Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shopping at the Hipermaxi

Santa Cruz's Big Store Offers Wide Range of Products

It feels a bit like a Super Walmart, but it has a personality that is uniquely Bolivian.

These employees are stocking shelves out of a unique net-wrapped shipping package.

Deep-Woods Off is advertised as a protection against deadly dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia: Toyotaville?

Japanese Auto Maker is Well Represented on City Streets

My guess is this is a 1967 Corona? Most of the taxicabs we saw were newer Corollas. In any case, Toyota automobiles far outnumber any other brand here.

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume IV, Issue XXII

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." -- Hebrews 12:1-3

The "other" weekly news magazine features the cover story: "How to Die." In it Joe Klein discusses candidly the end-of-life decisions he had to make concerning his dying parent. He muses about the weaknesses of Medicare's fee-for-service system and sees a better model in the salaried staff of the private care facility. Sadly, Joe cannot expect that to translate well into a system of government salaried doctors. Public hospitals in Bolivia pretty much have that now. The doctor's salary is covered... but the MEDs are expensive. Patients have to purchase their own med kits prior to surgery. If they cannot afford it they may have to endure surgery with no pain meds! Remember little Marcello? For lack of $75.00 to pay for antibiotics, he had to endure losing his legs to amputation! Joe, you are wise to see the flaws in Medicare, but don't expect a market driven solution to translate well into a state-run healthcare system.

On the way to receive his doctorate degree, Chuck Balsamo snapped this photo of pilots saluting as the body of a U.S. Soldier comes home.

Make Me a Legend [click to read]

The person of Faith sees dying as but the final chapter in the book of LIVING. That is why THYME, always venturing where the MSM fears to tread,  has decided to go in a different direction.

Stuarts Draft, Virginia, Pastor Chuck Balsamo isn't going to be around to read this review. He's off receiving a well deserved doctorate degree for the thesis behind his book: Make Me a Legend. If one is looking for a guidebook to living in our age, look no further. Pastor Balsamo firmly gasps the truth of IMAGO DEI and tells his readers how to live as a special creation of G-d. C. D. Sutherland says of this book:

"Chuck Balsamo’s “Make Me A Legend” is a tailor-made message for 21st century American-Christians, who have been domesticated by temporal comforts, fear of rejection and ridicule, and by being trained to submit and tolerate most everything the legendary G-dly people of antiquity would have resisted to their last breaths. Chuck Balsamo presents a near-formulaic process, using popular literature, movies, social movements and sport metaphors to help us, to urge us, to embolden us to `untame’ ourselves. We really don’t have to take it.

It is a call to a spiritual-revolution, which obeys the leadership of the Holy Spirit while building a multi-tier relationship network of mentors, peers, and apprentices which could very well build a “last-hour” church of epic proportions. Imagine a Christian movement, where all Christians bond together to learn, support, and teach each other the way of the perfect love of G-d–answering to G-d in all things.

“Impossible!” some might say. Really? Like freeing a captive race, parting a sea, subduing giants, rising from the grave, walking on water, or reclaiming Adam’s birthright from satan? That kind of impossible is the stuff legends are made of. Exactly.

The secular world, accustomed to corralling Christian sheep, might see such a transformational movement as being a pack of uncontrollable monsters. You might think the powers and principalities would assemble their demons and strive to crush the uprising, which sounds a bit like The Revelation to John doesn’t it. Fret not, as if you remember how it ends, that is not a bad thing. Especially when contrasted with how our culture had degraded in recent history.

I wish I had been able to read Chuck’s book 40 years ago as I slogged through many of his lessons the hard way–but alas that was not possible–it was published in 2011.

Therefore, it might be that we, along with Chuck Balsamo, were all created for just such a time as this. Maybe we will become the legendary generation the saints line up to talk to when the roll is called up yonder. Or maybe we’ll just make things better;

Either way, I recommend “Make Me A Legend” to any Christian wondering what is wrong with their life, their community, and our country. Read it and join-in with the dream that together, we can make a better tomorrow."

Gail Strother writes: "There is something inside each of us that yearns to make a difference. Yet day after day, year after year, we find ourselves settled into mediocrity. Chuck Balsamo skillfully dissects the forces that keep us where we are, then stirs our hearts to become the legends we were created to be. Make Me A Legend is full of profound revelation, inspiration, and motivation. Finally, a book that will not only challenge you to soar, but will give you the tools for the journey as well. Make Me A Legend is an absolute must-read for all that have thought, Is this really all there is?"

Intrigued? You should be. Pastor Balsamo challenges the reader straight-up to live a heroic life. The great people of history would join the chorus. Ordinary people who have risen to the challenge of extraordinary times throughout the ages will find their spirit in tune with what Chuck is saying.

I was given an advance copy of Make Me a Legend and I couldn't put it down. Referencing the Great Awakenings that transformed the fabric of our culture in the past, Chuck Balsamo asks: "Why not today."

There is practical guidance here for how to dream bigger than yourself, plan a course of action and most importantly, how to join yoursef with other like-minded souls in the quest.

In fact, the renaissance of mentorship as the prime means of passing the torch is reason enough for you to devour this book and live it. You will develop a true appreciation of the generation preceding yours and a deep love for the generation following. You will learn what power is to be found in the relationships developed across these lines.

In a world mired in its own sense of hopelessness, author Balsamo injects a realistic and much needed ray of hope.

In Santa Cruz, Bolivia's poorest neighborhood, a beautiful celebration of worship!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Basílica Menor de San Lorenzo

Santa Cruz, Bolivia's Great Baroque Cathedral

The great Baroque facade of the Cathedral.

Door detail.

Window detail.

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume IV, Issue XXI

Raising Romney Obama!
Bringing Up an (American)? President

The "other" weekly news magazine this week features Raising Romney. We at THYME feel like not enough has been written about the current occupant of the White House. While the mainstream media seems disinterested in the President's childhood, we at THYME find it fascinating and instructive. Consider Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, the parent who actually raised Obama. Born in Kansas, she moved West with her furniture-salesman father. In Hawaii, she married Obama's Kenyan Father, a student, at age 18. Then she married an Indonesian, moved to Jakarta, became an anthropologist, wrote a dissertation on peasant blacksmithing in Java, and worked for chairitable foundations.

Actually a pretty interesting story. Young Obama was raised in Indonesia and received a Muslim education. Mom is from Kansas, Dad from Kenya. We're not sure exactly where young Barack was born. His birth certificate is the subject of some speculation and the Social Security number is 'out of place.' Still, accepting the simple explaination that he was born in Hawaii, he was raised in Indonesia. What, and who, actually shaped his values?

It is a Reasonable Thing to Ask What a Leader Believes

"The Left has decided that the best way to counter reasonable inquiries into Barack Obama’s philosophy, theology or worldview is to attack anyone who raises questions. This is classic political hardball -- the opposite of what Obama claims to stand for!" - Focus on the Family Action

Is Obama a Muslim? He says no. World Muslim leaders see it otherwise. Obama was raised in a Muslim worldview in Indonesia. He claims to be a Christian and has been a member of Jeremiah Wright's church. But how does Obama see himself (and fellow Christians)? This is telling.

Maybe it was the creepy extended bow to the Saudi King, or the way he seems all to willing to throw Netanyahu under the bus but when I came across an article by Victor Mordecai asking the question "Is Obama a Muslim?" I took notice.

His Kenyan Father and his Stepfathers were clearly Muslims and his early education was in that tradition. To observant Muslims in the Middle East that qualifies him. Still, to ask the question invites the label "lunatic fringe" for reasons that have largely been manufactured out of Political Correctness.

Mr. Mordecai's wife monitors Arabic radio broadcasts and has documented the following:

Saudi Radio in the months before Obama's election stated: "We will have a Muslim in the White House."

Lybia's Quaddafi said of Obama after his election: "Our man in the White house."

One station stated that Obama would first deal with the Shi'ite of Iran who "threaten all Sunni Muslims" then deal with the "fanatic" new government of Israel under Netanyahu.

Conventional wisdom has it that Obama's education in Muslim schools until age 11 are in the past, just as his association with Jeremiah Wright. Unfortunately Wright's church, with its James Cone inspired Black Liberation Theology is more Marxist in its core philosophy and Christian in the use of language and symolism. If Barack Obama is a Christian there is not a lot of evidence to convict him of it.


Obama Asks: "Am I an American" [click to read] by Byron York
Who Cares About Reverend Wright? [click to read] by Karin McQuillan

It's Not Your Mother's Brand of Christianity

Barak Obama has compared James Dobson to Al Sharpton in a widely circulated speech. Dobson has pointed out some reasonable questions one might ask of the man who would become the next president of the American people. Rather than consider the questions, publications such as Time are simply attacking the messenger.

But if I were the media right now I wouldn't be worried about James Dobson right now and I'd be really curious about James Cone. James Hal Cone is the author of works on Black Liberation Theology and is an inspiration to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama's recently disowned mentor of twenty years. This particular theology has its roots in the movement that made Che Guevera a messianic figure and creates an oppressed/oppressor split in its view of society. Thus a person who subscribes to this theology would naturally identify with the 'oppressed' element of a society. If the split is drawn along racial lines, it is quite fair to ask if one steeped in this tradition could legitimately aspire to be president of all the American people. Consider this quote from James Cone:

"The black theologian must reject any conception of G-d which stifles black self-determination by picturing G-d as a G-d of all peoples. Either G-d is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes G-d's experience, or G-d is a G-d of racism.... The blackness of G-d means that G-d has made the oppressed condition G-d's own condition. This is the essence of the Biblical revelation. By electing Israelite slaves as the people of G-d and by becoming the Oppressed One in Jesus Christ, the human race is made to understand that G-d is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering...Liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity." (A Black Theology of Liberation, pp. 63-64)

Barack Obama spent twenty years under the teaching of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, student of James Cone. At best, Cone's 'Black Liberation Theology' is a sort of race-based Marxism in a Christian wrapper. 'Hope and Change' leans in a Socialist/Marxist direction. The mainstream media does not seem concerned.

Obama launched his campaign in the living room of Bill Ayers, who he says is 'just a guy in the neighborhood.' Ayers is no 'Mister Rogers' though, having planned to blow up a number of government buildings in his 'wilder days.' 'Hope and Change' has a bit of Olinsky radicalism to it. The mainstream media does not seem concerned.

Mr. Obama's neigborhood isn't all that shabby either, thanks to his association with Tony Rezco. The Obamas own a pretty nice house, but 'Hope and Change' seems a bit like the 'Chicago Way.' The mainstream media does not seem concerned.

Mr. Obama's Keynsian economic policies are rolling up large amounts of government debt. 'Hope and Change' looks a bit like Weimar Germany. The mainstream media does not seem concerned.

Mr. Obama's publicists want to make him out to be the hero of the common man. If a Republican played this much golf and took so many vacations he would be the subject of much scrutiny. 'Hope and Change' looks a lot like the worst kind of elitism. The mainstream media does not seem concerned.

America is at a crossroads. Four more years of Obama policy could reduce her to a mighty nation that once was. Mr. Obama loves to apologize for America. Does 'Hope and Change' understand the precious legacy our ancestors bled to give us? The mainstream media does not seem concerned.

Two Conflicting Visions are Competing for America

"There are now two Americas. Not a rich one and a poor one; economic status plays little role in this division. There is a red one and a blue one." --Dennis Prager

Politicians of all persuasions express a desire to bring Americans together bound by a common vision for the common good. Dennis Prager Points Out the Fallicy of this Reasoning [click to read] in Jewish World Review. Really, it's time to admit that there are two different ideologies out there and they are in fierce competition for the heart and soul of the Nation. Without this basic understanding of the conflict it is impossible to understand why it must be debated. Indeed the political manifestation of this conflict is merely the tip of a cultural rift caused by very different world views.

Our founders looked to the order of Judeo-Christian principles as they framed a government based on a balance of tensions that would reign in human tendencies in order to create an orderly society. Individual liberties and individual responsibilities played a large part and government was purposely limited to avoid tyranny. Certain Truths were held to be self-evident. Man was seen as a special creation who bore the mark of his Creator, yet was fallen in nature--often acting along the lines of these baser inclinations. Thus government sought at once to reign the base and give liberty and expression to the higher aspirations of mankind.The secular humanism that has come to replace a sense of Divine order has given rise to a new paradigm where government, individual liberties and individual responsibilities are re-prioritized. Thus we no longer see the Divine stamp, Imago Dei, on humanity. On one hand we have created arguments that if man is all there is [no G-d], then man's self-actualization is the main thing. A sense of greater purpose such as that that drove the American Revolution is impossible but we can grab for the highest experiences to justify ourselves. On the other hand, if man is the end of things, then what's so special. The extinction of some rare snail can be elevated above the plight of starving children in Africa. Indeed some radical environmental groups are making that exact argument.

The American left is actually a coalition of many of these often contradictory conclusions and yet they are strongly united in the desire to cast off the "old" constricting beliefs of our forefathers. That is why you will see those who promote the value of free speech in most areas suddenly veer into an irrational supression of religious speech in the public square. The state is now asked to take an even greater role in promoting the well-being of its citizens. The answer must for them be secular, not spiritual. If there is no higher authority it is left to us to pragmatically define and enforce 'virtue.' How else can you explain the fact that after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac failed from reasons stemming from corruption in government oversight, the answer can only be more government oversight

The Left and Right See 'Freedoms' Differently

The ACLU was founded ninety years ago by Roger Baldwin. He was a socialist thinker who said things like: "America must follow the example of Stalin's Soviet Union where greater freedoms exist than anywhere else in the world". Wow, I never would have known from the history I read! Knowing America would never follow the path to 'social u[dys]topia because of her Judeo-Christian foundations, Baldwin set out to diminish the influence of Christianity in America.

For 80 years the ACLU has twisted the Constitution to exclude Christianity from the public square and the public discourse. That sense of mission is what drives the endless stream of lawsuits against prayer and Christian expression. That is why your kid's 'religious' message is excluded from the poster contest. That's why the school 'Winter Holiday' assembly is devoid of sacred traditional music. Thankfully there is the Alliance Defense Fund [click to read] which was founded to counter this destructive movement.

The Left and Right See Different Americas Altogether

First you have President Obama saying: "You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. … And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Or consider this quote from Senator Mark Warner: "One of the things you are going to see is a coalition that is just about completely taken over the Republican Party in this state and if they have their way it’s going to take over state government. It is made up of the Christian Coalition, but not just them. It is made up of the right-to-lifers, but not just them. It’s made up of the NRA, but not just them. It is made up of the home-schoolers, but not just them. It’s made up of a whole coalition of people that have all sorts of differing views that I think most of us in this room would find threatening to what it means to be an American."

What does it mean to be an American to these people?

Here's a couple of quotes from former 'safe schools' Czar, Kevin Jennings: "G-d . . . had done nothing but cause me pain and anguish through His inaction and malevolence throughout my childhood. . . . What had he done for me, other than make me feel shame and guilt? Squat. [Scr*w]you, buddy—I don’t need you around anymore, I decided."

"We have to quit being afraid of the religious right. We also have to quit — … I'm trying to find a way to say this. I'm trying not to say, "[F---] 'em!" which is what I want to say, because I don't care what they think! [audience laughter] Drop dead!

Jennings had a difficult childhood and rejected the values of his minister Father, who died when he was young. Yet his experience ignores that of so many young people who have tasted the steadying influence of G-d in their lives and have thrived because of it.

Jennings advocacy of sexual experiences for young people would be troubling enough in considering him for the position of 'safe schools' Czar, but then there is his attitude toward drugs: "I got stoned more often and went out to the beach at Bellows, overlooking Honolulu Harbor and the lights of the city, to drink with my buddies on Friday and Saturday nights, spending hours watching the planes take off and land at the airport, which is actually quite fascinating when you are drunk and stoned." He is clearly in tune with a different America than most of us grew up with. Make no mistake here, the President knew who he was when he appointed him.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Bolivia Journal, Part V, Painting at the Clinic

Brightening the Recovery Rooms and Hallway


Work at the house was progressing nicely. Some of us moved over to the clinic to repaint rooms while the rest continued to install doors and windows.

The clinic walls were all a sort of dull tan. On the second floor one of Cindy's friends had painted a small mural... the one bright portion of the hallway. We set to work on the recovery rooms first with a nice violet and yellow. Then we painted the hallway.

In a reverse twist on the muralists' art, I painted around the branches of a tree that spread over the wall. I used the old wall color and outlined around it to add branches and depth, making it appear that the mural was painted on top of the new paint!

Freshly painted recovery rooms.

Edging a mural by creating softer branches from the old color.

Our time in Bolivia was drawng to an end. We hastily replaced switchplates and cleaned up our jobsite. We quickly showered and dressed for a nice final dinner together at an Argentinian/Brasilian restaurant. Fernando came along with us. Sammy and his wife joined us. There it was announced that the house was to be for her and Sammy! What a happy blessing for two faithful servants and their children!

In the States, the two bedroom house would be considered just big enough for Sammy and his family. Here in Santa Cruz, there will be room to take in more.

There is an old story, where a boy is walking along the beach, picking up stranded starfish and returning them to the water. A passerby sees him and remarks that with so many stranded starfish, it cannot possibly make a difference. The boy answers: "It made a difference for that one." referring to the last one he threw in. G-d does not ask us for a report with numbers... he calls us to LOVE. He does not throw a quota in our face. He knows that if we Love, we will SUFFER. If we SUFFER, we will STRUGGLE.

He knows that by His Grace, and in His time, those who STRUGGLE will WIN. Their crown is an eternal one, from an Eternal kingdom where gold is merely a pavement choice and there is no need of sun or moon to give light, for G-d Himself is the light of that place!

An Austrian family owns this little resaurant in Santa Cruz. They specialize in delicious specialty cakes and Italian cuisine.

This is the lady who's son asked for a Pastor to visit their house and teach the Bible. The result was a church in the poorest section of Santa Cruz. Here she visits with Cindy while holding a Granddaughter.

Bolivia Journal, Part IV, Casa 3

Finishing a House for a Clinic Worker & Orphans...

Casa 3 is based on a Habitat for Humanity plan...

...and built of hand moulded local brick.

I saw this wildflower in the yard before we started work.

We don't know who the house is being built for when we start work. There are many deserving people here. Sammy drops the ladies off in his green Toyota Sprinter and the guys are dropped off by Fernando in his white van. There is much to accomplish. We set to work staining, painting and hanging doors.

A young man named Tepe helps out. We notice that he works hardest when placed alongside the pretty girls on our team. His curly hair and engaging personality remind me of my own son. It is hard NOT to like Tepe!

The house is located in a walled compound bordered by streets that translate as "Heaven's Way" and "Paradise Way." How fitting! Last year, along with another artist, I painted an interpretation of the New Heaven and New Earth from Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21 on the walls of a church in Staunton. The rendering is finished. Now I am in another hemisphere working on actual construction. Last year Laney and I took photos of real children in difficult places of the world and recast them as princes and princesses of the New Heaven and the New Earth. Here Cindy is bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to real families in Santa Cruz! This is the Lord's work and it is exciting to be a part of it. It is all about redeemed lives!

The streets are unpaved... literally dirt! The fall rains have turned them into quagmires! Getting us to the site takes some pretty skillful driving! Sammy got mired once. Inside the walls are three beautiful houses. Two are complete and one is taking shape.

GH, a Staunton builder, and Gary, my roommate are the most experienced builders. Martha, an RN who has made many trips with surgery teams, transitions easily into installing door hardware. She chisels out the insets for latchplates and hinges like a German Zimmerman! Big Jeff and Little Jeff, both from our church, install tile to complete the laundry room. A young brother and sister from Charlottesville are on the team. They paint well. The sister is a natural at cutting edges. She will leave Bolivia with the offer of a Summer job from GH!

We have a really great team. After a couple of days some of us will more on to repairs on the older houses and then to the clinic to repaint rooms in the recovery area.

Windows awaiting stain and glass.

Doors to be hung.

Bolivia Journal, Part III, LAUS DEO!

A Church Service and Fellowship I will Never Forget...

Four dancers add richness to the music...

...of worship in the service.

Pastor Enrique.

For seven years I worked designing publications for a mission agency. It was a very frustrating exercise as we were routinely rejected when we tried to print photos of people sharing the simple joys of life. We were forced to emphasize the bleakness and poverty of their lives, creating a very one-dimensional picture of the people we represented.

Sharing a laugh, a meal, a bit of the journey has always been a doorway into a relationship. Here in Santa Cruz's poorest neighborhood I was not dissapointed! Here I saw the richness of life in some of the world's poorest people. Here were girls sharing secrets in church, young adults with the same playful spirit as some of my friends at home and kids being kids!

I suppose these young girls were sharing things that their US counterparts would totally understand during the service.

After church I photographed these young adults outside...

...who quickly found their otter natures when they saw the camera!

The Sunday School kids were picking something out of the planters. I wondered if their teachers had hidden treats there? I also wondered at the little girl's grimace until I saw the rest of the game. I'd caught her in the act of picking pebbles out of the planter before the kids had a pebble fight!

Susan tries in vain to get these boys to smile...

...and they do smile, when they see their pictures!

Bolivia Journal, Part II, The Journey

How One Woman's Vision Touched So Many Lives

Sunrise in the Andes as seen flying out of La Paz toward Santa Cruz.

It is like a story out of Charles Dickens' England. For the lack of $75, little Marcelo lost his leg. At the age of eleven, Marcelo developed a severe infection. His Mother took him to the local hospital only to learn that she could not afford the needed antibiotics. Marcelo's leg had to be amputated.

Charlottesville Nurse Cindy Thacker, who always had a passion for bringing healing for the suffering of those in difficult places, was moved to action when she learned of Marcelo's plight. She became Marcelo's foster Mother and enabled him to recieve much needed care and therapy.

But Cindy thought about the ones left behind. She started Mission of Hope, Bolivia [click to read] in 1996, initially hoping to improve conditions in Santa Cruz Childrens' Hospital. The group collected money, supplies and medical equipment to give to Childrens' Hospital. Sadly, when Cindy later visited Childrens' Hospital she learned that many of her donations had simply dissapeared. "One day, I made a search of every room of the hospital. A lot of the equipment I had donated was not there. I asked where these things were, and nobody could tell me."

Not only that, but Cindy learned that patients were being charged for medications she had donated. Those who's families couldn't afford medications were operated on without pain medication!

Now seeing that only the establishment of a free hospital for the poor would make any difference, Ms. Thacker expanded her vision. When a hospital facility came up for sale in Santa Cruz, she raised over a half million dollars to buy it! Members of the University of Virginia Hospital community are regular supporters of the ministry and surgery teams from UVA regularly visit Santa Cruz to make life-saving and life-changing surgery available to the poorest of the poor.

Cindy writes: "The people we serve live in extreme poverty. Many of them have been turned away from public hospitals because they did not have money to pay. Many of them have suffered for years with their medical problems. Most of them have been treated badly by other people simply because they were poor.

Our desire is to be a blessing to these people by not only taking care of their medical needs, but also by treating them with dignity and respect. We want to be a blessing to them by showing them the love and kindness they have not experienced in their own society. We also want to share with them the hope that we have in Jesus Christ."

We're on our way to see firsthand what G-d can do through the persistence of one RN in a situation that would overwhelm most ordinary people. Our team will help build a house for one of the staff members to live in and take in orphans as well. The plane flies out of Miami, levelling off for supper over the waters where Santiago struggled in Hemingway's tale. It is dark when we make landfall on Venezualia and a row of thunderstorms put on a powerful light show.

We nap fitfully before landing in La Paz and watch the sunrise bring the Andes Mountains alive as we fly out toward Santa Cruz.

Clearing customs, we make our way into the bustling metropolis of Santa Cruz. It is a city of contrasts. Gleaming corporate headquarters stand next to simple brick buildings. The concrete skeleton of a stadium stands weathering as funds ran out to complete it. Busses and taxis crowd the boulevard entering town, making three lanes out of the intended two. An accident has brought the traffic to a standstill.

This Summer will mark ten years that the Mission of Hope clinic has been serving the people of Santa Cruz. We arrive at the clinic and take a quick tour. The staff seem cheerful and the facility itself is amazing. Cindy brings surgical teams in from the US to perform a wide range of needed procedures. We're talking about specialists here. The clinic's operating rooms are stretched to provide the maximum benefit to as many people as possible. Surgeons wanting to volunteer are sent the actual schedule and asked straight-up: "Can you perform this many operations in a single day?" Many, working in state-of-the-art facilities in the US, have never done anything close.

A friendly greeting from a member of the church in Santa Cruz's poorest neighborhood.

The clinic in Santa Cruz. People line up early in the morning to receive compassionate medical care.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thoughts for Memorial Day, 2012

Remembering Those Who Won Our Freedom...

Stained glass design of the Betsy Ross Flag in the sunrise by Xaver Wilhelmy. Rendering by Laney Riley.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bolivia Journal, Part I, IMAGO DEI

A Thousand Stories in Search of a Hemingway!

A dancer moves with the music to add visual richness to worship. The church is in Santa Cruz's poorest neigborhood.

Where does one begin? Ninety miles from his Key West home, Ernest Hemingway wove the tale of the heroic fisherman Santiago. I love the story. Santiago was a a master fisherman with a young helper. Now, with the boy no longer with him, his sails and gear tattered, he sets out to catch a giant marlin only to see his catch devoured before he can bring it to shore. I have often echoed Santiago's sentiment: "I live in a good town," about my beloved Valley and my former home in Crozet. In Hemingway's masterwork, tenderness and tragedy are artfully woven against a background of the harsh realities of life.

Four thousand miles from the beautiful Valley of Virginia, I step into the stories of some amazing people as well. I'm no Hemingway, not by a long shot, but there is much to learn and much to tell!

The graceful dancers move in unison, adding visual richness to a lively worship music. There is joy on the faces of young people and old alike. One can see the Inca ancestry in their faces. In a little church in the poorest part of Santa Cruz, I join in singing. They have a little LCD projector so I can follow the words in Spanish. They sing some favorites like "how Great Thou Art!"

The little church is there because a 12 year old boy who had received treatment at the Mission of Hope clinic had asked his Mother if a Pastor could visit them. A home Bible study grew into a meeting under one blue tarp. Soon it was three blue tarps. Pastor Enrique works at the clinic as a lab technician. He also gives a message to patients about the love of Jesus. To suppliment his income he works at another job as a lab technician at the public hospital. He receives no salary from the church.

The head nurse of the clinic also moonlights. Her husband Sammy is a stay-at-home Dad. He was hired to be one of our drivers for the week. They live in a single room that they rent.

Then there is the Mother who would not give up when her Son experienced kidney failure at a very young age due to an infection. Because she persisted, he eventually recieved a transplant (at Mission of Hope), and is now a Youth Worker. He shared these words with us:

"He who LOVES will SUFFER,
He who STRUGGLES will WIN!"

Then there are a thousand more stories. Driving to and from the worksite we see glimpses of them. Young and smartly dressed people texting under shop awnings, ladies in traditional dress selling bananas with a child (or two) close by, on street corners. Motor scooter mechanics work late into the night in little shops with roll-down doors.

On the square by the big church in the center of Santa Cruz, a shopkeeper's children sit under the arcade and enjoy some sort of cool treat as their parents keep shop on a Sunday afternoon. There is family life to be seen everywhere... but there is also a lot of abandonment and many single Moms are struggling to put food on the table each day. I met some amazing people and saw great love... love that manifested itself in struggle for those loved, and I heard testimony of victories as well!




Some members of the congregation.

A shopkeepers daughter enjoys a cool treat on a Sunday afternoon as her parents keep shop in Santa Cruz...

...and a young woman texts under a shop awning in the outer rings of the city.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

THYME Magaine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume IV, Issue XX, Special Edition

THYME's First 'Defender of Freedom' Award

Last year we recognied a true peacemaker. He is a man who possesses the strength of character that allows him to stand on principle and common sense. He possesses the grace to accept the graceless behavior of an American President and say simply that "this is a dispute among friends."
Thank you, Binyamin Netanyahu, for your continued friendship to the American people. We apologie for the other weekly news magazine´s treatment of you as well.

SWAC Girl Has This [click to read].

Israel 1947
Why 'land for peace' won't work. The green borders are the UN borders originally drawn in 1947. As you can see they create a defense nightmare. The straight line border with Egypt and the current definition of the West Bank came in 1949 after the initial Arab invasion was put down. The 1967 war resulted in Israel controlling Jerusalem and the West Bank and Sinai as well.

The Biggest Obstacle to Peace in the Middle East

In The Nakba Obsession [click to read] Sol Stern in City Journal presents a clear-headed analysis of the Palestinian problem and why it needs to be better understood.

"There is only one just compensation for the long history of suffering, say the Palestinians and their allies: turning the clock back to 1948. This would entail ending the “Zionist hegemony” and replacing it with a single, secular, democratic state shared by Arabs and Jews. All Palestinian refugees—not just those still alive of the hundreds of thousands who fled in 1948, but their millions of descendants as well—would be allowed to return to Jaffa, Haifa, the Galilee, and all the villages that Palestinian Arabs once occupied.

Such a step would mean suicide for Israel as a Jewish state, which is why Israel would never countenance it. At the very least, then, the Nakba narrative precludes Middle East peace. But it’s also, as it happens, a myth—a radical distortion of history." --Sol Stern

The problem today is that the origins of the problem are ignored in the discussion. The original attack on Israel and the subsequent refugee problem are succinctly stated in Stern's piece. Also noted is the fact that Israel's neighbors, who could have assimilated the refugees, have instead chosen to perpetuate their status. The Left today has run with the Nakba Narrative. Anti-Israel sentiment runs high, often bubbling over in Vitriol of the Worst Sort [click to read], but it was not always so.

The Left, in fact, once viewed Israel as a great triumph. Stern Chronicles journalist I. F. Stone's initial praise of the modern Jewish State and his subsequent conversion to Palestinian apologist. The progressives who once lauded Israel for its... progress... cutting edge agriculture and technology, modern cities and inclusive government later abandoned her as they took up the causes of victimology and redistribution.

The Left's own narrative that those who have achieved prosperity have obviously stolen it from the disadvantaged plays well here. Also ignored in this narrative is the fact that Israel groans under the burden of the many refugees it has brought in, such as the Russian Jews who populate places like Sderot and often bear the brunt of missle attacks from places like Gaza.

Perhaps a better narrative for this part of the world would be one that sees most everyone in the region... Jewish, Coptic or Palestinian as one who has suffered under or fled the forces of oppression.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jesus and Davey Crockett

A Pastor Recalls Two Heroes He Met in His Childhood

David Crockett
David (Davey) Crockett, painted in 1834 by Chester Harding.

Jesus and Davey Crockett [click to read] by Dale Freeman

Childhood memories of Christmas past are vivid with Davey Crockett. [1]. I had a number of items that were official 'Davey Crockett' toys. The longest lasting was the Davey Crockett footlocker/toy box which featured a picture of the great hunter facing a rather fierce bear. Crockett was a hero you could look up to. After all these years, the only thing Crockett did that I take issue with is "grinning down a bear." I'd NEVER show my teeth and stare into the eyes of a genuine wild bear [showing teeth and staring is an agressive posture in the ursine order].

Who didn't feel a thrill as Crockett fought the Creeks and later went to Congress. I wish we had Congressmen like him today. He rode through the night to oppose Andrew Jackson's Indian Bill.
"He knew when he spoke his career was done, but speak he did and his point he won." Crockett's honor was inspirational. Back in the politically incorrect Fifties he could start out the movie fighting Indians and end up defending their interests on the floor of the house. It was a great time for a kid to be alive!

Yes, Crockett [and Crockett toys] were a great part of my youth! Other fond memories include Daisy air guns and building sets with moving parts. I had one that you could build an actual model of an oil refinery out of and run real water through to watch it "work." It was made by Kenner, who made some other cool building sets too.

John Kass, writing in Jewish World Review, has His Own Memories [click to read] of toys of yore. Be sure to read it BEFORE you head for the mall.

Farewell to the mountains
who's mazes to me
were more beautiful far
than Eden could be

The home I redeemed
from the savage and wild
The home I have loved
like a father his child

The wife of my bosom
goodbye one and all
in the land of the stranger
I rise or I fall

-- Song Davey Crockett sings at the Alamo in the movie.

The Ballad of Davey Crockett

Born on a mountain top in Tennessee,
greenest state in the land of the free
Raised in the woods so's he knew ev'ry tree,
kilt him a b'ar when he was only three
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!

In eighteen thirteen the Creeks uprose,
addin' redskin arrows to the country's woes
Now, Injun fightin' is somethin' he knows,
so he shoulders his rifle an' off he goes
Davy, Davy Crockett, the man who don't know fear!

Off through the woods he's a marchin' along,
makin' up yarns an' a singin' a song
Itchin' fer fightin' an' rightin' a wrong,
he's ringy as a b'ar an' twic't as strong
Davy, Davy Crockett, the buckskin buccaneer!

Andy Jackson is our gen'ral's name,
his reg'lar soldiers we'll put to shame
Them redskin varmints us Volunteers'll tame,
'cause we got the guns with the sure-fire aim
Davy, Davy Crockett, the champion of us all!

Headed back to war from the ol' home place,
but Red Stick was leadin' a merry chase
Fightin' an' burnin' at a devil's pace,
south to the swamps on the Florida Trace
Davy, Davy Crockett, trackin' the redskins down!

Fought single-handed through the Injun War,
till the Creeks was whipped an' peace was in store
An' while he was handlin' this risky chore,
made hisself a legend for evermore
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!

He give his word an' he give his hand,
that his Injun friends could keep their land
An' the rest of his life he took the stand,
that justice was due every redskin band
Davy, Davy Crockett, holdin' his promise dear!

Home fer the winter with his family,
happy as squirrels in the ol' gum tree
Bein' the father he wanted to be,
close to his boys as the pod an' the pea
Davy, Davy Crockett, holdin' his young'uns dear!

But the ice went out an' the warm winds came,
an' the meltin' snow showed tracks of game
An' the flowers of Spring filled the woods with flame,
an' all of a sudden life got too tame
Davy, Davy Crockett, headin' on West again!

Off through the woods we're ridin' along,
makin' up yarns an' singin' a song
He's ringy as a b'ar an' twict as strong,
an' knows he's right 'cause he ain' often wrong
Davy, Davy Crockett, the man who don't know fear!

Lookin' fer a place where the air smells clean,
where the trees is tall an' the grass is green
Where the fish is fat in an untouched stream,
an' the teemin' woods is a hunter's dream
Davy, Davy Crockett, lookin' fer Paradise!

Now he's lost his love an' his grief was gall,
in his heart he wanted to leave it all
An' lose himself in the forests tall,
but he answered instead his country's call
Davy, Davy Crockett, beginnin' his campaign!

Needin' his help they didn't vote blind,
They put in Davy 'cause he was their kind
Sent up to Nashville the best they could find,
a fightin' spirit an' a thinkin' mindDavy,
Davy Crockett, choice of the whole frontier!

The votes were counted an' he won hands down,
so they sent him off to Washin'ton town
With his best dress suit still his buckskins brown,
a livin' legend of growin' renown
Davy, Davy Crockett, the Canebrake Congressman!

He went off to Congress an' served a spell,
fixin' up the Govern'ments an' laws as well
Took over Washin'ton so we heered tell,
an' patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell
Davy, Davy Crockett, seein' his duty clear!

Him an' his jokes travelled all through the land,
an' his speeches made him friends to beat the band
His politickin' was their favorite brand,
an' everyone wanted to shake his hand
Davy, Davy Crockett, helpin' his legend grow!

He knew when he spoke he sounded the knell,
of his hopes for White House an' fame as well
But he spoke out strong so hist'ry books tell,
an' patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell
Davy, Davy Crockett, seein' his duty clear!

When he come home his politickin' done,
the western march had just begun
So he packed his gear an' his trusty gun,
an' lit out grinnin' to follow the sun
Davy, Davy Crockett, leadin' the pioneer!

He heard of Houston an' Austin so,
to the Texas plains he jest had to go
Where freedom was fightin' another foe,
an' they needed him at the Alamo
Davy, Davy Crockett, the man who don't know fear!

His land is biggest an' his land is best,
from grassy plains to the mountain crest
He's ahead of us all meetin' the test,
followin' his legend into the West
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Value of Passion

Could it Be the Essential Ingredient for Renaissance?

Wright Brothers' Memorial, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

In His book: Make Me a Legend, Pastor Chuck Balsamo writes in Chapter 12:

"It is a fact: today’s doctor spends 10-12 years and a few hundred thousand dollars to become a physical healer. Why then would the average Christian go to a one-hour church service every few Sundays, reluctantly toss ten bucks into an offering plate, and then marvel over why so few of us experience any real miracles in our lives? Let’s face it; we are not adequately educated in the ways of our Force. Many in this generation are biblically illiterate and spiritually malnourished. It’s like starving to death in the middle of a grocery store. We are sitting on a message of power beyond our wildest dreams, lacking the oomph to break its ancient seal!"

Looking back on some of the more interesting projects I've worked on over the years, it is clear that passion drives the best ones. We love the stories of those who have pursued a dream, built something grand, or cured some dreaded disease. Would it surprise you to know that Heavenly Zeal stands firmly behind so much Earthly progress?

Why We Should Be Zealous [click to read] by Pastor Balsamo will challenge our "Nothing to Excess" notions when it comes to things of the Spirit.

Indeed, I have written before about how much of what we value in our culture today has its roots firmly in faith that prompted men and women to live out their convictions and in the process they made society a better place.

How Christianity Changed the World [click to read].

"Probably the Most Important Speech"

Dennis Prager on Romney's Commencement Address

"Moral certainty, clear standards, and a commitment to spiritual ideals will set you apart in a world that searches for meaning." -- Mitt Romney

Here is the Speech [click to read] that Dennis Prager considers perhaps the most important in this campaign:

"Harvard historian David Landes devoted his lifelong study to understanding why some civilizations rise, and why others falter. His conclusion: Culture makes all the difference. Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value..."
-- Dennis Prager

Monday, May 14, 2012

Seeing the Church in the World

A Great Lesson from a Famous Painting

"The Andes of Ecuador" by Frederic Edwin Church, 1855, oil on canvas, 48 x 75".

Early in his career, artist Frederic Edwin Church travelled to the Andes Mountains in search of subjects and inspiration. His large painting The Andes of Ecuador, eventually ended up in the collection of the R.J. Reynolds estate. It is said that one of the very young Reynolds children, and I do mean very young, was observed staring intently at the painting. "I'm looking at the Church," the child remarked. Thinking they had a young prodigy on their hands, the parents looked closer, only to discover there is indeed a little mission painted into the countryside.

Of course that is the challenge to the believer in our day. Do we "see the Church" in the great composition of our lives and of our world?

Mural Gallery, Recent Works

Mural Work in Crozet and in Staunton

Crozet_web Railroad_side
Here is the Crozet Trestle Mural as restored.

Crozet Trestle Mural [click to view larger images].

West_web East_web
Here is the Mural at Staunton Alliance Church.

Journey to Jesus [click to view larger images].

The creation of these composite images was inspired by a similar project involving the murals that José Clemente Orozco had painted in Dartmouth University's Baker Library. The murals had been documented in a composite image so that one could view them on a web page. His murals there presented 'The Epic of American Civilization.' He became the inspiration for the murals Laney Riley and I did in Staunton Alliance Church, which we subtitled 'The Epic of Human Civilization.' Our mural is 82 feet long and covers both sides of a narrow hallway so it is impossible to view the entire mural at once.

The composite was created by stitching over 100 images taken at regular intervals in the hallway. When Laney and I assisted Meg West in the restoration of the Crozet Trestle Mural, I photographed the refurbished mural for a similar set of images.