Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Birthday Theme

It's the most abundant source on the planet.
It's the most renewable resource.
It's an essential element of life.
It's used by all living things.
It makes up 50-60% of our bodies.

And yet, for too many people in the developing world, lack of access to clean water results in death. 

Sometimes before age 5.

It's completely preventable, and you and I can do something about it.

This year I'm turning 28.
That's over 5 times longer the 30,000 children  who 
die every WEEK 
from illness associated with dirty water
before they get the chance to reach their 5th birthday.

How about you - how  many 'lifetimes' have you lived?

This year, I'm devoting my birthday to Charity:Water , an organization that uses 100% of donations to helping communities in the developing world have access to clean water.

The next two months leading up to my birthday I am devoting to talking about water. It's what my blog and Facebook posts will focus on. Please share it, donate and encourage others to do the same.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


Bahari is 'sea' or 'ocean' in Swahili.
This means seafood!
Lobster, shrimp, large prawns, calamari, and fish galore!
I tasted “shelly-shelly” for the first time last week (the gentleman who shared with me refused to let me purchase the entire piece, stating it was his lunch and he intended to eat it). From what I've understood, this is fried conch meat, and it was good.

On the south coast, we saw fisherman every day. I swam past one while I was snorkeling one afternoon. He was swimming, wearing a mask and snorkel, trailing a line 15 feet behind him, strung with small octopus and fish he had lanced with his harpoon. I've never witnessed fishing like that before, but I was impressed. He swam for hours a day, face in the water, spearing the sea life.
When he had finished, he would swim to a small, uninhabited island and flag down a passing boat and hitch a ride back to his part of the big island.
What a life!

Back on shore, many small boys walked along the beach with knifes standing up in their back pockets. They would carry dead fish into the ocean and clean them, then cut them on the beach, seagulls arriving to readily to gobble up the guts scattered on the sand. Others sat with an octopus between their legs, 'massaging it' in the sand; when I asked about this, I was informed that it was the method for removing the poison so they would be edible.

In every sea-side city and tiny village there are fish markets. Fishermen bring their catches; from sting rays and tuna fish as long as my leg, to tiny shrimp. Clown fish and angel fish are eaten as readily as lobster or crab; some items sold by the kilo, others auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Fishermen know the tides; the consistency of when the ocean comes close to the houses and the beach is reduced to a few feet of sand, to when the water disappears and you wonder “where did the ocean go?” especially in such a short amount of time as you walk nearly half a mile to reach a boat bobbing in three feet of water.
Fishermen rise early in the mornings to fish with the high tide, waking when it is still dark to complete their work. The afternoons they lay their nets across the sand and spot for holes that fish might swim through. The nets are enormous, some a quarter of a mile long. Just one net!

Fishermen smell like their catches. Their clothes are faded from sun and salt, from waves splashing up over the boat, or from swimming with their clothes on.
While they are hard workers, I wouldn't say that the life of a fisherman is something to aspire to. They aren't looked upon as highly educated (many of the boys on the beach may not be attending school, but can gut a fish, which brings in a little income) and no father would dream for his daughter to marry a fishermen; they won't be wealthy men.

Education is good, but the fact is, it is not universally available. Only the wealthy can afford it. In Tanzania, primary education is “free” or so the government says. Despite the lack of school fees, children are required to 'contribute' to the school building and materials – which parents say equates to the same amount of money they used to have to pay in school fees. Only know their taxes are higher because school is “provided by the government”.
Secondary school, what North America considers high school, is not mandatory and has significant school feels (no pretending the government is providing). But on top of this, students must pass exams with high enough grades to be accepted into secondary school.
Between children of poor families; ones lacking electricity in their homes and where all the children have many chores or extra jobs (like helping with catching or cleaning fish) to help contribute to the family income, and children born into rich families; where electricity is readily available to nightly reading, as well as servants to complete chores and allow free time for studying – which do you think has a better chance of getting higher grades to be accepted into secondary school?
And then, even if the children were to be accepted into secondary school, they would have to come up with the money to pay for school fees, sometimes move far from their family to attend a boarding school and pay extra for their room and food in that situation.

Education is a privilege, one that far too many Tanzanian fishermen didn't have access to.

Matthew 4 / Mark 1
“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And he said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.' Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As they went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

Luke 5

“He saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. There he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.' Simon answered, 'Master we had worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.' When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus knees, saying 'Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man!' for he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish they had taken. And so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon. “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people. Then they brought their boats to shore and left everything and followed him.”

Nowadays, pastors graduate high school, attend seminary and then maybe even go on for their masters degree. They study the scriptures and receive degrees and honors to show how prepared they are to lead a Church.
There were religious leaders in Jesus' day; he just didn't call them to be his disciples. He called fishermen.

Jesus wasn't interested in the high and mighty, in the highly educated. He wasn't swayed by money or influence. He picked the least educated people; men who had no connections, no financial savings to invest in his ministry. He didn't pick well-known, popular men who would attract more crowds.
He didn't pay mind to the scholars of the day, the ones who had studied the scriptures and knew all the laws. He looked at the faith of Peter, who recognized him as God from the first interaction with him.
And on Peter - not on Nicodemus - Jesus built the Church.

A few nights ago my host and I were chatting. He told me how a team of local pastors from one large church had invited him for coffee and formally asked him to begin attending their church.
"Why?" I asked. "Why does it matter which church you attend? We are all in the family of God."
"Because I am well known in this town. If I start attending their church, other people will follow me and their church will grow."

There was no compassion for people, no love for the lost. It was blatant; they just wanted large numbers of people and the money to follow.

I mentioned what God had been teaching me about the poor; how he preferred the lowly, the outcast. He spent time with prostitutes and tax collectors, lepers and fishermen. I thought about the fishermen I saw working at the beach earlier today.
Jesus didn't go after the popular people, he didn't pursue the well-educated speakers, the ones who knew the scriptures and were excellent teachers. He chose fishermen.

Sitting in Zanzibar we laughed together. Jesus came to this earth; God himself in the flesh and he pursued fishermen for his kingdom.

That turns my world upside down, it disrupts my life: Fishermen, not Pharisees.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

An Announcement in the Night

Christmas has passed, but the characters of Christmas are among us daily:

Young mothers, unmarried, likely unprepared for raising a child.
Fathers who started the journey of fatherhood before they were officially married, sometimes committing to raise children not related to them by blood.
People too poor to afford a hotel room; who must sleep outside with animals to brave the cold.
Refugees who flee the threat of powerful, murderous groups.
Shepherds; professions who stay up all night taking care of animals.

This last one stood out starkly to me in Arusha, Tanzania, where many of the local tribes are sheep or cattle herders. It's not strange to see people moving flocks or groups of cows around the hillsides. I love to see the Maasai in their traditional dress, walking with staffs, pushing the animals this way, that way.
While these scenes get fantastic photos for tourists, and their villages are places again for villagers to tour, I haven't seen the tribes get a great deal of respect or money.

I asked a friend of mine, who is Maasai, what he thought about this. He refuses to wear traditional Maasai dress in the town of Arusha because of the reaction he gets from locals and tourists. He feels that the Maasai tribe is the butt of jokes, while upheld for tourists to photograph, but not to really understand. His people are viewed as uneducated, simpletons who are only good to hire as nightwatchmen (truly most of the guards are Maasai).
If I'm ever stranded in the mountains in Tanzania, I don't want a highly-educated physician, chemist or astronaut: I want a Maasai warrior, hands down.

Shepherds look good in the nativity scene; this odd accumulation of a newborn baby and a barn; throw in some sheep and shepherds and just make it a circus!
But the shepherds of the day were not well-to-do, respectable men. They were a type of outcast. Staying up until all hours of the night, watching sheep; smelling like sheep.
The people here in Arusha who take care of animals inevitably smell like those animals, they would have back in 1 A.D., also.

God only gave one invitation to the birth of his Son (*the Magi came uninvited). When a new king, or prince, was born in other kingdoms, fireworks exploded, heralds called out: the announcement was made the the world.
For Jesus, only one group of people were told: shepherds.
Not the religious leaders, not the government, not the wealthy who could afford to come with gifts, who could bless this newlywed couple.
Only the men who stayed up all night protecting sheep.

When Jesus grows up, he refers to himself as the Good Shepherd.
I've heard this so many times, it has lost its stigma, the negative connotation that it had back then.
He could have referred to himself as the "Good King" or "Benevolent President", maybe "Holy Priest", but he didn't.
Could you imagine being a wealthy business owner, an entrepreneur who had worked hard to own a lot of sheep; to put them in the care of some poor villagers and their sons. And hear God say he himself is a shepherd?
Could you imagine being a shepherd, and hearing God say that he, too, takes care of sheep?
And who would you aspire to be like, knowing that God calls himself a Good Shepherd?

Who are shepherds like in North America? Who could I equate them to?
Here in Arusha, we have present-day examples of people who care for sheep; tribal villagers likely to be poor, uneducated, and not respected.
And it is this group of people that Jesus aligns himself with, from birth.