Zambia: part 5

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only.” – Marlow, Heart of Darkness

As I stepped onto a cornfield one day, I saw myself as the oppressor. I had no idea what to do, what fertilizing the field would require of me, but I still had the idea in my head that ultimately fertilizing the field is not my job—that I am destined for bigger and better things. But then I experienced a spiritual awakening and a moment of reconciliation.

As I walked and worked side by side with Derek, I recognized how little I was doing. Derek and the other caregivers spend hours bent over fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting. They continue in a lifestyle and structure that black Africans have been living for centuries. Perhaps oppression isn’t so direct today, the Africans are not physically enslaved to Westerners, but they are still suffering. And in Zambia, they are subject to both the West and the East. China and India seem to control the economy. China’s control of the mining industry is the current oppression the Zambians face. And I am still an oppressor.

But Derek didn’t seem to mind. He so graciously picked up my slack as we walked side by side sharing a bag of fertilizer. Row after row we walked, my legs sore from trying to keep my balance, my head covered in sweat, and my heart beating so fast. We completed each other, working as a single unit. It was the first time I felt connected to, loved by, and forgiven by a man I had just met.


Zambia: part 4

I have traveled through a land that seems so untouched by human hands, fresh, alive of its own right. I have seen places that only God has walked through.

Traveling by Land Cruiser was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world. To this day I cannot describe the feeling of driving through the undeveloped African bush and then suddenly seeing a small church building rise up over the tall bush grasses. In an instant, one could travel from nothingness into civilization.


Zambia: part 3

Arrival in Africa was the death of traditional academics this last semester, from which I haven’t recovered.

From Day 1 I knew that Zambia was where I would lose myself and start to find myself again. The first thing I wrote in my Zambia journal was How am I perceived by others? I started off making the trip about me. Maybe that was the result of cultural orientation, a sudden strong self-awareness—that has not ended.

Just as I am self-aware today, you don’t necessarily see it. For I often keep my thoughts to myself. Silence has many advantages. When you do not speak, other people presume you to be deaf or feeble-minded and promptly make a show of their own limitations. Only occasionally do I find I have to break my peace: shout or be lost in the shuffle. But mostly I am lost in the shuffle. You don't know me the way that I do.

I don’t know me the way that you do. It keeps us balanced, dancing this dance. But how I wish sometimes that you would tell me who I am, what I mean to you. Tell me what sympathy I deserve.

I never meant for my silence to be my strength. It’s the power through which I can keep secrets and deceive. Given a voice, I now have no secrets.


Zambia: part 2

“Let me claim that Africa and I kept company for awhile and then parted ways, as if we were both party to relations with a failed outcome. Or say I was afflicted with Africa like a bout of a rare disease, from which I have not managed a full recovery.” – Orleanna Price, The Poisonwood Bible

Who knew that Africa would be the death of me? Someone knew. Many knew. Anyone who had been to Africa before knew. I wonder if they kept it a secret. I wonder if they tried to tell me but I didn’t listen. I couldn’t listen. How could I know? How could I understand? I couldn’t. I had to experience it for myself. I had to die. Those who knew guarded the door of Darkness. Do I now do the same? Do I have a future of sitting around, knitting black wool and introducing others to the unknown? Will I sit there, scrutinizing the cheery faces, sending people to their deaths? There is no way I can prevent others from dying. I want others to die. I want others to experience Africa, the Darkness.

But there is now more than the Darkness. There is the light. Africa is also the light. Africa wounds. It heals as well, but not without scars.

I first stepped onto African land in the middle of the night. Johannesburg at night is a beautiful city. It was a similar experience to stepping outside the airport in Las Vegas. The warmth of the night hit me and I knew I was no longer in the midwestern United States. Everything was a rush. We just wanted to get to our hotel and settle in for the night. No time to dance underneath the African sky. No time to say a thankful prayer for our safe arrival. In our minds, we hadn’t arrived yet. Zambia was our destination, not South Africa. We were still in transit, in the developed world, not yet in the great unknown of the African bush.

One afternoon flight later and we were in Livingstone, Zambia. Stepping off the air-conditioned plane into the bright hot African sun was a shock to my body. It was the warmest January air I had ever experienced. Man oh man, are we in for it now… It [didn’t] look to me like we’re in charge of a thing, not even our own selves. No, after passing the immigration desk we met them, the white man and the black Zambian woman in tie-dye. They were in charge, and we were subject to their knowledge.

“Welcome to Zambia!”

Welcome to death.


Zambia: part 1

Just eleven days before the voyage to Africa, I sat in my living room watching Californication, a ridiculous show about a sex-addicted writer, and drinking a Bacardi and coke. Having just finished a cigarette, I began to write down my struggles and some of the most intimate details of my life in a pure, raw, and beautiful form. If I am to be honest about who I was before Africa, and for you to truly understand me and get a picture of who I am now, I need to share these things. They may hurt. They may change how you think of me, but that is the point. Remember, it is you who decides what sympathy I deserve.

(Names have been altered to protect the innocent.)


If it takes a show about sex, Bacardi and coke, and a cigarette to get me through the weekend, have I survived? Do I have to get fucked up in order to face this world and the situation I am in?

So much has been a long time coming, but suddenly all the hurts hit full force, when it’s not so convenient for me. Dad gets laid off. The family is a mess when they’re all together. I have to leave the country in 11 days. No one but "A" is in Joliet and really cares about my situation. Who am I left with to talk to?

Everyone fears loneliness. It’s a dreaded thing, yet I’ve spent many nights alone or at least semi-alone. Stuck with the old man sleeping, that breathing machine hissing in the other room. I struggle to fall asleep at night. Not even my new soft sheets give me comfort. I used to sleep only on my right side, leaving space open on the left of my bed, not used to the full mattress. Now, realizing that I have this space and it’s mine alone, I have managed to wear in the middle of the bed. I dream of having someone next to me. It would be nice. There’s no one. I think of those who I’ve wanted there, most recently "N". It’s never going to happen and I know that, but part of my heart is still with him. Who else have I wanted in my bed? Dare I say it. Two "M's", "J", perhaps even "J.L". I joke about the spiritual leaders who I’ve wanted to be mine in the flesh. Those brown-haired guitar players who sang me their songs of love and worship, although maybe it wasn’t so much of a performance, but I cannot help but remember singing along with or playing with each of them. Some of the most intimate moments of my life. I don’t even talk to these guys anymore. Some lame conversations every few months if that. A once a year lunch. A quick handshake and side hug that I only wish would turn into a long embrace. But how selfish am I? Just upset that I have no one to sleep with. That’s what started this whole thing anyway.

Who do you sleep with at night? That question still haunts me. In that cold, gray bathroom that smelled of sweat and urine I had no response to that question. I hid my emotions. I was silent. The kind of silence Jesus portrayed during his trial, the silence of the lamb being led to the slaughter. I was young and nervous, but I guess even in sixth grade I was curious about the other boys. I tried not to show it. Get in, get dressed, get out, right? Did I linger too long? The questions better left unanswered. But silence only leads to self-hatred, doubt, and resolves nothing. It was "J.J" (or was it me?) who broke the silence and changed everything. Does he even know?

That day will forever be in my memory. I was sitting there eating lunch when "J.J", who must have only been seven at the time, decided to tell my friends how I used to dress up like a girl and said that I wanted to be a girl. I was angry and I later started crying and had to tell someone everything. It was Mrs. D who I told first, that "A.A." and "T" continued to harass me in that bathroom, calling me gay and all sorts of things. It was she who took me up to the meeting where Mr. R, Mr. V, and my mom were there. Many tears were shed that day. Mom had left work at church to come to this meeting. It was a big deal.

Did nothing ever get solved? Did that moment in my life just add to my curiosity and sexual exploration? Have I had no self-esteem, no trustworthy people to talk to? And why bother now? Shoot, I’m going to be in Zambia for three months. That experience can be a turning point if I want it to, a time to stop thinking about sex for a while and really focusing on ministry and how my relationship with Jesus fits into the bigger picture. I’m concerned about coming home and falling back into routine. I keep dreaming of next summer, the ability to go out and drink and party where I want to, going to boys' town and maybe meeting someone. But why think of that now? I am totally unprepared for this trip. It’s what I’ve wanted for so long, but if I left tomorrow I would be in no state to handle it. Does that make any difference in the next 11 days? What can I do between now and then to get prepared?

There wasn’t much I could do, or did do, to get prepared. I had a packing list. I didn’t want to bring much. I don’t need much. And I was told to get used to not having much in Africa. Looking back now I realized I still overpacked. I never once wore those black dress shoes. I didn’t need so much deodorant or shampoo or body wash. Maybe I should have passed on those toilet paper rolls to the ladies. But at least I didn’t try to carry on any boxes of Betty Crocker cake mix. Nevertheless, I gathered some things together and headed back to campus. My bags even lacked textbooks, though I brought along the copy of Heart of Darkness that I was supposed to read in the summer of 2005 but never did. I just wanted to get back to the Indiana Wesleyan campus, see some friends, and leave the country for three months. I needed an escape. Dad lost his job in December and I knew I couldn’t handle living at home with him. Perhaps my absence would give him motivation. Maybe he’d land a job and when I had returned things would be good for us. I tried not to have my hopes too high. My motivation was the here-and-now—to get to Zambia, to love God, and to have community. Little did I know that I would face the real Africa, a place where I would die to myself, find new life, and where in the end it would seem that things had fallen apart.


Zambia: an introduction

"We need to let ourselves tell our stories of love—how love came to us over the course of our lives, or how it did not come, or how it left. We need to tell the story so that we understand." - Gerald May

She said to tell the story of how things fell apart—or how they didn’t. I say this is all part of a bigger story of love—love that sometimes came, sometimes didn’t, and sometimes left. If I don’t tell this story, I will never understand. If I don’t tell this story, you will never understand. But even after you read this, hear this, know this, you will still never understand. I was afflicted with Africa and changed forever. Although you may recognize that Zambia has impacted me, you may not always acknowledge the change. You have moved on. I understand. I have moved on too, but not without these scars. Don’t ask me to be who I was before Africa. I no longer know that person. Don’t ask. Instead be quiet, stay still. Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened. Listen to my story. Later on you can decide what sympathy I deserve.


I am dead.

I wrote this a few weeks ago, and it is the basis for starting this blog.


For out the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:34b

I spoke the truth this week. I brought darkness into light. The Spirit of God so stirred me to. I could not sleep. I felt uneasy. Exposing the truth was hard, but I know it was right, and I have learned from this.

Why did God choose me to do that? Who am I? I am dead.

Yes, dead, or so it seems or should be. I am dead. But there are two spirits still battling. My flesh is dead. That has been predetermined. This body will rot, will decay, will only give birth to those that feed off of death. But when my flesh is gone, rotted, dry bones left, no more will there be life in or around my flesh. I will be dead, so I am dead.

I am dead. God’s Spirit is alive. The Spirit is alive—in me. Somewhere in this flesh there is no life but that of the Spirit. Somewhere. Somehow. Some days.

The flesh, the sin nature, likes to try to resurrect itself sometimes. Or maybe it is still alive; I cannot figure that out. The physical and spiritual are so interconnected that I really do not know where one ends and the other begins. Paul understood this. He understood the struggle with sin even though we are supposed to be dead to sin and alive in Christ.

So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Romans 7:21-25

Paul says, In my mind [I] am a slave to God’s law, almost as if this is an illusion. Is it only an illusion? Are we all just wretches? Yes! We are. We are still in a state of sin. I am. I am dead. My continuation of sin is proof of that. I am dead.

God the Father, the Son, the Spirit is alive. The Spirit breathes into me the breath of life. The Spirit moves me to action. The Spirit in my heart directs me to speak the truth. I open my mouth, and it speaks. These things happen. They confuse my flesh. My mind asks for understanding, to learn how to be a better man, but there is no being a better man. That is another illusion. The truth is that I am a wretch. I will always be imperfect. My body is dying. My bones already ache. But one day, one time, outside of time, for eternity my spirit, my true self, will be fully redeemed. In a new, holy, perfect body I will glorify God. I will glorify the One who makes both the new and the old. I will be alive. Knowing this, I long for that day. This dead body experiences moments of life, moments when the Spirit of God uses this body to do good works.

Perhaps this is the great mystery of humanity. That a perfect God would use dead, lifeless flesh and breathe into it the breath of life. That God used clay, the dust of the earth, nonliving materials to create life and spirit. That spirit and matter have become one. They were meant to be one. That humans, both a man and a woman, sought to be like God, unhappy with their state of creation, and ate the fruit that caused the separation of the flesh and spirit. This disconnect, this fall, only led to a loving God remaining unchanged, yet now having opportunity to show that love to humanity in new ways. Redemption has since been the greatest manifestation of love. The flesh cannot survive on its own. The Spirit redeems the flesh.

Therefore, I am dead. The Spirit is alive, redeeming, restoring, and giving life to my death. In spite of my death, God is alive. Father, Son, Spirit is alive.