Saturday, May 27, 2006

more plots of escapism

In keeping with the travel theme I've been on recently, I finally bought plane tickets to get to Vegas and back in September/October. Not that that matters any whatsoever to anyone who may read this, but spending all that money is one of the better things to happen in a while and I need to blog about something, so this is it. (My recent trip to Philadelphia was cool but very brief and a little frustrating in some ways, so it got passed over as a topic.)

This coming vacation should be a great one. I finally met with my homie Tim, who I'll be spending the trip with, and we hashed out some ideas. I knew there would be a few days of hiking and swimming in Havasu Canyon -- hands down the best swimming hole in the States and one of the top in the world, according to pretty much all of those in the know on such things. This is probably due in large part to the fact that it's owned by some wise Indians who have refused to allow the gummint to put in a paved road to their village of Supai and create a tourist trap out of a pristine bit of nature. That was the main draw of the trip for me; I decided I was in the first time we talked about it.

But it turns out there will be plenty more stuff thrown in. On the list so far are an O's game to start things off (Tim already has tix for the night before we fly, so why not make that the official beginning and catch a hotel in Baltimore to save that long drive the next morning?), Flagstaff (which supposedly contrasts with the rest of Arizona in that it has beautiful forests with cool trees and stuff), Petrified Forest N.P. (speaking of old trees, I'll have to drop loads of dough to ship home an awesome slice of a petrified tree for a souveneir), Meteor Crater (a well-preserved, mile-diameter bowl where a rock fell some years back), and a visit to the south rim of the Grand Canyon (a brief stop probably, as the hike in and out with some rafting in the Colorado will have to wait until a later trip). Other stuff likely to be added to the mix includes a Hoover Dam crossing and visit (not to sound too geeky, but it's a real shame visitors aren't allowed to view the guts of the thing anymore) and some hiking in a good slot canyon (them be the very deep and very narrow ones that must invoke that innermost claustrophobia in even the seasoned canyoneer) that Tim's been to.* And, last but not least, I'll have about a day and a half to pad my savings account at the expense of those hapless casino owners on The Strip -- thanks in advance, guys. And we still have some chunks of time left open for other stuff! In the bullpen are a kayaking excursion, stuff in/around Vegas that doesn't require parting with large sums of money, and whatever else on the map strikes our fancy.

So, it's good to finally get the ball rolling and start some planning on that. I've needed something grand to look forward to since returning from the Philippines and this fits the bill. There will be plenty going on this summer, of course, but nothing with this magnitude of awesomeness. And in the coming months a trip to Europe will hopefully begin to materialize. That would be too cool in too many ways...but given the expense and travel time required for that, not to mention the coordination of schedules and interests, I'd better not get my hopes up just yet. No loss for now though; can't complain about "only" a 1.5-week vacation to Arizona.

Looking ahead a bit, the months of September and October will rock if plans stay in the shape they're in now. I'll be out of the office about a third of the time, doing crazy stuff like biking an old canal route, wandering around out west, and sleeping through a week of training in Atlanta while waiting impatiently to ride coasters at Six Flags Over Georgia that weekend. And then I'll only need to pretend to work for another couple of months before Christmas comes around, and then hopefully the Europe trip will land in early 2007. Suddenly, for a fleeting few seconds, the future doesn't seem so bad...

*That's not saying much, though. The dude's been on practically every square inch of U.S. territory between the Rockies and the Pacific Ocean. This afternoon I was pointing out obscure stuff on the Arizona map, like Tombstone and various markings with weird Indian labels, and every time (really, every time) he'd give his impression of it from when he was there. The planning and travel time on last year's Utah-Nevada trip was the same way. Proof that one doesn't have to travel abroad to see tons of cool stuff and keep going back for more. But that doesn't make me want to go overseas any less.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

quote of the day

This Malkin post about some idiocy within the Department of Homeland Security includes a great quote from the one and only Glenn Reynolds:
I think we're seeing a general meltdown in support for the entire governing class as the result of a perception (which is largely true) that it lacks the seriousness and self-restraint necessary to run a major nation.
And all right-thinking people said Amen. It's not just Bush and his cohorts that seem to be screwing things up. The vast majority of those on both sides of the aisle have been steadily increasing government's power and getting its hands of inefficiency and entanglement in all sorts of arenas it has no business playing in. But what else is new? We've been sliding down that slope for decades now.

The greater question is, How did we arrive here? Or better yet, how did this madness start? The answer lies in worldview I think, and that's a great discussion I don't have time for now, but suffice it to say that the people - the voters - are responsible. As I like to say, the populace is too stupid to govern itself.

So, now we find that prominent leaders of all stripes struggle to get support from a quarter of the population. Well, voters of America, if you elect a bunch of idiots based on empty promises, what should you expect to get? A government that reflects your own stupidity.

A representative government is only effective if its people have the sense and basic wisdom to make it work. Unfortunately, it seems those days are behind us here in the States. Hopefully we can bring them back.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

and there you have it

My Philippines mission trip in a nutshell. I realized while I typed each one of those entries that there are so many details that aren't in there, but that's my journal so I didn't want to start adding to it. And if those posts included everything I did and saw over there they might never end. Suffice it to say that the trip was far more exciting and enlightening than words can explain.

Surprisingly, I actually kept my streak of 11 straight blog posts going. (My internet access was down last night but I typed up the post and saved it anyway, so that counts toward devoting time and staying on task.) Now that I'm used to committing 20-30 minutes per day toward this, in theory I now have 20-30 minutes of empty time to use each day. That'd be great to apply to my lacking diligence in devotions, but we'll see how well that theory holds up.

philippines: day 11, tuesday, april 18

Day 2 of 2 at PG. Went on a snorkeling trip, saw Coral Garden and some giant clams. Good snorkeling but not as good as the Red Sea coast. Went into the town and did yet more shopping; finished the souveneir buying I think. But this feels too much like a vacation still. The trip back was very cool, with plenty of good waves to provide a near-coaster experience and plenty of spray to soak us (Ding mainly!).

Team dinner with the missionaries and then a de-brief. It went well, though Curtis and I spoke up a bit on some topics we were uncomfortable with. We both had valid points I think. Pampanga was a big topic, as well as team prep beforehand. The missionaries were very complimentary of our team and that was good to hear. We decided to spend the remainder of our money on the Scott's and Pastor Ding's family. Apparently Ding isn't getting much support from his church, which puts our trip to PG in an even worse light.

Had a great time laughing with Curtis this evening. he and I share some of the same concerns and a willingness to speak our minds. I really respect the guy; I'm probably closer to him than anyone else on the team. He'd better be on the next mission trip I go on. Hopefully I'll still see him a lot when we get back to our "normal" lives. Wait, hopefully the normal lives part will never happen!

philippines: day 10, monday, april 17

Drove to Puerto Galera in the morning and spent the day there. Snorkeling, then lunch, a much-needed afternoon nap, some Bible reading (Jonah), dinner, and a concert of prayer. I wasn't at all looking forward to capping the evening with two hours of prayer time, sad as that is, but it was really good. I got to pray with Marcello and Ding in triplets prayer, and I feel like I got a lot out of it. I felt a lot better overall afterwards, and it was a good semi-close to our work. We celebrated Katie's birthday afterwards with a huge cake and that was fun for all.

I'm really not convinced we should be here though. This seems like much extravagance for a bunch of short-term missionaries living off of donated money. Sure, a short, low-key trip to just wind down would have worked I think. Is it necessary or prudent for us to take a mini-vacation like this? I'm having fun and getting to mingle a lot with our church planting brethren, but I have a sense of guilt just by being here. This just doesn't strike me as the best use of our resources...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

philippines: day 9, sunday, april 16

Easter! God is risen! Went to Ding's church in the morning, Walt preached. Then more fellowship time with his congregation. Those people are all so nice, and always so glad to see us. So different from America. They just have a joy that we in America don't have, and it's reflected in their countenance and they way they carry themselves in whatever they do. I think that's what will stick with me from this trip. It's certainly something I need so much more of in my own life.

We spent some early afternoon time discussing career aspects iwth a group of about 20-30 young Filipinos in the church. I felt I did a good job of sharing what I think are important things to consider as a Christian in the workpalce (evangelism through actions, reliance on more mature believers, building deeper-than-only-work relationships), and it was good to hear Pastor Ding repeat and reinfoce some of what I said. I was very pleased with how the time went.

After a brief run home, we went to a five-couple wedding officiated by Ding. Walt gave the message, lasted maybe an hour total. It was interesting to see a mass wedding; needless to say, that was a new experience for me. Very plain and more casual than I had expected, but it was nice. (Couples in the squatters' villages typically don't get married officially because it costs money, so they just start living together with no marriage document. Performing official marriages for them is a form of outreach into their communities for Pastor Ding.) Overall it was cool, and we were able to give them flowers and Bibles as gifts. Some of the couples didn't seem too excited though; they'd likely been living together for many years and, in the words of Ofie (Ding's wife), "lots of water under the bridge." Funny way of putting it I think.

Dinner at the house with the missionaries was very cool. Got to talk to Lolo Harvey some more; I'm really impressed with him and his vision of ministering to street kids by teaching them practical skills. And he mentioned that he sees a real need for more instructors to teach industrial arts stuff. Hmmn...perhaps my father would someday be interested?

Finally, the ministry focus part of the trip comes to a close. It wasn't always easy, but God taught me so much! I need to work on people skills, I really need to work on kids skills, perhaps I ought to look at doing ministry through an engineering career, I seem to be comfortable in third-world settings once I adjust to them. Most of all, I can't let myself slip back into my old ways when I get home. So important! But for now, on to PG!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

philippines: day 8, saturday, april 15

Went to the prison in the morning...what an experience! Probably at least as powerful as yesterday's. Three cells, none larger than maybe 250 sqft, with 86 men, 54 men, and 12 women in them. The women actually looked comfortable compared to the men! The only way I can think to describe it is to compare it to the slave ships of old. That's what they must have looked like! Men sitting shoulder to shoulder, huddled on the floor, and more of the same in the 3-4 rows of bunks lining the three walls and part of the fourth (rest of the fourth was bars). I've never seen so many people jammed into such a small area. And these guys have to actually live like that for sometimes months on end. (It's a holding prison until they get a trial.) No space to relax, sleeping in shifts, one bathroom, probably no showers, and on and on. Unbelievable.

The prisoners seemed compliant enough and didn't cause trouble. Good thing, because the cells were opened a couple of times. They were mostly attentive while we talked and were very cooperative when we handed them drink packs (minus the straws because sharp objects aren't allowed in the cells). But Walt pointed out that they responded "Good, Sir!" in unison when the guard asked them how they were doing, so it was probably discipline by force. There were mostly drug-related offenders also, so perhaps they're not as violent as other prisoners. But they sure acted polite and safe enough.

I gave my testimony to start, then Curtis gave a great short talk about how we're all slaves and prisoners to sin unless we accept Christ into our hearts, Traves sang part of "How Great Thou Art", and Walt presented the gospel. We got nearly 100% response, so time to pray that there were many genuine conversions in the bunch.

So much more to write about...supposedly the smell was very bad but my cold prevented me from smelling anything today so I was spared from that. The prison itself is right off the street as if it were another shop. Three guards for so many prisoners, a closing photo-op with the captain (propaganda!), and so much more...

Afternoon - went to the squatters' village and presented the gospel in wordless book form. So many's still amazing how many people live in such a small area around here. It went well, though I still can't get rid of the nagging doubts about how effective this sort of "quick and easy" evangelism is. But people who know far more than I do say it works, so I have to trust them for now. Afterwards we were able to spend more time with some of Pastor Ding's congregation, and as always that was great. Yet again, though, I struggled to talk to people. I might as well be mute when it comes to crowds.

We got a chance to go to the market before dinner. Not a place I'd want to buy food from! But I did manage to do some gift-buying there. Though I must admit I don't like the fact that I've been buying so much stuff. Makes me feel like a tourist. This is supposed to be a mission trip, not a vacation!

Dinner - ate at a Thai place. Good food, too - Steve would be jealous! But some of it was very spicy, especially the peppers (which I tried after some prodding). Got to go buy some stuff afterwards, and then back to the house.

Friday, May 05, 2006

philippines: day 7, friday, april 14

Early start to get to Pampanga to see the penance stuff and witness to people...and then car trouble with the other car...great! Been delayed about 1.5 hours so far; stuff has started there by now and we're sitting at a gas station waiting for the car to be fixed. Yeah, this rocks! And my cold seems to be worse this morning. Hopefully the rest of the day will be much better.

Car fixed, showed up only an hour late, not bad considering all things. First sight of what was happening was turning around to look out the back of the van and seeing a guy's back covered in blood and his pants stained red for the first few inches. Yikes! Perhaps the most gruesome thing I've ever seen. A guy beating himself with what appeared to be a sort of modified bolas (which I bought a set of as a souveneir), blood all over his back and the seat of his pants, a procession following him and encouraging him to keep on hitting himself, blood splattering on anyone and anything around him, blood spots on the street...just an ugly sight. This was the first time I can remember convulsing and feeling a bit nauseous at the sight of blood and gore. I wasn't at all prepared for this.

We went on and parked, then walked and walked and walked an dwalked to the crucifixion site. Scenes along the way included rows and processions of more proud masochists, a guy laying down with a child doing some beating on him, a child trying to mimic the self-beaters by standing at the back of the line and hitting himself with the bolas thing, me getting speckled in blood - but not bad - as the self-beaters walked by...what a weird experience. So disturbing on so many levels.

Then on to the crucifixion site...corded, lots o fanticipation in the crowd. The crucifixion itself was almost anticlimactic in that it wasn't nearly as gruesome as I expected. But that's a good thing. It took probably an hour, and the guys were up there for maybe 15 minutes. But they were nailed and that made up for it. It was like a spectacle. The whole scene was like one big carnival of sorts.

The rest of the day was low-key. Home, shot some hoops for a bit (by myself), dinner, good discussion of the day's events. Finally got the internet to work on my computer so that's cool. I finally have a way to serve the team I guess. But this head cold is back with a vengeance this evening so I haven't been able to do much. I did help clean up after dinner, though, and that felt good just to be helping the others.

Not sure what to make of the events we saw. In some sense I felt guilty for how I behaved at Pampanga, like a tourist instead of a missionary. I felt terrible for the kids there; they wouldn't know what to think and could so easily get the wrong impression. Our team was very distraught. Predictable reactions though. All of the women crying, Travis doing his best to comfort people despite what was probably a tough experience for him as well, Curtis with his trademark sense of humor throughout, Walt just sitting there deep in thought and saying nothing, me sitting there trying to figure out what to make of it all and showing no emotion whatsoever but daydreaming a bit.

Overall I'm very glad we went. No matter how bad anyone felt, it was worth the experience. And people being impacted so much is a good thing. That's God teaching us all something. Had we not gone, we'd always wonder how it would have been to be there. Overall a great trip and a totally unforgettable experience. And the pedacab ride was awesome!

Didn't get to do much witnessing though. In fact, I didn't talk to anyone about Christ there. How inexcusable is that? Good thing some people on the team weren't that self-focused. Man, I really feel like a camera-clicking tourist now.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

philippines: day 6, thursday, april 13

Retreat with Holiness in Jesus, Pastor Marcello's church. I shared my testimony and Curtis shared a bit about us being slaves to sin but freed through Christ, and Walt gave his "Idols of the Heart" sermon (which was great). After a quick lunch we spent a few hours of pool time with the congregation. We played a cool game with some of the guys in the church. Perhaps best of all, I didn't get scorched too badly by the sun. I got to talk some with Ronald and hopefully I encouraged him a bit. I was getting a good conversation going with his sister Liza, but that was cut short because I had to get out of the pool and get ready to leave. Too bad, as she seemed very interesting on a lot of levels.

I think this is the night Cheryl cooked an amazing dinner for us, but I can't remember now since it's been several days. Overall a pretty low-key day, though my cold is realy acting up this evening. Hopefully it won't be too bad at Pampanga tomorrow, as that should be a good day and I'll need all the strength I can find probably.

Been reflecting on how I can better be a part of the team. I've felt a little isolated so far, with my lack of skills in the activities we've done and my thin patience with a few people on the team. I really need to get over that second part, and I can work on the first here and when I get home. Last night's "keep it real" confession session helped a lot I think.

I have been able to see God's grace at work in me though. I feel like I'm already a better servant now, having seen the others in action and learned from them. I'm starting to really relate to my team members better, even as I become less patient with them and more eager to spend time by myself. Hopefully they can at least see that I love them even if I can't show it so well. My evangelism skills have improved, although I'm not so sure I have the boldness I need to go along with it. But it's good to see God working in me even as I keep getting frustrated with how I'm doing. Proof that all I can do is done with God's strength. And proof that the Lord can work wonders through our weakness.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

philippines: day 5, wednesday, april 12

AM - More time with Deng's congregation, did outreach around a different neighborhood then some VBS stuff with other kids...or maybe the other way around; can't remember. Such a poor area...hard to imagine people living there. But getting out and walking around was cool, and the VBS went well too. But I'll never figure out how the squeezed 70 kids into an outdoor courtyard that was maybe the size of a normal living room in the States. Did much better on my "blood of Jesus" presentations this time, especially with the adults. But I relate to adults better so no surprise.

Can't remember what we did for lunch..afternoon was spent doing outreach at Eugene's area (for me; others did VBS again). I enjoyed this one to lead a bit of the EE discussion (thru God, then to Pam) and did well with it I thought. Most importantly, God blessed our efforts with three out of three professions! One (Jorban) did still seem to not understand, but the other two (Danny, Pinky) seemed genuine. Danny was especially excited and even tried to push me through so I'd tell him how to get eternal life! So impatience can be a virtue sometimes I guess...

Dinner was pizza at the house, so two straight nights of eating in! Rock on. Wasn't as good as the chef's salad but better than another meal eating out. Then the devotion and once again I'm too far behind in stuff. I'm actually writing this journal entry on Friday...oh well, some things never change I guess. Need God's help on that. Badly!

Observations...God only asks for our faith in Him. These people have so little and don't have the overall knowledge of some in the States but their faith seems much more real. Cita and her husband became Christians last June and soon afterward donated a tract of land for the new church site of Eugene's congregation. And they don't have much; he's been unemployed for two years. But they have faith and trust. I wish we had more of these kinds of believers in America!

For me...I still need to relax and trust God more with stuff I have to prepare for in life, both short-term and on a bigger scale. I could learn a lot from these people! I hope I do, and I really hope I don't forget it when I get back to the States and back to my grind as usual.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

philippines: day 4, tuesday, april 11

Spent AM with ABP boys at the pool. What an awesome experience! Probably the best of the trip so far. Talked to Nancy (Dale's wife) for a while then Buboy at the end. Dragged kids through the water and threw kids into the air for almost three hours - was great! First time this trip I've been able to really be comfortable around children. They're so cute, too. They seem to have this happiness and innocence to them taht American children don't have. Katie mentioned something about less distractions and a plainer lifestyle; must have something to do with it. Was great to be with Apo, Matthew, Jason, Ivan, Carlo, Athan, John Chris, John Mark, Etel, Booknoy, and so many others...

Good bonding during the drive time, too. Talked to Kery a bit, had fun with the others. Getting along even better with Travis; lots of humor and such back and forth. Praise God for great team dynamics all around for this excursion!

Afternoon - evangelism with Walt, Cita and her husband, in the area where Pastor Eugene's new church will be. Made some contacts and handed out some tracts but were turned away by most people. I did get to share part o fthe EE outline (through Heaven and Man) with one woman and then lead her in a prayer to accept Christ! That was very cool..first time for everything. Got back to the church late though, about 5:30. But well worth the time spent.

Ate in for dinner - chef's salad and pineapple. By far the best dinner so far. I had been getting tired of always eating out and feeling so spoiled, so it was nice to eat in for a change. Hopefully this will continue.

Had a good discussion with Walt and Curtis about our purpose and impact as a short-term team. It's hard to interact or learn the culture much in the very short time we have here, and getting shuttled around everywhere like a tour group doesn't help any. But I'm convinced we're doing good work - God's work - here and opening doors for the local churches that wouldn't otherwise be opened, so it's worth it. Hard to keep that in perspective sometimes though.

I feel like I have no time to myself here! I'm always either doing team stuff or trying to get ready for the next day. I'd like to do more personal study kinda stuff, or even just keep abreast of everything on my plate for this trip, but it's not happening. I haven't kept up with the Jonah reading and I haven't ever started on my short Bible lesson yet. Just have to pray that it all comes together. But I know it will.

Prayer...just need to relax! I'm too stressed out and that's hurting my ministry to others and within the team. Also still having trouble fitting in with the team.

Monday, May 01, 2006

philippines: day 3, monday, april 10

AM - worked with children in and around Cornerstone Christian Community (Pastor Ding's church). Was great working with the children, though I struggle to really relate to them and interact with them. All good experience though; maybe I'll be better at it someday. Fellowship with Pastor Ding and some of the adult members was good too, although I got stuck inthe corner of the hut thing and couldn't get out to play basketball much. Talked to Nimrod a bit and Noah (Pastor Ding's son) also; Nimrod is in seminary now and Noah wants to go eventually. Nimrod 24, Noah 14.

VBS in the afternoon was okay. I was too uncomfortable in the environment to enjoy it much. Working with the kids was hard and the lesson didn't seem to be planned too much. That or it was reviewed when I wasn't there in Sunday School beforehand. But I didn't know any of the songs or presentations. I let my frustration with that get the best of me and I think that kept me from enjoying the time more.

Dinner was at Pho Roa or whatever that Vietnamese place was called. Sucked all around - bad service with my drink and food orders ignored, lousy food, me unable to get in on any good conversation. I feel like such a dumb rock sometimes; it's so hard having so little interpersonal/relational ability. Makes life difficult in so many ways. But I did get to send a lengthy email home and shoot off some to Steve and Peter. That made up for the meal experience.

Oh, and I led the first Jonah study this morning. That was probably the highlight of my day! I wasn't so nervous and I thought the study went really well. Good discussion, and it moved at only a slightly slower pace than I had planned for (which was good!). A real confidence builder for my upcoming Acts study leadership in Crossroads.

I still feel like a pampered American over here. I wish we could eat in more and interact with the culture more, but I guess there are good reasons we can't (health, time, etc. - but isn't God protecting us while we're here?). But it's like we're some foreign tour group or something, shuttled from one site to the next. Been bothering me.

Overall an exhausting day that could have gone better. I need help from God with relating to people, especially kids, and just having patience to deal with unexpected twists as they come. But I'm at least learning a lot. Getting dark out here on the roof...can see well enough to write anymore...