Monthly Archives: May 2007

Life Changes… As You Experience More!

Recent conversations about missions, have reminded me that while in seminary, I was required to participate in a “transcultural” experience. Because of timing (and expense) I chose to participate in an already scheduled group transcultural of two weeks in Haiti. Since I was enrolled in United Theological Seminary’s “in-context” program, I wrote my report at the end as a public piece which the local newspaper, the Union City (PA) Times-Leader, printed in the Spring of 1998 as a three part series.

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Northwest Pennsylvania’s January with its snow-belt weather or January in the tropics? What a choice! Sure, the tropical port of destination was Port-au-Prince, the capital of the island nation of Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, but it was still better than snow and ice, right?

You see, as a seminary student at United Theological Seminary’s Buffalo campus, I am required to spend two weeks outside of my culture before I can graduate with my Masters of Divinity degree. So I chose to take my two weeks in Haiti, from January 8-21, 1998.

I carried images with me of palm trees, tropical weather, voodoo, dictators, sweat, bananas, and poverty as I left for Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 8th. Most of my impressions were right, but yet I found there was so much more to Haiti and the Haitian people than I expected.

My senses were bombarded in Haiti. I was assaulted by the stark differences between my comfortable American life and the realities that confronted me every day in this tiny land just a few hundred miles away from the United States. Even more shocking to me was how unprepared I was for the lessons Haiti had for this smug American who thought he was going to help those poor Haitians. Lessons and realities of poverty, hunger, tolerance, justice, liberty, racism, and persecution were awaiting me.

My perception of the poverty the Haitian people face wasn’t even close to the truth. In the lifestyle of rural Pennsylvania, close to a major city like Erie, poverty is often thought of as having to shop at a discount store or having an antennae for my television instead of cable… and our government tells us that the “poverty level” is for a single person to make less than $13,000 or so. Yet in Haiti there are mud floors, open sewers that children play around, and an average income of less than $300.00 for a whole year… $5.00 or so a week. How many American children spend more than that in a week on games and candy? When I have considered myself poor, I have been mistaken… for I have now seen what poverty looks like and it most certainly is not me or anyone I know.

My perception of hunger has changed as well. Here in the states, we often have chances to go to restaurants and fast food places. We have so many choices and so often we eat so much that we need medicines to help our digestion… and more often than not, we leave food untouched or uneaten. In Haiti, I helped serve lunch to children and babies at a clinic and orphanage run by the nuns from Sister Theresa’s order, the Sisters of Charity. We were given a bowl of plain rice mixed with ground up beans to feed to the children who couldn’t feed themselves. I watched as they eagerly tried to be one of the first ones fed, and then eating quickly as if they feared that we would take their bowl away.

How many times as a kid did I turn up my nose at some meal that was offered because I didn’t like it? Perhaps if I had known hunger like those Haitian children, I would have been more thankful for whatever I was served.

My sense of justice was also altered and changed by this trip into Haiti. Whereas I have looked at justice as being a matter of deciding who is right and wrong by a judge, the Haitian sense of justice is not the same. I got to experience this first hand one day while trying to ride a “tap-tap,” the Haitian version of a mass transportation system. Most tap-taps are small trucks which carry as many people as they can in the back of the truck for about 20 to 40 cents each. When you want off, you tap-tap on the side of the truck-bed.

While trying to get a tap-tap one day, we encountered a man who hadn’t paid his money after riding the tap-tap. The driver apparently had said he would not let the man ride again and the man was increasingly getting more agitated every moment. The tensions rose, the voices got louder, and finally the driver got out. Yet, in that act he didn’t launch into a knock-down drag-out fight like two irate Americans might do. Nor did the driver look for a cop. The driver appealed to the crowd around them, who had seen the encounter from the beginning. The group listened, the group decided who was right and who was wrong, and the man had to pay up.

What would happen in the U.S.A. if we were concerned with the rights of our fellow citizens enough that we would help our neighbors and even strangers achieve justice? It would mean that we would have to stop trying to drag each other into court for alleged offenses, and begin looking out for each other in order to make sure that each person is treated fairly and with respect. We could wipe out many of the inhumane injustices that continue to plague our nation with that kind of commitment and that dedication to the truth.

Another area that screamed of culture-shock throughout my trip was racism. In a land of black-skinned people, I was noticeably different. I was “blanc” (the Creole word for white, and the nickname given white people). Having lived my whole life in Caucasian circles, this was a new and somewhat uncomfortable experience for me. Almost everyone in my world of rural America is white-skinned. The people in my churches, my schools, places where I’ve worked, places I go for fun, the friends I have hung out with… all have been predominately white.

For two weeks, I got to be the person with skin of a different color. There may have been rude comments, but the language barrier prevented me from understanding the comments that were made. I saw the looks though. I heard the giggles. I saw the pointed fingers of children saying “He’s different”. I felt the stares. If that wasn’t enough, we were faced with a double standard that would try to charge us ‘blancs’ double the fare on certain tap-taps, assuming we were blancs and would never know.

As uncomfortable as that was for me, I have to wonder how many times do we Americans treat someone different from us in that same way? Using the “stranger” or “foreigner” as the butt of our jokes and rude comments? And of course, that doesn’t even begin to address the way the whites of America have dealt with other races throughout not only our history, but throughout our current lives in the newspapers every day of the week.

Another lesson awaited me on this trip; a lesson of freedom and civic duty. While visiting a hospital for the sick and dying called Sans Fil, we encountered a man who was bedridden who, through an interpreter, told us of his persecution by the military when the army had overthrown President Aristide in 1991. He reached into the stand next to his cot for his wallet and showed us the reason for his being singled out and targeted: a voter’s registration card. The man was hunted, and on a list to be killed if they had found him, simply because he was a registered voter that belonged to the same party as the deposed leader.

I cannot begin to imagine that kind of political persecution… just for registering to vote. Yet in this “land of the free” called America, we have the right to vote and most of us could care less. Has liberty become too cheap?

As shocking as the areas of poverty and hunger were for me, I was surprised none the less to find myself labeled as a member of a “cult” while in Haiti. As a United Methodist, I am part of a pretty major religious group here in the U.S., and considered to be pretty mainline and traditional. Yet in Haiti, where the Roman Catholic Church is the official national church, I am considered an outsider… a cult member. Being judged by my religious beliefs was one of the harsher realities that confronted me.

With that in mind, I was forced to ask myself whether I too get judgmental in my church and my beliefs that I fail to look for the genuine spiritual experiences in other people’s religious traditions.

The idea of religious persecution became even more real for me when I met the Rev. Roger DeSir, a retired Episcopal priest who met with us one evening. Although French has been the official language of Haiti, only about five percent of the people could read, write, or speak French. The vast majority of Haitians spoke Haitian Creole, a native language that combines words and phrases from French, English, and large amounts of African terms and dialects. In the face of this, DeSir had single-handedly taken on the challenge of translating the Bible into the language of the people. I was amazed to find that he too was singled out and targeted by the military regime as a dangerous enemy of the state following Aristide’s overthrow. DeSir went into hiding and only completed translating the full Bible into Creole in 1992.

I find myself perplexed that any government would be so afraid of a book, let alone the Bible. I was forced to examine the number of times that we Americans, even those of us who consider ourselves Christians, fail to even open the Bible.
It has been almost two months since I returned from Haiti. I have settled back into my American way of life, driving almost everywhere while my Haitian friends walk, and enjoying long hot showers while my friends face water shortages and must use a bucket and a cup to “shower” each day. Yet I sense that God has begun to change me, make me more aware of the world outside of my own little world.
I look forward to returning to Haiti again. I will never completely be the same again…. and I’m glad.
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In fact, one of the more lasting lessons of this trip was hearing Bob Walker, the leader of our trip from the seminary, in his first impromptu meeting, remind us that we were there to “be” not necessarily “do.” His phrase was “we are human be-ings, not human do-ings.” So often I remind myself of that as I look at a situation, even back here in the states, when everything within me wants to do something to alleviate the inner hurt and turmoil someone is experiencing. It’s good to remember that it is OK to be and not necessarily always do. That’s a change in perspective I needed to be able to experience and incorporate into my own life.
I have indeed been changed because of the transcultural. My life, my family, my ministry have all been impacted because of the lessons learned on that trip. In fact, later that year, 13 of us from the two churches I was pastoring, Spartansburg & Parade Street UMC’s, (including my wife and both of my girls) went on a short term mission work trip to help begin the building of a medical clinic.

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A Final Diagnosis…FINALLY!!!!

On Tuesday I got a call from Pittsburgh and the pathology report came back after being reviewed by Johns Hopkins Cancer Center and then on Friday I got the paper copy of the report itself.

YES the mass in my kidney WAS a cancer. A Renal Cell Carcinoma that they hadn’t seen before… it looked a lot like an oncocytoma (just a benign non-threatening kind of tumor that you shouldn’t have to worry about), yet it was really a malignant cancer.

BUT… it was caught so early that it apparently hadn’t had a chance to even invade the surrounding kidney cells, let alone make it to the urinary tract or the incoming arteries or the outgoing veins… or any of those other places. AND since we just simply removed the whole thing, it CAN’T spread!

No chemo, no radiology, nothing but get double checked every 6 months for the next three years… (like a CT scan and an ultrasound). THAT’s IT!!!!

We’re praising God on this end!!!!

DAYTON

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God & Mom

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a pastor’s letter I wrote in 2002 for the Trinity Highlights monthly newsletter of the Trinity UMC, in Patton, PA. This is especially an important year for my mom and me as we both played the hospital game at the same time… While I was having my kidney out in Pittsburgh, she was in the Bradford hospital diagnosed with pneumonia and suspected lung cancer. We’re both home now and reestablishing our strength until we find out what the next steps are for each of us. We have a sort of daily telephone support group going on most days.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!
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“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” Isaiah 66:13

Recognizing and honoring mothers has been a long-standing tradition of Methodism. In fact, it was a Methodist woman in West Virginia just about a hundred years ago that rallied the church, and the country, around the idea of setting aside one day a year just to honor moms.

John Wesley himself, the founder of Methodism, was quick to tell how his spiritual nurture and Christian training went back to his mother Susanna who personally modelled and taught what it meant to follow Jesus Christ.

In the past few years, my own mother has moved back North after a couple of decades of living in Alabama, and I’ve had a chance again to get to know my mom all over again. Within the past few months, she’s re-introduced me to some of the more mature relatives on her side of my family tree… folks I hadn’t seen since I was fourteen. And I’m learning something about my family and my mom, about me, and about our God.

You see, as I grew up, my Mom didn’t always attend church, so I picked up an attitude that she wasn’t a “real” Christian and I, of course, believed I was! So I copped an attitude that I didn’t have to listen to her… How wrong I was!

What I’ve begun to learn in the past few years is that, even in my mom’s lowest moments, on her most “down” days, God was still using her in my life… and in the lives of my brother John and my sister Laura. Of course, God was working through her as she cared for us, like we expect a parent would, but God also used her quite often to speak words of truth and guidance to me… even as an obnoxious self-centered teenager who thought he knew it all. And imagine my surprise, as a college kid some twenty years ago, when I began to realize that my Mom was also a great dispenser of spiritual truths as well! And SHE was praying for ME! She actually knew this God I thought I exclusively called Lord!

God has used my mom to teach me so much… about life, about dealing with hard times and lean times as well, about loyalty to those you love… even when they might seem unlovable. But God has used my Mom to teach me about Him as well.

For you see, I’ve come to recognize that our God is loyal to loved ones, even when they make wrong choices, just like my Mom. God is always concerned about the best choices and opportunities for his children, just like my Mom was for us kids. God, and my Mom, finds staying angry difficult because of the love within. And in the same way that I still go to my mom for a listening ear, I can always go to God, who has that same caring and compassion that my does.

And I now understand that in the same way that I so arrogantly thought I knew more and knew better than my mom, that’s the way I quite often have approached God… But the truth is they both have much to teach me… if I can simply learn to listen.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this month, let’s thank God for them and, if they’re still alive, let’s remind them of how much God has used them in our lives. And how we have learned about the nurturing, mother-like heart of God Himself.

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Recovering from my boo-boos

OK… I’m up in the middle of the night. I was sound asleep and my three year old son (who had apparently climbed in to mommy & daddy’s bed sometime prior to this) all the sudden sat up with a sigh or a cough or a something and leaned against me… against my left side where my surgery was. I was INSTANTLY AWAKE!

And couldn’t get back to sleep.

Of the two weeks I’ve been home from the hospital though, I have to admit that this is the first time Josh and I have ‘collided.’

While I was in the hospital, his sisters, his mom, and Gay’s mom, Sherry, all talked about how Daddy was sick and had “a lot of boo-boos.” So when he saw me in the hospital bed, it seemed to click… even though all he could see then was bandages.

When I got home five days later, the first thing we did was raise up Daddy’s shirt and show him the boo-boos (with bandages off by that point… just staples on four separate incision sites).

Understand, Josh still crawls into our bed in the middle of the night every so often, and as long as he starts in his own bed, we haven’t made a big deal of it… lots of transitions, moves, first time with his own room, etc. So, in anticipation of that possibility, Gay bought me one of those giant human size bed pillows to put on my left side… as a safety buffer in case he crawled in.

I knew he had pretty much gotten it the night that I heard Gay about 3 am say to Josh that he needed to go to the other side of her (which would be between Gay and me so she could get out). And this mostly asleep little toddler said, “NO! Daddy has lots of boo-boos!”

I’m pretty much over the need for the giant pillow and actually, with care, can sleep on my left side again (which has always been a very comfortable position for me). However, this morning I was on my back and Josh must have started dreaming or something and thus I am here e-talking with you!

All in all my recovery has been pretty good!

Starting on the first day in the hospital I knew that I couldn’t eat or lose all the tubes and stuff until I could tolerate consciousness without having to use lots and lots of pain medicine. So, I figured since they gave me a pain med pump (I’m sure there’s a real name for it) I would try not to use it unless I was really feeling out of it. Relying on my vast knowledge of medical procedures I knew that no matter how times I pushed the button on the pump it would only give me real pain medicine when it was really time for me to have more. I figured that was probably about every two hours… so i tried to only push the button every three hours or so. And I just ‘roughed it’ the rest of the time… cause I wanted to prove that I could handle being conscious so they would want to let me go faster!

Turns out it was set to allow me pain medicine every 8.5 minutes! And by Day 2 I was hurting big time! By that following evening, I swear I lived out something between “dark night of the soul” and/or waking dead nightmares! (I learned to push the button OFTEN very very QUICKLY on Day 2!)

On top of all that, being perceived as a heavier person (nobody ever said FAT to me), they had arranged for a special bed for “larger” people. Frankly, someone who weighed three times my weight could have enjoyed that bed! But for me, it was an absolute struggle to get out of it… and I had to get out to be able to go to the bathroom (I consider this a non-negotiable!).

Now remember this is now about half way through the black pit of despair night after day 2… I finally roll/jump and get on my feet at the side of the bed… and my privacy gown (boy, there’s an oxymoron!) fell… and I couldn’t bend over enough to even pick it back up! So there I am in nothing but an IV standing next to my bed when I realize that whoever came into my room last, left the door open (and I’m the visible room from the visitor’s lounge). AND I can’t get my gown, and I can’t unplug that stupid IV to get to the bathroom so I finally ring the stupid call button.

In walks some nurse/aide/someone, who isn’t Bill (my nurse for the night) and she starts to ask how can I help you? when she stops halfway through the sentence and asks “Can you tell me why you’re standing naked in the middle of the room?” For the record, I DID NOT share the many thoughts that came to my mind in that instant. I simply said, “I’d love to… but the short version is that my gown fell and I can’t reach it to put it back on.”

The next day we got rid of that gigantuan bed and replaced it with a normal one and I could get in and out and even make to the bathroom without help… and with a degree of modesty.

I find it MUCH funnier now, than I did at the time!

Upon getting home, I’ve pretty much been sleeping like a baby (up for a few hours, down for a few hours, and occasionally feeling like crying). Gay and the girls have gone out of their way to make sure I have had what I needed and just helped wherever and whenever they could. Michele even learned how to help apply my bandages (cause I can’t see my side to do it myself) and, despite her nervousness, learned how to get all that tape off to remove old bandages without completely making Daddy cry! (Although she uncontrollably laughed nervous laughter the whole way through the first time!).

The people of the Reynoldsville church have been phenomenal as well! They’ve sent cards and notes and meals and even loaned DVD’s!!!!

I did have one set-back… this past weekend I started ‘leaking.’ It turns out that obese people sometimes (OK, often times) will have difficulty with their incisions staying closed… there’s just too much fat and the two sides of the incision start to separate… and leak a bloody, serus fluid. So I spent some time in the DuBois ER just to make sure I wasn’t going to completely come unglued or whatever… I didn’t and my doctor double checked me again today and I’m doing fine.

One last story… again involving Josh. He regularly asks to see how Daddy’s boo-boos are doing and so I’ll lift my shirt and he’ll look and give his assessment: turning to Gay or Michele or Sarah and saying, “Daddy’s got a lot of boo-boos!” But one day, whe we were just getting up he got up on my bed and saw my side and wanted to help Daddy get better. So Gay and I told him he could GENTLY lay his hand ON TOP of my belly and pray for Jesus to help heal Daddy… and he did! Gay led him through a basic prayer of healing and Josh literally bounced away afterwards. The next day, when it was the very first day of him staying with me part of the day instead of going to the babysitters, we both laid down for nap time (I was ready LONG before he was) and he saw my side and asked “I pray for daddy?” I said yes and he gently laid his hand on my stomach like Gay had showed him and whispered something like “Jesus, heal Daddy’s boo-boos.”

I recognize that the main purpose of this whole thing was to remove a potentially cancerous tumor that had invaded my kidney… but I’m learning a lot about the love of my family and my church, about my own faith, and especially about having the faith of a little child.

Dear God, help me not to forget.

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Why God Made Moms (A Survey Report)

I received this by email from a distant cousin who works with me on genealogy stuff via internet. Thanks, Lowell!

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BRILLIANT answers given by 2nd grade school children to the following questions.

Why did God make mothers?

1. She’s the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.

2. Mostly to clean the house.

3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

How did God make mothers?

1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.

2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring

3. God made my Mom just the same like he made me. He Just used bigger parts.

What ingredients are mothers made of?

1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.

2. They had to get their start from men’s bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.

Why did God give you Your mother & not some other mom?

1. We’re related

2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people’s moms like me.

What kind of little girl was your mom?

1. My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.

2. I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be pretty bossy

3. They say she used to be nice.

What did mom need to know about dad before she married him?

1. His last name.

2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?

3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Why did your mom marry your dad?

1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my Mom eats a lot.

2. She got too old to do anything else with him.

3. My grandma says that Mom didn’t have her thinking cap on.

Who’s the boss at your house?

1. Mom doesn’t want to be boss, but she has to because dad’s such a goof ball.

2. Mom. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.

3. I guess Mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.

What’s the difference between moms & dads?

1. Moms work at work and work at home & dads just go to work at work.

2. Moms know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.

3. Dads are taller & stronger, but moms have all the real power ’cause that’s who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friend’s.

4. Moms have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.

What does your mom do in her spare time?

1. Mothers don’t do spare time.

2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.

What would it take to make your mom perfect?

1. On the inside she’s already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery

2. Diet You know, her hair. I’d diet, maybe blue.

If you could change one thing about your Mom, what would it be?

1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I’d get rid of that.

2. I’d make my Mom smarter. Then she would know it was my sister who did it and not me.

3. I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on the back of her head.

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OK… if you’re still reading after this LONG of a post, then you need to call or visit or write your mom! Just Do It! Git-R-Done!

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A Crafty Little Angel


I’m just starting to get to where I feel recovered enough to READ a blog, so this won’t be long… BUT when I was at the Allegheny General Hospital a lady named Dorothy brought up get well cards each day. (Mail Call is a wonderful thing!)
But beyond the cards, she gave me a little angel she had hand-made.

She said she had bought the head, the halo, and the harp, but everything else she made using noodles! A Peni noodle is the body/dress (sorry if I’m misspelling these… noodles are not my line of expertise… nor are crafts) and the arms are macaroni noodles. The wings are from a bowtie noodle and the hair is from pipi noodles (or something like that).

Any way… I was BLESSED!

Thought some of you crafty people might enjoy seeing this.

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