High Roller

28 08 2007

Tonight was ‘game night’. Tracey and Isaac played a game on the computer while Owen, Graham and I played Hi Ho! Cherry-O!

How was it? Let’s just say Owen cleaned house. He won every single game we played (I think it was 6 total). He won going away and coming from behind. Each time he won, Graham and I said, “Double or nothing!” Good thing for us the double of zero is still zero!

If you see this little guy sitting across the table from you putting cherries on the trees, take your money and walk the other way!


Photo taken by Graham


Last Things

26 08 2007

Our family is moving back to the States next May. We’ve known since the end of 2006 that this was going to be our last term in Togo, but it took us awhile to decide when we’d actually be moving back.

May 2008. Now we’re less than a year out from it, I’ve started noticing all the ‘last things’ we are experiencing. (Tracey calls it “The Long Goodbye”.)

This summer we hosted our last group of interns. (What a fantastic group! We went out with a bang for sure.) Isaac just had his last birthday in Togo (unless we’re back here visiting on July 24th). I realized yesterday that we’re living through our last rainy season. Before we know it, it will be last harvest, last harmattan, last safari, last retreat, last prayer time….last goodbyes.

It makes me sad.

There are a ton of things I’m going to miss about our lives here. I doubt I’m even aware of them all. And, I’m certain that with time, I’ll forget some (most?) of them.

Well, I’ve decided to start a running list of “things I’ll miss about Togo”. Whenever I’m feeling nostalgic about something, I’ll try to write it down and then post it here for prosperity’s sake. Hopefully it will help me remember Togo as I see it now and remind me of ‘where I came from’ once I’m a resident American again.

Things I’ll Miss About Togo…

  • Stepping out on my front porch and seeing the Kabiye mountains.
  • Stepping out on my front porch, looking east and seeing a big thunderheads that will dump on us in the next few hours. (The big storms almost always come from the east here.)
  • The nervous excitement of wondering if the truck’s 4-wheel drive is going to get through that really big mud hole in the road.
  • The overwhelming generosity of the Kabiye men who end up covered in mud after they drop what they are doing to help you get unstuck from that big mud hole. (Not that I drive through big mud holes looking to get stuck!)
  • Sunsets behind the Kabiye mountains coming home from Ketao.
  • The view out the north window of the Soumdina Po Wayi church building on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Blue sky, green mountains, the sun making the top of the grassy fields glow.

That’ll do for now.

U2: Worship

23 08 2007

If you ask me what my favorite band is, I’ll tell you that it is U2.

If you ask me what my favorite Christian band is, I’ll give you the same answer – U2.


Now, I know you won’t see U2 performing at the Dove Awards. And you definately won’t find them on tour with Stephen Curtis Chapman or Third Day. But, if you listen to their songs, you will find spiritual insights, professions of faith and unabashed quotes from Scripture. More importantly, you’ll hear conversations with God (and sometimes from the perspective of God) which express the raw emotions of a believer — joy, wonder, fear, doubt, love, anguish, intrigue, shame and surrender (to mention a few).

A few years ago, while doing survey work in Burkina Faso, some interns and I were passing the hours of travel in the truck by asking each other a bunch of hypothetical questions. One question went something like this: “If you could only listen to 2 musical artists, who would they be?” My answer was: U2 and Crosby, Stills & Nash. At this, one of the interns asked me, “How would you get fed (spiritually, I assumed)?”

The following playlist is my answer to that question.

It is a collection of U2 songs which feed me (and my family) spiritually and it is listed as U2: Worship on my iPod. Now, this playlist doesn’t include all of the U2 songs which contain references to faith, love, hope or even biblical scripture but each song moves me to worship God in its own unique way. Enjoy.

1. GraceAll That You Can’t Leave Behind

“Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.”

— Tracey loves this song and so do I. It sums up the bottom line of the Christian faith in poetic imagery. We should sing this song at church.

2. Mysterious WaysAchtung Baby

“To touch is to heal, to hurt is to steal.
If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel
On your knees, boy!”

— Towards the end of the song is the lyric, “The Spirit moves in mysterious ways.” Very true.

3. All Because of You How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

“I’m alive
I’m being born
I just arrived, I’m at the door
Of the place I started out from
And I want back inside”

— This could be my absolute favorite U2 song for two reasons. 1) It flat out rocks and 2) it is a confessional worship song to the One who makes us who we are.

4. The Three SunrisesB-sides 1980-1990

“Spirit of the rising sun lift me up
Hold me there and never let me fall
Love me till I die, my heart won’t wait
Soon I will be loved…”

— An up-beat song with great harmony. I guess it could be considered a ‘stealth’ worship song as you need to listen to it a few times to catch the meaning. That okay though. It was, after all, on a B-side.

5. GloriaUnder A Blood Red Sky

In te domine
Oh, Lord, if I had anything, anything at all
I’d give it to you.”

— Hard to add anything to that. So much energy in this live version of the song.

6. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking ForRattle and Hum

“You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

— U2 state that this was written as a gospel song and in the Rattle and Hum version it is sung like one. I used to struggle with the chorus line (and title)– does it express hope, disappointment, doubt – what? In the end, I think it is pretty honest expression of what most believers feel from time to time. “I’m searching, I believe but…I’m just not satisfied.” And I don’t believe we will be satisfied — or even should be — until we are glorified by Christ, in complete union with Him for eternity. (That doesn’t mean we should quit searching though!)

7. When I Look At The WorldAll That You Can’t Leave Behind

“I can’t wait any longer
I can’t wait till I’m stronger
Can’t wait any longer
To see what you see
When I look at the world”

— I hear this song as psalm of lament. A prayer to God for the ability to see the good in the world. Amid all the brokenness, idolatry, pain and hurt – what is redeemable? We need God to help us see the world with his eyes.

8. The First TimeZooropa

“For the first time, I feel love”

— If you don’t know this song, look up the lyrics. (It was just too long for me to put them here.) From the Spirit (”lover”) to Christ (“brother”) to God (“father”), the song describes the relationship the believer has with the Trinity. It wraps up in ambiguity, with the believer “throwing away the key” to the keys of the heavenly mansion. But then the singer sings the line quoted above. More honest struggle with belief, rebellion and grace.  I’ve read that some church used this song was during its communion service.

9. Drowning ManWar

“Take my hand
You know I’ll be there
If you can
I’ll cross the sky for your love.”

— A love song from God. “Hold on,” he says to the drowning man (us). “My love lasts forever.” The imagery of God “crossing the sky” for our love — the incarnation — is stunning. Isaiah 40:31 is quoted at the end of the song.

10. Stay (Faraway, So Close!)Zooropa

“If I could stay, then the night would give you up.
Stay, and the day would keep its trust.
Stay, and the night would be enough.”

— Another love song from God. This time God is pursing us as the prostitute stuck in a cycle of self-destruction. If we would only listen, only call to him, only let him stay… My friend Paul Casner first introduced this interpretation of the song to me. Thanks, Paul. I can always use the reminder that God’s heart aches to be with me, if I will only let him.

11. Until The End Of The WorldAchtung Baby

“Waves of regret and waves of joy.
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy.
You, you said you’d wait till the end of the world.”

— I loved the music of this song from the first listen. But, it blew my mind when I heard that it was sung from the perspective of Judas. Some may be uncomfortable with the open door left for even Judas return but that is how our God is. He waits and waits and waits, until the very last moment. Amazing.

12. YahwehHow To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

“Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart…
And make it break”

— Another song we should be singing in church! (It wouldn’t surprise me if some people already were.) A great song about surrender, repentance and anticipation of redemption. Plus Edge’s chiming guitar gives the song a classic U2 sound.

13. Window In The SkiesU218 Singles (Deluxe Version)

“The rule has been disproved
The stone it has been moved
The grave is now a groove
All debts are removed”

— Amen! What has love done? Love has opened up heaven to us. That should make us smile and sing. If this song doesn’t do that for you, I don’t know what will.

14. Walk OnAll That You Can’t Leave Behind

“And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong”

— Whenever this song plays, I hear it as if the Lord is singing it to me. “Stay strong. Walk on. I know it is hard. Believe me, I know. But, you’ll make it home. Remember that love is the only thing that matters in this life.” The emotions this song evokes in me usually bring me to tears. It’s that meaningful.

15. 40Under A Blood Red Sky

“I waited patiently for the Lord.
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay.”

— U2 has joked that this song is titled “40” because it took only 40 minutes to write, rehearse and record. That may or may not be true. What I do know is that King David originally wrote these lyrics in Psalm 40.

“All the best songs are co-written by God, y’know!” — Bono



Designated Driver

21 08 2007

On May 27th, 2007, I had the most surreal village visit of my career as a missionary. It took place on a Sunday in the village of Legue Legue, which is about as far out in the Kabiye boonies as one can go. Now, the church in Legue meets for worship around 7am and since it is an hour and a half drive out there, I had planned to get up super early to leave by 5:30am. That plan failed, however, as I slept through the alarm and didn’t get on the road until 6:30. I hit the road rushed and tired, hoping that the coffee (and bumpy road) would eventually wake me up.


With the late start, I debated whether I should even go or not since the worship service would probably be over by the time I arrived (which turned out to be the case). But, I knew it had been awhile since that church had had any visitors and I figured I could at least track down a few Christians at their homes (or their fields) and give them some encouragement. So I drove on, mildly optimistic about the morning’s possibilities. If only I had known…

At this point in my story, I’m going to skip ahead to what transpired on the drive home from Legue. The village visit itself is worth at least two posts and I’ll write those later.

When I started off for home, I had 3 more passengers in the car with me – two young girls and an older man. The girls were getting a ride to have their grain ground at the mill which was about 2 km away. The man – the father-in-law of one of the Legue Christians – was returning to his home village and was going to ride as far as Sanda Kagbangda (about a 50 minute drive from Legue).

In the small world that is Kabiyeland, I actually knew this man since I passed his house regularly on the way to another village I work in. I’d given him a couple of rides before and he and his sons helped to dig out my truck when it had gotten stuck near their place.

Still, when I saw him at Legue, I didn’t recognize him. (And he certainly didn’t recognize me!) You see, he was SO drunk his appearance had changed. It took me 3 or 4 double takes before I decided that, yes, I knew this guy.

So, off we went. Me driving, two young girls sitting in the back with their corn and the drunk old man (DOM) who didn’t know me (or himself?) from Adam riding shotgun. I had given the old man the seat of honor in the truck (an error in judgment I was soon to discover.)

When we arrived at the girls’ stop, I got out to help them unload their corn. DOM got out too. I thought he needed to take a leak, but when I got back behind the wheel, I realized he was thinking this was his stop too. It took a little bit of explaining, but I was able to convince him that this wasn’t his stop and get him back in the car. We forged on.

Not 5 minutes later, DOM asked me (in Kabiye), “Where are we going?”

“We’re going to Kagbangda” I replied.

“This isn’t the road to Kagbangda,” he said. He seemed genuinely confused and concerned.

Trying to keep him calm I said evenly, “This is the way to Kagbangda. In fact, it’s the only way to Kagbangda by car. You probably came to Legue a different way because you were on a moto.” But that didn’t seem to ease his concern.

“This is not the way to Kagbangda! I want out of this car!” he exclaimed while trying to open the door by pulling on the window crank.

At this, I quickly reached across him and locked his door, thinking that his inexperience in riding in cars and drunken stupor would keep him from successfully unlocking the door, opening it and flinging himself out of the truck as it bounced along the road (we were on an extremely rough stretch of road, by the way). Thankfully, I was right about that, but I wasn’t out of the woods yet.

I kept trying to reassure him that I knew where I was going and that he was going to have to trust me. He calmed down (or forgot where he was and what he was doing – I’m not sure) and I breathed a sigh of relief. I did not want leave DOM alone to try to find his way home through the Kabiye boonies (think occasional cultivated fields and small villages sprinkled within a jungle) while he was drunk, alone and on foot!

Well, after 5 minutes of uneasy silence, DOM grabs the door handle (by chance, I think) and states, “I want out of this car. This is not the road to Kagbangda!”

Oh boy. Here we go again!” I thought. “Good think I locked that door!

I tried to calm him down again, but this time DOM wasn’t having it. As we had turned onto another, less bumpy dirt road, he continued to yell, “Let me out of this car! What are you doing to me?!”

“Help me!” he yelled at another car which was approaching us from opposite direction. “This white man won’t let me out” Then, DOM reached over and grabbed the steering wheel and proclaimed, “I’m going to wreck this truck!”

Acting quickly, I was able to stop the truck before it ran into the trees on the left. Then, deciding that I needed some help, I began to signal to the other car to stop by waving my arm up and down out of the window. (This is the universal signal for “stop” in W. Africa.) The car slowed but kept on rolling past us. Everyone in the car had a confused look on their face.

I quickly hopped out the car and kept signaling to the car to stop for us. I could tell that they were conflicted because the car slowed, accelerated and then slowed again. I could just hear them saying, “Should we stop or not?” “Yeah, lets stop.” “Okay, but what if he is a serial killer?” “You’re right! Keep going!” “Naah, let’s stop and see what is going on.”

When I saw they had stopped and were getting out of the car, I let DOM out of the truck (I didn’t trust him in there alone!) and then went to meet the 3 men who’d finally stopped to help, or at least satisfy their curiosity. Thankfully, they all spoke Kabiye and I was able to quickly explain to two of them the situation, while the third guy took on the task of deciphering DOM’s slurred speech.

I asked them what I should do with DOM, they quickly responded, “Leave him.” I really didn’t want to do that, and started asking them about the appropriateness of that action. They explained that someone would take him in until he sobered up enough to walk home and that I shouldn’t have to deal with this.

While I was getting this advice, the third guy who was talking with DOM, interjected “HE GRABBED YOUR STEERING WHEEL?!” That pretty much solidified the idea in my advisors’ heads that I should leave DOM to fend for himself and I resigned myself to leaving him behind.

But as I was leaving, DOM asked the men if the road we were on went to Kagbangda. They explained to him that it did and that I was trying to do a nice thing for him. After some more explaining (and repeating) DOM seemed convinced that I was going the right way and he announced that I was going to take him home. Great!

We went back to the car. This time I put DOM in the back seat and made sure that the child safety locks were activated on both back doors. (If I had had a chain link partition to put up between the front and back handy, I would have put that up too!)

Over the next 20 minutes on that road, we had the “Is this the way to Kagbangda?” discussion about 3 or 4 times. A couple of those times DOM tried to open the door. Thank goodness for those drunken old men locks!

Then, just before we came to the paved road which would take us to Kagbangda. DOM saw some women carrying wood into town and started shouting at them (and me) “Let me out of this truck! Where are you taking me?!”

Frustrated and tired of trying to reason with a man incapable of reasoning, I stopped the car and let DOM get out. Then I got back in the car. DOM was on his own now. Still, I paused as I watched DOM go over and talk to the women.

They chatted for awhile and then, sure enough, the women came to talk to me. “Sir, please take this man to Kagbangda,” they pleaded. “It isn’t that far.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do!” I said as I got out of the car to let DOM back in to his secured backseat position.

Then, as DOM was getting back into the car I asked him, “Do you know who I am?” No answer.

I continued, “Do you remember when a white man’s truck got stuck in the road near your house during a big rainstorm and he had to leave it overnight and the next day you and your sons help dig the truck out of the mud?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s the missionary who goes to Po Wayi.”

“Well,” I said, “I AM that missionary! THIS is that truck! You have got to trust me. I am taking you to Kagbangda!”

“Oh,” DOM replied and we continued on our way.

Thankfully, DOM didn’t have any more “episodes” the rest of the way. The only thing I remember him saying was when were getting closer to our destination – probably about 20 km. outside of Kagbangda – he exclaimed, “Okay! Now I know where we are going! This is the road to Kagbangda! Thank you!” Finally, he sees the light!

We arrived at Kagbangda and he thanked me profusely for giving him a ride. I was little worried that he still might not be able to find his way home. But, as it turned out, he made it just fine. (I saw him on my way to Po Wayi a few weeks later and he gave me a big smile and a wave.)

As I pulled away and headed for home, I just smiled, shook my head and thought, “Who knew ‘designated driver’ was the role the Lord wanted me to fill today.”

All in a day’s work!

Happy Birthday, My Love

18 08 2007




Today is Tracey’s birthday.  Which means, there is definite grounds for celebration around our house. I dare say that no one is happier that she came into this world on August 18th, 1974 than the boys and I! Tracey is an amazing woman, a terrific mother, a dedicated friend and more than I could ever hope for in a wife! Happy birthday, sweetie. I love you.



On the DL

16 08 2007

I’ve been on the blogging ‘disabled list’ for the past couple of days for two reasons.

First, our internet has been down since early Wednesday morning. Second, I aggravated an old wrist injury making typing painful. (I must confess that I did this playing too much Zuma – a fun, and highly addictive, game I recently downloaded for my iPod. Follow the link at your own risk!)

Anyways, due to the injury, I’ve been unable to finish typing out a village story I’ve been wanting to share with you for some time now. Thankfully, the internet and my wrist are on the mend.

Obviously, I’m back on the ‘active roster’ (consider this a rehab start) so, hopefully I’ll have that story ready to post soon.

Golf is NOT Boring

13 08 2007

Just about every casual sports fan knows that yesterday, Tiger Woods won the 13th major of his career at the PGA Championship. (Nice call Ben!) Unlike most sports fans (well, at least those in the US), I had follow Tiger’s march to victory by continually clicking the ‘refresh’ button on the leaderboard and live blog pages of the ESPN.com golf page. Not very tigerwoods.jpgvisually stimulating, I know, but it did provide a good amount of suspense. (Especially since the pages usually took a minute or two to reload.)

As I was thinking about how I ‘watched’ the PGA Championship yesterday it struck me that, at one time, I would have considered my actions to be a total bore. I mean, I remember thinking the only good thing about watching golf was that the slow pace and the hushed tones of the commentators helped you get that afternoon nap you really needed.

Now I’m riveted by how the little numbers on the online leaderboard might or might not change, for crying out loud!

It’s a sad state to be in, I know. But here’s hoping the internet connections will still be good when the time for the Ryder Cup rolls around.