my life is not my own. It belongs to a forgotten and oppressed people whether they are found in Tanzania, India, or America.
So if you are one who cares I say get involved. Start living for someone and something bigger. Give money to legitimate, effective, and honest organizations that are empowering local leaders and the poor of where they work. Find the poor and disempowered in your hometown. I challenge you for 1 month to give more money to third-world development than you spend on yourself, even if it’s only a dollar more.
If you are one who doesn’t care I would encourage you to go to Mexico, Africa, South America, India, anywhere and see how the rest of the world lives. Life in America is not the norm. We live at a level that surpasses that of even the kings of old. Inject yourself with a dose of reality. Put yourself in a position for your heart to be moved and then do something about it.
At the end of the day we must pour ourselves out on something bigger than ourselves. There must be more. Find it.
P.S. Below are a few organizations that I can personally vouch for. They are empowering the local leaders and community, they are honest and accountable with funds, and they have a vision to forever change the nations they work in for the better. If you are looking for somewhere to put your money for a month please look at these.
Global Effect (Tanzania)
Iris Ministries Africa (Mozambique, East Africa, and around the world)
Iris Ministries India (India)
Agape International Mission (Cambodia, Thailand)
Why Not Now (Vietnam)
I have resolved to writing on this blog twice a week. I resolved this several weeks ago and I still haven’t done anything about it. Let’s see if I can change that. I want to write short little somethings about the lessons I’m learning here in Tanzania and some of the more random things that happen. I don’t intend to be preachy to anyone but myself.
Two days ago I started seeing large trucks pulling into our neighbors house across the road from us. I soon deduced from the stacks of chairs and tents they were bringing that there was going to be a wedding this weekend. Weddings here rock. Weddings anywhere rock but weddings are such a cultural thing that if you have a chance to go to one in a different culture it is highly recommended. So I was excited to see what it would be like here in the richer section of town.
The music started at about 8am. I was sitting down to coffee and a book during breakfast when they were doing a “sound check” which involved blasting a bass heavy song as loud as the speakers could handle it. From nearly a thousand feet away I could feel the vibrations in our tiny dining table.
Come midday they were still “sound checking” and my wife was starting to get annoyed. “These are happy sounds of people in love!” I told her trying to bring things into perspective. I left for errands in town and came back early evening and the wedding had begun. Our quiet little dirt road was transformed into a parking lot with dozens of cars parked haphazardly. A man sat at the gate and motioned for us to come over and I think I heard a “Karibu” over the deafening boom of the speakers. After we parked I went over to say hello, (Greetings are huge in this culture) and one of our team members was already speaking with the man. It turned out he was the man of the house where the wedding was taking place and he genuinely wanted us to come over and join the party. I walked home and told the visiting YWAM team and our interns that they were welcome to go party it up at the wedding. I went and saw Sonja and she gave me the look. The look that said, “I have done everything humanly possible to drown out the noise going on but to no avail.” I laughed and she informed me that the music hadn’t stopped all day.
You have to understand that the music is so loud that we have to slightly raise our voices to hear each other in the same room. It’s loud.
I left again for a facetime date with my broseph (Hi Steven!) and returned to find the party in full swing still. The team told me they went over and danced and were fed and welcomed warmly like they belonged there all along. By this point the local night club on the other side of our house was starting their nightly music. It sounded like a battle of noise between the 2 as Glacier (the nightclub) seemed louder than normal. By now I was done with the music and said so to Sonja, she snarkily responded, “These are happy sounds of people in love!” Indeed.
The wedding died down at around 9:30, a reasonable time. But then Glacier, as if to prove that it had won the battle of the cacophony turned their music up. Now they are probably 1/8-1/4 mile away and it is LOUD in our house and I am done with loud music. Sonja, who has been home all day has been listening to loud Tanzanian music all day is well past done. She was done by lunchtime. Now it’s time for bed and the nightclub seems to be increasing it’s volume. I don’t even know how it’s possible but it sounds like it gets louder every ten minutes or so. 9:30, 10:00, 10:30, 11:00… Still deafening. Sonja puts her earbuds in in an attempt to drown out the din as I lay there thinking about the things you can’t change.
It’s not just loud music. It’s loud music all day. But it’s not just loud music all day, it’s loud music all day in a language and style that is not enjoyable and even grating. They (Tanzanians) love it but after 14 hours even the most patient missionary finds himself thinking about how he can throw a molotov into the local nightclub without hurting anyone but just to shut the music down. Not me of course, but, you know, hypothetically speaking.
It’s the things you can’t change that have the greatest potential to grow you. As I closed all the windows, put the fan on high, and stuffed the window vents with towels to muffle what I could of the chaos I reflected back on other times where there were situations that I couldn’t change. The events that you have no control over often produce the best things in you. It’s just another lesson I find in a foreign land. I am grateful for the lessons and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Except maybe a good nights sleep. =)
Yesterday we went back to Magadini, the village I wrote about previously where we helped to build a house for a mama who is taking care of seven children. If you haven’t read that post yet go do so and then come back here.
Several of our friends work in this village at a home for girls who have been trafficked from a young age. It was just going to be an overnight trip for us which is so much less work. Planning for more than one night means more stuff, more food, more water, more headache. Turnaround trips make it easier.
We went out yesterday and we were happy to reconnect with the girls and the staff of the home. They are such precious people and so valued by Jesus. We were excited because today all the girls were going to be baptized. What may seem like a trite step we take in the States was a big deal to these girls. Women who have been prostitutes are not looked on favorably. They are viewed as the lowest of the low and no matter where they go or what they do in life they will still be viewed as scum. Especially from Christians. I have seen this firsthand here (more than once) and heard more than a fair share of stories. It’s not like the States where it’s cool and trendy to care for traffic victims or minister on the streets to prostitutes. Women of the night are off limits no matter how long they are saved or come to church.
So it was a big deal last week when one of the girls had a genuine encounter with Jesus. She had a vision of Him coming to her and wiping the tears from her cheeks and telling her she was clean. It was amazing. And today all 3 of them were to be baptized. Dead to sin, alive in Christ.
We made our way out to the same lake I wrote about before. Now it was fuller and all the grass surrounding it was green. The rainy season was doing it’s thing and everything was looking a little more cheery. We went to a different area of the lake this time where we could get to deeper water for baptisms. Once assembled on this massive half-wet, half-dry lake we sang to our Jesus. Songs of praise and worship in Swahili. Then the girls each came forward and shared a (very) brief testimony. After that they began the long walk into the water. It was a long walk because the lake doesn’t drop away very quickly so they followed the pastor off-shore a good 700 feet to where they could be dunked. It was such a beautiful moment watching from so far away with the wind whipping around us. We couldn’t hear anything and we could barely see their faces.
I did what I have been doing lately in moments where I feel the Lord’s presence. I close my eyes and try to picture what would be happening if Jesus Himself stood tangibly before us. I pictured Him singing with us as we sang to him and dancing a kind of silly jig. Then walking with the girls hand in hand, maybe arm around waste, through the water to meet with the pastor. Then when it came time to be baptized Jesus stood side by side with girls and was baptized with them, hand in hand. Then, when they were underwater, I pictured Him rolling over onto and into them, thunk! Right into their chest. Then when they came up out of the water I saw Jesus in their eye’s, smiling from ear to chocolate brown ear.
They came back to the shore dripping and beaming. We congratulated them. Sonja gave the girls hugs even though they were sopping. I shook their hands and said, “Hongera sana!” We took pictures and savored the moment. Dead to their old lives, alive forevermore. Cleaned once and for all by this dirty Tanzanian lake.
The plan was then to return to the home for a party with hot dogs and soda, a special treat here. We were waiting for our friend Lauren who was talking with a tall, powerfully built Maasai. There was something about him that made me think he was a chief. Maybe the way he stood or maybe the way he was dressed although I couldn’t tell you what in particular. Whatever they were discussing I could tell it was serious. Finally they were done and we were filled in. A women in the Maasai village next to the one we were in was involved in an abortion gone bad and she was bleeding. Badly. The chief was concerned that if we weren’t able to take her to a hospital within 45 minutes she wouldn’t make it.
So we hustled, changed plans, and threw all our gear into one truck making room for the lady and whoever else in the other. We were back to the house and out the door in less than 45 minutes. We put a tarp in the backseat of the Land Cruiser and covered it with a conga. We quickly drove over to the local clinic where they wheeled her out on a rickety old stretcher. They muscled her into the car quickly and I wasn’t able to get a good look at anything. Our friend drove the Land Cruiser with the lady (Monica, as her named turned out to be) and took off as fast as safely possible over bumpy, rutted, and washed out Tanzanian roads. We followed with a truck with the girls from the home and me in the back.
I was so quickly taken back to my time in Mozambique where we spent days riding in the back of trucks with no protection from the wind or sun. Driving to forgotten villages to share the gospel with signs and wonders. Now we were leaving a forgotten village to hopefully share the gospel with signs and wonders. Africa (as I have found so far) offers you many opportunities to practice crises management. Even when you’re not in charge. There is constant crises and you have to learn how to deal or fall apart. We have been lucky to avoid most of those kind of experiences save for the dead guy we prayed for and the day I spent in the local emergency room praying for over a dozen people who had been in a massive head-on collision. In those moments you can either freak out and spend all your time stressing and praying freaked out prayers to God or…you can chill. So, in the back of a blazing hot truck, over bumpy, inconvenient roads, I popped my headphones in and began to worship. I did my best to put Monica out of my mind for the moment and did my best to focus only on the Lords presence. As we cruised through more Maasai villages and dust swirled around me I just loved on the Lord and let His peace come. Then, I began to take authority over a spirit of death. From a place of peace and rest I exercised MY authority over sin, death, and the grave, and commanded it to leave. No shouting, no foot-stomping or demon cursing. My heart broke for the woman in the slowly disappearing car in front of me. A baby is such a precious thing, she must have been under such pressure from her husband or tribe or something to do such a thing. But it didn’t matter, Jesus was here now and He would fix it.
We hauled booty to a enormous sugar plantation about halfway between Moshi and Magadini. It is run by Germans so it is super nice and it’s a model manufacturing plant for third-world nations the earth over. They have their own schools, soccer fields, housing tracts, and yes, even a hospital. We were blessed to have clear roads where as the day before when we drove out we literally drove through a river. A rushing, frothing, can’t-see-the-road-because-of-the-river-covering-it river. Today, it was nearly dry.
We pulled up to the hospital and they were just taking the lady out of the car. She was completely out of it and in the hustle and bustle of moving her from the car to a gurney her shirt came up and her breast fell out. It was plump and looked like a pregnant women’s breast. All I could think about was that that was a breast that wouldn’t have a mouth suckle on it. The milk would dry up sooner than it should and it wouldn’t be needed.
They took her in to get hooked up to an IV and see if either of the local hospitals had blood to give her. We found out then that she had performed the abortion on herself and that part of the baby was still inside of her. That and she needed blood badly. Again, this is a horrible situation in any part of the world but here, when you realize all is hopeless without Jesus, things carry a heavier weight. The doctors come back and tell us they have blood they can give her. How they know her blood type in less than 10 minutes is beyond me, I say a quick prayer that whatever blood they give her will miraculously be correct.
So we leave Monica with the sugar plantation hospital and continue to pray against death, infection, and disease. I even pray that the baby will be restored in her womb and that she will give birth to a perfectly healthy child.
As we drive back to Moshi I grab little Joshua, the one year old little baby of one of the girls from the home. I sit him on my lap and let him pull on my finger and look out the window contentedly. I think back to the lake and how, mere minutes after surfacing as new creations, we find out there is a women who has destroyed a new creation with her own hands. In the joy there is pain, in the victory there is setback. I think back to the last post I wrote when we were at that same lake and I pondered being stuck between the rise and set. Life and death. Still dripping from the waters of redemption we find that someone else is dripping away as well. How do you balance the two?
The fact is you don’t. There is no balance between life and death. There is only life. Death isn’t an option in the Kingdom. It is physically impossible for death to inhabit where life dwells. And so, we bring life. We believe that life is always the answer. Death is always wrong.
I think all this and realize I am so grateful for the little chubby boy on my lap. So grateful that his mom wanted him. Even though she’ll never know his daddy and never know how much he paid for an hour with her, she kept him.
I am so grateful that we were in the right place at the right time. That the baptism was moved to Tuesday instead of on Sunday. That the flooded river that covered the road not 24 hours before had subsided. That the Maasai chief had the humility and wisdom to approach an American woman to ask for help. That we made good time on ridiculous roads. That a sugar plantation would have a hospital with blood for transfusions on hand. I am so grateful that we were able to help someone who made a devastating mistake. And I am so grateful that Jesus bridges the gap between the rise and set and between life and death. Without Him, we are truly hopeless.
Sonja and I returned yesterday from a quick 5 day trip to a village a good distance away from Moshi, where we live. I love village life. Without a doubt I could live the rest of my days in a mud hut and be utterably tickled. We were able to assist in the building of a house for an old mama who is taking care of 7 children on her own. Her own house was washed away by the rain (an unfortunate side-effect of mud bricks) and the community has been taking care of her and the children ever since. A father and daughter came from the states and had raised enough money to build this lady a very nice brick house. Work was halting so we found ourselves playing with the kids that had come to watch. We probably played with and loved on the kids more than we actually worked on the house.
One evening after work and ministry we walked to a nearby lake. Because of funky governmental stuff a lot of the lake had been drained considerably and turned into a massive meadow with a small creek running down the middle. We made our way through a herd of cows, sidestepping cow patties and abandoned boats that now sat surrounded by short, stiff grass. We walked all the way to the middle where the creek split the enormous meadow in half. The sun was just setting behind a small mountain range to the west and sky was aglow with vibrant orange and yellow. In the east were gray and white clouds that obscured a piercing full moon. The entire east was dark and blue, pregnant with the coming night. The easterly mountains seemed to give the moon a boost as it peeked its head from the last of the low lying clouds. And in the middle of those colors and mountain ranges was a simply massive meadow and in the middle of that meadow was a small muddy creek. Standing next to that creek was were we found ourselves, bathed in a completely surreal moment. The dust from 1/2 a dozen separate soccer games rose in the reddish light of the setting sun. Children everywhere squealed and darted and laughed.
It was between this moonrise and sunset that the rise and set of what we know as “civilization” has occurred. A forgotten people who have lived, worked, loved, begat, and suffered under the same sun that has fueled our Western growth. These people are as few as one old man with no food and nothing to his name but a plastic chair and a crumbling mud hut to as many as entire continents of overlooked people.
You will never know their name’s or their stories. You will never see their faces or feel their pain. But they exist right here, on the same planet that you wake up on, they suffer on.
What I love about places like Tanzania, Mexico, Mozambique or any other place where I have been that poverty dominates is the sharpness of contrast. The pain and suffering are so incredibly severe while joy and victory are so soaring that words hardly come close to appropriate. Sadly these are things you will never know until you go. The world’s best communicator can’t tell you. No book or movie can deliver to you the understanding of the pain and suffering that poverty inflicts. You must see it for yourself. You must hold the little girl who can’t hear or speak and has never known either of those functions. To see nearly every child in shreds of clothing with big bloated bellies will communicate something that I never could.
But oh the victory! Unfortunately you can’t understand the joy of holding that deaf-mute and whispering in her dead ear that she will hear. To see the broken be loved, the sick restored to health, and the poor given abundance is something too glorious for words. The smile on a woman’s face who has lost 3 of her 6 children means much more to me than the smile of a person who has known little to no loss.
Here we who know the difference are stuck in between 2 seemingly insurmountable mountain passes, with the dark of night on one hand and the setting of light on the other. We are in the middle of endless prosperity and dire poverty and the dust of a broken people rises in the fiery orange glow of sunset. It is hard for me to understand how this cannot be the one main focus of the church, if not the world. To bring an end to poverty, injustice, war, sickness, and death. I cannot see how anything could be more important. How do we justify our unnecessary indulgences? How do we balance living abundantly and laying down our lives for the lost? What really is the purpose of our lives? I don’t want to be alone in this. I want you too to feel the tension and the pain of a lost and forgotten people. I want you to give your time, money, and energy into something that matters not just another toy. I don’t want to be alone in the middle of the meadow. I want you to understand and to act here in between the rise and set.
Proverbs 14:31 He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, But he who honors Him has mercy on the needy.
I think for most people your opinion of someone changes and shifts based off what they know or have accomplished. We have our first impressions of course but once we get to know someone our real opinion of them develops. Sometimes you can know someone for years and out will come a little bit of information that will change how you view them.
For me experience is a big thing. I place a lot of value on experience for myself and for people around me. Almost 3 years ago now 2 of my friends got married. They were the first of our close knit group of friends to get married with my wife and I following a little more than a month later. The day after their wedding I kept thinking, “They’re married now, it’s so weird, what does it feel like to be married?” It may sound silly but to me they crossed over a chasm that to me was as different as night and day. To me it was a change in being rather a shift in social status. It was an experience that placed them on a different plane for me.
Earlier this year those same friends had a baby and I went through the whole thing in my head again. “They have a baby! What’s it like to have a baby?” There were people all around me having babies but for some reason they didn’t impact me the way this did. Again it felt like these friends had walked through a door I couldn’t see past into a new, deeper, and more mature place. A sense of respect settled into my heart for them as they walked now as 3 instead of 2.
I’ve always had that settled feeling of respect for someone who has accomplished something that is impressive or unknown to me. For people have completed marathons I wonder what it feels like at mile 25. For people who have been in bad car crashes I wonder what they were thinking as they careened slowly off the road and down the embankment. It’s that feeling of wonderment and awe. You’ve done something scary and I haven’t.
A couple weeks ago myself and a few other friends went to a river up in the mountains. We were going to go do some “adventuring” and do our best to find something fun to do on a Friday night. As we were walking down towards the river we came upon a group of young guys who were walking up from the river with fishing poles, tackle, and a few small fish. One was an aquaintence whom I had not seen for years, I honestly don’t think he remembered me and I couldn’t remember his name off the top of my head. We said hi and then went our seperate ways. A day later a friend calls me and says, “Ian was up at Lyons and slipped and fell in last night, they can’t find him.” Ian being the friend we saw the day before and Lyons being the lake/river area we were hanging out at. I was shocked and immediately began praying. I realized that if he fell in the river and the search and rescue teams were still looking the mission probably shifted to recover instead of rescue. A few days after all that we finally got word that his body was recovered.
It affected me because we had just seen him less than 24 hours before. I looked him in the face and said hi. Now he is dead and his family is planning a funeral for the son they thought would plan theirs. I guess when things like this happen the resounding response from those in shock is, “It happened so fast. We just saw him and now he’s gone. He was sitting on the rock and just slipped a little. It seems like he went under and then he was gone. It was so fast.” No time to say goodbye, no time to help, just gone.
I wonder what those moments were like. Slipping, falling, entering that icy cold water. The speed of the downstream ride. The granite boulders rushing to meet soft skin and brittle bones. Who knows how long it took but at some point Ian passed through a door none of us have gone through. He was young and without a lot of world experience. Now he has an experience that none of us have. He has walked through that door to something new, deeper, and in some ways, more mature.
Thinking of this my head kicks back into circumspective mode. A person I know has done something I haven’t done, something big and scary. Unfortunately he’s not here to tell me about it, if he were I would have lots of questions. Questions like, what did it feel like? What did you see? Where are you now? Did you see Jesus? Details man, details!
In this way death is so incredibly fascinating to me. Sure there are some people out there who have claimed to have seen hell and died and all that but on a large scale we have no idea what happens. That is so exciting to me! There is an adventure out there that no one has lived to tell about! In some very big ways it is eternity that I am looking forward to as well. However the door of death fascinates and perplexes me. The adventurer inside me strains at the reins.
“Somewhere no one has seen! Somewhere uncharted! We must go! Lands must be claimed, fortunes found, dangers faced and enemies bound!”
Perhaps it is the transition that I eagerly peer into. Death is an enemy of God and thus an enemy of mine. However, our language fails to describe the transition with words other than “death” and “dying”. I hope my heart is understood that I don’t glorify death but I am intrigued by the transition. Whether through dying or transformation we will all metamorph into something else. It’s that moment, that breaking of the cocoon that really gets me.
Death and transition are subject of great fear for most people. Our whole society is built on the fear of death. No matter what happens we don’t want to die. We’ll do everything in our power to stop dying. Think about it; speed limits, car manufacturing, governmental legislation, medicine, food guidelines, schooling, house construction, safety, safety, safety, the list is endless. It’s all so we can slow down this inevitable thing called death. We don’t realize the enormousness of this fear until you look at all the little things. We, as a global community, are terrified of death. No one will say it outright, we won’t acknowledge that the reason we do all these things and make all these laws is so we can have the weak hope of living just a little bit longer. It’s the huge elephant in the room. We budge and squeeze around each other and do everything we can to avoid it but it’s still there. It’s sad to say but for most, the fear of death is their only motivation in life.
I can never really remember a time when I was afraid of dying. It’s never been something that’s daunted me. I’ve faced my mortality a few times in serious fashion but I was more concerned with fixing the problem of my predicament than with the terror of possible death. It felt more like a challenge than a life and death situation. In my younger years I did stupid stuff for the thrill and I’m sure I will continue to do so as I age although the frequency may be less. However, now I am driven by my destiny and by the promises spoken over me by a good Father. As my wife and I gear up for a move overseas and we look forward to a life spent overseas in the more dangerous parts of the world I have to wade through the weak theology and fear-based thought processes of so many people around us.
The truth of the matter is we are safe as sons and daughters of the King. The end. It’s really not complicated. Recently I have heard the phrase, “Yes, but you have to use wisdom”, more times than I care to count. I want to respond with, “What does that even mean!?” Either you obey the call of God on your life and take Him at His word or you don’t. Wisdom doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it. If you use a secular, self-preservation brand of wisdom you will probably look like most of the American church, too afraid to let their kids feed the homeless of their city or go on a short missions trip to Mexico. Talk about a life wasted. I seem to recall an ancient dojo chanting something along the lines of, “He who seeks to save his life will lose it, he who loses his life will find it”.
People talk a lot about Job and how he was a man who feared God and did everything right and yet these horrible calamaties came upon him. It is the onw of the main weapons deceived theologians use to ascribe unspeakably horrible things to a totally good God. However there is one little scripture in the book of Job that explains it all. Job 3:25 says, “That which I have feared has come upon me” . Through his fear of losing everything the devil had access into his life and took everything. It’s pretty simple really.
In summation, I greatly desire to peer into unknown realm called death. I want go through the steps of transition and become something else entirely. I want the bright light, the long tunnel, the flying through space, the whatever and everything. However, I’m not afraid of death and I’m not afraid of a life spent in danger. I intend to do my part in making up for the weakness and fear of the western church by accomplishing great exploits. I aim to live a life covered by the divine protection that Jesus walked under, laying His life down only when the Father directed Him to do so, never settling for less, being bold and courageous, and shunning fear based “wisdom”. When you know who are and where you’re going neither hell, death, nor well intentioned people can hold you back. No one can keep you from your destiny.
I was in our local Grocery Outlet today, shopping for some food when I found myself in the frozen dessert section. I’m standing next to a gentlemen who is holding a carton of ice cream and reading the back when he throws the carton he is looking at back in the freezer with a snarl.
“Didn’t see anything you want?” I ask trying to suppress my laughter.
“Do you know how to read labels?” he responds viciously.
“Sure I do.” I say.
“Well do you know what they put in these goddammed foods nowadays?”
“Not healthy stuff a lot of the time” I respond.
“You’re damn right! Full of sh*t! Do you know how to read labels? You got young eyes can you see what’s in there?”
“What’s in there?” I say not wanting to get too close to this man who is clearly willing to do what it takes to rid his hands of filthy ice cream.
“SUGAR!” he cries, “Sugar is the absolute worst thing in the world! It’ll kill you in a second!”
I am doing my best to not burst into uncontrollable laughter at this point.
He continues, “High fruck-toose corn syrup! It’s in everything! I never used to read labels but my wife got me reading labels now for my health. Do you know how to read labels?”
“I do” say I, answering the same question for the third time. At this point all the people that were in our aisle have left because of this guy and his loud exclamations. It’s just him and me.
“Back in them goddammed Marines we didn’t read no labels, we just ate what they gave us. We ate then went out and killed. Ate and killed. Ate and killed. E’er day! Now my wife says I got to read labels.”
At this point I’m tearing up trying not to laugh in this guys face. Who knows what he is capable of? Well actually I do, killing and eating apparently and I don’t want him to do either to me.
I try to wrap up the conversation with a, “Well good luck on your search, I hope you find something without sugar.”
He walked away mumbling to himself and scowling at the frozen peas. I continued shopping and laughed for a good bit.
I love God’s people. Big, small, mean, nice, broken, whole, Marine, pacifist, normal, eccentric…whatever.
It’s usually the eccentric one’s that I enjoy the most.