•August 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

What follows is a collection of moments, glimpses into my life since returning from my summer holiday in the U.S. a month ago. Some are funny, some are serious, some from school, and some from play. This is #life.

He walked into the room, said hi, and sat down across from me. He was average height, dark complexioned – maybe of Arab or Indiana background, had a tattoo on each arm, and dressed casually, yet with a nice flair. First impressions are everything, right? The facts that he was from Canada, was new in Tanzania, and was doing research on business and retail in Tanzania were the only things I knew about him before agreeing to meet for a drink. We chatted about university, skiing and snowboarding, the differences between American and Tanzanian culture, and the impossibility of getting consistent internet service. It was a pleasant conversation, giving no hint of the inked battle taking place on the table. His left arm had a large tattoo in Arabic, translating roughly to “only Allah is god” while my left wrist displayed my core beliefs: “Love God; Love People.” I laughed silently at the irony of it all before continuing to explain what it was that had brought me to Tanzania.

“Alright! Today we are going to start reading and acting out act one of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” 

Within moments, the entire class was doubled over laughing in the embarrassment of reading lines like, “Kiss me, George!” and the irony of playing roles of the opposite sex. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a comedy, and like many comedies, offers a blazing critique of its contemporary culture masked in laughter. Amid the fun of acting out the play, students experienced the “thought bomb” of humor being a prime vehicle for communicating truth and the realization of the extremes that people will go to in avoiding reality.

Floating on the outskirts of the Dar Yacht Club is an abandoned yacht, the “African Rhythm.” The myths surrounding its history are as numerous as the people who refuse to go anywhere near it, but being up for an adventure, a group of five girls decided to swim out to the yacht for some snacks and free diving. We loaded up a surfboard with a drybag packed full of snacks, cameras, and drinks, then pulled on our fins and snorkels for the swim. On the way, people in much larger and nicer yachts invited us to join them, but we paddled on to our destination. Upon arriving, we found that though in disrepair, the “African Rhythm” was a perfect place to hang out, and allowed us to eat, rest, and then dive down underneath to see batfish and other marine life swimming in the shadow of the yacht.

School. Day one.

With a new principal and a new school year, I laid out my clothes the night before with the aim of being professional. Admittedly, I often opt for comfort over professionalism, but was determined to start the year strong. I pulled out my black skinny dress pants from Gap, a v-neck top, and beaded sandals. When I arrived at school, I was confident and ready to start the year strong. About half-way through the day, while making copies in the admin building, I was called into the principal’s office.

“You need to not wear tights to school.”

I was stunned. “Uh, but these aren’t tights,” I started to protest and then gathered my thoughts. “Okay. I won’t wear them again.”

So much for confidence.

I was so excited. We were going diving, and heading out on a deep dive, which, being further from the coast, meant that the visibility and marine life would be better. I had my brand-new GoPro and dive mask, and was ready to give it a try and get some sick photos and videos of the dive. As we dropped into the water and I reached up to turn my camera on, I realized with a sinking feeling that I hadn’t turned the sound back on, meaning that I couldn’t tell, without looking at the camera, whether it was powered on, or even what mode it was in. And because the camera attaches directly to my dive mask, to put the camera in a place I could see it would mean removing my mask, thus removing my chance of seeing anything at all. Oops. Camera fail #1. I continued to attempt to operate the camera blindly (or perhaps “mutely” would be the better term) in hopes that I would get at least a bit of video or a few photos. At the end of the dive, after climbing back into the boat, I checked my camera to at least see how much footage I had gotten…only to see that the battery was dead. Camera fail #2.

The next week, on the yacht swim and free dive, I again had high hopes of getting some cool footage. I had a fresh battery and was ready to go (I still hadn’t turned the sound on, but that was manageable because we were just free diving, and therefore going up and down). I made repeated dives under the yacht, took pictures of batfish and a giant white jellyfish, then took the time to actually check the camera. FULL. What? I make a habit of clearing my card every time I use it. There was no way I could have possibly filled a card in just twenty minutes. So when I returned home that evening, I investigated the matter to realize that because my normal photo-editing and organization software didn’t like the card format, I had merely been deleting the pictures on the computer without emptying the “trash,” thus not truly removing the past images from the card. Camera fail #3.

Maybe next time will be better?

“I’m concerned about your involvement in the church. You seem withdrawn. Let’s meet for coffee and talk about it.”

So we did. Once again, my willingness to invest and be involved in church was questioned. Its happened before, in churches in Indiana, and now in Tanzania. Its not that I don’t want to be involved, I try. Usually, at least.

As we chatted, it became evident that it was not my involvement in question so much as it was the ways I was and wasn’t involved. Lately, I’ve been setting up and running the sound system during services, and have made it a point to attend on a regular basis. But after church, when everyone hangs around, drinks coffee, and “fellowships,” I prefer to just sit on the steps and watch.

Its the same every time.

I hate mingling.

And all churches do it.

This expectation of talking to people and wandering through a large group, just to insert yourself into a smaller group and make small talk.

I used to try and be extroverted.

Now I know its not worth it.

And so I am “uninvolved.”

But its not just churches. Its graduation open houses. Its school faculty parties. Its large groups of people in social settings. Put me in front of a group of 300 people for a lesson or message of some kind, I’m fine. Put me in a small group of 5-10 people, I’m fine. Put me in a crowd where I’m not expected to mingle, I’m fine. Put me in that “mingling” environment, and I’d rather just find a hole to hide in.

We had a wonderful time drinking coffee together, and in explaining this, I once again learned more about myself. Funny how self-realization sometimes comes most when trying to explain something to someone else, and all of a sudden the pieces just come together in your mind and so many things all begin to make sense.

I almost killed a person.

It wasn’t my fault.

I always drive on high-alert here.

There is no place for ADHD when driving in Dar.

Especially at night.

But, as I’m driving along, squinting to see the blackness of the road against the glaring high-beams of oncoming traffic, a man standing on the side of the road with his bicycle looked directly at me then proceeded to run out in front of me.

I clenched my front brake as hard as I could with my right hand, and stomped down on the rear brake. My tires were skidding and the rear of the bike threatened to slide sideways. The man hesitated just for a moment squarely in front of me, then weaved between lanes and disappeared into the blackness.

The thought sickened me. Two seconds slower on my brakes, two mph faster, anything…I would have hit and seriously injured him…and possibly killed him.

No wonder my stomach is a mess and my shoulders and neck are always tight…

Hey, so I hope you enjoyed a little glimpse into my life over the last month! It was fun for me to write… and maybe I’ll add more in the coming months!


HOPAC 2014-2015: Day One

•August 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Its a wrap. The first day of school is done and over. And all in all, it was far less chaotic than I expected. Maybe its because I’m getting better at planning with the advent of my fourth year of teaching, but I find that unlikely. In all reality, it is simply helpful to be starting a second year at the same school with some idea of how classes and schedules and such should flow. So despite overlooking a few copies, and constantly double-checking class schedules, and learning new names, it was a great start to the year.

A few things I’m looking forward to or excited about (or both!!) this year at HOPAC:

1. Grade 11 Homeroom

This year, I am one of four homeroom teachers for grade 11. We have 35 students in the class, sixteen of which are new to HOPAC this year. Having run the gauntlet of having no idea what the expected structure for homeroom should be last year, I brainstormed a plan for this year:

Mashup Monday What did you do this weekend? Tell a story or show a photo… Prayer Requests and prayer for the class.

Truth Tuesday - Ask me any question.

Wisdom Wednesday Readings from A Life Well Lived, by Tommy Nelson

Throwback Thursday Just like homeroom used to be…a free-for-all

Happy Friday Share a breakfast treat each week

I’m excited about getting know new students and reconnecting with students from last year. At the same time, I found myself missing students from this class who moved on at the end of last year, students who are now studying in Belgium, Arusha, Ireland, and Germany. I’m looking forward to reading through A Life Well Lived and instigating discussion on what it means to live well in 2014.

2. Teaching Familiar Material

I have to admit, I’m pretty thrilled to be teaching classes that are very similar to the ones I taught last year. There were points last year when I felt like the students had a better grasp of the end goal (exams) than I did. This year, I’ve been through it once, I know how the school calendar is designed, I have experienced exams, seen how last year’s students performed, and have lots of great ideas for improving my instruction the second time around. Instead of teaching twelve brand-new texts, I have nine repeated texts, and only three new ones. I’ve already created, been through, and now redesigned a curriculum for ninth grade Service Learning instead of starting completely from scratch. Its going to be a good year.

3. Young Life

Towards the end of last year, I started to be involved with the Young Life club at HOPAC. This year, I’m looking forward to once again being a part of Young Life, and the intentional discipling of students that accompanies being a Young Life leader. And besides, who doesn’t enjoy singing silly banana songs, having fun with teenagers, and sharing God’s stories?! Oh yeah, and getting photos with mongeese (is that the plural of mongoose?). ;)


I’m sure there are other things that I should be excited about, but those are the things that come to mind at the moment. I just know this is going to be an awesome year at HOPAC.

This is #LIFE2014.

Longing for More

•August 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment


I recently finished reading Till We Have Faces, one of C.S. Lewis’ less-famous works of fiction. Aside from gradually becoming enthralled with it, this piece made me think. Aside from Lewis’ portrayal of humanity, self-knowledge, and the natural corruption of human love, I found various passages which lent themselves to spiritual analogy:

“This,” she said, “I have always — at least, ever since I can remember — had a kind of longing for death.”

“Ah, Psyche,” I said, “have I made you so little happy as that?”

“No, no, no,” she said. “You don’t understand. Not that kind of longing. It was when I was happiest that I longed most. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine . . . where you couldn’t see Glome or the palace. Do you remember? The colour and the smell, and looking across at the Grey Mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come! But I couldn’t (not yet) come and I didn’t know where I was to come to. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home.”

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing— to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from— my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back. All my life the god of the Mountain has been wooing me. Oh, look up once at least before the end and wish me joy. I am going to my lover. Do you not see now — ?”

I too have some sense of this longing. When I sit on the beach and look out over the Indian Ocean, or when I sit on a galloping horse, eyes closed, and arms outstretched, or when I lie in the grass staring up at the stars at night, I sense the longing that Lewis attributed to Psyche. But unlike Psyche, mine is not an empty longing. I know without a doubt that I was indeed created for something more. I know the One who embodies beauty and Who has created all beauty. I know that I have a great Lover who is wooing me and calling me to Himself. Yet I do not always hold this longing in mind, because those moments of longing are few and far between. They do not make up the majority of my days. No, indeed, the majority of my days is consumed with the here and now, the Glome of this world, shrouded in darkness.

May I always remember this longing and “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, setting my mind on things that are above, not on things on this earth…for my life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).

Year Two

•August 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I arrived back in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania late Tuesday evening to begin year two of life in Tanzania as an English Literature teacher at Haven of Peace Academy. Aside from the the inevitable jet lag, depression, broken motorcycle, and setbacks that come with extreme culture and time shifts, I am starting to get excited about the year ahead. I have just a few more days to wait before the results from last year’s exams are released and I am able to see how students performed. I am enjoying being back in sunny, warm, tropical weather. I am glad to get to hang out with my puppy again. But, I also know now that this is my last year here in Tanzania. At least for awhile.

That knowledge has the potential to make this year, in the words of Charles Dickens, “the best of times and the worst of times.” The temptation I see already is to look ahead to the end of the year, to next year and life “at home.” While there is something to be said for planning ahead, this mindset can only be a hindrance to my life here. Because if I’m thinking about Indiana, the culture differences become far harsher. I’ve seen the consequences of this already, as I boarded the plane from Zurich to Dar and was seated beside an East African man. Throughout the flight, he left trash lying around the floor near his seat, something that is culturally acceptable here. To be honest, I wanted to punch him (so culture shock might be a little worse the second time around…). Driving into town the last few days has been a trying experience as well, as numerous close calls with other vehicles (something to be expected) left me clenching the side of the car with white knuckles and a pounding heart. These are things that are normal here, things that I experienced on a daily basis last year. Things that I will experience on a daily basis this year. So in short, I cannot live life here focused on what life is like “back home.” It is impossible and will make this year miserable.

The exciting part though, about knowing I have one year left, is that I can “leave it all on the field.” And that is my goal for this year. To embrace the perspective of Jim Elliot in being all in wherever I am. And for this year, I am in Tanzania, East Africa. I am placed in a unique position to work with students of varying cultures, religions, and family backgrounds. I have the opportunity to walk to the beach for the sunrise in the morning, and wade through the floods of rainy season. I have the chance to learn a language and culture that is not my own–and to grow because of that. And if that means racing white-knuckled through hair-raising traffic, then so be it. It might take me a bit to readjust to some of the terrors of life here, but as soon as I get my motorcycle back on the road, I’m willing to give it a try.

100%. All in. Nothing left.

Chocolate Blessings

•July 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment


Flying internationally is a prime example of the continued separation of the classes. As the majority of us are herded to our seats, we pass the luxurious business and first class seats, opulent recliners and couches mocking the stock car seating in the rear of the plane. And somewhere, deep down inside, a small glimmer of hope begins to burn. A fleeting and simple desire for that one benevolent gift from the airport gods–an upgrade. Facing nearly twenty hours of flight time can cause one to become irritable and antisocial, clinging to that hidden hope, or even the small chance that the seat next to one’s own remains empty.

As I boarded my flight in Chicago, my hopes were dashed. A small and withered man was sitting in the seat next to mine, his legs neatly folded and baggage carefully stowed. We exchanged no words as I took my seat, and exhaustion overwhelmed as I drifted into a restless slumber. At some point near the middle of our flight, a flight attendant woke my elder companion and beckoned him into the elusive business class cabin. My jealousy gave way to some small sense of satisfaction in knowing that I could stretch out into the adjoining seat for the remainder of the flight.

To think that I was that close to getting the ever-elusive upgrade, that the gentleman in the seat next to mine had been chosen. Of course, it was only right that he, being older, be given priority, but still I was a bit envious. I attempted to console myself in sleep, and awkwardly leaned over the armrest for a few more minutes before once again rearranging myself in a vain struggle for comfort.

Immediately prior to beginning our descent into Zurich, the man returned, holding a neat bag of Swiss chocolate. To my surprise, he offered the chocolates to me in well-wishes for my assumed holidays in Europe. When I explained that I was actually returning from holidays in the U.S. to resume teaching in Tanzania, a small friendship was formed that kept us chatting cordially until landing in Zurich.

It may not be every day that the hope of an upgrade passes so closely, but it is also not every day that a kind old gentleman gives a bag of Swiss chocolates to a stranger. I say, count your blessings…and your chocolate!


•July 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been back in Indiana for almost a month, and in so many ways, I feel at home again. Its a nice feeling. I love the quiet nights and wide open cornfields and country roads. I love riding bicycles and motorcycles and working at the bike shop. I love hanging out with friends and family and going to church and college group. All that being said, I’ve also had some cool learning experiences while being back.

Earlier this week, one of my co-workers and I went mountain biking after work. Al’s single objective for the evening was to get me over some of the larger log rolls, and teach me to jump my bike. Though I’ve been mountain biking for several years, and tend to ride with the fast-paced group, I aways skip the larger obstacles. But Al was convinced I could successfully ride them….without crashing. As we approached the first log roll, a pile of logs no more than three feet high, I freaked out on the inside. I’ve wrecked before. I know what it feels to go flying over my handlebars and land in a heap in the dirt. There was no way I could ever get my front tire up and over that pile of logs–much less the rest of my bike. I tried to calm the minions wreaking havoc in my chest as I watched Al go sailing smoothly over the log roll–effortlessly. Now it was my turn. I got on my bike and started pedaling towards the obstacle–and started second-guessing myself. When I did, I lost momentum, and rolled up the logs only to come to a precarious halt at the top of the pile–saved from crashing only by Al’s quick reflexes in holding me up.

I tend to do that a lot. Second-guessing, that is.

Just tonight, at college group, we were discussing our tendencies as individuals to be either cautious or risk-takers. I tend to be more of a risk-taker. I ride motorcycles. I ride bicycles down somewhat busy streets. I live overseas. I ride horses. I rock climb.

But when it comes to relationships, responsibility, and decisions, I second guess that risk-taking instinct. Constantly.

What if it doesn’t work out? What if I fail? What if that isn’t God’s will for me? What if that’s just the easy way out? What if people criticize me? What if I don’t make a difference?

On and on it goes.

And over and over, I ride up to the log roll only to come to a precarious halt at the top–frozen by fear of the “what if.” And on Monday night, when Al stood there on that log roll and caught me before I fell, I realized how paralyzing that fear actually was. Al was probably the only person who could have coached me over those log rolls. With anyone else, I would have made up lame excuses to avoid trying, if only to avoid letting them see just how scared I really was. But for some reason, I let my guard down and allowed Al to see my fear in all of its paralyzing reality. I was nearly hyperventilating from my effort to squash down the fear enough for a full-fledged attempt at the log roll. But he kept on encouraging me to commit. To give it my all, with no option of retreat.

And when I gritted my teeth and refused to second-guess myself, when I went all-in, with no “outs,” I made it over the log roll with ease. From there, we moved on to other log rolls. Some, I made it over. Some, I didn’t.

But I faced my fear.

And more importantly, I saw the consequences of second-guessing and fear.

Looking ahead, I have a number of important decisions to make. As I do so, I have to remember that God, in His grace and sovereignty, has given me a few guidelines to follow–but has given me the freedom to choose within those guidelines. As Solomon in Ecclesiastes put it (as outlined by Tommy Nelson): Do Right. Be Poised. Be Bold. Enjoy Life. Another author, Kevin DeYoung, also noted when considering the will of God:

“The decision to be in God’s will is not the choice between Memphis or Fargo or engineering or art; it’s the daily decision we face to seek God’s kingdom or ours, submit to His lordship or not, live according to His rules or our own. The question God cares about most is not ‘Where should I live?’ but ‘Do I love the Lord with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, and do I love my neighbor as myself?’ (Luke 10:27) It’s that second question that gets to the heart of God’s will for your life” (DeYoung 2009).

I don’t have to second-guess. I don’t have to live in fear of the what-if.

Simply put, so long as I am loving God and loving people, then, well…”Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

And if life is anything like mountain biking, then such an approach will typically end with positive results.

I’d Rather Not Say Goodbye

•June 20, 2014 • 3 Comments

I’d rather not say goodbye.

Even though saying goodbye is normal.

In 2001, when I went with my brother to Miracle Mountain Ranch for a week of summer camp, my life changed forever. For the next nine years, my summers were a fast-spinning montage of strong friendships bonded in the forge of being summer camp staff, followed by tearful goodbyes.

Sometimes the “Ranch” felt more like home than home.

Sometimes my friends and mentors at camp felt more like family than family.

So at the start of every summer, I said goodbye to Indiana, and hello to Pennsylvania. And at the end of the summer, I said goodbye to Pennsylvania in order to go back to Indiana. When I finally returned to Indiana more permanently after two full years at the Miracle Mountain Ranch School of Discipleship, I spent three long years finding my place, only to move to Tanzania nearly as soon as Indiana felt like home. Now its time to say goodbye once again as students, staff, and friends leave–some only for the holidays, others permanently. I too am preparing to return to Indiana for a month to visit home, family, and friends.

Sometimes though, Tanzania feels more like home than Indiana.

Sometimes I fear whether my friends in Indiana will still be the friends that made it feel like home.

I wonder sometimes if all the goodbyes throughout my teenage years was part of God’s preparation for me to live in a place where relationships tend to be very transient. Expatriates come and go constantly. Friendships too, come and go. It is part of life as an expat. But even so, when the goodbyes begin, when people start hugging and crying and sharing last minute memories, I just want to leave. I hide behind my camera, or in my office. I slip out of the back of the room, escaping the emotion of the moment. Its not just at the big events, either. Even at house parties during the year, when its just goodbye for the night, or until next weekend, I prefer to slip away unnoticed. Because I’d rather not say goodbye. Some people say that they “hate” goodbyes, but I just avoid them.

Years of saying goodbye has taught me that it is easier to just not say it at all.

So for those who come and go from my life, know that you are loved–even if I don’t say goodbye.

Instead, I’ll see you later. Somewhere, sometime. Peace.

Until next time…

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