Birth in the Pre-Modern World

27 12 2005

On Christmas Eve, after my regular Saturday meeting with the Soumdina Po Wayi church, I was asked to give a young lady who was in labor a ride to a “medical clinic” in the nearby village.


This wasn’’t an unusual request, but after the last time I transported a woman in labor to the hospital and came thisclose to having the child being born in my truck, I made sure we didn’’t waste anytime getting on our way! Once we were quickly, but carefully, negotiating the rough path which occasionally doubles as a road, a number of thoughts crossed my mind.


The first was how I didn’’t believe that the clinic was much of a step up from the home where we picked up the woman. Sure the building was made of cement brick, had windows, real doors and a tin roof, but it couldn’’t be much more sterile. What’’s more, the ““doctor”” at the clinic was sure to have only a very limited supply of meds and knowledge should any complications arrive during the birth.


I thought, too, how there was no way I’’d consider allowing any of my children to be born under those conditions. For instance, we didn’’t even stay on the continent when Owen was born. (How unbelievably privileged we are to actually have a choice in the matter!)


But then I began to think about Joseph and Mary and what they must have been going through on the eve of Jesus’’ birth. Noting the urgency I felt to get this woman somewhere safe (and remember feeling that even more intensely when Tracey was in that situation), I tried to imagine how Joseph felt. I’’m sure that donkey — – if they even had a donkey –– couldn’’t move fast enough! And the animals in the stable… He was probably shooing them off constantly.


With sounds of the young Kabiye woman struggling with labor pains, I wondered what thoughts must have been going through young Mary’’s mind. For one, since was Jesus her first child, Mary had to have been scared and nervous. (That is what I read in the Kabiye lady’s face so I assumed it was her first child too. Turns out it was her fourth!) And she was definitely feeling some physical pain. And, to top it all off, she had do wrestle with the idea of giving birth to the Son of God!


Well, we got to the clinic without a hitch and I left the expectant family and their friends to head home. On the way back, I reflected on the two big reminders the Lord gave me through the experience.


First, our Lord and Savior’’s birth was physical. It is an integral part of the story of redemption and while I celebrate Christ’s birth this time of year, I tend to forget the ugly parts of that birth. Jesus came into the world with all the pain, blood, fluid and anxious emotions of any other human birth. He truly came in the flesh! 100%.



Second, I was floored by the tremendous risk God took in coming to this earth in the flesh. Think about it. Jesus Christ born into a world before antibiotics, incubators, oxygen masks and anti-bacterial soap (just to name a few medical advances in the past 2000 years)! Consider that he was born in one of the dirtiest places one could think of – a living place for farm animals, too!


God Almighty allowed His son to be born in even worse conditions than a village clinic in Africa. Conditions worse than those which I have deemed unacceptable for my own kids.


That is incredible! Unthinkable! Yet, absolutely true. And it was all done “at just the right time.”


No wonder the angels sang and kings bowed down. “”God is with us”” had arrived safe and sound.


Merry Christmas

24 12 2005

Today we had a special early visit from Santa in his sleigh and a couple of his elven helpers. The boys came up with this on their own. Pretty cute and creative!

Have a merry Christmas everyone!!!

Kara Christmas Decorations

20 12 2005

On my way home from a village visit, I saw the most simple, and likely the most dangerous, of all Christmas light displays – the traffic light at the major intersection in town was both red and green!


I just had to smile. Who says African cities don’t know how to decorate for Christmas? Why it is such a simple idea! I’d bet cities all over America would save thousands of dollars each year if, instead of putting up Christmas lights, they’d just use the ones hanging at every intersection!


Of course, the millions of dollars spent because of all the traffic accidents that would cause makes one pause. Thankfully, the lights at the intersections are relatively new, so those of us who have driven in Kara for awhile – and Africa in general – already know how to navigate these big intersections without the aid of properly functioning traffic lights.



Speaking of lights. I have an update on our lightly lighted Christmas tree (see post below)…


Tracey and the boys found a string of white lights to add to our tree. They gave it to me as an early gift. (It wouldn’t do much good to give it to me on Christmas day.)


Guess I underestimated our local version of Home Depot! Still, go ahead and send those extra strings of lights Mom. Thanks!

Lions — A Gift of Grace

15 12 2005

About a month ago, Isaac, Graham and I went to the Pendjari National Game Park in Benin for a camping safari trip. We enjoyed some serious guy time – joking in the car, telling stories around the camp fire, reading the Chronicles of Narnia under a star-filled sky and sharing the wonder of God’s great creation . It was a time I hope my boys never forget (and one we plan to make into a yearly Ries tradition as long as we are near a game park)!

I must confess, though, that having special, focused time with my two oldest sons was not the only (or even primary) reason I planned the trip. Selfishly, I was looking for a way to soothe the great disappointment of missing out on the survey trip to Rwanda, visit with mountain gorillas and safari in the Mossai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, my good friends and teammates had embarked upon. I knew that getting out on my own little West African adventure would be a nice distraction – and maybe give me something my buds didn’t have in the process. Not very noble, I know.

So what’s with the lions? Well, they are reason I’ve titled this blather ‘A Gift of Grace’ is because that is exactly what they were. I say that because, on that safari trip, not only was I blessed with tremendous quality/quantity time with Isaac and Graham in which we grew closer together, but we all were blessed with the sighting of 7 lions! Here’s another picture of the group we saw on the second day of our trip.

Pretty awesome, huh? Now, to give you some perspective on this, in my 8 previous trips over the past 4 years to Pendjari, I had seen lions only once. During this ‘drought’, I have come to not expect, or even hope, to see lions on safari, because I’d almost always been let down. On top of all this ‘bad lion luck’, this trip was early in the dry season so the weeds were still very, very thick in the park and, except for in the roads and the rare clearings, visibility was pretty low.

To see 7 in one trip, at that time of the year, is pretty incredible. To see them at a time when the green monster of jealousy was ready to eat me up… well, that is a gift of grace.

We followed the group on the road until they veered off toward the forest. The best picture I got of them was when, alerted by some rustling in the nearby forest, they had their backs to us and were about to bolt.

The whole time we were watching the lions, the boys and I, talked in excited whispers. I was shaking with excitement (and fear maybe?) and I’m pretty sure Ike and G were too. We were sky high for the rest of the day. Every now and then, one of us would blurt out a “Wow! We saw lions!” or “Those guys were huge!” and “Can you believe that?!”

The story of the first lion we saw on the trip is even more amazing.

Every time we enter the park, we play a little game in which everyone calls out the mammal which they think will be the first to be spotted on the trip. On this trip, Isaac called baboons, I said roan antelope and Graham said we’d see lions first. Both Isaac and I didn’t think Graham had a chance of ‘winning’ the game, but we tried to humor him.

Turns out the joke was on us because not 20 minutes after we had entered the park (and while we were still a long ways away from the main area for animal sightings), a large lion crossed about 10 yards in front of our truck. He froze for a second, long enough for us to get a good look at him, and then jumped into the tall grass on the side of the road.

I pulled up to where he entered, thinking he was long gone, but as I examined the roadside, my eyes finally locked on his face gazing at us not 10 feet from the truck! I could not get my camera out fast enough, what with my hands shaking and trying to get the boys to see him too. He took off before I could get a picture, but not before we all had a good look and Isaac and I began to eat some crow for doubting Graham.

It was the best tasting crow I’ve had to eat in a long time! I still can’t believe it. That God would be gracious to me in my petty desires and head off my silly jealousies — that’s even more unbelievable!

Just one more illustration of the tall, long, deep and wide Love of our Creator!

Lights Lite

13 12 2005

As a kid, I was always pretty picky about the Christmas tree. It had to be just so. First of all, it had to be a real tree. Not too fat, not too thin with thick boughs. Then, I wanted the trimmings to look right. Not too much tinsel and just the right balance of candy canes. And, of course, it had to be full of lights (preferably white). I’m not sure you can put too many lights on a Christmas tree – I never have.

Well, as an adult… I’m still pretty picky about the Christmas tree. And, here in Togo, that becomes a bit of a burden because 1) there aren’t any real Christmas trees here, 2) there’s no place to buy tinsel (and it can’t be reused like our Ziploc bags), 3) the ants make nests in the candy canes, so that’s a waste and 4) our Togolese version of Home Depot doesn’t have any white Christmas lights in stock (never did, probably never will) to replace the strings that have burnt out. So, this year, our fake (‘artificial’ is too nice of a word) Christmas tree has no tinsel, no candy canes and only one string of lights zigzagged across the front part of the tree from top to bottom. By my standards, it is pretty sad.

Thankfully, as I struggled with my disappointment over our Christmas tree, the Lord reminded me that the very fact that I own an artificial Christmas tree (with lights and more ornaments than we have room to hang, no less!) places me in a rarified position most of my Kabiye friends and neighbors will never be in. As I thought of how our African visitors marvel at the Christmas tree every year, I was humbled and reminded to find the beauty and richness of what is actually there.

I think I often fall into the trap of regarding myself as I regarded our ‘lights lite’ Christmas tree. Too often, I grumble, fret and try to cover up what is missing in my life instead of being proud of the brilliant, rich trimmings the Lord has given me. In truth, I may not have all the gifts, skills and accolades that I wish I had, but what I do have isn’t anything sneeze at either. My standards need to be lowered and my self-esteem in Christ needs to be boosted.

So, this holiday season, I’m not only going to appreciate the lights on the Christmas tree in the corner of our living room (it actually looks pretty good, huh?); I’m also going to earnestly seek to rediscover, appreciate and accentuate the Light that shines in my life.

Pics from San Diego

8 12 2005

The lovely Tracey and ever-energetic Owen are back in Togo with us. They had a busy time in San Diego what with a wedding, catching up with family and Christmas shopping to do. Here are a few pictures from their time there…

<- Tracey and Owen at the Ocean Beach pier. Grandma’s house is only a few blocks from the beach, the pier and our favorite mexican restaurant – Nati’s. Tracey had a hard time keeping Owen out of the water.

‘Excuse me. Can I have this dance?’ ->
Owen gets caught trying to cut in on his new Uncle Jason for a dance with Aunt Mandy at the wedding reception. Jason is a Marine staff sargent stationed in San Diego.

Tracey with her sisters, Jenny (left) and Amanda (right). Jenny flew in from her home in Tennessee. She and her daughter Kate stayed with Tracey and Owen at Grandma’s. Even though Amanda was super busy getting ready for her wedding, she still found some time to hang out with her older sisters.


Hanging with Kate.
Owen and Kate ‘hang out’ after church services. The two spent a lot of
time together and had a bunch of fun. It was nice for Owen to have a little one his size to pal around with.

Passing on a Passion

6 12 2005

“Dad, can I go shoot baskets?”

This is what Graham and Isaac were asking me after lunch one day at the MK sports camp we hosted here in Kara last week.

Now, if you know me, you know my answer to that question was an emphatic ‘YES’! I don’t think I thought to check their plates to see if they had eaten any of their food and I know I didn’t care about my kids starting a mass exodus from the kid’s table before other parents were ready.

“Let them shoot all they want,” I thought. “They can shoot until the sun goes down and still keep shooting.” Which is exactly what they did. (Check out Isaac’s follow through in the picture.) And, as I watched those two shoot (and make) baskets, I caught myself making the biggest, cheesiest grin I’d made in a long while. To me, that was pure joy and I knew for sure that if the boys show interest in my favorite sport, they’ll get about as much grace and help as one pop can muster, with pleasure.

Then, in a brief spiritual moment, I had the thought, “This is what God must feel like when we find pleasure in the things which he enjoys. Which may be why he heaps so much grace, love and mercy upon us… to help us find, and love, those things he loves. Pretty cool.” Well, I know I’m not that close to being God-like, but it was fun to find that connection to God with Ike, G, me and basketball.

So now I’m trying to find a way to get an adjustable hoop put in on our basketball court. (The boys still shoot on our 10-footer, but it was the 7-footer at the camp that really got them going.) After that, we could have some flood lights put up… just for the boys, of course!