Our Budget (for Politicians and Other Math-Challenged People)

President Trump has now signed a two-year spending bill for the U.S.  Some thoughts:

On President Trump:

  1. He did not campaign as a fiscal conservative, and is not governing as a fiscal conservative.  He’s shown no interest in reducing deficit spending, merely in spending money elsewhere than his predecessors.
  2. Signing this $1.3 trillion spending bill will alienate true conservatives.  I hesitate to speculate about President Trump’s “base,” for I truly do not understand them.  But I know they voted for two things, other than his gregarious megalomania – they voted to “drain the swamp,” disrupt business as usual, and build a border wall.  Massive overspending IS “business as usual.” The bill, which includes funds for Planned Parenthood but not for his promised border wall. merely to avoid a government shutdown, will be (or at least should be) seen as capitulation. Or the whim du jour of a capricious President whose only governing principle seems to be personal popularity.
  3. If the President alienates enough true conservatives, Congress could flip to the Democrats in November.  This will have serious repercussions.  Robert Mueller will extend his investigation into Trump campaign collusion into the next election. A Democrat-controlled Congress will almost surely impeach President Trump. In signing this instrument of surrender, President Trump may have unwittingly signed his own articles of impeachment.

Deficit Spending:

  1. The deficit for the last year of the Obama administration was $587 Billion.
  2. The deficit for the first year of the Trump administration was $666 Billion.
  3. In Forbes magazine, financial analyst Chuck Jones estimates the federal deficit “could come close to if not exceed $1 trillion in fiscal 2019 and will likely exceed $1 trillion in fiscal 2020 and beyond. And this is before the additional deficits created by the tax reform bill and the just passed two year budget.”
  4. Our government actually operated with a surplus in 1998 ($70B), 1999 ($76B), 2000 ($236B), and 2001 ($128B). The politics of this is a subject of great debate.  Democrats point out that Bill Clinton was President.  Republicans counter that President Clinton was forced to conservative fiscal policies when the “Republican Revolution” of 1994 which gave Republicans control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, and that President Bush had to spend more money in the aftermath of 9/11.

National Debt:

Our national debt now stands at $21 Trillion. Just to put that into perspective:

  1. 21 Trillion seconds = 665,450 years.
  2. Our population is 325.7 million (adults and children). So our national debt equals c. $65,000 per person.
  3. Roughly 140 million people pay taxes. So our national debt equals c. $150,000 per taxpayer.
  4. If we miraculously started paying off our debt today, here’s how long it would take (not including interest):
    1. If we paid back $1 million per minute, it would take 40 years.
    2. If we paid back at the 2000 surplus rate of $236B, we would pay our debt in 89 years.
    3. If we paid back at the 1998-2001 average surplus rate, it would take 165 years.

Final Thoughts:

  1. This is more than immoral and unwise – it is completely and utterly ungodly.
  2. We collapsed the USSR by making them spend themselves out of existence.


The Nunes Memo

Yesterday, President Trump authorized the public release of the “Nunes Memo,” a 3½ page document prepared by the chair of the House Intelligence Committee summarizing actions related to the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Here are my random thoughts.

The memo alleges:

  1. Members of the FBI and DOJ sought a wiretap warrant from a FISA Court against an American citizen (Carter Page) based on a dossier produced by Christopher Steele.
  2. Steele’s work, undertaken by a group called Fusion GPS, was paid for by the Clinton campaign and DNC, so that it was essentially political “opposition research”;
  3. As “corroboration” for obtaining the warrant, those officials used a Yahoo!News story, which had been based on an interview of Steele himself, so that he was essentially his own corroborating witness;
  4. The FISA court was never told that the “info” originated as political opposition research and would not have issued the warrant had that fact been disclosed.

My first thought … IF those things are true (and I mean IF, because we do not know that currently), those DOJ and FBI officials should not only be terminated, they should be prosecuted.

In the course of this investigation into collusion with the Russians, I have heard many allusions to the Watergate scandal which brought down President Nixon.  I don’t think that is a valid comparison for these reasons:

  1. The Watergate break-in was orchestrated and paid for by the RNC. There was direct involvement by the Republican party, and it seems probable by Richard Nixon himself. Again, we don’t know all of the facts yet from Robert Mueller’s investigation, but a year into this investigation, I have seen absolutely nothing to indicate such high-level involvement. If there was collusion, it was from a low-level  advisor who was with the campaign for a short time.
  2. Richard Nixon was a political genius and mastermind behind the cover-up of Watergate. Despite Donald Trump’s claim to being a “stable genius,” I have seen no evidence whatsoever of that level of political savvy. That doesn’t mean I think the President is stupid, as presented in the media.  That’s simply media bias, and it’s nothing new.  President Reagan was a doddering old fool, George H. W. Bush was aloof and detached from reality, George W. Bush was an idiot despite his degrees from Harvard and Yale and his turnaround of the Texas Rangers, and now Donald Trump is a 70-year old adolescent. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton was a political wunderkind, Barack Obama was always the smartest man in the room, etc.  I get it.  But here’s the bottom line concerning President Trump: morons don’t build $4 Billion empires. What I’m saying is that I don’t think his business acumen translates into political genius.

If there is a Watergate comparison to be made, it seems to me to relate to the Clintons, who have built a political machine that now seems to have operatives even within the halls of government. How in the world does President Clinton meet privately with the Attorney General while his wife is under investigation by the DOJ?  How in the world does the team investigating Secretary Clinton’s use of a private server indicate that she was “grossly negligent” (which is the standard used for criminality) but FBI Director Jim Comey changes that language to say she was “extremely careless” (which has no legal consequence whatsoever)?  How does Secretary Clinton authorize the purchase of a 25% stake in US uranium to a state-run Russian firm, then Russia donates millions to The Clinton Foundation and pays Bill Clinton $500,000 for a single speech in Moscow? How is the Clinton Foundation a “charity” and not the Clintons’ personal Political Action Committee?  I think there are plenty of comparisons to be made to Watergate – just not to Donald Trump.

So I don’t think the Watergate comparisons hold.  But I do think back to that era in the 60’s and 70’s when the political climate was similar to that of today, and I remember a figure other than Richard Nixon.  I think of J. Edgar Hoover.  As head of the FBI, Hoover seized and maintained power by using the FBI to obtain dirt on virtually every political figure in the U.S. and then blackmailing those politicians to maintain his personal power, funding for the FBI, etc.  Hoover is known to have prevented John Kennedy from firing him by threatening Bobby Kennedy (the President’s brother AND Attorney General) with the release of info about JFK’s sexual misconduct. It was the textbook definition of political corruption … and it was centered in the FBI.  When I look at the current political crisis, this is the easiest comparison for me.

The response to the release of the Nunes Memo has also been typical. Democrats are screaming that it undermines public confidence in our government in general and in the FBI and DOJ in particular.  A few thoughts on this point:

  1. Distrust in government is one of the founding principles of our republic. Our founding fathers believed (rightly, I think) that, unless constrained, government accumulates more and more power until it devolves into the very tyranny which they were seeking to escape. Distrust of government is what led to building in the “checks and balances” of three branches of government.
  2. I referred earlier to a political climate in the 60’s and 70’s that seems similar to that of today. We survived that. We will survive this.
  3. In reality, it is not the release of the memo that increases my distrust of government, it is the substance of the memo. Was our FBI and Department of Justice truly weaponized against one presidential candidate? If so, none of us should sleep tonight. That has to be rooted out, exposed and repaired.  Immediately.  I tell my children that they can never earn my love, for they always have had it and always will.  But they must earn my trust, and once broken, it is hard to repair.  The same is true for my government.  I will always love my country.  But my government is not entitled to blind trust.  That they must earn.

One final word.  Dismiss me as a partisan supporter of Donald Trump if you wish.  That would be mistaken on both counts.  Firstly, I did not support candidate Trump.  I dislike both his personal demeanor and his governing style.  To lay all my cards on the table, I simply dislike him less than I dislike Hillary Clinton, who strikes me as the poster child of political corruption and crass opportunism.  But I do believe, as I have argued for Presidents Reagan through Obama, that we ought to be deferential to the President of the United States. Secondly, though I am a conservative, I am an independent conservative.  I tend to resonate more with the Republican party because they tend to be conservative and the Democrats seem to want to run off one of the cliffs on the left coast.  But with that said, I utterly despise party politics.  I detest what President Clinton deemed “the politics of personal destruction.” I have no great affinity for the Republican party, and no allegiance to it whatsoever.  My thoughts are not those of a partisan supporter of President Trump.  They are, I hope, the thoughts of a seeker of truth, a lover of the good, and an American who wants to hand off to my posterity a better country than I inherited.

We Have the Money for Zipporah’s House!

I am simply ecstatic to report that, in less than 30 days, the $5,000 needed to build Zipporah a permanent house has been raised. (If you don’t know the story, please read my blog posts from Oct. 16-17).  Ecstasy is my first emotion, but it is overtaken very quickly by a sense of deep and humbling gratitude- to you for your extraordinary generosity, of course, but even more for our heavenly Father, who knows how to move the hearts of His people to provide for the least of these and moved on so many hearts on behalf of Zipporah.

I have to offer some specific thanks.

First, I want to thank Betty, who cared for and cried for Zipporah, and when God presented the opportunity, she is the one who introduced us.  Pastor Moses Odhiambo of Echoes of Mercy Mission heard, too, and knew immediately that her need could be met.  And Skip Ferron, the Director of GRASP International, gave an immediate “Yes” to the request to oversee and provide accountability for the donations.  The Scriptures tell us, “As often as you have opportunity to do good, do it, especially for those of the household of faith.”  Every one of these people live by that injunction, and helping Zipporah was as natural as breathing to them in this instance.

For individual donors, I will tell their stories anonymously.

I knew this was the work of God when I got a Facebook message from a former Clarion University student who read Zipporah’s story.  She told me that she and her husband look for a special cause every so often, as God leads them.  She purposed in her heart to tell her husband about Zipporah that evening.  Before she had the chance, her husband asked said at the dinner table that very evening, “It’s about time for us to give to a special cause again. Has God put anything in particular on your heart?”  That YOUNG couple donated $1,000.  Immediately.  On Day One.  That was the full amount needed to build Zipporah a mud house, so she told me, “Tell Zipporah she will have her new house.”

Inspired to the point of tears, I knew then God was not going to stop at $1,000 for a mud house.  He would raise $5,000 for a permanent house.

Then the floodgates opened.

I’ve pastored three churches.  Each one of them was represented on the donor list.

My Band of Brothers came through in a huge way.  Three of them donated personally a total of $900.  Others encouraged their churches to give.  The youth ministry of First Baptist Church in Grove City, Ohio,  spontaneously gave $115.98.  A group of young couples from First Baptist Church of Bamberg gave $1,300 – which officially put us over the finish line. Those gifts were the “bookends” of this effort, and I’m grateful beyond words.

A pastor friend in PA asked his church to help – and they collected $613.50 with no notice whatsoever. Thank you, Center Hill Community Church.

The donor list is full of seniors on fixed incomes. And people who gave when their own finances are tight.  People who cared for Zipporah’s welfare more than their own comfort.  Some even gave out of their own poverty.  Just today, Skip Ferron sent me an email.  He just returned from Ukraine, where GRASP International is doing a wonderful work.  He told me of Benjamin M., a young man trying to establish a heat pump business.  He is supporting his family on an average of $400-450 per month.  When he heard Zipporah’s story, he gave $100.  I know God will reward them from the treasures of His grace.

I was completely surprised by a $600 gift by neighbors from 20-25 years ago.  They always did have generous hearts.  I just had no idea their generosity would extend so long and so far.

And then there were those people who didn’t surprise me one bit.  They are generous to the core of their beings, and have been ever since I’ve known them.  Their default answer is yes, and it takes something extraordinary to move them off that answer.  You know who you are.  I love you.  I admire you.  I am honored that you would call me a friend.

I wrote notes of thanks as the gifts came in.  The response was always the same.  It was some variation of, “We’re so happy to help,” or “We feel honored to take part,” or just plain, “God laid it on our hearts, so how could we say no?”  I get that.  But I’ve seen many times when God laid something on someone’s heart, and they were not obedient to His prompting.  So it speaks volumes to me that these people don’t hesitate.  Obedience is reflexive for them.

So to each and every one of you, I wish I had the words to say how wonderful you are to me, but those words just don’t exist.  So even though it’s wholly inadequate, let me say “Thank you” for now.  I hope to be there as a witness when our Father tells you, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Sadness and Seething

I am deeply saddened by the Texas shooting.  I am also seething.

The knee-jerk response of some is “stricter gun laws,” as if that would solve the issue entirely, or as if we had mysteriously repealed the Second Amendment.

Others wave that Second Amendment as though it were absolute, or written in contemplation of AK-47s.  They reply, “You can’t stop a nut job with a law,” as if we should helplessly shrug Texas off. And Las Vegas. And Orlando.  And Sandy Hook. And Columbine.  And …

Others call for more mental health treatment as if our three-generation obsession with mental health has actually improved this issue.  They continue to refer to “senseless” violence, as if these mass murderers gave no forethought whatsoever to their misanthropy.

So, as far as I can see, our response to this insanity is more insanity!

If we’re going to address this, we have to come to some basic realizations:

  1. At its heart, this is a spiritual crisis.  I know we want to label it otherwise, because confronting this reality is both awkward and out of vogue in our society.  But here is the reality – no one who is personally at peace with God has ever gone on a murderous rampage.
  2. We have to stop ignoring the toxic cocktail we are allowing (even forcing?) our children to drink.  We tell them they are the center of their own universe.  We teach them that they are not here by any design or purpose, but rather some cosmic accident of time and space and chance. Uncreated, they are also unaccountable to anyone other than themselves.  So it is really meaningless to ask any questions about life, like “How did I get here?” or “Why am I here?”  They have certain inalienable rights, and among these are the right for no one to judge them in this life or in the next (which is not cherished as the wisdom of millennia, but belittled as the fairy tale of all those religious people who aren’t intelligent enough to know better). They get to determine for themselves what is truth.  They get to determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong.  They get to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but they will not surely die.  Ignore the fact that the pathway of their life is strewn with despair and chaos and death and disintegration – if they just keep going in the same direction, they can reach Nirvana, the bliss of their own nothingness.
  3. We cannot treat “gun violence” in a vacuum.  We are a violent society in a thousand different ways.  We cannot continue to eat this steady diet of violence in our movies, our music, our video games, our recreation, our politics, etc., and then act stunned when someone with a gun gets violent.  In this technological age, we accept the computer programming axiom “garbage in, garbage out.” Are we really so naive as to think this doesn’t also apply to the human soul?  The Scripture articulates this in a slightly different way: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Gal. 6:7-8.  I believe this applies to nations as well as to individuals.  We’re now so accustomed to violence that we are anesthetized to it.  We watch a few minutes of news coverage of the latest shooting, then move on to watch yet another episode of “Law and Order: SVU.”  Can I simply point out God’s expressed reason for the flood in Noah’s day?   “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.'” Gen. 6:11-13
  4. We have to address the meltdown of the most basic building block of our society – the nuclear family.  At the very least, we have to stop subsidizing, even sponsoring, it. But we can do so much more than the very least. And I’m not referring to the culturally redefined family, so hybridized that it is now an annual instead of a perennial.  I mean we have to get serious about what we know in our hearts actually works and what all evidence says actually makes us better – a mom and a dad committed to one another for better or for worse raising children and grandchildren who know they are loved and safe.   The reality is, when we split that atom, we blow things up.

There’s more to say about all of this, and maybe I’ll say some of it in a subsequent post.  Right now, I need to go work in my yard shoulder to shoulder with my son, whose world is simpler than mine.  And better in almost every respect.  He’s seldom sad, and he never seethes.

Random Thoughts on Rest Day

When I wrote yesterday’s blog, I did not mean it to be prophetic. But so it turned out to be. Today we had an itinerary that included a visit to an orphanage and lunch with the lady who administers it. But the long day yesterday seems to have taken a toll on both Pastor Moses (stomach troubles) and Betty (headache). So all plans are cancelled and we will use today to rest before the return trip home begins tomorrow.

We are not going to drive to Nairobi, where my departure is scheduled near midnight. It is impractical because of the massive election demonstrations. Even driving to Kisumu an hour away carries risks, but that is certainly less risky. So the plan is to leave at 5 a.m. and arrive at Kisumu airport before sunup to avoid demonstrations there. We will then fly to Nairobi. The airports are safe because they are so heavily secured, so we should be able to bypass any troubles. Thinking through such issues is so new to me. I’ve not felt unsafe, but I feel as though I’ve been in Kenya during an unsafe time. Several demonstrators have been killed, even more injured in skirmishes with police. The leader of the Election Commission today resigned and fled to the U.S. saying she feared for her life. It is absolute pandemonium. And I thought the 2016 U.S. election was raucous! Depending on the outcome of the elections here, I may be telling my grandchildren that I was in Kenya during an historic time.

Since I’ve had a down day, I’ve written down some random thoughts:

KEITH – In Kenya, “ei” is pronounced as a long “a” (neighbor), and “th” comes out as a hard “t.” Thus, after introducing myself, I am typically referred to as “Pastor Kate.” Just a bit unsettling.

STAIRS – As with many things in Kenya, stairs are done by eye, not by precise measurement. The first step may be 12” high and deep, step 2 may be 8” high and 10” deep, and the third may be 4” high, 8” deep, and sloped slightly downhill. Watch that first step! Watch that last step! Just watch all the steps!

STREETS – It occurred to me yesterday that I did not even notice the menagerie in the streets of Kenya. City or country, it matters not. There will be some assortment of people, goats, cows, dogs, bota-botas (small motorcycle taxis) and chub-chubs (3-wheel covered motorcycle taxis) doing a rhythmic dance in the streets, and it falls to anyone driving a car to weave through. It was nerve-wracking on my first visit. Now … meh.

SPEEDBUMPS – Speedbumps occur frequently on every paved road including the four-lane “highways”, because of the above. They are big, too, about a foot high and 4 or 5 feet wide. I would worry that a Miata could get stuck on one, perched like a see-saw. For the most part, I think they’re unnecessary. The potholes are sufficient to keep traffic from gaining any real speed. The Miata would simply disappear in one of these. And that’s just the paved roads. Unpaved dirt roads? Not only would we not classify them as roads, we wouldn’t even call them cow paths. At times, when discussing how to reach someone’s house, the discussion turns to a calculation of where you have to leave your car and how far you then have to walk. We were driving on one yesterday when we came to a boulder in the middle of the intersection of two such roads. I called it a Kenyan roundabout. I guess I understand why they don’t scrape such roads as we do—they simply don’t have the grading equipment. But I do not understand why they don’t shovel the high spots down and use them to fill in the crevices that threaten to grab your tire and pin your car. No, that’s not true, I do understand. I’m an American, so roads matter to me. This is Kenya, so …. In my view, as long as roads remain a first-world concern, Kenya will remain a third-world country.

IMPROVISING – Africans improvise. They can build a ladder out of anything. They catch rain in anything. They fix anything broken, repurpose anything used up. I have tendencies in that direction myself, and so it is a trait I greatly admire. But I realized a few minutes ago that I was crossing the line. It is pouring rain. That’s a blessing for Pastor Moses, who is outside with a rag washing his car. It is a problem for me, though, because I had washed socks and cannot hang them out to dry. Solution: clothespin them to a ceiling fan! I’m either morphing into a Kenyan or I’ve seen too much Mr. Bean.

This Is Africa

Last night as we went to bed, Pastor Moses told me the agenda for today. We are to go to a nearby village, visit another pastor, and he will show me his ministry. We are to leave by 9 a.m.

But This Is Africa. I’ve done this dance enough to know the steps.

In America, if you were my visitor in Barnwell and I wanted to take you to Blackville to introduce you to my friend Pastor Ken Frederick, we might rise at 7, eat breakfast at 7:30, and leave by 8:30 or 9 to pay our visit. We might even share lunch with Pastor Ken. A long lunch. But we would be home by 2 p.m.

But This Is Africa.

Here, we rose by 7 and ate breakfast until 8, and that is where everything in the agenda changes. It is par for the course. We wait for this person to return from the bank. The person who will accompany us has not arrived, but we expect him shortly. We sent the car to do something else while we are waiting for everything else. It drives most Americans batty, but after a while you adapt and learn …

This Is Africa.

Now, when the moment arrives and all the tumblers fall into place, you had better be ready. If you were lulled into thinking the wait was permanent, you learn abruptly that you were mistaken. There is no time to use the bathroom before your trip, or freshen up, or grab that item from your room. The moment is NOW, and people will let you know. “Chop chop!” “We go!” In the U.S. we have a saying, “Hurry up and wait.” It is almost exactly the reverse in Africa … wait and hurry up!

So we pulled out just before noon. We drove a couple of hours to Koru Bible College. It has a magnificent and idyllic hilltop campus, but the roads (I’m using that term generously) are impassible for anything but a large 4-wheel-drive. Established in 1960, the school flourished for a time, but is now down to only a handful of students. Still they labor on, faithfully trying to keep their motto of 2 Tim. 2:2, “Entrust these things to reliable men who will then be qualified to teach others.”

Then we traveled to Kisumu. We took an early supper there on the shore of Lake Victoria. Then it was on to the house of Pastor Maurice. We visited him because of the death of a colleague. We sat together in his home (a very simple home, the kind I hope we can build for Zipporah), with two men who may have been family members, church assistants, or both, and were served tea and bread. One of the fellows intrigued me by taking two slices of bread and eating them together though there was nothing between the slices – a nothing sandwich.

After an hour or so, we went to visit the widows of the colleague. He had two wives, not unheard of in Kenya. One wife lived nearby, and we went to her home in the village of President Obama’s grandfather. The home was also a simple structure, but I noticed two things. Her walls were not exposed concrete. Instead, the room was “wrapped” with a woven fabric much like our cotton throws. Also, there was a hodgepodge of large laminated posters, all of which would strike us as peculiar. Some had Roman Catholic images of Jesus. One was a large 2017 calendar produced by a Kenyan tool distributor. The one closest to me was a poster of “Ten Commandments of Marriage,” like “I will always respect your individuality,” or “I will give you freedom to be yourself.” All ten seemed odd to me. Perhaps it requires some African context that I’m missing. But that would not explain the giant image in the corner of the poster, of Prince William and Kate on their wedding day.

Everyone was concerned for this wife, because under tribal customs, she would now be inherited by someone related to her late husband. She would fall under intense pressure to marry him, and if she refused, she could be harmed, even killed. She is completely vulnerable. Pastors will do their best to help her withstand these pressures, but they cannot surround her with security. So she faces a bleak future. I’ll spare you a second rant about traditions.

When we had prayed for her, we left for the long ride home. We had to pass through Kisumu. As it was late into the night, we had little concern of encountering demonstrations. So we faced a moment of alarm when we found ourselves in the sudden commotion of stalled traffic with people running everywhere in the streets and shouting. It turned out to be a traffic accident. Quite a serious accident, I think. The man had struck a large rock in the middle of the road. Demonstrators had put it there earlier. It would require lots of people to move it, and the people are not inclined to do so for two reasons. First, the people generally side with the demonstrators. Second, removing the stones could prove dangerous to one’s health.

We crawled back into the compound just before midnight. I had only a moment of internet access, so I tried to check on any developments concerning Zipporah. Nothing substantive yet.

I used my last minute to wish Debi a happy 37th Anniversary at precisely midnight. Not much of a present, huh? So let me take this occasion to say, “Honey, I love you. I’m honored to be your husband. Thank you for being the kind of wife who understands rather than complains because your husband is half a world away on our anniversary. ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’”

Channeling My Fury

I was so tired yesterday that I had what I can only describe as “out of body” experiences, times when it felt as though my spirit was leaving me. I kept my eyes open even when we stood to pray because once when I had closed my eyes, I caught myself stumbling forward a couple of steps and realized that standing was not enough to keep me awake. Then, when I was at this physical low, I met Zipporah. Her story depleted me of almost all but my love for God and my family. But even exhaustion has benefits. I slept through the night. And now my mind is racing furiously, trying to process all of this. So pardon me if I give expression to my rage for just a moment.

I reflect back to my time in college when professors decried Christian missionaries for seeking to change the belief systems of indigenous peoples, as though any people anywhere ever developed organically apart from the influence of others, or as though it were written somewhere that people should so develop. I suppose the kind of dung is still being propagated in the sterile environs of academia. It’s easy to romanticize about the wisdom of tribal elders and fantasize children’s stories of the shaman. Such idealized notions sound good from the quaint security of western ivied towers, and you never have to grapple with the patent lie of it all or wonder if such hallowed halls of learning would even exist if our societies had been untouched by the gospel. This esoteric horse hooey may seem lovely at 30,000 feet, but on the ground the reality is stark and ugly, rank and grotesque.

Do you know who should be the most ardent supporter of Christianity in the world? Feminists. Oh, I don’t mean those considered Christian egalitarians of today, I mean that dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying, militant 1960’s brand of feminism that refuses to shave its armpits. Why? Because of the elevation of women by Christ, the radical idea that in Christ there is no male or female. I look at societies influenced by the good news of Christ, and I see societies free to debate such issues and to develop in such enlightened ways. I see societies untouched by the gospel, and I see Zipporah.

Well, enough ranting. I want to finish with action, not thoughts. I want to raise the money to build Zipporah a house. A livable house in a safe place. That sounds daunting in our minds. But here the poor build their houses from the land, and it can be done for relatively little money, even with thatched roofing giving way to metal sheets. $1,000 will do it. Think of it. A life of vulnerability and terror completely transformed for $1,000.  And $5,000 would build a permanent house, including a well.

One of the problems I see in Africa is the sheer immensity of the challenge. This place is a black hole of poverty. You could throw Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s money at this, and it would just be absorbed within minutes and gone like “the disappearing dreams of yesterday.” Jesus said the poor would always be with us, and when I look at Africa I know those words are true. This often leads to paralysis. We can’t fix such a big problem, so we do nothing at all. But the way an ant eats an elephant is one bite at a time. I can’t solve poverty in Africa. We can’t do that. But we can make Zipporah’s life better. And we should. I’ll put the structure in place to assure this is done right. Then you can help. And you should.

A Child of Joy, A Child of Sorrow

I traveled this afternoon to a church about 30 minutes away. On the way, we stopped to see Pastor William and his just-born daughter. His wife had to have a C-section. I can’t imagine how that works at “Matata Hospital.” I don’t really understand the name, since Matata is Swahili for “Troubles.”  It’s a typical small town East African hospital—cramped, dirty, and somewhat chaotic. They did have a separate maternity ward, but it was open to the general public. Signs were posted to remind people to keep the windows open to reduce tuberculosis.

We found William, who took us to see baby “Betty,” named for Betty Musindai (I told you she was incredible!). The baby, still covered with a white waxy substance, was asleep in a bassinet that seemed more like a car-seat, with a ceramic heater nearby to keep her warm. I tried to stay outside the room where William’s wife was in bed, but he insisted that I meet her. I stepped in long enough to wish her every blessing, but the poor woman had undergone a C-section 3 hours earlier! As I stood outside with baby Betty, she began to cry. I used my best soothing voice and held her little hand, and she stopped crying. That felt wonderful. Even in Africa, I get to be Papa!

Then it was on to the church where I preached. I don’t want to bother with details about that, I want to tell of what happened after. I had seen a young woman there with a newborn infant. I said hello to her and blessed her baby. Later she came outside and spoke to Betty, who had met her recently at a Woman’s Conference. Her story shocked me so deeply I’m not sure how to tell it.

The 1-month old turns out to be Zipporah’s 5th child. Her husband died more than a year ago. It goes unsaid that it was likely AIDS, and that she’s likely HIV-positive. This baby is the product of rape from her husband’s brother, who was following tribal traditions that since his brother is dead, he must sleep with this woman. The man is now in prison for life, not because he raped Zipporah, but because he also raped her 14-year-old daughter. He may have gotten away with that except that the minor also became pregnant. The baby is due in a month or so. The daughter has been moved to a secret place because the family of the rapist wants to kill her, blaming her for his imprisonment.  Zipporah lives in fear of reprisal, for herself and for the 12-year-old daughter who is now most vulnerable.

This woman came seeking help because she is sleeping with her 4 children in a mud structure of about 40 sq. ft. No beds, no blankets, nothing but a dirt floor and mud walls. There are lots of poor people here, of course. Many rent out small, one bedroom, concrete structures that are more like our storage warehouses. I asked how much those cost. About $20/mo. But she doesn’t have $1, let alone $20.

My day, which began with such joy for baby Betty, ended with me doing everything I can do to hold it together, not to break down and weep for Zipporah and her children. But my sympathy is nothing. She doesn’t need pity, she needs help. Tomorrow, when I can breathe again after this gut-punch, I’m going to figure out what that looks like. Maybe you will think through that with me tonight.

The Quiet and the Chaos

I’m wide awake by the time birds start singing. The variety of birds here is truly a wonder, and their songs are both louder and richer than home. They begin their sweet chorus just before sun-up at 6 a.m., and the beautiful noise of the children at school does not lag far behind.

I have mentioned Betty before. Her full name is Beatrice Musindai. She works very hard from before dawn until after dusk, keeping the mission house shipshape and preparing three fine meals each day. I call her the “miracle worker of food.” She has prepared delicious meals that blend African foods with things we are more familiar with in the States. There is always lots of food and it is taboo to eat too little. I remember that, as a child, someone would always ask a visiting missionary, “What do you eat?” Here breakfast is a bit tricky. At the hotel last week, the buffet included baked beans and chicken wings. But Betty knows how to cater to Americans. We’ve had boiled or fried eggs, diced potatoes, and even beignets that can be pulled apart for a little spread of Nutella. Dinner and supper are standard American fare also, with a few exceptions. They make a vegetable gravy that resembles a thick soup, meant to be eaten over rice. We’ve had some ugali, a corn substance that looks like mashed potatoes but is so thick it must be sliced. There’s chapatti. Lots of chapatti. It’s a good thing I like chapatti. They also eat a flat bread that resembles thin pancakes with just a hint of sweetness. I asked, “What do you call these?” They looked at me with incredulity and answered, “Pancakes.” As you can tell, they eat a lot of starches. It is why even someone who only eats once daily may still maintain a healthy weight. And why I always come to Africa thinking it will be a good opportunity to lose a few pounds and come home having gained a few instead.

All of the women here work hard, at least as hard as the men. When I shake hands, I notice that their hands are just as rough and their grip just as firm as any man. This tends to age them prematurely, not in appearance but health-wise. Many 60-year-olds here are “Mama,” a title of respect for those who have done hard labor for so long that they simply can’t do it any more. And many of the younger women here have back problems. Part of it, I suspect, is their working stance. If they are weeding a garden, or washing clothes, they bend over at waist and stretch to the ground to do their work. It’s like the “toe-touch” exercise of calisthenics, only they could plant their palms flat on the ground and do so for hours on end.

The demonstrations in the major cities continue. It is a downward spiral. Authorities declare it illegal for people to demonstrate. That brings out even more people than before. Police crack down, use tear gas, and even shoot a few in the crowd. That brings out even more and incites the demonstrators to respond. It’s impossible to know which side is inciting violence and which side is responding. Both sides take to the airwaves to point fingers at the other. Maybe things are not so different here. Today, demonstration leaders have called for the “Mother of All Demonstrations” in Nairobi. The irony of the acronym is not lost on me.

I’m safe in the rural areas. The Echoes of Mercy compound is walled and gated. People here are working too hard to scratch a living out of the dirt to get caught up in the fury of the city. This afternoon we travel to another village, and I will preach again. I understand the group will be small. I asked for an appropriate theme, and Pastor Moses explained they are struggling with many issues right now, like financial problems at a time when food prices are rising because of the disturbances in the cities. He said they need encouragement. So I plan to speak on “hope.” That suits me just fine.  I still consider it my purpose to “Give God Glory, Give People Hope!”

Gentle Tears and Roaring Laughter

Today is the Lord’s Day. I was asked to preach for Echoes of Mercy Church here in Nyamira. Pastor Moses specifically asked me to preach about generous giving. I wanted to decline, quite honestly. I don’t especially like talking about giving in America because there are so many who focus on this as if it were the only Christian virtue. So you can imagine how I felt about talking to Kenyans, who have so little. I was wary of the perception of many (all?) Kenyans that every American is rich. But Pastor Moses pressed upon me so stridently, I considered perhaps the Holy Spirit was prompting him. And so I yielded.

I spoke from 2 Cor. 9 on how to cultivate cheerfulness in our giving. I established the context from the previous chapter, which I thought truly fit the moment: “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” 2 Cor. 8:1-4. And I stressed vv. 11-12 of that passage, also: “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” 2 Cor. 8:11-12. This context helped me to be much more at ease.

Worship here begins at 8 a.m. with the children. At 9 is a Sunday School Hour. At 10 they have a discipleship class and communion. At 11 their service begins, and lasts until 2-2:30 p.m. Much like God’s Care Church in Uganda, the building here is perched on a hill. I think this is intentional. Though both Ugandans and Kenyans speak so softly it can be hard to hear them in normal conversation, they crank up the amplifiers to broadcast the service to the entire community. It serves as something of a village call to worship. When the service ended, we had a quick lunch followed by a series of meetings. Exhausted, I walked back into the mission house at 5 p.m.

For the last several days, we’ve been joined by two young men, both 30 and both single, who are being mentored by Pastor Moses. I’ve truly enjoyed Patrice’s and Vincent’s company. After lunch, I gave them each small gifts. You would have thought they had won the lottery. It truly put things in perspective for me.

We’ve also been blessed by the presence of a brother roughly my age, Pastor Esron, a close friend and colleague to Pastor Moses. Of all the good memories, I think the one that will stick with me the longest is his constant but incorrect usage of the word “impunity.” Pastor Moses has learned the habit, also, though he insists that Pastor Esron is “the father of impunity.” A politician will be bloviating on TV, and one of them will denounce him with an emphatic, “Impunity!” Or a situation will be under discussion, and draw the comment, “It is impunity!” Or a jealous local pastor will be spreading the lie that Echoes of Mercy has brought in white devil worshipers. “He is impunity,” they say. I tried at one point to explain the proper usage, but my attempt was rejected with, “That is impunity!”

[Addendum: I just read the above to the brothers. They are in stitches. Pastor Moses said between laughs, “This lawyer has a problem. It is impunity!”]

I have been familiar with the phrase, “Jambo, Bwana” since I watched The Flames Trees of Thika somewhere around age 20. I thought “Bwana” meant “sir.” So I had a real “Aha Moment” when I heard the prayers to “Bwana Jesu.”

As you might imagine, I truly relished the children’s choir. I also enjoyed the special moment of laughter when Pastor Moses called for them. They were a bit slow in gathering at the front, and he was encouraging them to move more quickly. I didn’t understand a single word until I heard him say, “Chop chop!”

I had one special moment when the tears of joy came. I was listening to the singing, so familiar and yet so different, so African. I found myself closing my eyes, simply lost in worship, completely oblivious to any reality other than being in the presence of God and His people. It all came back to me, that feeling of being home though I’m thousands of miles from where I reside. I realized my eyes were filled with tears and felt momentarily embarrassed that I had been previously unaware. It was just then I heard a small child say “Mzungu” (“white man”). It hit me that I was the only such creature on the entire campus. I hadn’t thought of it until that moment. I wished with all my soul never to be bothered by such thoughts ever again.