Archive for July, 2015

Jul 23 2015

Shutting Down the Pub

Published by under Kenya

Ten years ago, these women decided enough was enough. The men here were alcoholics. They were spending all of the family’s income on booze. They were selling the family’s possessions to finance their addiction. And they spent all day at the local tavern carousing and being irresponsible. The men were unable to fulfill their “marital duties” to their wives and birth rates plummeted.

The final straw came when someone snuck into the house of a blind man, engaged him in petty conversation, and stole his blankets during their chat to sell them for beer. When the women heard this, they called a few secret meetings. And they set a plan.

One morning, in 2005, the women of the village heard the signal – the sound of a whistle. It was 4am. Three hundred women – yes, three HUNDRED – all marched to the tavern with hoes, axes, and hammers. They tore the tavern apart board by board. They poured out all the alcohol and smashed all the bottles they were kept in. They basically had a riot.

And it worked.

The men, feeling shame, actually humbled themselves to this incredible act. They realized the damage they’d caused to their wives and children (and yet-unborn children). Since then, Kahuria, this community two hours north of Nairobi, hasn’t dealt with alcoholism at any kind of scale like they used to. The men here agreed it was one of the best things that has ever happened in their village. The Kenyan government lauded the action of the women and pointed to it as a model for other communities in the country.

I’m reminded of two things. First, women are extremely powerful. They have the ability to imagine and do incredible things. Second, virtually no American would have thought up this idea. We know almost nothing about the customs and culture of the places we visit. This shows us again that local people have local knowledge and that local knowledge is sometimes unorthodox, but ultimately effective because the solution is local.

When seeing others faced with problems, we’re so often inclined to ask them what the problem is and then design a solution to fix it. Instead, we ought to ask locals, “What do you think the solution is?” Nine times out of ten, their answers will prove to be right. Sometimes you need to tear down a pub that’s tearing apart your life.

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Jul 22 2015


Published by under Poverty

Beautiful sunsets last only a few minutes. When the sun hits the horizon, it doesn’t linger long. In slow motion, it disappears moment by moment.

Today begins an eight-day trip to Kenya where a few buddies and I will spend time in a village getting to know the people that we’ve committed to being friends with for the next 8-10 years – a period of time that all of us hope will result in an increase of well-being and a decrease of disease and poverty.

For me, this marks my third time to Kenya in the last year and my 22nd time leaving the United States in the last four years.

One thing I’ve learned during this time is that Westerners often treat interaction with the poor like a counseling session. We ask questions about the difficulty of their lives and they tell us of their struggles. We shake our heads in disbelief and nod in sympathy.

Our initial interaction with the poor shouldn’t be characterized by these levels of pity. How might we feel if someone first asked us about our life challenges – being depressed, overweight, under-educated, and struggling in our stage of life? If you start with what’s wrong, you sometimes never get to what’s right.

We should interview people for wonder. What do they find beautiful where they live? What’s a favorite memory from their childhood? What’s a time their parent whooped them for being bad? What do they do for fun? What traits do they think are necessary for success in life? What are they, as an individual, excellent at doing? What is something they’ve made with their hands that they’re proud of? What have they learned about life lately?

These are the sunset moments – where we discover the beauty of another person’s life. Hopefully I’ll have some stories for you each day while we’re here.

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Jul 21 2015

AM Radio

Published by under God,Life

On a clear night, we could get radio stations from Chicago. When that happened, we’d hoot and holler like we’d won the lottery.

When my brothers and I were younger, we would visit our grandparents’ house in eastern Ohio a couple times a year. In the corner of their living room was a massive 1954 RCA Victrola record player with an AM radio. Before going to bed, we’d flip on the power and start turning the dial. Getting a station from Chicago – more than 400 miles away – required precise tuning. A little too far one way or the other and all you’d hear is static or a local station.

As I thought of the old Victrola today, it occurred to me that God is like that. The signal for the Chicago stations were powerful enough to reach all the way to the Pennsylvania state line. But if you didn’t tune it in, you didn’t hear the programs.

Our spirits are similar to radios. God broadcasts all the time. But sometimes our spirits aren’t turned on or tuned in and we only hear static or other “local” stations.

This is one reason night is so special.

AM radio waves travel farther at night because they reflect off the ionosphere like a mirror. During the day, electrons in the ionosphere are “charged” by solar rays and they float around. All these free electrons absorb AM radio signals. But at night, the electrons recombine into the atoms of the ionosphere, allowing the AM radio waves to bounce off the ionosphere and return back to earth. This can allow AM radio signals to travel hundreds of miles at night.

But back to our spirits. The reason we often “hear” God better at night is because his signals aren’t being absorbed by the daily rays of work, family, and the general frenzied pace of life most of us have.

But he’s broadcasting. His signal is strong. If we only tune our spirit to hear him. What does tuning God look like? Asking, “Where are you, Lord?” at random moments in the day. Set an alarm a couple times during the day! Be interrupted to tune him in!

Just like my brothers and me with the AM radio, there’s no feeling in the world like the one our spirit feels when it connects with God and says, “There you are!”

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Jul 19 2015

The Salt War

Published by under Life

They fought the war over salt. San Elizario is a small town in West Texas that sits directly on the Rio Grande. Beginning in 1870, it became a community of intrigue. The object of desire? Salt.

After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (so named for the community outside Mexico City where it was signed) established the Rio Grande as the border between Texas and Mexico. As often happens with towns on a treaty border, San Elizario was neither up nor down. It was in the middle, torn between the native Tejanos and the American Texans.

A series of dried up salt lakes near San Elizario had been used by the Tejanos for more than 100 years. At that time in Mexico, salt was used for food preservation and silver smelting. It was very valuable. Tejanos would come from all around, load up their wagons with salt (for free), and go home.

A few enterprising Texans saw an opportunity to make money on the land and so began a race to file a claim for the lakes with the Texas state government.

In 1877, five years after filing a claim, Texan Charles Howard had two Tejanos arrested for “stealing” the salt he said was his. This set off a furious chain of events that ultimately saw Howard kill one of his adversaries (a fellow Texan) in a store, 20 Texas Rangers taken prisoner (the only time in history a Ranger has surrendered), and, ultimately, the execution of Howard at the hands of the Tejanos.

In the end, the Tejanos were muscled into submission and completely relinquished their claim to the land.

Beyond the obvious economic and ethnic issues at play, the situation was fueled by two opposing worldviews. The Hispanic one favored communal mineral rights. The British common law worldview of the Americans favored individual mineral rights.

We have just such a worldview battle today.

Throughout history, wars have been fought over things that are limited – gold, diamonds, drugs, oil, slave labor. Scarcity often brings viciousness out of the human spirit.

Which is why it’s strange we don’t battle more fiercely over our most irreplaceable scarce resource – time. We surrender ourselves to the steady, seductive, strange pull of social media and entertainment.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

_Psalm 39:4

Is our time resource an individual one or a communal one?

Spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed…

_Isaiah 58:10

The Tejanos were violent in their fight to preserve precious communal salt. May we at least be firm in our fight to preserve our precious time from the encroaching individualistic claims of social media and entertainment.

We sit on a bordertown, neither up nor down, but in the middle. We’re between heaven and hell. May we not retreat from the fight for time that is rightfully and collectively ours as an entire human race.

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