31 Days and Counting – Dependent

When we leave on our training trip to Africa in 31 days, we will become highly dependent on others. Pilots. Drivers. Hosts. Translators. Guides. Dependent is not how many of us on our team would describe ourselves.

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Image Credit: mzacha at FreeImages.com

In a few weeks, our team will place our trust in many, many people. These trusted individuals will be spread over three continents and an ocean. A good number of them will become close because their lives will not just touch ours, they will intertwine with us and our stories will become one for just a little while.

The peculiar thing about life is that, for the most part, we don’t get to choose who we depend on. For example, I have a few friends who are airline pilots, but I’m fairly certain that not once have I flown in a plane where they were at the controls. When, I eat at a restaurant, I assume that the food will be correctly prepared and the cook and the wait staff will follow the highest standards. (What was that great line from Penny in The Big Bank Theory? “Sheldon, I may only be a lowly waitress, but I have every opportunity to spit on your hamburger.”) Even when I drive down a Texas highway, I have some faith that the drivers around me will stay in their lanes and observe most of the rules of the road.

In a foreign culture, the dependence factor grows dramatically and along with it our willingness to trust.

We should always be cautious, that’s true. Yet, the willingness to trust other people is one of the most exhilarating experiences of our lives. Becoming dependent on someone else brings together two disparate forces — anticipation and relief. And even though these feelings are distinct and very different, you really can’t have one without the other.

Anticipation brings questions about those who have assumed our care. Anticipation can take us down paths of delight, but it can often be shaded with fear and dread. It’s been years, but I can still physically feel those last few moments as the roller coaster edged its way to its highest point. In the course of a few seconds, I felt both nauseated and ecstatic as I anticipated the rapid rush that was ahead. As the cars sped forward, I remember physically holding on tight while mentally letting go to experience the thrill. And what could be better than that triumphant re-entry into the loading area? Or what more questionable than our incredible urge to get in line again?

In the western world, we praise independence as a personal character trait. We nurture and train our children to be independent. We reward independence. We criticize those among us who struggle with independence. Sometimes, we create systems that ensure our independence while making it impossible for others to achieve it.

A certain beauty lies in learning to be responsibly dependent. The truth is we need each other. Perfection in life comes from being dependent and allowing others to depend on me. Independence has its place. But we can never allow it to overshadow our divine calling to help others and to allow them to help us.

In the next few weeks, I will be dependent on so many people. Many of them I will never meet. Others will become life-long friends. Still others, like my teammates and our special guides in far-away places, will likely take a place close to my heart. Perhaps the two phrases we should try to learn in every language are “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Those words define a holy place where those who are dependent meet.

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.

32 Days and Counting – Anxiety

The questions are  starting to surface. As each member of our team shares the coming adventure with friends (32 days to Africa!), we’re beginning to get the knowing looks and the furrowed brows. And we’re beginning to sense the anxiety in others.

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Image Credit: JoanaCroft on FreeImages.com

“You know, Africa can be a very dangerous place.”

Yes. It can. But so can Dallas or Abilene. Or Ferguson, Missouri. Danger is always a consideration and is often just inches a way.

The challenges are different in Africa, perhaps. Plus, distance adds to the complexity. And frankly, our team still has a lot of questions. But we’ve had a lot of our questions answered. Thus, our anxiety is pretty subdued.

You might be interested in some of the questions we asked. In our first gathering as a team, for example, the meeting ground to a halt when one member queried, “Will we be able to flush toilet paper?”

I have to admit that it wasn’t a question I would have ever thought about. Until I heard the accompanying restroom stories of other team members who had experience in many far-flung places of the globe.

If you’re really interested, flushing toilet paper is permissible in Rwanda and Kenya.

We had a number of questions about health issues. As in travel to many countries, the basic rule is “Don’t drink the water.” We even learned that, should we have the opportunity to swim while we’re there, we should pass it up. I was thinking in terms of crocodiles. Apparently, the primary danger is from organisms and creatures that are much smaller.

From the recent news, many friends have asked us about the risk posed by Ebola. At this moment, we don’t foresee much trouble. Our destination is East Africa and the concentration of Ebola cases is in West Africa.

How about political unrest and terrorism? We obviously need to be aware of our surroundings and sensitive to what we observe. However, we are blessed in that we will be surrounded by representatives of our partner organizations who live and work in Rwanda and Kenya. The last thing they want to do is to put us in danger.

Again, our team knows that a certain risk accompanies us on our trip. I can’t speak for everyone, but my primary anxiety is on behalf of those who love and worry about us. I’d love to say, “Please don’t fret. I’ll be fine.” Truthfully, it’s nice that people care.

So, if you have some concerns about our trip and about us . . . Thank you! We can use your prayers, your encouragement, and your support.

We know that many of the things about this trip that raise the level of anxiety are the very elements that make this trip important. Carrying the message of peace and reconciliation to places where conflict, violence, poverty, disease, and discrimination abound is big.

But where in the world could we go where those things are not present?

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.

33 Days and Counting – Excitement

Just 33 days before Dan, Allison, Aaron, Robyn, Malcolm, Betty and I make our way to Africa. We don’t get to see each other every day. In fact, it’s been almost 3 weeks since we were all in the same room. Yet, through emails, some scattered phone calls, and even on our own private FaceBook group page, you can see the excitement building.

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I can point to a lot of reasons for the excitement:

  • International travel to a beautiful place.
  • The rewards of bringing what we know about peace building to people whose life experiences will extend our own.
  • New friendships.
  • Partnerships with those who want to help our work through donations and gifts.
  • Opportunities to join with incredible ministries like African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries and Made In the Streets.
  • Just because nonchalantly saying “I’m going to Africa next month” has a degree of coolness that “I’m going to Tuscola” doesn’t quite reach. (I was talking to a phone sales representative about setting up an international calling plan for Africa and she just stopped right in the middle of the call and said, “I am so excited for you. And I’m a little jealous.” Then there’s that.)

But primarily, we are excited because this is what we have trained for and hoped for. We are excited because this is our chance to do something that matters. We are excited because we know how richly we have been blessed. We are excited. Because.

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.

34 Days and Counting – Difficulties

As I prepared to write my previous post, I attempted to open my website. No response. Frustrating. In fact, very frustrating. Over the past several months, I had experienced multiple outages. Recently, my web host provider, assured me that our difficulties were over. But now, more than 30 hours after the website went down, I am writing this post off-line as I did yesterday. With just 34 days before we head to Africa, technical difficulties in delivering our story was the last thing I needed.

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I went to the office about 7:15 this morning to work on several projects. I sat at my desk with my oversized mug and felt the steamy aroma of my extra-bold coffee wrap around my face. As I positioned my cursor, I had every confidence that the website server would be up and running. After all, the technical folks had been working on this for almost a full day and, since computers work fast, I just knew that joeycope.com was up and running again.

But it wasn’t. I took a sip of coffee and tried hard to work on something else. But every few minutes, I’d go back and enter my web address. No connection.

My annoyance with the situation grew. Irritated, I opened a book that our team is reading in preparation for our time in Rwanda and read for a while. Perspective is a sobering thing.

In just a few weeks, Robyn, Malcolm, Aaron, Dan, Allison, Betty and I will have a different worldview. As much as we’ve studied and talked about Rwanda and Kenya, we won’t be fully ready for what we will see and we’ll never be the same again. And that will be a good thing.

Difficulties are popping up. Some of them are the everyday variety. Others have much deeper significance.

A serendipity of facing difficulties is having loyal and trusted friends by our sides. And that’s the essence of our team — loyal and trusted friends.

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.

35 Days and Counting – MITS

We’re leaving in 35 days. Even though much of our work in Africa is directed toward adults, our team leader, Dr. Betty Gilmore, worked to ensure that we would also have time with the future of Africa, the children. So, in addition to the children we see along the way and those we will visit in a refugee center in Rwanda, we will be traveling to Kenya to spend time with the kids at the Made in the Streets (MITS) ministry.

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On August 3, 1995, Charles and Darlene Coulston began an outreach program on the streets of Eastleigh. That program continues today as 13 and 14 year old children who are looking for a new life free from the streets and its crime and hunger are identified and welcomed into the loving community at Made in the Streets.

About a 45 minute drive from Nairobi, MITS has a campus in Kamulu where the children live and go to school. A loving community, the MITS family provides a place of safety and nurture for these kids. When they reach the age of 16, the children have the opportunity to learn marketable skills and at age 17 they may enter internship programs. Throughout their time at Kamulu, the children are offered spiritual support and guidance.

Our team will be guests at Kamulu where we will be blessed by our time with the children and the staff of MITS. We are also planning to provide conflict management training to the older kids who are preparing to leave MITS and return to find employment.

A little later, I may share more about how the connection to this wonderful place was made. For now, I find it remarkable that I had an earlier connection. One of our life-long friends, Linda, fell in love with Made in the Streets a number of years ago and made a number of trips to Kenya to volunteer and be with the kids. Linda is no longer with us. Cancer took her from this world. Yet, cancer and death can never take from us our memories of her joy from being part of this ministry. She once described it as a place of miracles.

Our team will have a front seat to miracles throughout our time in Africa. I can hardly wait.

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.