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A Sad Letter From Zimbabwe

I received a letter from Zimbabwe yesterday and I thought I would share part of it with you. You can read it in its edited entirety by downloading the file at the end of this entry.  Tomorrow I will announce a means by which you can contribute to help feed the starving in both Zimbabwe and Kenya through what I am calling The Sophia Fund, named in honor of my mother. I will use all my contacts in both countries to make sure that the money is used only to feed the poor.

For today, however, read the letter and weep for what once was a great country:

Death is everywhere.  I have been told that our normal burial rate at one cemetery in Harare before hospitals closed was 10 a day and now it is 50 a day.  The high density areas are depressing places where trash and sewage are everywhere and one can hear the wailing of funerals daily.  The rural areas are full of starvation and cows (which represent their wealth) are being traded one cow for 200 kgs of wheat.  A cow that takes years to grow is equivalent to a few meals.  Cholera is claiming lives and shows no sign of stopping. 

Until clean water is restored and the sewage and trash are contained, the source of disease is still there.  Prisoners are dying of starvation as they perhaps get a meal of sadza without anything or not even a meal.  The likelihood of schools opening and functioning normally in two weeks is minimal as the pay for teachers is less than that for a maid.  I am expecting to keep the kids home and give them extra lessons.  I don’t expect it to get better soon as the economy has gone to US dollars and the majority of people cannot afford food.

I got some money at the beginning of December and provided food for 28 families.  The food cost around $30 or so for each family and it was probably enough for about 2 to 2 ½ weeks if they had nothing else at home.  I go to the grocery store and without buying any meat I can spend $60 for some basics.  The prices in the shops are not possible for the ordinary citizen.  Those who can are still shopping in the neighboring countries.  My car can’t make it anymore so I mostly buy in this country now. . . .

Please continue to support us through prayer and finances.  Some of you possibly can do more than that.  We need money and supplies to keep people alive.  I know there is a downturn in the world’s economy.  A lot of people here are dependent on those outside of the country that have been affected by the recession.   If you are connected to any non-profit organizations that can help, please advise.  Thank you so very much.

You can read the edited version (with pictures) in its entirety below and then please pray and be ready to give.  Even $5, a paltry sum by our standards, can help feed a family.  I promise that whatever we raise will go directly to feed the people with no administrative costs taken out.  More on how to contribute tomorrow.

Download Zim Nwsltr Edited


On Twitter

I finally enrolled in Twitter, so give me a tweet at @JohnStanko or sign up to follow my entries there.  If you aren't familiar with Twitter, you may want to consider enrolling.  Also, I am on Facebook and have had a rash of friend findings the last two weeks.  I'm not sure why I do all this, for I don't really need any more emails coming in. But it is cool to be united and reunited with friends and associates, so tweet or connect away with me on either service. 


On The Road

After attending the gala Jack and Jill ball in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, we hit the road Sunday morning to drive to NY City.  We drove here in a truck to bring some furniture to our son who lives in Brooklyn.  We had a great trip until we got to the Holland Tunnels, where we spent two hours in a traffic jam to get through the tunnel.  The problem?  There were many visitors to the city who did not have EZ Pass (an automated toll service) and the tunnel only had two lines open for those with cash.  Those two lines were backed up for miles and delayed the rest of us.  Once we got into the City, however, it was more delays as traffic was heavy with holiday visitors.

NY Tree But we made it fine (so did the furniture) and then came into the city to stay at our daughter's apartment on East 34th Street.  We took the opportunity last night to go see the tree at Rockefeller Center.  The tree has a cool topper this year - a Swarovski crystal star.  I have never seen such crowds at the tree, obviously encouraged by the 68 degree weather.  We got a chance to see the star up close and personal at the Saks Fifth Avenue store across Fifth Avenue from the tree. 

We also visited St. Patrick's Cathedral and did some window shopping before we NY Star came back and ordered in some Chinese food. Today we will spend with our son and have lunch with some friends at a place to be determined. Tomorrow we head down to Washington DC on a train to visit with Kathy's mom for a few days.  I brought just a few clothes but a lot of books!  I am teaching three classes this coming term at the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry and have to complete a syllabus for all three.  Plus I have a ton of reading for my next doctoral class this February, this one in biblical counseling.  No complaints, just an update. 

What are you doing with your New Year's week?  What are you reading?  What are your most significant resolutions for 2009?  Mine is to be more dilligent and faithful at saving money for the future. 


Lazy Blogger

I have been a lazy blogger the last few weeks.  We had a great Christmas, joined here in PIttsburgh by Diana, my sister-in-law.  Yesterday I had our annual PurposeQuest International board meeting and today I am off to an early board meeting with my friend Tim Blanarik, who founded a group called REACH.  Then tonight my wife and I attend a debutante ball of sorts at the William Penn Hotel sponsored by the Jack and Jill organization.  Our friend, Karla Byrd, has her daughter, Catherine, in the ball and we are going to celebrate with them. I had to get out my tux for this one, and my wife had to let out the waist -- just a little.

Tomorrow we are off to New York City where we are going to see our son and deliver some of my mother's furniture for him to have and use.  We will only be in the City for two days, then it's off via Amtrak to Washington DC to visit my favorite mother-in-law.  (She always reminds me that she is my only mother-in-law, but then I respond that if I had 100 mothers-in-law, she would still be my favorite!).  We will be there for a few days and then it is back to Pittsburgh to get back into the swing of things with the post-holiday blues.

One of our highlights of the season for us was our neighborhood get together prior to Christmas.  Since we are living in a new subdivision, all of us are new neighbors, so we thought we would take a chance and have an open house.  Of the 17 households we invited, 13 came by and we had a great evening by all accounts.  My wife set a great table of desserts and everyone mixed and talked with ease.  We hope to do it again next year.

Our Christmas was simple, with both children not able to make it home.  It may have been simple, but it was still a grand time, although we certainly missed my mother with this being the first Christmas that she wasn't here.  So that's the news from the Stanko household.  I hope you are enjoying the season and we wish you  a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in advance (one late and one early, oh well). 


Zeroed In

Sorry I have not written anything this week.  I was heavy into completing two papers for school, about 20,000 words worth!  I am glad they are just about finished.

At any rate, I got this update from a friend in Zimbabwe.  The currency is absolutely worthless, as is the leadership.  Here is her update with the attached cartoon.

Hi all

Just to remind you about the "Zeros cartoon" I sent in October…10 zeros were removed from the Zimbabwe dollar in August this year. Well, they are back!

Two weeks ago saw the printing of notes for: $50 million, $100 million, $200 million. Last week they released: $500 million. Today they have released: $1 billion, $5 billion and $10 billion.  ($100 billion will not be too long in coming, I'm sure.)

(now add 10 zeros to those!) Not even sure what the original numbers would be called now! Already quadrillions and quintillion amounts of the new notes, are common!  Mind you, most things are now in US$ …and we have to be sure we know the value of the small numbers again!

I know the world is in a recession, so my country has its own fiscal sins for which we are paying dearly.  This, however, is symbolic of the collapse in Zimbabwe of every major institution -- banking, education, health and especially government.

View this photo   View this photo   View this photo   View this photo


Changing the Way We Do Church 5

I got back from Kenya on Tuesday evening and it's been busy the last few days catching up. Before the week gets away entirely, let's look at the next installment in my series on how we need to change the way we do church.  When I read some of the thoughtful and profound blogs on the modern church, its ills and problems, I feel like my suggestions are simplistic. There are many others with much better ideas than mine, yet these are borne out of 35 years experience in church work, so I hope they are worth something. You can read my past entries on this topic here.

The fifth step to church reformation is:

5. Develop services, Sunday Schools, children’s church, youth meetings and even committee meetings that people want to attend because there is a spirit of excellence and the unexpected.

It's not that the church has too many meetings, but rather that we have too many bad meetings.  I watch as a malaise come over many people in our gatherings, even in business meetings. The facilitation is poor, the leader usually talks too much, people don't contribute for a variety of reasons and the result is boredom, lack of focus and confusion. What's worse, we force our children and youth to go to ineffective meetings because we hope they will "catch" something while they are there, but the only thing you can "catch" in a bad meeting is the flu. There is nothing else passing from person to person that can make a difference. I was in a board of directors meeting the other day and it was just flat out "bad." If I didn't have to be present, I would have run out of the room looking for comfort.

I put the responsibility for poor meetings at the feet of leadership, for they are the ones who call the shots. What we usually lack is any kind of accountability and feedback that can help our meetings improve.  If the youth are sitting in the meeting and they look bored, then they are bored.  And if leadership insists on doing the same thing for the next meeting, the youth will be bored then, too. The same holds true for adult services and meetings.

Everyone who leads a meeting should hold to the same standard that Jesus set, as found in Mark 12:37:  "The large crowd listened to him with delight."  People walked for days to listen for days only to return home for days and they kept on coming, because Jesus had something to say. His "meetings" were filled with controversy, the unexpected, excellent insight delivered in an exciting and dynamic fashion.  Jesus' stories were relevant and He allowed people to ask questions. And He did it all without video, ushers, PowerPoint and audio-visual paraphernalia

So what kind of meetings do you lead? What kind do you attend?  What price are you willing to pay to see the Mark 12:37 dynamic present in your work and meetings? I am not saying it is easy, but this level of excellence must be achieved if the Church is going to move from people who have to attend to people who want to attend. 


Hello and Goodbye

I arrived in Kenya one week ago and it's already time to depart.  I flew in last Sunday night, one year to the day since I had been here last.  It has been great to reconnect with the city, my friends and my work here.  I had a chance to profile two groups of people, one from the Kenya Wildlife Service and another from the SARAH Network, a group of grassroots organizations addressing HIV/AIDS prevention through substance abuse counseling. 

Of course I made time to visit Nairobi National Park for an afternoon game drive, although the animals were all in hiding from the heat of the day.  Then I went on the Safari Walk, a new exhibit built in 2006 by the Albino Zebra European Union.  It is a sort of zoo that features many interesting African species (such as the albino zebra pictured here), and I found the Safari Walk very well done and worthwhile.  Today I have a few more appointments before I return home tonight.  The weather has been great here, which is more than I can say for back home, where it is frigid.  I guess I have avoided winter long enough; it's time to go home.


Changing the Way We Do Church 4

It's time for the fourth installment of my series on reforming the way we "do" or conduct the business of the modern Church.  If I am understanding it correctly, the business of the Church and its leadership is explained as follows:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13 The New Living Translation). 

Unfortunately, modern leaders are not being developed by the Church and there is also little ministry development taking place beyond the pastor.  Most Christian leaders are shaped outside the church and then come to the church to worship.  They don't learn leadership or aren't equipped to fulfill their purpose in church, and then go out to society with those values and that knowledge.  Instead, society prepares them and they come to church where they can usually do "anything" they want, as long as it is ushering, choir or nursery and fits in with church tradition or the desires of the pastor or board.

My fourth suggestion for church reformation is (you can read the first three here): 

4.  Help leaders and governing bodies move from attitudes of ownership to attitudes of servant-leadership and stewardship.

When leaders refer to "my" people, "my" staff or "my" church, their vocabulary reveals a dangerous and incorrect attitude that they "own" what is going on.  That attitude creates leaders who often do whatever they want to and with the church because it is "mine."  I knew of a church where the pastor employed a large number of family members who were not particularly gifted or anointed.  He felt he had the right to do so because it was "his" church.  The church, however, is not a social service agency, and the pastor cannot employ the divine right of kings that allows him to bestow gifts and offices on whomever he chooses.

I knew of another church where the pastor's son was an alcoholic and everyone knew it.  Yet the pastor, his father, thrust his son into leadership to the pain and consternation of many.  Why did the pastor do this?  He did it because he felt he owned the church, its money and its ministry positions.

I have found two verses that contain the leadership philosophy that every church leader should have and employ:

As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor (1 Peter 5:2-4 The New Living Translation).

Jesus is the Great Shepherd and Senior Pastor of every church.  He purchased it with His blood and He is the One who owns it and does what He wants.  It is a serious matter when leaders usurp the role that belongs exclusively to the Lord Jesus.  In my opinion, that is exactly what has happened.  Consequently, the people or sheep are not the focus of care, but rather the pastor and his (or her) whims and wishes. 

The Lord wishes to reveal His will for each church through leadership, which means that leaders must see themselves as stewards and not owners.  That also means that leaders must work to advance God's work, not just defend and maintain it.  There are many "well-run" churches with money in the bank, who haven't launched a new ministry or outreach in years.  Are you telling me that Jesus would want them to have money in the bank as their top priority when two billion people in the world have never even heard the gospel, while thousands of unused or underused saints sit in air conditioned buildings every week and listen to messages that do not equip them to do anything productive but "feel good"?

I have an entire section of my website devoted to leadership concepts and development, including a lot about servant-leadership.  I have also written a book, So Many Leaders, So Little Leadership, that is on the market, so I won't go into much more of my thoughts on servant-leadership.  I will say, however, that without this attitude of servant-leadership, we will continue to see leaders starting new churches or taking over existing churches who will simply try to be kinder, gentler authoritarian leaders. In the end, we will have in the future what we have today.  What is needed is a massive and comprehensive overhaul of church leadership thought and philosophy, to which I hope I can make a contribution. 

    Feel free to write a comment to this entry on the site where it is posted. 


Live from Zimbabwe

I received an email from a friend in Zimbabwe and I asked permission to send it to you anonymously, for which I did get approval. Here it is:

If truth be told, this issue of power will not be resolved. No household can have two leaders. Tsvangirai just wants power like Mugabe. Tsvangirai is an alternative which has proved to be selfish. All he does is talk and produce no results. They all have selfish motives. At the end of the day no one is thinking of the people. People are starting to loose confidence in him.

We still have to queue or spend days to get money from the bank which is $500 000.00 just enough to catch one lift from home to work. For others it's not even enough. Sometimes there is no money at all in the banks. We now have gotten used to it.

We have cholera outbreak which is killing hundreds of people. None of the parties is coming up with solutions. The health sector is collapsing at a fast rate. Only churches seem to be doing something to change and bring help. The only way forward is NGOs [which are nonprofit organizations] and churches. Both parties do not have a plan of how to solve the heath problems. Most suburbs have had no water for months and we now rely on openly dug wells. It's raining and cholera is now spreading fast. For a broader update, just check this blog from a pastor here in Zim.

Cholera, by the way, is a bacterial disease that causes extreme diarrhea, which proves fatal if not treated immediately.

My only comment to what this person wrote is that it is hard for the opposition to have any plan for the future when they are being opposed on a daily basis and fear for their lives. The opposition won the first election but were not permitted to take office by the incumbents. It doesn't seem equitable to judge them by the same standard that the current regime must be judged. Having written that, however, I realize that it is easy for me to say 1,500 miles away in Kenya, so I submit to this person's report as one living out the nightmare firsthand. Stay tuned; my friend promised more such updates.