The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The “You’ve preached long enough club!”


On Sunday, I was invited into an exclusive preacher’s club, the “You’ve preached long enough club” with the invitation coming in the form of a note passed to me in the pulpit.


[10 Minutes More Please]

“What about the Church?” was the topic for the day, and I had been speaking for about 25 minutes the note invitation came. I was about to introduce the bride analogy St. Paul developed for the church, calling it the bride of Christ in his letter to the Ephesians. Now for many of us guys, this bride analogy makes us a bit uncomfortable, being called the wife of Jesus.  It just doesn’t work for us.

Typically, I have heard this “church as bride analogy” explained as an ideal, where the God-church relationship is like the intimacy between husband and wife. The ideal is for a church to mirror that relationship, with God. Still not helpful.

Them, then ; Us, now. My mentor and pastor, Rev. David Gilliam taught me long ago when something in scripture makes you uncomfortable, seek to understand what it meant to them (who it was written to), to know what it could mean to us, now.

To know what it means to US, NOW

We have to know what it meant to THEM, THEN.

I looked at my invitation, smiled and explained how the people Paul was writing to might have understood a bride to be property, owned by her husband. Production of children was a primary value. If she did not or could not produce children, the bride could be dismissed, or replaced.

Instead of the seeing the church as a romantic love partner with God as his bride, the church could be the property of God, like a first century bride, who’s primary function was to create children of God, (aka new believers). If a church could not, or would not make and disciple new believers, could it too be dismissed I wondered?

Oddly, a few minutes later, it was time for announcements and we heard the third and final “Banns of Marriage”. For three Sundays in a row, we had heard these Banns for our worship leader, who is to be married in a few weeks.

Banns is an old word for proclamation and according to Wikipedia their purpose was to “enable anyone to raise any canonical or civil legal impediment to the marriage, so as to prevent marriages that are invalid.” These banns inform (or warn) the public via advert in the local newspaper, and three times read in their local church(es) saying:

If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony, you are to declare it or speak with the pastor, or board of elders.

All according to the 1951 marriage ordinance of Ghana.

Therefore, it was interesting to me that on the last Sunday before Advent, we learned about the bride of Christ, heard the banns for the future bride to Fiifi, and I preached long enough to be asked to stop (in 10 minutes).



[Their Invitation]

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Three Times I Meet Thee – Applied Proverbs I


One of the situations our Ashesi students discover when studying in the States is a difficulty in making new friends. This complaint is typical:

We sat and talked after class for an hour or more, talking about all sorts of things, but the next time I saw her, she walked right past, like we had never met and I thought we were friends.  Americans can be so rude.

Rude - Is this how I am seen here, I wondered? I think about the people who have befriend us from the village, and admit until I’ve run into them a few times, I have trouble remembering their faces.    Often they come up to me, start talking, and I am wondering who is this?! Then they say something that triggers our previous conversation(s) and I clue in. Sadly, I know this will happen a few more times before I figure out we are friends.

Is this what happens to our Ashesi students in the States?

Is it me, or has the art of making friends in the States become a complicated two-step between chance and circumstance? Do we leave friend making to chance: If chance brings us together three times, and we build on that encounter each time, do we then become friends?

There is a saying here that a friend is someone you share the path with and I like that definition. Maybe new friendship is more complicated than it needs to be when apparently the only requirement here is a shared path. Of course, there is another saying: two footsteps do not make a path and I think this saying highlights more than our cultural differences. Americans just need more footsteps to recognize the path and realize it was not chance that brought us a new friend, but our shared path.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bolgatanga Regional Hospital and other stories

Last summer, Steve was on a tour of Ghana to visit our Mission Society Colleagues serving in northern Ghana and Togo. Having spent some time with Sue K [her blog], he is now in Bolgatanga, with the Bolga Bartletts, Dave and Ellen.  For some reason this post never posted, and suddenly it just showed up.  So here it is a year later. 
One morning Dave and Ellen take me to see the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital.  We are there to help along the process of a young man, Brother A., who has Hepatitis B. The process we are helping has nothing to do with efficiency.
The hospital has misplaced Brother A’s folder:1, and so orders are given to create a new folder:2, then to wait in long, slow moving queue, to create a new folder:3, and with folder in hand to wait to see the doctor:4,5. It could be a study in inefficiency, but Dave and Ellen know the system and somehow captured the doctor’s cell phone number. A quick phone call later, the doctor agrees to meet them and we join the queue to wait to bypass what could have been days of waiting, instead of just hours:6. Six hours.
Receiving the doctors news, and what is next.
It all would be a tragic situation, hopeless, without the evidence of God working through Dave and Ellen, and yet through it all Brother A’s mother is patient. Jolia’s son is the top student in his class, a strong good looking young man that is the picture of health. He is in contrast to the baby Jolia back loads all morning. Known locally as a spirit child, something is a bit off with Baby Y. His eyes don’t catch yours, and he fusses and cries even less than most Ghanaian babies, who are stoic, a back loaded passengers to their mother’s life.
It is believed that the birth of a spirit child’s coincided with some tragic event in the village or family , like a sickness or death of a family member. Babies born under these circumstances are believed to be a bad omen, cursed by the ancestors, and must be returned otherwise more bad things will happen. Yet Jolia has gone against tradition, and fought for the child to live, not letting the village elders take it to be left to die. Read more about Baby Y’s story.
Jolia is the living embodiment of a quote by Barbara Kartz Rothman:
“Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength” [2]
And I would add that for Jolia, her inner strength, if evidence of a quiet faith in God. Read more of her story
Still the process takes all morning. Lab tests are ordered for Brother A, new prescriptions given, and by 1:30pm--we’ve been at this since 7:30am--we drop him off at school. Ellen gives him a cedi to buy lunch (thirty cents),and that how we learn this will be his first meal of the day.
Ellen asks “Jolia, do you have any food in the house?”
“Oh, no Mommie.” So it is off to the market to buy rice, oil and fish.
At the Market
Ellen’s compassion is so heartfelt. Dave has been so steadfast in his support of her heart’s longing, never complaining, or even rolling an eye. Later we meet another woman who runs a foster home, whom the Bartletts have been helping and Dave has to remind her that they can only help One by One. In fact Dave made her a T-shirt that says just that “1x1”, and she happens to wearing it today.
Bolgatanga Sunset
[2] Rothman, Barbara Kartz Weaving a Family: Untangling Race and Religion, Beacon Press, 2005

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

When my prayer life changed



Steve visits an ashram in Pondicherry, and his prayer life changed.

I had gone to the ashram skeptical, but wanting to experience the part of a devoted follower, praying to the part of God that is worshiped in this place, and hoping for something in return; a revelation from that place. Part of my concentration was praying through each item from my list: my brother Rod who is dying of liver cancer, for my children, for Suzanne and our marriage, and a few other situations that have since dropped off my prayer radar. My list is usually a list of 3-5, and since I did not know how much time Sanjay had allotted for concentration on this part of the tour, the prayer request flew by historical markers on an interstate highway.

Highway speed prayers should have felt unfamiliar, but looking back on it; I realize I had been praying that style for some time; a habit of setting the cruise control and praying from a time when I felt busy. Now I was less busy, but my prayers had not downshifted; they were still fast food prayers of obligation.

Read about the Ashram in Praying to the part of you that is worshiped.

Walking away from the ashram, I casually ask one of the young people on the tour if God had revealed anything. While thinking about her answer, she asked:

“What did God reveal to you, Steve?”

I was not begging to be asked, and didn't even know there was a revelation waiting for me until she asked. When God wants to reveal something to me, it usually is not complicated, or complex. God just hides it in my consciousness until something triggers me to look for it, or I trip over it like a stray toy in the dark.

WRITING 101 (1)

You pray too fast.

Those words did not form in my brain, they were just there, like they had always been there, waiting to be seen, or in this case uncovered when I tripped over them.

I could have answered, “I pray too fast,” but didn't. On this tour, few travelers knew I was a pastor; the rest knew me to be a teacher, and I did not want to blow my cover. I was enjoying the anonymity; the break from people's expectations. It was good to just be a regular person, and relate to people like that.

In seminary they taught us a pastor can NEVER take off the pastor hat, even if you think you have taken it off, people still see its shadow (unless you're on a G-Adventures Tour, and don't tell anyone). Ha! Take that Austin Seminary!

If she told me about her revelation, I am sure I was not listening; I was too absorbed in my own revelation about praying too fast. I knew it was from the Lord; I knew it was true, so I asked, slowly, what needs to change?

Come into my presence. And with that, my prayer life changed.

I started to pray without asking God for anything.

There was still plenty, plenty (as we say in Ghana), to ask of God but those things were not driving the reason I was praying and that changed everything.

Maybe this is why I visit sacred places that other faiths designate as holy, I learn about my experience of God by seeking to understand theirs.


We Did It! Engineering at Ashesi is Happening!!!

Screenshot 2015-08-13 16.00.37
I was looking back at some notes I took when Ashesi’s President Patrick called me in the fall of 2013. I was in the car, on the way to our church, St. Phillips United Methodist Church in Round Rock; Steve was driving and Anna was in the back seat. I had some trouble hearing, but I got the gist: Patrick wanted me to lead the development of the engineering program. I reminded him that I wasn’t an engineer, he said that he didn’t think that was absolutely necessary, they had engineers giving input, I would coordinate the efforts. Gulp. Patrick wasn’t asking, he was informing me of what my first duties would be. And I was already committed, I’d already given notice at Southwestern University and we were already well into planning the move.
“Has anyone ever had more faith in you than you had in yourself?”
Has anyone ever had more faith in you than you had in yourself? Fast forward almost two years, and… WE DID IT! And by WE I really mean WE: the faculty at Ashesi who already had a first draft of the curriculum and had already consulted local industry; the faculty at Ashesi who helped me as I coordinated moving the project forward; the administrative staff who gave us the resources to plan and coordinate the work; the international engineering advisory faculty who looked at drafts of the curriculum and gave feedback, and came to a face-to-face meeting almost a year ago at Olin for an intense two-day review; faculty and administrative staff from our mentoring institution, The University of Mines and Technology, who also gave good and timely feedback and were willing to work with us on areas in which there were differing views; the National Accreditation Board (NAB) and the faculty panels who came as part of the NAB review teams to review the curriculum and facilities and ultimately gave their approval; and supporters who have helped fund me being here to coordinate the efforts. It may seem trite to also credit God, but truly, this task has had so many hurdles that were overcome, there just is no way it would have happened without divine orchestration and blessing.
“Suzanne, we can’t fail at this.”
When I got to Ashesi and took over leading the efforts, I was scared, to say the least. It didn’t help that Patrick would occasionally say, “we can’t fail at this.” No pressure! I quickly became at least conversant, if not an expert, on the state of the art of engineering education. Thankfully, I already knew Ashesi’s educational model very well. I was never very knowledgeable about our lab equipment needs, but worked hard to rope in others who did, both at Ashesi and internationally. I discovered a lot about myself, and other’s trust in me: I am not perfect, omniscient, or a superwoman; what I am is smart enough to learn what I need to know, and ask other people for help when I know I can’t do it alone. I did try to say, “no, I can’t meet that deadline, ” more than once – and sometimes the deadline became fuzzy, other times I worked long hours with quite a bit of stress and did the best I could.
And now: the programs are accredited; initial textbooks and lab equipment are in; a Dean has been hired; initial faculty have been hired; and students are being recruited. Classes begin for first year students September 14, and our official engineering inauguration is October 3. Hallelujah!!!
“When God expects big things, comfort isn’t part of the equation.”
One of my daily devotions recently was reflecting on Mark 6:35-44 in which Jesus and the disciples feed the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. In the past year and a half, some of you have heard me lament that I didn’t have the credentials or experience in engineering to feel comfortable attempting to pull off the audacious goal of bringing the engineering program to fulfillment. But when God is expecting big things, comfort isn’t part of the equation. The Reflections author writes, “Too often when we can’t imagine how to do all that needs to be done, we never start…” Thankfully, I had the audacity to start, and God helped turn my five loaves and two fishes into an engineering program!
But, of course, I didn’t do it alone. A deep seated principle of Ashesi boils down to this: when the going gets tough, everyone pitches in! Thanks to everyone who helped make the engineering program happen.
“A deep seated principle of Ashesi boils down to this: when the going gets tough, everyone pitches in!”


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Praying to the part of You that is worshipped here

Steve was in India to teach at a training event.  Before the training started, he joined a G-Adventures tour of South India. 

I hadn't thought of her in years, my voice teacher from Berklee College of Music. The last time I spoke to Jessica it was the early 90s, and I learned she was following a guru.  In fact she had just returned from that guru’s tour across the United States, where she had been his assistant.  Thinking about Jessica makes me feel old, that was several lifetimes ago, and now back to the here and now, it is this ashram which brought her to mind. The tour has come to gawk at a large utopian golden golf ball, and I'm wondering could Jessica be here?


[The Matrimandir]

Officially this golf ball is called “The Matrimandir” and is for "those who want to learn to concentrate," which sounds like their word for praying. In Sanskrit, Matrimandir means "Mother Temple", which according to the literature, "is what helps the humanity to overcome their limitations to the supramental consciousness". I expected to be weirded out and cynical, but instead I feel curious. Not so much with the golden golf ball, but with the reaction of my fellow tour-ists. The Matrimandir is off limits to tourists, and even those who live in Auroville, the community surrounding it, can wait years to be allowed inside for concentration. On the walk back, I try to engage anyone in a conversation, but they go nowhere. Tour etiquette requires us not to speak much about our lives back home. I can know where people are from and what they do, or did, but speaking on matters of faith is as protected as The Matrimandir.


[Sign to the Viewing Point]

This region of former French India is Pondicherry. The architecture could be reminiscent of New Orleans but for the occasional Hindu shrine. Three story red brick buildings with wrought iron grill work, markets with elephants waiting bless you, priests blessing new cars, and then suddenly an absurdly quiet street. No honking, or hooting of horns. So quiet in fact I see twenty or more very mellow dogs in various stages of rest scattered on the street like rose peddles from a flower girl.  Normally aggressive Tuk-tuks slow down, and swerve around the reclining dogs like tires on an obstacle course. Like tires, the dogs do not flinch nor move. 

In the market at Pondicherry, former French India

[Elephant Blessings]


[Car Blessings] – I’ve prayed over cars, motorcycles, vans, trucks, and homes, but never used fire, nor flowers and dry paint. 

The source of this intense mellowness is Sri Aurobindo Ashram, of Auroville. Its the outfit that lau – I’nched The Matrimandir and if the street outside was mellow, the inside is nearly catatonic. Hundreds of of devotees or maybe jet lagged tourists sit in forms of the lotus position, meditating toward what I assume is the guru's grave.  There are flowers everywhere, and their smell is maybe what the poppies smelled like in Wizard of Oz, promising eternal peace and slumber or apathy and complacency.  I’m not sure which. 

Sri-Aurobindo-Ashram-Pond-001 (1)

[the grave people seemed to be praying toward, from] – sorry cameras were not allowed.

I join in the prayers, I mean concentration, but feel like an imposter. I go through the motions of praying Lord, I worship the part of you that is worshipped in this place, and appear to be in deep concentration until I look up and see someone watching me, and she winks.  Busted, and my concentration is gone.  I get up and poke around the bookstore until the everyone else is done doing whatever they are doing.  

Descriptions of this place  promise to transport your mind to a heavenly feel as if the eternity is here, but pretenders like me can’t reach that level of concentration, but maybe my old voice teacher had reached that place of heavenly abode.  I wish her well. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Like Summer Camp for Adults

    Steve is in India to help teach with a cross cultural ministry training. Before the training starts he joins a tour of Southern India.


    The tour I've joined covers Southern India running two weeks, and uses every form of transport but the space shuttle. I booked this trip when I thought my sister Beth would be joining me, but she delayed and ended up breaking her ankle, so wasn't able to join me. Too bad, I think she would have really enjoyed it.

    Tours make travel in new countries so easy. It isn't the travel that is so difficult, but the transitions. With a tour guide, or C.E.O. (Chief Experience Officer), as G-Adventures calls them, the transitions are easy, from to getting on the right train, and having a bus waiting for us when we get there. Knowing a good restaurant, and what to order.


    But that ease of transitions comes at a cost, and one might be tempted to say: people, but I actually enjoy that part. Its the lack of adventure.

    What makes an adventure is

    • the danger, that everything might not work out well.

    • the unknown, I don't really know what to expect, or if I'll be ready for it.

    • the serendipity, that a blessing awaits if I just put myself out there and be open to what happens.

      • Now I know that as a guy, it is much easier (and safer) for me to adventure-travel and I hate it that women can't have some adventures without a man around, and so its easy to see why the men on this tour are outnumbered more than 2:1.

        The tour stay in waning two star hotels, ones that have certainly seen better days. Usually the locations are good, and there was a day when these hotels must have been amazing, but when we check in, its easy to see they are run down, and nobody cares. But I don't mind, I mean I didn't come this far to stay in a fancy hotel, and the hours spent in their rooms, should be spent asleep.

        ADULT PEOPLE (1)

        Blue Valley Jungle Resort, Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary – looks nice, but some of the wildlife crawled across my bed around 3am (a large rat). 

        ADULT PEOPLE (2)

        The other part about being on a tour is mostly we interact with each other, and the products of the culture we are passing through, but rarely the people of it. I miss that. But the people on this tour are all well traveled, much more than I, and getting to know the 11 other people reminds me of summer church camp, its exactly like Summer Camp, but for adults. 

        Two young ladies have been traveling Asia for the past six weeks.  “What advice would you give, based on your experience?” I asked one afternoon, expecting a cool couldn't of done without it gadget answer. After a few minutes one says “learn enough of the local language to say hello and thank you.”

        ADULT PEOPLE (3)

        Oh, so that is what they have been saying, “Nanni,” which apparently means thank you, in the language of Kerala.

        Even though the trip is well scripted, surprises still slip in. Like when we were walking a street in Madurai and one the street venders was hawking a wire toy. Think of a Spirograph but in three dimensions that can be changed into a multitude of shapes.

        I made the mistake of looking at him murmuring to myself “Why I have not seen one of those in years,” and he followed me for the next six blocks, pushing them in my face. Dad must have picked up one of these on one of his trips to India in the 1970s. “Had he too been here?” I wondered giving false hope to the street vendor who kept dropping his price.   I guess I should also learn to say No in the local language, because shaking my head isn’t working.

      Monday, June 29, 2015

      What do you pray for: three stories from Mumbai

      The Two Dollar Umbrella

      “If it starts raining, you can always buy one.” - Dr. Andy Dearman.

      Andy was the seminary professor I traveled with in the Middle East and he was talking about umbrellas, and how you really didn't need to carry one and wouldn't you know it here I was walking around Mumbai without an umbrella, when it started raining, and thinking I sure hope Andy is right.

      It started raining, and suddenly there were umbrella salesmen.

      Funny thing is, they were still willing to haggle with me over the price...and it raining. They could be charging whatever they wanted. I know I will only use it today, but I figure there is nothing like having a $2 umbrella, in a $10 rainstorm. For the record that umbrella served me well all day until a windstorm overwhelmed it at dusk, moments after this picture was taken. Totally worth it.

      Monsoon in Mumbai

      30 seconds after this picture was taken, a blast of wind ruined my $2 Umbrella


      An Easy Mark

      I've always been an easy mark. I know that, but I enjoy playing along, instead of being rude. However, Mumbai's game is more nuanced than I'm ready for. Because people are so naturally friendly, I have trouble telling the scammers from the sincere, the hustlers from the friendly, until I'm too far into their game.

      Baboo is a typical example, though I could tell you about Ali, Azi, or Sham, but Baboo's story will do. I was walking around Colaba looking for a place to eat when Baboo strikes up a conversation with me as we wait for the light to change. People are so friendly here, and I always learn something even if it is only that they ask so many questions, I feel sometimes like I'm talking to myself.

      Baboo is a shoeshine artist, but because of the rain, isn't seeing many shoes to shine.


      He might be Jesus, or just Baboo

      Like many others, Baboo is concerned about me being in Mumbai during monsoon season, or really anywhere in southern India. Baboo insists I talk to a government travel agent to have him book the rest of my tour up north. Early on in this conversation I told him I was going somewhere I wasn't and felt bad that I had not mentioned the tour either. None of this was going to any use to anyone, but I couldn't find a way out, so I played along knowing all the while knowing it was a waste of time.

      I tried to get out of it, really but it would mean being rude. Its just the kind of thing that drives my wife and kids bonkers, but they are not here, so I plays along. It really is fascinating to me, partially because each time I begin to understand a little more about how things work here, but more importantly, because I worship a God who can show up as anyone, anywhere and who knows, I might actually be interacting who just happens to look like Baboo. So I won't be rude and quit the game, even if I know it isn;t going anywhere.

      After the failed travel agent booking, Baboo asks me to buy him a shoeshine box for 10,000 rupees, about $150. I actually don't have that much on me, so I can't. I try to buy him some street food, as he is hungry, but he wants a bag of rice, and then when we have the rice, he says he needs oil to go with it, and I swear I can see Suzanne laughing at me out the corner of my eye, mouthing “if you give a mouse a cookie...”

      Finally we negotiate 10 lbs of rice and a quart of oil; the rice will feed him for three weeks, but the oil for only one. I tell Baboo, he can worry about more oil next week.

      Besides maybe meeting Jesus, I like how I've learned a bit more about Mumbai, discovered where the food store is (from the imposing outside, I thought it to be a government building or aging palace) and enjoyed at least $7 of haggling in a pretty low stakes game. What it actually costs me is a bit of the natural trust I place in humanity, and how for a few days I find myself a smidgen more suspicious when someone is being friendly or kind.

      As we say good-bye he says “You really should by some Indian clothes, the ones you wear really make you stand out.” He was the third hustler person-who-might-be-Jesus to tell me that today.

      What do you pray for?

      On the taxi drive to the airport from Mumbai, I notice an elaborate shrine in my taxi. Actually, most taxis have a plastic Hindi god of some sort on the dashboard, but this one had pictures and orange marigolds around them. On the ride we talked about our families, what it is like to be a taxi driver in Mumbai (he was a teacher before), and I asked about his shrine. He told me he prays to it, and said “Praying makes me feel better.”

      Taxi Shrine

      “What do your pray for?” I asked.

      “I pray for good health, protection, my family, and for good customer, like you.”

      We both laugh, and I repeat what he said, without mentioning the good customer part and observe, “So we pray for the same things.”

      “Yes,” he said, “the same things” and I think we are not really that different, both fathers praying for their children:  for some that God will bless their lives, for others that God will become real to them in ways He has never been before, and their protection until that happens.