April 25, 2015

Thailand = Habits Can Be Broken

As far back as I can remember I have been a side and stomach sleeper. My earliest childhood memories are of me lying in bed at night on my side as I dreamed about flying like superman (without the silly underwear and cape!). I cannot recall a time when I slept on my back. I know this is an odd way to start so just stay with me.

I had often heard great things about Thailand so it became the first stop on my around the world trip. I landed in Bangkok on January 20, 2001 and spent a month exploring the length and breadth of the country. From Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Mae Hong Son in the far northern provinces, to the Similan Islands, Phuket, and Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south. Thailand is a beautiful country to visit, is extremely affordable, and offers an enjoyable tropical climate.

However… the beds are as hard as rocks! (Do a web search about hard beds in Thailand.) Even the rocks in Thailand are as hard as rocks. I slept on beds like rocks and many nights I slept on rocks or sand or dirt under the stars. In order to see the length and breadth of the country on the cheap I backpacked. I didn’t walk everywhere I went but I also didn’t bring much luggage. I most often stayed in rooms that cost less than $3.00 a night and routinely slept on the ground when there wasn’t a room to be found.

From waking up and boarding a plane in London on January 19, 2001, I was up for about 58 hours with only 4 hours of sleep. Between the excitement of the start of my around the world adventure, an overnight flight, immediately driving 12 hours north once arriving in Bangkok, and the beds being as hard as rocks, I didn’t get much sleep my first three days in Thailand.

You see I had a lifetime habit of sleeping on my side or stomach. That served me well on the soft beds in the Western Countries of the world but it is killer when sleeping on hard beds or the ground. It took me less than three days in Thailand to realize that Habits Can Be Broken. Good habits, bad habits, habits without any moral value.

Once I learned to sleep on my back the delirium vanished and I stopped seeing things that weren’t there. ☺ The hard beds or lack of beds in Thailand taught me that I could make adjustments in life and even change a lifetime habit that had failed to serve me well in a new context. As is commonly known, habits are hard to break. So as I go to bed each night, on my back, I sometimes think about the rocks in Thailand and what I learned by visiting that place.

April 22, 2015

American Samoa = Dreams Are Costly

My beautiful picture

Stranded! Yep. That’s right.

So, big dreams are worth dreaming. They really are. However, they don’t come true without cost – sometimes financial, sometimes physical or time related. I certainly paid for that trip from Ofu to Pago Pago, American Samoa. I paid with no financial cost but with much physical discomfort!

After already traveling over 15,000 miles from London, through Southeast Asia and Australia to New Zealand, I still had a ways to go before hitting Ofu, American Samoa.

This may get a little confusing, but here goes.

To get to Pago Pago, American Samoa I had to fly from Auckland, New Zealand to Apia, Samoa. (Samoa is a sovereign nation all on its own.) The flight time was well over four hours and the distance was about 1,800 miles over the Pacific Ocean.

After recouping in Apia for a couple of days, I left the jets behind and boarded a dragonfly, er, I mean commercial airliner and flew to Pago, Pago – the capital of American Samoa.

I then took another commercial airliner to Ofu. All went well and we had a great time. But when it was time to leave the weather turned bad and the flight was cancelled. And the next day the flight was cancelled. Okay, so now what?

Since there weren’t hotels on the little island I stayed in the home of one of the locals. He happened to know the captain of a cargo ship and he said he would check to see if we could hitch a ride back to Pago Pago. After negotiations and much waiting, I walked aboard a small cargo ship bound for the capital.

I should have known better... The wind was too rough for the little planes to fly. But the wind certainly wouldn’t bother the mighty Pacific Ocean! Wrong. It seemed like a grand adventure and all went well for about 20 minutes. Between the boat pounding up and down in the ocean and the smell from the diesel engine, I got seasick. Then I got really seasick. Then I lay down on the deck of the boat for 8 hours until we pulled into the harbor at Pago Pago sometime after midnight.

Having a love for photography as I do, one would think that I would have taken a whole roll of film. I took a picture leaving Ofu. I took another one when we arrived at Pago Pago. That was all I could manage. (I heard the sunset was beautiful.)

What did I learn from this misadventure? American Samoa had already taught me that big dreams are worth dreaming. But there was still wisdom left in those little islands and this was my second lesson: Dreams Are Costly. I didn’t pay a dime to board that cargo ship. It was a free ride, financially speaking. However, 8 hours on the open sea wreaked havoc on my inner ear and the unmistakable feeling of nausea was my constant companion. The dream was still worth dreaming, I just didn’t know that the tab was still running.

Stranded & Saved Through Pain

  • My beautiful picture

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April 17, 2015

American Samoa = Big Dreams Are Worth Dreaming

When I graduated college I did a two-year internship in London. I met Brent, another American, who was doing the same thing as me. As our two years came to a close we hatched a plan to make the most of our return journey home. The company paid for my plane ticket from London to Florida. I asked if it would be possible to get the price of the return ticket in cash and then make my own way home. That seemed like a reasonable proposition and it was accepted. Brent did the same thing. We had some cash, now we had to come up with a plan.

Here is how our thinking went. We are not going to fly from London to Florida. That’s boring. What about a boat? We will cruise across the Atlantic. And we can stop off at…um…um… Bermuda…and then…um…Well maybe not. How about a Eurorail pass? For one relatively low price we can ride across Europe on our way home to Florida. Uh, no. That doesn’t help much. Europe is farther away than England. All that does is drive up the price of trip home.

Okay, let’s dream big. We don’t want to fly west. What’s the point? The boat across the frigid Atlantic in January conjures up tragic scenes from the Titanic. There aren’t any railroad tracks that go from Europe to America. How else can we get home? Why…don’t…we…fly…east? Yes, east! If we keep flying east we will eventually get to America. It may be 21,000 miles out of the way, but what could we see during that time?!

Well that is exactly what we did. We bought around the world tickets on the Star Alliance network of airlines. We traveled east, always east. We could make up to 10 stops as long as we travelled less than 29,000 miles. We went to Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia (overland by train), Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, American Samoa, Fiji, and finally we landed in L.A. We took ten weeks and saw the world.

What does this have to do with a tiny island territory in the South Pacific called American Samoa? When I dreamed up the idea for an around the world adventure I didn’t know that there was a place called American Samoa. I discovered it in a travel guide of the National Parks of America. Since American Samoa is a U.S. territory, and because it is picturesque beyond words, we have a national park there. (There are actually parks on all three islands.) I wanted to see this place that I previously didn’t know existed. I especially wanted to go there because the islands received very few visitors. It was as beautiful and unspoiled as the post cards. We spent one whole day on a deserted beach on the island of Ofu. The only person we saw was a lone fisherman in a small boat several hundred yards beyond the surf.

Soaking in the pristine tropical paradise of American Samoa brought home to me the lesson that Big Dreams are Worth Dreaming. 100% of the dreams that we don’t dream won’t come true. Dream big and enjoy it.

(All of these photos were taken with a film camera and the negatives were digitally scanned. The quality is not a good as I would have hoped.)

A Long Way From Home - Ofu Beach, American Samoa

Ofu Beach, American Samoa
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April 15, 2015

Greece = Holding on to What’s Precious

What was lost is found!

In keeping with the recent theme of visiting ancient places I am going to highlight an important lesson that my whole family learned while in Greece. In the summer of 2013 my family and I traveled there. We took some time and ventured into Athens to see some of the ancient ruins. We spent time walking up to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon and to get the view of the city from the rocky outcrop.

Lost in the Crowd

We weren’t the only ones making the trek that day. We were surrounded by a multitude of people from many different nations. We all had the same bright idea to walk to the Acropolis on a clear and sunny day. Though we have been to many different countries with our children, and though we gave our usual warnings to the kids of sticking close to us, one of them got lost. I thought that Angie had Kayla and she thought that I had her. Kayla was seven years old at the time.

As the crowd of people slowly moved up the hill to the Parthenon, Kayla had lost sight of both of us. It wasn’t long before Angie and I realized what had happened. We said a frantic prayer and set out scouring the crowd for our precious jewel. Though we found her quickly and all was well, the incident left a deep mark on all of us.

Holding On

Holding on to what is precious

Kayla hasn’t been the same since and she still doesn’t like to talk about it. When we go out in public she always stays close to us now. She also gets nervous when Ellie and Mark wander farther away than she thinks they should. Our trip to Greece taught us an unexpected but deeply lasting lesson: Hold on to What’s Precious. In that specific incident it was our lovely Kayla that slipped through our fingers, but that lesson could apply to any number of things – relationships, ideals, one’s own integrity and character. Life is too short to leave behind what is precious.

April 12, 2015

Israel = Places are Important

Men at the Synagogue

In the spring of 2011 I had the pleasure of going to Israel. It was the fulfillment of a life dream. For those who know me personally it should be easy to tell that my Christian faith is central to who I am. At an early age I recognized the seriousness of my sin, the separation it caused between me and my Creator, and that Jesus Christ was the only way back into fellowship with God. I believed early in life and have only grown more confident of this truth.

Most often I visit places from a historical perspective. I try to understand the background of what I am going to see and experience. In my previous post about Malta I mentioned many historical facts. I prepared for that trip by reading a couple of books on the history of the place. As I walked around Malta and smelled the sea air, I asked questions about the people who built these ruined places. I wondered what their daily lives were like, how long was their life expectancy, and did they live to see their grandchildren born.

I prepared for my Israel trip in an utterly different way. I had already spent untold hours in my life studying about the history, culture, and significance of the land of Israel. This was the first time I remember visiting a place when I actually prepared my heart rather than my head.

While hiking the hills around Galilee and sailing on the sea, I understood in a deep experiential way that some places are special. As I walked the hills and looked down at the ground, I pondered that this was the very ground that God incarnate chose to live out His earthly life. It was in this area that Jesus walked on the water. It was on these hills that Jesus feed and taught the multitudes. He spoke to them in words that I would be reading 2,000 years later – living words that bring life and are life. While Christ came to die for the hope of the entire world, the land and people of Israel are set apart. They are set apart because God set them apart. It is here in Israel that I learned that Places are Important.

April 10, 2015

Turkey = Less People is More Better

I traveled to Turkey many times over a three-year period before it became my home for four years. I have spent time all over the country, from the Black Sea to the Aegean and Mediterranean, and from the interior to the borders of Syria. The country is steeped in ancient history and culture like few places are. It is definitely worth a visit!

The place that I lived for four years was the megacity of Istanbul. It was the ancient town of Byzantium and for over a thousand years it was known as Constantinople. The Roman Emperor Constantine made it his imperial capital in 325 A.D. Eventually the city fell from Byzantine power and it became the new capital of the Ottoman Empire in 1453. It is now the economic and cultural center of Turkey. The city has an unofficial population that pushes 17 million people. I say unofficial because illegal aliens from neighboring nations tend to scurry and hide when the official census is taken. ☺

Istanbul is the only city in the world that spans two continents: Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus Strait is a water channel that separates the two halves of the city. Millions of people daily commute to work from the continent of Asia to Europe. It is a bustling and busy city that is always active. It seems there are as many stray cats as there are people.

Turkey in general and Istanbul in particular are truly fascinating places. The Bosphorus ferry crossings, the ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman ruins, and a mixture of European and Asian cultures makes this a place like no other. However, the city comes with such a large and active population that it never sleeps. Some people thrive in cities and love the fact that a place is always active. I wasn’t in Istanbul long before I learned that this former farm boy wasn’t cut out to live in a megacity. Give me open green spaces. Give me clean air, free from the sounds of car horns and the smell of car exhaust. Turkey taught me many things but the lesson that easily bubbles to the top is this: Less people is more better!

  • Kız Kulesi

    A heavily underexposed image of Maiden's Tower

  • Kız Kulesi

    Maiden's Tower at the southern entrance of the Boshorus.

April 5, 2015

England = Finding Community

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I have lived in England for 21% of my life. More than one year in five. It’s really hard for me to believe that. I didn’t intend for this to happen but I have enjoyed it nonetheless. I called England my home during three major life stages. I first moved there in 1999 as a single man in my early twenties. I moved back as a newly wed and we had our first child there. Several years later, in 2009, Angie and I returned to live with three children in tow.

As I reflected on my time in country I was most impressed with the word community. We left Germany six years ago and moved to Surrey County, England. It is a good size county that borders the London boroughs on the south side. We were able to secure spots for our children at a quaint village primary school in Westcott. However, we were unable to find a house in the village so we lived in a larger town a few miles away. This may not sound like a big deal in America but it is in England. People walk a lot more there! People also try to do things within their community – like church, school, shopping, post office, and recreation. It is less common for people to drive seven miles to church like I do in Florida.

Though we had school and church in the community of Westcott, we didn’t live within the community. We didn’t use the little post office, the local bakery, or pick up odds and ends in the little corner shop. We didn’t walk our children to and from school each day. People couldn’t just stop by as they were out walking. We still lived outside and ventured in. About 15 months came and went before our landlord sold our flat. Being required to relocate, we were thankful to find housing within the village of Westcott and it wasn’t long before we fully integrated into the community. A community is a collection of individuals and families who share a sense of unity and relatedness. That is what we found in Westcott. We found it as foreigners. We found it for the first time in all of our years of living overseas. We found a place where we belonged.

About 10 months ago we had to leave England due to immigration issues. As Angie and I reflected on why we were having such a hard time emotionally with leaving, we quickly came to realize it was because we were leaving our community. We were leaving people that we loved. Certainly, we were heading to Iowa and Florida where we were loved as well, but neither of those places had been home for us for a long time.

I didn’t feel part of a community when I lived in England as a single man. We didn’t feel part of the community the year we lived there when Ellie was born. On my third go around we found a community of people in a foreign land and we grieved to leave that place and those people. Pieces of our hearts are in Westcott. It’s because We Found Our Community. That is what I most remember when I reflect on what I have learned living in England.

March 31, 2015

Afghanistan = Learning How To Be Thankful

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(This is my second post on what I learned in Afghanistan.)

There was no regular medical care. There was no electricity. There was no running water. It was northern Afghanistan…the back of beyond. My friend was already in the country doing various aid projects. I went to Afghanistan to help prepare the way for a medical team of doctors and nurses from America. They were coming to do medical relief work in the war torn and ravaged country.

I remember how dry and dusty the place was. The dust was as fine as flour. We took the horses out one day, several hours into the mountains, and we got caught in a terrible dust storm. It was like something out of a Hollywood film…an unpleasant but memorable experience.

We were regularly flocked with people anytime we ventured out into the village. There was one time when my friend and I took a Frisbee into the open field and we had over 50 curious people (including a load of children) who came to watch, laugh, and try to participate. The children and townspeople hadn’t seen a toy such as that before.

I do not know where they came from or if they were even legitimate but I could actually purchase Hi-C drinks. You know the ones in the little silver plastic triangular cartons. When I finished drinking one I would give it to the children and they would blow them up and use them as boats. They didn’t have toys and so they made do with anything they could find. They certainly couldn’t afford to buy a Hi-C drink but they were overjoyed to have the empty carton to play with.

Without going into any detail, I ended up getting a number of physical ailments during my time there. One of them was a severe case of strep throat. I didn’t have medical care to deal with it properly. After preparations were made for the medical team, they arrived by helicopter from Dushanbe, Tajikistan. I had been praying that I would be able to jump aboard the helicopter for the return trip. I didn’t want to travel back to Dushanbe for 8 hours on dirt roads, with all of those checkpoints while still feeling sick. God heard my prayers and I hopped aboard an old (but still working!) Soviet helicopter. The dusty and bumpy 8-hour road trip/river crossing turned into a 58-minute ride in the air. It was great!

Traveling to Afghanistan left an indelible impression on my life. It was there that I learned the valuable lesson of Thankfulness. I became more thankful for electricity, running water, air conditioning, ice, cold drinks, fresh fruit, breakfast and medicine. Over 15 years later I still say a short prayer of thankfulness for hot running water. It is so hard to recognize how much we truly have until we see how others live without. Around this globe there are still people today living as if they were in the Middle Ages. If you are reading this then you can’t likely count yourself as one of them, but you can be thankful about that. ☺

March 22, 2015

Afghanistan = Freedom Matters

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Not long after my trip to Pakistan I headed to northern Afghanistan. I had a slew of inoculations (shots!!) to get and I bought a couple of flea collars. I never thought I would buy those for myself! While in Afghanistan I needed to sleep with one of them on my wrist and one on my ankle. Nice.

The route into the country was through the Pamir Mountains from Tajikistan. I had a 5-hour drive from Dushanbe, Tajikistan and there were 8 checkpoints along the way, including police, KGB, Russian military, and customs. I paid a man $20 to take me in a rusted tank of a boat across the Amu Darya River. I had another 2-hour drive from Dasti-i-Qala to Rostaq.

Getting Inside

It was the spring of 2000 and the Taliban had already seized control of the southern and central part of the country. They were working hard to take control of the north but beleaguered resistance was holding them at bay.

At the time over 1.2 million Afghan refugees still resided in Pakistan. More than six million Afghans fled during the U.S.S.R. occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Once the Soviets retreated the Afghan civil war began immediately and it was still raging strong when I was there. One evening, about 30 miles away, the Taliban had a bombing run on the town of Talaqan. Nine homes where destroyed and eight people were killed. They were all civilians. The harsh reality of that place set in quickly.

I was immediately struck with thankfulness for the peaceful freedoms that we enjoy in America. Our freedoms were won generations ago. While we still fight to defend our freedoms, we do just that – we defend them. You can’t defend what you don’t already possess. Freedom Matters!

In Afghanistan I was among a people who didn’t possess freedoms. The Bill of Rights did not exist. No Freedom of the Press. No Freedom of Religion. There was no such thing as gender equality or equal opportunity housing. It is hard to recognize how wealthy we are in freedom if we stay in America or only travel to other Western areas. Traveling to Afghanistan immediately pressed upon me a humble and grateful heart for the freedoms that we enjoy in America and the necessity of protecting them.

March 19, 2015

Pakistan = Water Brings Life

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The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was born in 1947 when Great Britain partitioned India. This gave Muslims of the subcontinent a homeland and haven, and separated them from the Hindus. This was Britain’s last pronounced act before relinquishing control of their prized India. Pak means pure and stan means land of. Land of the Pure directly speaks to the separation of Muslims from the Hindus of India.

I went to Pakistan in early 2000. My time was spent in Islamabad (the capital) and a couple of frontier cities on the border with Afghanistan. At the time there was a severe drought in a couple provinces of Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. Apricot and almond trees that provided the livelihood of surrounding villages had withered and were without fruit. Whole livestock herds were dying, and one village in the Sindh had lost over 400 people due to the lack of food and water. The area had received one inch of rain in the previous three years. Afghanistan's nomads, called Koochis, lost up to 80 percent of their cattle because of the severe water shortage.

I spent time in refugee camps and was surrounded by thousands of people who were just trying to survive. While there I met with a World Food Program official and he said the water wells were bone dry, camel carcasses rotted in the blistering sun, and entire villages in southern Afghanistan talked of leaving the drought-ravaged area for neighboring Pakistan. When camels are dying from lack of water, it is without a doubt a drought.

Dusty Haze

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But Pakistan had still more problems. Since the military coup in the fall of 1999, it was once again under marshal law. Between the time that I was there in early 2000 and its founding in 1947, 40% of Pakistan’s existence had been lived under marshal law. I saw a few things that alerted me to the military presence but I encountered nothing blatant or scary about having the military in power.

In Pakistan I saw about every color of brown and gray that could be imagined. I was living in England at the time of my travels to Pakistan, and upon returning to that that lush and bountiful land I was overcome with the color green. Green! Oh, what a beautiful hue! It reminded me of the song The Color Green by Rich Mullins. His poetry speaks of the bursting fields of Ireland.

“Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made Blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise.”

The drought in Pakistan and the resulting loss of plant, animal, and human life taught me that water, in fact, gives life. Of course it does! I knew that before I went. I am well acquainted with water. I was born and raised in Florida, which is a peninsula. I grew up on a strawberry farm and when we irrigated our fields the water brought them to life. However, I had never seen the stark contrast of life without water, which is death. We cannot survive without water. The next time you see the rain falling on the plains, or drive by a lake or river overflowing, or fill your glass from the tap with a pure, clear liquid, be very thankful. You have access to life. Water Brings Life!

*My Pakistan photos are from a film camera. This is the best quality of photos I have from that trip.

March 15, 2015

Chile = Learning to Slow Down

I learned another lesson in Chile. It is a lesson that I could have learned in a myriad of places around the globe. I could have even learned this lesson in my own hometown.

After a few days in Santiago, I left the city and headed east into the quiet country along the Comino Al Volcan. We stayed near the Cascada de Las Animas, about 20 miles from the Argentine border. We took a half a day and had an adventure in nature, driving the dirt roads up into volcano country and getting as close to the border as the road would allow. We had to dodge mining trucks and men on horseback. We almost ran out of gas. We stayed out late, and watched the stars. It was an adventure.

The very next day and the day after, I…did…nothing. I stopped and rested. I got very well acquainted with a hammock. I reflected, napped, thought, prayed, and enjoyed just being. It was a time that I wasn’t wishing away but one I was relishing and hoping would last a long time.

I could have spent the day adventuring again, but you know, sometimes you just need to rest. Even our Creator rested on the seventh day. I don’t expect He did it because He was tired. God doesn’t get tired. I expect He rested to set an example for us. I certainly get tired. I need rest. I need time to sit back and relax. To reflect on what has transpired in the previous week, or month, or year. It is too easy to remain “on” in our world today. Chile taught me a lesson that I had learned before but forgotten. Chile reminded me The Value of Slowing Down.

Adventure & Rest

  • Mountain Meadow

    Horses in a mountain meadow, over 6,000 feet above sea level

March 11, 2015

Chile = Beware of Stereotypes

In January of 2014 I travelled to Santiago, Chile and into the surrounding area. It is the farthest south that I have been on that continent. Founded in 1541, and named after Saint James, Santiago is a city of 5 million and is a delightful mix of old world-colonial and sophisticated-modern. The way the city merged and blended these time periods together is something to behold.

Old World & New World

There were several places where I couldn’t take a picture of an old world building without seeing a skyscraper in the frame. One could think that this would detract from the beauty of the city, but it didn’t in my opinion. It added a sense of depth and longevity. I heard these centuries old buildings whispering to their new upstart neighbors and telling them stories of the city’s history.

St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565, is America’s oldest city. Though it has some history, it doesn’t have the major metropolitan feel that Santiago has. I am unaware of a like-city in the United States. I haven’t widely traveled South America so I don’t know from personal experience, but it could be that Santiago is a place all of its own. I had been to a few other South American countries before coming to Chile and this country doesn’t seem to fit my mold of South America. It is more Western than I expected but it’s not North American. It has a lot of colonial flair but it’s not European. It’s a unique, eclectic place.

This got me to thinking about assumptions, stereotypes, and preconceived notions. We all have them. I don’t expect that we could live life well without them. We need them because they help us make sense of the world. However, we need to be careful and allow these assumptions, stereotypes, and preconceived notions to be challenged and updated. And besides that, not everything fits a stereotype. Santiago is a prime example for me. Chile taught me to be a leaner, to allow room for my stereotypes to be foiled.

Santiago Pictures

March 7, 2015

South Africa = Suffering Can Bring Transformation

When in South Africa I took a trip down to the southern coastal city of Cape Town. Four miles across the bay is Robben Island. It was the notorious apartheid prison that held many political prisoners, most notably Nelson Mandela. He slept on the floor in a tiny room for 18 years, and was forced to a life of hard labor, breaking rocks into gravel with a hammer while exposed to the elements.

For several years Mr. Mandela hated and despised his captors. They were cruel, belittling, unjust, and he regularly suffered at their hands. He eventually came to see that his hatred and bitterness was poisoning his soul. He was able to rise above the suffering by recognizing his tormentors were human and they had their own issues and problems. He began to study them and he learned their language and culture. He befriended them in a most remarkable way and bitter hatred no longer had a home in his heart.

Mr. Mandela is a testimony to the fact that suffering can bring transformation but it is a choice. Many people suffer unjustly. It is the world we live in. How one responds to that suffering decides whether or not he becomes better or worse. Many succumb to the bitterness and hatred and their soul becomes rotten. Mr. Mandela’s rising above is so remarkable that he was able to unite a torn nation and heal centuries of conflict in just a couple of decades. He chose to allow His suffering to transform him. I desire the same for mine.

Robben Island

  • So Close But Yet, So Far

    View of Table Mountain and Cape Town from Robben Island. It is about 4 miles to the mainland.

  • Reliving the Past

    A political prisoner telling his story, the story of Robben Island, and the story of freedom.

  • Captive

    A prison door lock that confined political prisoners

  • Remembrance Stones on Robben Island

    A rock pile at the quarry that was started by Nelson Mandela when he returned to the island as a free man. Over the years other apartheid prisoners have added their own rocks to the pile.

March 5, 2015

South Africa = Taking Pictures of Animals

I have been to South Africa three times and two lessons learned quickly come to mind. I will share one today and one later. The first is simply this: I like to take pictures of animals. There you go. I didn’t know that before I went.

On all three trips to South Africa I was able to visit a national park. To put it another way, I was able to go on safari! We would get up very early in the morning and drive through thousands of square miles of nature preserves. At various points in the journey I became surrounded by exotic birds, elephants, Cape buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, and even lions. These unusual creatures fascinated me as I watched them. I wanted to photograph them. The colorful feathers, the distinctive skin markings and patterns were just beautiful.

Now it could be because of The Lion King, but I had thought that hyenas were despicable and ugly, and though they still may be, I saw a tender side of a mother taking care of her cubs. I watched as a pride of lions feasted on their prey. On three occasions we were able to spot the elusive leopard (my favorite of all). And even the birds were captivating and worth photographing. Who knew I liked to take pictures of animals? I didn’t know that but I learned it in South Africa. I took this newfound joy and have even been spotted taking pictures of animals in England and America!

Hungry Lions

Animal Pictures

March 1, 2015

Malta = The Best Vacation Ever

My family and I headed to Malta mainly because I wanted to go there, and also because we could make it happen for a good price. Though the hotel was not the most fancy we had ever stayed in, and the food was nothing to write home about, this trip has gone down in our family history as the best vacation ever.

It was shocking to Angie and I but it became our children’s favorite vacation before we even boarded the plane to fly back to England. We spent less than one full day away from the hotel so it wasn’t the magnificent sites of the city. Two of our kids drank the water when they brushed their teeth and they vomited during on our second night’s stay. We would have thought that this would have put them off of Malta. Oddly enough, it didn’t!

Our favorite place during our time in Malta was a little indoor swimming pool. We swam and played and made it our home. I don’t even have pictures of us swimming in our favorite spot because I set all of that aside and fully enjoyed those moments together. We made a habit of watching the sunsets from our balcony, and in the evenings we introduced our kids for the first time to old TV shows like Dennis the Menace (1959), The Little Rascals (from the 1920s and 1930s), and Gilligan’s Island (1964).

We have stayed in nice hotels in beautiful settings before. We have gone on more than 15 international trips with the kids. Trips where they were involved in entertaining and engaging activities, but most of those activities didn’t include us. We were in meetings while the kids were off playing.

As we reflected on the plane ride home we started to figure out why the kids loved our time in Malta. It was simply this. They had us to themselves. They didn’t have to share us. We were together all day everyday and we enjoyed each other. We played and laughed and loved. We were family. At the end of the day, no matter our age, that is what we really want. We want a community, a family. We want to belong, feel safe, and enjoy our days with those we love. I am grateful to little Malta because it was the place that transformed a family trip to our best vacation ever.

February 28, 2015

Malta - The Importance of Context

This is my first of two posts on Malta.

It had long been a dream of mine to visit this exotic and historical place. I visited Malta with my family in November of 2012, and what I learned there is related my Swiss lesson, but it stands on its own. Proper context is not gained without looking backward for understanding. So, I will start with some history and finish with what I have learned.

For it’s unremarkable size, Malta has a much larger place in history than one might expect. It is a tiny group of islands south of Sicily and east of Tunisia, measuring 122 square miles. Rhode Island’s total square mileage is more than 12 times greater than that of Malta.

The Faithful Maltese

Malta is home to a courageous and faith-filled people. I first remember hearing about this place in Sunday school. The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked on Malta in Acts 27 and the story continues on in chapter 28. While collecting firewood he was bitten by a poisonous viper and it fastened to his hand. The locals saw the snake hanging from his hand and said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess of justice has not allowed him to live. But Paul simply shook off the snake into the fire and suffered no ill effect.”

When he didn’t die the people were amazed and began to worship him as a god. He corrected them about his mistaken deity-status and he preached the Gospel. The inhabitants believed and to this day they have the highest rate of weekly church attendance (52%) of all European Union countries.

Being in the Mediterranean and surrounded by the Barbary pirates of North Africa and the Ottoman fleets of the middle ages, Malta was a regular target of slave raids. A notable event took place in 1551 when the Ottomans attacked the smaller Maltese island of Gozo. As a result of the battle less than 50 locals survived on the island. The rest died in the struggle, and over 5,000 men, women, and children were taken to Tripoli and sold in the slave markets.

The Courageous Maltese

The Order of the Knights of Saint John was founded in Jerusalem in 1099. They were a group of warrior-monks that built a hospital in the Holy Land and served Christian pilgrims from Europe. In 1530, after the Ottomans drove them from their base in Rhodes, Charles I of Spain gave Malta to the Knights.

The Knights of St. John immediately began to fortify the main island, knowing that the Ottomans would soon pursue them west across the Mediterranean with the goal of annihilation. That attempt occurred in May of 1565 when over 40,000 Ottomans invaded. The Great Siege was underway and 400 Knights, 2,000 foot soldiers, and about 3,500 Maltese citizens heroically defeated the professionally trained and well provisioned Ottoman army and navy.

Napoleon left his mark on Malta, and the Axis powers of the Second World War left terrible destruction, but I don’t have time to tell those stories. But I should mention that in 1942, King George VI of Great Britain awarded the George Cross to the entire country of Malta for its undaunted bravery in the face of such overwhelming onslaught. (The George Cross is clearly seen on Malta's flag.) The courage and fortitude of the Maltese people has been tested many times in the course of their history. Their resilience and determination is still inspiring.

It is important to spend time looking back because it is in the past where we can better understand the present. Why are the Maltese the most religious in Europe? The continent is overwhelmingly post-Christian but Malta remains faithful. Could it be because their Christian faith had been tested for hundreds of years when they were so vulnerable to Muslim naval attacks?

The lesson of context, though grounded in the past, doesn’t mean one has to live in the past. One is better able to understand the present, and chart out a solid plan for the future, when he can see what has been tried in the past. People everywhere love stories. I gave a glimpse into several fascinating stories above. Stories are inspiring and bring us strength. They teach us lessons and give us hope about how others have stood and triumphed against overwhelming odds. Marrying context with our present reality enables us to more likely create a future that will last. Malta taught me the importance of looking back to understand the present and to look forward to the future.

February 22, 2015

Switzerland - Gaining Life Perspective

There are many things to love about Switzerland. World-renown chocolate, little red army knives, exquisite watches, and a keen attention to timeliness that is unrivaled the world over.

I first went to Switzerland in the summer of 1997 and I have returned there many times since. It is one of my favorite places on the planet. The majestic vistas from the top of the Alps and the bottom of the vales both leave me feeling speechless and small. It is not a bad feeling though, but one that allows me to properly judge my importance in this world.

It is quite easy to get conceited and think better of myself than I ought. The peaks, rivers, and gorges are formidable and ancient, while I am weak and fleeting. The incredible mountains and the expansive, lush valleys give me a right perspective that I am but passing through. I want to pass through this life with humility and purpose. I want to drink in the expanse around me, internalize it as best I can, and allow it to propel me to live with a worthy purpose and a comprehensive perspective.

Learning Through Travel

February 22, 2015

Flying over the Alps

Flying over the Alps

Welcome to my blog. This post is the first of many where I will attempt to share, through pictures and words, some of the life lessons that I have learned while traveling this world. This is not a travel blog per se but is instead a written reflection of how I have grown and even been transformed by the places I have seen.

Learning can lead to transformation. Learning has become my life-long pursuit. Learning opportunities can often be maximized when I am outside of my normal environment. There are few things that take me outside of my comfort zone more than travel.

Over the past 17 years I have had the uncommon privilege of visiting over 50 countries on six continents. I am thankful for the many opportunities to travel this large and small earth far and wide. Some opportunities were thrust upon me (travel for work) and others were created by my pursuit of exploring what I did not know.

Since experiencing these adventures I haven’t taken the time to detail what they have taught me. I certainly have internalized the lessons but I haven’t taken the effort to share with others how I have learned and grown as a result of leaving home.

As an avid photographer I usually take pictures as I go and will attempt to blend where I have gone with what I have seen and learned. By seeing the ways I have grown by wandering the wider world, perhaps you will grow as well.

At a minimum I will write two posts each week, at least until May, so please come back often, and tell your friends!

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