Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tool, toy, or tyrant?

When we returned to the U.S. in April, we decided to use a smart-phone. We knew that with all of our traveling this year, it would be helpful for directions and finding information on the road. We have used it to listen to the Hobbit during our recent travels, check the traffic, watch and listen to baseball games, check e-mail, and all sorts of other useful things. Unfortunately, answering the phone was not so intuitive, but we finally got past that.

Last night, we took the Bart train in San Francisco to go downtown. I watched people get out of the train, and noticed that about 50% of them had earphones in – some talking on the phone, some presumably listening to music or radio. Then, while sitting in the train, I looked around and saw more than half of the passengers actively engaged with their smart-phones – texting, e-mailing, games, reading the news. With these amazing devices, the possibilities are endless!

As Americans, we place high importance on productivity and efficiency. We also value our privacy, and our personal space or personal time. Smartphones seem to respond to all of those cravings, and riding on a train for your daily commute is exactly the space where a smart phone can help you to feel productive by accomplishing multiple things at once – getting to your destination while also checking e-mail, for example. Having a device like a smart-phone also enables us to create the illusion of being in our own private “bubble”…we can interact with whoever we choose to, many miles apart, via the phone, without feeling awkward about ignoring the strangers sitting a few feet away. My friend Catherine wrote a wonderful reflection on this daily commute and how we often act like we are alone in the train full of people.

My mind shifts to numerous rides on the bus in Kananga. Often, we are so jammed and squeezed into the minivan-sized bus that one of us is sitting on the lap of a stranger, or the people are so wedged together that I could not move my leg if I wanted to. Children are passed around to any adult who has a free lap in order to make room for the most number of people. Often, passengers are holding live chickens, or a goat is under the seat. People are shoved and squeezed to rather uncomfortable positions…then the bus goes bumping down the dusty road, and we wince each time it swerves to miss a pothole. Since the bus is far too bumpy and crowded for doing anything “productive”, some lively conversation transpires. When we get on a bus, we often get to be the object of the conversation – and I fight with my inner self and culture that prefers to reach the destination just quietly enjoying my “private world”. But I also thoroughly enjoy this other way of travel …recognizing that we are thrown together as companions on a journey, and don’t need to be afraid of each other.

Paul tells the Ephesians to “Be careful, then, how you live…making the most of every opportunity”. (Eph 5:15-16). Somehow, I don’t think that he was referring to checking e-mail on the train. What do you think? I know that these technological devices can be helpful…but have we gone overboard? How do we ensure that they don’t block us from experiencing “life” and community the way that God desires?

Minibus in KenyaA mini-bus (in Kenya) loads up with people and goods

DSCN5148Getting cozy in the CPC Land Cruiser – ready to travel!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

By the Numbers

In April and May we traveled throughout the south and southeastern part of the United States.  It was a major blessing, visiting supporting churches and seeing some friends and family along the way.  Our last blog chronicles several “firsts.”  This blog tallies some of the things we did and experienced.  Here ya go!

1             Major League Baseball game attended; we saw the Braves lose to the Nationals
2             Times we ate “grits” (once it was Shrimp and Grits, and oh it was good!)

Shrimp and Grits, Beaufort, South Carolina

3             Miles hiked on the AT, the Appalachian Trail (in Shenandoah Region of Virginia)
4             Minutes being interviewed on television (on the morning show in Albany, GA)
5             New states visited for at least one of us (TN, AL, GA, SC, NC) 

Tennessee state sign

6                Smoothies consumed at McDonald’s, a great snack on the road!
7                Times we preached and gave the Children’s Sermon at different churches
12              States driven through (KY, TN, AL, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, WV, PN, OH, IN)
16              Chapters of the Hobbit listened to while driving
17              Times we gave our presentation and shared with different church groups

sharing, Rock Falls Church, Erwin, TN
Sharing at Rock Creek Presbyterian Church, Erwin, TN 

18                Different beds slept in (most were quite comfortable)
19                Churches we visited and connected with in some way

FPC, Albany, GAFirst Presbyterian Church, Albany, GA (a revitalized congregation!)

30               Days on the road
1732           People who heard about Congo through our presentations and preaching
3821           Miles on the road

P1180039                               On our way to Erwin, TN (our first church visit)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

First time for everything

We are nearly finished with our “tour” of the Southeast in the U.S. It has been a wonderful experience! We have been inspired by the wonderful people we have met, and encouraged by our visits to churches. This is our first visit through the South, and many people have lived up to the reputation of “Southern hospitality” and have introduced us to some new things. Here are a few of the memorable ones:

1. Our first time to walk on the Appalachian Trail (we haven’t walked far yet, but it was a fun taste!)

2. Our first time to eat at Chick-Fil-A. And they even “blessed our meal” (gave it to us free!!) Yum!


3. Our first time to eat the Southern classics: grits, “shrimp and grits”, fried green tomatoes, cheese straws (home-made by Leland!), biscuits and gravy, and lots of sweet tea.

4. Kristi’s first time (I think) to do the children’s sermon at church (and everyone appreciated one boy who commented that I “looked like a disciple” in my Congolese dress)

Kristi - children's sermon

5. Bob’s first time preaching in English in more than 3 years!

Bob - preaching at South Highland

6. First time traveling with a GPS. We had a few frustrating moments in the learning curve, but overall “Mrs. Garmin” is incredibly helpful and handy!

7. Our first time to be on TV! We had a short interview on the morning show of the local Fox station in Albany, GA. (Thanks, Leslie for that opportunity!)

8. A fun first time to Turner Field to see an Atlanta Braves game (and to see the Tomahawk chop!)

Bob - Braves game

9. A visit to historic Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC (where we also learned about the ubiquitous and fascinating natural trio: live oaks, Spanish moss, and resurrection fern. Thanks to the Scaleras for that introduction!)

10. First visit to the Civil Rights Institute of Birmingham. We learned a lot and highly recommend it!Thanks, Cody for hosting that visit!

11. First time to see a wild alligator, wild turkeys, and a rat snake.

Alligator croppedalligator at the Mepkin Abbey near the Cooper River in SC

Wild turkeys wandered onto the highway in Georgia

12. Last, but perhaps the most significant…this is our first “interpretation assignment”. While speaking about mission work is not new to us, traveling to visit churches is, and sometimes we begin to feel like a “traveling road show” with all the luggage and stuff that we bring and our tight schedule. We are grateful for the wonderful people who have hosted us for the night or a meal, and have made this a wonderful experience.

Birmingham - presenting to youth

Packing the car