Who knows? This might be the start of more blogging... then again, maybe not.
I'm off to Zimbabwe today to deliver three ServLife interns to Musha Wevana home for children - I absolutely love hanging out around this tree while singing and dancing with the kids. I'll see those beautiful children again in a couple of days and I'll see South Africa again next week.
I would have kept going with the blog title, but I don't know to spell anything in German without google, and it is too late to look anything up because I'm leaving for two weeks in the morning and haven't packed yet.
The whole family is off to Thailand - I'm there for a week of ServLife meetings and a week of the beach, while Amy and Vusi get two weeks of beach time. Of course, we live across the street from the beach, but our beach is crazy cold, so this is a treat. The 14 hour plane trip, 6 hour layover, and 2 hour plane trip after that might not be a treat, but the result is. Wish us well.
I rarely blog from home, so who knows if I'll blog from the road. To keep you occupied, watch this video every day until I return. :)
It has been a month and seven days since my last post on this lonely blog. In case you were wondering, based on my last post, I'm actually back from Zimbabwe. Have been for a while.
A lot has happened in a month and seven days. Speaking of Zimbabwe, there is a new "unity government" with power shared between Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party that has been in government since 1980 and the two factions of the MDC. The MDC party(ies) holds an extra seat in Cabinet and the majority in Parliament, but no one believes Mugabe is down and out. We are hopeful that a new era has begun in Zimbabwe, but in any case, this welcome news is just the beginning of long road toward recovery. Keep up with Zimbabwe here.
On the home front, we've been busy with preparing for new business skills training, this time with a local partner. The sponsorships and Kids' Clubs in South Africa are on track, again, with local churches involved, and we're busy planning another Umzimba African Missional Theology Conference for July... yes, led, taught, and developed by local pastors and leaders. In South Africa, they say "local is lekker," and we believe that's true. Whatever we can do to empower and equip local churches to lead the way toward growing churches and sustainable development, we will do.
ServLife is growing. We have new staff in Indianapolis HQ supporting us and a new West Coast coordinator. This is exciting, and we are off to Thailand next week for a time of team building and strategic planning with ServLife team members from Asia and the USA.
Vusi is growing too. Seriously, he's the world's biggest and cutest baby. We can't believe how blessed we are to be his parents. He is a great gift, and we love him like crazy. Don't know if it will be before we get back from Thailand, but I'll post some pictures. You'll agree - he's off-the-charts cute.
And my parents are in town. To prove it, I'm posting a picture of my Mom that I took on my cell phone. Mostly, I'm just posting that to get her back for nagging about my lack of blogging. Love you Mom! Great to have them around, just hanging out, getting to know Vusi (and spoiling him, of course!), and helping out. They've been to all the tourist hot spots before, so this has been a great trip for Gram and Pop to spend time with their newest grandson.
Finally, I'm a little unsure about the direction this blog should take in the future. It has gotten pretty stale of late, with a few personal updates, a few ministry updates, and lots of links to information about Africa that you probably didn't read. Hmmm... this question is still rumbling around in my brain, so stay tuned.
Thanks to both of you, dear readers, for sticking around. We'll see if we can't spruce this blog up in the coming months. :)
Back to Zimbabwe tomorrow for the second time in as many months. The crisis there deepens daily, and we are fortunate to have some new friends making the trip with me, as they have raised a nice chunk of money to help out the kids in the church home for orphans with whom we partner.
Not that I ever blog anymore, but the blog will be on hold for a week while I'm away. In the meantime, here are today's newspaper stories from Zimbabwe...
The brother and family arrive in a few hours. I haven't been grocery shopping, haven't cleaned the house, and generally haven't prepared anything at all. So instead of posting, I'm passing on four "must-read" links. Take a minute between glasses of champagne to read and remember Zimbabwe - there is no celebration there tonight.
"How Mugabe Gets His Bullets" - The UN reports that despite all sorts of bans and sanctions, the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe is getting Chinese made ammunition and weapons through third-party shipping across the DRC and other neighboring countries.
"New $10 Billion Bill" - Whoops - forgot to post this article from 19 December. Too bad it is already so out of date. In the 12 days since then, Zimbabwe has released a new $50 Billion note. Of course, it is not the same $50 Billion note that is sitting on my desk. That is from earlier in the year, before 10 zeroes came off the currency, but from after the first zero slashing that dropped three digits. Going back to the pre-zero-slashing days of a couple of years ago, the newest Zimbabwean note is actually a $500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bill. I have no idea what that number is, but it is the true reflection of the currency's worth - 50 billion with the thirteen artificially removed zeroes added back on.
"Dollar is Key To Zimbabwe Survival" - A realistic account of how difficult it is to survive in Zimbabwe these days without access to hard currency (ie, the US Dollar). Without USD or South African Rand or Botswanan Pula, one can't buy anything. Now a shortage of USD in Zim is causing massive US Dollar inflation in the economy there.
"The Death Throes of Harare's Hospitals" - The Harare central hospitals are closed. Closed. There is no specialist care available in the country. Surgery has stopped. Families were called to pick up their patients. One doctor puts it bluntly, "Everyone is being referred to private clinics, and if you don't have money, you die."
The last two stories I heard repeatedly on my last trip to Zimbabwe a few weeks ago. I interviewed three anonymous Zimbabweans about their lives - a private school teacher, a government doctor, and a poor working woman. I could tell their stories, but you wouldn't believe me. Instead, listen to their stories on the new ServLife Africa Podcast here.
Get the podcast - the quality isn't the greatest, but you need to hear these three stories.
This is Gugulethu (Goo-goo-lay-too), or Gugu for short. At least that's what he is called at Musha Wevana children's home in Zimbabwe where he now lives. Gugu has got to be one of the cutest little two year olds I've met - he loves attention, climbing up into my lap and perching himself there for the duration of each of my visits to his home.
Gugulethu isn't the name given to him by his mother - no one knows that name anymore. Gugu was with his mother when she went to the local hospital late one night looking for treatment. When his mother snuck out in the early hours of the morning, she left Gugu behind - no doubt wracked by guilt and shame, but so near death and with no means to provide for her son that she felt there was no alternative. The Zimbabwean hospital had no food - "not a single bite," I was told by the doctor - to give to Gugulethu, so he was brought to the Musha Wevana home run by friends of ours at a local church. The home is already overcrowded - 20 children have been permanently added since September - but it is the only place in town where Gugu had a chance at survival.
The desperation in Zimbabwe has reached a new level that I had not seen before - children are routinely left in hospitals, city parks, and even open fields by mothers and caregivers unable to supply even one more meal or one more drink of milk or clean water. Knowing their child might die abandoned must rank as a better option than facing the certainty of watching the child starve in the parents' care. The fortunate ones are found and brought to places like Musha Wevana. The others are buried in unmarked graves when their bodies are found.
The buzz is that everything is changing "soon." Of course, that buzz has been heard before, and The Old Man has managed to hang on a bit longer. The cholera epidemic is spreading throughout the country and is spilling over into South Africa and Botswana. Hospitals are out of medicine. Schools are closing down. The daily limit on cash withdrawals has been bumped up from the amount needed to buy 1/4 loaf of bread to enough to get two or three loaves. The army rioted and calmed down again. And there is no political resolution despite elections held in March.
Can it get worse? Of course it can. But it can also get better. Pray for better. And pray for the poor who are suffering and starving while the fat cats sip their champagne. Pray for the Church and their influence.
Why would anyone voluntarily travel to Zimbabwe at a time like this? There is no limit to the number of Americans who ask this question, but now that it is being asked by South Africans and Zimbabweans alike, I'm starting to wonder. But the answer remains clear when I think clearly - God Himself identifies with the poor and the suffering, and during this season of Advent we remember more vividly that He became poor and suffered Himself. I am going to Zimbabwe to meet God. And I will find Him there in the joy and laughter and perseverance of His Church and I will find Him there in the faces of the children discarded by the world but created in His image.
Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse...
"The Elders" - a group of internationally-respected leaders and former leaders (in this case, represented by former US President Carter, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and former Mozambican first lady (( and wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela)) Graca Machel) - were denied entry into Zimbabwe. They were to promote humanitarian assistance and assess the current situation. They say the country is headed toward complete collapse.
Zimbabwe's crumbling infrastructure has lead to a cholera outbreak. Around 300 people have died so far, more than 6000 are infected, and infected refugees are flooding into South Africa for treatment because there is no medicine available in Zimbabwe.
The current cash exchange rate is US$1 to (new valuation) Z$1.2 million. Real inflation is now estimated at over 1 billion percent annually. None of this is really relevant anymore, as the country has essentially run out of paper and ink to print currency, so hardly anyone can even find Zim Dollars even if they wanted to.
I'm finalizing my travel plans for next month - today the plan is to fly into Zim, but yesterday's plan was to drive. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. In any case, I'll be there in a couple of weeks to bring a first-hand report from the ground.