Monday, January 26, 2009
Editors note: It is, with deep regret, that the story you are about to read has NO photographic evidence ... some video evidence is being reviewed, but POOR because of the heavy rains, which kept the camera away for its safety. Oh, how I wish I had seen the joy & story telling future, amidst my intense frustration!!! My apologies to all of you visually inclined people, like me. -Ryan (on behalf of Remmy & Fibion)
The day I sunk my truck we had left Ndola at 4:15am, with rain coming down lightly, roosters not yet willing to declare the start of the day. I had hired (rented) a 4x4 truck, double cab, to take us on the planned 8.5 hr journey from Ndola to Livingstone -- about 850 km across Zambia, through Lusaka, the nation's capital. Only the last 100 km would require the 4x4.
As I drove the truck in reverse through the metal gated fence, I politely resisted the urge to "hoot my horn" to say goodbye to Remmy's wife, Irene, his niece Ginney, and sister Ruth, who had somberly arisen at the early hour to send us off.
As we pulled on to the pot holed filled Kariba Road to begin our journey to Livingstone, the rains began to fall harder.
I knew then that the planned 8.5 hr drive would be longer than that.
The passengers: Remmy in the front left passenger seat (as driver sits front right in southern Africa), Fibion behind me, and the daughter of a family friend behind Remmy. On our way, we would drop off this young girl at school, 600 km from Ndola. School would begin the next day for most kids in Zambia.
Driving at 4am anywhere is NEVER easy. 1) all people are tired!!! and 2) its dark! VERY dark.
But in Zambia, there are extra challenges a driver may not experience in Boston, Central PA, or most other places in the USA.
1) Cows crossing the highway (or donkeys, dogs, goats, chickens, etc)
2) Police road blocks (there would be 8 in total on this leg of the trip)
3) Big rig trucks commanding the center of the 2 lane highway, often missing a headlight
4) Bikers carrying heavy loads of charcoal to town to sell, choosing drive down the road -- no blinking lights on the bikes, of course. As far as 50km away from Ndola, I saw these brave, early risers walking or riding their charcoal to town. Incredible dedication to make a buck.
These items do not include driving on the left side of the road, with me in the front right driver's seat and shifting gears with my left hand...despite all of this, no stalls -- thank you very much. :)
After about 6am, my rear passengers awoke. Remmy, thank goodness, had stayed awake the whole time -- quiet, but there to talk when I had a question about protocol at police stops and/or when passing trucks & charcoal bikers at night.
We passed through Lusaka at around 8am, then through small towns...then arriving in Choma around 11:30-12pm. 8 hrs of driving down, with the roughest part ahead.
The town where the rough road begins is called Zimba, once most famous for an eye clinic that attracts THOUSANDS of people each year to this small, roadside town of a few hundred people. The clinic is still operating (had a friend get eye treatment there last year with success), but Zimba is NOW more famous for "THE ROAD."
How bad is it?? Some consider it the worst road in southern Africa. The rental place told me they would absolutely NOT allow me to drive unless I had a 4x4. Assuring them I had driven the stretch twice before, they even more confidently assured me the road had worsened WAY beyond what I portrayed.
The HIGHWAY literally stops, with police and barricading cones pointing you right toward a detour just past the edge of "town." You then merge left onto a sandy, clayish substance known only to the locals as "the road", full of canyons and mountains that clearly are better than the blocked off highway if you can believe it. Despite its daunting appearance, I had my doubts about how bad it was, as I eased through the easy first 10k of the 100k. I had traveled thousands and thousands of miles prior, including this stretch 2 times in the past 3 years. BUT WOW!
It was, without a doubt, the WORST road I have EVER SEEN, let alone driven on. Keep in mind, I had been driving for 10 hrs on relatively easy highway at this point. Within 20 min of driving through the heavy rains, which eroded the land further into a mesh of mud -- mildly forming a "road", my legs started to shake.
After about an hour of tormented bumping and turning back and forth, sometimes almost appearing to be going in the opposite direction of our goal for the sake of avoiding large canyons (once considered mere pot holes), we passed a sizable flat bed truck that was inching along. I couldn't imagine the frustration of its driver, as I had a small 4x4 Ford Ranger with powerful, yet agile, control.
Then -- THE RAINS CAME HARD! AND HARDER AND HARDER. My legs were utterly exhausted, but no room to pull over or I would surely sink. When the muds start coming, you gotta keep moving.
As we rounded a bend, we saw a small, white bridge crossing railroad tracks. It was a 1 way bridge, just big enough for a 4x4 like me...and a tight squeeze for a 2 trailer flat bed truck.
This is the scene that would take up so much of my time for the next few hours.
As I approached the bridge, a 2 trailer flat bed truck was coming toward me -- TRYING to get over the small bridge, with me next in line to pass from our end toward Livingstone. I could see it happening before my eyes. It was getting stuck! the slight climb on the bridge was too hard for the truck to get traction in the mud and the small space prevented the truck from gunning it over.
I waited on a firm part of the road, away from the thick mud on either side of the "road." After a few minutes, Fibion jumped out to investigate and use the video camera to capture the moment. Still stuck.
After about 20 more min, I was told that I may be able to go down into a ditch to the right of the bridge, cross the railroad tracks, then drive up a small hill and return to the road on the other side of the bridge.
Fibion, who cannot drive, told me "it is not possible and too risky." Remmy, who can drive and grew up close by, said, "it can be done, but you should come and see."
This story has already gone on WAY too long and has been built up by me and others toooooooo much. You can all guess what happened.
I jumped out of the truck, walked down the ridge, onto the tracks and looked at the hill that I was to climb back on to the road. Without fully walking my truck's upcoming path, I returned to my truck, jumped in and began to descend down into the ditch. I could not wait for the stuck truck any longer.
Well - the first part -- the descent went fine. Across the railroad tracks -- fine. Well, an important part of this situation is to KEEP MOVING and don't stop in mud - especially in ditches. Just as I was about to gun it to make the climb up, 2 people walked out from behind the stuck truck's trailer and stood RIGHT in front of my path. I hit the brakes, beeped, waved, and screamed for them to move. They simply waved back, thinking I was reaching out to them to make sure they felt included in the adventure.
As about 20 people gathered on the side of the road to see if I could do it, I began to sink. I had waited too long trying to wait for the people (1 little girl about 8 yrs old) to move out of my way so I could go up.
At first, it wasn't bad. Then, as I tried to reverse and go forward, over and over, trying to find traction... I kept sinking. Seemingly all 20 people watching started shouting suggestions, each upset with me when I seemingly ignored them to follow the advice of someone else that "chose" to hear over them.
After about 30 min more of trying, I climbed to look out my passenger window to discover that mud was now almost up to my window -- above the wheel well on my left side of the truck. This was bad!!!!
The same 20 people who were standing around simply shook their hands in sadness. Just when we confirmed I was indeed sunk, the "of course" happened...the truck on the bridge got OVER the bridge and the path on the "road" was clear for others to pass.
In the states, that would've happened. Not in Zambia. People watching me, instead of jumping in their cars to race onward, rolled up their sleeves, dove into the mud and began working on ways to get me out. We tried rope, pulling our truck out with other trucks, digging tracks out for me to drive on...using logs, rocks, etc for traction. We tried and tried and tried. All other trucks were pulled toward me, not me going out of the mud. I WAS STUCK!
Then, a 2 flat bed truck came. 1 guy, completely covered in mud from head to toe (wearing a formal, purple dress shirt, black dress pants and leather shoes) dove again into the mud, rigged a metal chain around the base of my car and then connected it to the big rig.
I FEARED the truck wouldn't be able to get me out, as the others hadn't budged me -- except to make me go deeper. I FEARED the mud would hold me under, with the big truck pulling off the front half of my rental truck.
But quite the opposite. FOr just a second, it was in doubt, but then the big truck basically was able to pull me UP and then out.
It took us about 2 hrs to get the 20km left in the trip -- stopping to clean out the mud, pull out tall grass, etc from inside the truck.
I had to pay the guys that helped me -- $160 in total, where the average annual income is about $365/year. Without complaining about the mud or the work, with no promise of anything at the end, my Zambian friends demonstrated again to me why I love this part of the world. When a stranger is in need and no plan can be found, they just keep working hard and saying yes, when no would be clearly more convenient.
After 14.5 hrs of driving halfway across Zambia, we eventually made it to Livingstone well after our targeted time. As we raced across the border, speeding quickly by Victoria Falls...too consumed by the experience we had just had... I forgot to remember that loving our neighbor is a real thing here, lived out everyday.
I'm sifting through video...most of it poor because of the rains. But I hope to have SOME video of the trunk sinking up soon. Stay tuned!
I told you all to pray from 11-13 Jan as we travel across Zambia and Zimbabwe. You were doing that. We knew it and could tell. By God's grace, we returned a safe truck and passed through to Zimbabwe late that night...without problem.
Thanks for reading this long story. Tomorrow's will be far shorter (and better), as I share about chickens & church in Zimbabwe.
For now, bedtime.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
One verse: "Why should I fear when the Lord is on my side? Why should I fear when He stands by my side? He is to me, my comfort & my strength. Tell me why should I fear?"
I just had gone with 3 friends to see a farming project that was providing income generating crops to people in need -- families that needed a champion. The leader of the project's daughter, Hosanna, was along for the ride. As we all silently rumbled along in the car, overwhelmed by the need, she just started singing this little song. :) As I teared up, I showed her the voice recorder. She sang it again. Then, I gave it back to her, pressed play, and without really realizing that the voice on the other end was her own -- she joined the voice in singing. Meeting Hosanna and hearing her little song was a definite highlight for me.
I saw unspeakable things on this trip that will take me months, perhaps years, to talk about. Things done to kids that made me cry and wonder HOW someone could possibly rationalize against the core-fibers of who we are as people. For now, I ask for prayers of healing for those kids, those that are trying to help them, and also for my heart and mind.
The tragedies I see continue to mount the closer people feel to me. The level of intimacy between myself and some friends there now is both beautiful and scary at the same time. Pray that I draw love, not hardness of heart.
As I begin reflecting on the trip, I'm humbled by the moments of unspeakable love -- moments when I experienced what I believe to be the best of humanity -- those moments that I'll savor and, in time, try to communicate the experience to you all. For now, the best I am able to write without bursting into tears (again) is that our God reigns. Someday, He will redeem all of this! Until that time, let me be among the many to tell you that love & depth of compassion are alive and kicking in Zimbabwe & Zambia.
This trip, Remmy, Fibion, and I became a team -- the highlight of the trip. It was only the 2nd time for Remmy & Fibion to meet in person. But, after nearly 3 weeks of traveling with someone, you begin to know them quite well. For this development alone, the trip was worth it!
As you may know, Remmy (Zambia) & Fibion (Zimbabwe) serve as our Program Directors in Africa. Throughout the trip, I had each of them lead some of the meetings, make the introductions and set the stage for what we want to accomplish. Sometimes, I would just silently and smile as I listened to them talk -- it was as if I was listening to myself talk about the mission, vision and values of Forgotten Voices. As the leader of our small start-up non-profit, that was VERY fulfilling to see that the tone and principles are becoming ingrained. Things I used to write in my basement on paper in the early days were now echoing through the mouths of pastors in Africa. VERY cool!
But it doesn't stop there!!! We also looked at 8 different potential church projects in Zambia that would assist about 500 kids, as well as build economic opportunity for some saints that are choosing to take care of these kids - even when no would be more convenient.
In Zambia - I also learned about patience -- something I learn (or perhaps relearn) every time I come to Africa. When I was at my worst and lost my cool after driving for 14 hrs in a day, some strangers helped me remember what it means to love (my truck sinking story tomorrow).
In Zimbabwe - i fell in love again with a country that everyone seems to scoff at these days. Despite unspeakable challenges, friends of mine (old & new) press on "making a plan" to literally survive another day. Despite inflation, raw sewage & cholera reeking havoc on health systems, and a completely incompetent government (that legally fails to exist), the people press on.
In the coming days, I hope to share some snapshots of the trip.
1) Tomorrow (Monday) - Truck sinking & compassion
2) Tuesday - Chicken offering & Zimbabwe
3) Wednesday - zambia highlights
4) More to follow...
Peace, love, and joy from the states (finally),
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
All (not so funny) jokes aside - it was a great trip back. Emergency row all to myself, which was FANTASTIC. I needed the space and the rest.
Thanks to all that have been praying. My virus is almost completely gone and the bronchitis is definitely gone. The trick for me is 2 days of rest. I'm tired. Emotionally, physically and mentally.
I wrote a few blog posts on the plane and notes along the way. Stories to come...
thanks for your patience and grace as i recover. i'm in PA for a day and then get home to Katie tomorrow (thursday). again, thanks for loving both of us through this,
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I'm emotionally and physically tired, leaving with all not
accomplished that I had hoped for. As always, I planned for WAY too
much for a short trip -- this one by myself from the states.
However - you all need to know that SOOOO much good came out of it, as
well. I'm anxious to sit and write a lot when I get home.
I haven't had power or internet for over a week now, so this is a short summary.
- Launching new projects in Zambia
- GREAT weather -- about 80 every day
- Great new friendships and stronger old ones
- Access to drugs when i got sick in Zimbabwe after Zambia
- Bad virus that impacted me for about 7 days
- Sinking my vehicle -- it was bad...story to come
- The seat I had on the way to Africa --- too crammed - pray that i
can change on my way back as i have the exact same one
OK - this isnt even close to what i wanted to write or what needs to
be written. i have a lot to process about chickens, goals, manure,
orphans, illnesses, death, joy, farming, 1.25 quadrillion to 1 USD in
zimbabwe, etc. A LOT of joys and happiness, as well as the challenges
most of all - i miss my wife after being away for 3 weeks. she's a
saint. if you've called or emailed her while i've been away, THANK
I leave now for Johannesburg, there for about 3 hrs and then 18.5 hrs
to DC via senegal, arriving at 6am on the 21st.... I"m sad to miss the
festivities the day before in DC.
I'll be home with my wife on the 22nd in the evening -- lots of plane
Miss you all and look forward to writing more,
Thanks, sincerely, for praying --- it's been hard, but your prayers
have surely sustained me,
Note from Ryan Keith, Forgotten Voices
717.506.0633 (office) | 717.918.4767 (fax)
Skype: BulawayoBandit | Ryan@ForgottenVoices.org
Empowering Orphans: Local People, Local Projects.
Find out how you can use your voice at www.ForgottenVoices.org
Read Ryan's Blog here: http://www.travelwithfvi.blogspot.com/
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Over two days, Ryan, Remmy and Fibion drove a total of 21 hours! Along the way the truck they rented to travel in Zambia was "sunk". As it was only a text message, I'm not sure if it was a mud pit or a small pond or what, but it took them four hours to get another vehicle to pull them out. As far as I know, the rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, but I am sure Ryan will have more stories about the drive. Driving that distance in Africa is typically a pretty bumpy road (both literally and figuratively!).
Ryan's messages have been both distressed and hopeful. He has seen an obvious decline in infrastructure, which especially has an impact on health, of those who are typically healthy, but especially of those with an already weakened immune system. However, they have also had the opportunity to visit some churches that Forgotten Voices has partnered with for a year or more, which Ryan said has been encouraging.
Please pray for Ryan's health, as he has had a mild virus for the past few days. He was able to get some medicine, but please keep him in your prayers.
I wish I had more to share, but texts do not leave much room for detail. Thank you for following Ryan's travels, and thank you for your prayers for his safety, the health and safety of our friends in Africa, and that this trip would be productive and valuable to the work that God is doing in Southern Africa.
Friday, January 9, 2009
This will be SADLY short for all I've seen and learned. I'll be typing a bunch tonight from each day and will post tomorrow (or tonight, while you are sleeping the USA).
I've now been to Africa 10 times, including this trip, and its amazing to me how I slip back into routines and forget I'm in a completely differnet part of the world. It's so natural now, as I greet the neighbors, children that I know here in Ndola, etc. It's soooo fun to become at home in different places over time.
Today, I walked out of the house I'm staying at here in Ndola (mentioned earlier with photo) to find some chickens in the bushes. I didnt know that the Hamapandes, who I'm staying with, had chickens. :) So this fact - chickens RIGHT by the front door - shook me and helped me remember today would not be just another day. :)
I've done a TON of waiting today, in lines for things, only to discover that we would have to come back another day. The joys of Africa. I simply love it and the lessons I learn from waiting on the Lord and cherishing each breath.
Today, my friends, I think I've made some decisions on projects that I've seen - decisions I'll bring back for our 22nd January board meeting. Decisions that will help realize the dreams of 6 different churches we've met already. I hope to post pictures and details about these projects tomorrow (as I wrote just now).
MY sincere apologies for not blogging more. I'm doing 14-16 hr work days here and sleeping soundly each night, when I usually like to write before falling asleep. Katie told me you all would understand, but I do know how much some of these reflections help you pray specifically.
Quick praise. I hired/rented a truck today to pass through zambia by road. I'll drive 800 km on Sunday, starting at 9pm your time or 4am my time here. It'll take me over 10 hrs. I had to hire a truck, as the road is SOOO bad for the last 200 that the car company wouldnt rent me anything else. Its REALLY BAD even for Zambia. Oh the praise - i was going to go by bus, but because of safety issues and timing withs chool holidays ending sunday, it didnt' work out. SO MANY people have been praying i'd get a truck/car instead. I have relented and rented one for Sunday. I praise God for that ability.
Dreams - VERY quickly - you should know that this trip has been amazing already. i've met humble servants that are ready and willing to join you in realizing the hopes and dreams of kids, who long to return to school. i'll be writing about that tonight, as well and posting tomorrow.
Finally - blogging, as you can imagine is tricky. i walked to 4 different internet cafes - some full and some with non working computers. thanks for your patience. i have an hour here and there throughout the week, but someo f that has been filled with waiting to use the lines.
PS PRAY ON!
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Anyway - this morning, as I was sitting down to type this blog, I thought I would be ambitious and plug in my powerstrip through an adapter, attached to a Zambian surge protector. I've seen it done and have generally been too scared to try it because I hate being shocked. Having TOTAL confident this morning in both the surge protector label on the Zambian cord and mine from Targus in the USA, I actually plugged it in without too much worry.
Here, after plugging in the item, you must flick a switch to turn on the power. Well, when I turned the switch on, a gigantic flash of light emerged from the Zambian power cord, setting off a bang, and a shot of electricity up my right arm and into the right side of my chest. IT HURT! The crazy thing is that I saw it happening as it went up. Our brains are incredible that way, even though it was a flash of light.
But again - I AM FINE! My power strip is not and will be retired on day 4, in record time for me. Sad.
My poor wife and others worry about cholera and rogue officers in Zimbabwe. I, instead, am challenged by a power cord. :) I MUST AGAIN EMPHASIZE that I am totally fine and would not be joking about this if I wasn't. It gave our whole house a fright since the bang and my girlish scream stirred everyone to come rushing in.
Except Fibion. :) He quietly emerged a few minutes later, laughing. He had heard me do the same at the end of my screaming. :) He came in and said, "Is everyone still alive? I thought I'd let you die a little bit." We all laughed because, as usual, my reaction was WAY more dramatic than the situation actually called for. He has a nice, calm, pastoral way of calming us down when we are frightened.
In other news - we are about to set off for the day after a brief meeting this morning and distributing a lot of the stuff I brought for Remmy & Fibion to help them in their work for Forgotten Voices (pens, notebooks, planners, business cards, voice recorders, etc.).
Today, we'll visit a feeding programme sponsored by the local Vineyard Church in Ndola. The leader is a graduate of the Theological College of Central Africa here in TCCA, which I referenced in my post yesterday. Not only are we looking at their model for feeding, but trying to get to know the main churches here in Ndola, which Vineyard is certainly one of and has some influence on various areas of ministry in the city.
We'll then go into town, have a lunch meeting together, and then do some shopping (look for an extension cord) and book our transport for this coming Sunday when we depart for Zimbabwe. School holiday ends here over the weekend and starts back Monday, making weekend travel difficult. We have a few backup plans == will update you all.
Pray for wisdom and discernment for Remmy, Fibion and I as we look at projects that we may help fund and make decisions about some difficult ethical and moral questions facing some of the projects.
Perhaps one of my favorite things about my job is putting the pieces together -- seemingly unfixable situations. I love listening to all the positions and perspectives over the few weeks of traveling and then slowly, with rflection, putting pieces together that will bear fruit long-term in these difficult circumstances.
This trip has already challenged me in this area and promises to continue doing the same. Pray on, my friend.
Until I get to a computer next,
Your ambassador and servant in this grand adventure,
We are intentional about working with graduates of TCCA and TCZ (Theological College of Zimbabwe) to help insure we partner with theologically sound, well trained, servants to the world.
We discussed a new initiative that we are still working to launch here called the Graduate Network, which will help connect TCCA graduates around the country back with TCCA and TCCA & Forgotten Voices to learn more about their churches' challenges in ministry, especially AIDS orphan care. By knowing where people are, what they are struggling with and what successes they have, we can better plan our growth and impact with the seminary. It also provides a great means to build the local church and encourage it to learn from itself, something few nations do well across denominations. I remain, as does our Board, deeply commmitted to building local capacity and cooperation of the local church to do the things called has called on us all to do to love our neighbor, particularly orphans and widows.
The meeting also included Willie, the Chairman of the TCCA Alumni Association, who also is now the chairman of the Forgotten Voices Zambia Board of Directors. A cool guy I look forward to sharing more about in the days ahead after the trip.
There are, as is the same for all projects anywhere in the world, hurdles to get over. It was a good meeting, where we shared the challenges as we see them and discussed ways around them. The only thing I can really share at this point is that we all remain confident a way forward can be made and the challenges each party is experiencing can be worked around - we hope. Please remain in prayer for the wisdom necessary for all these challenges. Doing work in southern Africa is sometimes slow, but fruitful if done properly. THANK YOU! Sorry to be so vague, but more conversations will take place over the week and I am still pondering my own perceptions of the way forward.
Finally - perhaps most importantly - I was ROCKED today by a 4th grader in Phase 10 --- well a version of the American card game that she made up after I taught about 6 people in Ndola the rules. After finishing 3rd in the real Phase 10 tournament, my 4th grade friend, Hope, made up a game on the fly that was quite fun, but I never seemed to win. :) For those that know me well, making up games on the spot is one of life's greatest joys. I then happily beat her in a game I created that is a blend of guess what number, simon says, hang man and that "right foot in and shake it all about" game that I cannot remmeber the name of at the moment. I was SOOO Excited for this new game that we played for quite some time and engaged some pastors that had come to meet me, before I realized who they were --- oops. :) It turned out ok after they loosened up and jumped in. :)
Devotions ended the day. I led a time of reflection on Pslam 67. Zambians and Zimbabweans are experiencing incredible corruption in many facets of life. The passage is fitting for them and for us, as we wait on January 20th and the inaguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President. Let us praise God across the nations and look to our God for all things! As your family has time, I encourage you to read it. Every night, Remmy, Fibion and I are taking a different passage and sharing a message. I'll post the passage with each post from now on so you can follow along.
Sorry for no pictures yet. Working on some power, internet speed issues.
Greetings from Zambia. Coming from 6 inches of snow and below freezing temparatures in Boston, Ndola has welcomed me with 80+ temps and NO SNOW. :-) Instead, we have received powerful rains and green grass. Praise the Lord! With an entire economy built around farming for most people here, the rains separate those that will eat from those that will not. Crops are coming in nicely here, at least the ones I've seen so far. For all you farmers out there, 3 corn stalks per hole are surviving, where in years past 1-2 was more realistic. Those trying 4 are pushing it and their height has suffered.
Tonight, we had a Board meeting with the new Forgotten Voices Zambia Board, a group that is legally required for us to operate in Zambia. 7 people, plus Fibion and I, gathered for an informal time of fellowship. We talked about challenges facing the church, the situation in Gaza, kids & what they are teaching us, spiritual development of children, and I took questions about my vision for the way forward in Zambia, my personal life, work experience, etc. They also had some perspectives to share and concerns they had that we should keep in mind as we get started in Zambia. All good things. I taped each of them on video, sharing their names, jobs, prayer requests and reasons for joining the Forgottne Voices Zambia board.
I look forward to showing you these shots/videos when I get back. I praise God for their service, wisdom and discernment that they bring to a very complex situation.
The night ended with 10 hrs of sleep!!! I was SOOOOOO tired!!! I'll try to post a picture of my room, which I share with Fibion.
Must jet off,
Sunday, January 4, 2009
I'm now safely in South Africa after a shorter than normal 14hr 10min flight, which can typically last between 18-20 hrs with fuel stops. With that said, it was probably one of the hardest flights for me. My next door neighbor on the flight has the flu. I am against the wall (as I already wrote - note to self - avoid row 36) so no room because no seat in front of me. So I took lots of walks and survived. :) Great dinner, good food, good service (minus my green tv that flickered). Ah how rough I have it! :)
So now I go to the home of friends here, Steve & Michele Lockwood and their four kids. They are missionaries in Johannesburg, South Africa with a group called SIM. Steve is picking me up and taking me to their place, about 10 min from the airport.
We'll eat, catch up, I'll shower, and try to stay awake. We landed at about 3:10pm here, 7 hrs ahead of EST.
Thanks for all your prayers. We got off early, smooth flight, and just trying to stay awake for as long as possible, before crashing and then leaving for Ndola, Zambia in the morning.
May write more before heading back to the airport for the Zambia flight.
Until then, lots of love,
PS We had Steers (a burger/chicken place) and fries. After playing some Wii and getting rocked by a 4 yr old, Steve and I are watching the Atlanta/Arizona NFL game. Don't know ANY of the scores so don't tell me. :)
That next year, I lost a mentor of mine, the President of Messiah College, Rodney Sawatsky. His was a slow, painful death, as cancer took away various functions over time. I’ll always cherish the last time I spent with him and his wife, Lorna. Rod, Lorna, and I sat on their back porch and talked for about 3 hours, while eating cookies. Sometimes we would sit for long periods of time without saying a word...just cherishing each other’s company.
Just this past year, I lost my hero and one of my closest friends to cancer... Cliff Jones. He was in his early 80s but lived like he was 25. Cliff and his incredible wife, Carole, had essentially adopted me in Central PA. They had become 2nd parents to me, offering (sometimes instructively insisting) advice on my career, love life, priorities, church, whatever. Shortly after meeting my now wife, Katie, Cliff insisted on repeatedly reminding me that Katie was the one for me and I shouldn’t waste any time before proposing. In fact, once when I was about to leave one of his house parties, Cliff stopped the festivities to announce to a room of some of my co-workers, that I was leaving to go home and propose. He made a big scene of it, bringing me a nice bottle of champagne and asking if I wanted to say anything to the group before departing. The thing about it was that I was NOT going to propose. It was just Cliff’s way of pushing me in that direction, despite only dating Katie for a couple months at the time. Cliff knew and he was right. He was funny like that to those that knew him well.
I’ve lost other relatives, some close, classmates and distant friends, as well as relatives of close friends.
Why am I writing this as a blog post about Forgotten Voices and my trip to southern Africa? Well, death is something I must consider often on these trips. It’s something that forces me to wrestle with truth, life, death, realities that make me uncomfortable. It’s the kind of thing I typically think about, but don’t share with you all because who wants to read about death, right?
Well – here’s the reality. Yesterday, I wrote about kids and how passionate I am about them. Every day, 1,000 children in Zimbabwe become orphaned because of AIDS related illnesses. That’s about 365,000 kids a year now! 365,000!!! Each with a name, like Peterson, Hope, Grace, Godfrey, Ryan, Michael, Jesse, Abigail, etc.
Kids who have watched their parents die, some slowly and some quickly. AIDS is incredibly erratic and the pace HIV/AIDS destroy the body varies, based on a multitude of factors. I implore you to read more about it under our Resources section at www.ForgottenVoices.org.
I’m going on this trip to help launch new projects in Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as creatively trying to keep existing projects going in Zimbabwe. All projects are working hand in hand with local churches and communities to meet the physical & spiritual needs of these vulnerable children.
Here’s more reality. Sometimes kids die because no one was there to champion for them. Sometimes they had people willing to care for them, but these folks lacked basic resources to make sure they were eating, going to school, and getting healthy. Sometimes, people have those things, but don’t know how to provide counseling to kids that have just watched their parents die, leaving them seemingly alone in the world. An estimated 16% of kids live in child head households in Zimbabwe, meaning no adult is regularly present and the child is looking out for siblings and/or cousins.
I’m going to help some of our partners develop a framework for how we can help even more pastors in Zimbabwe and Zambia learn the skills they need to care for these vulnerable kids and their parent, who may have lost a wife or a husband. Then, we, including you, can help fund the needs of vulnerable kids, with the local people running, monitoring, and evaluating from the project.
When I think about my friends Cliff & Rod, as well as my grandfather, their long lives give me some solace, as well as the assurance that each of them is in heaven with our God...worshipping Him and rejoicing in heaven.
When I think of the now thousands of kids I’ve seen here and the hundreds I have met, I do get scared that we will not be able to do the possible and fulfil the commands of God (James 1: 24-25 among countless others) to care for orphans and widows...physically and spiritually. And the WE is you, me, Fibion, Remmy, our friends in churches in Africa, your neighbours, mailman, WE.
EVERY time I come, church project leaders pull me away from the group of people I’m with and share with me who has died since I saw them last. They do it quietly, so as not to disrupt the hope that is brewing when we are all dreaming about how we can help more kids and their caregivers.
Kids die or appear to be about to die and that bothers me deeply, every time. Every kid.
For about a year, from mid 2005 – mid 2006, I stopped asking the names of these kids because it was too hard to know their stories and see so many of them pass away. Not anymore.
Today, as you go about your day, I encourage you to pray specifically for these young children. Pray for peace and solace for them as they grieve the lost of THEIR loved ones. For me, it helps to imagine and remember what it felt like to lose my grandfather, Rodney, Cliff... not so much to create grief, but try to relate...even though I’m 29 years old and not 12 like many kids I will meet this month, staring at the reality that “I just lost my mom and now must care for my 2 brothers...I may have to stop going to school unless something is done.” As that kid, I would realize that I’ve been doing it for some time now, with my mom too tired and weak to do much else, as HIV/AIDS destroyed her immune system over time. Now is not the time for tears, I may say, but tears are what I need....if I was this kid, I would be lost.
I’m not manufacturing pain or loss or grief, which is sometimes what it may appear if you haven’t been here to see and understand the magnitude of the challenge. In fact, after writing this, I have boundless joy with the realities that face us. Our God has given us the awesome challenge and privilege to join Him in loving our neighbours. I’m SOOOOO excited to begin this new trip and dream with people in Africa and you all back home.
I know this was a long, meandering post. After writing it, I feel better so perhaps this post was simply a self-reflection that I just needed to write for me...or for you. Not sure. Probably both.
Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing this blog with others. Above all, thanks for saying yes and helping Forgotten Voices help equip local churches to care for kids that need a champion.
With love from South Africa,
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Remeber how I just wrote about loving kids????
Well, I'm in the 1st row, with no room to stretch my legs. Guess who is to the right of me? You guessed it. The couple with the twins!!! To the right of them are 2 more young kids. :)
I can hear all the parents out there now. "We'll see how much Ryan loves kids now after 15 hrs with them!!!"
Indeed we will. Had to write and share the irony. Out of 200+ people, I am the lucky one that gets the baby aisle with no leg room. :) I thought row 36A was a good one so I didn't bother complaining on a packed flight. :)
Ha - now I know. Yah kids!!!!
We are ready to take off.
Until south africa,
Wish I had ear plugs,
But I (think) I still love kids,
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
The thing I took away from the conversation with the overwhelmed mom and dad was this: "They are passionate about kids, too."
By far, my favorite strangers to talk with are new parents or grandparents. Why? They have so many hopes and dreams for their kids. The look of excitement (and a slight tinge of fear) that says, "what's going to happen to them in the future?" Every parent and grandparent have that look.
As I watched these two new borns get ready to board our ~16 hr flight to South Africa, I couldn't help but be excited for them, as well.
One of the most common questions I get when I go to Zambia or Zimbabwe, especially, is WHY TAKE THE RISK? My answer is almost always the same: because I'm going on behalf of an effort -- on your behalf -- we are joining with local churches and communities in southern Africa to meet the physical & spiritual needs of vulnerable kids... kids who need a champion. kids who need someone that's crazy about them -- and i firmly believe that's every kid.
sadly, there are lots of kids that don't have that yet. one of my fears about going is that people like you all, reading this blog, get bored with the idea of helping AIDS orphans...bored with the idea that we are simply doing more of the same. to me, that's a funny notion because every kid is different. every kid has a unique voice and every kid has hopes & dreams for what may come of them when they are older.
so - as i sit and listen to kids scream and run around the waiting area by Gate B20, i cannot help but get excited about the hopes and dreams of each of these children, as well as the thousands the projects I'll visit strive to help each year.
this trip, i hope to work with new pastors and new leaders in zambia & zimbabwe to help even more kids, while also continuing to help local people care for kids that we all (including you) helped last year.
you can also tell that i ramble when i'm tired - going on a couple of hours.
OVERALL POINT -- i like kids... i love them. i love learning from them and working with others to make sure they will have the joy of dreaming about what's next after being a kid... real dreams that actually could come true, rather than be perpetually lonely, poor, without guidance, etc.
the GREAT thing and challenge about Forgotten Voices is there are millions (literally - no exaggeration) of kids that need a champion like that --- someone who is crazy about them and wants to dream dreams with them. our network of old church partners and new ones in 2009 are daring to dream, are working hard, and are anxious to have you continue in their journey.
to my right and immediately behind me - a group of students from the university of chicago - about to depart on a study abroad program. as i listen to them gleefully talk about what to expect in Africa on their first visit to the continent, i am just silently smiling. my first trip to zimbabwe stole my heart -- the kids there and those that care for them still have it. i'm SOOOO deeply DEEPLY excited and thankful that the same has happenened for many of you.
i recognize that i go on your behalf and it is a responsibility that i don't take lightly, but i look forward to having some fun along the way as i help you meet and experience the hopes, dreams and seemingly unending love that pours from the hearts & minds of vulnerable children and those that are trying to care for them. i'm VERY excited to meet them again and share their stories with you all here.
let's get going... for now, i'm jetting to walk around and maybe meet some new people. :) i only have 2 hrs until we board... cannot wait!!!
until i write from south africa on 4 Jan,
Thursday, January 1, 2009
I'm returning to Zimbabwe and Zambia, beginning the journey in 2 days. I leave Saturday and will be returning Jan 21. Please be in prayer for my trip. As always, you will be able to follow my travels RIGHT here on this blog.
Some specific prayer requests:
1) Safe Travel here in the US with snow expected on Saturday
2) Safe travel to South Africa and then on to Zambia
3) Wisdom and discernment for me, Remmy & Fibion (our 2 Program Directors) who will be traveling with me, as we decide who we should begin new partnerships with in Zambia, as well as begin groundwork for the launch of new initiatives later in 2009
4) Conversations with strangers. As an American, people always want to talk with me about lots of things, some very personal to them. It's one of my favorite parts of travel. I meet people from all over the world. Pray for this unique way to minister to people as I go.
5) Pray for Remmy, Fibion and I as we travel by bus across Zambia and then cross into Zimbabwe -- lots of police stops, potential breakdowns, etc.
6) Pray for peace, love, and joy as we evaluate projects in Zimbabwe, as well as figure out how we can keep going in a country that continues to spiral downward economically.
7) Pray for all the people we will interact with at churches, who are serving daily and loving kids that aren't there own, but treating them as if they were.
8) Finally, perhaps most important to me personally, pray for my wife, Katie, as I go. Pray for peace and comfort for her, as I travel in some remote areas and go days sometimes without any way to give word that we are well.
Thank you, friends! When I arrive in Zambia, I hope to write some of my thoughts on 2009 and what I hope we can accomplish together, by God's grace.
Peace to you and yours. Lots of love.