Archive for ‘travel’

December 1, 2013

African Aerobics

I am now more convinced than ever that we in America are total wimps. Yes, wimps! Even those of us who think we are in “good” shape.

I came to Kenya not necessarily thinking I was in good shape. But not in bad shape either. My body had seen the inside of a gym recently. I could climb stairs without huffing and puffing. I knew I ate more vegetables than I did fried foods.

But in the moment I set foot into a class called “Step Aerobics,” with a friend here, I knew it would be more like boot camp than anything I’d ever known.

In the US every time I’ve attended a similar class, there were always options for routines. The teacher would say something like, “If this is too hard for you, try this.” The teacher would be required by her fitness training to pay attention to the progress of the class participants– if any looked like they were on the edge of passing out, the class would be stopped immediately. And of course there would be a lot of all class water breaks with instructions from the teacher at the beginning of the class, “If you need to stop and any time and get water, feel free to do so.”

So these were my expectations coming into the same type of class yet in Kenya: options for routines. A teacher who cared about my distress. Lots of water breaks.

Yet, NONE of this was what I found.

As much as I wanted to pat myself on the back in congratulations that I was actually attempting exercise in a place so far from home, I quickly realized upon meeting Peter, the aerobics instructor, I’d not be flooded with praise just for showing up (as is the motto of my Golds Gym in the US).

Nor would I be praised for keeping up with the routines as he asked. Nothing about this experience would be about me and my needs.

There would be ONE option for the routine. If I was too out of shape to keep up, then I should just try harder.

The teacher did notice me. Yet, if I felt like I was going to die from the strain of the physical activity, then tough luck. I should just find a way to keep going.

There would be NO breaks for water. If I felt like I needed water in the 1.5 hours of the class, then oh well. For if I tried to sneak my way into getting some water, I’d be chased (yes, literally chased) back to the main part of the floor.

My friend told me afterwards, “There’s a reason, you know why Africans runners always do so well at the Olympic Games.” After all those years watching the Games on tv, I now understood completely!

And it is amazing what your body CAN do when you give it the “no stopping option.” You keep going. You don’t stop for as much water. You do one more sit up, one more leg lift, and one more “around the world” on the step bench. You don’t want to be that out of shape and lazy American in the class.

I loved how I felt afterwards so much that I have already gone back 3 different times during the course of my visit. I guess I enjoy torture!

Who would have thought that coming to Africa for this now self-declared out of shape white lady, would bring a whole new opportunity for physical fitness?

One more fact to note about African Aerobics and that is the music.

In the gym in the US, the music for the routines often changes depending on the preferences of the instructor but usually is in line with whatever is the craze in pop music at the time. But in Kenya, going to such a class is like going to church. It’s all Jesus music all the time. Or least a large portion of the routines are church songs.

Yesterday at class I heard Christian music hits from the early 90s like, “Awesome God” “You are Holy” and even an oldie, “This Little Light of Mine.” Earlier in the week, I heard some of the Greatest Hits of Michael W. Smith.

Though I thought I was going to die (yes die and I’m not being dramatic here) at several points, I couldn’t help but find amusement in the whole situation. Only in Kenya would I find myself in one of the hardest exercise classes I’d ever known all while listening to Jesus music. It kept me going.

What fun cultural experiences that I’ll never forget! I know I will never complain in an US aerobics class again.

November 24, 2013

What Does Joy Look Like?

I’ve been in Kenya for over five days now– and all I can say is that even with difficulties (there have been some)– this place causes joy to rise up for me. It’s hard not to keep smiling!

What I mean by joy is not just happiness (though there has been that too), but what that soars, what is deeply anchored in the soul of things, and what opens eyes to the larger picture of what God is doing in this world and what the words of Jesus are truly all about.

Words like:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . .
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

For our eyes have tasted this kind of blessing over these past days and we couldn’t feel more inspired to be do this kind of work. We’ve experienced the blessing of being in the place where we are to be for right now. And even when there are moments of sadness, moments of questioning like “Why does the world have to be so unjust?” (we’ve seen lots of this too), it’s a beautiful kind of living to be here.

Blessings like having beautiful orphans wrapped around your legs and arms, allowing you to love on them:


Blessings like singing Christmas carols with young men with developmental disabilities with smiles bigger than you’ve ever seen on their face or yours either:


Blessings like watching kids who don’t normally get Christmas presents discover the joy of blocks and bubbles:


Blessings like watching the very best Christmas play ever with some of the most beautiful actors you’ve ever seen:


We are so happy to experience joy looks that looks like this.

November 21, 2013

Well, Hello Again: Africa

photoMy travels on behalf of Feed The Children this week have taken Kevin and I back to the continent of Africa.

It’s been over a year since we last stood on this land.

It has been a year when our hearts have grown in courage– for all that a responsibility for such a time as this.

It has been a year when our minds have grown in compassion– for our shared partnership with our friends and co-laborers in these countries.

It has been a year when our knees have more met the ground in prayer– for all the injustices that seek to destroy the good that is possible.

As my jet legged feet took its first steps off the plane yesterday, I felt the enormity of all that this visit could mean wash over me.

We. Are. Here. Again.

My first words upon seeing the rolling hills and the sea of dark faces and the distinct smells were simply, “Wow. I’m glad to be home.” Yes, home.

There’s something about the continent of Africa that has always drawn me in, re-shaped my thinking and then set me on my way in new paths of service. I’ve always felt welcomed here in ways I haven’t in other places. I’ve always welcomed any opportunity to visit.

As I pondered all of these things on the plane, I found myself making a list of the previous visits. And as I penned the dates and countries seen on the previous 3 trips, I couldn’t help but notice that my life changed EVERY SINGLE TIME I set foot here.

After a 1998 visit, I came home disillusioned about the term “missionary” vowing I’d never be one. While an incredibly painful experience (because of Americans I met here, I must add), I ultimately believe it was the experience that set the direction of my path toward the pastorate– that thing I thought at the time that women couldn’t do.

After a 2003 visit, I came home inspired to not remember that my African brothers and sisters were a part of my larger human family. The atrocities of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda touched my heart in a profound way. How did this go on in my lifetime and I knew nothing about it?

After a 2012 visit, I came home with a changed heart about the possibilities and reality of who and what Feed The Children is and what it could be in the future. During our travels, I made what I feel is a life long friend– a friend would become a sweet sister in all the waiting awaiting me.

So, I have to wonder on this 2013 visit, what will shift in me as a result in being here? How will my heart go home? What amazing person will I met? How will my soul leap in understanding of what was previously unseen?

Only God knows the answers to such questions.

I hold on this, though: my heart must be open. My heart must be wide open to this place– its people, its smells, its food, its problems, its hopes, its worries, its gladness. And in doing so, this next chapter that I’m writing here will be another beautiful one. A beautiful one indeed!

November 13, 2013

Teachers in the Philippines

There’s been a lot of talk the past couple of weeks about the Philippines, hasn’t there? From the devastating earthquake a few weeks ago to this past weekend’s destructive typhoon, it seems that the people of these islands are not getting a break. They’ve faced so many trials. It’s been almost too much to watch!

As I’ve caught up on the news and heard reports from the Feed The Children staff in the Philippines (many who have lost everything in one of these major events!), my mind has quickly gone back to the experience I shared in this country almost exactly a year ago last year.

largeOn our first Feed The Children trip to Asia, Kevin and I explored several islands with the staff (as seen to the right). We meet community members involved in Feed The Children’s programs. And as we toured, I couldn’t help but feel schooled on the fact that the perceptions I had on what “aid” looked like were all wrong.

On November 5th, I blogged this:

As I write this I find myself on a boat heading from Bohol back to Cebu (Philippines) . . . We just met a group of families on a remote island who pulled their resources together to begin a village savings and loan– where their was no bank to help give the financial resources to move the community forward.

During our visit, our delegation was allowed to observe, a shareholders meeting, a weekly occurrence, where loans were given and dividends were paid back to share holders. We learned that 10% of the money made in the project goes back to assist the children in the community. Parents said, “We want a better life for kids. We know that begins with us being good stewards of our own resources. We want to be able to do this ourselves.” Over the past year this community (where it is not commonplace to have toilets in the house or more than one pair of shoes per person) has saved over $3,500 US to reinvest in their children’s school. . . .

For now, this is what I know: most of the world is not as it seems to us from our lens of American privilege. The “have-nots” people are not less than human. Change CAN happen as resources and strong leadership are given to make it possible.

For me, I am learning that life can no longer be about “that trip” or “out there” but somehow we must find a way to integrate life in such a way that all of life is about being a member of the human family that is full of challenges, yes, but hope. We must do what we can to serve wherever we find ourselves. We must never think our privilege as an honor, but an opportunity to be in a larger community.

I’ve thought about these reflections again recently, especially as so many organizations are on the ground now in the Philippines seeking to help those in need.

I think it’s wonderful when the world comes to the aid of the vulnerable. Some crises are indeed so bad that we need help that must come from those with more resources than we have. And the commercial in me would like to tell you to give (if you feel so compelled) to Feed The Children.

But what bothers me about the news coverage and talk of the Philippines these days is it is so easily turned into an “us vs. them” appeal.

Because what is true is this: the people of the Philippines are strong. They are resilient. They will take care of each other with whatever resources they’ve got. And if we choose to help them (and I hope we all will), it is good to give from the perspective of these are my brothers and sisters in need NOT those poor and sad people out there.

We’ve got teachers who embody saving, sharing and giving all over the world. And many of those are found in the Philippines. It’s our job not only to share but to learn.

November 5, 2013

Hitting the Plazas of Nashville and Honolulu

These days the life plan of our household never extends beyond two months ahead– and this is if we are lucky.

Kevin and I take opportunities as they come. Kevin never knows when the next international crisis will hit that will need us to pick up and travel. I never know when an opportunity to help a friend or congregation out with preaching will come up either.

Though people often want to “know our schedule” I have to say we don’t really have one! Kevin and I look at life with the most broad strokes of openness, strokes I could have never imagined embracing even a year ago.

So with this said, the last two weeks, our travels have taken us to Tennessee and Hawaii (with Kevin having a stop back at FTC headquarters in Oklahoma City in between).

I am traveling more and more with Kevin because:

1) It is great to actually see my husband

2) Writing projects are something I can do anywhere

3) I’ve started working in the PR/ Communications department of FTC alongside the Director for Social Engagement (i.e. I help with social media posts like those you find on Facebook and even more exciting projects in the works).

So- Nashville was stop one on this two-week tour. In the course of four days on the ground, we visited with the staff at the NEW LaVergne, TN FTC distribution center, distributed books to inner city kids at a Nashville school, assisted with a food distribution to 800 needy families at a Nashville church and attended a FTC fundraiser in Franklin, TN with celebrity guest such as Evander Holifield and Naomi Judd.

I was tweeting up a storm and also had the chance to catch up with my Nashville family while I was in town as well.




Then the following Saturday, we make the trek across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. And no, it wasn’t for a vacation and it wasn’t a vacation.

I was invited to preach each day at the Hawaii Baptist Academy Christian Emphasis Week in the elementary school.


The theme for the week was “Sticky Faith.” Every day we look at Biblical characters who were known to have faith as described to us in Hebrews 11. Noah, Abraham and Moses were among the standouts. Each morning I lead in chapel and then had opportunities to roam around the campus and hang out with students participating in “sticky” activities that helped them make their faith their own.

By the end of the week I think most every student in the school could answer the question: “What is faith?” by saying, “Faith is believing in what we can’t see.”

I was delighted to work alongside such a great team including the Christian Minister of the school, Cindy Gaskins.


On the last day of chapel, I was able to share more about our work with Feed The Children– telling the Hawaiian children about other children in the world who are seeking to share God’s love where they are as well.


Meanwhile, Kevin spent time at this foundation— learning more about their work with homeless children and sustainable agriculture. All experiences that could help him and his team strengthen the work of the domestic programs in the Mainland of the US.

After two weeks of travel, I was so glad to be home (the Oklahoma home that is) and have spent the last two days doing laundry.

It is a joy to me to see so many of the different plazas of the world and be able to still stand on them as a preacher and minister.

October 21, 2013

The Preacher on the Plaza Travel Log

As I continue to abide in my global nomad status of being defined by mission and not geography as Kevin recently wrote about, I am learning a lot about airports.

And along the way, I’ve seen the best. I’ve seen the ugly (like this travel story I just have to reference back to).

As advised by a friend the other day, I thought I might share with you all some of superlatives of the miles I’ve logged around the globe. I bet some of my recommendations might surprise you:

Friendliest TSA agents: Chattanooga, TN

Rudest TSA agents: Hilton Head, SC

Best place to go shopping while you wait: Minneapolis, MN

Airport with the Longest Walks Between Gates: Chicago (O’Hare), IL

Airport You Must Be At Least an Hour Before Take-Off (if not more): San Fransisco, CA

Longest Security Lines: Nashville, TN

Worst place to be stuck for long periods of time: Long Beach, CA

Nicest International Airport: Seoul, SOUTH KOREA

Least Secure International Airport: Addis Abba, ETHIOPIA

International Airport Most Like the USA: San Jose, COSTA RICA

Place You Don’t Want to Have a Tight Connection: Atlanta, GA

Place You Can’t Find Starbucks: Oklahoma City, OK

Worst Place to Change Terminals for a Connection: Newark, NJ

Easiest Airport to Navigate: Washington, DC (DCA)

Airline with Best Wifi: Delta

Airline with Best Luggage Policy: Southwest

Airline with Cheapest Flights from OKC to DC: Delta (if you are willing to go to BWI)

Airline Easiest Way to Redeem Frequent Flyer Miles: American

Airline with Best Social Media: United

Best Online Booking Service:

Hotel Chain with Best Reward Program: Starwood

Rental Car Chain You Want to Avoid: Dollar

What others would you add to my list?

October 18, 2013

Not Just News Headlines Anymore

Kenya mall bombing dead toll reaches 60

7.2 Earthquake hits in Cebu, Philippines

Malawi president sacks cabinet over corruption scandal

If you are like me, news headlines especially those from far away so easily go in one ear and out the other. We might have  a moment when our heart rises in compassion or pity or the feeling of “thank God that isn’t me.” But then we move on. We get back to life that is right in front of our faces. Even if we want to, it is hard to feel connection to events happening completely outside our realm of experience.

But since I began connecting my life and ministerial calling to the international work of Feed The Children, watching the news is an entirely new experience.

When I read news headlines like those written above, I pause (not because I’m suddenly holier) but because I’ve come to see these stories as gifts to keep up with my friends and the hardships of their lives.

Over the past couple of months I’ve thought a lot about these things:

I’ve worried about my friends in Kenya– wondering if any of the FTC staff was near the mall where the shooting began. Last month, I looked at a lot of maps of Nairobi trying to figure out how close the Westgate Mall was to FTC headquarters there (and it was very close). I talked regularly by email with my friend Seintje about the three days of mourning in the country.

I’ve had a lot of questions about my friends in the Philippines– wondering how many houses of our staff there were destroyed and what the rebuilding effort might need in the future. Just this week, I’ve waited for daily updates from my friend, Becbec who runs FTC operations there.

I’ve prayed for my friends in Malawi– hoping that they are feeling hopeful about their leaders and future as a nation. I’ve thought a lot about my friends who told me last year when we visited how difficult the oil crisis was on their livelihood.

Feed The Children has given me so many gifts of connection with a global community. Most of all I am glad that it has helped me be more aware.

And though my US friends might tire of me texting them in crisis mode because of an earthquake a continent away, I am so thankful that the gifts of friendship and shared work has gotten me out of the closet of apathy– a least in a couple more corners of the world.

I want to think as Henry Miller has said: “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”

I also hope that by following this blog, I live out my responsiblity to help make you as readers just a little more aware too. We live in a vast world with brothers and sisters not only near but far away too.

2006-01-22 04.58.03

2006-01-25 06.55.16


May 10, 2013

You Don’t Speak English, What?

I have spent the last week feeling mostly like an outsider.

Not because of lack of welcome. (I can’t tell you how many hugs and smiles I received)

Not because no one looked me in the eyes. (Countless children pointed at my face as if to notice I was the only green-eyed and blonde haired woman they’d met)

Not because no one said my name. (“Elizabeth, Elizabeth” were words I heard in crowded markets and along busy streets)

But because I visited a country where few (at least of those I encountered) spoke English.

No English.

Mostly Spanish.

I only speak English.

I know only a few words in Spanish. Mucho gusto or buenos dias anyone?

A funny thing happens when you grow up in America, the land where most students take only two years of foreign language in high school to graduate (as I did): you believe everyone speaks like you.

You believe that it is acceptable not to master at least one other language than your own.

You equate speaking English is the superior way to form sentences.

You may even go as far as to think that you are smarter than those you meet who don’t speak English. Shameful to admit but true.

Most places I have traveled outside of the US lately have been cultures where English is revered. Even folks who don’t speak it say they want to be taught. But this week in Guatemala I met many lovely folks who know as much English as I do Spanish. And they were proud and content. I don’t see them seeking to learn English anytime soon.

As I was ordering a late lunch at the hotel cafe of a major American hotel chain in Guatemala City yesterday (you know the place you’d expect everyone to speak English) I found myself pointing and using my limited words like uno mas and agua to the clerk. Again, no English for her. Was I annoyed? Yeah a little. Was I frustrated at my limited vocabulary? For sure. But most of I was aware anew of my own prejudice. I was in Guatemala not the United States. What did I expect?

The whole world does not speak English. It is ok if they don’t. Who ever said speaking English was a degree from on high?

To speak English does not make one superior to another. If anything to cling to English as one’s only language spoken makes a person arrogant.

It takes great courage and strength of character to permanently enter a culture where you do not speak the primary language as many new immigrants do every day on US shores. I now have a new appreciation.

It is good to be reminded what it feels like on the other side of things. It is good to remember that language, as God gave it to us originally was not meant to divide us or make some of us feel better about ourselves than others. It is good to get one more kick in the pants that I need to stop stalling and learn Spanish soon.

May 9, 2013

And It All Goes Back to Candy

At the end of the day, no matter where in the world you are, there’s one thing that always makes kids excited: the candy. Even the big kids like my husband . . .

April 26, 2013

Peace Through Friendship

I love independent theaters. I love films that may or may not get press or bring filmmakers lots of money, but present a message through their art medium that make you think. I love films that stir up conversation long after the credits roll.

For me one such film I recently watched in the documentary called Gatekeepers. While nominated for an Oscar, winning a Cinema for Peace honor and getting rave reviews from the critics, I’d never heard of it until I was browsing the options for a movie night.

I read the description: “A documentary featuring interviews with all surviving former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency whose activities and membership are closely held state secrets” and was immediately intrigued.

Maybe this just sounds to you like a nerdy way to spend a night out (and I fully admit here my nerdy status), but in actuality my interested piqued from the fact I spent 10 days in Israel alongside a Inman, a Rabbi, and evangelical pastor in 2011.

It was a trip that brought my mind and spirit to the center of the crisis of the Middle East in ways that just don’t leave your heart when you return home.

We called our trip a “delegation of peace.” And though it is usually every pastor’s dream to take a tour to the Holy Land at some juncture in their ministry (and I was one of them)– this was not your normal journey to the Holy Land.

We traveled to intentionally together to explore the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the eyes of one another. We wanted to explore the sights important to each of our religious traditions, as children of Abraham, with an openness to learn without our natural biases. We sought to meet with peacemakers on the ground on both sides. And, we wanted our congregations/ places of worship to grow in friendship with one another when we returned home.

Throughout the journey, I came to believe there is no better way to see Israel and the Palestinian territories than with an Rabbi and Iman by your side.

For the Holy Land is more than about the life and work of Jesus, as many Christians bulldoze their way into the country in big tour buses– it’s the center of history our friends in the Jewish and Islamic tradition as well, meant to be respected and honored.

Now, I can’t imagine going back to Israel any other way or a conversation about the region without consideration for the perspective of both Israel and their Palestinian neighbors.

I loved that Gatekeepers took me back to this place of learning and reflection on the complexity of history, politics and ideology that shapes the current state of affairs in Israel today.

I appreciated that Gatekeepers showed the humanity– both the good and not so good– of the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency. Sometimes the best decisions that could have been made at the time occurred– and sadly innocent people died anyway. Sometimes poor choices in security cost hundreds their lives (and livelihood). Sometimes top Shin Bet official wept for lives lost and also wished for a better way of relationships between neighbors (as much as they were/ are labeled the “bad guys”).

I appreciated the commentary on religious leadership within the region– highlighting the crucial role such leaders play in persuading the hearts and minds of people, for good or evil.

I appreciated the fact that the film ended without a political message of either pro or against Palestinian statehood and/ or a new Middle East peace agreement BUT with the statement that peace will come through friendship. It’s not the message I expected– to be pro greater military occupation or even different new political leaders. But, simply friendship. Peace through friendship.

Go out and see Gatekeepers with a friend! You’ll be glad you did.

By the way, our group blogged our way through the journey, if you are interested in more specific reflections check out our trip website hosted by George Mason University).