Signing on the Dotted Line

We are applying for a new HELOC for one of our houses in the States. Apparently our 10-year term is about to run out on our previous HELOC and we would like to get another one. As you probably know, applying for a loan is no easy feat. Doing it from another country is even more difficult. The worst part by far are the signatures. To apply for a HELOC Amy and I will each need to sign our name 6 times. Those signatures need to be notarized. The only legal notary in a foreign country is the consular at the U.S. Embassy. They charge for their services: $50 per signature!

(Don’t worry, my brother has power of attorney for us so he can sign for us. Wait a minute. I gave my brother power of attorney. I’m the one who should be worried!)

But this blog isn’t about the outrageous fees our government charges its citizens or about how much I should worry that my kid brother can enter into legal contracts on my behalf. This is about the importance of our signatures. I take mine for granted. I sign checks. I sign loans. I sign love letters to my wife. I sign notes to friends. I also sign work contracts.

This last week I was able to sign a contract with one of our new employees at the gym. He’s never had a job before. He’s been living on the streets for a long time now. And because of that, he has never been to school before. He just started classes in February. He is learning to read and write and to do basic math. Like most people who learn to write he started with learning to write his name.

It was so clear he had been practicing when we signed his work contract. His first work contract. His first legal signature. His first chance at a new life around a bunch of guys who are going to love him and support him.

I was so proud as I saw him carefully form the letters of his name, just like he practiced in school. He smiled when he handed me back the contract. I was so excited, I almost wanted to take it to the embassy to get it notarized…

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The Pain of Pruning

I love to throw stuff away. I’m not a saver. I’m not sentimental. I even threw away my high school yearbooks. I didn’t feel like hauling them to Africa.

This makes the idea of pruning attractive to me. I get to “throw away” branches that I don’t particularly like, or that aren’t bearing fruit.

I was able to practice the art of pruning a couple of years ago when we first moved into our house here in Mozambique. There is a lemon tree in the front yard. It was in terrible shape when we arrived. Branches went everywhere. Sappers shot out of the trunk. Lemons were hard to be found.

The previous owner told me it might be worth cutting down the tree. It was no longer bearing much fruit, but I thought I would give it another chance. So I went to work pruning. I didn’t just trim a little here and there; I hacked. Major branches came down. All the sappers were removed. Putty was applied to new wounds to keep new sappers from shooting out. All this to no avail. The next year there were even fewer lemons. So again I trimmed, no major branches this time, but every branch that didn’t have a lemon was removed.

And then the pruning paid off. I’m overflowing with lemons this year. The branches are weighed down with fruit. What a wonderful paradox: By eliminating, you gain.

So I’ve been reflecting for a couple of days on what this means for my life. How do I need to be pruned? Jesus said, “every branch that does bear fruit [God] prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

I’d like to be more fruitful in 2015. That means I must be pruned. I would rather be the one who holds the shears, but I don’t think that is how this works.

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(photography by Abigail Terpstra)

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Science Nerds Unite!

So ever since I moved within a couple hundred kilometers from the Tropic of Capricorn, I’ve wanted to do a particular science experiment. Well yesterday I was able to do it. As I’m sure you know, yesterday was the Southern Solstice. The day when the sun reaches it’s southernmost point in the sky. That means that yesterday the sun was DIRECTLY overhead the good people who live on the Tropic of Capricorn.

So since I took my kids to the pool yesterday at around midday, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to test and see just how small of a shadow something could have. Check out these pics. From my reckoning, the shadow on the final photo is about 1.5cm long, the stick is about 20cm long, and we live about 300km from the Tropic line. Cool, right?ImageImageImage

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Check out that shadow! Crazy! Hurray for science!

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(Part 3) I believe in the communion of saints

My journey to and from my short-term missions trip to the United States was routed through the United Kingdom. I happen to love England. Perhaps it is my love affair with English Literature (Lewis, Stevenson, Rowling, Austen, Keats, Shakespeare, etc.). Perhaps my love is the seemingly ancient nature of London compared to the relatively brief history of the United States. Perhaps it is how everything sounds more intelligent when it comes from the mouth of someone with a British accent.

I don’t know how or when I first fell in love with England, but I did and I am still in love with that country. It’s splendid.

So rather than spend 8 hours basking in the glory that is Heathrow (next time you are in Terminal 5, do yourself a favor and look up. It’s ginormous!) I decided to head into the heart of London for a couple of excursions. I may have taken a circuitous route to get to my favorite neighborhood, but to me, all London roads lead Bloomsbury.

Bloomsbury is the intellectual heart of London. It is the home of the British Museum, a treasure trove for this former archaeologist. It was also the former home of the British Library (which moved not far away). Very famous writers and thinkers used to live in the neighborhood and you can hardly walk a block without reading about where someone famous lived. When I was studying at Oxford a couple of years ago I happened upon a copy of Karl Marx’s “The Capital” in a Bloomsbury bookstore which I was able to read in the coffee shop where he wrote it. The irony that the coffee shop is now a Starbucks (one of the bastions of overwrought free-markets) is not lost on me.

So this last Monday I headed into town with the intention of heading to Bloomsbury. However, on my way, I wanted to stop off at Westminster Abby. This ancient home of kings and saints has seen the coronation of British monarchs for over 500 years. However, I wasn’t there to goggle at the statues, I knew they held mass at midday. And so, at just before 12:30 I walked past the ridiculously long lines of tourists to the “back door” of the main sanctuary. Here I cut my way through the tourists and past the velvet ropes to the center of the sanctuary.

As the congregation (mostly tourists with perhaps a local or two) read the prayers and liturgy together I was struck by the international nature of our group. Every continent seemed represented. It was a communion of saints.

When mass was over, and I was walking out I happened to step on the grave of someone whose name I recognized, David Livingstone. As I was heading back to Africa just hours later, I paused for a moment to remember a man who shares my name who came here over a century before. As I looked around and marveled for the first time during my visit at the grandeur of the building, I believe I came to a new understanding of “the communion of saints.”

Growing up a Protestant and studying in some of our finest institutions over the years, I think I may have missed a significant element of a doctrine we claim to share with our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. “I believe in the… communion of saints.” I won’t bother you with musings about whether or not any of the saints who were buried in that holy place were still hanging around in spirit. I will simply sign off by wondering aloud in cyberspace if worshiping in a church graveyard might be one of the most Christian things one could do.

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(Part Two) Some thoughts on El Salvador

If you have never been to Central America, you need to go. Take out your bucket list and put a trip to Central America on it right now. (I’ll wait. Go ahead… Ok? Good.)

In the middle of my short-term mission trip to the United States I took a quick short-term mission trip to El Salvador. Free The Girls is partnering with a local safe house in El Salvador to bring our job creation program to the sex trafficking survivors of that country.

I was hosted by our friends and partners in the project, Jon and Danielle Snyder. They, along with their two amazing kids, were great hosts and tour guides. I was able to spend some time at their center for homeless ministry. I also got to visit some officials in the Salvadorian government and two of the women in our pilot program.

I have a favorite question to ask women who are new in the program. “If you end up selling a lot of bras and making a lot of money, what are you going to do with the money?” Everyone always says something like “Buy a house.” “Buy land.” “Fix up my house.” But it the answer after that which is always my favorite. One of the ladies I spoke with in El Salvador told me quite simply. “I will buy bikes for my children.”

How cool is that? What a perfectly normal thing for a mother to do for her kids. To buy them a couple of bikes. I have no doubt she will buy them a couple of bikes one day through money she earns in the program. When she does, I’ll snap a picture for you.

***Excursus*** (Some quick thoughts on Spanish and Portuguese)

The national language in Mozambique, where I live, is Portuguese. The national language in El Salvador is Spanish. They are very similar languages. However, their similarity seems to only work in one direction. In other words, I could understand almost everything that was said in my presence during my visit. However, I couldn’t say anything. I embarrassed myself seemingly hundreds of times in just a couple of days trying to speak Spanish. It was awesome. If you haven’t embarrassed yourself trying to speak another language recently, you should get on it. It’s worth the fun.

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(Part-One) Some thoughts on my short-term mission trip to the USA

I got back recently from a short-term mission trip. I went to the far off land of the United States of America. I got to visit the natives in their natural habitats, eat the “local food” and even preach in their churches.

Although I say much of this in jest, my recent trip to the States felt oddly like a short-term mission trip. Like most trips I have been on, this one was packed to overflowing with activity. I traveled around. I lived out of a suitcase. I met with church leaders. I preached. I met with friends. I ate some more. I went shopping for a couple of items I can’t get (or cant get as cheaply) in Africa. I ate quite a bit more.

I think what made my recent trip seem most like a mission trip was that it was clearly a visit to place that was not home. Unlike most of my other trips, I had the advantage of an insider’s knowledge of speaking the language and knowing the culture. But it still felt a bit foreign. I felt out of place the whole time. It was no longer home. That made if feel weird.

What made it exactly like every short-term trip I have been on was the nature of the church. I love the church. There is nothing like a gathering of the People of God. I love local bodies of believers who gather together to worship, learn, grow, serve, share, and love on each other. It’s a beautiful thing.

Words can’t express how filled up I was at the end of my trip. In one way I left exhausted by my ridiculous schedule. In another, much more important way, I was filled to overflowing. It was breathtaking to be taken care of so well by the people of God.

And so, to…

TNL, Scum of the Earth, Greenwood Community and Denver Community Church

I say “thank you.” I am very, very grateful for how you invest into me and my family. Thanks.

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Enterprise and Missions

I think that enterprise can be a very good thing. I believe that even for those of us who do faith-based work, business can be a vehicle for changing the world.

Here in Mozambique I have already seen the effects of enterprise on the women we work with through Free The Girls. It is amazing to see the transformation of the women that is caused by their participation in a business in just a short period of time.

One of my favorite stories is of “F”. When she first started working for us, she was constantly trying to find out what she could get for free. Now, after several months of selling bras she employs a couple of other women to help her sell. She started off wanting a handout, she moved to being a sole-proprietor selling bras, and now has employees! She’s a small business owner. Enterprise has changed her whole life.

But I see enterprise working in other areas as well. Amy and I don’t just work with survivors of trafficking. We also work with a team that helps street boys return to their homes. To date, they have helped over 50 boys leave the streets of Maputo and reintegrate with their community. They follow up with each of the boys to make sure they are in school and that their family continues to provide for them.

Together with this team I have started Armadura Gym. This neighborhood gym helps to fund the project to street boys. What’s especially great is watching Mozambican dollars pay for Mozambican ministry. It’s beautiful.

And of course, I have more projects in the works as I write, but they aren’t ready to go public just yet. In my short time here in Mozambique I have been convinced more and more that God is using business alongside of missions to transform lives. I’m excited to keep dreaming up new ways to find partnerships between the two. Let me know if you might want to partner with me on any of these projects.

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