1 Day and Counting – Inconvenience

When I first opened my computer this morning, I started to make my post for the day. Some time ago, I had selected the topic “Blessings” for today. However, I was distracted and didn’t get right on it. A little later in the day, Robyn posted on our FaceBook group page, “Joey, in case you need a topic for the ‘one day and counting’ blog! I think you found one!” In fact, I had. As the picture here would indicate, our team was being presented with an inconvenience.

Under normal conditions, a notice that your flight has been canceled is a cause for at least mild concern. But when your flight is from DFW to Amsterdam and there are 6 other team members on your flight . . . let’s just say it elevates the inconvenience a bit.

We received this news late this morning. Ever since then, our fearless leader Betty has been on the phone with the airline and with our travel agent trying to work everything out. The last bulletin states that 5 of us will be going to Amsterdam by way of Philadelphia. Dan and Allison will be routed through Houston. Or at least that was the last news I had.

Even now, Karen, our travel agent, is on the phone with the airline still trying to get confirmations. One by one, I’ve seen emails come from the team that they have received theirs. And, since I typed the period on that last sentence, I’ve learned that my itinerary is done as well.

So, for now I’m planning on flying out of Abilene on my original flight and I’m just hoping that neither the airline nor the weather delays the flight. Okay, it’s more than hope. It’s fervent prayer.

Regardless, in the grand scheme of things this will be just one of the inconveniences we are likely to encounter. As I look over at the somewhat regimented pile of stuff by my bag, I’m anticipating that my next one will be when I realize I’ve left something vital behind.

No, cancel that. Latest post from Dan and Allison. Now the airline is saying that they don’t have tickets to Houston. So that’s the next one.

Since this could go on all night, I’m just going to sign off and ask for a simple prayer from all of you. Please pray that Dan and Allison and Aaron and Robyn and Malcolm and Betty and I all have seats on planes that will take us to Amsterdam tomorrow. Otherwise, we might be looking at an inconvenience.

Tune in tomorrow!

2 Days and Counting – Balance

So, our heads are filled with visions of what we will see and tones of what we will hear. In 2 days we will wait for our boarding groups to be called and we’ll make our way down the jet bridge to our plane and find our seats. As we settle in for the first of two 10-hour flights, we will wonder about what directions our first exposure to Africa will take. We’ve prepared well and we know that the things we will experience will range from sobering to exhilarating. We pray for balance.

Back in Abilene, on the campus of Abilene Christian University, one of the favorite fitness hotspots is the Lunsford Trail. A two-mile ribbon of pavement wrapped around the home of the ACU Wildcats, the loop is known for the special messages and symbolism portrayed on inset stones and on monuments of various stature.

At the head of the trail, Mile Marker 0, a large stone pillar is set to the side and bordered by shrubbery. It’s a favorite spot of mine because of the scripture etched in that stone.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

2014-09-17 18.53.03In our studies of conflict and peaceful resolution, we rely on concepts of men to determine our best practices. One of the cornerstones of our teaching is the Dual Concern Model. From it we derive some sense of the ways that each of us deals with conflict. I’ll save you the long lectures and more tedious explanations. But basically, the “dual concerns” are that of self concern and concern for others.  Most theorists also 2014-09-17 18.53.06equate self concern with a sense of justice and concern for others with a predisposition toward mercy. And while  much can be said for either the pursuit of justice or the pursuit of mercy, those who seek lasting peace have learned that it’s the balance of justice and mercy that brings us peace.

In keeping with the teachings from the Old Testament book of Micah, we see that God provides what is good. And for us to claim what is good, He asks us to act justly 2014-09-17 18.53.12AND love mercy — to balance those two forces. That balance, plus a humble spirit, will bring us God’s good — His perfect peace.

As an overarching prayer, then, we ask for that balance and that humility as we meet and serve the good people of Rwanda and Kenya. “He has shown us, O mortals, what is good.”

God, bless Robyn and Malcolm and Dan and Allison and Aaron and Betty and Joey with peace that comes from acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with You.  Amen

3 Days and Counting – Less

With just 3 days left before our peace mission team leaves for Africa and as we are thinking about more and more we have to do, simple acts like “practice-packing” inspire us to think in terms of less.

I’ve been putting off my practice-packing. I haven’t polled the rest of the group, although I suspect that Allison has had several sessions. Several successful sessions. Or perhaps she packed 3 weeks ago and she and Dan just have to remember not to trip over that roller-board bag in the middle of the room. But, more likely, if Allison is already packed, then she also found a place to stow her luggage. Allison is our champion of packing theory and getting things done. That’s one of the reasons why she’s going to have her own action figure some day.

As I’ve taken several looks at my carry-on bag, I’ve tried to imagine what might actually fit inside. Sometime in the next 48 hours, I’m going to have to start moving from imagination to reality. I dread that moment. For, I’m anticipating that not only will I have to think in terms of less, I will have to do with less.

It seems if I take 10-12 days of anything, that there will be entire categories of things I can’t take. It’s true that we will have laundry facilities available to us. So, sufficient supplies of clothes and underclothes and socks can be calculated by simple math. Number of days divided by 2. That is, of course, only viable if I can actually get 5-6 days of things in my bag.

I’ve already chosen shoes that double as kind-of nice dress shoes and kind-of durable trekking/safari shoes. Since I’ll be wearing them on the plane I don’t have to pack them. Or anything else I wear on the plane. So, if I can wear two days worth of clothes on the plane, then I’m down to 3-4 days of things to pack.

Regardless, I know it will work out. I’ve had dozens of people tell me how they spent weeks and weeks living out of a single bag. Those people don’t really make me feel better, either about them or packing. Yet, I do have some hope.

On a more serious note, our team is about to travel to a part of the world where a majority of the people live with less than we think is humanly possible. These are men, women, and children who would consider themselves rich to have the things that could be packed into a 21-inch piece of luggage. Although we will see much need and poverty and hurt, we anticipate that we will also come to know many, many people who exude joy and contentment. In particular, we are already thinking about our time among refugees and the displaced kids from the streets of Nairobi. We will learn much about living with an abundant spirit in the days to come.

For you see, one of the great things about this trip is our opportunity to deal with the concept of less.

Every member of our team is grateful for the many material blessings we have. Yet, within each of my beloved sojourners, I have seen an incredible desire to give, to share, and to walk side-by-side with the folks Jesus would have referred to as “the least of these.” And give and share and walk they will.

There is a beauty to simplicity. An ambience to less. A restful peace. All from letting go of more and embracing less.

Less of stuff. Less of self.

More of God’s children. More of God. More of peace.

4 Days and Counting – More

During every waking moment, each of our Africa team members is bombarded with thoughts and reminders of things that must be done and items that should be packed. No matter what we accomplish, there is always a little bit more to do, more calls to make, more errands to run. Always more.

Those of you not making the trip are probably thinking, “Big deal. How is that any different from my life?” And, of course, you would be right.

There is always something more. New conversations. New information. Things forgotten. Things that became undone and must be redone.

More is what moves us forward. The promise of “something yet” keeps us awake and alert. The hope that at some time in the future the demand for more can be answered with “enough” drives us on. But life demands that there always be more.

Even today, just 4 days before we leave, Aaron, Robyn, Malcolm, Allison, Dan, Betty, and I are checking lists and making new lists. We are looking at curriculum and itineraries. And, as things invariably change, we are making adjustments.

Next Friday, when the plane door closes in Dallas, we will have a welcome respite from our tasks. We will have a moment when we feel the release from thinking about what needs to be done. (That feeling will, within hours, evaporate as we begin to mentally prepare for our training sessions and make those inevitable adjustments that can only be imagined at the eleventh hour.)

Lest this post sounds like we are beleaguered and overwhelmed — which we are — please hear us when we say that we are thankful there is more.

Our more is:

  • A trip to the continent of Africa and the intriguing countries of Rwanda and Kenya.
  • Beautiful landscapes and, to us, exotic plants and animals.
  • Different and untried foods . . . and bottled water.
  • An incredible opportunity to make new friends.
  • New partners in peacemaking like African Leadership And Reconciiation Ministries and Made In The Streets Ministry.
  • An adventure with teammates who we will never forget and who will be our life-long friends.
  • A first-hand view of the aftermath of violence and the resilience of people.
  • A too close view of ongoing violence and oppression.
  • An image of smiling faces in the midst of challenge.
  • The generous outpouring from so many who have provided us with art supplies, soccer balls, medical kits, and untold acts of kindness.
  • Employers who allowed us time to make this journey.
  • Teammates who took vacation days and leave without pay to make this journey.
  • The vision and leadership of Betty who pursues purposeful experience for her students — and lets me come along.
  • Our opportunity to join God in His mission of bringing peace.

Who could ask for anything more? Except maybe for rhythm.

(And with that, perhaps we should break into song.)


5 Days and Counting – Sundays

The next two Sundays will be special ones for our team. While in Rwanda and Kenya, we will have the opportunity to join our new African friends in worship. Spirituality comes in many different flavors. We can’t wait to share in this time of faith stories and common belief.

Well, “can’t wait” may be a little overly exuberant for some of our group. A few have expressed a little anxiety over what shape we’ll be in after flying halfway around the world, arriving on Saturday evening, and attempting to adjust our sleep cycles to the time. I have a feeling that the exhilaration of that experience will far outweigh any latent anxiety.

We are eager to share in yet another bit of tradition and culture that involves our spiritual nature. Communion among new friends, acquaintances, and strangers gives us insight to the essence of God and of his far-reaching love for every creature and, especially, all individuals.

This Sunday — today — is a little different for me. In one of my teaching roles, I find myself in Little Rock, Arkansas conducting a weekend class. Not my favorite arrangement because I lose the opportunity to attend a house of worship, but it’s still a Sunday and special.

For almost 5 years — 4 times a year, I’ve made this trek north to teach this course. And, almost every Sunday my church has been the downtown Starbucks where I find myself now, writing this post. Although there is no liturgy or order of worship, no singing or preaching, no designated deacons or elders, there is community — and thus a form of communion.

As I scan the busy coffee store, I see two people who have been here almost every Sunday I’ve visited. Two other “old friends” were here a little earlier. The rest of the customers passing through seem to represent a wide spectrum of backgrounds and pursuits. Some will linger for a while, talk with friends, read their papers, or browse the internet. Others will place their orders, grab their brews and head back into life just a bit better prepared — or at least caffeinated.

Not my typical Sunday experience, but in many ways, a routine that brings comfort and helps me reset my life.

Sundays hold special meaning for most of us. A good number have the memories around attending local churches. Others have not participated in that way, but our Sundays have been special days of rest and recreation. Sundays have been that quiet place to reflect and restore and prepare for the coming week.

On this Sunday, just before our trip to Africa, I hope that each and every one of our team have that opportunity to reflect and restore and prepare. All Sundays are filled with promise. But the next two are going to be awesome!

We will be far away soon. But we will be close to all of you. Enjoy your Sundays!