Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Busi was another child at the community center. I didn't really ever notice a kind of empty stare from her, like several of the others. But she always seemed to have something going wrong, and I never seemed to see her smile. I remember my first experience of actually observing Busi, when she was trying to open the door to get outside and looking very panicked. She looked at me as she struggled to open the door with desperation all over her face, and so I opened the door to let her out to run over to the restroom. She didn't make it. She only got a few steps away before she was tinkling on the old cracked pavement.

Busi was another one who took a long time to open up. She never shared in the other kids' excitement over hugs and play. She mostly kept to herself or played sadly with a few other kids, and she always just seemed to be having a bad day. She didn't always stick out in my mind while we were there, but she started to come to the forefront of my thoughts more toward the end of our stay in Swaziland.

I think I started noticing a small difference after an incident that I did not know was related until later. Andrew and I were out walking in the poor area of town, the neighborhood where all the kids at the community center lived, and we saw several of them during our walk. But we were up by some other houses up on the hill and we came across a woman who wanted us to pray for our child. One of the women who volunteered at the community center and knew us and was able to speak English quite well translated for us. But this woman was carrying her small son on her back, who was only a few weeks or months old. At the time we had heard of this child, because Carl, the guy whom we were basically working for, had mentioned that he had taken a sick baby to the clinic. The infant had not been eating and now his eyes were not opening, and the mother was afraid he was going to die. So Andrew and I prayed over the child and laid our hands on him. Without any sort of flourish and without great eloquence, we just prayed for God to heal him.

It was later that week that Carl told us that the child was doing better and the mother had said that she believed it was a miracle. He said that the baby's eyes had opened as soon as we had finished praying, and I remembered seeing that, though I hadn't known that it was significant. After that time, the mother helped out at the community center quite regularly. She was usually either in the kitchen or in some corner of the building caring for her son. I tried to say hi and check in on them every now and then, and it was great to be able to share in her joy at the baby's survival.

Busi was this woman's daughter, the baby's older sister. She did not begin smiling right away, but gradually over the next couple weeks she would glance at us and respond to our smiles and she seemed to begin enjoying her time there. Then I remember it was our last night, after a church service on Sunday evening, before we were to be leaving for Mozambique the next morning. We saw the woman with her baby and Busi next to her and we went to say goodbye. Their English was not good, but I believe something in our manner of saying goodbye may have communicated clearly to Busi that we would be leaving and not seeing her any longer. She threw herself at me and gave me a big hug. She proceeded to give Andrew the same goodbye hug and then we were saying goodbye some more. At that moment, I didn't want to leave there. I wanted to see Busi grow up and experience life and be happy. I hope and pray that she continues to find life and goodness growing up all around her and that her little brother would be a blessing to her and that whole family would be blessed and filled with good things. At this moment, I cannot help getting choked up as I call to mind these memories. I thank God for the work that only he can do and has done in that family, for I do believe that it was entirely a work of God, and the memory of it has become very special to me.

Busi is on the left by herself in the green jacket.

Friday, September 22, 2006


In Swaziland we helped out at a community center, probably one of our bigger challenges during our trip. The poor families in the town all lived in some old mining homes, built by the Brittish, which were small and sparse to begin with but were now quite run down, many of them having broken windows or none at all and none of them equipped to truly keep out the cold. In this neighborhood there were many parents who would go off to work every day and leave their small children home alone by themselves with no supervision and nothing to eat, cold and alone for the entire day.

When we first went to the community center, it had only just started around a week before. It took in these 3-5 year olds and gave them 2 meals a day, some medicine for those who were sick, a barebones preschool education and some love and attention. It was our job mainly to give them that love and attention, spend time with them, play with them, hug them, talk to them. Early on there were many children with vacant stares on their faces. They were uncertain of us at first, but after a couple days many of them were instantly excited to see us and would rush up to us for hugs, to be held and loved. They were starved for it, so much that they ended up fighting one another for our attention, clawing at one another and hitting one another. The ones who were not fighting were often staring off into space, unresponsive. It was psychologically and spiritually very draining and it was very difficult to bear more than a couple of hours of it each day.

Snethemba, in the picture with me, was one of the younger ones, and he was one of those vacant stares. If he wasn't vacant, he was whining or feeling sick or in some way miserable. I would help feed him sometimes, for he would often just stare at his food. It took him more than the usual couple of weeks to begin to look lively, but when he did I couldn't help smiling at it. Toward the end of our stay, he was standing with the other kids, getting into the songs they were singing, listening to the lessons, eating and often feeding himself, and playing a lot, even with other children. I don't know why my memory of him affects me as it does, but he just seemed special to me. There was such a great contrast between Snethemba when I first saw him and Snethemba when I said goodbye. The picture is from when he was first starting to warm up to people, a couple of weeks after arriving. It wasn't until then that he would even accept being held, let alone seek it out. That change was especially beautiful to me.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Julai was undoubtedly one of my favorite kids at Kedesh. When we first got off the bus, he and several others came to meet us at the drop-off spot to lead us to Kedesh. He was the one who greeted me, asking if I was Jacob. At first I was wondering how the heck he could have known my name, and then he said they were from Kedesh. I just hadn't expected to see them right when we got off the bus, but I shouldn't have been surprised.

So Julai and I played several games of their version of checkers. It's played a little different than our form of checkers and there's a lot of strategy to it. I probably only won about half of our games. It was a fun time.

Did I mention this kid was amazing? He could basically learn a thing once and then repeat it and perform it like a master. He was the best chef at the boys' home. He had a decent grasp of basic English. He was practically a master welder. I saw him stitching up a soccer ball one time. He also was picking worms out of one of the guy's feet, looking every bit the professional doctor. There didn't seem to be anything that he could not do, if he set his mind to it. He was also very mature and extremely polite. And a little shy, as you can tell by his not looking at the camera... ever.

I've started giving these little snipets, partly for my own benefit, as a way to reflect on the memories and keep them fresh in my mind and treasure them, but also to give people a further glimpse into my life in Africa and the people there. So if you feel inclined to pray for people in these places, you have names and faces and personalities to consider.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


If you were around for Solomon's porch, you'll remember this picture. Alberto was a kid at Kedesh, in Beira, Mozambique. He has a twin brother named Luis, and they are both really cool, and I can tell them apart because Alberto has a birthmark between his eyes. If you look closely, you should be able to see it. I had fun trying to talk with Alberto in Portuguese. We would laugh as we each tried to figure out what the other was saying. He and Luis always had smiles on their faces. They were among the older/more mature young kids. A lot of them were from 11-13 years old, with a few older and a few younger. But they were, I believe, 13, and some of the best kids I know. I miss them.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Foreign shores

Here's me by the Indian Ocean, by the beach in Beira, Mozambique. I miss those shores. I generally all-around miss Africa. I will not compare Swaziland and Mozambique and try to decide which I miss more. I will only say that I miss them both, the people, the landscape, the trees, the interesting modes of transportation, the sun, the children (included under people; reduntant for the sake of emphasis). Definitely one of the greatest times of my life.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


After winning yet another game of Risk against my friends at church, I just have to wonder:

Do I stomp everybody at Risk in all my other alternate realities? If my 4th-dimensional self is anything like I think it is, then every 3-dimensional version of me would have to be imbibed with the qualities that make up... me... and so I'd basically kick butt at Risk, no matter which 3-D reality I was a part of. Wouldn't I?

Don't ask me what I mean. It hurts my head. Ask Luke Hillesomething, because he likes to talk about it. Me, it's late and I'm not sure what anything is anymore.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Here's Cassie. Isn't she cute? It's a good picture, too - I took it. Haha.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Fear, belief, cynics, other words

So I've been thinking about a couple of things that I used to think were related and now I'm thinking might be alien concepts. I'm talking about motivation and desperation. Now there are some, I'm sure, who believe desperation is a good motivator, and when they bring up their vast experience of last minute crunching for tests or jobs, big deadlines or extremely important events, I have to conclude there is probably something to it. When you suddenly look up from the couch and realize you have the next ten hours to prepare that presentation that could possbily decide your entire future for you and somewhere in there you expect you'll need to sleep, that's a desperate moment and it gets you up out of your seat. You stop watching Matlock, get out the crayons and get to work.

Here's the thing: a lot of people make that the norm for their life. We see it in our Universities and in our workplaces; we see it in our social lives and in our mid-life crises. People take a look at where they're at, and if they're desperate enough, then maybe they'll go about actually changing things. It's come to such a point that we even sing about it in church, and we tell each other that we want to be desperate, that we'd really like to work ourselves up into such an emotional state that we'll have the motivation to do something about our apparently desperate situations. As Christians, we want to be desperate for God, so that we can have the passion to live for him like we know we're supposed to and like we'd really like to but can't seem to work up the energy and discipline to actually do. So we turn to desperation. To some extent, it works. People lose everything, and they turn to God, the only place they can turn, because they've lost every other avenue. The poorest of the poor seem to be the most faithful of the faithful. And we rich American type Christians shake our heads and wonder if we'd be much better off without so much stuff, if we could really live lives of faith.

I've talked about this with several people. There are a few of us who feel that's it's a copout. It seems strange to think of it that way. Because I know there are numerous examples in the story of Jesus and the apostles about giving up all your possessions and devoting yourself completely to God. But I've been thinking, if I gave up my entire life to do missions, it just seems like a copout. I wouldn't be doing it because it's my calling; I'd be doing it because it would be easier. Because I want to serve God a lot, more than I am, and I can't seem to be able to do it right in this affluent nation I live in, so if I get up and go somewhere else and I don't have all this stuff around me to distract me and disintigrate me, I could be whole and strong and right with God in this world. I could live by faith because I'd have nothing else to depend on. This is something I've struggled with for a while. I am confident that my recent excursion to the "dark continent" (it's not dark, really sunny) had nothing to do with such notions. It was right and it was good, and I was sure of doing it for the right reasons. I like to travel a lot, and I want to do more of it and I want to continue to do things that bless people throughout the world, but I have not thought of myself as a missionary (per se) and I do not intend to be one. But I've struggled with this idea of living this life in this affluent nation.

There seems to be a disease, and I think I might be coming to understand it better. A lot of conservatives talk about the degeneration of our society. These are things I've been hearing about all my life: how television is ruining children's minds, how prayer was kicked out of public schools (yeah, I know, :(>), and how morality has gone down the tubes, from abortion to divorce to perversion to politeness. You name it, American culture does it and loves it. At least that's what the conservative mindset seemed to be constantly jamming down our little throats. (I know, it sounds harsh - I may be exaggerating a bit to make my point). Some time ago, I came to the conclusion that I don't really think we're any worse off than we were two hundred years ago. The church and the world have always had problems, and they've always coincided with one another. It's not surprising and I really don't see it getting worse. What I see is a cancer that not enough of us are really addressing seriously, and I believe it is a cancer that has a cure.

This disease I speak of is, namely, cynicism. Now before you shake your heads and raise your eyebrows, going, Jake? I know, I have a tendency toward it. I find the bad in so many things around me. But argue about me as you will, I define myself as an equillibrist. You praise something, I'm likely to point out a flaw. You criticize, I'm likely to point out some redeeming qualities. And overall, I actually do have an optimistic viewpoint, in terms of my worldview, if not always my attitude. Anyway, I'm really not talking about myself, but nor am I talking about the funny cynicism that makes fun of everything that's wrong and finds the humor in it. I'm talking about the truly pessimistic cynicism that doesn't believe in the good. The kind that looks at our world and says that the whole of society and the entire world is in the process of being flushed down the milky way toilet. We're not. It's not.

Here's how all these things are connecting in my mind. Desperation. It is cynicism that gets us to believe that only if we are desperate will we have the motivation to do anything to make a difference in our lives or anyone else's. There are other ways - better ways. For my own life, desperation just seems to get me so far. It get's me up off the couch, but only until I don't feel desperate any more. That's the main problem. Once the desperate feeling fades, so does the habit. Once we've relieved our guilty consciences and once we've relaxed our worried muscles, we slip back into previous patterns. None of us ever wanted it to be that way. But that's why we keep thinking maybe we'll move to India and live with poor people. Because then we'd always be desperate and we'd always be able to live the way we're supposed to, the way we've always wanted.

We keep wondering, how then can we conquer this cynicism? It's not like we haven't tried before. It's not like we didn't go to weight watchers to lose those fifteen pounds; it's not like we didn't do the forty days of purpose with our church; it's not like we didn't start reading our bibles every day. We didn't do all those things just because we were desperate. Or did we?

I don't know how it can be manufactured. There's really no formula I can think of to living by the Spirit and living a life of faith. I'm actually quite certain that none exists. But I have found, and I am by no means an expert or even all that accomplished, but I have found that belief - true belief - is a much better motivator than desperation. We may scoff at those naive individuals who keep telling their kids that they can accomplish whatever they set their minds to (remember, we're cynics). But the fact is that they can and they will, and all our cynicism won't stop them. When we hear pithy sayings like "The only thing to fear is fear itself," we may think of all the bullets and crazy ax-murderers there are out there, but it's not just a cliche or propaganda (it is both those things, but not just). Fear is the only thing to fear, because it's our fear that keeps holding us back. It's not our possessions. It's not our affluence. It's not our comfort. It's our fear. Let's recognize the enemy for who it is. We lack love, we lack strength, we lack faith, we lack hope, because we're afraid. And those who believe are the ones who get healed. It's as simple as that.

Okay, well it might not be simple, and I'm sure there are exceptions. it's not a formula. And there's always the need for balance. But I think the balance has been tipped on the side of desperation. We've been taught for so long to believe in God, that we forgot what it really means. We seem to constantly forget how important it is to trust God. But you can't stop someone who believes in what he's doing. You could shoot him, or take away all his money and everything he has. But because he believes, he's immortal.

Yeah, I think that's nice and poetic, and I'm going to stick with it.