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September 2007

Harare Report

I have been here one week and the people continue to amaze me. I have attached a picture below of a typical supermarket scene. There is very little food there. If it wasn't for the black markets, there would be no markets at all. Whenever any society fixes prices and interferes with the free market process, an alternative or black market emerges. I saw the same thing in Cuba and Afghanistan when I was there -- not much food on the shelves but anything you wanted "under the counter." But there are severe shortages here, so not everything can be bought on the street.

There is virtually no meat, paper products or sugar available anywhere. It is spring here, so there aren't many vegetables. I am not starving, so please don't misunderstand. I am well taken care of and don't mind missing a meal or two. i am far from malnourished. I really don't know, however, how people outside of the major cities are making it, because I hear they have nothing available anywhere.

Yet the people carry on their lives. They smile, worship, sing, but the tension is thick. Someone said that anti-depressant drugs are at an all time high here. I would certainly understand why. And of course, there is abundant evidence that God takes care of His people and provides in miraculous ways.

The house where I am staying hasn't had too many power cuts, which has been nice. You certainly don't take electricity for granted here, or running water for that matter. I am here until Sunday when I depart for Israel and Jordan along with 26 other pilgrims. Then I will be back here in Zimbabwe before I return home on September 27.

Empty Shelves


Nairobi and Harare

I finished up my whirlwind visit to Nairobi and flew into Harare yesterday. Last Friday, I profiled 35 employees at the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority after I had no sleep the night before. That hasn't happened to me in a while, but I could not sleep after I arrived on Thursday night, so I had to put in a full day of work on Friday. I did remarkably well, although by 5 PM I was dragging! To make matters worse, I only had two hours of sleep on Friday night before I flew here. I had a good night's sleep last night.

I have not seen them for myself, but judging by what I hear, conditions in Harare are worse than when I was here in June. I am told that there is nothing in the local stores. I saw a picture that someone took and that is what is pictured - absolutely nothing! I am grateful that I have had power and water since I arrived, but a church worker told me that they have had water at their church site for only five days in the last month. As I move around this week, I will keep you posted on how things are.

I have a busy week ahead with four days devoted to training for The Pacific Institute. In the midst of crumbling conditions, all I can do is help people hold onto a positive attitude and visualize a better future. Everyone says that this must end here, that something has got to change. So far, not much has and things are getting worse in many circles. I will write more later in the week.


Amsterdam Again

I am back in Amsterdam, on my way into Nairobi. I had a good flight over the pond and sat next to a man who I knew of but had never met. He lived in MIssissippi when I lived in Alabama! It truly is a small, small world. I wrapped up my time in Kansas City and enjoyed my visit with the Church of the Harvest family. It's interesting that I learn whenever I teach. I guess that's why we are urged to teach as a means of personal growth.

This is the first year in a while that I did not attend a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. I did see two games this season, one in Seattle and one in Chicago, but I miss seeing my local team. The Pirates have fallen on hard times and have not had a winning season since 1992, which means they have the longest losing streak of any professional sports team in the world at this point. i guess it's good to be number one in something, but a distinction they would probably rather do without.

I have to run to shower and get ready for my next flight. They told me that there are 200 empty seats on this flight, so I will have my choice of seats. That's good because I have a lot of work to do on the plane. I will write you from Nairobi.


Kansas City

I am in Kansas City for another day before I head off to Kenya and Zimbabwe. I have been here with Pastors David and Tracy Frech at Church of the Harvest in Olathe, Kansas. I have had a great time profiling and interviewing their leadership team. I also spoke on Sunday and delivered my purpose message on Samson entitled One More Time. I have been impressed with the church. They have good leadership, a wonderfully diverse group, and vision for the future. It was an honor to be here. I also enjoyed connecting with my friend Bernard Franklin last Saturday evening.

I will be with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and my friend Kentice Tikolo for one day in Nairobi, then I am off to rejoin Pastors Tom and Bonnie Deuschle in Harare at Celebration Church. I won't be home until September 27, but will be busy in Harare. I have six days of facilitating for The Pacific Institute, a trip to Israel and Jordan, and plenty of work to do to prepare for the upcoming Celebration Choir tour in October to the States.

I am still basking in the glow of what I learned the last two weeks in my D. Min. program. I have plenty of work to do to complete my classes, but I am looking forward to it all.

I will keep you updated from the road.


Class Update

It's nice to have my technology world back together. As I wrote the other day, both my Apple computer and my handheld Treo went down this week. I felt like a man on crutches who had his crutches taken away from him! It seems that everything is fixed and back to normal, and just in time. I depart tomorrow for Kansas City and then I am off to Kenya next Wednesday and Zimbabwe after that.

I finished up my Christ in the Gospels class last week. This week I have sat under Dr. Dennis Prutow for The Renewal of Preaching class. Both weeks have been outstanding, although the days do get a bit long. We start at 8 AM and go until 5 PM. That's a long time to listen to a lecture. At the same time, what a privilege to sit and study the Scriptures! I have learned so much. Today I have a "trial" sermon as part of the class requirements. I have been assigned Hebrews 11:21, so I will be talking about Jacob, applying the new concepts I have learned this week. I am looking forward to it.

These two weeks have represented a major investment of time and money, but it's all been well spent. I have quite a bit of work to do between now and my next class week in February. This week I was wondering whether this school effort was worth it and the Lord reminded me of Tiger Woods, who totally "remade" his swing a few years. He was already a great golfer but he wanted to be even better. So he relearned some things and developed some new things and today he is just that: better than ever. That is a model that I would not mind emulating.

I have enjoyed my two weeks at home and hate to see them come to an end. It's time to move on, however, so I will be packing tonight and hitting the road tomorrow. I will keep you posted of my adventures from the road.


Polo Anyone?

This past weekend our family convened to celebrate our son's 30th birthday.  Since both our children live in New York City, we decided to head out to the Hamptons on eastern Long Island for the weekend. The Hamptons are an upscale area about 100 miles east of the City and are called that because of the towns in the area that end in -hampton:  Bridgehampton, Westhampton, Southhampton, etc.  We stayed overnight in Southhampton.

I can honestly say it was one of the finest weekends we have spent together and we fell in love with the area. The food was great, the beach was super, and the people were friendly (We thought there would be a bit of snobbery, given the wealth of the area, but found there were poor people there just like us!).  We drove to the farthest point east on the southern tip of Long Island to see the famous Montauk Lighthouse and then had dinner in that area. The seafood was fabulous.

One of the more interesting things we did was attend the Mercedes Benz Polo Championship on Saturday afternoon.  While about 50 people sat across the field in the general admission stands, we were in the Mercedes Benz tent with about 1,000 people who had invitations from the sponsor (our daughter got the tickets).  The tent had free food and drink and provided us shade from the hot sun.  It also gave us a chance to see some of the beautiful people who attend polo matches.

These people were in all shapes and sizes, and many had put a lot of thought into what they would wear to the match.  For some of the women, it wasn't what they were wearing but what they weren't wearing that drew all the attention, if you know what I mean!  I found out that polo is divided into six seven-minute chuckers, with a 15-minute intermission.  During the break, people walk out onto the field and repair the divets that the horses produced during the first three chuckers.  To do that, you must avoid all the other deposits that the horses make during their time on the field. 

At any rate, we had a memorable weekend.  Now I am back in school for the week.  My real excitement this week is that my Apple computer and my Treo phone are both malfunctioning, so I am technologically hamstrung at this point in my life.  It isn't a pleasant experience.


Last Class

This is a report from my last class for the week. Next week I have a class on preaching, and I can't wait to use the material I have learned this week!

As I mentioned, yesterday we "took apart" the Olivet discourse found in Matthew 23-24 and Luke 21, showing clearly in the original language that Jesus was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and not the final judgment that we are awaiting as His followers. We traced the usage of Jesus' words to the Old Testament, seeing what any Jew who knew his old covenant would have understood when Jesus said what He said. We also saw that the "end of the age" was referring to the end of the old covenant age and not the end of time.

This makes so much sense and changes how I have read and interpreted so many passages that refer to the "last days." It also explains why so many believe that Paul and others "missed it" by predicting the return of the Lord in their lifetime, something which obviously did not happen. They were not looking for the Second Coming at that point. They were looking to the end of the old covenant era with the Temple, animal sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood.

I woke up at 3 AM this morning thinking about all this and it has had a deep impact on me. I am looking forward to the last class today, not because I haven't enjoyed it, but because 8 AM to 5 PM is a long time to sit in a classroom setting.

This weekend Kathryn and I are off to New York to celebrate our eldest son's 30th birthday. It hardly seems possible that it has been three decades ago that he was born, but it is. I'll have more class reports for you next week.


Class Report

We are in day four of the Christ in the Gospels class and it continues to elevate my view of Christ and the gospel writers. The professor has had such an encounter with Christ through the gospels that he breaks down and cries as he delivers some of his insights. I went to bed last night talking about what we learned yesterday and could not wait to get back today. And we are sitting in class lectures from 8 AM to 5 PM, with short breaks and an hour for lunch.

Today we are studying the Olivet discourse as found in Matthew 23-24 and Luke 21. The original language clearly shows that those passages are not about the Second Coming of Jesus but rather the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

We have seen so many interesting and important things in the gospels as we have studied the Greek and connected much of it to the Old Testament. I don't think I will ever approach the gospel accounts in the same way after taking this course. I have preached so many things from the gospels but not preached them as gospel or good news of Jesus.

I will keep you posted on what we learn today.


Class

I am sitting in my Christ in the New Testament class at the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh. I must say that the class has already taken my breath away! I had forgotten how meaningful it is to study the Word in the Greek. We got such tremendous insights yesterday from Matthew, Mark and Luke that I wanted to jump up and shout at one point.

Our professor makes a strong case for the early existence of the first three gospels, all three in existence within 20 years of Jesus' ascension. He further points out that the variations in each gospel were not because each one edited the previous one, but because each gospel was written to a different audience. Thus, each writer would have tailored their material to meet the needs of their readers. I don't have time to develop this, but it is significant to refute many who say that the gospels are full of errors and contradictions. They are not.

Matthew wrote his gospel first to believing Jews and probably wrote first in Hebrew or Aramaic. Mark wrote in Rome to believing Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, probably basing his narrative on Peter's stories and narrative. Luke wrote his gospel to Gentiles who had little or no contact with Jewish culture. Luke's gospel probably also had the approval of Paul, his traveling companion.

Right now we are studying Matthew's gospel and how his accounts, which can also be found in Luke, are adapted for the Jewish reader, emphasizing how the kingdom was being taken from Jews and given to Gentiles. This would have been significant and even scandalous to a Jewish reader. Luke does not include that insight because it would have been insignificant to his Gentile readers.

I have to get back to my studies, but suffice it to say that I am privileged to have the chance to sit and study with a scholar like this for two whole weeks.


Uptight

I had an interesting experience last Sunday. I set out for church at my usual time, which is enough time to arrive early. There is a massive repaving project going on in Pittsburgh, however, and all the roads that I use were closed, which meant I had to take several routes that took more time. That made me late for church.

In all my adult life, I cannot remember ever being late for church. So what was my response? I was uptight! Can you imagine? I arrived to church just as the opening call to worship was being read. My point is that I get tense over things that aren't worth getting tense over.

I wonder how many other things I get uptight about that aren't worth the energy? I think I will pay more attention to what those things may be in the coming week. Care to join me in this exercise?