Category Archives: new discoverations

The World Traveler’s Recap

This is a waterfall in the vicinity of Mahadaga. One of our field trips. :)

Well, I’m back. And I’m really not sure how to intro this letter other than to just jump into it.

First off, I ended up journaling just about every day for both trips, which I found to be exceptionally useful when thinking back on each trip. And no, I’m not going to post the journals because there just too much and it would overwhelm your brains since most of you have very little context around what happened. But I did my best to pick out the important and interesting things and compile them for you. :)

South Africa:

The first thing I noticed in my journals was my abject fear of sharing the gospel. As you all know, the PURPOSE of this trip was evangelism. And I was scared silly that I’d forget something, not be able to explain something, or forget the key Bible verses. That kind of thing. That’s not really normal for me. I mean, it was normal in that I’ve always been scared of sharing the gospel, but I’m otherwise rarely intimidated to that level by relational/social situations.

It turned out to be super easy. I still haven’t personally “prayed the prayer” with anyone, but it turned out that it didn’t matter to me. I was kinda thinking previous to this trip that it would be really cool to actually lead someone to Christ, almost like a spiritual badge of sorts. That was probably the wrong attitude, considering the person that’s doing the pointing toward Christ isn’t actually the one doing the “leading”. So I didn’t get to pray with anyone, but I did share the gospel with a whole bunch of people, and it’s not nearly as hard as I was making it out to be, especially with the EvangeCube.

The second thing I noticed in my journals was the mention of what turned into the acronym of the trip: “TIA”. Stands for “This Is Africa”.

Remember how I had said in my previous letter that nearly nothing went as planned? Yeah. That’s because “This Is Africa”. There were a lot of things that didn’t happen simply because it was Africa and we weren’t as connected as we thought we were. And in the great scheme of things, we didn’t know anything.

For instance, we didn’t end up seeing our main contact in Africa until the end of our last full day in Hluhluwe. I’m still not sure why he couldn’t be around during our trip, but he did pretty much just throw us into Africa without a clue or a workable game plan. We thought we had lodging 6 months out, but none was secured until about a week before we got there, because our contact didn’t take care of that. We thought we were going to have translators picked out ahead of time so we could go door to door in the community, but nope, our contact didn’t do that either. The only thing he did do is get some pastors lined up for us to speak to about getting a church planting movement together, which was good, but that didn’t work out nearly the way we hoped it would. Most of the churches we spoke to didn’t end up getting involved in what we were doing because everyone was busy every day.

However, it didn’t end up mattering. The day that we talked to the church leaders, they weren’t available to go out with us to share the gospel in the community as translators because they had a meeting to attend or something. So we were stuck with no translators and no plan of action. However, it was market day, and of course, everyone in the area is out to sell/buy things. So after lunch, we just decided to split up into several small groups and preach the gospel to whoever we could find that spoke English.

Turned out to be a LOT of people that knew English. The local language is Zulu, but English is taught at most schools now as well, so that turned out great for us. We recruited a good number of people that day by just talking to random people in the market, and we gathered them all the next day at a building nearby for discipleship and further teaching.

Those people we talked to at the market became our base group that really kicked off the rest of the trip. Those people that came the next day brought family members and friends, who brought more family members and friends. A few of them knew English really well and were able to translate for us. There was one exceptional young man, Sizwe, who not only was able to translate really well, but was able to share the gospel with passion and sincerity like none of us could. He became our primary translator, both for the language and the culture. He became a good friend. I’m excited about what we’ll hear in future communication with him.

And it wasn’t all preaching all the time. We had a good amount of playtime too, what with touring London on our way through, visiting two different beaches while we were in South Africa (toes in the Indian Ocean, baby!) and going on a safari, to boot! Add in relationship building with the nationals, participating in a few football (soccer) circles and countless other little fun things, it was such a worthwhile trip. Got to see the world and Jesus too. The whole schedule ended up nearly completely thrown out the window, but God made it work. And it was really neat to see that so plainly displayed.

Burkina Faso was quite a bit different.

I’m not sure really where to start with this, but let me just start off with the fact that I really felt like a foreigner on this trip. “But,” you ask, “why is that so strange? Did you NOT feel like you were a foreigner among the people of Hluhluwe, South Africa?” Actually, no. In South Africa, most people had some understanding of English, and if they were in their late 20s and under, they had very good English (albeit with a pretty thick accent). So when people spoke Zulu or Afrikaans, it just felt like in Lancaster when Mexicans or Amish are conversing amongst themselves. There was no pressure for us to learn any Zulu. But like South Africa was a colony of England, Burkina Faso was a colony of France. Thus, everybody speaks French in Burkina Faso, but no English. That took a good bit to get used to, and I am actually now very inspired to learn French, though that’s a bunny trail tidbit of trivia.

So yes. Language barrier. That was the most difficult thing to work with/get used to, but by the end of the trip I wasn’t uncomfortable with it anymore. Actually, most of the trip’s goal in the mind of Matt Walsh, one of our church’s long-term missionaries in Mahadaga, was to simply get us into the culture and discover what it was like. Not only that, but also to see what they do, why they do it, and what it’s like. And we thought it was a work trip. :)

And it was. We worked at the CSPS, the SIM-run medical center in Mahadaga, a really small village in the middle of nowhere. We had to take a 8 hour bus ride from the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, because there’s no other transportation available to Mahadaga. The CSPS needed an entire electrical system overhaul, requiring changing/adding countless lights, fans, switches and outlets. And rewiring just about everything. And by golly, our group of 10 completed that and then some, which surprised a few people. We were also able to work on a few projects at the SIM station that have been on the missionaries’ lists for awhile but have just never gotten done. So both we and the missionaries were very happy with what we were able to accomplish in our three weeks there.

But that wasn’t the “meat” of the trip, for us. Matt had several activities for the team in order to stretch us and really throw us into the local culture. One of the major activities was through the SIM-run handicap center. There are physical trainers that ride out on motorbikes every day and check up or train with people in the neighboring communities. And each one of us went with one of them for a day at least once during the trip, usually two people a day. That was really interesting (and really fun) because on those rides, there’s no getting away from seeing how people live, and what kind of difficulties people with disabilities have in such situations. Actually, there’s a huge stigma against disabled people in Burkina Faso, because a lot of people disregard disabled people as even human. Epilepsy really freaks them out, because a seizure can look an awful lot like demon-possesion. Dale Johnson, another missionary stationed at Mahadaga, explained that fathers/mothers of disabled children won’t even count them in the family. Ask them how many people are in their family, and they will not include the disabled person, even if it’s lying in a corner across the room. So yeah, suffice it to say that the work that the handicap center’s work is very much needed in Mahadaga.

Oh yeah, those PTs that we rode with? They were locals and spoke almost no English. Again, the whole foreigner thing stuck out like a sore thumb.

We saw a lot of other things as well, such as the local fields, market, and a few of us assisted in making our own box drums at the local woodworker’s place. So cool. We also took several hikes to the cliffs behind the station, and various waterfalls around there. Went on a few scorpion hunts (they evidently light up like small nuclear explosions when exposed to a black light), and visited an enormous baobab tree (big enough to construct an actual treehouse in its branches). It was fun, it was stretching, and I feel like I might go back at some point, because the work that those missionaries are doing is incredible, and genius. If you’re interested in hearing more about some of the work they do (and are working towards), feel free to call me up or just ask me the next time we see each other, because it’s a bit extensive for this already painfully long letter.

In short, I worked, I learned, I had fun. And was inspired.

Feel free to ask me in person for more detail on my trip, because there’s way more to everything than what I wrote down in this letter. But it’s at least a taste for those that are only mildly peckish.

Thanks one last time for everyone’s support and interest in my summer, and for your prayers. I learned even more this summer just how much prayer matters. One of the big lessons of my trips. So thank you all for helping me and joining me on this adventure.

Sincerely,

Derek

A couple other things before I finish this out. These are little resources in addition to the letter that you all might be interested in.

  • I did find Mahadaga on Google Maps, and boy was THAT difficult. But I have made my own little map showing various places around Mahadaga that you all might find interesting. It will likely be more interesting once I post pictures in/of those places, and I will probably be adding more to the map in the next day or so, but feel free to check it out in the meantime here.
  • Also, I will be posting pictures on Facebook and Flickr, but they aren’t currently up. However, check in tomorrow and I hope to have them up by midday. For those of you who either aren’t connected with me on Facebook or not on Facebook altogether, here’s the link to my Flickr.
  • And finally, if you want to read up on past updates from me this summer regarding my trips, this page links to all previous updates.
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Shag weekend!

Precursor to thoughts: I was at Penn State for their swing dance club’s workshop weekend centered around collegiate shag. It was called Shagception.

Thought 1: Dude, collegiate shag is so incredibly awesome!

Thought 2: Dude, my butt hurts. Maybe I should start exercising.*

Thought 3: Tried some Brain Toniq over the weekend. First saw this stuff covered at MacWorld, and wondered if it had any kind of validity whatsoever. But I saw it at Wegmans (thought 4: Wegmans is awesome and I want one in Lancaster, which apparently is going to happen at Greenfield, so yay), and decided I must try the stuff, even though the can cost about $2.67. Tried it (it was warm), and decided it was mighty tasty. And it definitely brought my concentration up for doing a little bit of schoolwork, but I’m also quite adept at making placebos work. But, it’s definitely very tasty. It tastes like an energy drink except for the fact that it tastes really good. So forget about the energy drink comparison.

Thought 5: My perception of how to do lindy was completely changed around in about 30 minutes, which was awesome. Got a private lesson separate from the rest of the weekend from one of the more prominent lindy hoppers at Penn State, and now I’m gonna have to rework my entire swingout. Which is not a negative thing.

Thought 6: For some reason, whenever I do weekends like this, I end up discussing matters in the realm of apologetics at some point or another. This time it was abortion. It was a good conversation; nobody was steamrolling over the other. Quite stimulating and stretching, since I get next to zero opposition to my views in Lancaster (at least as a face to face chat).

Thought 7: I get free breakfast at a diner tomorrow. Yay! Oh wait, that’s not part of the weekend. Forget it.

Thought 8: I tasted my first kumquat. YUMNESS! Also sunflower seed butter. That was also pretty appetizing.

Thought 9: I really hope I can start injecting Lancaster with shag. I at least took video of what we learned so that hopefully, I won’t forget stuff when I’m breaking it down for other people.

That’s it for now. I may have more inspired things to say later in the week, who knows. Anyway, kudos once again to Penn State Swing Dance Club for hosting these weekends with such great instructors for such a small amount of money. You ain’t gonna get a weekend full of workshops anywhere else for $25. That’s dang crazy.

Also, random thought. I’m pretty sure Futurama is laced with cocaine.


Dictionary Diving

I’m developing a new sport.

Actually, I just conceived and developed it last night. Yeah, I’m awesome like that.

So it’s called dictionary diving. Guess what happens in dictionary diving?

Oh. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. One takes a bunch of dictionaries and fills up a swimming pool with the ripped pages of said dictionaries, and then dives in them. You got it right.

No, of course you didn’t get it right, stupid! That’s just ridiculous, and I can’t believe you made me make that up.

So anyway, essentially all you do is randomly open a dictionary and pick a word that you like that you never knew existed before. The goal is to find a way to use the word in normal conversation that day.

I found “eximious” today. It means “most distinguished; excellent.” Hehehe, can’t wait to spring that on some poor, unsuspecting construction worker.

So try it out, and share with the class (aka comment below) what obscure devices of communication you discover when doing so. And what happens when you use them in normal conversation. It’ll be fun!


Brainflip

So there was one time when I thought “livid” meant something like being tired, uncaring, and all-around apathetic to the situation.

That’s not what that means.

There was a time when I thought a testimony simply meant the story of how one came to Christ.

Yeah, that’s not what that means, either.

Ever been in that kind of situation? Where you’re trying to make sense of something based on what you thought, and then realize it’s completely different? I had one of those today. I call them brainflips.

So today, I was at a meeting for my South Africa trip. We were talking about testimonies, and working on forming our own in preparation for the trip. For my entire life previous to this, I’ve tried and given up on trying to create a testimony, mainly because of my preconception that a testimony is all about the story of how I came to Christ.

Now, I believed in Jesus’ saving grace when I was 3 or 4. There’s not a whole lot of story to that, and if there was, I don’t remember anything about it. I could easily make something up. I could say something about how I was just a bad kid before I accepted Jesus as Savior, stealing cookies, jumping off the roof, and driving the car unapproved by my parents. But that wouldn’t really be honest, and likely not very convincing to the person I’m talking to. They’d probably know that I couldn’t possibly reach the cookie jar at age 2-3. So I can’t really lie. And besides, lying wouldn’t help my cause very much.

But here’s what I realized today. It never clicked in my brain WHY the purpose of testimonies even exist. Testimonies are meant to be a segue into sharing the gospel. The purpose of a testimony is to share where you’re from, what Christ did for you, how it has impacted your life, and why the person you’re conversing with should be interested in it. I never thought of it before, but I mean, that’s exactly what testimonials are on advertisements. They’re stories for the reader to relate to in order to give the reader reasons why to purchase the product.

So after thinking about all that, and with some ideas from some friends, here’s a go at my testimony.

God blessed me by giving me parents who loved him, and taught me about him. Because Jesus was a part of my life from when I was three, he protected me from the things that you usually hear about in the “before” region of a testimony. All throughout my life, Jesus guarded me from resorting to doing things like drugs or alcohol, because he gave me a reason to live with purpose. He gave me hope that no matter what happens, the most important thing is him. He died for me, paying for the penalty that I would have otherwise received because of the bad things I’ve done. Without that, I probably would have no reason to live right now. I would have no reason to abstain from things that make me feel better for a little while, but are bad for me in the long run. Christ preserved me, and saved me from my sins so I can have eternal life with him when I die. I’m eternally grateful to him, and I know he can give you the same hope and purpose in life. Would you like to know how to have that same hope?

So there’s the rough draft of my testimony right now.

As always, please comment below upon my thoughts, whether positively or negatively. I’d really appreciate your input.


Overhaul

This is how my room used to feel.

I used to hate to clean my room. My room was just an utter mess in terms of how I wanted it, and though Mom would probably beg to differ, I’m sure I had a greater desire for it to be clean that she did. But I couldn’t ever get a good organization system going. I would try clean in stages, but the stages themselves wouldn’t ever be completed because there would be another stage getting in the way. And then I would get my stages all mixed, then end up having to give up in the middle of cleaning because of time, and just have a differently messy room. It was annoying to say the least.

Now, my room isn’t very big. But the things in it happened to be large. Actually, the main thing that was just really large was my waterbed. I loved my waterbed. It was very comfortable. But, since my room isn’t very big, my bed had taken up about a third of it. The rest of my room consisted of my desk (which I hadn’t used in ages), my K’nex entertainment center, a bookshelf, and general mess.

That’s not a whole lot of stuff, generally speaking. But it was still very hard to clean the place, the main reason being I had so much poor/outdated infrastructure in the organization of my room. I’ve had my room since 2001, and in that time, the main structure of my room didn’t change much. There wasn’t much to change! The big thing was my bed, and since it was a waterbed, it never moved, ever. This limited the ability to rearrange my room to my liking, even though I didn’t realize it before.

Besides my bed, most of the infrastructure in my room was left over from previous years of living in my room. The organizational system had no room for records, since I just started collecting them a year or two ago, and my desk was in a spot where it was supposed to be convenient to do schoolwork (which I don’t do much of at all anymore). The speakers in my room have never really been at a satisfactory spot for me, mainly because they had to go around everything else. Pretty much, to wrap it up in a nutshell, everything was put around everything else, so that there was no easy way to organize ANYTHING without disturbing something else that would need to be put where something else was, and so on.

But then something wonderful happened.

My waterbed developed a leak.

Well, that wasn’t very wonderful. I was actually rather annoyed. I kinda didn’t like getting randomly wet as I was checking Facebook for the 14th time since I had gotten in bed. But that’s beside the point.

Point is, we didn’t really have any patches that we could get to stay on the waterbed, so I just decided to dismantle the thing and sleep in a sleeping bag until I could figure out another plan sleeping-wise.

But when I dismantled my waterbed, not only did my room get twice as big, but my room got twice as big. It was SO COOL. After I got done dismantling the bed, I kinda just stood there, with a look on my face like the look on a kid’s face after he got done dismantling his waterbed and finds he just got twice the real estate in his room. It was great. Not only did it free up room to put stuff, but it freed up room to temporarily put things as I was organizing/throwing out other things. A big requirement to organize is a space big enough to put everything you need to organize. And boy does that space motivate when you get it.

So the past week I’ve been reorganizing things in my room, and doing it successfully. Making all kinds of plans like figuring out where I’m gonna put my speakers, my desk, my books and everything. Probably gonna paint it my room too, maybe put in a different light fixture and window (Mom and Dad don’t know about the window yet, so don’t tattle, since they’ll probably never read this completely open blog of mine that I post for everyone to see). So the creative juices are flowing in terms of redoing my room, and I’m loving it.

This is partially why I’m so darn happy about my hammock. It hooks onto eyehooks in the wall when I’m using it, draping across my room, and when I’m not using it, it hooks onto a single hook on one end of the room, and will conveniently hide some storage boxes. And then I have just about my whole room to do stuff in. The possibilities are somewhat endless.

It’s fantastic to get something you’ve wanted for a long time that you had no idea you really wanted. But that you definitely wanted.


Selfish God

So, interesting thought I came across. Something I had been pondering awhile and something atheists like to bring up to sorta give a bad taste to Christianity.

“The Bible says that God is a SELFISH God. Doesn’t God say to NOT be selfish? Isn’t that hypocritical of your precious God, and a bit egotistical?”

I never really figured out a good answer to that one. I mean, other than the fact that God is sorta the one this world revolves around, since he created it and all. But it still had that bad taste I couldn’t get rid of, you know? There was something about that statement that assumed something that wasn’t fair to assume, and I couldn’t figure out what. But a couple weeks ago, my pastor brought up the subject in his sermon, and I found his analysis to be very useful.

The first thing we have to look at when thinking about this topic is what the word “selfish” really means. When we use the word selfish, it has a bad taste to it because the action of being selfish is, well, self-centered. Why is being self-centered a bad thing, though? It’s usually because the person being selfish isn’t worthy of it. They don’t have the right to make the world revolve around them because they almost never are fully responsible for their success. There’s ALWAYS a team element to any kind of success. As a band, to get big, you have to have fans, connections with people who can get you where you want to be, and talent. As a corporate executive, you never get where you are by yourself. You have people that work under you, that you pay to do things for you that you could never do yourself. Yes, you may be responsible for much of the company’s success, but the rest of the company is also responsible for the company’s success. Nobody can ever accomplish ANYTHING alone, there’s always something/someone else backing you, whether indirectly or directly. So when someone starts acting like it’s all about them, people get mad because there are way more people that also deserve the attention that that person is attempting to usurp.

Here’s the difference. God had NOBODY backing him. He actually DID do everything himself. He created something from nothing. There was nothing previous to the universe except HIM. He actually does deserve the glory because he is completely and utterly worthy. So yes, he is a selfish God. And it’s not egotistical because it CAN’T be, in that sense. He wants us to worship him because he really is all there is. So there.
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Currently listening to: I Got Rhythm by an eleven year old Sam Scott. It’s awesome, definitely check it out. Here’s her album on CD Baby.


Effective Edition

“I actually also have a private blog, to rant. Y’know, writers always edit themselves in public, even when ranting.”

“Yes, I completely agree,” I answered the fellow blogger.

Then that crazy thing of my brain thinking about random offhand comments started to kick in about 6.28 hours later (approximately. That’s approximately 6 hours, 16 minutes, and 48 seconds for those of you doing the math at home.)

Yes, writers ALWAYS edit themselves in terms of tone or message. I know I do. But why? And is it damaging to the point we’re trying to make as writers or bloggers?

Obviously, editing is mainly for the reader. When I sit down to write about a topic I’m angry about, the first result is not something that the reader would probably want to read. When I write about something when I’m angry, I tend to go all over the place; I stop at many different points all out of order. I also will usually overstate my point (sometimes illogically), because I’m trying to emphasize a point. It will likely be offensive to someone as well, largely because of the previous statement. And occasionally I’ll just get frustrated and start banging my fists on the sanflkuenlaewnyfzboard. But not often.

So yeah, first result for me when writing angrily will usually consist of incoherence from random point-making, overstatement that will actually make me look like an idiot for illogical claims therein, and will also probably offend someone in a way I don’t want to.

Generally, that will turn off a reader. Nobody wants to read how angry you are unless they agree with you. So we edit.

Now when I edit one of those posts, it usually takes awhile, mainly because I have to rewrite the whole thing, using bits and pieces of the original draft and organizing the points into an easier to read format. I also have to remove any points that are illogical, because I try to be intellectually honest like that. Plus people will get all up on my case if I do make an argument that’s not justified, which I’m quite happy they do. And after that’s done, usually it’s quite harder for someone to get offended in a way that I don’t want them to be. But if there IS anything else after that that may hinder the effectiveness of my point, I try to reword it as well.

So after thinking out loud there for a couple paragraphs, I have come up with an answer to my question. I personally edit so that my point ISN’T damaged by the forceful nature of the original words in my post. I edit so that my point is better received by the reader. Because ultimately the goal in writing is to not only express oneself, but also to convey one’s point in an effective manner to the reader.

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Currently listening to: The Circuitry Citadel by Tettix (Full album download)


Brain muscles

I’m already finding the usefulness this blog. Because I am forcing myself to update it regularly, in turn I am forced to keep a keen eye open for material. The other eye feels kinda left out, though.

So because I have to exercise that muscle in my brain, it’s starting to get easier. It’s also getting easier to roll stuff around in my brain beforehand, pondering the subject of interest for perhaps a day before I write it down. It’s getting easier to organize the information in my brain, and also getting easier to type it out in a coherent way. I always like strengthening my brain muscles, especially when I can see results.

I’m one of those people who learns best by doing, and it’s the same thing with this. I keep thinking writing isn’t a strong suit of mine, because it’s harder for me to do than other things. But then I write something, think it’s sorta meh, post it, and people give me positive feedback. Like it’s good or something. I suppose what I write is somewhat boring to me because I’m used to the way I think, and used to WHAT I think. There’s usually not much new in my brain that isn’t influenced by other people’s ideas, and then I feel like I’m stealing their ideas for my own. Which when you think about it, makes perfect sense. I’ve realized there’s nothing in one’s brain that hasn’t developed from outside influences, whether consciously or not. So I’m getting over that pretty quickly now. Oh, so getting back to the first sentence of this paragraph, I’m learning that writing isn’t as not much of strong suit as I thought it was. Try to unravel THAT sentence over your bedtime snack tonight.

Still hate coming up with a title, though. WHY must the title be so prominent and expected? And titley? There’s too much pressure. I’ll have to come up with a title tomorrow.

EDIT: It’s tomorrow. I came up with a title.

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Currently listening to: What’s The Matter With You by Sweet Emma and the Mood Swingers