Friday, October 29, 2010
A stack of voting materials sits on my desk, waiting for me to wade through and choose who and what to vote for on or before Tuesday. I need to decide if I want to retain judges, raise taxes for local schools, re-elect incumbents or put my confidence in new candidates. While all this is time-consuming, it's also a privilege.
Speaking of elections, Nigeria has moved its 2011 Presidential one to April, 2011 (originally scheduled for January 22, 2011). It's all a bit complicated, given that the sitting President hasn't filled an entire term and his opponents claim that he isn't eligible to run for another term. Whatever the outcome, I pray for a peaceful transition or retention of power on May 29, 2011.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Like typical, healthy four-year-olds, little Chris is now bursting with energy. His parents say that he runs arounds, climbs on things, and laughs a lot. He's eating so well and so much that he's putting on weight, which is great for this little fellow. The main thing that sets him apart from his playmates is the beautiful scar he sports on his chest. Praise God that he's doing so well, and thanks to everyone's prayers and support.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
In what has become a dreaded but unfortunately familiar scene, nighttime attackers raided a remote Nigerian village near Jos this week and slaughtered six women and children. Violence begets violence, and I anticipate hearing about retribution. Hopefully I’m wrong.
My fallback emotion is fear and anger, but I’m reminded of 2 Timothy 1:7 that says, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and self-discipline.” Through the grief and pain of those affected directly and indirectly by this new violence, I pray that they (and we) can show Christian love, power, and self-discipline.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Welcome to my blog. I realize that some of you are my regular readers (thanks!) and others are occasional or first-timers. Recently I asked one of my writers' groups to give me their feedback about this blog. Their praise (photos/graphics and variety of topics about Nigeria and Faith Alive) and input (express more of my emotion/passion for Faith Alive) were helpful. They also suggested that I provide background information for new readers who might not know the people or topics I discuss. They didn't realize that they can click on any word I post in red for more information. If that's also news to you, feel free to try it now. Click on these red words to learn more about some of my favorite topics: Faith Alive Hospital or Little Chris.
Today's graphic is from the (RED) campaign that's "designed to help eliminate AIDS in Africa."
Monday, October 25, 2010
Last week I had to the honor of talking with a group of Presbyterian Women (and one man!) in Loveland about my one of my favorite things--Faith Alive Hospital. Well, actually they invited me to talk about our church's four Africa-related projects (Save-A-Life Personal Sponsorship Program for Nigerian HIV/AIDS patients at Faith Alive, Elim Elementary School in Nigeria, the Mwandi Mission in Zambia and the Peanut Butter House in Liberia). What started at our church in spring of 2008 as The Heart of the Father in Africa campaign has grown into ongoing, full-fledged partnerships. Yay God!
Friday, October 22, 2010
Like Psalm 139 (what my sister likens to the children's book, The Runaway Bunny), God relentlessly pursues us. He wants to restore us to himself and to our original purpose. As Pastor Ben at Faith Alive says, "To return man to this purpose became a core issue in the heart of God since the fall of man. God sent his voice to direct and bring man to himself. It failed. He sent angels to man for this purpose. It failed. He changed the approach and began to use man to call man. It failed. It came to the point that God resolved that he has used every other means, and yet man did not return to the purpose. He will come to man by himself. Since man was no more looking for Him, He would look for man. And so He came as Jesus, in the form of man, calling men from sea to sea, city to city. From valleys and from mountains He went calling both the small and big, the poor and the rich, the fool, the unlearned, the lame and the blind, saying, 'Follow me. I will make you, I will give you rest. I will return you to that fundamental purpose you lost in disobedience. Here am I. Come and have that sweet fellowship you lost along the way.'
"This month," Pastor Ben continues, "we extend this call to man to return to that original purpose that he was created--in the image and likeness of God, for preserving lives, multiplying the image of God, making the creation beautiful and great. The purpose of having an unending fellowship and devotion with God his maker. RETURN TO THE PURPOSE YOU WERE CREATED FOR TODAY. IT IS MY PRAYER THAT WE ENTER, LIVE, AND MOVE IN THAT PURPOSE TODAY."
Thanks for your wise reminder, Pastor Ben. May we stop playing hide-and-seek with God, enjoy His welcome embrace, and let Him lead us in the way everlasting.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
According to Pastor Ben at Faith Alive, the book of Genesis reveals that man’s purpose is to be in relationship with other people, creation, and God. “But do you know the painful event?” Pastor Ben asks. “Man lost this purpose through disobedience. Man became a destroyer of the creation, what he was purposed to care for and preserve. His relationship with himself, others and God was marred. Man is now destroying himself, other creatures, and is independent of God. Man and other creatures are now groaning in great pains.”
Sound depressing? It is. We need to only read the newspaper or watch the news to see evidence of these broken relationships. But don't despair, because God gets the last word. Check in tomorrow to read Pastor Ben’s Part III, an invitation to return to God’s purpose for us.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Rick Warren isn’t the only pastor with something to say about man’s purpose. Pastor Ben also has a few insights. Regarding Faith Alive’s spiritual theme for October, “God’s Purpose for Man,” he says that Genesis 1, 2 and 3 can be summarized into one basic truth but divided into three main inter-related levels. It’s all about RELATIONSHIPS: man with man, man with other creatures, and man with God.
“The whole scenario,” says Pastor Ben, “is as if God called to man and said, ‘Now that I have made you, I am stopping here. I am taking my rest; now continue from where I stopped. I gave you my likeness and spirit so you can represent me. Relate well with my creation and display my glory. Do what I have commanded you to do with them. And then in the evening, return to fellowship with me. Come back to tell me how it went and I will tell and teach you more. I don’t want your activities in my garden to keep you away from fellowship with me. For this reason, I have made night so I can have you with me. At this time you are to be with me, give account of your activities, and appreciate me for all I have done. Then I will give you more strength to continue in my service.’”
Happy ending? Not quite. Tomorrow I’ll post more of Pastor Ben’s wisdom that’s being shared in October during Faith Alive's morning and afternoon devotions with patients and staff.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Whenever people tell me how great I am for helping 4-year-old little Chris get heart surgery, I have to be honest. It's really God that made it happen, and I had the pure joy of being part of His plan. There were days along this journey that I cried out to God because I had no earthly idea what the next step would be or how we could possibly go forward. Find a doctor and hospital to do free or reduced-cost quality surgery? I can't count the number of possible leads and then disappointing rejections. Hopes raised and then hopes dashed. Raise $10,000? You mean I have to ask my friends and family to take a risk on a surgery that might not work? But step by step, God guided my path and provided a way. And he guided the doctors and surgeons and strengthened little Chris's body to successfully accept the surgery. I'm truly in awe of God and thankful that He heard our prayers and answered favorably.
So when people start to thank me, I encourage them to join God on a mission and see for themselves. Look for where God is working, say "Yes, I'll do what it takes," and then trust and obey Him. Oh, and put on your seat belt. You're in for the ride of your life.
Monday, October 18, 2010
On Saturday, little Chris’s mom Rahila and I celebrated our birthdays. Neither of us had cake or ice cream, but don’t feel sorry for us. We were overjoyed with the best gift of all—little Chris and his daddy Daniel had just returned home safely after a long and risky journey. Exhausted but smiling, this father and son are now back where they belong.
Little Chris is going to stay home from school a bit longer so his parents can keep an eye on him. After all, the scar and bandages and such might be too tempting for the other children to touch and admire. I think his playmates might also be envious of little Chris for sporting this tangible badge of God’s faithfulness.
Here’s to more birthdays and more ways to celebrate the gift of life.
Friday, October 15, 2010
As long as I'm sharing helpful resources this week, I'd like to recommend a few more. I read Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility before my first trip to Nigeria. Author Duane Elmer, Professor of International Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, has great pearls of wisdom; I underlined something on nearly every page. The first thing I starred is that "Good intentions are insufficient when entering another culture. We must also be equipped with the knowledge and competencies to function skillfully."
This book encouraged me to develop long-term relationships and not be a monkey or have donkey ears. Intrigued? Click here to buy the book. (I don't receive any kickbacks. Honestly.) Thumbing through it again makes me want to read his other books, Cross-Cultural Connections and Cross-Cultural Conflict.
Watch my future posts for reviews of two other books that address the complexities of money and mission: Cross-Cultural Partnerships by Mary T. Lederleitner and African Friends and Money Matters by David Maranz.
Does anyone have other recommendations?
Thursday, October 14, 2010
I highly recommend the book, When Helping Hurts, as a Christian response to poverty. As I said in yesterday's post, good intentions aren't enough. That's especially true if they're based on faulty assumptions that lead to harmful responses. This book talks about those assumptions and offers principles and strategies for poverty alleviation, including:
• the distinction between relief, rehabilitation, and development
• the difference between asset-based and needs-based strategies
• the advantages of participatory over blueprint approaches
Click here to hear an interview from the authors. Maybe it'll whet your appetite enough to read this insightful book. It's so helpful that Cindy, one of my pastors, is using the accompanying study guide to lead a weekly discussion group.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Ever heard the saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"? Click here to watch a trailer for Good Fortune, a powerful documentary I watched this week on PBS that exemplifies the quote. The website describes the film as "a provocative exploration of how massive international efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa may be undermining the very communities they aim to benefit. In Kenya’s rural countryside, Jackson’s farm is being flooded by an American investor who hopes to alleviate poverty by creating a multimillion-dollar rice farm. Across the country in Nairobi, Silva’s home and business in Africa’s largest shantytown are being demolished as part of a U.N. slum-upgrading project. The gripping stories of two Kenyans battling to save their homes from large-scale development present a unique opportunity see foreign aid through eyes of the people it is intended to help."
The well-intentioned but misguided efforts highlighted on Good Fortune are a complete contrast to Faith Alive. Everything there originated from the Nigerians themselves, is filtered through their indigenous cultural lens, and implemented by them. After all, they're the ones whose lives are affected long after the foreigners are gone.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
These pictures are a little harder to see because of the wires and machines. Imagine how difficult it was for his daddy Daniel to see him like this right after surgery. Praise God that little Chris is recovering well; he's even unhooked from all the machines and released from the hospital. Now they're just waiting for their flight home.
(In the last photo, he's watching the Tom and Jerry cartoon on his daddy's phone.)
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
“In Loving Memory of a Faith Alive Family Member.” These words are on the tombstone of a 36-year-old man abandoned at Faith Alive last November by his parents. He died a few weeks later, and the staff decided to give him an honorable burial. Dr. Chris says, “We believe God made all of us in His image and should get the best, especially SALVATION.” They arranged to immediately bury the man on some donated farmland. With no pastor available, Dr. Chris officiated the graveside service.
They now need a tombstone for Grace. Probably not her real name, but fitting nonetheless, she was also abandoned at Faith Alive and died of AIDS complications. After unsuccessful attempts to identify this woman’s friends and relations, the police gave Faith Alive permission to bury her at what is now the Faith Alive Burial Grounds. This time, Pastor Ben was available to usher her into the future.
(Tombstone photo is for the man, other photos are for the woman.)
Thursday, October 7, 2010
While Faith Alive’s Angel Kiddies Club celebrated Nigeria’s 50-year jubilee with green and white cake and balloons last Friday, people in Abuja were scrambling to find safety and tending to the dead and injured. October 1 (Nigeria’s 50th Independence Day post-colonization) was supposed to be a time to honor the past and cast a vision for the future of this African country. Instead, it was hijacked by terrorists.
President Goodluck Jonathan, from the south, denies that a southern group executed the two car bombs that killed at least 12 people and wounded more than 36 others. Instead, he says that MEND (Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta) is taking the blame that lies with northerners. Only God knows who is responsible, and I pray that He thwarts their future destructive plans.
As for Faith Alive's children, Dr. Chris says, "I pray that by the time these kids are 50, Nigeria would have been transformed." Amen.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Africans are known for their proverbs. "He who cannot dance will say, 'The drum is bad.'" "Confiding a secret to an unworthy person is like carrying grain in a bag with a hole." "Rising early makes the road short."
Daniel and I have a new wise proverb: "It is better in a hospital room to watch cartoons with a happy child than to watch the sports channel with a crying child." I have to smile when I hear that little Chris is watching even more episodes of Tom and Jerry, Ben 10, Spiderman, and other cartoons. It keeps his mind off what's happening to his body.
Yesterday when I called them, I heard crying. I asked, "Is that Chris?" "Yes," Daniel said, "it is. I need to give him his medicine and he just wants to mount resistance."
By God's grace, soon they will be home in Nigeria where Daniel will be able to watch an Arsenal match while little Chris plays with his mommy.
(Photo of a proverbs calendar sold by Ten Thousand Villages.)
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The first line in my book reads, “Please God, don’t ever send me to Africa.” While it was my prayer, Diane Blattner shared my sentiment. But in 2004 when her 17-year-old son Tim wanted to go to Faith Alive, Diane wasn’t about to let him go without his mother’s supervision. Tim’s older brother had already been to Nigeria and said that the rest of the family needed to go and see a man (Dr. Chris) who walked in Jesus’ footsteps.
Diane’s heart was transformed on that, and subsequent, visits to Faith Alive. She and a friend, Joyce Johnson, came back to Baltimore with a passion to raise money—lots of it—for Faith Alive and the Anawim Home in Abuja. Together, they started the Hope for West Africa 501©(3) nonprofit with a volunteer working-Board of five powerful women.
Her seven-bedroom home in Baltimore is Grand Central Station for not only HFWA, but any of her five grown children and their families, extended family, friends, and local and visiting Nigerians who bring jollof rice, pounded yam, moi moi and goat stew for Dr. Chris. The phone rang morning, noon, and night while I was there last week. Diane, a retired nurse, didn’t miss a beat as she designed new business cards, made peppered chicken, folded endless loads of laundry, drove Dr. Chris to physical therapy, and read a book about grant writing. In between all this, she took her son John to the hospital when lymphoma complications sapped his strength.
Hopefully I provided some help around the house and with Dr. Chris. Our time together playing rummy, celebrating her birthday, riding bikes on a historic tree-lined railroad path, and watching the Ravens beat the Steelers (sorry Aunt Audrey) lifted her spirits.
Please keep the Blattners in your prayers as they continue to depend on God’s strength and healing.
Little Chris update: he is now out of intensive care and back in a regular hospital room. He complains about his chest hurting a little, but that's a normal part of the healing process.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Meet Bill Blattner (formally Dr. William A. Blattner MD), co-founder of the Institute of Human Virology and director of its Epidemiology and Prevention Division. He’s a renowned authority on AIDS and the viral epidemiology of cancer who’s focusing on Nigeria and implementing PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). Click here to read more about his impressive credentials and accomplishments.
A Baltimore Ravens fan and my host with his wife Diane last weekend, Bill first went to Faith Alive in 2002. At that time, HIV/AIDS patients there were dying because antiretroviral (ARV) medications weren't yet available to them. Amid the pain and suffering, he sensed their deep faith and pervasive hope. Patients were being healed in a way that transcended their physical bodies. He considers his first visit to Faith Alive as one of the most profound experiences in his life.
Many people go to Faith Alive and tell Dr. Chris what they think he needs to do. As a humble man, Dr. Chris accepts their suggestions and gifts. He says that if God puts something on their hearts, who is he to question it. “If it is from God, it will work. If it isn’t, we’ll see.” But people who really “get it” understand that we need what these special Nigerians have. Instead of asking,“What can we do for Faith Alive?”, they also ask, “What can we learn from them?”
Thanks to Bill for being a perceptive student. Stay tuned tomorrow to read about his compassionate wife.
(Photo of Bill standing next to a Nigerian painting in his home.)
Friday, October 1, 2010
On Nigeria's 50th Independence Day, Big Chris and Little Chris are on other continents working toward their physical independence.
In Baltimore, Maryland, Big Chris finished his fourth day of physical therapy. His dear friend Sally Barlow, an attorney from Albuquerque, escorted him to his appointment. "Ah, I have my legal representation with me today," he joked. Sally has also been Faith Alive's loyal U.S. Coordinator for many years.
In Bangalore, little Chris finished his fourth day of post-op recovery. The surgeon and nurses are amazed at his progress, and daddy Daniel is once again laughing and joking.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
(Photo of Dr. Chris watching the news with Sally at his side.)