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Freedom Fighters

It’s a city on hills in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains—-with a name that looks strange to western eyes.  Aizawl.

Aizawl (pronounced “Is-all”) perches precariously in the steep Himalayan foothills of North East India.   It’s the cultural center of the Mizo people. A Welsh missionary named William Williams first brought news of Christ to the Mizo people 125 years ago, and they have become predominately Christian. The Presbyterian Church of Mizoram celebrated the missionary arrival on the Sunday we were in Aizawl.

But, Aizawl also lies precariously close to the border with Myanmar (Burma) and to the influx of cheap heroin and more recently invented drugs that are tempting and enslaving their children. As a result of intravenous drug use AIDS has been spreading with tragic consequences.  We heard of young people who inject heroin up to six times per day.  This can result in horribly ulcerated bodies as in the photo below.  We visited a young couple who are both HIV positive as a result of their drug use. We heard a church leader say he was thankful that Shalom was doing what the churches seem unable to do.

Ulcerated Leg of Intravenous Drug UserWorld Renew is privileged to help a courageous organization called Shalom to get hands-on involved with helping the teenagers of Aizawl to help their friends. With Shalom we are using funds raised in the EMBRACE AIDS campaign to enable the training of teenagers to use Facebook, WhatsApp, text messages and friendship coaching to help their friends face down the drug temptations and the potential enslavement and AIDS. Four HIV positive people, a medical doctor and a seminary graduate coordinator all work with the teen peer coaches. So, for me there is again wonder: at the way misuse of drugs destroys human dignity in the same place where a missionary miracle story happened, and at the way God’s kindness to humanity still shines through the people of SHALOM who have not turned their backs on the drug users and AIDs sufferers.

Teens as Peer Educators Using Social Media and Friendship

Mizo Teens as Peer Educators Using Social Media and Friendship

Laos: Deep Desire to Learn What happens to that hunger in the USA?

In the remote mountains of northern Laos World Renew works with people who, until this generation, never had the chance to go to school.  Now, we are able to bring elementary schools to the villages! The Akha women in this picture of a village development committee meeting are using photos to help them prioritize their village actions. They wish that they could at least speak the majority language of Laos so that they could participate with more confidence in markets and other aspects of social life.

Village Development Committee Planning

Village Development Committee Planning Using Pictures to Overcome Iliteracy

 

For teenagers and the most dedicated adults World Renew sponsors night literacy classes.  Here a dedicated community teacher takes on the added challenge of working with adults whose mother tongue is different than the majority language of Laos.   To me, it seems like such a painstaking process.

Literacy Class At Night in Laos

Literacy Class At Night in Laos

Laos Literacy Class At Night Students

Laos Literacy Class At Night Students

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laos: Elementary School We Built Together

Laos: Elementary School We Built Together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a riddle that’s hard for me to unravel.  Last Saturday a friend of mine told me about his Mexican- American son who recently dropped out of community college even though he had full financial support.   At least this son completed high school.   But, this story and so many others leave me wondering what happens to the hunger to learn among so many of our children in the United States?

 

 

 

Laos Village Swing at Sunrise

5:45 AM.  The sleeping bag didn’t want to let me get  out.  But sunrise called  for ambition.   A chance to take a pretty picture. I’m glad I did.

In northern Laos the Akha people we work with make some wonderful swings.  We did not get a chance to see them in action, but I can imagine the swinging.  I used to swing our kids, pushing them higher and higher, telling them they were going to the moon.

 

I don’t know exactly why, but the Akha village swing connected me to the memory of Robert Frost’s poem, Birches. 

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay. Ice-storms do that.…..

 

Sunrise in Laos Mountains

Sunrise in Laos Mountains

The “lakes” of clouds in mountain valleys at sunrise are awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating Together in Laos

Something powerful goes with eating cross culturally.  Learning acceptance of others’ ways is one thing, for sure.  Gratitude for others’ hospitality and care, is another thing, for sure.  I notice that in the Bible, this was one of the really hard things for the Christians of the 1st century.  In the book of Acts Peter needed a vision and something like a conversion experience to get over his prejudices about the Roman’s food and later, in the book of Galatians, he got a stern confrontation from Paul about his food hypocrisy.   In Laos I experienced the hospitality of Akha villagers to have us sleep in their homes, cook in their kitchens, eat the food they eat, and even have meetings in their living rooms!

Here are a few pictures:

Eating Together World Renew Staff Laos

Eating Together World Renew Staff Laos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open Hearth Fire

Open Hearth Fire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cotton Preparation in the Kitchen

Cotton Preparation in the Kitchen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community Planning Meeting in the Living Room Next to the Kitchen

Community Planning Meeting in the Living Room Next to the Kitchen

 

Calendars and Time: How We Organize Our Lives

If you click on the picture below an amazing world of village life in among the Rshi people we work with in northern Laos opens up for you.   Thanks to a wonderful photographer, Ari, for sharing this photo collage calendar.

 

Rshi Calendar of Yearly Events

Rshi Calendar of Yearly Events

Where do Chickens Come From?

Nest in Cambodia

Nest in Cambodia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My dad had two “coops” in the back yard.  One for keeping about 20 chickens and one for keeping about 20 rabbits.   It was my job to take care of them all.  So, I got to know some of the peculiar ways of chickens.    But, I never stopped to ask where the first chickens came from, and I never thought about it. My friend Steve tells me that the chickens we eat in the USA came originally from the red jungle fowl of Asia (The internet  says so, too.) and that the Cambodian chickens we see today look to be pretty close relatives of those original chickens, Gallus gallus.    Umm….those skinny creatures  are close relatives of  the original chickens.    Somehow that makes those chickens more interesting!

Cambodian Chickens

Cambodian Chickens: Gallus gallus?

 

A Long View: Cambodians Telling the History of Christians in Cambodia

Every people has a story.  And, it’s often and inspiring thing to listen to people tell their story or their history.  In this case I’d like to share some snap shots of the story young Cambodian Christians shared with us a couple of weeks ago.   It’s a timeline story of colonialism, persecution, war, refugee camps, missionaries, and now a young church in a young country.  It’s a story with some wonder in it: How has God been working in times of colonialism, persecution, traumatic war in Cambodia?

Early History of Christianity in Cambodia

Early History of Christianity in Cambodia

 

From the 1500s, Roman Catholic missionaries came to Cambodia.  In 1923 the first Protestant missionaries came.  There were only about 2000 Christians in the whole country during much of the French colonial period.  In 1965 the missionaries were driven out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1965 Onward

1965 Onward

 

There was a Bible translation in the 1960s.   I’ve heard that it has no punctuation and that the verse numbers have been used instead of commas and periods—- as pause points for the readers.    The Lon Nol rule began in 1970.   (My understanding is that Lon Nol’s regime was supported by the US government during the Vietnam War era.) There was a time of religious freedom before the 1975 withdrawal of the US forces from Vietnam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1975-1992

1975-1992

 

 

There was a time of terror.   In 1975 the Pol Pot reign of terror began  and Christians were killed; many people went to refugee camps.  Other Christians became an underground church in Cambodia.    In the camps many became Christians.   Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979 to put a stop to Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1991 Onwards

1991 Onwards

 

The UN peace keepers brought in a wave of international funds and also HIV in the years between 1991 and 1993.  The Christian Church grew rapidly.  There was an evangelistic crusade around 1995-6 that promised healing miracles.  Some people sold their land or animals in order to pay for healing miracles that did not happen.    The name of Christ was shamed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Whole Timeline--Thanks to the Lord for his mercy

The Whole Timeline–Thanks to the Lord for his mercy

 

 

More on What It’s Like to Live on Top of An Ancient Mayan City

The thing I wonder about is why some trees grow so well in the soil on top of the ancient Mayan City of Santa Rita while other trees struggle mightily.  Some trees live on for years with yellow leaves and dead ends of their branches.

Archeologists say that the seeds of the bread nut tree are said to have been one of  the things Mayan people ate during times of drought.   These bread nut trees still grow just fine on top of the ruins of Santa Rita.

Bread Nut Trees Grow Down into the Old Buildings

Bread Nut Trees Grow Down into the Old Buildings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The neem tree and the jacaranda tree both have yellow leaves, but the neem has grown big and strong while the jacaranda has dead branches and struggles to survive.    Although the tree  struggles, the chachalaca made her nest in it.

Healthy Neem Tree and Struggling Jacaranda Tree

Healthy Neem Tree and Struggling Jacaranda Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healthy Moringa Tree

Healthy Moringa Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes the moringa trees die in this soil and sometimes they continue living for more than 20 years.

The Mexican Cedar tree is well-adapted and thrives here.   When the dry season lasts too long, it sheds its leaves, acting like a deciduous tree in the tropics.

Mexican Cedar Tree

Mexican Cedar Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bats and Ebola

The ebola disease outbreak is really frightening.  But, fear should not paralyze us.

World Renew, the organization I work with, is gathering donations to help the people in West Africa.     Simple things can be a help: like setting up hand washing stations where people can wash their hands with water with bleach in it, and learn how to disinfect their homes and belongings with bleach.  And, health workers need protective equipment.    To help as many people as we can we are collaborating with the Christian the Christian Health Association of Liberia (CHAL), Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM), the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone (CCSL), Christian Extension Services (CES), and the Christian Reformed Church of Sierra Leone. If you would like to help us in this needed work, here is the web site: https://secure3.convio.net/crcna/site/Donation2?df_id=5700&5700.donation=form1&campaign_id=11402

There is a lot to learn about in this ebola story.  Part of the story is about bats.  Lots of think of them as creepy creatures and almost never see them nor want to see them!

For me, it was an amazing site to see those swirling shapes in Lira, northern Uganda.   There must have been thousands of bats hovering over those trees.     I wish I had taken a picture, but it was getting dark and we were all tired.  (So, the pictures below are some that I’ve found on the internet.) That was back in April.     In July I started hearing about the ebola outbreak in West Africa as probably linked to people eating bats, an idea that would have never occurred to me except that I had seen that great swarm of bats in Uganda.  Yes, I can see how easy it would be to catch bats or shoot them to eat. Easy pickings!

Bat flying HighSo, I’ve been reading up on bats in Africa.  It turns out that many of the species are fruit bats and, within the amazing ecosystems God has created, these bats pollinate and spread the seeds of as much as 60% of the plants of the forests where they live.   They also devour insects.  Some of the species migrate more than 1000 miles, following the fruiting seasons of the trees.   So, the idea of killing off the bats would be an ecological disaster.  If you are interested, see http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/23/ebola-outbreak-blamed-on-fruit-bats-africa

The straw-colored fruit bats could well have been what I saw. Here is  picture that shows them flying in good light.

straw colored fruit bats #2

Treasuring the Harvest

Collecting Apples Discarded on the Ground

Collecting Apples Discarded on the Ground

The rain comes down with a cold bite.   But, sometimes the sun shines brilliantly.   It’s harvest time in the temperate zone and that includes here in Michigan.

Honey Crisp.  It’s a type of apple that sells for a very high price because of the good taste.    But, it turns out that you can go to orchards and pick these apples up from the ground for about 1/10 of the price.     There they have been discarded by the pickers, for any slight blemish.  What a treasure of goodness that is at risk of being lost.   I hear that blemished apples used to be made into apple cider but that this is now disallowed.   So, they are left on the ground.

 

 

 

Precious Peppers

Precious Peppers

Meanwhile we harvest our habanero peppers with great care.  Each one is almost like a precious baby.     At this time of year a killing frost is possible at any time and the habanero pepper bushes are still full of green peppers, and we are running out of warm days to make them ripen.  So harvesting the ripe ones has the feeling of treasuring each day of warmth.   ( I think that the worm compost and growing them in large pots helped them flourish a bit better this year.)