13 Days and Counting – Credentials

When we start boarding the plane in just 13 days, airline personnel and government officials will be paying a lot of attention to our credentials. Boarding passes and passports will be the key items of the moment. And, even though a lost boarding pass or a defective passport has caused many a problem at the gate, those things aren’t nearly as terrifying as a lack of credentials in some other key areas.

Team4When Dr. Betty Gilmore selected her Africa team, she was looking for some specific characteristics. Fortunately, she had the advantage of having the SMU students in her classes. She had talked with each one, seen them interact with large groups, and read their assignments. Yet as well as she had come to know each and every one, there was something else she was hoping for — a dedication and commitment that’s a little hard to foresee.

An experienced hand at assembling student teams to travel to other countries, Betty knew, perhaps better than any of us, how much time and work would be required in preparing for this trip. Just as a passenger’s credentials are carefully scrutinized, Betty had to look carefully at each one of us.

Team3While the best case scenario would be a perfect fit, we all know it’s rare for that to happen when assembling a team. For a team to come together, it must experience struggle. People have to learn to deal with the blemishes. For in seeing the good and the bad in our mission partners, we begin to develop a real sense of the strength of the team. And, fittingly, we come to love and respect each other in a very special way.

In the day-to-day world, credentials are things that are earned. A degree, a license, an honor. We love people with credentials. And once credentialed, it does feel rather nice to have someone take notice.

On this trip, the hope of each and every one of us is that our special credentials are noticed by everyone we meet. Our special credentials will be well earned. We’ve worked hard. Yet, the magic ingredient is our willingness to stick together.

Team5When Betty, Robyn, Aaron, Malcolm, Allison, Dan, and I set foot in Africa, we want to be seen as a peace movement. Holding each other up, carrying each other’s burdens, looking out for one another, respecting each other. These are the credentials that will speak most loudly as we move together to train others and model peace.

 

22 Days and Counting – Missed

In 22 days, our team will take to the skies to travel first to Amsterdam and then to Kigali, Rwanda. As we fly, we will undoubtedly have thoughts about the adventure ahead. It is our hope that we never have any regrets about what we might have missed along the way. This is a somewhat peculiar post. First, even though it is being posted 22 days before the trip, it’s a little out of order since I am lagging 4-5 days behind on posting due to technical glitches– glitches that I now hope have been resolved. Those delayed posts are still coming, by the way. Second, because of the server outage and then the website feed issues, many of my email readers have missed all of the posts since August 15. So, at the bottom of this post, I am providing links to each of those posts. Finally, this post is a little peculiar because I want to assert a point of personal privilege to write just a few thoughts about someone I’ve missed.

Jack Lawrence Agnew was an extraordinary man who, if he were still with us, would be 100 years old today. Born in 1914, Jack was a native of Rising Star, Texas and a member of one of the founding families of that little community. His father, E.F. Agnew, operated the local grocery store and both Jack and his older brother, Ray, worked in that store for years. Jack married Ileta McWhirter and, when the economic necessity arose, moved his family to Lubbock, Texas where he continued in the grocery business.

If you had known Jack, you would have loved him. He was one of the kindest individuals I have ever met. And, even if he wasn’t lovable and kind, he would have been special to me because he was the father of my lovely wife, Nancy.

I didn’t always know what to think of Jack. In my early days of dating Nancy, he worked late hours, often coming home long after I had said my goodbyes. I recall vividly the time that Nancy accompanied my family on our vacation to the lake. On our return, I helped carry her bags to the front door. Jack answered the doorbell and, on seeing Nancy, grabbed her, hugged her and said, “I had no idea that you were going to be gone this long!” He whisked her away to see her mom and promptly closed the door in my face. I waited a few minutes and, when it became evident that it might be a while, I opened the door, placed the bags in the entry hall, and walked slowly back to the car. “I’m pretty sure her dad will never let me see her again,” I told my parents.

That, of course, did not prove to be the case. Nancy and I have been together ever since. And our families have been a huge part of our lives. Because I worked for Jack for a couple of years in the grocery business while I was in college and then spent hours with him at the farm in Rising Star after he retired, I have some powerful memories of him. Jack didn’t waste time on politics or celebrities or anything that might be negative about other people. Jack was, in a word, pleasant.

Jack could be a handful. He was stubborn about some things. When many husbands would have sought help caring for sick family members, Jack cheerfully and dutifully cared for Ileta during her last difficult years. No matter what, Jack’s love for her was evident in all that he did or said. He was also determined to keep working on the farm, even though he could hardly walk. Jack had reluctantly agreed to move to town and leave the farm. We moved his things to Abilene to a retirement center nearby and took delivery on one of those scooters. Jack only asked to stay for one more weekend so that he could oversee the workers coming to harvest his last pecan crop. On a Saturday morning, before the crew arrived, Jack was out in the orchard and fell, breaking his hip. Complications from that fall and the surgery eventually claimed his life on Christmas Eve of that year.

I have missed Jack, just as I have missed Nancy’s mom and my dad. When I see pictures of Jack I can almost hear his voice and I wish that we could sit and talk again. He would talk about baby calves and the need for rain and how he needed to get into Brownwood to pick up this or that. But, it was the things that he didn’t say that made those conversations so appealing. I never heard him talk about anyone else in anger. Occasionally he might express disappointment, but that was the extent of it. He spent his time pointing out the good and beautiful things of life. He loved his wife, his daughters, and his son. And his grandkids. And baby calves, of course.

As I think about things I have missed, I have become increasingly aware that I have missed meaningful times with genuinely beautiful people. Growing older, I am also more aware that most people are genuinely beautiful when you give them a chance. Jack knew that. And that’s why so many people would drive miles out of their way to spend time with him.

This trip to Africa is presenting unbelievable opportunities for our team to spend time with people and to give them a chance to be beautiful. None of us can afford to miss that. You don’t have to go to Africa to make that happen.

I miss you, Jack. Happy Birthday! Thanks for seeing the beautiful!

 §§§§§§

So, if you missed a few posts, here are the ones that didn’t make it out to my email subscribers. Just click on the links and you’ll be magically taken to each and every one.

36 Days and Counting – Songs (This one was emailed out but the video links didn’t work. So here it is again.)

35 Days and Counting – MITS

34 Days and Counting – Difficulties

33 Days and Counting – Excitement

32 Days and Counting – Anxiety

31 Days and Counting – Dependent

30 Days and Counting – Shots

29 Days and Counting – Compassion

28 Days and Counting – Recognition

 

25 Days and Counting – Hashtags

In preparing for Africa, we have been grateful for the many technological tools we have at our disposal. We have smartphones, tablets, laptops, digital cameras. We have blogs, FaceBook, Twitter. We’re learning about data roaming, Viber, FaceTime, special international calling plans. We’re loading books on eReaders and we’re writing journals in the cloud. And hashtags. We’re doing hashtags.

I’ve known about hashtags for some time now. Basically, hashtags are the speed dial of social media. If you tap the right hashtag about the right subject, you can pick up on news feeds and trending topics. You can be informed.

At some point, the topic came up and a decision was made that our team needed a hashtag.

To be honest, I didn’t really pay attention to that conversation because I am really not all that good at social media and thought that I would simply opt out of the hashtaggery. Before I knew it. We had a hashtag.

#SMURwandaPeaceMission2014

As a person who prefers 4-digit passwords, I was pretty sure that I would never be able to remember this one. Twenty-six characters counting the #. That’s like an alphabet. And it didn’t even have the name of my first dog embedded in it. Too much, I thought. Too much. I’ll never learn it.

But then, seeing other team members put it to use — and noticing when they would take my postings and dutifully repost with the hashtag — I decided to give it a try.

# – That part was easy.

SMU – Important. Tells people the origin of our group. This is a sponsored trip organized by the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Resolution Program at Southern Methodist University.

Rwanda – Where we’re going.

PeaceMission – What we’re doing.

2014 – When we’re going.

Painstakingly adding “#SMURwandaPeaceMission2014” to my post, I realized that basically I was achieving the equivalent of my first presentation in Speech 101. The hashtag attracted attention, told who we were, where we were going, what we were going to do, and when we were going to do it. As I prepared to click the “Tweet” button, I tried to remember what we were trained to do to overcome speech anxiety. So I imagined everybody on the Internet was naked.

Turns out, many are. But that’s beside the point.

We are not just taking a trip. We are telling a story. And whether we do it in 26 characters or a picture or a thousand words, it’s a story that will change many lives.

#SMURwandaPeaceMission2014

42 Days and Counting – Tribes

“Education is inoculation,” we are frequently reminded by Dr. Betty Gilmore, our team leader and the director of the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program at Southern Methodist University. With that in mind, our team has been seeking and absorbing material about Africa and, specifically, Rwanda. As I’ve gone about my daily reading, I’ve been a little discouraged. Just 42 days and the unread stories of this small, beautiful country seem to stretch out to infinity. One of the surface features of the Rwandan story is that of tribes.

This region of Africa has been inhabited by three primary tribes: the Hutu, Tutsis, and the Twa. The Twa is a very small part of the Rwandan population — about 1%. A Pygmy people, the Twa are hunter-gatherers and skilled in the craft of pottery. The Hutus have always been the largest of the tribes with over 80% of the population. Even though a minority, the Tutsis gained power and ruled over the region for over a hundred years with relative peace. When the Belgians discovered the riches of Rwanda and began their colonization and control of the country, they immediately begin to show favor to the Tutsis, providing better education and financial incentives. The discrimination fostered by the Belgians served to increase the ethnic divide of the country. Finally, when the Tutsis began to tire of outside influence and begin to push back, the Belgians incited the Hutus against the Tutsis. Violence between the tribes was present long before the holocaust of 1994 and tens of thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered over several decades.

In 1994, a long-engineered killing spree was initiated against the Tutsis. Over the period of 100 days, close to a million people — men, women, and children — were slaughtered in the name of ethnic cleansing. The world community was slow to respond. To those on the ground in Rwanda, I’m certain that it felt like the world was simply choosing to look the other way.

This little bit of history doesn’t tell the full story. Nor does it inform us of all that has happened in the last 20 years. But it does give us a frame of reference for our mission come September.

While tribes have been an integral part of the fabric of this country and most of East Africa, we are going to share about the potential for reconciliation that springs from the hope of a larger view. What we hope to share is a simple truth.  Some concepts have far more potential than those associated with caste and ethnicity. We are going to reinforce what these wonderful people long to believe — by valuing every human being and through acts of forgiveness, true peace can come. And, we can’t help but touch on the even more gigantic truth. We are all God’s children. And that means more than tribe, the deepness of the pigment in our skins, the shape of our nose, the accent in our speech, or our earthly family tree.

We are His. And because of that, we must act differently from the world. We’re still part of a tribe. But the tribe is not set apart as Tutsi or Hutu or Twa — or African or Asian or European or American.  Our tribe is one.

43 Days and Counting – Interruptions

Hundreds of details. Office work. Chores at home. Social events. Big things. Little things. Some urgent. All important . . . to someone. That was what was going through my mind yesterday — that and the reminder that  it is just 43 days until our team makes its way to Africa on a peacemaking mission — when I opened the email asking if I would attend a gathering at church. I already had a meeting that evening, but I thought I could probably squeeze them both in. “These interruptions,” I thought. “Why is it that interruptions come at the most inopportune times?”

I don’t know if you’re like me, but I tend to organize and dramatize my life around big, upcoming events.

“If I can just get past this publishing deadline . . .” Or, “If you can just hold off until after I go to Africa . . .” Or, “Yes, I do love you, but let me finish this phone call . . .”

Most of us hate interruptions.

We plan to do things. Good things. We set priorities. We schedule our to-do tasks. We check our calendars. We get plenty of rest. We eat fiber. We exercise. We prepare. We smile benevolently at others.

All with the hope that life leaves us alone to do what we have planned. But then we are interrupted.

For some of my friends, interruptions have come with sinister name tags. Cancer. Death. Addiction. Divorce. When we think of interruptions, our natural reaction is to draw in a quick breath and do whatever we can to avoid the delay and the inconvenience. Sometimes we utter a soft prayer, “God, if you’ll just make these people leave me alone for a little while . . .”

But interruptions are what they are. And they come at us without hesitation and sometimes without mercy.

That extra gathering last night: It’s the reason that I’m a day late on this blog entry. It’s the reason that I missed the other meeting I was supposed to attend. The things that happened at that gathering and just after are the reason I couldn’t get to sleep and I didn’t feel like going to the gym this morning. That extra gathering — it was the first domino to fall as my world momentarily cascaded out of control.

With a little different perspective, I can now see some things.  The experience I had at that gathering and a couple of conversations after it did send my schedule into the ditch.Yet, I wouldn’t trade the time. I needed to hear the things I heard. I needed to pray the prayers that were offered. I needed to have those conversations.

I’ve heard interruptions called “divine appointments.” I don’t know who came up with that. But Mr. Webster should put it in his dictionary.

In 43 days, Betty, Robyn, Allison, Dan, Malcolm, Aaron, and I have big plans. We are finalizing the schedule. We are hoping that all goes the way that we have engineered it. Yet, I think we are all hoping for interruptions. Those divine appointments are what makes our lives interesting. Our prayers are that those interruptions come as people we need to know and meet, things we need to do — whether we know it or not.

Truth be told, the stories we tell about this trip will be about the interruptions, not the flawlessly-executed plans.