Suggestion Box

Any one who knows me can attest to the fact that I love editorializing. I have opinions on just about everything, and if I don’t have one, I’m pretty good at making one up on the spot. I also really love writing. It was these two reasons that prompted me to start this blog a little over a year ago. If you look back at my posts, however, you will notice a considerable gap in time with few or no posts at all. Part of this is due to life’s circumstances, part is my well-practiced laziness and procrastination, and part of it is simply a lack of ideas for things to write about.

This is where you come in. I need your help in coming up with some ideas of things to write about. Some things I can get worked up about and start a great conversation with. And yes, I just hung a preposition right out there. And I don’t care–trying to fit all of your prepositions into the middle of a sentence just makes you sound pretentious.

But getting back to my point–please leave your comments on some blog ideas. They could be about pop culture, theology, philosophy, sports, “religion”, or whatever. Like I said: if I don’t already have an opinion, I’ll make one up for the sake of debate.

Thank you for your help. Unless you don’t help, and in that case, thanks for nothing.

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Going to Nicaragua: The Finale (Finally)

Well, it’s only been two- three- four-and-a-half months, but as promised, here is a post about my trip to Nicaragua.  As a famous procrastinator once said:  “Better late than never.”

Famous Procrastinator

I’ll be perfectly honest.  In the days leading up to the trip, I was a little bit nervous.  My only previous international excursion was a road trip through eastern Canada 11 years early with the esteemed Kevin from Engaged.  Not to mention my sensitivity to motion sickness combined with the prospect of seven airplane rides and two river rides by boat.  But, with all necessary vaccinations covered and a backpack full mostly with snacks, I was as ready as I could be.

 

Aeropuerto Internacional Augusto C. Sandino

We left St. Louis at around 11am on Saturday morning, and after brief but pleasant visits to Dallas and Miami, we arrived in Managua at around 7:30pm local time.  As Marcus had gone ahead to take care of some business and was to meet us in Siuna the following day, we were met at the Aeropuerto Internacional Augusto C. Sandino by two of his trusted friends, Valeria and Ephraim.  They took us to our lodging in Managua, a place known as Provadenic.

 

 

My boarding pass.

The La Costeña daily to Siuna.

After a good meal and a good night’s rest, we were ready to head out to Siuna the next morning. For me, this is where the trip got really sketchy.  We were flying there on a regional airline known as La Costeña. My boarding pass did not reassure me.  Neither did seeing the actual airplane we were to fly in.

Knee deep ruts. We bottomed out and had to jack the truck up to get out.

We made a safe landing, and immediately hit the road for Alamikamba.  And I use the word “road” a bit freely here, because the route upon which we traveled consisted mostly of large rocks and larger potholes.  And the occasional knee deep rut.

River shrimp soup and home-grown coffee.

When we arrived at Alamikamba, we went straight to a lodge owned and operated by an American retiree.  Pretty cool place, with a phenomenal cook on site.  Best river shrimp soup and the best coffee I’ve ever had.  That evening, a couple of the Nicaraguans with us and I went back to a village we passed and hour or so back up the road to show a movie at a revival they were having at the Assembly of God church.  More good coffee (this time sweetened) and the best fried bread I’ve ever eaten.

Our (river) chariots await.

The next morning, it was time to hit the river. The group of us piled into two boats, one piloted by Marcus, and the other by the famous Seferino (sp?), our esteemed river guide.  This was the only part of the whole trip when I actually was nervous, due mostly to my water/fish phobia and my visions of being mauled by crocodiles and river sharks, neither of which actually existed in the Prinzapolka river. Apparently there are caiman, however, and giant tarpon, which is enough for me.

 

 

Tuburus-ians? Tuburus-ites? Tuburus-ers?

Marcus and Don doing water quality tests.

After a few hours on the river, we arrived at our first destination, the village of Tuburus.  We were met by just about every person who was currently present in the village.  After unloading and settling in a bit, Dixie, Jackie, and Tita got to work on the women’s and children’s activities.  Marcus and Don (a.k.a. Coach) did some water quality testing on the two wells in the village to see if it was worth putting in the effort to fix the wells. The villagers have superstitions about drinking water out of the ground and use the river as their primary source of water.  The government has also provided them with rainwater capturing equipment and filters, but my understanding is that they rarely use them, mostly because they are resistant to changing things they’ve been doing the same way for centuries. Changing these habits is one of the primary challenges facing anyone attempting to improve quality of life for the Meskitu people.

The Jesus film in Meskitu.

In the afternoon, Dennis, Marcus and I got the a/v equipment set up, and as soon as darkness fell, the whole village turned out to watch the Jesus film overdubbed in the Meskitu native language. Even though it was just a sheet stretched out on an old shed, it was a hit. They even brought the pews out of the Moravian church for seating.

Kids grinding cacao in Tuburus

After a refreshing night’s sleep on the Moravian preacher’s porch in a hammock, I woke up at dawn to the sound of howler monkeys in the jungle and roosters in the village. The ladies went around and handed out tomato and watermelon seeds to each household, and then we were back on the river and on our way to our next destination, the village of Bethel (or Betil-I’m not sure of the spelling). Upon our arrival in Bethel, it was more or less a repeat of the routine from Tuburus.  The girls did the women’s and children’s activities, and then handed out the seeds to them as they were

Marcus explaining the Proclaimer.

leaving.  Then we set up our equipment for the film inside the church.  As he did in Tuburus, Marcus gave out some baseball equipment, as well as a Proclaimer radio.  The radio has a digital recording of the entire New Testament in the Meskitu language and can be powered a variety of ways: a built in solar panel, batteries, a traditional power cord, or a hand crank.  Pretty awesome.

The Jesus film in Bethel.

The lodge at Alamikamba

We showed the Jesus film again at dark, and then, since it was a full moon and the river was thereby navigable by night, it was decided we would pack up and head back to Alamikamba. Now when you have a water/fish phobia, the only thing really worse than being on the water is being on the water in the dark.  Fortunately, Marcus is an excellent boat pilot, and got us back into Alamikamba at around midnight. Since the dock is in the shadier part of Alamikamba where all the bars and brothels are (and guns apparently, since we heard a gunshot), we hung out by the dock until Marcus got back with the truck.  We stealthily returned to the lodge and crashed for the night.

My view from the tailgate.The next morning, we were back on the road back to Siuna. I decided to ride standing on the tailgate of the truck like the Nicaraguans do.  It turns out it’s a ton more comfortable because your legs act like shock absorbers instead of your butt having to do it.  Plus you get to see way more of the scenery, which was pretty cool, too.  We got stopped and searched by the national police along the way because there had been some sort of botched drug exchange the night before and a huge shipment of drugs had disappeared. We didn’t have anything though, so after a little while, they let us through.

The hotel lobby in Siuna.

Siuna's abandoned gold mine.

We got into Siuna and unloaded at our hotel just minutes before a huge rainstorm hit. After it had cleared up, Marcus took us on a walking tour of the town.  There used to be a huge gold mine there that had supported the local economy. Some locals still get small amounts of gold through panning and then turn it into jewelry.

The Tipitapa school.

Dixie with some of the students.

The next morning it was back on La Costeña and back to Managua. From the airport in Managua we went on a tour of some of the sites that Marcus and the people he works with operate or support.  The first visit was to a school in a barrio know as Tipitapa. This school has been around since I think 1999 (my facts are a little fuzzy since I waited so long to write this-I welcome correction) and serves several hundred students. It’s a pretty remarkable place, complete with a library and a computer lab.

Our next stop was a recently purchased piece of property just outside of town where Marcus hopes to centralize his operations. Right now, there are storage containers and a small house where the caretaker lives, but in the future there are plans for volunteer housing, a vocational training center, and any other facilities that Marcus’ many ministries might need.

A long way from Journey to Bethlehem....

Next we visited a church in Managua that is supported in part by Marcus’ ministry. Those familiar with Harvester Christian Church will recognize the remains of the old Journey to Bethlehem tent being used as a roof.  The building was vacant for a time, and all of the tin from the roof was stolen. When the church moved in, the tent went to good use.

The last place we visited on Thursday was Valeria and Tita’s house, the base of operations for the Harvest Bags business.  This is a handbag-making business that gives women a chance to earn a living in a positive way.  Anyone who visited the Nicaragua mission table at HCC a couple of weeks ago has seen their products.  I bought one for my wife and she loved it.  From there we headed back to Provadenic for another good night’s sleep.

The KM34 school's 1st building.

Friday morning we headed out to a relatively new barrio referred at this point as KM34, because its entrance is at the 34 kilometer marker on the highway.  Because of recent heavy rains, the roads were impassable by anything but a heavy-duty off road vehicle, so we hiked in from the road.  The school site we were there to visit is pretty far back in a maze of unmarked roads made up of knee deep mud (just ask Dixie and Valeria about that).  When we visited, the school was a single room building serving only kindergarten students.  Since our visit, they have built another classroom and this year will offer kindergarten through fourth grade, and are expecting about 120 students.

Inside the prison.

After hiking back out to the van, we dropped Marcus off to take care of some business, and headed to Masaya to be regular American tourists for a few hours.  We toured a former fortress-

Giant, creepy, evil-looking spider.

turned-political prison/concentration camp now run by the Boy Scouts as a tourist site.  It was a pretty intense place.  Our guide told us that Ghost Hunters International had been there a couple of weeks before to investigate paranormal claims.  While I saw no evidence of ghosts, I did see lots of bullet holes, and a ton of scorpions and spiders.  Giant, creepy, evil-looking spiders.  After we left the prison, we went to the market in Masaya to buy souvenirs, and then it was back to Managua for dinner.  A fancy, sit-down dinner.  Marcus really pulled out all the stops, as did Valeria driving us to the restaurant.  I have never been so terrified in a motor vehicle in all my life.

On Saturday morning, it was back to the airport to fly back home.  I was certainly glad to head back and see my wife and kids after a week away, but I was also going to miss Nicaragua and all of the fantastic people I got to meet and spend time with there.  The things that God is doing through Marcus and everyone else through such poverty and adversity are truly remarkable, and I hope to go back again sometime.  What an amazing place.

If you have never been on a mission trip like this, I highly encourage you to.  It will change your perspective on the world, on your own life, and on the things God can do in any circumstances when we just listen and give him a chance. And I would also encourage you to support missionaries like Marcus in any way you can, financially if possible, but certainly through prayer.  These men and women are putting their lives on the line in devoting their lives to sharing the gospel with those who have never heard it, and it is a task demanding our support.  For more information how you can help, visit the Harvester Christian Church website, or Harvester Missions on Facebook.

If you want to know more about what’s going on in Nicaragua specifically, go to the Cosecha Outreach website, and if you want to see more of my photos from my trip, you can see them here and here.  Thanks for reading!

Going to Nicaragua (Part 4)

I’m getting my packing and prep done, and my flight leaves tomorrow morning. Here’s a last minute update about our trip:

folks,

just wanted to give you heads up, unseasonal heavy rains continue in NIcaragua, this may change our plans, if TUburus and Betil are flooded the communnity may have gone inland to high ground in which case we cant do our activities. but it would potentially give us opportunity to travel upriver farther than we usually go and visit some communnities that would normally be inaccessable by river. Everything works both ways. just pray for me as I travel tomorrow and do final prep in Nic.
have a good trip. on sat,

marcus

Thanks for your prayers and your support.  I may be able to update while I’m gone, but if not, I will when I get back.

Going to Nicaragua (Part 3)

All right, folks. Five days before we leave, and I’m starting to get things packed. Our meeting on Thursday did a lot to alleviate some worries that I had, but continued prayers for my family while I’m gone would be extremely appreciated.

I wanted to post a few links to give you a little more information about what we are doing.

Here is more information on the ministry we are visiting.

This is the Wikipedia page about the native people of Nicaragua that we’ll be visiting.

And this is the website you can visit to track where we are in real time. It isn’t a constant signal, but weather permitting we will try to send up a signal at least a couple times a day so you can see where we are. Right now you can see the test signal I sent up to give you an idea of what it will look like.  My understanding is that if the sky is too overcast, the signal won’t go through, so don’t freak out if there isn’t a  marker for a certain day.

Thanks, and I’ll post more if I have something new to say.

Going to Nicaragua

For those of you who don’t already know, in just under a month, I will be leaving for a week on a short-term mission trip to Nicaragua. My church supports missionaries there, and we will be visiting some of the projects going on as well as visiting a couple of rural villages and showing them the “Jesus video” in their native language. For a little more information on that, you can read the support letter I sent out a couple of months ago.

I am excited and thankful to say that I have raised the support I needed to pay for the trip, and outside of packing and finalizing childcare arrangements while I am gone, I am ready to go. Last week I went and got my immunizations and my malaria medication at Passport Health. If you are travelling internationally, I highly recommend using them. They’re probably not the cheapest, but they know their stuff and can advise you on all aspects of your trip. And I know the typhoid vaccine they gave me is good, because I’m pretty sure I’m having some mild typhoid symptoms, if you know what I mean. If you don’t, you’re probably better off.

We have another meeting about our trip coming up in the next two or three weeks, so I’ll probably post an update after that. I’m leaving September 18 and returning on the 25th, and I could really use your prayers that our trip is successful and safe, and that we are adequate representatives of God’s love while there. And I could also use them for my family while I am gone, that they would be safe and not too anxious about me.

Thanks for your support, and I’ll update you as more information comes up. Whether it’s interesting or not. And definitely if my typhoid meds act up any more.

Andy

My name is Andy, and I’m a non-conformist.

Welcome to Non-conformists Anonymous, a place where all of us recovering rebels can share and feel safe.

As absurd as that sounds, I kind of wish it was a real place.  And for any of you who know me much at all, you are well aware of my anti-establishment tendencies.  It’s not something I even necessarily do consciously, although for a time in my late teens and early twenties it most certainly was.  I can’t help it — it’s in my nature: I have a very hard time listening to music that is ultra popular (although that does have something to do with the fact that most of it is over-produced, commercialized crap, but that’s another topic altogether), and for a period, I even stopped buying my T-shirts at Goodwill, because that’s what everyone was doing.  And of course, like every good non-conformist Christian kid, my favorite Bible verse was Romans 12:2.  It seems that I have simply been programmed to swim against the stream.

I’ve been watching the Olympics pretty much nonstop for the last two weeks, and what really got me thinking about this topic was a blog I read about some comments one of the American snowboard-cross racers made about other athlete’s pants.  Basically he took issue with their “tight” pants and how it was ruining snowboarding’s outsider image.  And as the blogger so astutely pointed out, the guy ended up looking and sounding like a hypocritical idiot, mostly because his own baggy pants were designed by a name brand designer, his team is sponsored by Nike, Microsoft, and Visa, and he competes on the ESPN networks, which are owned by Disney, one of the largest companies/cults in the world.  You can’t get much more pro-establishment than that.

And that, I think, is one of the main problems with being an intentional non-conformist.  In trying to separate yourself from the crowd, all you are doing is trying to get the attention of that crowd, therefore inevitably making you a bigger part of it than you were before.  It makes you a hypocrite.  It also can give you a sense of prideful superiority:  “My collection of obscure indie rock vinyl is so much better than yours.”  And that sort of thing.

It was relatively recently, however, when I realized how much my separatist attitude affected me in my faith.  I never fully participated in worship because the music was too mainstream.  I couldn’t relate to anyone at my church because they were too “suburban.”  I fought way too hard to make my “alternativeness” obvious to everyone, and I complained about the ordinariness of my church.  It took God slapping me in the face through the wise words of friends for me to realize what I was doing.  I was making it about me, and not about Him.

Now having said all of this, I am still not in favor of uniformity and total conformity within the church.  There is a place for individuality and self-expression, and if we deny that, I think we are also denying that God created each of us uniquely, and that each of us have a place and a job to do.  I’ve realized that my aforementioned “alternativeness” is important in my church, because it is helping to make it a safe place for others who suffer from my same affliction.  And let’s be honest–we all feel safer around people who look like us, even nonconformists.

I am who I am, and you are who you are.  Embrace it, work with it, but don’t flaunt it.  It’s not about you, dummy.

I just wish someone would have said that to me ten years ago.

“Atta Boy!”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of encouragement in our lives. I have come to the conclusion that no matter how large or small the task a person is trying to accomplish, without someone supporting and encouraging him or her, it is nearly impossible to finish the deal.

I can be really excited about something and straining at the bit to get started, and all it takes is one negative comment from someone whose opinion I care about and I’m ready to go take a nap. For me, it is more than just a psychological letdown, too. I physically get tired. I lose momentum and interest, and no amount of coffee can overpower the ensuing physical and mental depression.

On the other hand, a small dose of encouragement can carry me a long way. It gives me affirmation that what I am doing is worthwhile. And if you want to know what great encouragement looks/sounds like, check out what my friend Nikomas had to say. Encouragement like that gives you gas in the tank to keep going even when it gets difficult and you want to buckle under the pressure.

When I was teaching elementary school, we had an in-service training from some behavior specialists, and they told us that the ideal ratio of positive to negative comments for cultivating a productive classroom was at least 20 positive to one negative. Twenty to one. Of course, they realized we could never accomplish this in the real world and told us to shoot for more like four to one, but even that can be a challenge at times.

I’ve been trying to put these ideas into practice in my life.  It’s a lot harder to build people up than it is to tear them down, but it’s also a lot more important.  It can be especially challenging with my kids, because–let’s be honest–they drive me crazy.  But when I discovered how much this positive/negative balance affects me, I realized that I really don’t have a choice.  Their future depends on it.

Authenticity v. Christianity (Updated)

They almost rhyme.  And I believe that they should be synonymous.  So why is it that they often seem to contradict one another?

I was talking with a friend the other day about worship and  told him how sometimes it is a lot better for me if I just listen and don’t look at the people singing on stage.  He asked me why, and I told him it was because I couldn’t take them seriously a lot of the time because of their “church face”.  For those of you who don’t know what I mean, it consists of a combined expression of giddiness, serenity, and gravity, and it looks a little bit like this:

Church Face

Now before anyone gets up in arms against me here,  I fully realize that I have no way of knowing the genuineness of anyone’s worship.  Yes, that is between them and God.  And I also have zero problem with charismatic displays of worship.  That is not my point–if you feel it, you feel it, and who cares what anyone else thinks.

My point is that I often get the feeling that people are simply putting on a show.  They feel like they have to look and act a certain way in order to appear genuine in what they are doing.  My question is, why can’t they just be who they are, and let the Holy Spirit work?  For some people that may be running up and down the aisles shouting in tongues, and for others it may be sitting quietly in the corner and letting God speak to them.

I personally have felt like doing both of these things at different times, as well as everything in between.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t followed my own advice.  I grew up in a very conservative Lutheran church, and up to this point, I haven’t even been comfortable lifting up my hands (even when I felt like it) because I am worried I am going to look stupid.  So why is it that we always let ourselves get in the way of really worshiping (and representing) God?

My friend pointed out that many people don’t know who they are, and so they put on whatever front they feel is expected of them at any given point.  I think that’s a good point, but I also think that quite often, authenticity can be intimidating.  And it can also be offensive to some.

I was recently reading reviews of Donald Miller’s new book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, a book I have not yet read.  As I usually do, I clicked on the lowest ratings to try to get a balanced view of things when I came across an interesting review.  You can find the review with comments here.  If any of you have not read Donald Miller before, he writes in autobiographical form, and talks about how his life’s journey has shaped his faith.  He is often sarcastic and self-deprecating, which I suppose could be misinterpreted at times.  But the point is that he is real.  He writes about what he really thinks and feels, regardless of how it may come across at times.  And that obviously offended this reviewer.

I guess what I’m really looking for is a way to make people comfortable with themselves as God has made them.  I think if we can find a way to make the church a safe place for authenticity it will lead to a greater connection with God, both on a personal and a corporate level.  I think it will also help change the outside perception of legalism and hypocrisy, much of which, I believe, is based on a façade put up by the church and its members.

I could probably write a book about this, so I’ll stop rambling and leave you with this question:  How do we drop the image and be genuine?  I’m still praying about that one. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

UPDATE!

Here’s a great music video by the band Hockey that illustrates how authenticity and dropping your social guard can be contagious.  Cheesy, but fun.  And I’m not sure, but I think that kid might have learned how to dance by watching videos of me from high school.

For your viewing pleasure, click here.