Friday, July 24, 2009

Niger -- Opportunity or Exploitation?

Niger is a landlocked country on the African continent slightly less than twice the size of Texas. Its economy is based primarily on agriculture but the country has mineral assets consisting of uranium, coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, gold, molybdenum, gypsum, salt and petroleum. Only 11.43% of the land is arable. It is predominately desert (Sahara).

It is one of the hottest countries on earth. It is also one of the poorest.

The male life expectancy is 51.39 years. Female is 53.85 years.

Infant mortality is 116.66/1,000. 5th worst in the world.

CIA ranks risk of major diseases as very high.

The country has a 28.7% literacy rate.

The country is currently in a political crisis. The President, Mamadou Tanja, is seeking to extend his term as President. He is limited by the constitution, but recently fired all cabinet and elected officials and called a Constitutional Convention to change the constitution to allow additional terms in office. The people seem to support him in this. The Convention has until August 4th to come up with a new Constitution.

The country is one of the poorest in the world.

It is being slowly invaded by China who has its eye on the uranium deposits -- some of the largest in the world.

When I flew into the country a few weeks ago, I would estimate there were at least 30 Chinese mining engineers on the flight with me. Locals told me that such events were commonplace.

I saw Chinese made tractors in the hands of at least one regional governor. Hmmmm.

The U.S. had better step up quickly or the Chinese will control the minerals of this poor and desperate country.

What better way for a political leader seeking to extend his power than to provide gifts to the poor of his country -- gifts that cost him nothing (tractors) yet are signs of an attempt to influence the bidding of contracts for the few resources the country has that have significant value on the world market.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You Ask About My Trip

I wrote 38 pages in my journal about the trip....

It only scratched the surface.

I have almost 600 photos on my camera....

I rarely had it with me.

I felt at home there....

I have often felt like a stranger in a strange land here.

Church there is fresh and alive and lasts for hours....

I've been struggling with church here.

Fresh, clean water is a luxury there....

I took a long, hot, indulgent shower here.

Community is everything there....

I don't even know all of my neighbors here.

Obtaining the next meal is the daily focus there....

I threw away half my fries from my Big Mac meal at lunch.

Signs of sickness and disease were on every happy face there....

We gripe and complain about the cost of health care here.

It took an hour to baptize 5 new believers there....

We rush through a meaningless? baptism in minutes.

Yesterday, I was on another continent -- it might have been another world....

Today, I fell into my ruts as though I had never left.

Help me, Father! This can't be right.

(More to come.)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Once in a Lifetime?

Today I leave on a trip that for me, is probably the trip of a lifetime. I am headed to Africa.

There is a group of us. I'm the old man in the bunch. It is mostly college students.

We will be traveling to a country in West Africa where the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has a mission. The trip is in support of that mission effort to reach a people group that is among the poorest in the world and in a country that is also one of the poorest in the world.

Where we will be traveling is located in the zone between the Sahara desert and the tropics. It is an area referred to as the Sahel. The expected temperature upon arrival in the capital city is 100 with a 100% chance of rain. The heat index will be 107.

It is not a vacation, however, we do get to spend about 1 1/2 days in London on the way there. A little sightseeing is planned.

I hope to be able to post an account of the trip on my return. All will be quiet on the blog until after the 21st.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

On This 4th of July

On July 4, 1776, we declared our independence from Great Britain. We claimed the right to self-governance with representation of the people's will in determination of the laws of our land. We claimed the right to reject an oppressive government and replace it with one that was both responsive to and responsible to the people of this land.

That oppression arose from our dependency on Great Britain. The original colonists needed the support of the mother country for survival. In return, the king required taxes. Those taxes paid for wars that caused a mounting debt. The response of the king was to increase taxes to finance his aggressive policies that sought to consolidate his power.

The people sought relief from the burden but were ignored. They sought representation of their views but were rejected. Over time, their dependency allowed the king to increase taxes to the point they could no longer be borne by the people and they rebelled.

Through the blood of committed individuals that Independence was accomplished over the course of 40+ years when we finally severed the control of Great Britain in the War of 1812. Yet, it didn't end there. We remained a nation seeking to find its way. We continued to seek a balance of power in how we were governed which culminated in a Civil War that consolidated power in the federal government. It was a result that led to better relations between the various races which comprise our people, but eroded the power of the people by consolidating it in the hands of the federal government.

We have survived global wars in which the United States came to the aid of nations whose values resembled our own. We have gone wherever necessary to combat the tendency of man to consolidate power through aggression. Yet we have allowed special interests to consolidate power within our own borders.

We have struggled with our own identity. We are a nation of many varied yet closely held beliefs. We have faced many issues that arise from the human frailties of self-interest and fear. We have made great strides in creating an environment of equality of opportunity for all. Yet we have allowed those same frailties of self-interest and fear to be used against us by the very politicians we elected to serve us.

We continue to struggle. Today we face some of the greatest challenges that we have ever faced as a nation. Many of those challenges are the result of the quest for power of individuals and groups who have only their self-interest at heart. They seek power for gain and not in service for the good of the nation and its people. They bully and intimidate through the power of the purse.

That such individuals and groups hold the reins of power is the fault of the people. Enough of us have allowed ourselves to be subjugated to the carefully orchestrated largess of the state and federal powers that our Independence has been lost. That subjugation has resulted in efforts to further consolidate power through expanding government services in ways that create further dependency. We see today an aggressive expansion and consolidation of power through the use of regulation and welfare (although not always by that name). We have become a nation controlled by dependency. Therein lies our downfall.

Our dependency on the government has created a situation of mounting debt that must be repaid. It is the tendency in such times to use taxation to repay the debt. The burden of government has become oppressive. We are facing a crisis in our nation that in many ways resembles the conditions prior to the War for Independence. It is time once again for our government to become both responsive to and responsible to the people.

(Also posted at Panhandle's Perspective)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Corporate Worship and the Praise Team

When I think about corporate worship -- and in a broader sense, the church in general -- the thought comes to mind that it is ideally much like an orchestra or a choir. The body of believers are the members, each performing his assigned part, while God directs the performance. As long as each individual does his part and follows the direction of the Director, the result is beautiful.

Now, a difficult question comes to mind. If each individual fails to perform his part, is the symphony ruined? In the case of a choir or orchestra the result is often less than satisfying -- perhaps incomplete would be a better description. In the case of the church does the same hold true?

I ask the question because God, being all-powerful, really has no need for us to fill all of the parts because He can supply anything that is missing and turn imperfection into perfection. But, does He? Or, does He choose to allow imperfection in order for those who are doing their part to grow by reaching out to those who are failing in their own?

When we hear a symphony or other type of musical performance we form a judgment. We either like/enjoy it, or we do not. Often our enjoyment is a function of our own attitude upon listening. However, there are times that we can come with low expectations and be lifted above our "mood" and into the realm of ecstasy. This typically occurs when a performance is executed virtually flawlessly -- technically, artistically, "energetically" and intellectually. It appeals to our sense of perfection, it pleases us aesthetically, it energizes us and it exercises our intellect.

One of the keys is that the parts are blended together in a balance that pleases our senses. If any part is not in balance with all of the others it distracts from the overall perfection of the piece. It distorts the performance.

In my post yesterday about "Energy and Music" I referred to our Praise Team in a manner that was less-than praiseworthy. I focused on the issue of energy. Perhaps part of the "draining" effect is due to a lack of balance. If each part is not performed in a manner that blends with the other parts, could that be the source of the draining effect?

Now, a critical question. Is it due to leadership style, lack of technical expertise, failure to follow, or some other factor? I don't see technical expertise as the issue. The level of talent in our Praise Team is exceptional. Leadership style could be a factor because there seems to be an unwillingness to confront the issue of individualism. It should be a corporate performance -- not a simultaneous set of individual performances. Ego comes into play. With the abundance of talent, it seems there is a universal attitude of "I'm the best so I need to really get-out-front on the music." That brings us to the issue of "failure to follow."

As I read the Gospel and focus on the ultimate message of Jesus I find that in a large sense it can be wrapped up in the statement -- it's all about denying self and glorifying God. Matthew 22:36-39 sums it up.

If we do this -- "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind...and love your neighbor as yourself." -- we solve the issue of "failure to follow." Because we then realize that each of us must do our part and not "run over" others who are seeking to perform their part. We blend into the symphony rather than distract from it.

I don't know -- maybe my rambling is a bit of a stretch. I just know that it could be better. To get better one must first identify the problem.

If you ask someone on the Praise Team they are likely to say that it is a lack of participation on the part of the audience/congregation/worshippers. Could it be that they are merely a reflection of what is going on up front?

Much prayer is needed.