Matthew and Aaron

Capturing a film on the Aids crisis in Africa has opened my eyes to a tragic reality. We are alive during one of the most serious pandemics of world history. According to Susan Hunter, in Black Death: A History of AIDS in Africa, by 2003, over 28 million people had died of AIDS. This number is expected to jump to over 100 million by 2010. Africa has borne the harshest blow of this worldwide crisis.

Melissa Fay Greene’s book, There is No Me Without You, describes the amazing story of a widow from Ethiopia who after losing her husband and her oldest daughter, despaired of her life. She came back to life when the local Church asked her to take in a few orphans whose parents had been killed by AIDS. As she began to care for the children, more and more AIDS orphans surfaced in need of a home and parental care. By the early 2000’s there were over 1 million AIDS orphans in Ethiopia alone. Many of these orphans had no one to care for them. Common fears and misconceptions about AIDS caused most of them to be abandoned and rejected by society. Having lost both parents, many older children worked to care for their younger siblings in the absence of any adult assistance. Children would set off from their villages to walk into the cities, searching for money or food. Countless children were found sitting alone on the side of the roads. A generation of parents and families is being destroyed by the deadly AIDS virus.

In view of such an overwhelming crisis, the most tragic reality that I face is that I have lived through the worst years of AIDS devastation and haven’t hardly noticed or done a thing about it. A common critique of Christians is that they dismiss the problem of AIDS as the mere judgment of God upon immorality. From our Western perspective it is easy to see things this way. AIDS seems more like an affliction of the fringe rather than the whole of society. It is impossible to come to Africa, to see what has happened here and to retain such a narrow view of this crisis. The problem of AIDS demands our attention. While there is certainly a strong connection between immorality and the spread of AIDS, this does not give us license to dismiss the needs of a world in the grip of this deadly pandemic.

As I consider this accusation that people in the West, and particularly Christians, don’t pay much attention to resolving the problem of AIDS, I’m sad to say that I’m guilty as charged. Sure, I talk about the problem of AIDS in Africa and what can be done about it, but I’ve never lifted a finger to help create any positive change. This is changing, however. Children like Matthew, the HIV-positive little guy on the left pictured above with his brother, have motivated me to look beyond the surface of this problem. History will remember the AIDS crisis as one of the worst pandemics of all time, if not the worst. In the face of such need I will not be found sitting idle, insulating myself with Christianese answers that do nothing to bring a solution.

Africa, Travel

CRW_0100.jpg

“Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11:29-30)

From the earliest times in the history of the Church, the precedent has been set for churches to care for another, particularly in time of need. Recognizing that the persecution and resulting distress of the church in Jerusalem was stronger than elsewhere, the churches of other cities resolved to send support to them.

Certainly these other churches had their own needs. It would’ve been easy to justify that they could not afford to take any of the money out of their own collection to help anyone else. The attitude of Christ’s Church, however, is to be one of generosity. One which looks to discover and meet the needs of other believers who are in need.

As I travel throughout Eastern Africa and see the desperate needs that Christians have here, I am convicted by how complacent I have been about the needs of Christians abroad. Its much easier to simply give my tithe to my local church and not to think about anything else. How could I be so blind to the enormous needs in other countries? Christians are working extremely hard in critical situations both physically and spiritually all around the world, but we in the West frequently don’t even take the time to learn about them, much less care.

I truly hope that Mission Focus enables a change of perspective that results in more giving, praying and going to support God’s people abroad. May that change start with me.

Africa, Spirituality, Travel

Ken

I have met the most unbelievable people staying at Nairobi Backpackers! Its like every time I say hello to someone, I discover another incredible and interesting person! Let me tell you about a few of them:

Rob
I just met Rob tonight as he was getting off the internet. He mentioned that he was glad he was able to catch up on his work emails. I asked him what he does for a living so he told me that he was leading a trek to the top of Mt. Kilemanjaro! When I mentioned that I was interested in climbing Kilamanjaro, he told me about a local guide who could give me a good deal. He informed me that now is a wonderful time to go because there is more snow at the peak than he has ever seen. I learned that he’s a freelance travel guide from Austria and gets hired to take people all over the world. What an amazing job! He also told me all about Zanzibar and got out the map to show me the best way to get there! Rob is one cool guy!

Caroline
Caroline is a brilliant and sophisticated doctoral student at the University of Washington. She is originally from England and has carefully retained her English accent. When talking to new people I enjoyed telling them that she was from Seattle and then watching her immediate clarification that she was actually from England. Caroline studied the Aids epidemic in her Master’s program, making her a fantastic source of information. She also has interest and knowledge about many of the issues in Africa today. She is on her way to Sudan where she is working on research for doctoral dissertation about Sudanese women who helped to negotiate peace from the grassroots during the long war in Sudan.

Vera
Although she is white, Vera is a native of Zimbabwe and his lived in Africa all of her life. This fact has earned her the right to have a biting sarcastic wit and sense of humor in matters related to Africa. She made us laugh our heads off as she described various conversations and experiences that she has had in Africa. She has led game hunters into the bush for years. She has a hardened and tough sense about her that has earned the nickname of “black rhino” from the Africans. When I’d come back from the World Social Forum in the evenings we would sit around and have the “anti-social world slummit” with Vera. Behind all of the jokes and laughter though, it is evident that Vera cares about the needs of Africa… she just has her own way of addressing them. She currently lives in Zanzibar where she runs a five-star resort.

Ludwig
Ludwig is one of those all around nice guys that you only find every once in awhile. He is an engineer from Germany and came to work in Nairobi as an intern for an NGO. As he described some of the experiences that he faces at work, it is evident that it must be hard for him to work in this atmosphere. He seems to patiently grin and bear it, however, and keeps on working hard no matter what happens. When I encountered him in the city center the other day, he invited me out for cappucino. He always seems eager to help and I like that about him.

Kevin
Kevin is an illustrator from Brighton, England. He does his pencil drawn illustrations from his studio off a city street, so that people will stop by and talk, making art a more social experience. Every year for the last 20 years, he has taken October to April to travel somewhere else in the world. He takes pictures wherever he goes and then brings them back to England to use them as the basis for his illustrations. He showed me his work online the other day and his drawings are intricate and stunningly realistic. I would love to get some of his work someday. He was always up for a good conversation, and whether we were discussing India or his horrific safari with the Australians that he swears must have been Steve Irwin’s family, it was always entertaining and a good laugh!

Celina
One of the few Americans that I have met here in Africa, Celina is from Los Angeles. She came to Nairobi to attend the World Social Forum before heading to Ghana where she will be working in a refugee camp. She seems to have a genuine heart for the needs of people and in particular for Africa.

Ken
The owner of Nairobi Backpackers Hostel is a man named Ken. Having spent his career in the British army, and after working for many years in Africa, he decided to stay and run the hostel. He doesn’t need the money but says that he’s had the chance to have a lot of experiences in life and he simply wants to help young people have that opportunity. He’s working on developing an affiliated group of backpacker’s hostels from Addis Abbaba all the way to Cape Town. He learns the names of the people that come through his hostel quite quickly and he’s been very helpful to our group.

DJ
DJ Church is a teacher from Canada. He is very interested in current issues and knowledgeable on many different subjects. He has decided to take several years off to travel the world. He’s also a writer and has begun writing on various themes that he encounters along the way. He’s an excellent writer and very interesting to talk to about things that matter. Fortunately, we met him in Nairobi and are staying at the same place as him in Kampala.

Nairobi Backpackers, with all of its interesting guests, has been an amazing place to stay!

Africa, Life, Travel

I’ve started working on graphical links to point people to our website and here’s my first one. If you want to use any of the buttons that I create on your blog or website, please just let me know!

Travel

Saying Goodbye

Sometimes my life seems like a series of goodbyes. Wherever I go, I become attached and never stay long enough. Our time in Sri Lanka came and went to so fast. As I said goodbye to the children at Samudra Sri, the children’s home, I realized that although I may never see them again, I will never forget them. They did not seem as needy as the Indian children. They were more shy in general and harder to get close to. Maybe we just needed to reach out to them on a deeper level. They really seemed to respond when we did.

I had so much to do before leaving tonight but I just had to spend some final time with the kids. I went into the boys dorm and hugged and tickled them. Ravindu wanted to just hang with me. Chamarra would not leave my side. The kids began to give me gifts. When the others saw, they all wanted to give me something. They have so little that I felt terrible to take anything from them. I knew that they merely wanted to give to me, however, and to not take their gifts would’ve hurt their feelings. Most of them gave me a little plastic animal. One little guy gave me his toy car. Ishara gave me a pen. Others gave me sea shells that they had no doubt long collected. Then at the very end, little Chamarra, not wanting to be left out of the giving, gave me his box of crayons. I’m crying as I think about how much this touched me. These little guys have nothing in this world but the people who love and care for them at Samudra Sri. I was so afraid that I had not taken the time to get close to them while I was there but in my final moments with them, they showed me so much love through their little gifts. It makes me weep.

Lord, care for these children. Help us to tell their story in a way that is vivid and powerful. May their stories touch and change lives. May each and every one of them grow up to know you. Lord show them your love. Though their parents and everything they knew was taken from them by war, the tsunami, poverty, death or for any other reason, may they always knows that You are their Father.

Leaving the children tonight was more than just another goodbye. It was a sad departure. I wrote on my profile that the thing I was least looking forward to on this trip was having to say goodbye at each place and this has truly turned out to be the hardest part of the trip. How do you answer a precious little child who with a pleading look in his eyes, asks, “You go to America, then you come back to Sri Lanka?”

Life, Sri Lanka, Travel

De Silva

These last few days we’ve had the opportunity to travel to the Southern coast of Sri Lanka in order to film and take support photos for the children attending the AED schools at Galle and Tangalle. Two things stand out about this area of the country. First, it is a beautiful area lined with miles of pristine beaches. Second, it is an area tragically struck by the tsunami of 2004. Many homes and businesses still lay in ruins. Driving through this region has helped me to clarify the reality of what these people suffered.

Driving by, however, could never teach me as much as what I learned from a man named De Silva. As I climbed out of our van to take a few quick pictures of buildings destroyed by the tsunami, he approached me and wanted to talk. As we engaged in conversation, it was obvious that he had a story to tell. He took me into his home and showed me how the entire back half of it had been destroyed. They had since rebuilt this part of the home but the front was still significantly damaged. In broken English he told me about not only about the damage done to his home but also to the surrounding area.

At first I thought maybe he was doing all this to ask me for money. As he told his story, it became more evident that all he wanted was for people to know what had happened to Sri Lanka in the tsunami. He asked me to tell this story with my camera and to help get support for Sri Lanka. This is exactly what I intend to do. DeSilva helped to remind me one more time of the importance of the task that we’ve undertaken, to capture the film and photos of those who have a story to tell that may never otherwise be heard.

Life, Sri Lanka, Travel

Mounika

One evening we were on our way to a church in India and I couldn’t find a seat on the bus. As I looked around, I heard a quiet voice call “brother” and looked to find one of the little girls from the orphanage motioning for me to sit by her.

As I met Mounika, pronounced like the English “Monica,” and began to talk to her, she immediately walked right into my heart. Her English was better than I had found among any of the other children in India. As we drove, she pointed out the various types of trees and plants that we passed. She taught me about India and told me the Telegu words for things I did not know. She asked me about my sister who had previously visited India and told me that Rebekah had given her our family picture. We shared a delightful bus ride.

Mounika is 13 years old and in the “10th Class” as they call it in India. Her father died awhile back and her mother is too poor to care for her. She has an older brother in college and an adult sister who lives in Hyderbad. Watching Mounika at the orphanage, I noticed that she was a real leader among the children. She frequently led singing and prayers during devotional times. Her love for God was quite evident.

Leaving all of the children in India was very hard but I knew that I would miss Mounika in particular. She did not say much as we left but her faced showed the sadness that she tried to hide. Ten days after we left, we were rejoined in Sri Lanka by some of the team that we left in India. They brought a note for me from Mounika and this is what she wrote…

My brother Andi,
Hi how are you brother? I am fine. My name is Mounika and I am no forget you and you no forget me. I am studying well. I miss you. I am so sad and I miss you Brother Andi and I am greetings for your family and I am writing letter your sister. Happy new year and happy christmas and pray for me and pray for my family. I am pray for you and your family and I miss you brother. You will next year come in christmas. I will pray you will back in India. Ok I love you and I love your family and you and I love you Rebekah. I love all. Ok bye

I couldn’t imagine a sweeter note. I will never forgot Mounika and how she walked right into my heart on a bus ride in India.

India, Life, Travel

An Indian Pastor

I was reading Acts 1 this morning and found a story that pertains to what we are doing as Mission Focus. The story is of Matthias, the man chosen by the eleven disciples to replace Judas as an apostle. Many preachers have assumed that it was not God’s will for the disciples to choose a replacement. They generally base this argument on the fact that we hear nothing further about Matthias in the biblical record. It is as though his value as a disciple is dependent on how much we know about him.

The worth of God’s servants is not measure by how much we know about them but by everything that God knows about them. There are countless obscure and unknown followers of Christ’s whose works will live on in heaven although we may never know about them. I think of the Indian pastors who live on $12 of support a month and in poverty level homes, yet labor tirelessly to lead people to Christ. I think of the many women who devote themselves to the needs of children, both their own and others. We may never know about them but God does and their love will not go unrewarded.

Our goal at Mission Focus is to tell the stories of God’s servants. We want people to know what God is doing abroad in order to enlarge their hearts and to expand their sights into areas they’ve never considered before. We think Christians ought to focus on missions and that God’s servants are worthy of our recognition, appreciation, prayers and support. We will never be able to tell every story and discover every servant of God, but for those we have the opportunity to find we pray that the intersection of our paths will have a last impact not only for them but for the kingdom of God.

We don’t know much more about Matthias but let us never assume that the only things relevant to God’s kingdom are those we know about. His work is so much larger than our field of vision. What is relevant to God is far beyond what we value or appreciate. Lord, open our eyes!

India, Spirituality, Travel

CRW_7679.jpg

The kids at Samudra Sri are adorable! Samudra Sri, means “Beautiful by the Sea” and is the orphanage that we are filming at here in Sri Lanka. Most of these children lost their parents to the war in Sri Lanka or the tsunami. Others come from poverty stricken situations where one or both parents could not take care of them.

We have been interviewing the children and learning more about their stories. What is remarkable is that with all that they have to be sad about in their lives, they are so happy here. The staff of AED seems to really care about them, the place that they live is full of fun and learning and as we talk to them we learn that they look ahead to a bright future. We will be telling more of their stories in the near future!

Life, Sri Lanka, Travel

CRW_6836.jpg

In a tiny little mountain village, outside the town of Paderu, I saw a modern illustration of Jesus’ words. The members of the church had just brought their tithe, consisting not of money but of a portion of their crops. The people of this area earn a meager wage of about a dollar a day. Among the bags of rice there was a tiny little sack sitting on top. It was a small tithe from one of the poorest members of the church.

As I looked at the sack I could not help but remember the story of the widow’s mite. Jesus saw the large gifts made by the rich but when he saw a widow give the small amount that she had, He said that she gave more than the rest. This small sack of rice came from people who have nothing. Wouldn’t it be tempting to think that having so little would make it not even worth it to give to God? Imagine the rewards in heaven for those who have so little but love Christ so much. This sack of rice is so little but it says so much.

India, Spirituality, Travel