Monday, December 20, 2010

lenshero.com

Hey Everyone,

I just found out about this site called lenshero. According to lifehacker it's a great catalog of digital camera lenses so you can easily compare them. That way you can see side-by-side all the information you'd need to make your next purchase...magnification, image stabilization, zoom range, focal length, really everything. If you're into cameras or looking to buy a new lens, it's definitely worth checking out. Plus they have a great contest going right now with really decent chances of winning a lens. I've only looked around a little bit on the site, but so far it looks prety simple too. You put in your price range, what kind of photos you want to shoot, and can select from various types of lenses. You can also filter the results that come up, pretty nice overall. Hope you enjoy!

J.J.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Trip



Hello Everyone,

Before my time in Africa comes to an end next Tuesday I wanted to get out a quick update about our trip from Zambia to Burundi. Mom, Dad, Ger, and Dave, you might want to lay off reading this one or at least keep in mind that did make it safely...

We began our journey from Livingstone, Zambia on Wednesday the 29th by taking a bus up to Lusaka, the capital. The ride was a bit crowded but other than that we had little excitement to start the trip off. We arrived in Lusaka around 5:30AM, our first taste of the not-so-safe parts of Africa (bus stations are some of the seediest places I've been, and having grown up in Racine that is saying a bit...). All went well at the bus station and we were able to get to our room (a church mission) and take care of our business in Lusaka. I think the highlight of Lusaka was going back to the bus depot to book our tickets to Nakonde (Tanzanian border) and having to actually board the bus to talk about ticket prices (2 white guys and a bunch of Zambians, only one had a knife though...). We were able to get good prices though, and the next day we boarded Senior Africa's only bus to our next stop.

After an all-night bus ride, we arrived at Nakonde around 8A.M. to see a crowd of street kids surrounding the bus. That's when I knew it was time to start praying. The kids were very anxious to “help” people carry their luggage and book them on other buses. So anxious, in fact, that one of the Senior Africa guys had to swing an axe handle and spray them with water to get them to back off a bit. But this danger was only an opportunity for God to provide for us, and before we even got off the bus a woman came on who worked with a clearing agency and told us she would help us get through the border and onto our next bus. I honestly have no idea what we would have done if this woman had not shown up and I firmly believe she was nothing short of an answer to prayer. After only a little hassle we were able to get our bags free from the bus, rid ourselves of the crowd of street kids, and enter the Tanzanian immigration office. The great thing about Tanzania is that travel visas are usually free, unless of course you're from the U.S. in which case they cost $100, no matter what. It also turned out that the U.S. $100-bill I had was from a bad year (1996) and was therefore unacceptable in Tanzania. But God provided again through one of our teammates, who on our last night slipped us a brand new $100-bill. What are the odds of that? So finally we made it into Tanzania, and our friend from the clearing agency had found us a bus that would allow us to travel up the coast of Lake Tanganyika, rather than going all the way to Dar es Salam and back. Even better, we walked directly to the bus, changed our Zambian money (kwacha) on the way, boarded and left. All in all, about one our total in Nakonde/Mbeya (the Tanzanian side), and one hour was more than enough for me.

Our next stop on the way to Bujumbura would be Mpanda, where we believed the bus was taking us, so I was a bit surprised when we arrived in a town called Sumbawanga and found the bus to Mpanda was leaving the next day. After our experience at the border I was a bit nervous about spending the night, but my fears were quickly calmed. We found a taxi driver who knew enough English to get that we needed a hotel, and he brought us to a Catholic mission, where the two of us stayed in a great room and had an incredible dinner for $9. We spent the evening relaxing and exploring a bit of the city, and even made it to an ATM to end any money problems (or so we thought, but more on that later).

The next morning (Sunday) we grabbed some fruit for breakfast and headed out to Mpanda. After our enjoyable experience in Sumbawanga, my hopes were a bit higher for Mpanda, and I was not even surprised this time when we stepped off the bus and immediately had an English-speaker begin to help us find a way to Kigoma. We found a place to stay pretty easily, then headed to the train station to find out more information. Unfortunately, no trains were leaving for Kigoma until Tuesday, but there was the possibility of catching a ride with some UN trucks heading up. We grabbed dinner and decided to wait until Monday when things would be open to figure out the best way to proceed. As we were walking to the UNHCR office on Monday, a man named Samuel ran to catch up with us and ask if we needed any help. Samuel spoke great English and was a huge blessing to us for the next few days. We enjoyed hearing about his life, his struggles, and encouraging him; while he was able to find a ride for us (by car!) not just to Kigoma, but all the way into Mabanda, Burundi. I cannot thank God enough for putting him in our lives, and by this point I was sure God had a huge hand in our travels.

On Tuesday morning we made an attempt to draw a bit more cash to pay for Burundian visas ($20/person), but found the machine was only for those banking in Tanzania. So we figured we'd just keep going by prayer and headed out with our driver for what was without a doubt one of the craziest rides of my life. During AMT we took a 4x4 off road driving and recovery class, where they taught us the correct way to approach rocks and other obstacles while driving on rough roads. I can say without a doubt that our driver broke every rule we learned in that class and that I have a newfound respect for Suzuki 4x4's (although I attribute much of this journey's success to prayer as well because there is absolutely no way that little car should have made that drive). We arrived at the Tanzanian border around 6 that evening (just before closing), to find out that our driver didn't have a passport and also had a gun in his glove compartment. Not exactly ideal circumstances. But somehow he got one with his name on it (no idea), and being that he really was a good, honest guy, he turned his gun in at the border and we were able to cross into Burundi that very night! As you might have guessed, our driver was a pretty smooth talker. So smooth that we managed to get to Mabanda that night (not supposed to happen after dark because of Burundi's past) without visas (really not supposed to happen) because of the bad $100, and wait until we arrived in Bujumbura to buy them (really really not supposed to happen). He also set us up at a guest house for the night, where they agreed not to charge us for the room or the bus until we could arrive in Bujumbura and draw money out. We also bought a few cell phone minutes (using Tanzanian shillings) to call Danny (Overland staff working in Burundi right now), but all Dave got out was, “Danny we made it across the border but have no money” before the phone cut out, to which the only response was laughter.

The next day we took a minibus into Bujumbura, through mountains, which was fun because I learned that going down-hill means you should accelerate to gain extra speed. It's like hitting a mushroom in Mario kart. We arrived safely in Bujumbura with no problems at all, paid the bus driver, and finally met up with our team here in the city, all in just under one week (by a few hours). This was especially impressive because it took the last team of two guys three weeks to get here. Overall it was an incredible journey, and while I'm not in any hurry to do it again, I'm really thankful for the experience. Above all else, I must say that God is surely as faithful as anyone could possibly be, and I truly believe that He is dying to show this to us if only we will step out and give Him the chance.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's The Final Countdown



Hello Everyone!

Well AMT is officially over! It's hard to believe it, the three months have absolutely flown by, and looking back I can't believe how much I've learned.

We finished our last assignment a little over a week ago, then headed out for our final expedition. As a final test, this expedition was planned completely by our team and no Overland staff came with us. Besides forgetting all our kitchen supplies, the expedition was a complete success. It was by far the best ministry experience we've had since coming to Zambia and a great way to finish off the three months here. Our team drove ten hours out to a new chiefdom (called Simwatachela) that has never received aid of any sort, even from larger organizations such as the World Food Program. People came from the farthest corners of the chiefdom to a central village where we held meetings for three days. Many of the headmen attending told us they never thought the day would come where outsiders would come to their villages to bring help.

Our team spent the week preaching and encouraging the people at large meetings. We took attendance at one of our evening meetings and found out there were 593 people there in total. I had the honor of preaching a message of hope to all the men and also got to give a short testimony on putting faith into action at one of the later meetings. Every meeting was followed by people coming forward for prayer. Many wanted to receive Christ for the first time or recommit their lives to him, but many others wanted prayer for healing. I honestly think I laid hands on 150 people throughout the week, and we truly saw God move. Two of the men I prayed for came up with pains in their chests and backs, and even though I couldn't talk with them, they walked away with huge smiles on their faces and I could see that God healed them right before my eyes. This was not at all uncommon. I think my favorite message was preached by a Zambian guy named Jack. At the end of his message he could see the people didn't believe in God's power, so he had two of the oldest people come forward for healing right in front of everybody. They both got healed (of course!), and the old woman, who couldn't raise her hands above her head before this, spent the rest of the week raising them high into the air.



As always, the evenings were spent around the campfire, but this time they were a little different. Our teammate Jack couldn't help but go over to the camp of 70+ year old Zambian women and teaching them what is called the chitange dance. The phrase "shakey, shakey, shakey" became all too familiar, what a wonderful way to enjoy our time with God's daughters. One final adventure came when I got lost in the bush with a shovel and a roll of toilet paper (you can probably figure out what I was doing...). I spent an hour wandering around before I ran into some people who took me back to the camp, which doesn't seem like a big deal except for the fact that later in the day the chief asked one of my teammates about a someone in a red sweatshirt carrying a shovel. I'm confident this will soon become a fireside tale told by Zambian children to scare their younger siblings..."They say there's a mukuwa who wanders these parts, he carries a shovel and is looking to dig graves."

(As promised, a photo of Uncle Bob)

We held our graduation ceremony yesterday, and as you can see below, our tent was looking pretty good. It was a great final day with our team and I will truly miss this base and the people I've spent the last three months with. Tonight Dave, Rachel (one of our teachers for AMT), and I will catch an 8PM bus to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, to begin our first let of the trip to Bujumbura. From there we will take busses up the coast of Lake Tanganika until we arrive to begin work in Burundi. I am told in the first week we could be doing anything from preaching to 30,000 kids to digging wells, and I fully expect the entire month to continue in a similar fashion. Please pray for our safety in and on the way to Burundi, as well as for strong organization by the NGO we'll be working with there. Thanks to everyone for your continued prayers and support, I truly appreciate every one of you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One Crazy Day

Hello Everyone,

Things have been truly amazing here in Zambia with only three weeks left in AMT, and just when I thought things couldn't get any crazier, a day like today comes along...

After AMT I will be traveling to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, to work with Overland and an NGO called Aid for the World. Just a quick run down on Burundi: it's a small country (about the size of Maryland) right next to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with about 9 million people. If you've seen the movie Hotel Rwanda you have a good idea of what happened in Burundi too, except Burundi was in civil war until 2005 (don't worry, it's safe now). Because of the genocide and lasting civil war, 46% of the population of Burundi is under 14 years of age. Today we were talking with the head of Overland and found out that from Aug. 1-8 children from the entire country (a LOT of children) will be in Bujumbura for a work project and we are expected to minister to them, possibly (probably?) hosting a conference. And by we I mean three of us lowly AMTers. Needless to say this is one of the most incredible opportunities possible and I am completely unprepared but trusting God all the way. I also know for sure that when God says He'll give us the nations He means it, and maybe even quicker than we think.

What a day right? But it didn't stop there. This afternoon there was a large festival held by Chief Mukuni (the land we're on is in his kingdom and was donated to Overland in 2004) about 30 minutes from the base. The festival attracted Zambians from all over the country who sang, danced, and played for each other according to their own native languages and traditions. More excitingly the Zambian president, Rupiah Banda, appeared and gave a speech at the main stage! Here the M.C., Banda, and other esteemed politicians paid homage to one man. These men, including Banda, described this man as “a true African” and a “role model for all” because of his years of dedicated service to his country. Who was this man? Well, according to Parade Magazine he is the world's #1 dictator; ahead of Kim Jong-Il, China's Hu Jintao, and even Sudan's Omar Al-Bashir. This man was none other than...Robert Gabriel Mugabe! I truly could not believed my eyes when he stepped up to the microphone; ironically enough last year around this time I had a dream that I was in Rwanda and Mugabe came to get me. Today was incident free though. He began his speech by stating twice that he, “knew nothing about Chief Mukuni,” but by the end praised the chief and declared him to be a leader among leaders in order to win the people. It was a very surreal experience to see this man in the flesh, especially knowing the pain and poverty he's needlessly caused his own country in the past.

So overall things have been great here in Africa! We are so excited for the trip to Burundi and the work God is laying before us there. Please pray for wisdom in planning the conference and for the Holy Spirit to be at work in us preparing messages to bring the children. Because of its political history, Burundi is in a fragile state right now, and with the huge percentage of the nation that the children make up, this conference has the potential to lay a strong foundation for future work. I'll post pictures of Fightin' Bob and the conference soon, thank you all for your continued prayers!

J.J.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Don't Lose Your Head...Man


Hello Everyone!

Well we returned safely from the bush yesterday after a great week! After a six hour drive our team arrived at the chief's palace in Nyawa Kingdom to do ministry at a head man conference. Overland organized and ran the conference, inviting fifty five head men from around the kingdom. We were excited to see one hundred head men arrive, some who had walked 40km just to get there. Needless to say the conference was a huge success. The head men received training in Christian leadership from some of the full-time missionaries, and our team was able to build relationships with them as well as gather valuable information about their villages, which will go towards future partnerships. During one of the teaching sessions, one of the head men raised his hand to ask if the missionary speaking would come back more often because his teachings were so powerful. On the final evening of the conference, after a powerful message from Jake, our sector manager, seventy of the men attending stood up, held hands, publicly confessed their sins and repented of them. This sort of thing is virtually unheard of here and it was amazing to see God at work in these men's lives. Some of these head men are in charge of as many as twelve villages, which means a change in their hearts will affect thousands of Zambians, preserving their culture while bringing change through true relationships with Christ.

During some of the sessions our team went out to the villages surrounding the palace to work in the fields and hold meetings where we taught and encouraged the people. The first day out we harvested maize, which we're virtually pros at by now. On the third day of the conference a few of us (including myself) had the unique opportunity to walk 5km or so to Kalomba Village and encourage a church. Over lunch (where I got to try boiled corn in sour milk...mmmmmmm) the elders there told us we were the first white visitors to ever visit and socialize with the village. During the service (which lasts from sun-up to sun-down) I was able to share a testimony on God's grace and how badly He wants us to turn back to Him and be embraced by Him. It was truly a blessing to spend time with the people there and even more importantly put a new village on the map (well...at least GPS) and open doors for Overland to work with them in the future. Kalomba has no clean water access and the nearest school is at least an hour walk; I did it myself, and I can't imagine doing it every day, but for some it is comparatively close. Sustained future relationships would meet these needs and build upon the firm spiritual foundation that is necessary for any real change to occur.

With only five weeks left of AMT things are getting pretty busy. We had a guest speaker today and tomorrow we have our practical application for 4x4 off-road recovery. We'll head to the Botswana border, get an enormous flatbed truck stuck, get it unstuck, then head back to the base with a stop for ice cream on the way. I honestly can think of no better way to spend my 22nd birthday. Thank you all for your continued prayers, we live off of them out here.

In Christ,

J.J.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Base Life


Hello Everyone!

It's officially been more than a month here in Zambia and everything is going great! Since getting back into the villages we've gotten into a pretty regular routine of classes, or at least as much of a routine as you can have in Africa. I figured I'd share a bit about classes before we head out to the villages again next week for our second expedition.

Practical Classes – Bush Cooking and Diesel Mechanics
We began our practical lessons with bush cooking, which is basically how to cook for 25+ people when all you have is a fire and what you brought with you...This was one of our shorter classes, lasting just three days, ending in a competition to see who could produce the finest bush cuisine. As you may have expected, or may not have if you're in my family, our team Kitchen Thunder (formerly Bathroom Thunder) won a handy victory with a meal consisting of grilled chicken with a peanut sauce for an appetizer, a Spanish paella for the main course, and peanut butter cookies for dessert. We won extra points for arranging our grilled chicken bits in the shape of the Overland logo.
Our next set of practical lessons were in diesel mechanics, definitely one of the more exciting classes we've had so far. We learned an extremely basic version of the theory of how diesel engines run and common problems one would have when driving out in the bush. Then we got to spend time in the warehouse seeing and even fixing some of these problems. In the week and a half we were in class, we saw a punctured fuel tank, a multitude of motorcycle problems, and an air lock (this one was in town), and I'm pretty sure we didn't see anything close to all the problems. It definitely cannot be said that what we learn in these classes doesn't have a direct application to third-world missions. As an engineer this class has probably made the most sense to me and it's been fun to use the nerdy brain God's given me for something good, not that Fourier transforms and stochastic processes aren't God-glorifying...

Missional Classes – Culture, Ministry Ethics, and Preaching
One of the most interesting classes we've had while here deals with African culture in general as well as Zambian culture specifically. Here we learned about the basic philosophies that make up African life as well as the theological foundations of the numerous religions. This is especially important in sharing the gospel because we are fighting language barriers as well as cultural barriers. One of the most important lessons I took from this class was the importance of planting seeds, not half-grown plants. The gospel isn't something that's grown up in America, shipped to Africa, and transplanted here, and this is extremely important to remember when planting churches. Too often we've seen western missionaries plant western churches in Africa, alienating believers from their tribes and setting up cultural barriers that inhibit true relationships with Christ, which just leads to apathetic churches and no real change on the ground. We've also had the benefit of having plenty of true Zambians around to teach us a ton about traditional customs and how to be more effective ministers.
For the sake of length and not boring you all too bad I'm going to skip talking too much about ministry ethics. For this class, we had a guest speaker who has been with Overland since the beginning and challenged me a ton.
We finished up our lessons on preaching this afternoon, which were a great experience and maybe one of the most important things we've done so far. We took turns popcorn preaching (you get a verse, 1 min to prepare, then you have to preach), doing some in-depth teaching, and giving a full-out salvation message. It's been a great experience and I think I've come along way even since my first message in the villages a few weeks back. I did receive some criticism for referencing a show called Firefly (a cheesy space western) since our target audience was supposed to be villagers...but other than that I think I did alright. Most importantly it's given us some practice and more confidence for when we end up in a village somewhere and are the most well-equipped people to preach.

Well that about covers it for the past few weeks. Outside of classes we've been enjoying the sand volleyball court here on base and making trouble at the three-star hotel pool where they let us swim for free on the weekends. We also made it up to Victoria Falls a few weekends ago which were incredible. In true African fashion, we've had a few sunset rides on the back of a flat bed truck, these are moments I think I'll remember forever. I've included a few pictures here of the team and myself, mostly of me ruining other peoples' pictures, but what fun would they have been otherwise? I really appreciate all of your support and prayers. Please pray for our team as we go out to the villages again next week for a large pastoral conference. We'll be doing our best to build into these men so they can build into their communities and be the church Christ has called us to.

J.J.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Update 1



I've emailed this out to everyone already, but just for the sake of having it up here I wanted to post update #1. I'll post a new update some time next week giving some info on what classes have been like.


Hello everyone!

Sorry this is so long but I want to give you a fair account of how things have been so far, and I have to say right now that my words could never do these experiences justice. I've been in Zambia almost two weeks now and to a certain extent it's still not real. Every once in a while one of my team mates will randomly throw out, “we're in Africa right now,” and it dawns on me that I've almost forgotten where I am. Our base is built on a cliff overlooking rapid 14 of the Zambezi River with a 180 meter drop off. On the first day of AMT we hiked down the gorge to check out the view. On the way back up my friend Dave and I took the wrong path which quickly leads to a dead end, but we figured we could hike it anyways. We realized this maybe wasn't the best idea when we got about half way up the cliff and found that things were a bit more serious than we initially thought. After about an hour of scaling crumbling rocks and one of the scarier climbs of my life we made it to the top. Welcome to Africa.

We spent the first week of AMT here on the base getting used to how things work and hearing the vision of Overland Missions from Phil, the founder. The organization is still fairly small but will definitely be growing a ton in the near future. By 2020 Overland hopes to be reaching 20 million people in the most remote villages with the Gospel and implementing the SAM and LIFE projects, which include humanitarian aid, education, and sustainable agriculture. This is done mainly by Sector Managers who spend five years in a region of southern Africa building into local leaders and discipling pastors and other community leaders. Overland also sends expedition teams to unreached villages to pave the way for Sector Managers by working in the villages and preaching the Word of God.

Last week we went on our first expedition to the bush, beginning with a five hour drive down some of the bumpiest roads I've ever seen in my life. We were received with singing, dancing, and a man with dreadlocks who wanted to marry some of the women on our team. Many of the villagers had never seen a mukuwa (white person) before our arrival, and when we were working in the fields one woman asked, “do they know they have white skin?” In the mornings we would go out to the fields and harvest maize (corn) or ground nuts (peanuts) in order to connect with the villagers and help bridge the wealth gap that often creates barriers. The work wasn't too bad except the one day a caterpillar crawled on my back, leaving behind it tons of microscopic hairs that put me into a frenzy of itching. In the afternoons we would play games of soccer then gather the villagers together and one of us would preach. On Wed. we held a feast where we personally captured, beheaded, plucked, tarred and feathered (kidding), butchered, and cooked six chickens. Needless to say this was certainly one of the highlights of the week and the meal was delicious. The generosity of the people also amazed me. Every day in the fields we received tons of ground nuts, watermelons, pumpkins, and squash. We left with loads of nuts, 10 pumpkins, and as we were about to board our vehicle the head man (like the mayor) attempted to give us a live goat, which we regretfully declined.

Many of the people in the villages are nominally Christian and others follow a mix of Christianity and tribal religions, but for the most part the villages haven't been reached since the days of Livingstone. Unfortunately for me, the crowd I preached to happened to believe we were Satanists, which made my job a bit more difficult. The meetings we held were unlike anything I've ever experienced. We would give a short message and share the Gospel, then give people a chance to respond by coming forward. Many people received or recommitted their lives to Christ in front of their entire community. We then would invite anyone who was sick or in pain forward, and that's when things got crazy. In truth, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and pains are healed by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Having never seen a TV or even westerners, these people wouldn't even know how to fake the things I saw, and I can say with certainty that the spiritual battle is completely different here. Many people would go to the witch doctor because they were being bothered by demons, and he would give them white bracelets and necklaces to wear for protection. It was incredible to tell people of the sovereignty of Christ and see them break free from these chains.

The trip to the villages was an experience for us all, but even more importantly it opened many doors and created relationships for our sector managers in that region who will take care of the important job of sustained, long-term relations with the villages. These kinds of relationships will bring lasting change to the villages and raise up local leaders who will be the ones to truly reach their own nation.

That pretty much covers the first two weeks of AMT, classes begin tomorrow and I can't even imagine where things are going to go by the end of summer. Sorry I couldn't include pictures, the internet here is pretty slow but I'll hopefully get some on facebook soon. In the mean time, please pray for our team to continue to grow together and for our hearts to be open to what God has for us all in the future. Thank you for your support and I look forward to telling you more!

In Christ,

J.J.