Saturday, February 9, 2008

Africa Upper Room story online

Another of my "official" stories is available online as of yesterday. Click here to read all about how "Africa Upper Room director guides growing ministry."

Last night was my first group report on my travels. My generous hosts for these first couple weeks back in Nashville are part of a group that meets monthly to follow Wycliffe missionaries and missions in general. They invited me to be the "guest missionary" last night. I enjoyed meeting the small group of folks who were there and getting to tell the story of God's work in this season of my life as well as describe some of the impressions I gained through my travels. They were a generous audience!

Today I'm wrapping up the last really pressing article assignment from Africa. There are more assignments to finish, but after today the biggest, hardest, most immediate ones will be done. Hooray! Also today I need to finish a story on the relationship between the church and the arts for a local arts magazine. So, it's a very full day that seems a bit impossible but that's when optimism comes in handy. After today, I'll hopefully be able to breathe (and sleep) again. Here's hoping!

Monday, February 4, 2008

are we so different?

During the month of January, I was busy writing up stories from information I collected while I was in Africa. Until now, I didn't quite realized exactly how much work I lined up for myself during this trip. Normally, I might be working concurrently on 4-5 stories at the very,very most. I might have other stories lined up to work on after those stories were completed but wouldn't have to work on them until the first set was done. I didn't get to order things that way this fall. Instead, I just had to collect mounds of information, trying to make sure I collected the right information, and then sort through much of it once I returned to the US and finally had time to write.

The result of that process has meant that, as I write the stories, I've been revisiting places I visited months ago, places I didn't get to sit in for long before having to move my head and heart (and feet, too!) on to the next stop. It has been good to go back to them now with slightly more time for listening to what they told and taught me then.

While in Kenya, I interviewed two men who are government employees, perhaps accurately categorized as mid-level manager types, one more senior than the other. I met with them in their offices in the main government building during my fourth or fifth week in Kenya. By that time, I'd heard plenty of stories about government corruption, misappropriation of funds, road projects uncompleted because of the corruption and misappropriation, etc. (And I'd ridden on said roads and experienced their terrible state.) I'd heard stories of Kenyan pastors exhorting their congregations to pray for the evil spiritual hold on government to be broken--particularly in light of the upcoming election--,citing reasonable evidence that political leaders have to take oaths and make agreements that amount to pacts with the devil, something that stems from Kenya's (and much of Africa's) spiritist history. Additionally, I heard stories about the growing violent, gratuitous crime in Nairobi, in particular. The things that are happening with increasing frequency there sound very similar to the reports that come from Johannesburg, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I heard stories about a former president who was a friend to the church yet was considerably shady.

So, to be honest, based on the things I heard when I was in Kenya, the things happening there now, though nothing short of tragic, aren't surprising to me. The seeds for all of it, from rigged elections to awful violence were there. In many ways the reports about how stable Kenya was and how surprising all of this is don't feel correct to me. Perhaps it was stable by the numbers or on economic fronts or on world diplomacy fronts or something, but in just a few weeks of listening there, one could hear a very different story.

However, in spite of all that, when I interviewed the government guys, I came away hopeful for Kenya. It seemed the government was working on some important reforms, and these guys were excited about them. One of the reforms was a shift from process-based management to results-based management, a shift from services getting bogged down in the process but never delivering to government entities and employees being evaluated on the actual delivery of services and products. Employees were being given performance contracts with expectations for work to be completed. Additionally, both men spoke well of ways to address other issues and of the possibilities for pan-Africanism (greater cooperation economically and otherwise between African nations, perhaps in the spirit of the European Union) to help solve some of Africa's challenges.

One of my interviewees gave me a copy of a brochure describing "Kenya Vision 2030, a competitive and prosperous Kenya." As I read it in January, in the midst of the post-election violence, I found it sadly ironic. The Vision 2030 development process was launched by Pres. Mwai Kibaki in October 2006. Here are some quotes from the first page of the document I was given [emphasis mine]:

Kenya Vision 2030 is the new country's development blueprint covering the period 2008 to 2030. It aims at making Kenya a newly industrializing, 'middle income country providing high quality life for all its citizens by the year 2030'...The vision is based on three 'pillars' namely; the economic pillar, the social pillar and the political pillar...The economic pillar aims at providing prosperity of all Kenyans through an economic development programme aimed at achieving an average Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 10% per annum over the next 25 years. The social pillar seeks to build 'a just and cohesive society with social equity in a clean and secure environment'. The political pillar aims at realising a democratic political system founded on issue-based politics that respects the rule of law, and protects the rights and freedoms of every individual in the Kenyan society.

It's frustrating that the current president could have endorsed such a plan and then act as he has in the current situation. And Raila Odinga seems little better. From afar it sure seems like neither of these men really has the best interests of their dying and displaced countrymen in mind. It's hard not to believe they're not both motivated mostly by a desire for their own power.

It's also hard to understand the depth of hate that spawns ethnic violence. (I found an excellent BBC radio report here that was helpful. It's just over 20 minutes long but is worth listening to.) On Friday, though, I was reminded that we're not immune to such things here in the US. The Graduate Christian Fellowship group I'm part of at Vanderbilt University invited a speaker on immigration issues to address our group gathering.

I've struggled to follow the immigration issue that has been a fairly hot topic for a couple election cycles now (senate/congressional and now presidential). Mostly I just know I've heard things from people and commercials and sound bites that seemed pretty uncaring (to put it mildly) toward the immigrants in our midst. Plus, I'm increasingly confronted by the reality that my closest relationships fall within a fairly small subset of the American Christian community, so there are things being espoused by American Christians that I don't think of as widespread because I don't hang out with people who talk that way.

Our group discussion on Friday night included an attempt to understand what Scriptural exhortations are relevant to this issue. We discussed Biblical commands toward love, hospitality, and care for both neighbors and strangers and commands against from selfishness and hoarding what we have away from others. We talked about addressing the in-country issues and economic disparities that prompt people to try to get into the US. People shared stories of Christians they know who actually say that people trying to cross the border should just be shot. We talked about how many of the illegal immigrants are hard-working people who are less likely to be involved in crime than American citizens. We wondered how many people who advocate "keep 'em all out, shoot 'em if they come in" type measures have ever considered themselves in the shoes of those trying to get to America. We discussed how much racism plays in: why do we always only talk of Mexican immigrants when there are Canadians working illegally in the US, too? We talked about how Americans want to be free to go anywhere they want but want to keep other people from coming here. And, we're all immigrants to this land anyway, so where to do we get off trying to keep other immigrants out? We talked about how much fear feeds and plagues all of this: economic fears, fear of "the other," and so many more fears.

We acknowledged that the issue is complex, and we didn't solve it or figure out which immigration policy to endorse. (Though I wish we could just let whoever wants to come, come, I guess I understand why we can't do that.) It was good for me--in a this-is-the-truth kind of way--to be reminded of how much hate still exists in our country. We can take a moral high road and condemn what's happening in Kenya. But, perhaps we should consider how far away we really may not be from something similar here. Bad things must certainly follow when we don't love our neighbors, be they like us or not like us.


Sorry for my pretty lengthy delay between posts! I've got much I want to get written for this blog yet, but I've been very covered up with writing assignments, most of them still from information gathered in Africa.

I wanted to give you a quick update on my schedule, though. (Partly so those of you in Nashville will know when I'm in town!) I arrived back in Nashville last Wednesday night. I plan to be a good citizen and vote in the presidential primaries tomorrow. (That information isn't particularly relevant to this post, but, hey, I don't see any editors around these blogger parts. ;-) ) I'll be in Nashville until Feb. 18 when I'll head to the UK for two weeks of hanging out with friends and investigating options. Then back to Nashville for a couple days before heading up to Illinois to spend some time with all four grandparents and extended family. Then back to Nashville for a couple months at least.

It's a strange thing to be living this bohemian nomadic existence for a little while longer. I've had friends who've done it in the past, and I always wondered quite how that worked. And, now, suddenly, without planning for it, that's become this stretch of life for me.

I continue to be amazed at God's provision and presence in the midst of all the great unknowns of this season. There's much molding that happens in a year of sleeping somewhere different every couple weeks, in a year of depending heavily on the generosity of others (both friends and strangers!), in a year of learning to receive well, in a year of soaking in all the little provisions that add up together to be God's great care for me, in a year of hoping to steward that care by passing it on to others.

This month and next I'm beginning to do a couple group reports on my trip. Mostly likely Sun, Feb. 17 in the afternoon will be the date of the "report gathering" for my church, but others here in Nashville are welcome to come to that. Email me or leave a comment in my blog if you'd like more info. On Fri, Mar. 28, I'll be the "speaker" for the Vandy Graduate Christian Fellowship large group gathering. Then, in March or early April, I'm hoping to hold some other sort of gathering for Nashville friends and supporters who aren't connected to either of those groups, though any of you are welcome to come to the groups' gatherings, too.

I welcome your prayers in this season. I'm still praying through what's next. Most up in the air is where I will live, as I expect to continue freelancing. I'm in a reasonably rare spot in life in which I have a great deal of freedom. I have no home. My belongings have already been packed. I'm almost at a point with my work that I could live almost anywhere (add in a bit of God-orchestrating on the work front and I could live anywhere). I don't have a husband or children to consult. I'm not in great financial debt. I have a current passport. And, to top it all off, my immunizations will continue protecting me for a while, and my travel luggage has already gotten some travel experience! I feel a sense of responsibility to steward well this moment, this time of opportunity. So, please pray with me that I would do that.

Here's the recap of the schedule things I mentioned above:
now-Feb. 18: Nashville
Feb. 18-Mar. 3: UK (London and Oxford)
Mar. 3 - ?: a couple nights in Nashville
approximately Mar. 5-15: Illinois
Mar. 15-at least mid-May: Nashville

Feb. 17: tentative "tell about my trip" gathering for Grace Community Church folks and anyone else who wants to come
March 28: Vanderbilt Graduate Christian Fellowship large group speaker