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October 2007
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December 2007

Beautiful Abundance

A VISIT TO THE MARA

I am sitting in my chalet, overlooking the Kenyan plains of the Masai Mara region. My view is a never-ending variety of magnificent, endless beauty. One moment I look up and I see a herd of wildebeest; the next time I look at the same area the wildebeest are gone, replaced by a herd of elephants or zebra.

Not only does my scenery change as I gaze out my window, but so do the sounds. I have my sliding doors wide open. If I pay attention, I can hear grunts, bellows, nays, cries, screeches, fear, warnings, laughter, howls, growls, brays, songs, chirps, growls, moos, anger, hoots, trumpet calls, pleas for help and rescue, threats, territorial claims, love calls, sounds of silence, bush planes, and the engines of vehicles transporting tourists to up close and personal encounters with the sights and sounds of the Mara.

TIMING

Every trip to the Mara is different, every game drive with your guide an adventure. Everything is a matter of timing. Show up two minutes later and you have missed the kill, the mating, the vultures finishing a feast, the jackal marking his territory, the elephants pushing over a tree. If you look left instead of right, you may not see the giraffes or the lions that emerged from the trees for a quick look at you.

Look there! I just happened to look up from writing and used my field glasses. I see twelve, no thirteen elephants, walking across the plain. They are moving so slowly, not a care in the world. Where are they going? They don’t know; they are just following the food.

It’s all about food and water in the Mara. Everyone is someone else’s enemy, someone else’s food source. No one is safe. The lions run from the hyenas, the hyenas avoid the elephants, the elephants keep a close eye on the lions, who in turn are watching for an opportunity to feast on the elephant young.

BEAUTIFUL ABUNDANCE

Abundance! Everywhere you look there is an abundance of dew on the grass, water, insects, game, vegetation, sights, dangers, clouds, beauty, and sounds. There is no anxiety in the Mara. The residents know that there is plenty of whatever it is that they need. They just have to find it.

Yesterday, we came to a riverbank and there were a slew of crocodiles tearing into a zebra carcass. We were alone for ten or fifteen minutes – who knows how long, for time ceases to exist when you are on a game drive. Then another vehicle came by, but the show was over; there’s that timing thing again. We read in the guest book today that someone saw two lions mating yesterday. They saw it; we missed it. They, however, didn’t see the crocs twisting and rotating in the water to tear off a piece of zebra flesh. There seems to be something for everyone every day to talk about at breakfast or dinner.

FOOD

Speaking of food, it is great and plentiful at the lodges. Meals are a time to reflect on what you just saw, telling your table or bar mates about the wonders of the Mara from your perspective, trying to convince anyone who will listen that your guide is the best guide in the world. The guides are good, but I wish they would tell us a little more information about what we are seeing. While they speak English, I don’t think they are confident to teach mostly white tourists Mara secrets.

The guides have a sixth sense of where to go and what to see. They spot things that aren’t there, or at least you think aren’t there until closer inspection. They were right! There is a cheetah just at the edge of that tree line. It helps to have everyone looking but it helps more to have someone who knows what they are looking for.

There are a lot of shrubs and bushes in the Mara, but very few trees. The trees that do exist are singular acacia trees. Someone in our group said that they serve more as landmarks than anything else, and I think he’s right. “Let’s meet at the acacia tree next to the four-foot high termite mound.” Did I mention that the termite mounds are so skillfully constructed that the internal temperature in the mound is always 55 degrees Fahrenheit? How do the termites know? The cheetahs love to perch on top of the mounds, which affords them an overview of the dinner menu before them on that day.

CHEETAHS

Ah yes, cheetahs! On my last trip here, my son and I traveled all morning, looking for cheetah. We finally came upon a mother cheetah with five cubs in tow. The morning sun was perfect and the guide positioned our vehicle positioned for a perfect view. Then he said, “She is stalking.’ She didn’t look like it to me but before we could say, “Hakuna matata (no worries in Swahili),” she was off and running after an impala. The cheetah lost that hunt, and returned to her cubs empty-handed and exhausted.

What had just happened? All we knew was that we had stopped breathing for a minute or two, spellbound by what we had just witnessed. This wasn’t the Discovery Channel or National Geographic. This was real life in the Mara, happening right before our very eyes. Fortunately, my son had the video camera rolling – I was too awestruck to use my camera – and he had something that looked like a scene from the show Animal Kingdom. He must have watched that video 100 times before we got back to camp.

THE CAMPS

The camps are comfortable, and the rooms are well furnished and spacious. We arrived to the camp via a Cessna Caravan single-engine prop plane. The ride was bumpy and the landing strips are hardened gravel and dirt. It rained hard during one landing and take off, but the weather was beautiful just five minutes away. You can see game from the air, but it’s much better at ground level. I’m not sure why anyone would pay $300 for a hot-air balloon safari, but they do and the balloons dot the morning sky.

The guides usually take you out at 6:30 AM and 4:00 PM for about two and a half hours in a land rover. Don’t drink any liquids; there are no rest stops. One morning they usually serve you breakfast in the bush where Masai tribesmen in their famous red and blue plaid togas escort you to your tables and answer your questions. The Masai are the tribesmen of the area, the Mara is the name of the area itself. Thus you have what’s known as the Masai Mara. Some drop the Masai and just call it the Mara. The Mara blends into the Serengeti in Tanzania. I wonder if the animals know where they are?

I just took a break to locate the elephants with my glasses. How did they get all the way over there so quickly? They seemed to be moving so slowly, yet they made great progress. Why am I always in such a hurry? Some of the herd has lingered behind, perhaps tantalized by some choice bit of grass or berries. But they’ll catch up because elephants understand family. They may separate for a while, but they always reunite.

While looking for the elephants, I decided to see how many other animals I could locate in one 180-degree sweep of the plain. I located buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe (there is a now famous video of a pride of lions who brought down an adult giraffe; I didn’t think it was possible), topi, warthogs, and a hippo in the river. Not bad from the comfort of an armchair in my chalet.

TIME TO GO

I leave this afternoon, but I have more than 300 pictures and some video. They aren’t really necessary, however, for these images are imprinted on my mind forever. The pictures are for someone else; the memories are for me.

Nothing lasts forever. I take one more look in my glasses and the elephants have vanished! That’s kind of sad, but wait, there’s a long line of buffalo, walking across the valley in single file. Who chose the leader? Why do they follow? Just when I was mourning the loss of the elephants, I have gained a new visual expression of the variety the Mara has to offer. Even that has to end, however, for my plane is leaving for the trip back to Nairobi.

I hope nothing much changes before I can return again. Somehow I don’t think it will, although in other ways, the Mara is always changing, compliments of the beautiful abundance that is here.

Feel free to add your comments to the site where this entry is posted. I tried to post some pictures for you to see, but it's not working out. They will follow in a later post.

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Happy Thanksgiving

That is what we had as a family, a happy Thanksgiving Day. We hung out together, went to see a movie, visited friends and ate like there was no tomorrow. Isn't that what Thanksgiving is all about?

On Wednesday night, I visited the restaurant our son manages after we visited the hospital where he received two stitches in his leg from a work accident. The weather was so mild that I decided to walk the three miles or so back to my hotel. While walking, I passed a place that I hadn't been to in 40 years, McSorley's Pub. When I was 18, the legal drinking age in New York was 18, so my friends and I used to go to McSorley's all the time. Back then, no women were allowed in the pub and they only served beer, along with a cheese platter. I poked my head in the other night and everything was the same -- except that women are now admitted.

When you receive this, I will be in the air, heading to Nairobi with three friends from The Cathedral of Life Christian Assembly in Providence, Rhode Island. We will go on a safari for the first two days and then minister in the Nairobi area. After that, it's on to Zimbabwe.


Eight Percent Did It

I see that Ian Smith, last white prime minister in Zimbabwe, passed away at the age of 88. If you want to read about Smith's role in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia when he was in power), you can read it here.

If you need encouragement to write, then today's post Six Weeks to Go from Diana Scimone is a must-read. In fact, you need to consider purchasing her e-book that she mentions in her entry. Or you can also check out her series of articles on writing found on her blog under the category The Writer's Workshop. I will be starting another series on creativity in my weekly Monday Memo soon, so thanks, Diana, for the head start on that topic.

At one time, Diana and I kept track of how many people said they were going to write a book and how many actually did. Of the 50 or so who told us they were going to write, only four actually wrote one to the best of our knowledge. That's only 8%. Are you among the 92% who claim they will write a book one day and then never seem to find a way to make that "one day" happen? If so, then Diana can help.

And finally, check out Bill Kinnon's latest post, It Isn't All About Me, on the issue of consumerism in the Church. Bill's blog, Achievable Ends, always has such great material and cross references. He, like many of us, is concerned with the direction of the North American church and has decided to do something about it; he decided to write. What a novel (pardon the pun) idea! He took Diana's advice long before Diana ever wrote it. Keep up the good work, Bill, and thanks for encouraging me to blog, and for helping to set up my site two years ago.

I wish all my American readers a Happy Thanksgiving. On Friday, I am off to Kenya and then Zimbabwe. I will be home on December 11.

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M&Ms and the New York Knicks

I promised I would let you know what we found when we went for our walk the other night. We went over to Times Square and walked through the M&M candy store. That's right, M&M has a three-story shop on Seventh Avenue that has everything M&M -- underwear, jackets, cuff links, cups, shirts, pillows and M&M candies in every color under the sun (well, almost every color). The store is open until midnight -- only in New York and in Times Square.

Yesterday, I took a train out to see my friend and webmaster, Justin Agoglia, founder of Skylar Design. We are conceptualizing a new site for PurposeQuest and we had a great meeting. Due to the mild autumn weather we had in October, the autumn leaves have just now peaked. I must say that the train ride out to Long Island was breathtaking; the leaves were at peak autumn colors!

Last night, I went to Madison Square Garden, the "world's most famous arena" (that's what they say about it at the Garden), and I saw the NBA Golden State Warriors crush the hometown Knicks. It was a bad display of basketball and the crowd chanted in unison, "Fire Isiah!" at the end of the game, referring to Knicks' coach Isiah Thomas. It got ugly, so my daughter and I left early. Then I walked the 14 blocks through Manhattan back to my hotel.

So there you have my day in the Big Apple. I'll let you in on any other adventures that take place before I leave for Africa this coming Friday.


New York!

There is no city like New York. My wife and I arrived last night to celebrate Thanksgiving week. We are staying at a hotel a few blocks from Times Square and it's exhilarating just to be here. I have tickets for the New York Knicks NBA game tonight and had tickets for a broadway show tomorrow, but the show was cancelled due to a stage hands' strike. So we'll probably go to a movie. Both of our children live here in New York now, so we will all be together for at least part of the week.

i have been coming to New York for more than 40 years, since I attended a prep high school in Connecticut. I am familiar with downtown Manhattan and, if you're not intimidated by New York, its treasures and surprises are always special.

It's 10 PM, but I'm going to take a walk around the hotel. I'll let you know what I find.


The Strengths Movement

There is a debate in leadership circles as to which is the most beneficial investment of time: trying to improve a weakness or to maximize a strength. The last Gallup poll I saw showed that 57% of those asked felt that improving a weakness was the best use of time and energy. I disagree, and that's probably why I like the business author Marcus Buckingham. Not too long ago I finished his latest work Go Put Your Strengths to Work. I actually listened to the book, read by Marcus himself. I guess the publishers feel that his British accent will add to his credibility.

I don't listen to Marcus because he's British; I listen to him because I believe he's right.

This book came complete with a CD of forms and exercises to employ while reading, I found the forms pretty elementary and not very helpful, but Buckingham's reminders and practical examples only bolstered my already strong belief that we are better off building on a strength than improving a weakness.

Let's think about the world of sports. If you have an American football quarterback who can throw the football with accuracy, you don't really care how fast he is or whether he can block and tackle. You want him throwing and leading the team because those are his strengths. You want him spending time getting better at what he already does well. There may be other aspects of his game that he can spend some time on, getting a little less ineffective in those areas. For the most part, however, you want him building on his strength.

That is how we should think about the human resources in our businesses, schools and churches. That is also how you should direct your own life and time. Don't spend one minute more than you must on making your weakness less weak. Take the time you could employ in that exercise and use it to be even more effective at your strength. I think you'll be happier and the team you are a part of at work, home or ministry will be better off with you doing what you do best as often as possible.

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Willow Creek Repents

The title of this entry is taken from another entry on another site. The site is Out of Ur from Christianity Today magazine and the entry is a recent post concerning the Willow Creek Association's study of how effective its world-famous seeker-sensitive programs have been. In fact, there are two entries and I suggest that you read them both along with all the comments.

Here is a summary of the findings: "Spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage." Willow Creek has to face that they invested millions of dollars and thousands of man hours in programs that, well, haven't flat-out worked.

Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

1. I applaud Willow for making an effort to find out how effective their programs have been. The hardest aspect of church work can often be measuring how effective we are at what we do. What do we measure? How do we measure progress in someone's life and in the life of a congregation? The lack of tangible results can be frustrating or depressing. The lack can also cause leaders not to measure at all, but to just continue "doing their thing," whatever their "thing" may be. How often have you heard someone say when a church program goes nowhere, "Well, if one person was helped, it was all worth it!"? No, if only one person was helped, the church wasted a lot of time and money, nothing more.

2. I applaud Willow that they made their findings public. How often have we seen churches with "bad news" either hide the news, since the "people" would not be able to handle it, or they put a spin on the bad news to make leadership look better.

3. I applaud Willow that their leaders are involved in the current dialogue, or at least Greg Hawkins is involved. Do you see anyone from the ministries that are being investigated for their financial decisions coming forward to interact with the public, including their critics? I don't. Yet Willow is facing the music, so to speak, and trying to learn from the process.

I have never been a big fan of the seeker-sensitive churches, although their passion for the unchurched is commendable. I think Bill Hybel's annual leadership conference is the best in the Church world, and that format is now being emulated by John Maxwell and others. In this current discussion, I see Hybel's and team applying many of the principles that I have heard and learned in their leadership events. So let's keep the dialogue going on this subject and learn what we can from Willow's mistakes. Thank you, Willow Creek, for making them so public. There may be hope for the American Church to self-correct itself after all.

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A Few Pictures

I thought I would share with you a few pictures from my recent travels that are special to me.  The first is the marquis from the church in Grand Junction where I worked and ministered last week.  I profiled 40 people in six days, spoke on purpose in the Sunday service and met with the church staff.  I guess I really was the purpose doctor while I was there!

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Then there's the picture from the recent Celebration Church choir tour.  Celebration Church Harare meets in a facility that they named Celebration Centre.  While I was driving in central Kansas, I ran across another facility by the same name!  They even spelled "centre" in the British manner, ending the word in -re. It's a small world indeed.

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Finally, we had the privilege of celebrating my mother's 91st birthday before I left for the choir tour.  My mother is an amazing woman.  She lives alone and has since my father passed away 11 years ago.  She cooks for herself and has her family or friends over every now and then for a meal or dessert.  My mother is the one who taught me that organization is a key to success in life and I love her dearly.  She is one of my biggest fans.

Mom








Giving Your Way to Wealth

I raised an issue in my last Monday Memo and I have had several people write me about it. I basically said that I don't think it's possible to give your way to prosperity. I think prosperity comes from hard work and investments. Generosity is a value and one gives because it is godly to give, not expecting anything in return. Yet, I know that there is return when you give. Here is how I answered someone who wrote me:

I have never known anyone who prospered by giving. They were blessed by giving and God rewarded them, but their prosperity came through hard work and investments.

I guess I am thinking of those who promise a financial breakthrough if you give a $1,000 "seed gift" to their ministry. I do think, however, that it also carries over to some of the promises that are made to encourage people to give to their local church. Am I off base here? What do you think? I would enjoy hearing from you and allowing others to read your insights and testimonies. You can write your public comments on the site where this is posted. What say ye? Can you give your way to wealth?