How to Relate

How do we feel the pain that others experience? How do we understand the sadness that Christ feels when he watches his beloved creation stray from him? How do we understand what it means to lose both your mother and father to AIDS? How do we relate with a child that has witnessed their dad beat their mom? Is there a way to actually relate to everyone around us, or is that not our job?

If my passion is to help those in developing countries, and the most important part is to get to know them first, then what happens when I encounter people with experiences that our unfathomable to me? How can I just sit and listen to a lady tell me about the tragedies that have arisen from AIDS in her country? I’ve never had to experience things like that. I hear these stories of horrible things happening in the lives of people all around me and my heart just wants to scream because it knows that that is not how love acts. Yet for many people, they don’t know what the other option is. They have been surrounded by sin and pain for so long that love begins to wane away.

I struggled with this thought at the end of last semester and began to get frustrated because I couldn’t relate with people on everything. This is not to say that I wanted God to place bad things in my life, but I wanted so desperately to be able to relate to my friends and those around me. After this summer, and living with kids that have survived through tougher times than I have ever seen, I realized that I don’t need to have experienced the same things as others to be able to relate to them. Maybe I can’t exactly relate on the level of “yeah, I’ve been there and know the pain, it will be ok,” but perhaps I can relate to them on much simpler terms. I know what pain feels like, and I know what love feels like. When it all boils down, most heart problems come down to the fact that they have been hurt and simply want to be loved.

Johnny was mute and had a deformity in his legs which caused him to walk with a limp. Like many of the other children, he suffered from some brain damage. On top of this, Johnny was also an orphan. Not with any of the things that Johnny dealt with daily was I able to relate with, but what I was able to offer him was a hug, a smile, someone to play with, a chance to escape the pain that he had to deal with regularly. Now maybe because of Johnny’s age he didn’t realize any of this. Most of the kids truly seemed happy the whole time we were at the orphanage, and that gives me hope. But I was only there for 4 weeks and I don’t know what else Johnny deals with when I’m not around.

I think when God calls us as Christians to serve those in need around us, we are meant to simply offer hope. To show love. To show people that they are not in this thing called life alone, that as brothers and sisters we are meant to help each other along. Why do you think community is such a big deal in the Bible, because life is meant to be shared.

I wonder how much we mess that part up. In Africa I had 4 weeks to not think about anything, to not try to figure out what I was learning, but to just be. It’s amazing when you take away everything else how loudly your heart speaks to you. All the blog entries and letters and thoughts that I had in Africa were from my heart. Maybe that’s why they were so clear, because my head wasn’t getting in the way. God’s compassion began to shine through everything else in my life. I was reading in Romans and came across this verse. Romans 9:14-16 ~ “I’m in charge of mercy. I’m in charge of compassion. Compassion doesn’t originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God’s mercy.” It made me wonder about how to approach my passion.

I got so caught up in trying to figure out how to relate with everyone around me, that I missed the bigger picture, the picture of my heart. Colossians 3:12 says “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” He doesn’t say that we need to search for the thread within us that relates us to our brothers and sisters, rather he says clothe yourself. Don’t look within on your own life as to what you need to do, rather put on compassion, put on kindness and humility and gentleness and patience.

It’s weird that I’m finally learning these things now, yet the process of learning it happened 3 months ago. A broken heart is a broken heart, and sometimes those in pain simply need some encouragement to hold on one more day. Lifehouse has a song that speaks about the condition of a broken heart (you didn’t think I was going to have a post without lyrics in it). Don’t just read the lyrics, listen to the song. We all experience a broken heart every now and then in our lives. It may come in different forms but this is what relates us to one another. It’s simple yet for some reason had me confused for a quite some time. I guess it took a kid in Africa to reveal to me what my heart was telling me all along.

Lifehouse – “Broken” (listen)

The broken clock is a comfort, it helps me sleep tonight
Maybe it can stop tomorrow from stealing all my time
I am here still waiting though i still have my doubts
I am damaged at best, like you've already figured out

I'm falling apart, I'm barely breathing
With a broken heart that's still beating
In the pain there is healing
In your name I find meaning
So I'm holdin' on, I'm holdin' on, I'm holdin' on
I'm barely holdin' on to you

The broken locks were a warning you got inside my head
I tried my best to be guarded, I'm an open book instead
I still see your reflection inside of my eyes
That are looking for a purpose, they're still looking for life

I'm falling apart, I'm barely breathing
with a broken heart that's still beating
In the pain there is healing
In your name I find meaning
So I'm holdin' on, I'm holdin' on, I'm holdin' on
I'm barely holdin' on to you

I'm hangin' on another day
Just to see what you will throw my way
And I'm handing on to the words you say
You said that I will be ok

The broken lights on the freeway left me here alone
I may have lost my way now, haven't forgotten my way home

I don't have much time to write too much, but I came across these lyrics and they got me thinking (as lyrics tend to do). Just thought I'd post them for now and then come back later and write about them. The song is called Legacy by Nichole Nordeman.

I don't mind if you've got something nice to say about me
And I enjoy an accolade like the rest
You could take my picture and hang it in a gallery
Of all who's who and so-n-so's that used to be the best
At such'n'such ... it wouldn't matter much

I won't lie, it feels alright to see your name in lights
We all need an 'Atta boy' or 'Atta girl'
But in the end I'd like to hang my hat on more besides
The temporary trappings of this world

I want to leave a legacy
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love? Did I point to You enough
To make a mark on things?
I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who
blessed your name unapologetically
And leave that kind of legacy

I don't have to look too far or too long awhile
To make a lengthly list of all that I enjoy
It's an accumulating trinket and a treasure pile
Where moth and rust, thieves and such will soon enough destroy

Not well traveled, not well read, not well-to-do or well bred
Just want to hear instead, "Well Done" good and faithful one...

Composed of pictures

Well, things are finally beginning to settle down and I'm getting somewhat organized in my room up at Penn State. For those of you who don't know, my room is absolutely massive. It has three closets, five windows, and more room than I know what to do with. How I got picked for this room is a mystery to me, but I'll take it. As I've begun to unpack over the past few days, I continue to come across items from this summer, and I find myself daydreaming for a second about the trips from the past months.

When I returned from my adventures this summer, my brother told me he had two surprises for me. The first, although it took me a second to realize, was that he had glasses. The second was a large collage of pictures from the orphanage arranged in the shape of Africa that he had made for me. It was probably one of the best gifts I have ever received and today I finally hung it up on my wall. In the collage are pictures of me and Johnny, Schola doing her homework, kids that we randomly met on the streets, giraffes eating from the trees and me teaching the kids how to dance. I've been thinking about the idea that if I had to make a collage of Africa, Australia, Lancaster, Penn State, Hempfield High School, and all the other places that have got me to this point; I wonder what pictures would fill my collage of that place. When I look at the pictures that make up Africa, I smile at all of them. Each one brings a memory to mind that makes me want to fly back to Tanzania and hold those kids in my arms again. And that gets me thinking about all those other places in my life, can I say the same about them?

Would those collages be full of pictures that I am proud of and can't help but smile at? For the most part I would hope I could say that, but there are obviously parts that wouldn't bring to mind those thoughts. Yet there's nothing I can do about those old collages; but there is a huge amount of influence over the collages that I will form in the years to come (actually I'm pretty sure I hold all the influence). I think this is what has me so excited about this upcoming semester and even more so for the next few years. I can't wait for a couple years down the road to be able to look back at all my collages to see what has shaped me to that point.

After writing this, I kind of want to actually make these collages at some point. One of my hopes this year is to be able to write and draw more. Last year I started painting more and it was such a stress relief, not that I really get stressed, but it helped take my mind off things. I think I found the same thing with journaling this summer. Especially with college, it can be so easy to get caught up in the craziness around you, that sometimes you just need to stop everything and not think. That's what happens when I paint and draw and I think it happens when I journal too. That's one of my prayers for this semester, that I can find and make the time to get alone with God. As I look back on the past summer and try to figure out all those things I learned, I realize that the reason I learned so much was the fact that I took a lot of time for just God and I. I've always said that I'm a Christian and participated in the Christian activities whether that be church or UCM; but I never actually took the time to really sit and listen to God.

I like to be busy and I like to always have something to think about, but when I have all that stuff on my mind, I kind of push God to the back and it's hard for me to hear him. American culture encourages us to be busy so we don't really see it as being out of the ordinary. But in Africa and Australia, everything is very laid back and less chaotic. In Africa, if you said you would meet someone at 5:00, they wouldn't show up until 5:45 most likely. Although this would annoy most Americans, it taught me that I need to slow down a bit.

It's so easy for me to get caught up and think that if I'm not working non-stop, then I'm not being used by God to my fullest potential. But by being so busy, I'm missing out on the important things in the margins. For example, in Africa when we were weeding the garden, the three of us were working quite quickly and efficiently to do the best job we could the fastest. As we went through the garden we would toss the weeds to the side and move on. As we neared the end of the garden I turned around and watched as Johnny sat there playing with the weeds. He would pick through the pile of weeds we had discarded and admire each weed in the sunlight as if it was the most beautiful thing.

It's funny how God talks to you sometimes.
I wish I had more Johnny's in my life.


So junior year is right around the corner and although I never would have guessed it would have come this fast, I am more than ready for it. It seems that as each year goes by at Penn State, I become more comfortable with who I am and realize that this is truly where I am supposed to be. I think so much of the time we get caught up in worrying about how the future will pan out and what turn we need to take next that we forget to look back and see where we actually came from and how much of the journey we have already made. I remember thinking way back in junior high; I know, ages ago, about which college I would be going to and which major I would eventually choose. Now that I have actually decided those things I'm focused again on looking into the future and wondering what career I will have and who my family will be. By always planning for the future, I easily miss the fact that God has been working all along and many of the things that I worried about in the past, are taken care of by now. When I realize this, I know that I don't need to worry about how things will work out, God has been and will take care of everything.

Sometimes I wonder if this thinking is just me being carefree and because of it, I can easily put trust in Christ. After this summer though, there's something that makes me believe even more wholeheartedly in my faith. Something that reaffirms my feelings and beliefs. I've been thinking about this something for a bit since I've been back.; and I try to explain it, but it's one of those things that is hard to describe because it was something experienced.

Lately I have developed more of an interest in reading, and the more I read, the more I am impressed with how authors are able to express their thoughts and share their stories. Maybe the fact that I have a bad memory doesn't help, but I feel like there are so many moments from this summer where I am left not fully being able to describe it, as if words don't do justice. Luckily I have pictures so I have something at least to show to people, but I'm still working on how to actually describe the pictures. I suppose with time that will come.

But I think all of those experiences are the parts that make up our journey, and whether or not we can fully express them to others, they are part of what shapes us and defines where we are headed.

I had a physics high school teacher who one day took my class out to a cemetery after one of our classmates had passed away. Although I don't remember much of what he said, the one thing that did stick in my head was when he pointed to one of the tombstones. And he told us that there is the date in which you enter this world and the date in which you leave this world, but neither of them are significant in comparison to the little dash in between them. Each one of the gravestones out there had that little dash, and each one represented a different journey for someone, a journey in which only they and God knew the entire path to. Although a dash may not seem like much, it's exciting to think that as each day goes by, we are chiseling away part of our dash. I think that realization is what has me so excited about this next semester at Penn State. It's gonna be a good year and I can't wait to see what happens from here.

Light Gives Heat

So the one nice thing about being home is having access to the internet 24/7. For this reason, any time I hear a new song I am able to go right to the computer and look up the lyrics. I heard this song the other day and it got me thinking again about Africa. I had actually listened to this song before I went off this summer but it sheds new light on the situation after actually walking through the foothills of Tanzania. The song is called Light Gives Heat and is by Jars of Clay. Below are the lyrics and what the band has to say about them, makes you think a bit.

Catch the rain empty hands,
Save the children from their lands,
wash the darkness from their skin.

Heroes from the West,
We don't know you, we know best.
But this is not a test.

You treat me like I'm blind, setting fires around houses on the hill,
But light gives heat.
You segregate my mind, burning crosses from your fears, your fears,
But light gives heat.

It's not the way to light their way,
Boys in holes and empty fields,
Oh, how good it feels.
Lower class, and understate, empty promise, empty plate.

You treat me like I'm blind, setting fires around houses on the hill,
But light gives heat.
You segregate my mind, burning crosses from your fears, your fears,
But light gives heat.

You treat me like I'm blind, setting fires around houses on the hill,
But light gives heat.
You segregate my mind, burning crosses from your fears, your fears,
But light gives heat.

Will you teach us how to love? To see the things you see,
Walk the road you walk, and feel the pain that you feel.
At your feet I kneel, I want to see you shine,
See your light not mine... 'cause light gives heat...
your light gives heat... gives heat.

Behind the Song:
"This song represented being comfortable with sharing the moment we’re in about Africa. I have wrestled with the idea that we’ve been awful with the way we’re approaching Africa. Stripping them of their dignity, when that’s not the whole story. Starting the organization Blood:Water Mission served as the push into learning, trying to offer help, while giving people their dignity. Light Gives Heat is about learning a better way. It’s learning not even to approach it saying “I’m going to Africa to serve these people”. I wanted to write a song that was kind of part confessional, saying I’m sorry I am part of the problem. And the second part of the chorus is from an African perspective, which is “however you approach us, we find hope in the midst of what you offer.” That’s the picture of African dignity and African determination that is so powerful, which is why we got the African’s Children’s choir to sing with us." - Dan Haseltine (Jars Of Clay)

to listen to the song go to

Finally made it to August

I wish I could remember all of the different places I've been to write a blog entry over the past few months. But at least for this entry, I'm sitting back in my living room back in Lancaster with my dogs laying at my feet. As awesome as it was to travel around the world and see everything that I have, there is something about family and home that simply takes the cake. It's currently 4am and although I thought I avoided the jet-lag, apparently I was wrong. But because there is nothing else to do at this time of the night, I've got some time to write down my final thoughts. Although these surely are not complete and I will continue to learn things and remember experiences over the next few months, this will be a start.

When I started out on this trip I remember going in to everything with a blank mind. I didn't want to bring any thoughts with me about Africa or the people I would be living with because I wanted all of my thoughts to be formed from my experiences. That's probably what I'm most thankful for that I did, because that allowed me to go in and experience a completely different world. It's so easy, especially living in the States, to think that our way of thinking is the way that will decide the future of the world; or that our ideas will be the ones that solve the world's problems. It's simply how our culture shapes us and it's hard to avoid. I spent a lot of time in Australia looking in to how you approach aid work in developing nations, and every time I came back to this idea. The idea of aid groups going in to other communities, whether they be within a country in Africa or an inner-city in Chicago, and approaching the situation with the mind set that we have all the knowledge and creativity to solve the problems there. I'll be the first to admit that I used to get caught up on this. Sometimes we (speaking about industrialized countries) get the idea that because we are more "advanced" that we are the ones that will have to develop the technology and ideas that will drive change in the world. We seem to miss the key step of involving the people that we are actually working on helping. Unless you get to know people on a personal level, you never fully understand the creativity and ingenuity in these people. So that's the first thing that I learned, the importance of loving someone. It's easy to simply get to know someone and make friends with them, but loving that person is on an entirely different scale. It's easy to say but hard to do. Sometimes people can be hard to love. But sometimes it's in those people that God teaches us the biggest lessons. Life is too short not to love.

The second thing that I took from this trip was trust. From trusting God in making sure that all my flights went safely and that I got from place to place over the summer, to trusting my instructor that he knew what he was doing as we jumped out of a plane. Trust is scary. Trust can hurt. But trust is necessary. There's many times where I feel that I can take care of everything on my own, that I have all the answers and that sometimes people just get in the way. That was more of what my thinking was like a few years ago, but especially after this summer, I have come to realize the importance of trust and faith. I was lying in my bed last night and I was thinking back and realizing that there wasn't one point over the past few weeks in which I worried about the future. I was always at peace with how things were going and never got worried. Now granted I don't get worried very easily, but there was something different about this summer. The thought of being worried didn't really cross my mind. Maybe that was due to the culture I was in, maybe it was because I was by myself for the entire trip, but my faith seemed to strengthen itself for some reason and I was able to rely more fully on God, and more fully on others.

The other thing that I learned is that God is beautiful. God's creation is incredible and spectacular and his plan for each of us in crazier that we could ever imagine. I think this theme probably came across a bit in some of my other blogs, but it is well worth repeating. I'm in the process of transferring all of my pictures to my external hardrive (which if you're curious I have roughly 8,300 pictures from this summer) and after skimming through some of them I couldn't help but smile. I have been extremely privileged to see what I have and it has taught me to appreciate what is around me, both man-made and god-made, so much more than before. Yet as spectacular as a sunset over the Serengeti is, as wonderful as worshiping with Masaai is; there is still something incredible about the things around me here in Lancaster. Maybe it took a trip around the world for me to realize that. Maybe I had to experience what a sunset looked like in a couple other continents before I truly appreciated the sunset out my own bedroom window. But God has placed the same beauty here in Pennsylvania that he has in Africa and Australia. That's something that will always stay with me. Finding beauty in life. To wake up each morning waiting and wanting to see what God will be doing has really changed the way I look at things. It has changed the way I interact with people, changed the way I approach work, changed the way I approach prayer, changed most aspects of my life.

The sun rises a lot earlier here in Lancaster than it does in Sydney. A few dark clouds scatter themselves across the sky as it fades from red to blue. The field outside my window is slowly being developed with homes and the cell phone tower's light blinks in the distance. The distant tree line on the horizon seems to be all that separates me from Australia and Africa. The birds flying above the trees look much like those that flew in the southern hemisphere. The sun rises the same way as it does on the other side of the globe. But the people here are different. With different stories to tell, different jobs to go to, different families to care for, different passions which drive their daily lives. It feels like this summer happened years ago. The sky is getting more colorful and vibrant as I type this, flooding the ground below with light. Days can go by faster than you expect. I remember sitting in the Philly airport back in May by myself as my mom and dad drove off. The summer was finally happening and there were so many things ahead of me, that my flight from Sydney to LA seemed to be so far off. But now I'm sitting back in my house, faced with the daunting task of unpacking my bags, and that night in the Philly airport seems so far away yet at the same time feels like yesterday. That's how I feel with most of my experiences this summer. Rereading some of my blog entries and looking over pictures brings back those memories, and I realize how lucky I am. It's hard to sum up this summer in a few paragraphs, and I don't think I will ever be able to. But at least I have a rough outline of what I was thinking, and hopefully this blog did a decent job at expressing my thoughts. Thanks to everyone who's been reading and following this, now I can start telling the stories to people in person. It's been an incredible summer, but I am more than excited to start the next semester at Penn State. I found what I'm passionate about, and I can't wait to see where God leads this passion and how He forms it.

So for the last entry from this summer, it's time to end a couple months worth of entries. However I have a feeling that I will still be updating this every now and then, so check back to see what crazy stuff is next. It feels really good to be home and I can't wait to see everyone again and catch up on the past summer. Talk to everyone very soon, cheers! (sorry, I had to add some Australian slang in here somewhere)

Whoops, forgot to post an entry...7-25 Thoughts

Alright, so it’s time for an entry from Cairns, the last destination for me this summer. It’s amazing how fast ten weeks can go by. It is Wednesday afternoon and this morning we took our final which completed the last part of the class, so now for the next few days it’s pure fun (not like the last 5 ½ weeks haven’t been though). I’m sitting in my hotel room in Cairns looking out our huge windows which overlook two mountains which run into the ocean, dotted by boats and seagulls competing for fish. The clouds are drifting in the distance and will slowly overtake the peaks of the mountains. The overwhelming sight of the mountains and ocean is so calming, the boats and clouds move by but each morning the mountains remain. I feel like this is the perfect place to end my summer of travels at, and although I’m sad that it’s almost all over, there’s a larger part of me that can’t wait to get home and see everyone again.

So a quick recap of the events that have happened thus far. We had our final presentation for class on Thursday and it couldn’t have gone any better. My group presented on how to provide aid to developing nations and what problems and solutions are facing these countries. We were only supposed to go for about 12 minutes and we ended up going about 30 minutes, but I don’t think the professor minded at all, which is a good thing. As I went through the PowerPoint and talked about all the research we had done, I realized how much I have come to care about this issue over the past summer; I have a feeling my thesis topic is going to be an easy choice. After the presentation, we had the rest of the week to finish up our business in Sydney. That night I went to the Opera House and watched Morrison play Schifrin. It was made up of the Sydney Symphony, James Morrison on trumpet, Ambre Hammond on piano, and Lalo Schifrin conducting. Schifrin is the guy who composed the theme song for Mission Impossible, which yes, they played as the final song for the night. The next day we walked in the morning on top of cliffs for 2 ½ hours which overlooked the ocean and then hung around the city for the rest of the day. On our final day we managed to hit every corner of the Sydney we could and ended up going on a ferry ride to a beach called Manly, we felt we had to go simply because of the name. On the ferry ride back, Dave and I sat outside at the front of the boat. Two minutes in to the ride, it began to rain and everyone deserted us to head inside. Being that it was our last day in the city, we decided to stick it out in the rain. Eventually one other group joined us outside, turns out they were three extremely drunk men (now it was only 6:00pm at this point). We naturally struck up conversation with them and then one of them decided that the view just wasn’t good enough for him. He proceeded to climb over the guard rail, climb to the very front of the boat and swing about the flag pole. One slip and he would have easily slipped off the side and in to the water, but somehow he managed to hold on and eventually was called back inside. Sydney always finds a way to impress me. The next day we were up and at it early and off to the airport, where we later arrived in Cairns.

Cairns is a small (at least in comparison to Sydney) tourist town. We are staying at an incredibly nice hotel (I guess they wanted us to leave the country with a good impression, I’m not complaining) and we are in walking distance to everything in the town. For the first two days, myself and two other guys Dave and James, went around to find a dive company. Seems it’s not too hard to find one, so we ended up booking with a group for Friday to Saturday. We will have a total of 7 dives and one of them will be a night dive. For a guy who had just got his certification and has only dived in muddy, cold quarries in the middle of Pennsylvania; this is going to be quite the experience. We will be living on the boat and hopefully I don’t get sea-sick, we’ll see how that goes. I also found a company that I can rent an underwater digital camera from so I will have some pictures to post as well. Tonight we are looking into trips in to the rainforest and bungee jumping and skydiving, it should be a fun night. Yesterday we went and visited a Sugar Mill which really wasn’t too exciting because they cancelled our tour. However that meant that we had more time to spend at Port Douglas, another tourist spot with an incredible beach. Other than that and our final, we have been doing a lot of ultimate Frisbee (which we added a rugby rule in to which makes the game ten times better, Vaughn and Keith, I’ll have to teach you when I get back) and Volleyball and the pool. It’s been an awesome end to the trip and once again I have some free time to journal and write stuff.

If there’s anything I learned from this trip, well actually there’s a lot of things I’ve learned, but one of those things is that it’s important not to let the busyness and craziness of our everyday lives get in the way of allowing us to spend time on the important things. For me that’s been taking time for prayer, or taking time to write down my thoughts every now and then. Or even just going outside and starring at the stars on a clear night. Some times we forget about our priorities and it’s easy to get mixed up. Even here in Australia, right after I had spent so much time thinking about this in Africa, I managed to forget to take time out of my busy schedule. In some of my earlier blogs I talked about the book that I was reading “This Beautiful Mess,” some times the mess part can get so big and distracting that we forget about the beauty among it. Every now and then God just has to place a big mountain outside my window so I remember. This trip has been full of experiences like that, where God is just placing beautiful and amazing things in my path. Well, it’s soon time for me to go, but I’m sure there will be blogs to come, especially with my schedule over the next few days. I will try to make time to write, see everyone very soon!

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