One of the members of our trip was Pastor Rich Larson from Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bayport. For the first part of the trip it felt like whenever I would refer to him as Rich someone would correct me to tell me it was Rick and then when I would refer to him as Rick someone would correct me to tell me it was Rich.
One day in Tanzania we went to the Image Lutheran Parish which is the partner congregation for Bethlehem. We also visited a hospital and a school. That evening at dinner someone asked me which part of the day was my favorite. My first reaction was that it would be like comparing apples and oranges and bananas, but probably the hospital or the school. Later, after I thought about it though, I realized my favorite part was Image Parish.
We arrived on the bus and pulled in. As we unloaded there was a group of people singing to welcome the group. We went into the church and were led up to the front where we sat facing the congregation. Leaders of the congregation were introduced and each stood up. We all introduced ourselves and received applause. There were some reports made about the partnership.
Then it was Rich’s turn to speak. He stood up at the podium and began to talk. He talked about Bethlehem and their partnership. There was frequent applause for his remarks. Then he told them he had an idea he wanted to discuss with them. Rich wanted to come back to Image and spend a more extended time with them walking with and learning about them. Rich is usually a pretty confident speaker, but as he talked about this he was pausing and seemed to search for the right words to say. He ended with asking the congregation what they would think of this idea. He didn’t get applause, he got cheers. Rich’s expression was joyous.
Afterwards as Rich was giving gifts to the congregation we saw a man coming up the aisle and leading a goat. He sat down with the goat. After Rich was done with his gifts, the man with the goat came forward. The goat was their gift to Pastor Rich. I’m not sure how much a goat costs in Tanzania, but I know this had to be a pretty significant gift.
We may look at the lives of these people and say that they are poor. And they certainly are by monetary and material measures. I left there amazed by their generosity and love and feeling richly blessed. So, think about what measures you use for people and who in this story is rich.
You may read this post and wonder about the title and how it fits with what I’m writing about. Don’t worry, I will explain it.
Just a note before I start. I did an upgrade with Weebly on the site. I’ll be able to post videos now, you might have noticed that in last week’s posting. I also have a new website address: www.timkwrites.com. If you access my blog with the old address it will redirect you to here. And now onto my posting.
We’ve all heard the story of if you put a frog in boiling water it will jump out, but if you put it in cold water and gradually increase the temperature it won’t be aware of it and won’t jump out even as the water gets to boiling.
What if you reverse that? There are times in our life when our world is despair, hopelessness and brokenness. We’re in hot water and we can’t get out. It’s times like that when we need the heat turned down.
That was me during the final stages of Debbie’s battle with breast cancer and after she passed away. Looking back, I’m not sure how I got through it. It feels like it was a blur, but I also have some very clear memories of that time. In fact, I just had to pause in writing this as I remembered when a group of her students came over and sang to Debbie while she was in hospice. It was so beautiful that all I could do was run into another room and silently sob. And, of course, if the computer screen is all blurry through tears you can’t write.
What can we do for someone in that situation? We want to give them hope and encouragement. But you can’t say that. At that point, they’re focused on the moment and nothing else. Things in the future, like hope, don’t mean anything.
We need to lower the heat. We might not be able to do much, but if we lower the heat one degree we’ve made a difference. The other person might not notice it, but every little bit adds up. Eventually the heat is lowered enough that life becomes bearable.
I’ll tell you what helped to lower my heat, even though I didn’t notice it at the time. Every expression of support, every card that was sent, every hug, every meal that was delivered, every prayer, each of the over 400 people who came to the funeral brought the water to a lower temperature. Eventually, gradually, hope started showing up in my life again. The mourning doesn’t stop. Like a limb that is amputated that person isn’t coming back. But increasingly that stops being what defines your life.
Acknowledgment and support are the best ways to lower the heat.
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge what someone is going through. You may not say the right thing, but at least you’re letting them know you’re concerned. Even a simple, “I’m sorry for what you’re going through” works.
You’ve read some of the things that people did to support me and my family. If you can think of something specific that you can do offer to do that. The old standard, “If you need anything, just let me know” is more of an acknowledgement since they don’t really know what they need.
Gratitude doesn’t seem like something that relates to what I’ve been talking about. But for me it does. I feel so much gratitude for the many people whose kindness and concern were manifested through their support of Debbie, my family and me. I feel truly blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life.
Before I begin I’d like to highlight something. The Saint Paul Area Synod is putting together a trip to Tanzania for May for young adults (age 19 to29). If you know of anyone who might be interested in this here’s a link: http://www.spas-elca.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/YATrip-2017-Info-Sheet-Update.pdf. Makes me want to be young again.
We spent a lot of time in our bus going to different places. Mostly it was a vehicle for getting to where we were going. But there were a few times where the ride itself became an adventure and gave us glimpses of Tanzania that we would have otherwise missed.
Our driver thought that maybe the size of our bus wheels and the length between the front and the back were in some sort of harmonic convergence with the equipment that is used to maintain roads. Whatever it was, once we got off paved roads if felt like driving over a washer board. For miles at a time. Watch the window in the short video below.
Not too long after we entered the Great Rift Valley on our way to Ruaha the villages were becoming farther and farther apart. Suddenly in the middle of nowhere our bus pulled over. The driver got out and went to the front of the bus where he lied down on the ground looking up into the engine next to the passenger side tire. Hmm, not a good sign.
To understand the significance of what happened next, I need to backtrack a little. When we would drive on dirt roads as you can imagine there would be quite a bit of dust. The picture below is the back of our bus after we stopped at Image school. As we were leaving Image the Bega Kwa Bega person who was accompanying us that day, Frank, pointed out some writing in the dust next to the door to me. “That’s Swahili, it means ‘wash me’.” When we’d be driving there would also be some dust in the air in the bus. In the video I took on our way back that day two people in the bus were attempting find ways to not breathe the dust.
Now I can go back to our story. The driver came back in the bus. To look at the engine, he had to be in the bus and there was a hatch in the floor that could be lifted up.
When he opened it up the bus quickly filled with steam and fumes that smelled just like an old radiator. There was a mass exodus from the bus to avoid the fumes. Everybody except the bus driver and two others. I would say something about who were those masked men, but they were no longer masked. They were just sitting in the bus reading their books.
The bus was leaking. It wasn’t the radiator, but it was a hose coming from the radiator. Ed Taylor was one of our group members who farms in southern Minnesota, so he knows a bit about engines from working with tractors. He assisted our bus driver and they managed to get us mobile again so we could make it to the next village.
At the next village, we stopped. It wasn’t much of a village, but they provided several gallons of water for us to replenish the radiator. While we waited for the radiator to cool enough so they could refill its reservoir most of us again left the bus. We attracted a group of children who were watching. I saw a few small mangoes that had fallen from the tree where we were parked. So, I picked up a few and started trying juggle to amuse the kids. I was out of practice, so they got quite a few laughs at my drops.
Our driver, Esas, managed to take a piece of wood and whittle it into a plug for a temporary fix. Once we were filled up we were ready to go. From there we made one more stop at a slightly larger village where there was a store. Esas stopped and went into store. He came out with a couple one-liter bottles. It wasn’t the right color for water. Then he opened the lid for the gas tank and we realized what he had just purchased. Once we left Iringa and the paved roads, there were no more gas stations.
On our way back, after visiting the park we stopped at a village closer to the park. It was a larger village. They were able to fabricate a part for Esas to make a more permanent fix to the radiator. How long would it take? “40 minutes.” Even though it was said in English, we knew that translated from Tanzanian time to our time that meant, “I don’t know for sure, but it will be more than 40 minutes.”
With our latest fix in place we were good to go. We made a rest stop in Kidamali, but not at the church. There was a Greek Orthodox church right on the road that Esas thought would be easier to get in and out. So we made a stop there which turned out to be longer than a quick rest stop as we waited for the radiator to cool down. If I had realized how long it would be I could have run up to the visit our companion church quickly.
After that the bus performed just fine. Until…
We were staying in Mwatasi and were returning from visiting Bomalang’ombe school. We almost made it back. But a flat tire. They should be able to change that quickly. Except of course the tool for getting the spare out of its storage place was missing. A crowd gathered. The lug nuts could not be loosened with just the wrench we had. Maybe if we could find a pipe that we could put over the wrench to get us more leverage? And suddenly two men from the crowd were on their motorcycles going in different directions in search of a pipe. One of them returned with a pipe they had gotten from another bus. Still no luck, so most of us decided to make the hike back to where we were staying as it wasn’t too far. Not too long after we got back the bus pulled in. They had pumped up the tire with a bicycle pump and driven it up to the church so they could work on it there.
The next day the bus was ready to go. They had taken the tire off and taken it to be repaired overnight. On our way back to Iringa at one point we pulled alongside another bus. Our driver stopped and opened his window. He passed the borrowed pipe back to the other bus and we were back on our way.
Our bus trips are a great metaphor for the picture of life is a journey. Sometimes the road is paved. Sometimes it’s a rough road. You’ll have days where things run smooth. Other days you’ll have problems. But if you’ve developed relationships with the good people on your bus, you’ll find that it’s bearable. And remember God is driving your bus, he’ll take care of things and get you where you need to be.
Note: The two pictures of the bus were taken by Tom Olson from our group and are used with his permission. Thanks Tom.
While I was in Tanzania we took a few days to take a safari in Ruaha National Park. Ruaha is the biggest national park in Tanzania. It is more than double the size of Yellowstone National Park. The road to Ruaha goes right through Kidamali (Shepherd of the Hills’ companion congregation), so we drove through on the way there and back. The drive was an adventure in itself and I’m planning on writing about that in another post.
We arrived at Mwagusi Safari Camp at about 4 in the afternoon. We had a brief orientation with some warnings – stay on the path, don’t go out at night, what to do if an animal is blocking the path, etc. After we dropped off our bags and had a quick snack it was time to take our first safari. We took a safari that evening and two on the next day. We saw a lot of different animals and birds. In Africa, they have what is known as the “Big 5” animals – Cape buffalo, elephants, leopards, lions and rhinoceros. We saw four out of five.
Here’s a partial list of the animals we saw:
Red billed horn bill
White bellied bustard
Lilac breasted roller
It was a lot of different animals. I’m not going to write about everything we saw. I’ll try to let you know some of the highlights for me and describe them to you, so you can get a sense of what it was like.
We went out in modified pickup trucks. They had platforms added onto the back to allow people to sit. We divided into two groups to fit into the trucks. Each truck had a driver and a guide. The guide would stand up through the sun roof on the passenger’s side. We would see other groups out on safari when we were out. The guides all had cell phones and would talk to each other to let each other know what animals were where.
At one point our guide got a phone call and when he finished he asked us, “Do you want to see a leopard?” Of course, we did. Off we went in a hurry, racing over the dirt roads. We came to a spot where there were already several trucks parked and stopped. There in a tree was a leopard. It was hard to see until you knew exactly where to look. Someone in my group had binoculars and was nice enough to share them, so we could see it better. A lot of excitement to go see a leopard sleeping in a tree.
There were holes dug in the dry river bed; we came upon an elephant digging one. Even though it was the dry season and there was no water in the river they still know where there is water underneath.
We got very close to a group of elephants at one point. It was interesting to watch them wrapping their trunks around the grasses and pull them up. But then before they would eat the grass they had to give it a couple vigorous shakes to get rid of the dirt on the roots. Then they would eat it. The big leader of the group was less than 20 feet away and was eyeing us to make sure we behaved.
On the second day, we came upon a part of the river where there was some surface water. There were many different animals gathered there – giraffes, impalas, zebras, and a wart hog. One of my pictures from there is the current header for the blog. We were stopped on the river bank, so when one of the giraffes looked at us it we were almost on the same level. I really enjoyed watching giraffes. They look pretty ungainly, but when they move they seem to have a gracefulness about them.
We spent some time on our last safari on an unsuccessful attempt to find a cheetah. It would have been easy to look on that as a disappointment, but it really wasn’t. There we were in the middle of Ruaha mountains all around us in the distance and other than our truck and the road we were on the only sign of man was a cell tower way off in the distance. A feeling of awe at the wonders of the world we live on and that God created settled upon me.
After one more night at our camp we departed to return to Iringa, hoping to make it back in time to go to the marketplace for a bit of shopping before dinner. But our plans were changed. Tune in next week, I’ll be talking about our various adventures with our bus.
The Saint Paul Area Synod is putting together a trip to Tanzania for May for young adults (age 19 to29). If you know of anyone who might be interested in this here’s a link: http://www.spas-elca.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/YATrip-2017-Info-Sheet-Update.pdf. Looks like that trip will also include some time in Ruaha.
I thought this mash up of the titles of the two movies that Carrie Fischer and Debbie Reynolds were best known for sounded like a good way to think of where they are now.
A lot of good people left this world in 2016. My condolences to anyone who is grieving somebody who is now singing in the stars. A joyous reunion is coming.
I am sorry this post is a little late. When Andrew left to go back to college last night I had some cleaning to do that I had let go too long. When I finished with that I was just thinking about relaxing and not about the fact that it was Tuesday. So here I am on Wednesday morning writing my blog post.
I sat down after Christmas and tried to plan what I would be writing about in the coming weeks. I was creating my editorial calendar. Certain posts will fit better on some days and I wanted to be aware of that. My post for this week was supposed to be about goals and New Year’s resolutions. Then Andrew and I watched the original Star Wars trilogy this weekend in honor of Carrie Fischer and I decided I wanted to write something fun.
So I’m going to write about some lessons that can be learned from Star Wars (the actual first movie that was released, not the whole series). I won’t go into too much depth with these, I’m just having some fun.
Beware of those who see everything in black and white. The evil empire of course is filled with white armored storm-troopers and black Darth Vader. Life not only has various shades of gray, but also different colors.
Luke’s development as a leader. Luke changes quite a bit from the beginning of the movie to the end. At the beginning, he’s a whiny kid. By the end of the movie he’s become a leader. Compare how he sounds when his Uncle Ben asks him to do something to the attack on the Death Star, it’s quite a change. He pulls it off because he’s gained confidence in himself and his abilities. Having confidence in yourself allows you to do more.
On the future your focus keep – part one. (Sorry I couldn’t resist using a bit of Yoda syntax.) George Lucas is a creative genius. Yet, he kept coming back to Star Wars rereleasing it with tweaks, updated special effects and CGI. What if he had instead worked on something new, what did we miss because of this. Don’t be stuck in the past.
On the future your focus keep – part two. And then he issues a new trilogy that tries to explain things that happened in the original trilogy. Not only does it not explain everything. (Why does Beru need a Bocce translator?) But it also raises new questions. (Why does Luke go from a baby to about 20 while Obi-wan appears to age about 40 years?) Don’t focus on explaining where you were, focus on where you are going.
Even when you know something well you can still learn new things. I’ve seen the original Star Wars many times as has Andrew. But while we were watching it again this weekend we realized there’s a line that’s got to be the most unintentionally funny line in the series. How many times do the stormtroopers shoot and Luke, Leia and Han? How many times do they hit them? You know their percentage is lower than the Twins batting average from last year. It makes the line by Obi-wan when they find the jawa’s destroyed sandcrawler humorous. “And these blast points, too accurate for Sandpeople. Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise.”
Thanks for reading. May God (the original force) be with you.
Next week my plan is to write about the safari from my trip to Tanzania.
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.