Midwest Trip: Not Just a Check-list

Munster’s Finest

Two goals down and one in site. Last weekend I trekked to Indiana with my dad for the Indy 500 and a Cubs/Padres game. Every time I visit the Midwest I think of what could have been. I’m thankful my parents moved to San Diego, but as I’ve gotten older my family’s ‘roots’ have grown increasingly important (more on that later). Here are the highlights of the trip:

Three Floyd’s BreweryThere is a world-class craft brewery blocks from where my mom grew up. I knew it was in the same town (Munster), but had no idea how close it was. Dad and I visited twice and everything we tried was excellent. My mom and sister don’t know this yet, but when they go back in a few weeks they’ll be bringing back a couple of bottles…

The Indy 500. The first goal knocked off my list.  It was great to be there with my dad. He was in his element and I got to peak into another piece of his childhood. He lit up during the pre-race festivities (which started the day before with a parade and museum visit)  and didn’t wipe the smile off his face till the race ended.

Dad got giddy when the Purdue band led out the Indy 500 parade.

Wrigley. List item #2. My grandpa (mom’s dad) was a big Cubs fan; I vaguely remember driving by Wrigley when I was a kid, but I had never been inside the ballpark. The Padres are terrible and the Cubs equally miserable, but Wrigley is unreal. The two worst teams in the NL playing and the place still sells out. We picked up the train about an hour outside of Chicago and it was full of fans decked out in Cubs gear. Real Fans. We went with our good family friend’s, Chris and Rusty, and sat in the shade about 25 rows behind home plate (thankfully in the shade). I’ve now been to Wrigley, Fenway, old Yankee stadium, Double Day Field, Angels Stadium, Dodger’s Stadium, AT&T (or whatever the Giants stadium is called) and Petco. Wrigley is definitely in my top three. There was only one downside to the entire experience, the face-to-face troughs in the men’s  bathrooms. It’s awkward enough standing right next to another guy while using an open communal bucket toilet, but there is something completly wrong about looking into someone else’s eyes while doing so. I know Wrigley has always been known for it’s adherence to tradition (there isn’t a jumbotron, very few advertisments and half the fans flipped when they got lights in 1988), but sometimes change is a good thing.

View from our seats

Meeting Uncle Clint/The Tuck Family. When I went to Indiana three years ago, I visited my grandfather Kiff’s grave (he died before I was born) and tried to see some of my dad’s old stomping grounds. I’ve always known a lot about my mom’s side of the family, but less about my dad’s. My dad has a twin who I had never met. I’m not going to get into details here, but spending time with my uncle helped to piece together quite a few things. We also visited my dad’s childhood next door neighbors, who still live in the same house. Mr. Tuck turns 100 this July. He fought in the Battle of the Buldge in WWII; I can’t imagine the stories he could share. Mrs. Tuck told all sorts of tales about my dad and the kids in the neighborhood. They talked about the time my dad had fallen behind the house, hit his head and needed stiches, about “hoop tennis” (a game I think they made up, but one that the Tuck’s still had the homemade equipment for in the garage) and the rides Mr. Tuck would give up and down the street with the kids hanging off the open tailgate.

I love my dad, but we are so incredibly different. He talks a ton, but rarely about his childhood.  This trip wasn’t just about checking things of a list, it was about exploring, digging into and learning about my dad’s (and our family’s) story.

Here’s a few more photos:

Radios & Cars: Pretty much sums up my dad.
Outside of Wrigley

Malawi Driving

This is my first time posting from my phone, so forgive me if the format is off.

Yesterday we took on a bit of an bit ambitious goal. I was told it could be done, and deep down I knew it was true, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t terrify me. We were going to start off early , drive to visit my friend Sydney at his home in Chamatao (last year it took all day to get there by public transit), then head east through the Nkhotakota game reserve and back south to Salima where we’ be staying the night at a church member’s lake house. I figured I’d be behind the steering wheel for about six hours, half of which would be on dirt “roads.”

Needless to say the day was stressful.

But we made it. It was great to see Sydney and his family and deliver a gift to my niece Rebecca Grace. Brandt got to see what a remote village was like and how different some people live. And though the drive was indeed painful (my neck still hurts from a pot hole I hit), we were able to see a lot of the central region of the country.

Now we’re enjoying the lake. We got here at sunset, ate dinner and went to bed. We woke at 5 and watched the sunrise. I’m now sitting on a flipped over fishing boat and enjoying another majestic Malawi morning. Word can’t do justice to the beauty of this place. Here are a few snaps from our journey:

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The Malawi Morning Calm

I forgot how quiet the morning could be in Malawi. For most people the day starts well before 6:00. I hear at least six different species of birds from the front porch of Manse #2. It won’t be long before the cool crisp air will be taken over by the musty heavy heat of a humid day. The colors of Mr. Masina’s yard are as vibrant as I remember. Yeah, it’s good to be back.

This is the time I love here. Soon enough something will frustrate me. The mini-buses will honk annoyingly; the realities of a crushed economy, corrupt government and people in great poverty will be painfully visible; and I will have to focus intently during conversations so I don’t miss what a friend may be trying to communicate. But not now.  Not yet.

I know in an hour or so it will all change.

Living in Malawi taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Yesterday, while driving to the Malungunde market to get some drinks to go with lunch, a madwoman stood in the middle of the dirt road pointing a stick at our truck. I couldn’t steer around her. She was mumbling something under her breath, maybe a spell of some sort. I said something to Brandt like, “welcome to Malawi.” The four of us in the car joked that the topless stick-touting woman had taken a fancy with one of us. When we pulled over she stood next to Brandt’s window smiling awkwardly. He rolled up his window and locked the door. Yup, she was in love with him…at least that’s how I saw it.

When we returned to drop off our glass bottles, she was at it again. This time she didn’t have a stick, but was getting down to the song in her head that no one else could hear. I tried to convince Brandt to go dance with her.

It’s been fun to see Malawi through new eyes. To taste nsima for the first time, to wrestle with being azungu in a muntu world and to be exhausted at the end of a day just because the culture is that different.

Every day is a new adventure. And there is something attractive about living life in this way, but there is also something that is absolutely draining. But I’ll let that part come later, for now I’ll enjoy the peace and quiet.

Here’s a few photo’s…

Our room looked the same as it did when we left...
Abi & Chester (a new addition to the Masina Family)
Brandt on a run in Area in 12

 

 

Malawi, My Remedy

When Hailey and I left Malawi in July 2011, I vowed I’d return within a year. I wasn’t sure what it would look like or how I would get there, but I knew that if God willed, it would happen. At the same time I was ready to leave. Our funds had run out, we were tired, we longed for our families and (to be brutally honest) we really missed the comforts of Southern California. It was time to come home.

As I was called to St. Peter’s, I made it clear that I still had a passion for what God was doing in Malawi. I still had much to learn from my brothers and sisters. I’d like to think that part of the reason I was called by St. Peter’s was because of God’s call on my life for missional living. Regardless of the cultural context, I have a deep desire to see God move in new and different ways. Staying connected to Malawi reminds me of my calling.

A generous tax return for 2010 (that’ll happen when you’re married and only one of you has a consistent job for half the year) provided the funds. Talks with my wife and boss provided the timeframe. And a call to my good fire-fighting friend Brandt, presented a travel partner (I would have come alone, but part of being passionate about what God is doing in the world is sharing it with others—that, and 36 hours of solo travel sounds miserable…). I’m thankful for his sacrifice and adventurous spirit.

We’re on the familiar leg between England and Kenya. I despise this part of the flight. I can never sleep on these things. The cabin is dark. A few screens flicker. And even though the guy across the aisle has the entire center row to himself, he is sprawled out uncomfortably close to me. I smell his socks and something’s up with his leg. He keeps itching it on the armrest as if it were a tree and he were a dog with fleas. No wonder I can’t get any sermon writing done…

I’m tired. Emotionally, spiritually and physically—I am beat up. And, I’m going to a place where I’ll preach a ton, be in constant conversation and live in a house where I always have to be “on.” I’m not even there yet and I’m uncomfortable. But, there is something tells me I am flying to the remedy of my fatigue.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t I think I will come home completely rejuvenated, full of energy and ready to figure out all of the cultural issues and challenges of growing a church in Huntington Beach.  I won’t have the solution for dying denominations, stale approaches to community development or apathetic families.

The problems of the country are complex, but, somehow, life itself remains fluid. Maybe that’s just it. What attracts me to ministry in Malawi is its simplicity. The Gospel matters. Everything else is secondary. I don’t think I always see life through those eyes when I’m in Southern California. My second home, the warm heart of Africa, reminds me of what my priorities should be.

Going Home: Slowing Down to Catch Up

Friends from Lingadzi escorted us to the airport

I wondered if I would ever be able to call Malawi my home. I love Malawi-I learned a lot from my ten months there and believe that most in the western world could grow quite a bit by spending a few moments with a Malawian-but I don’t completly fit in. It isn’t my home.

Our last week was wonderful and stressful. People flocked to our house and there were many heartfelt goodbyes. Every night we had someone over for dinner and during the day we tried to tie up as many loose ends as we could. We had little alone time to process the fact that we were leaving.

Saying bye to Precious & others in Nkhoma Village

Now we are gone.

I wear my heart on my sleeve. Always have and always will. I was surprised that I was able to hold it together without crying for most of our goodbyes. I only really lost it once.

To be honest, I wasn’t as excited to go home as one would think. I was looking forward to seeing friends and family, but there were very few things that I was really excited about. People have asked, “what food did you crave?” and “where were you looking forward to going right when you get home?” Other than Sushi and the beach, there wasn’t much.

My friend Abel says, “Home is home.” For me, home will always be San Diego.

Gotta be 23 kgs!

We’ve been in Southern California for a week and I’ve had a plethora of emotions. I’ve loved sitting down with a few friends and telling stories. For the most part, people are eager to listen and I am willing to share.

I wouldn’t say I’ve had a huge amount of culture shock or anything like that, but there is one thing that seems to continuously catch me off guard. Crowds. Costco, church, freeways—they all have freaked me out. For some reason, returning from Malawi has given me a slight case of agoraphobia. I’m not sure why.

I officiated a wedding last weekend and, to be honest, I was a bit terrified of what might happen because of my new found fear. What would have happened if I had a panic attack right in the middle of the couple’s vows?

The wedding was great and I was fine. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times where I snuck away to “the bathroom” just to take a deep breath. I needed to step away to slow down and catch up to the faster pace of life (yes, I realize how oxymoronic that sounds).

And I’m still catching up.

 

Going Home: Gadget Lust

Hailey and I are on a train from London to the airport in Birmingham. Over the last few days, as we have been preparing to enter back into the world we have known for the majority of our lives, we have been talking a lot about the re-entry process.

We’ve talked about the friends we will see, the food we’ll enjoy and the general change of the speed of life . One of the big things that has stood out to me since being in the UK is all of the advanced technology.

Heidleberg Printing Machine Movable Type

Much of living in Malawi felt like we had gone back in time. The Nkhoma Synod still prints all their books and forms on Heidleberg Printing Machines (they date bake to 1850…), ox carts are a staple in transportation and many people actually prefer to cook over an open fire instead of a stove.

To be completely honest, Hailey and I are looking forward to phones that work and internet that is fast. We won’t have to worry about electricity going out or water shutting off. One of the first things we will do when we get back is get new cell phones (don’t try to call our old numbers quite yet, they won’t work).

But how much technology is too much? When did Kip Dynamite’s wedding song–Yes, I love technology. But not as much as you, you see.  Still I love technology–become a prophecy about how we in the U.S. live? We say we love our family and friends, but spend more time in front of computers and televisions than ever before. In Time Magazine, I read that the average American watches two hours and fifty one minutes of t.v. a day during weekdays, which is up something like seven minutes in the last six years. Overall reading comprehension is up, but the majority of what is read doesn’t contribute at all to the intellectual well being of our soceity. One only needs to look at the highest circulating magazines or most visited web content of 2010 to see that there is a lot of garbage consumed by the public on a daily basis.

When does the world of iphones and androids get in the way of face to face interaction and personal conversation? How much has the western world sacrificed by idolizing the creations of Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs?

Right now I’m sitting across from an English businessman who has a blackberry, an HTC Storm and an iPod touch on the table. He’s listening to music on the iPod and has sent emails and texts on both phones. There’s probably $1000 worth of technology in his paws. Add in the iPad I’m typing on, the kindle in Hailey’s hands and you get a disgusting collection in a confined space.

In the western world we have an unhealthy addiction to the newest, the fastest and the greatest. And I am just as guilty of this need as anyone else. I look forward to being home, but am terrified of the gadget lust that is awaiting me.

Just Be vs. Hurry Up & Wait

Patience is a virtue that most of the western world acknowledges, but doesn’t at all practice. While the LJPC team was in Malawi we spent a good amount of time waiting. One time, while waiting for lunch, Mr. Bob Kennedy (as he was affectionately called by many Malawians) leaned over and said, “I get it! We’re not really waiting for anything. We are just…here.”

After only a few days in Malawi, Bob had learned what so many Malawians have come to know as normal. Just being is enough. Waiting with one another is being with each other.

While Hailey and I were getting on the tube yesterday she told me I needed to stand to one side of the escalator because people were trying to get around me. They were rushing. She said, “I guess were back to the world were time is kept and people are always in a hurry.”

She was right. The west is a world where waiting is seen as wasting. And it’s a shame. We don’t know how to just be.

Tube Station in London: Waiting=Wasting in the Western Frame of Mind

Culture Clash: Beautiful Discomfort

Jason translating for Kim (photo taken by the wonderful agogo Christy Zatkin)

I haven’t posted a blog for a couple of weeks. I’ve started many, but haven’t had time to complete them. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I’ll have plenty of time in airports and airplanes over the next few days.

It’s been a crazy month; one that has left me tired and confused. I’ve had little time to process the fact that our time in Malawi is actually coming to an end in less than a week. A few days after my in-laws left, the first folk from the LJPC Malawi Mission Team arrived. Two days later the entire team was here.

My Malawian friends had always told me that hosting a mission team was draining. I used to laugh and shake my head; I had been on many mission trips and even had played host in the US. How difficult could it really be?

Christy and Tobias making windows...

Within a few days I realized how tiring it really was. It was great to share what our world has looked like the last ten months with friends from home. When you’re on a team that parachutes in for a few weeks, you usually don’t get to see the real Malawi. Our hope for this team was that, because we had been here for some time, we’d be able to facilitate friendships and interactions that might not normally occur.

 

Hailey and I purposefully planned to have Malawians and Americans working alongside one another for the entire trip. It was beautiful to see the two teams become one. But it was also uncomfortable at times.

I often felt like I was standing in no man’s land without a culture to call my own.

  • Malawians are tough people. I’ve seen many function well on little to no sleep, pick up things with bare hands that would burn holes through mine and do things with their teeth that would cause any American dentist to cry. On one hand they are very resourceful and on the other extremely wasteful. They work very quickly but often do so without paying much attention to detail.  For most Malawians, time is relative and secondary to community. Family is extremely important, but communication within it is often poor. Hospitality is a must and most go out of their way to make visitors feel welcome. Life is not compartmentalized into secular and spiritual.
  • Americans are needy in a completely different way. They are used to many creature comforts and often have an unhealthy superiority complex (a blog for another day). They are efficient but get cranky when things are done differently. Most are punctual and keep time. What they know is normal, so everyone else should live and function in this way. If not, the other is seen as wrong or unintelligent. They don’t really know how to live in community or honestly put someone else’s needs, desires or well being above their own. And, they love their stuff and have a ton of it.

Please forgive me for being hypercritical. I’m not trying to single out any one person. Nor do I mean to offend anyone (and I apologize if I have). I hadn’t spent this much time with a large group of Americans for ten months and I largely forgot what my own culture looked like. I also had become so entrenched in Malawian culture that I forgot many of its annoyances. I was seeing Malawi through new eyes all over again.

It was difficult, wonderful and challenging all at the same time.

One night the American half of the team walked to dinner. I said the journey was about a half a mile. While walking some joked that I had “become Malawian” because the distance was longer than what I mentioned. They were tired, hungry and not used to walking in such a state. When we got to the restaurant, I turned around and ran back to get the car for our return after dinner. For fun, I set the odometer on the way back. The team was right, it was more than a half a mile—a whooping whole kilometer (about three fifths of a mile)!

A Malawian wouldn’t complain about the distance. They wouldn’t mention that they were

Bob, Rev. Phula and Tobais "cutting" glass

sick, tired or hungry. They’d go with the flow and let life happen. But it’s the same lack of urgency and attention to detail that leads to avoidable deaths in the country’s hospitals.

 

As we dropped the LJPC team off at the airport I was relieved and terrified. During the eleven day visit we had preached and prayed in a Muslim community, visited various institutions at the Nkhoma Synod Headquarters and brought much needed love to the Malingunde School for the Blind by providing a camp for its students and renovating their dormitories. And the whole time the American team encouraged and worked with the Malawian church.

I was relieved because the entire trip I had been standing between two very different cultures. I was terrified because I didn’t fit in either of them.

UPDATE: After writing this blog I read this quote by Eugene Peterson in his Under the Unpredictable Plant. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way.

North American religion is basically a consumer religion. Americans see God as a product that will help them to live well, or to live better. Having seen that, they do what consumers do, shop for the best deal…It is interesting to listen to the comments that outsiders, particularily those from Third World countries (Eugene, I love what you write and it has taught me much, BUT you need to use the term”developing countries” here my friend…), make on the religion that they observe in North America. What they notice mostly is the greed, the silliness, the narcissism. They appreciate the sze and prosperity of our churches, the energy and the technology, byt they wonder at the conspicuous absence of the cross, the phobic avoidance of suffering, the puzzling indifference to community and relationships of intimacy

 

Zambian Animals

My father-in-law is a hunter. When I was in high school and first started showing up at the Nordmarken house, I quickly noticed the many paintings that hung on the wall. Bears and elk. Birds and fish. Horses and wolves.

My father-in-law also likes to talk. Not long after Hailey and I started dating, I began hearing all sorts of stories about hunting trips to Alaska, Mexico and Texas. When Hailey and I got a bit more serious my greatest fear was that he was going to ask me to join him on a hunting trip. I’m not sure any 20-year-old kid would be thrilled about walking around the forest alone with his girlfriend’s rifle-carrying father. Especially when that 20-year-old kid has never fired a (real) gun…

As I got to know Mike, I learned that his love for animals didn’t just include killing them. He was (and is) obsessed with how they live. This love wasn’t lost on the family. The Nordmarken kids grew up with ducks, rabbits, fish and the snakes their dad had caught in nearby canyons. When Hailey and her siblings were young, while most kids enjoyed the sound of a crunching snail under their feet, they would catch and race them. To this day, Hailey points out interesting animals when she sees them.

So when mom and dad Nordmarken decided to come to Malawi for a visit it was only natural for us to spend a few days in the Zambian bush. Hailey and I had been on safari before, but only in Malawi. We were thrilled to be seeing a new place and (hopefully) new animals.

A part of being an animal aficionado is enjoying the hunt and paying extremely close attention to detail. Mike and Sarina (mother-in-law) were fascinated with a lot of what we saw. They wanted to know about every little bird, bug and fruit. At first it drove me crazy; I wanted to see lions and leopards. I couldn’t care less about knowing how old an animal is or was by how hard its poop is or how its skeletal remains are put together.

The truth is, again, the journey is important. What you see and hear along the way is usually want leads you to your goal.

On the last night we were winding down our final game drive and still hadn’t seen a leopard. On our way back to camp Hailey heard dogs in the distance. But it wasn’t dogs. Turns out the bark of a baboon is quite doglike.

The frantic barking was a warning to the rest of the animal kingdom. A leopard was on the prowl. We radioed over to the other car and found the hunting cat. Had we not stopped to listen, there’s a good chance we would have missed it. Here is a small sampling from that night (and the rest of the trip as well):

 

shooting in the dark is difficult, even though it's a bit blurry this is my favorite shot of the night
nice kitty...

Thanks for a great trip mom and dad!

Mozambique: In the Way

Preaching in Mozambique

Sing it with me:

“On the third day of Mozambique, my true love reminded me”

“How little we’d done, how bored she was and how much we had to do in Malawi.”

Hailey and I knew the rest of the team had been busy reaching out to Tete. It was an odd feeling to have been invited on a mission trip, given a specific task and then told to sit and wait.

Jason with the football (soccer) boys

I had finished reading a book, written a blog and a half and gotten to know the Gimba family really well. I was done waiting. Saturday morning we decided we’d head out with one of the ‘field teams’ to do door-to-door (or yard-to-yard) evangelism.

When I think about door-to-door evangelism I get a horrible feeling in my gut. I think about all the times I have heard a knock on my door, peered out the window or peephole and seen bicycle helmets and neck ties. I never mind talking to Mormons on their mission (their commitment puts those of us who spend a week in a place, paint a few fences and rarely actually talk about our faith with others to shame), but I’d be lying if I said it was something that I looked forward to.

As if one conversation with a complete stranger can convert a person…

Or can it?

Think of how many times Scripture tells us of one quick life-changing conversation. The paralyzed man at Beth-zatha, the Samaritan woman at the well, the calling of the disciples. The list could go on and on. When Jesus was on His way he talked to people. And their lives were changed.

I can hear your internal monologue screaming at me right now. You’re looking at the computer screen and thinking, “But that was JESUS!” Yes, it was. But there were many others. The Church didn’t grow to where it is today because of sermons preached on Sunday morning (though it may have shrunk to the size it is in the US today because some of what is said during them).

I still here your thoughts (well, probably, because I have them as well), “but Dave, I wasn’t called to that type of ministry! I don’t have those gifts.” The all-too-often used excuse that keeps us conveniently confined to the comfort of our pews. I am not saying we are all called to be curbside prophets, but most of us have been given the ability to communicate in one way or another. What are you communicating?

We walked around all morning and talked with some women and their children, a group of 15 boys kicking around a makeshift football and a family who had fled from the Congo three years earlier because of its civil war. We shared stories, laughed at our differences and talked about Jesus.

In the afternoon we met with a youth group and then I went to meet with the executives and professionals I was supposed to work with the day before. Surprise, no one showed. To be honest, I wasn’t disappointed. I was exhausted.

On Sunday I preached on Jesus being The Way, The Truth and The Life. I mentioned that the early church was often referred to as “those that were in/on the way” and focused on the idea that we often try to jump to Jesus as truth and life without first getting in the way. We miss the point. We miss the journey.

Monday at 6 a.m. we piled back into the same Nissan we arrived in five days earlier. The car reeked of gasoline—spilled generator fuel. Wonderful. As if the six hours of stench weren’t bad enough, the shocks on the car were worthless. I’d start to fall asleep, into a gas-induced coma, and the rear of the car would swerve uncontrollably as the driver increased his speed.

Our journey to Mozambique was not at all perfect. It didn’t go as we expected and what I set out to do was not accomplished (many of the other outreaches were very successful). But sometimes, most of the time actually, we spend so much time focusing on the finish line that we forget about our role on the way.