Relevant . . . or Irrelevant?

I ended my last post with the confession that I was “scared to death.” There is such nuance buried in those three little words. Today we’re on the threshold of a move that has been about 7 years in the making. Here’s a bit of the back story . . .

Sherry and I began this journey decades ago, committing our lives to the One greater than us—thinking then that we had fully abandoned ourselves to His care and cause.

I threw around words easily and quickly. I sang worship songs proclaiming my love, loyalty and allegiance to a God I then carefully allowed only into protected areas of my life. Over the course of many years, and in the midst of a busy life and career, I lost sight of what it meant to be truly abandoned to Jesus. My “relationship” with Him informed only some of my emotions, choices, decisions and actions. And yet, most people who knew me would have likely said I was a “good Christian.” The horrific reality was that I meandered into—without realizing it—the worship of a god and faith, essentially of my own making; a god whose job I saw as blessing me, protecting me, taking away my hurts, and insuring my place in heaven. In fact, nearly all of my faith was about . . . me.

I had slowly, unwittingly, yet willingly offered myself as prey to the seductive, paralyzing scourge of loving this world. From the outside, I looked just like so many others around me, men who were good, honest and “god-fearing.” Some called upon the same faith as mine while others made no such declaration. Some were in the church and some not; yet there was virtually no difference between us. I was stunned to realize that the faith I claimed to follow did little to set me apart from those who claimed no faith at all.

It wasn’t surprising then, to look in the mirror and see someone affluent (especially compared to 2/3 of the rest of the world), comfortable, arrogant, and to those outside my own orbit, irrelevant. If I represented what a good Christian looked like, it’s no wonder our young people are leaving the church in droves! Tragically, with good Christians like me as a model, I fully understand why they are abandoning a Christianity that to them is irrelevant.

Fast forward 7 years; last night we bought our tickets—one-way tickets—for Uganda. We’re now officially committed, leaving January 4th at 10 am, headed to Entebbe, unsure when we’ll be coming back. Not that I’m counting or anything, but that’s only 55 days away, or about 7 ½ weeks. Time is now screaming by, leaving a trail of myriad tiny details clamoring for resolution, and conspiring to keep us from people we’d like to see and things we’d like to finish before we leave. Please pray with us for consistency between what we say and how we live our lives!

Uganda, Here We Come!

It’s finally here. We’ve been praying, planning, training, waiting, talking, learning and wondering. Now we’re finally heading out. Our departure date looks to be the first week of January, 2011. You’ll recall (or see from my previous few posts) that I was in Bolivia for two months this past summer, learning the nuances of – and getting experience in – hand-drilling water wells. Water For All, International (WFA), the folks with whom I was in Bolivia, have invited us to become their point people in an effort to begin a new well-drilling movement in northern Uganda! Because a well-drilling movement isn’t something that occurs in a short-term trip (or trips), Sherry and I are planning a 6-month (or so) first trip, and then an ongoing focus on the people, language and culture in the place from which we believe the movement can grow. Let me explain . . .

We’ll begin in a town named Soroti, in partnership with a local non-profit called Global Care. Global Care currently operates out of several locations in Uganda, sponsoring children, working in schools, focusing on school drop-outs with micro-businesses and vocational skills, and hopes to expand into working with handicapped and other poor and marginalized children in Soroti. They have asked WFA for help in securing wells that will bring regular clean water to kids and families within their local sphere of influence. My first job will be to help them with 8 new wells.

Now, when it comes to creating a “well-drilling movement,” it becomes paramount that our (well) trials are successful – meaning that the locations in which we drill have a high potential for success. By success, I mean that at least 9 times out of 10 we get good wells that produce somewhere around 20-25 liters/minute of clean water. This is obviously the “textbook version,” and reality (or Terry Waller, Exec. Director of WFA) may dictate some adjustments, but that’s the goal at which we’re aiming, both for WFA and for the wells on which we’re partnering with Global Care!

Because of the long-term focus of initiating a well-drilling movement, we can’t say for certain – until we’re there and on the ground for some time – that Soroti is the best place from which that movement can begin. Thus it is difficult to know whether Soroti will be the location from which this work will build in Uganda.

Now, having given you all the “data” about what’s happening, let me tell you how I really feel about it . . . it kind of scares me to death. I believe without a shadow of doubt that this is something we’re called to do; but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m convinced that WFA is the perfect organization through which I can utilize both my gifts and the education and training I’ve accumulated over the past 7 years; but there isn’t a “career path” or retirement plan. In fact, we’re “volunteers,” investing in eternity – and utterly dependent upon the One Who controls our account in the Bank of Heaven. Thanks for being interested enough to read this far!

Bolivia Well Clubs

I arrived in Bolivia on the 6th of July, with Sherry remaining at home in Huntington Beach. I’ll be here until the end of August and then she and I will be back together, hopefully never traveling solo again, at least not for these long periods. I’m working with an organization called Water For All (WFA), which is completely focused on getting safe water to the poorest of the poor. They operate on the basis of “well clubs,” where a group of 10 (or so) families each raise about $100, which is the complete cost for a well. This is an astonishingly low cost for a well, which can dramatically change the entire future of a family!

The wells are hand-dug and you can find quite a bit of information on the technology from the WFA website.

Here’s a snippet of how crazy the last couple of days has been as I joined a team starting a well club, where we’ll be digging 12 wells:

We got to the site early Wednesday morning and waited for the water tank to arrive so we could start digging. It finally arrived and as we started to use the water, I noticed this horrific odor! Turns out the tank had previously been used to spray a wicked insecticide to kill a worm that attacks corn or sorghum! But it was the only water available, so we started digging; all afternoon I did most of the actual drilling and got sprayed over and over with water and mud and insecticide! I was covered in it. There was no other way to get the mud off us, so we had to use the water to rinse. Nice, eh?

Since I wasn’t sure how clean the food would be, we had stopped at a market on the way so I could have some protein and at least a couple cans of clean food. However, the lady of the house (Katarina) had made me a bowl of lunch and set it out for me. Wondering what I should do, I remembered those verses where Jesus sent out the 70 two by two, telling them to take nothing for their journey, and to eat whatever was set before them. So I did. It was some kind of concoction with potatoes and macaroni, peas, carrots and a few morsels of meat, served over white rice. After lunch, we worked till almost dark and got the well dug to about 13.5 m (about 40 feet) deep. Dinner was exactly the same as lunch.

We (Sergio, one of the WFA guys and me) set up tents behind the hut, where we slept, each of us in our own tent. The wind blew all day and night – and then it started to rain in the evening. The temperature dropped pretty dramatically and my tent leaked – at first only a little, then dramatically. I had only a thin flannel “sleeping sac” and two thin blankets, all of which got wet. I can’t remember being so cold in my whole life! Almost everything I had got wet, including most of my clothes. All day Thursday, we huddled around a fire we made behind the hut, in a hole in the ground, trying to stay as much out of the wind as we could. It rained all day, far too cold and wet to work, so none of the club members arrived to work! We were stuck there, with no means of communication (no cell coverage) and the road too slimy and completely impassable without 4-wheel drive (the 4 wheel drive in WFA’s vehicle is broken). Breakfast was two pieces of stale bread and 2 small cups of coffee with too much sugar! Lunch was again the same thing as we ate the day before. Dinner, however, was different. Hugo, the husband of the couple we were staying with, killed an armadillo during the night and we had it for dinner! It was great, deep fried, a bit grisly, but tasted good :–)

One of the guys in the well club sort of took me under his wing. Finding that all my stuff was wet, he decided to help me move to a local adobe hut that was abandoned. It was about a 5-minute walk away from the place we are doing the wells. We carried my tent and all my wet clothes, set up the tent inside the abandoned adobe, then arranged poles attached to wires hanging from the ceiling, over which I was going to hang my wet clothes and blankets. When I got back to the hut where we were digging the well, Katarina and Sergio said I shouldn’t stay at the adobe. First, there is a house next door to the adobe, full of people who are gypsy-like, begging and stealing instead of working (they’re from a people-group called Cambas). They told me that within just an hour or two of having my stuff unguarded, they’d steal anything of value. Second, it is in the adobe walls where beetles live that cause Chaga’s Disease and bites from these bugs are common. I went back and got all my stuff. . .

Hugo and Katarina offered for us to sleep in their hut, which we did. The hut is about 10 feet wide by maybe 20 feet long, built out of scrap wood. The hut has a dirt floor, 2 “windows” and a wooden door that closed with a piece of twine. Inside were three twin beds, a few bags of grain and beans, all their clothing and a collection of what looked like junk from trash piles. It’s tragic; the two windows have partial screens, with about 1/3 of each of the windows wide open; the walls have boards missing and big gaps and holes everywhere else. The wind blew through it almost as though the walls weren’t even there! Hugo, Katarina and their baby (Edison) slept in one of the beds, Sergio slept in one and I slept in the other. Even with all my clothes on and several blankets over me, I was still cold – probably because everything was still a bit wet! Its interesting, they climb into bed with all the same clothes they wear all day, every day. As a side note, I ended up going from Tuesday until Friday with no bath and working hard, sweating, etc . . . Phewwww!

Its amazing the difference that water makes. You can just look at the way people live and know that their lives are unbelievably difficult. Katarina has to walk about a mile each way to a local school for water for their animas and for cooking; they never bathe! They have some pigs, sheep, chickens and cattle, but the cattle are out to pasture on a neighbor’s land (a local Mennonite community) because they can’t supply enough water for them. Once they get their well, they’ll be able to bring all their animals back and keep them healthy because they’ll be able to give them water. Water will also allow them to grow the food they need – both for themselves and for their animals. I’m astonished at how much of a life-changer a small well like this can be. Hugo told me, “without water, there is no life!”

I feel incredibly privileged to be able to participate in a process that dramatically changes the lives of folks like Hugo and Katarina. I’ll start another well club early next week – possibly tomorrow if the weather changes and warms up a bit!

Hand-dug wells in Bolivia!

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted to my blog . . . We’ve been back in the States now since the first of July last year and I’ve been focused on working and getting ready for our next trip. Sherry has been in Davao City, Philippines since February, completing an internship in midwifery. I’ll meet her there at the end of her stay and we’ll return together. After nearly 40 years together, it’s been a real challenge for me to be living alone for these past 7 weeks! Having run away and gotten married at 18, neither of us has ever lived alone – and the longest we’ve been apart is about 10 days or so! I confess, I’m hopelessly codependent with her 🙂

This past March 15th – 20th, I spent with Water For All in San Angelo, Texas, learning about hand-dug wells. The training was interesting, especially since everything that might go wrong . . . DID go wrong. But how better to gain an understanding of what might occur overseas than having to deal with it in the training? I especially enjoyed getting to know Terry Waller and Kim Edlund, the two guys running the Water For All organization. They invited me along for a drilling trip to Bolivia during the months of July and August this year. Never been to South America, but I’m planning to go!

Ouagadougou Monday 03 March (#2)

Its about 8:30 pm. Sitting on the patio, thinking that God has indeed been gracious and faithful to have brought Jerry and Jan to this place. Jerry’s local name is “Wend Panga (God’s Power).” For the last 20 years or so, they have come alongside the Burkinabe people and helped as they were able, for whatever the people requested. They have built churches, put roofs on other churches, built Bible schools and mentored national pastors. This trip, 2 of their sons (both pastors) were here teaching at a pastor’s conference. What an amazing legacy these two have created! It will be an incredible privilege if God chooses to have us participate in whatever else He might still be doing here.

Our meeting with professor Zacharie was informative. He is a specialist in solar energy and teaches that subject at the university. Extremely gracious, he said he would research some water projects involving solar energy and irrigation and send them to me (after translating from French to English!). One thing he did say was that one of the greatest challenges was providing security for any solar setups that might get installed. For the most part, components for every project get stolen before the project gets up and operating. When he approximated costs for a solar array along with pumping mechanism (not including a well), his price estimate came in at a staggering $35,000. This option seems unsustainable, so I hope to find some creative ways to find alternatives.