Archive for July, 2009
For those of you who are somewhat aesthetically inclined and marginally computer savy, yet not in posession of the ridiculous amount of cash that Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator will cost you…Here is a pretty cool online site that lets you work right there with some pretty powerful software tools.
Note: This is an infinitely better alternative to illegal software use. And yes, I buy my programs…as painful as it is. I kinda feel the same way about burning CDs, but that’s another days post :)
Exactly 3 years ago, today, this picture was taken. It’s one of my favorites.
This is me and Steve Moss, coming out of a katrina-destroyed house that we were gutting. (No, I don’t have long sleeves on…that was the stuff that was on the walls.) I had the privilege of leading a group of students and young adults to New Orleans to tackle the $10,000+ task for a lovely family who needed some help. Politically, it was a tough time there as it had been a year since Katrina hit, but many (MANY) home owners didn’t have the finances to rebuild. The government was telling people they needed to begin rebuilding or the homes would be torn down. We met up with an organization that plugged us in with this family, and we basically tore the place down to the studs to same them the cost of having that done.
You can ready our daily account of the trip written by me and other members of the team:
(NOTE: the link that says pictures, will NOT take you to pictures of the new orleans trip. I’m in process of fixing that now. Also, start at the bottom post if you want to read chronilogically:)
I have a fond memory that didn’t seem to make it into the daily updates. This is what I remember. First, you need to remember that this house had not been touched in over a year since the storm hit and drove everyone out. Subsequently, there was 8-10ft of water flooding for weeks following…so things weren’t in good shape. Well, as we were tearing out the kitchen, we obviously found the fridge. It had food in it that had been air tight for the whole time…you get the idea. Well, as I began to pull it out from the wall, the door cracked a little. Whew…there is no word to describe the smell that came out of there. The entire house cleared from the smell that came from this thing in the literally 2-3 seconds that it was cracked open. It was unreal.
As we were moving the fridge out to the trash, the door slipped open again and some black sludge oozed out the bottom onto the leg of my pants. This is where it gets funny. Well, as I was walking through a group of students, one of the girls got a whiff of my new found odor and without missing a beat, she turned, bent at the waist and threw up on the grass. I smelled so bad that I was making people around me puke. I covered my leg so the kids could get in the van with me for the ride home. I’m pretty sure I bagged those clothes for the garbage that night. Ah, good memories.
New Orleans marked the last event that I led in the Boat14 Youth Ministry. And last saturday 45 people from that era showed up at my house to remember those days in which we grew, served, loved, laughed and lived life together. Some of the students wanted to get together for a bit of a reunion party…and I was totally on board. One thing I firmly believe in is making memories and visiting them often. Relationships are built on memories, and outside our relationship with God, as a Christian I believe my relationship with others is paramount. I work really hard on my relationships with others. Anyway, click the image below (of my backyard during the party) to see the gallery. And thanks to everyone who came…you all made me feel loved and valued. And as a point of reference, for those of you following me on twitter or facebook, you may have noticed my comment about experiencing such amazing joys, but also such devastating lows. This was one of the recent highs that played into that.
Boat14 Reunion Pics: HERE
We made a few papers this month. A handful of NJ papers did a story on Misty and Anthem of Hope. You can read one of them here: http://atlanticville.gmnews.com/news/2009/0716/front_page/018.html
I have to comment though….and I’m not upset, just clarifying. Generally, everyone who talks/writes about Anthem of Hope says something like the author of this article: “A city man has launched a charity in honor of his deceased wife”.
Now there is nothing really offensive about that at all. It’s a lovely idea that someone launches an organization to honor someone who has passed away. But honestly, AoH isn’t about honoring Misty at all. Believe me, no one on this planet respects Misty like I do…she was truly extraordinary, but AoH isn’t about her at all.
I have a friend who is 28 and she has stage III brain cancer. She is in the middle of the battle right now. I have a friend whose daughter is 5 years old and shouldn’t have to worry about losing her hair…but she does because she has leukemia. I have a friend who grew up being sexually abused by her father and isn’t quite sure what a good God was thinking when he let that happen. I have a friend whose young son has been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer…but he (and family) are learning to trust God. I have a friend my age who had a grapefruit size tumor removed just last year and is told it’s likely to come back. I have a friend my age who lost his wife to cancer…and he has a preschool age boy. Another friend who lost her husband to in a very sudden manner. She has two kids.
Anthem of Hope isn’t about Misty. She is gone. It’s about those who are suffering right now. If I spent my life investing in honor for someone who is not with us, I don’t think I’d be content. But instead, Misty’s story can inspire us to hope. Her story can impart to us the truth that God will be with us even in the most hell-like times this world can impose on us. Her story can be a springboard for someone to work their own faith from. She is at the core of the story, but she is not the goal.
Thats all. It’s not about my lovely wife….it’s about you and your family and your neighbors and whomever needs a little hope.
For my Christian readers, I’d like to pass on a great blog post from today. Mark Batterson exhorts us with a candid discussion about how he hasn’t done the best job of personal bible study/reading in recent years. He notes that its imperitive for us to feed ourselves, not just rely on a pastor to “feed” us. Makes a lot of sense when we think about how in reference to physical needs, even my Olivia is feeding herself…and she is 2. Most of us are spiritually mature enough to be feeding ourselves in that area as well.
On our way to the convention center where the meetings were held, we decided it might be good for us to try to get a hotel closer to the event so Misty could easily go back and rest. We we’re not particularly hopeful that we’d find one though, as the revival meetings were drawing quite a crowd from all over the world at this point. Approaching the convention hall we found only one hotel really close by; the Hyatt. I was sure they wouldn’t have vacancies, but Megan insisted on calling. She waited a few minutes to get someone, but before too long she was telephonically engaged with this nice young man named Peter. Deciding to shoot for the stars Meg threw in a couple special requests, like getting rooms close to the elevator. A few minutes on hold and Peter was back…he had reserved two rooms for us, both were right next to the elevator.
Timm and I left the girls in the car and went in to check in. We were greeted by a knowledgeable college age girl.
“Hi, we have reservations for two rooms. Under LeBlanc / Ziegler”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have you listed here, and we are sold out”
“Hmm, but we just talked to someone on the phone who booked two rooms for us…his name was Peter”
“Peter?” she said slightly perplexed. “There is no Peter here. In fact, there are no guys at all working tonight in the front desk or anywhere that would have answered the phone. Are you sure you called this hotel”
We went back and forth in vain for a few minutes trying to solve the mystery of this unknown Peter and his gracious facilitation of our reservation. Finally, we just asked her to check one more time.
“Oh, look at that…your reservation is there now. There must have been a cancellation because as of this morning we had no vacancies. And I have no idea why it didn’t show up before. Oh well!”
She gave us the keys and her well wishes and we were on our way.
Before getting to the hotel we had done a quick drive-by and didn’t see anyone outside at the convention center. So we figured, we’d have plenty of time to let Misty take a nap before wandering over there. We did however want to get some seats up close, so Timm and I went over to scope things out an hour or so later. I mean, we flew a few hours to be there and didn’t want to get stuck in the back with no chance of being prayed for. This whole thing was hard for me to swallow, but when I read the Bible I saw examples like the guys that cut a hole in the ceiling to lower their friend down into where Jesus would pray for him. It was hard because I’m always inclined to say, “God can heal me in FL or NJ” – and while that is true, it is also true that he has used certain people of faith and has given certain gifts of healing. So I swallowed the pride; we went to secure our place in line.
We get to the front doors and let ourselves in. Surprised to find them unlocked (and with no crowd) we wandered around for a staff member. A young man assured us that we were in the right place and that we were first on line. In the corner of my eye I saw a back door with some people sitting just on the other side. A closer inspection revealed over 1000 people lined up outside this entrance, waiting to get in. The young man informed us that the doors had been open for an hour but no one came in…they just built a line no realizing the door was open. So in an incredibly unusual series of events, and at the direction of the hotel staff, Timm and I found ourselves at the front of a very long line.
I left him there to go back and check on Misty. Megan had stayed with her as she napped. I didn’t even like to leave her there for a few minutes without me….things were just moving quickly and I was scared to not be with her. Since we arrived, I had been totally stressed about how I was going to handle my Monday morning meeting…I really didn’t want to leave her for a few hours. Well, as I sat in the hotel room I got an email on my blackberry telling me that the meeting of VIPs that I was in FL to support was just cancelled. Never in my career have I had a meeting cancelled after already traveling for it…but this time it was, and it was a very welcome change.
Shortly before the meeting starts, Meg and I pushed Misty down to meet up with Timm…who was still holding our place in line. Upon arrival to our prominent spot in the line, we found myriad vulture-like people descending upon Misty. Seriously, strange people were coming out of the woodwork to lay there hands on her and give their prayer. I am speculating here, but it seemed to me that the majority of these people were emotionally needy and almost fed on experiences like this; like they preyed on people that looked totally helpless to fulfill some inner needs of their own. Now, please don’t be offended by this…not everyone who prays for people should feel this is directed toward them. I myself have prayed for healing for many people and I feel that I’m pretty emotionally stable. I’m really just highlighting this specific experience…these specific Todd Bentley followers. After a few people, I began to turn them away. There were a few people that were genuine, but I didn’t feel that was the majority. I want to be very clear though…I don’t care a bit about these people. I believe it’s totally possible to have a real experience from God, yet have humans that are screwing it up. The inadequacies of people do not in any way negate the greatness of God. So these people were distracting and frustrating…but my opinion of the day is not built around them.
Inside the room we found quite a production. The vultures continued to descend and the music flooded the room as we took our seats close to the front, but on the side where it was easier to move the wheelchair. We sang and prayed. We did our best to trust God intimately, and look to him. It wasn’t 20 minutes in before Misty tried to tell me something. After a while of guessing I learned that she was basically saying that she trusted God for healing, but it wasn’t going to happen at that place or that night. Misty had always been incredibly discerning. She could pick things up that most of us miss. I should have just trusted her…
I was getting discouraged as people were coming up front claiming to have been healed from various things. Todd quoted a few verses, but 99% of the service was comprised of 3 things: Todd telling us about himself and his experiences with Jesus actually visiting him, Todd telling us about people God healed through him, and Todd bringing up people from the crowd to share stories of healing.
The service was getting a little old for Misty as well, so we decided to go outside. As we sat outside an old friend of mine rounded the corner to visit the bathroom. Nancy Balina is the mother of a girl Melanie who I had in youth group in NJ…Misty and I loved them. Well, there was Nancy with this bubbling passion and excitement for Misty to get prayed for. Seeing her was good; somewhat of an encouragement. Just as we were almost convinced to head back in, we hear Todd ask for all that have terminal illness…especially mothers (it was Mother’s Day). So we move quickly from outside and right up to the front where we joined the line. Timm and Meg were back with us, and now Nancy and George joined the pack.
I picked up Misty from the wheelchair and carried her over to the stage where we were well positioned to get prayed for. There was a young lady who took our name and basically put us in an order to get up on the stage. It was a bit strange, but I’m ok with order. The man in front of me had stage IV cancer as well…I don’t remember what type, but he looked terrible. My heart was breaking for him as he could barely get up the stairs. I remember wondering why these hurting people had to go up onstage to get prayed for. I also remember feeling like Todd was so rough with people…people that were hurting. If I were representing Jesus, I’d imagine hugging people; telling them they are loved; taking their hand and praying for them. I don’t recall observing any affection.
Another lady, one more of Bentley’s facilitators, waved to us as it was our turn. I held Misty’s hand supporting her as we shuffled out onto the cold stage with lights blaring and this fireball of a preacher asking her what was wrong with her. I spoke because she couldn’t. The actual words and movements of those few seconds are a blur. Here is what I do remember though. I remember feeling like he didn’t really care about her story…she was just one more potential success story. I remember being all too aware that there was a video camera (or 3) staring me in the face and broadcasting to millions of people across the world. I remember him uttering a few inconsequential words and pushing her head down – she fell backwards into my arms. I remember her face as I looked down to her…her eyes told all the story that I needed. She was let down. There was nothing there…no feeling of God, no inkling of any healing, not even any love from this purported great man of God. I sit here writing this at 2am on a Sunday night crying because I can see that look of disappointment in her face so clearly. It’s burned in me. (Her disappointment didn’t last for ever though.)
I sat there for a few seconds and Todd’s people began to rush me off the stage. I couldn’t even believe it. I felt no love, no compassion. It felt like a big show. Everything was about the lights and the camera. After we were so instructed to get off the stage, someone out back with a notebook asked us what was wrong with Misty and if she felt anything…like tingling on the spot of the cancer or something like that. It was quick, quick, quick, had to get our info down so the next person could get through the assembly line.
We went back to our seats and after a short while headed back to the hotel. As Misty lay in the bed sleeping I sat and thought for some time. I believe if I have ever experienced a clashing in the spirit realm, it was in that room as I sat and held the limp hand of my sleeping wife. I understand how weird this topic is, but if we believe in God, we must also believe in Angels, and Demons. All I know is that I was scared for no logical reason and I literally fell asleep repeating the name “Jesus”.
The next day found us up early and off to the airport. The journey back home Misty didn’t even want to get out of the wheelchair. She had left home the day before walking (with my help) and now she had no desire to even get up. Her body had significantly deteriorated in just those 24 hours.
Shortly after the trip we learned that Todd had been cheating on his wife with one of his “ministry” staff.
I can understand if you have some questions: So why did we go at all? What good came from it? And why did God seemingly piece things together to go somewhere when she wouldn’t be healed? So many components just worked out…and they worked out so we could be prayed for on national television by a man who was sleeping with his assistant. Doesn’t add up, right?
Well, I agree that it doesn’t all add up. I haven’t been able to figure out the “Why” questions associated with this one. BUT, I’m not upset that we went. When I sat in the airport and had to decide to fly or go home and I was terrified as to whether or Misty would even make the flight alive…I heard from God in the clearest message I’d ever heard in my life. Not an audible voice, but something pressed on my so strongly I couldn’t escape it. The message was that I could either continue to rely on doctors, or to step out in faith. So we stepped out. I don’t know what good came from that step of faith, but I have to trust some did…somewhere.
Yes, we left that trip disappointed, but it was only a few weeks later when Misty and I took that leap of faith even more distinctly; when we started reading the Bible not just everyday, but all day; when we began to worship and study throughout the waking hours. Our faith was built and that was the beginning of the beautiful, incredibly joyous time we had in the midst of hell.
Again, I don’t have many answers tonight, just an interesting totally true story and a promise for you that I still serve God, even when I don’t understand it. In fact, it’s almost BECAUSE I don’t understand him that I serve him. If I had God all figured out, he wouldn’t be much of a God.
Sorry I’ve been absent for a bit; I’m getting my life in order. I’m starting to realize that to maintain the level of work I take on each day, I need to be MUCH more organized and efficient. I’m in that process. I’m also laying low as i dream about what the future holds for my family. I’ll be back soon :)
In the mean time, you can be happy with me that the atlanticville interviewed me today and is doing a feature on Anthem of Hope.
Olivia and I have had a great couple days.
FRIDAY: We spent the night in Red Bank at the fabulous fireworks they do there every year. Saw a gazillion people we know, and had the pleasure of sharing a blanket in a beautiful location (thanks to the folks who got there at 11am to save the location for all of us!!)
SATURDAY: We joined up with pretty big group of folks and took a boat out of Point Pleasant. A 30 minute ride up the coast and we were in perfect location for the Long Branch fireworks.
A couple weeks back, as I was sitting in the airport heading off to Africa with a crew from Forgotten Voices International, I explained that my trip had two purposes:
1) VIDEO: First I was the camera man. I manned the video and audio gear, getting the footage we needed for a short film/video. We wanted to tell the story of someone who has been impacted by Forgotten Voices. In telling that story we felt we could effectively depict just what his group does. They, by the way, come alongside local leaders in Zimbabwe and Zambia and they provide funding, training and leadership to help existing ministries reach MUCH further. Much of the donations we send to countries like Zimbabwe don’t get used as effectively as they could…in fact, many of these donations cause more problems than good. This seems like a hard pill to swallow, but its true. We throw money at something so we feel better, but money doesn’t fix everything. FVI wisely works through local leaders rather than showing up with a new (and often western) agenda. Anyway, the absolute highlight of the trip was the 3 day slot when we finally got out into the very rural area of Mtshebezi. There we met a young girl named Neatness. Many of the names there are interesting English names: Davine, Desire, Trustworthy, Devotion, etc. And while English is the national language, when in the rural areas, its more common to speak tribal languages (in this case it was Ndebele, which is much like Zulu). So communication is a chore…but a beautiful one. Neatness spoke English well compared to her peers and she has been supported by FVI for a handful of years now, so she was a great subject for our story. Her 14 years haven’t been so easy. Her mom has AIDS, but is managing well much of the days. Her uncle is also HIV positive, but was so sick that he laid on a mat outside the entire time we were there (for days). I didn’t get any medical prognosis, but it didn’t seem he’d be with us much longer. Getting tested for HIV is a normal part of life. Unfortunately, Neatness’ little brother was positive as well. He was only a few years ahead of my Olivia…I can’t imagine growing up with that on my plate as a kid. Her dad died a few years back…she was devastated. Still tears up as we talk about it. Her aunt died as well…and, well…that’s as far as we got with the questions. But, that part of her story is pretty normal. That’s much of Africa. Neatness is special though. She is top of her class in her studies, and does much of the work to take care of her family. At 14, she is charged with waking before dawn (we got there at 4:45am!) and making breakfast for her siblings, then dressing them and getting everything ready for school. She walks them 5km to their school and proceeds to her own. After a long day in class, she takes them home, cleans the dishes, sweeps up, does her homework, irons her uniform and a bit more. There was an incredible beauty in the simplicity of this life though. There is no electricity, so ironing means taking coals from the fire and filling a cast iron tool with a flat bottom and pressing the clothes on a blanket. Doing dishes means heating water on the fire and cleaning with that, then emptying your bowls away from the homes. Being able to be there at sunrise and stay till sunset, just watching life…well, this was one of the highlights of my life. As Americans, we MIGHT get an opportunity to visit a country like this…and if we are really luckily maybe even meet someone like Neatness. But getting to spend days observing life there was an extraordinary experience. I spoke with Steve (the editor who traveled with us) and he said the footage is working out and he thinks it will be good.
2) RESEARCH PROJECT: Secondly, I mentioned that I was putting on my Anthem of Hope hat and exploring the spiritual needs of AIDS orphans and kids whose parents are sick or dying. This was a very interesting endeavor. As I said, I am not so naive to think that we were going to fix a problem in a week…but actually, I was very happy with the progress we did make. Basically, we identified that kids their respond very differently than kids in the US and the only way we are really going to be able to help with that is if we do a serious research project to explore it. SO…Anthem of Hope will be heading up a major Research Project over the next couple years. The trick is to do this so the development of our products isn’t impacted by even a week…and I think we can do that. The initial plan is to have the research collected by bright students right there in Zimbabwe. To my knowledge, nothing like this has been done. If you know otherwise, speak up. Anyway, I’m very excited about this.
Ok, that’s all for Africa for a while. In case you want a bit more on the trip, here are some of the twitter updates we posted for the 11 days. And no, twitter was not a purpose…just for fun!
i am slightly intimidated by the scope of work i need to accomplish by 5am to leave for the airport.
We are safely in
south africa, now boarding for ! :) breakfast (omlet, sausage, and mango juice) was yummy. All are well. zimbabwe
Darren & steve stunned by strength of insecticide spray before takeoff. darren: “that’s a tweet moment, ryan” hence the tweet. Taking off!
Great morning with james and the Rock church. Met a 16 year old named Yvonne and 14 yr old Ruth. Inspiring stories that we’ll share.
Picking up Matt from airport. Drinking a coke with the guys. James is with us. Pray Matt and medicine gets through fine.
I see Matt! Back of the customs line, but here! Yah!! Will tweet when we have Matt. Ps Cokes were delightful. Darren stole a bottle from 1995!
Pulled over by zim cops – pray this goes well…
Ok – we are on our way again. $20 bribe and we are back on the road. Picking up local pastor fibion for lunch now
slept in a thatched hut built into a cliff….with the most beautiful view I’ve seen. Can’t wait to post pics. In city today for few hrs
just found a cool street where tons of people were selling food, but as darren was negotiating over some bananas everyone packed and ran offApparently, the police come and take what you are selling. Steve was in the middle of yelling at a guy for stealing a pregnant womans food… and the guy showed him a badge (which looked fake), so we left. Anyway, we are safe and hopefully will tweet couple times today.
Great meeting with the president of the theological seminary…and off to dinner now with the bishop – senior man in brethren of christ …
Just saw a woman walking with three duffle bags stacked on her head…we are basically amazed by this.
just found out that a 16yr old girl in Fibion’s church here just died of meningitis. Kinda down this morning about that – praying for them.
Highlights of day: latch on truck broke and luggage (steve’s) thrown into street; 1 hour later we were off with help of rubber band. :-)
Game drive was incredible. 20 elephants surrounded our truck and roared. Saw monkeys, zebra, ostrich, hyena, jackal, 3 hippo, wildebeast …
Sitting in a safari lodge, eating ostrich while watching elephants & impala eat in dark. Then late drive back to find some game. 530am rise.
Will is doing pushups on a lawn near the falls. I love this guy. Dinner at 7. Warthog and crocodile tail. Peace till then.
Boarding plane. Goodbye, Zim. My home, my heart,& my hope for a better way of life. We just met 2 canadians that climbed mt kilimanjaro.wow!
. Goodbyes to darren & steve. Matt & I tour a church providing shelter for Zim refugees & stay the night in Joburg. south africa
darren and steve are home safely into
– and all the bags made it too. unfortunately customs made them dump the kudo and ostrich jerky! new york
For many years Zimbabwe was considered the “Breadbasket of Africa”. The breadbasket moniker is generally attributed to a region with the richest soil and best climate. Zimbabwe has been a major food contributor to the rest of Africa for decades. It’s soil, the envy of neighboring countries. Additionally, Zimbabwe boasts the spectacular Victoria Falls, which rightfully holds it’s place as one of the seven wonders of the world. The country had a lot going for it…that is, up until 2000.
The Republic of Zimbabwe
In 2000, President Robert Mugabe began his bogus Land Reform initiative. The story was that he was taking land from the wealthy commercial farmers and redistributing it to the less wealthy. Unfortunately, his fellow wealthy elite became the beneficiaries of the seized land. It has been much more about race than about economic status. He has worked at removing many of the white landowners in the country and verbally said he plans to remove them all. Unfortunately, the white commercial farmers are the very people that produced all the food that fed the country…and much of Africa. The recipients of this land have no desire to farm, so the premiere land in the continent yields no crops.
A few fixed elections later and Mugabe is still in control (allegedly using intimidation, violence and even assassination to keep himself there). Even last month when I was there white farmers were still being kicked off their land. The country is now importing much of its food and gets literally 70% of its income from foreign aid. Since the farms have been shut down the currency has suffered from hyperinflation. Millions of percent inflation from 2000 through this year. The store owners would set prices 3 times a day….and the increases would be so significant that a pay check on Friday would be worthless come Saturday. Four times the government decided to lop off a huge number of zeroes and start with a new dollar bill; a 50,000,000,000 would now be $5. Finally, earlier this year, the country canceled the Zimbabwean dollar and officially began to use South African Rand most prominently.
Last year though, as the food supply was low and money was in flux, the shelves of the stores were often bare. People had to drive out of the country to buy food…or buy it off the black market. It’s almost inconceivable for we westerners, that this is happening in 2009. People would be arrested for taking pictures or video of these things though…anything that could make the government look bad was quickly squashed. But that was last year…this year is getting better. The money is stabilizing, but there are still over 30% of the country that would literally starve were it not for major food aid initiatives. There are hundreds in the jails who starve every month because the government doesn’t have money to feed them, and hundreds of thousands who struggle to even pay the $20/yr it might cost to go to school.
Yes, the money is stabilizing…now all we need is for Mugabe to die.
PS – some of you are asking why did we go, and what did we get done? That will have to wait till part two :)
PSS – Yes, I remember that I’m missing Part 3 of the “Lakeland Revival”. It’s coming soon!