GET INVOLVED: 2017 HOPAC Young Life Camp

•November 3, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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One of my very favorite parts of every year here is Young Life camp. I’ve been involved in camp ministry for nearly 17 years now, and credit the time I spent at camp as a teen with a huge part of who I am as a Christian. This year, HOPAC’s Young Life Camp will be taking place January 27-29, 2017 in Morogoro. We (myself and Frank and Heidi Sanchez, my co-leaders with HOPAC Young Life) need your help to make this happen.

Ways you can be involved:

  • PRAY: For the logistics and planning of camp. This includes bringing in speakers, people to run the program, arranging transportation, games and activities for the camp, camp volunteers, etc.
  • PRAY: For students to be excited about camp, and to come! (Last year, we had our biggest camp ever, going from 17 to students to 70 students–and we are praying for even more this year!)
  • SPONSOR A BUS: A single bus costs approximately $100. Last year, we hired five buses. This year, we are hoping to have even more students–so would need even more buses! By getting the buses paid for, we are able to keep the cost for students low–enabling more students to come. Maybe you or your company can sponsor one or more buses for camp this year?
  • SPONSOR A TEEN: The cost for a student to attend camp is approximately $75 (not including the cost of the bus). Some students come from extremely low-income families, but would still love to come to camp. Maybe you or your company can sponsor a student’s camp fee this year?

To Sponsor a Bus or a Teen:  On the Young Life Giving website: https://www.younglife.org/Giving/Pages/GiveOnline.aspx, search for the Area Account Number (X466), which should take you to my giving page. Once there, select the appropriate options (one-time gift), enter your payment information, and designate the gift as BUS or TEEN CAMP SPONSORSHIP. This allows the necessary people in the finance department to appropriately designate those funds. Thank you!

Dredz & Priorities: Setting it Straight

•November 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

For the last month, I’ve been investing time and energy and money into starting dreadlocks in my hair. I’m inspired by the uber-cool Hawaiian-surfer-types with long, neat dreadlocks. I’m also inspired by my uber-cool Tanzanian friends with awesome dreadlocks of various lengths and styles. But mostly, I’m inspired by the supposed carefree lifestyle of the dreadheads (no not the pot-smoking part…I’m not into that: at. all). What nobody tells you is that it is a lifestyle. But its not carefree.

Having uber-cool dreadlocks means going to the salon every weekend to get them tightened. It means not swimming or surfing or getting your head wet. It means covering your head with a cap of some kind to protect the dreads under your helmet.

No, having dreads is not carefree. Its a. lot. of. work.

And maybe that changes after they are fully locked and set and there. But after a month, I realized that rather than my lifestyle dictating my hairstyle, my hairstyle was dictating my lifestyle. And that. is. not. cool.

So I’m done.

If the dreads I have stay, awesome. If they all fall out because I chose to go stand up paddleboarding after Bible study tonight and watch the sun set from the Indian Ocean, then I’m really okay with that. I would rather live the life I want to live and have un-cool hair, than have uber cool hair and have no life at all.

Priorities, people.

And my priority will always be lifestyle over hairstyle. Always. Dreads or no dreads.

#liveyourlife

Time to Refresh

•October 16, 2016 • 2 Comments

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I’ve been feeling disconnected
Like my service is extended
Life’s a losing game of charades
This drama it goes on for days
I’m faking, but I’m not making
Crushed by pressure unrelenting
It’s unraveling bit by bit
The strands of which my heart is knit
I feel nothing, my tears all cried
No longer breathing, dead inside
Vain attempts at prayer elusive
God I need a revolution.

Deep inside unspoken broken
It’s raw, uncensored, outspoken
Why have you left me here alone
God, please meet me in this unknown
Breaths of whispered prayers not unheard
My sight my speech with tears are blurred
Right where it’s hardest to believe
Asking for a little reprieve
Drought parched soul, starving for hope
Roots dig down, for water I grope
Wrestling, pushing into the pain,
I’m seeking you God, please send rain

Sunrise startling, breaking forth light
It’s just a glimpse, obscured from sight
I’ve been choosing joy in habit
The next right thing, gotta do it
Wait! A twitching nerve, pain I feel
numbness gone, I’ve begun to heal
Soul rhythms drop hope on repeat
Your perfect peace my soul’s heartbeat
If only my eyes are fixed on You
Your presence greater than the blue
Singing and dancing in the rain
Let thanksgiving be my refrain

An Adventure Worth Telling (Part 2)

•October 16, 2016 • 1 Comment

Continued from An Adventure Worth Telling (Part 1)

“Not all who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

The Louvre

The Louvre

In keeping with the Tolkien theme, this aptly describes how I spent the remainder of my time in Paris. After heading back to the apartment to shower and empty my backpack of dirty clothes, T. and I set out for a wander through some of the most popular tourist sites in Paris: the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Arc de Triumphe, the Eiffel Tower, etc. Because this was not T.’s first time in Paris, and she had already been on a tour of the city earlier in the week, she was my guide for the day as we walked from point to point. One of the key stops in our journey was a bookstore, Shakespeare & Co., recommended by my housemate in Dar. It had all the charm of Daunt Books in London, but in a smaller space and with less of an emphasis on travel books. I bought a few books to add to my collection, including Le Prince Petit, in French, as I made it my goal earlier in the year to continue learning French so that I can eventually read that particular book in French. Because why not? After arriving at the Eiffel Tower, we then waited in a nearby cafe for sunset so that I could take night photos of the tower, and see it sparkle (they have a second set of lights that blink/sparkle once each hour). The wait was well worth it—Paris by night is pretty cool!

The Eiffel Tower at night

The Eiffel Tower at night

Love & Locks & Lights

Love & Locks & Lights

On Thursday morning, I set out for Paris Bike Co., where I had made arrangements via e-mail on the previous day to rent a road bike for the day. When I got there, I discovered that the owner, Sam, was another Midwest transplant, originally being from Ohio before moving to L.A. and then Paris. He set me up with a carbon Cannondale, found a pair of old Sidi’s in my size that I could use for the day, and even filled two bottles with water for my ride. After a few adjustments to saddle height and position, I was on my way. The morning was absolutely frigid, so I had to resort to pulling my cycling shorts on over my leggings for a bit of extra warmth. I was certainly regretting not having gloves or insulated cycling gear. Regardless, the day riding was incredible, and certainly one of my highlights of the trip! I followed Google Maps directions (much more challenging at cycling speeds in a busy city!) to Versailles, finding some challenging climbs, epic views, smooth bike paths, and even some rough dirt paths more suited to a cx or mountain bike than the nice road bike I was on, along the way. When I got to Versailles, I cycled around the lake, stopped to take a few pictures, and then went into the small cafe for another croissant and a coffee and to sit underneath the heater and thaw my hands and feet for a bit. On my return journey, I meandered through random Paris streets, found some street art, and eventually turned back to the shop towards the end of the afternoon (after it started raining, making some of the cobblestone streets quite slippery!). Sam and I sat and talked bikes for a good while after I got back, and then I took his suggestion to hang out in the “hip” part of Paris (near the Bastille / Le Republique) for the remainder of the evening before meeting Friend M., yet another friend I first met in Tanzania, for a drink at 8:30. Along my way, I tried a crepe with Nutella and strawberries (delicious!) and tried my hand at night street photography.

One of the bike paths on my ride to Versailles

One of the bike paths on my ride to Versailles

Friday was my last day in Paris, so T. and I decided to try out a free tour with www.discoverwalks.com. The tour was of the Montmartre area of Paris, and our guide, Olivier, was excellent. He was charming, knowledgeable, and entertaining—everything a guide should be. But more interesting was the history of the Montmartre area that he shared with us. Apparently, Montmartre is a word that originally meant the “mountain of martyrs,” because during Roman times, the hill was where all of the crucifixions were carried out. One famous martyr was St. Denis, who, legend has it, was being led up the hill to be crucified, but along the way, the Roman guards got tired of climbing and just chopped his head off instead. He didn’t die, but picked up his head, finished climbing to the top of the hill, and then walked down the other side, head in his hands. When he reached a small village (now named after him), he handed his head to a girl, told her to build a church, and then died. Regardless of the truth of the story, there is now a large Basilica in that village and there are pictures and statues of St. Denis all over Paris. In addition, Montmartre used to be outside of the original Paris city wall, so it maintained a much more village-like feel, and even now is known for its sense of community. There is a word that the citizens of Montmartre use to describe themselves, something I can’t remember, but it is different than Parisian, and speaks to that small-town feel that is still present even today. The tour ended at the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur, an iconic church that to Parisians is still a symbol of the 15,000 Parisians killed in three days in 1871 after revolting against the national government. The church was built by the king to remind the Parisians of his power (at the time it could be seen from the entirety of Paris), and to give them a place to repent of their sin of rebellion. I learned more in a single ninety-minute tour than I did during the rest of my stay in Paris, and found it extremely interesting! After lunch with T., I wandered, camera in hand, towards Le Republique and Belleville in search of more street art. I found street art, attempted some rainy day street photography, and even watched what seemed to be a gang fight go down before I made my way back to the apartment for a last shower and to pack my bag for my flight back to Dar.

Street Art & Bicycles

Street Art & Bicycles

Next time, who wants to adventure with me? Because, in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien:

“The biggest adventure is what lies ahead.”

An Adventure Worth Telling (Part 1)

•October 16, 2016 • 1 Comment

“It simply isn’t an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Though there were certainly points of my trip where I was struggling to embrace this mindset, I do wholeheartedly agree with Tolkien. Stories, and the conflicts that make them, are what make adventure so much fun. And what is life without a bit of danger? My mother probably cringes to be reminded of such risk-taking life mottos, but I am but one of the children she raised–who, for the most part, all enjoy a bit of adventure.

This past week’s adventure was a very last-minute trip to Paris. It was a trip that a friend (Friend Z. so this doesn’t get too confusing) and I had been dreaming and talking about for months, but our original intention had been to travel France and Spain together for a week in April 2017. Things happened, as they tend to do, and that wasn’t going to be a possibility, so the next best thing was for me to fly to Paris during my midterm break, spend as much time as possible hanging out together in Paris, and make the best of it. So a week before the start of midterm break, I went online and booked some surprisingly cheap tickets from Dar to Paris. In the days that followed, I attempted to make some kind of plan for my trip. One friend, another teacher in Tanzania (let’s call her T. for simplicity), offered to let me join her at her AirBnB reservation for the week. Friend Z. ended up having to work most of the week, so we could only hang out for one day. I googled (I think that’s a word now? If its not, it should be…) things to do in Paris for free or for cheap, as well as potential adventure-ish activities. Less than 24 hours before my departure, I purchased train tickets to Italy and Germany to visit friends. With something like six hours of sleep in 48 hours, I boarded my overnight flight to Paris via Addis Abba on Saturday afternoon with only a vague sketch of my plans for the next week, but eager for whatever adventures the week held.

I arrived in Paris early Sunday morning and immediately bought a SIM card and data coverage for my phone. If I was going to navigate a city where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t have any pre-planned destinations, I needed Google. Once I was online, I contacted both Z. and T., and arranged to drop my larger backpack at the AirBnB apartment before meeting Z. for our sole day together. Getting from point A to B to C should have been relatively simple–after all, I had Google Maps (which, btw, is AWESOME in cities with public transit!). The trouble began when I attempted to get an Uber to the apartment to save time. Having never used Uber before, I found myself on a street corner waiting for a car that never came (and that I somehow paid 3€ for), unable to explain my situation to the French passerby who stopped to see why I looked lost, and wondering if I should have just walked in the first place. Eventually, I tried again, and the second Uber driver appeared, was a complete gentleman, and even spoke a bit of English! I found the apartment, dropped my larger backpack, re-packed my small backpack for the next three days, and walked with T. to Gare de l’Est to meet Z.

Gare du l'Est in Paris

Gare du l’Est in Paris

Z. had moved from Dar to a village just outside of Paris about a week before my trip to Paris, and still did not have a SIM card for her phone, but we had planned to meet at the train station at 10:00. I arrived just before 10:00, and discovered there was wifi, so attempted to contact Z. just in case she had arrived before me and was online. No such luck. I wandered around the station for about an hour, eventually planting myself near the free piano (France has a brilliant thing going with the pianos in public spaces!) that was being played by some fantastic pianist who took a bit of time out of their day to give everyone a free concert, hoping that when Z. got to the station, she would be drawn to the music and find me. The surprising thing about that plan is that it worked! We found each other, Googled the address of the climbing gym that was our destination for the day, and took another Uber to the gym. We climbed until neither of us could climb anymore, then slowly walked back towards the station, stopping for sandwiches along the way. I left Z. when she boarded her train, and then made my way to Gare de Lyon, where I got a coffee and croissant before boarding my overnight train to Italy.

Climbing at Mur Mur in Paris with Z.

Climbing at Mur Mur in Paris with Z.

At some point during the night, curled up under the blanket provided by the train as well as the masaii shuka that I brought with me from Tanzania, I opened my eyes and peered around at the other six bunks in the small space where we were all sleeping. As I did, I realized that there was someone standing in the door handing passports back to the other passengers. But my passport was still in my jacket. No one had asked for it when I boarded, nor for my ticket. I knew that we had already stopped at both border crossings, so at this point, I assumed that I was now traveling somewhat illegally, not having gotten any entrance or exit stamps in my passport. However, I didn’t know what to do about it, nor was I able to ask questions in French or Italian, so I just kept quiet. (I later learned that passport stamps aren’t required or given when traveling by train between countries due to the European Union agreement, or something like that.). One by one the other passengers disembarked, until, at our final destination, I was the only one of the six passengers left in our “cabin” (I don’t know what the little boxes on the trains are called). I was now in Vicenza, Italy.

I turned the data back on for my phone and contacted Friend J., one of my younger brother’s best friends, who was stationed in Vicenza for the time being. We found each other at the train station, and set off to find breakfast, see the city, and hang out for the next six hours before my next train. At this point, I was very relieved to see someone from home and someone who spoke English. We stopped in a small cafe near the Basilica for croissants and expresso, then made our way to the Santuario di Monte Berico, a church on the top of a hill. As legend goes, during the time of the plague in Italy, a woman had a vision from God that if she built a church on the hill, the plague in Vicenza would stop. So she did. And the plague stopped. There’s a stone stairway going up the side of the hill to the church, which overlooks the entire city. After enjoying the view for a bit, J. offered to take me back to the base for some more rock climbing. We spent a few hours climbing, until, I, once again, couldn’t climb any more, then went back to the area surrounding the Basilica for pizza and gelato. When it was time for my next train, we went to the train station, where we confirmed the time and platform for my train to Munich. When a train came to that platform at that time, we assumed, as seemed logical, that it was the correct train. There was nothing inside or outside of the train to tell us differently, so I boarded the train, and was on my way. Or so I thought.

The stairway to the Santuario di Monte Berico in Vicenza, Italy

The stairway to the Santuario di Monte Berico in Vicenza, Italy

Something around thirty minutes later, the train came to a stop at Verona, Italy and made the first announcement I heard in my two days of train travel, that this would be the final stop for this train. At this point, after traveling for two nights, and with very little sleep, I realized that I had somehow gotten on the wrong train, and that getting to Stuttgart, Germany by midnight as planned was now impossible. Though I hate to admit it, I succumbed to exhaustion-induced tears, feeling completely helpless in an unknown city where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language. Dragons. Thanks to the help of a kind English-speaking couple, and workers at the station, I managed to find a new train to Munich, then Stuttgart, which would get me there by 2:30 a.m. No one could promise that the new train would accept my original tickets, but, even if it had to be for a price, it would get me where I needed to go.

When I boarded the new train, I found myself traveling alongside a woman from Cameroon who had been living and working between Italy and Germany for the preceding ten or so years. Besides being on a train that was heading the right direction, it was comforting to travel with someone who was from Africa (I know its a continent…) and spoke English. We talked about Cameroon and Tanzania and life for a bit, and I had almost forgotten my previous predicament when the conductor came by to check tickets. I explained what had happened and he said that it was fine, but I would need to pay the difference in ticket price between trains. He then attempted to do something with the little machine he was carrying, but apparently failed, because he told me to wait for his colleague to come by later so I could pay. He stopped in several more times along our journey, but never had me pay, which was awesome–I managed to get all the way to Munich without having to pay extra because of my mistake in Vicenza. I did get interrogated by a German police officer, however, which was actually my second police encounter of the week. On the way to the airport in Dar, a police officer hitched a ride in my bajaji and forced me to give him my phone number (and to take his number, which, unbeknownst to him,  I entered in my phone as “Crazy Dar Police Dude”). On the train, just after entering Germany, the police were doing passport checks, and when he examined my passport, he looked suspiciously at me, and then asked if I preferred English or German, where I had come from, where I was going, what was in my backpack (smelly climbing clothes), etc. Eventually, he seemed satisfied that I was indeed the American with the punk rocker mohawk pictured on my passport, and continued on his way. Despite being a bit strange, it did seem a bit fair finally, as my Cameroonian friend’s passport was always closely examined, despite the fact that she was the one who actually lived in Europe. I, however, because I had an American passport, was almost always just waved on without a second thought. Not fair.

We arrived in Munich, where it was REALLY cold (Paris was cold, Italy was chilly, but nice, but Germany was FREEZING). I went into the Starbucks and bought a coffee because it was the only indoor cafe open at 10:30 p.m., and I needed to sit somewhere warm while I waited for my next train. Just after midnight, I boarded the train to Stuttgart, again explained my mistake in Vicenza, and once again did not have to pay for any sort of ticket change (hallelujah!). I forced myself to stay awake so I wouldn’t miss my stop in Stuttgart, and disembarked just after 2:30 a.m. to meet yet another friend, C., who had been a senior at HOPAC my first year teaching there. She was joined by B., another former HOPAC student. We drove to C.’s house, where we crashed for the rest of the night. In the morning, C. and I walked around her small town for a bit, then returned to the house to watch a movie, eat lunch with her family, and nap. It was nice to just chill for a bit. Later in the afternoon, we went into Stuttgart with S., her younger brother (also a former HOPAC student), and his girlfriend, ate some German food (I don’t remember what it was called, but it was delicious!), and then went to small group. Though I didn’t understand most of the discussion (despite C.’s attempts at translating parts of it), it was really cool to be a part of the prayer, worship, and Bible study of a group of German young adults!

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The Neues Schloss in Scholssplatz Square, Stuttgart, Germany

I left early the next morning for Paris, enjoyed some beautiful scenery from the comfort of the train, and arrived back at Gare du l’Est around 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

To be continued… (Read Part 2)

Venturing into Instapoetry

•October 6, 2016 • Leave a Comment

One of my Literature students introduced me to the world of Instagram poets this week, and so, in honor of the UK National Poetry Day, I decided to give it a try myself with this poem:

spiritually-disconnected

Unfair. Unjust. Uncool.

•October 6, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’m one of the privileged by birth
Unfair. Unjust. Uncool.
Born white, it’s not my fault. Born white, its by default.
Born American, citizenship assumed. Born American, I didn’t choose.
Born middle class, automatic prosperity. Born middle class, like a lottery winner

Just because I’m privileged, doesn’t mean it’s fair.

Culture and socialization give me things
Unfair. Unjust. Uncool.
Things mine, denied to brothers in black
Things mine exclusive to the developed “West”
Things mine undreamt by those in poverty

Just because I’m privileged, doesn’t mean it’s just.

Everywhere oppression.
Unfair. Unjust. Uncool.
Oppression striking out in cruelty.
Oppression acting out of prejudice
Oppression dealing out discrimination.

Just because I’m privileged, doesn’t mean it’s cool.

What can I do? It can’t stop here.
Unfair. Unjust. Uncool.
Fighting for fairness breaking down broken systems.
Fighting for justice setting captives free from chains.
Fighting misperceptions changing words, changing conversations.

Just because I’m privileged, doesn’t mean it’s fair. Or just. Or cool.
We’re all human, don’t you see?
Why can’t we all be equal?

 
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