Monday, January 26, 2009

Broken

Some days, it seems like everything in Zambia is broken.

Last night we had an electrician out to hook up our dryer and 30 minutes after he left the plug was melted to the outlet. Apparently, attaching a 30 amp device to a plug made to handle 13 amps is sort of like shaving with weed eater (its just a BAD idea). Now you may be wondering, why in the world didn’t the electrician notice this? And the answer would be that, well, the term “electrician” can mean so many things in Zambia, and doesn’t necessarily mean someone who knows anything at all about electrical stuff, but that simply decided one day, “I think I’ll be an electrician.” And thus, he became an electrician. Which is of course, the same way that many people in Africa, and around the world, have become presidents.

In fact, there’s an old missionary adage (and we, being missionary, often speak in adages) that says, the proper question to ask when hiring someone for a job, is not CAN you do this, but have you done it before. This morning as we were getting ready for church, our hot water suddenly was reduced to little more than a trickle (sort of like Michael Jackson). And as I went to unlock our front door so we could leave, the key would hardly turn and almost broke and I felt my love for all things Zambian beginning to drop faster the Dow.

The church we were ministering at was in Ngombe compound (which means cow, and is named that because originally it was settled by Timbuka people, although no one really knows what Timbukas and “cow” have to do with each other. Nonetheless, that is the reason we were given).

The compound, like most compounds in Lusaka, consists of make shift mud brick houses, many with only a sheet for a door. To get to the church we had to drive through the market, which after an all night rain was a mucky mess of mud stained black from charcoal sold for cooking and heating. It was before 9 a.m. in the morning and drunks were stumbling out the bars and half naked little kids were running around unattended nearly getting hit by passing mini buses.

And I thought as I looked at this market, and compared it to the place where we shop, a nice modern shopping center, with carts and pleasant music playing and courteous employees wearing matching smocks, I thought to myself, this world is broken! This strange world we live in, with worlds within the world, worlds that are as distant in realities as farthest galaxies.

Just before church I slipped away to the “facilities,” knowing that we might be here a long time, and found myself at nothing more than a hole in the ground, attended by roughly made walls and a wooden door that wouldn’t shut, and no roof and the rain steadily falling. I thought of what it would be like to live in this place and to never know the luxury of indoor plumbing. And I thought, this place is broken.

After church during a meeting with the board, we listened to the pastor, a lady, describe some of her challenges. She didn’t have a car and lived on the other side of town and her husband had recently had their only car confiscated by the police because it was “registered as a personal vehicle and was being used for business.” Likely nothing more than a matter of the police looking for a bribe. But the result was that her husband had been unable to work and had become depressed and they had been without food until friends came and helped them out.

And then another pastor shared about a 15 year old girl in his church that was being sexually abused by her brother–in–law and how he had been able to counsel her and her family, but the result was that the 15 year old girl was shipped off to live with other relatives, without any counseling, without anyone real help at all. And I thought, these people are broken.

As I listened to these stories I found myself not wanting to hear anymore, but just wanting to go and get back to the comfort of my quite unbroken home (by comparison) and my very unbroken life.

And so, yes, many things in Zambia are broken.

Some are too broken to be fixed. And others, like myself, are perhaps not broken enough.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Magic, Miracles and Martians

Its amazing the cockamamie things people believe.

We were coming home from church on Sunday, driving through the Soweto market in dowtown Lusaka when we stumbled on a fascinating bit of African lore. The Soweto market, named after the South African township is a bustling sea of people, cars, and mini–buses. Along the roadside, I noticed several signs posted advertising the services of witch doctors. I asked our Zambian friend riding with us if he thought many people in the churches went to see witch doctors.

He said they do, and went on to explain some of the things they seek help for. One of them apparently is a charm that mothers put around a babies waist so that he or she will grow up to have (in plain English) a big booty, which our Zambian friend described as “big butticles.” I suppose sort of like tentacles, but...well, not.

Apparently, its not very desirable for an African to have a western style posterior wherein one’s legs and back just sort disappear into one another and people look a bit like a two pronged fork, like the kind you use for serving pickles. No, here protrusion seems to be the key and out of a deep seeded fear that their Zambian kids will grow up looking like us rumpless oddities of nature from the west, they go to great lengths to insure a healthy hiney.

Now, I know what your thinking. THAT’S THE MOST BIZARRE THING I’VE EVER HEARD! How could anyone think that a “magical charm” could give them a big butt? I mean, everybody knows that if its it rear–end real estate your after, then a steady diet of, well, actually no steady diets at all...but just you and Betty Crocker and the TV remote! But this is Africa, and here the supernatural is not relegated to the FOX network and O.J. Simpson trials. Here the supernatural is everywhere, and when it comes to your gluteus maximus, the thought I suppose is that the means justify the end.

Not everyone in Africa, though believes in the supernatural . I heard an interview on the BBC the other day where they were interviewing some scientist type guy who was espousing his love for all things Darwinian, in honor of the approaching 150 year anniversary of Origin of Species. When the interviewer said (with enough contempt in his voice to handily win him the coveted “Pretentious and Biased Reporter of the Year Award”) that people like “those creationists” would not agree on Darwin’s assertions, the scientist being interviewed responded by saying (about belief in the Bible) that “it just goes to show that when you are taught something at a very early age, how difficult it is to separate yourself from that belief despite it being completely irrational.”

He went on to espouse how belief in God was basically insane and how in the modern world we ought to have graduated from such folly of believing in highly improbable things. In other words, science is based on facts, religion on fairy tale. I’ve heard Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion) say similar things. “Only an idiot,” he said, “would believe in the existence of God.”

Thus according to Dawkins, Galileo, Newton, Kelvin, Max Plank, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein – idiots all. Not to mention Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barak Obama, just so you know I’m not trying to float any political agenda here. By Dawkins reasoning, idiots every one.

Speaking of Barak Obama, I was listening to BBC again this afternoon as I was running some errands, and they had an Israeli poet (didn’t catch his name) who read an open letter to the President–elect. He talked about what an incredible thing it is to witness an African American becoming president of the United States. He said, “Generations upon generations of people have called things impossible until someone came along and did it, and then it became possible.”

And he’s right!

Belief in improbable things is not the mark of an idiot. It is the way that the world has always moved forward. Its the way we discovered the world wasn’t flat, and the way we discovered that the sun, and not the earth is the center of the solar system (which of course is why its called the SOLAR system) and its the way we put a man on the moon. And, sorry, but I get a bit annoyed when some scientist professes that he only subscribes to facts and logic and that scientists never pursue illogical ideas because they do it all the time!

All systems of belief, whether its Darwinian evolution or creationism or intellegent design require a degree of faith. Since science in the truest sense of the word is the study of that which is based on observable facts, it is impossible for any theory of origins to be rightly called “science” as no one can possibly observe the origin of the universe (for much better treatment of this than you’ll get here, see “Who Made God” by Ravi Zacherias and Norman Geisler).

In Ben Stein’s (who is Jewish by the way) recent movie “Exposed” he shows how the scientific community has closed ranks and “blacklists” anyone who even mentions the words “intelligent design.” He closes the film with an interview with Dawkins. And he asks him how he thinks life on earth began.

Dawkins answer? Aliens. Or in his words, “One very intriguing theory is that highly evolved, very intelligent life forms ‘seeded’ or planted life on earth.” They flew space ships here, opened up a petri dish and poured out some bacteria, and then went home to watch.

Now, I don’t have ANY problem with a person believing in evolution (or aliens for that matter). If that’s where you think the evidence points, then fine. But I do mind when people try to hide their animosity towards faith behind the pretense of intelligence, as if arrogant barbs will suddenly awake Christendom from its stupor and it will dawn on us that not a SINGLE ONE OF US in 2000+ years of the faith’s existence HAS EVER ACTUALLY THOUGHT ABOUT WHAT WE BELIEVE OR EXPLORED THE VALIDITY OF THE BIBLE and we will finally pull our heads out of our butticles and come to our senses.

Like I said, its amazing some of the cockamamie things people believe.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Dog Days

Back in the day when men were nomadic, hunter–gatherers (like in the 60’s), moving wasn’t such a big deal. Because back then the only thing anyone owned was a few sharpened rocks used mostly for stabbing bears, and a wife, used mostly for figuring out what to do with the bear once it was stabbed. When they had stabbed all the bears in a particular area, these hunter–gatherer types loaded the kids into the VW micro–bus and headed off to the next hunting sight, often conveniently located near a venue where the Grateful Dead was performing.

But in the 21st century things have become far more complicated. Moving, for us westerners (by which I mean people that know everything there is to know about the love life of Brad Pitt but that upon hearing that Russia had invaded Georgia, feared that Mississippi might be next), involves the concentrated efforts of a group of people roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey and causes us so much stress that people who are otherwise quite nice suddenly become grumpier than a Russian President. Which is quite grumpy. Just ask any Georgian.

Take me for instance.

I’m usually a pretty nice, and pleasant guy. But put me in the middle of moving, and suddenly the slightest hick–up in “the plan” and I start to come unraveled as though I were being interviewed by Katie Couric.

For instance, we have a German Shepherd named Rambo that we thought we would have to have put to sleep on account of the fact that he is quite old, completely insane (which we know because when he gets stressed out he starts running around the yard with a cinder block in his mouth) and we hadn’t found anyone to take him off our hands. But at the last minute some missionary friends from Lusaka said they would take him, which meant we would have to make the 7 hr. drive with Rambo in the back of the car. I was not pleased as I was sure that Rambo would eat our Landcruiser before we got to Lusaka. And then what would we do?

I felt like running around the yard with a cinder block in my mouth.

But we finally got Rambo under control (with a little help from the local pharmacy), and were on our way.

Things went smoothly until we came to a police check point, and I misinterpreted the very vague hand signal of the officer to mean “continue on” when in fact he meant to signal us to stop. After which I was informed that I could have been given a very hefty fine for such an act of defiance, a fine which I think the officer was ready to give to me until he saw Rambo in the back.

“This dog looks like he wants to get out!” he said, and waved us on with the very same hand signal that five minutes prior was supposed to mean “stop.”

An hour or so later we got a call from some missionary friends who had hit a dog in the road (who I suspect was committing suicide over the discovery that he was in fact a dog) and had damaged their radiator. They would need us to tow them the 200 kilometers to Lusaka, and that would mean adding another 2 to 3 hours to our trip as we would only be able to travel about half the speed limit.

My love for dogs was increasing by the minute.

Soon we found our friends, waited for the local welder to fashion us a tow bar, and we were on our way. We arrived in Lusaka about 7pm last night, and by then my stress quotient had been fully reached, which I know because my prayer life by then had been reduced to, “Dear God, make it stop.”

But looking back my stress was entirely unfounded. Rambo did not eat the Landcruiser, and in fact probably kept me out of jail, as I was very close to telling a police officer that he needed to go back to hand signal school.

Rambo is now at his new home, with all the cinder blocks he needs for a happy existence. We are safely in Lusaka. And just as I was coming to the end of my rope, we came to the end of 2008.

Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself,” (Matt. 6:34).

Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t genuine reasons to worry. Surely, there are. In fact there are enough good reasons to worry that we don’t need to add to it, by worrying about what may happen (either tomorrow or today).

I don’t usually make resolutions because, well I hardly ever keep them. But today I am quite aware that I could do a better job of worrying less, loving dogs more (though you will have to pray for me on that one), and living a simpler life.

Not that I intend to take up bear hunting or anything.