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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“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

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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.

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.

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

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major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.

45 Days and Counting – Words

What words shall we choose to tell our stories? As our team prepares to make our way to Rwanda and Kenya, we’ll be spending a good portion of the next 45 days thinking about words.

In our everyday lives, the grand majority of our words flow easily. We don’t really have to think about what we say. We open our mouths and thoughts flow. Admittedly, many of us have times when it would have been better if the flow had been slowed to a trickle. Then, perhaps, we could think a bit about what we were about to say and the effect our words might have.

Last Saturday, as Allison and I were discussing our topic for the training, “Spiritual Insights,” we were looking at some lessons I had put together for other gatherings. As I told her about one particular lesson, I was feeling a little proud about just how good it was. As I made point after point, I felt a knot come up in my stomach. This wasn’t going to work for our audience in Rwanda. These words were all wrong. Finally, I stopped talking. And fortunately, Allison began sharing. As she expressed things from her heart, I could tell that these words would connect.

As we’ve worked in the last few days to commit words to paper for the training manual that will be given to the participants, I think I’ve used the “delete” key more than usual. Thinking about the right words. Searching for the right words. Writing the right words.

While some of our audience will understand our English, many will be listening in their native tongue through an interpreter. To be effective, we must trust that the words from our mouths carry enough meaning — enough heart — that they speak in any language and take shape in proper form through the massaging and molding of translation and culture.

I can’t speak for the whole team, but that frightens me a little. Being able to communicate fully and completely brings a certain energy to a relationship. Those who communicate well have a power that gives them some control. But on this trip, much of what I communicate will be subject to the power of others to listen and to transform my words into something meaningful.

While that is a little scary, it also is empowering. I’ll do my best to choose my words. Yet, there is a greater plane of understanding that’s beyond my ability. It happens when people come together to listen and to wrestle with the thoughts of others and seek to understand them as fellow travelers in this life’s journey. Our team will have a front row seat to see that happening.

Words simply can’t express.

48 Days and Counting – Gifts

It is only 48 days until we gather a few things together and fly to Africa. But 48-days-out wasn’t a day of rest. Instead, our team of 7 gathered in Dallas in yet another day of preparation. The more we get together, the more visible the gifts of each and every team member become.

I’ll be sharing more about the amazing group of individuals who I’ll join on this trip to Rwanda and Kenya. But for now, let me introduce the team. From left to right, that’s me, Robyn Short, Malcolm McGuire, Betty Gilmore, Aaron Horn, Dan Russell, and Allison Russell. The group was hand-picked by Betty, the director of the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program at Southern Methodist University. Each time I have contact with any one of these folks, I become more impressed with how well Betty chose.

We were able to get a lot accomplished as we talked through training concepts and began committing our lessons to paper. A deadline looms on Monday. Our material must get there long before we do so that it can be translated into Kinyarwanda, the official language of Rwanda. Robyn, who works in publishing, agreed to take all of our lessons and put them together in the “training booklet” that will be distributed. (And yes, Robyn, I am in receipt of your emails reminding me that I owe you a couple of lessons for that booklet.  This afternoon, I promise.)

It seems like I’m always running a little bit behind these days. The training material deadline isn’t the only due date I’m facing this week. In fact, when I returned home last night, I was so scattered I even forgot to post this — Saturday’s entry. So not only will I be working for Robyn this afternoon, I’ll also be coming back to post today’s blog entry.

As we sat around Robyn’s living room, I couldn’t help but listen into the conversations. Groups of 2 or 3 of us were discussing our topics and brainstorming ideas for group exercises. Others were searching for the “right words” to teach important things to people in a far different culture.  I was impressed with how much I was going to learn from the people in that room. In fact, I was too busy absorbing the ideas and opinions of the team to make headway on my own work.

We don’t agree on all things. Yet, the team has that specially-dispensed grace that you don’t always find until a group has been together for years. One of the most wonderful gifts present is a shared one — the gift of community. We already have it. I know that ten days in Africa will make that bond even stronger. In the years to come, as interests and physical miles separate us, we will always be a team.

As you follow our journey, I hope that you will become one of our partners in this. Each and every one of us could use your encouragement and support. And if you are so inclined, your prayers. We ask that, above all things, our gifts be used to benefit those people we are yet to meet.

A Better View

No matter where I am, it seems I am always trying to get in position for a better view. Whether I’m at a movie, a sporting event, or even church, I often find myself in the exact spot . . . I cannot see.

Sometimes, a good location for observation just isn’t available. I am only 5’5″, after all. There are, evidently, some things that God didn’t want me to see.

Then there are those times that I have the perfect spot and someone bigger, taller, broader — or just naturally gifted at being in the wrong place — blocks my vantage point.

We learn to deal with that frustration. We know that this world is a place we share and that every one will not have the same opportunity to experience the same things. A natural part of life, this truth adds to the richness of our existence through diversity and can also build resentment when we desire what others have.

On a recent vacation, Nancy and I were driving the Road to Hana on the windward side of the island of Maui. We were first-timers to Hawaii, so we were relying heavily on a guidebook that pointed out literally hundreds of things that we likely would have missed on our own. That is the story of this picture.

In the guidebook, the writer talked glowingly of a spot in the long and winding road where we would see this scene. He couldn’t rate the beauty high enough. Yet, after a wonderful description, he pointed out that there was no legal place to park at that particular spot. And he warned that others would disregard that safety factor and try anyway. True to his word, that was what happened.

As we came around the corner, we saw half a dozen people out on the road, clamoring for a safe place to take pictures and enjoy the view. Had it not been for the cars coming by, they probably would have been successful. We pulled past the bend of the road and the scattering tourists slowly and Nancy announced that the book told of another spot where the same scene could be taken in if we were patient.

Moments later, we found a small turn-out and parked the car. We crossed the highway and found that spot. And as we watched the road for cars, we ventured to a place to take the perfect picture on a small overlook safely tucked behind the guardrail.

I don’t know if those people who stopped up the road were able to get their pictures. Sometimes people get by with breaking the rules and probably scoff at those of us who don’t. Yet, in the face of seeming inequity, we most often find a moment to grasp the opportunity we need.

Listening. Patience. Persistence. The perfect perspective on a beautiful possibility is often well within our grasp.