Life Change Stories

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The Beauty of Partnership

And the Importance of Education   Thirty minutes up river from the village of Santo Domingo lies the much larger village of Colon, another Afro-Ecuadorian settlement. It is the last Afro village along the Onzole River and has received much less government and NGO attention than the villages that come before it. Over the past few years, however, our partnership with Colon has grown and strengthened. Every aspect of this relationship was recently on display when my co-worker Nikki and I went to the village to examine the school that’s in place. We had decided to work with the community to repaint the school together with a group of Canadians who will be here over the next two and half weeks. When we got to the school, however, we realised the true scale of disrepair it had fallen into. The government had started construction on a new school in Colon but the architect in charge of the project took off with the money he had been paid before construction had gone very far. The project stalled and still remains far from finished, with only a few pillars standing, a constant reminder to the village of the government’s unwillingness to provide basic services. The students have been forced to remain in the old wooden school, a building not fit for anything, let alone as a place of learning and inspiration.

It was then that we decided we were going to help Colon build a new school.

After a meeting with the community the project was ok’d. This was barely 2 weeks ago. Now, as I sit here writing this, the group of Canadians is about to arrive and together we’ll set off for Onzole. The community of Colon, however, has been hard at work ever since the meeting. The very next day the old school was torn down and work begun on cutting all the boards necessary for a brand new building. Cement, paint and other materials were purchased with funds raised from the Onzole Scarf Project, a project many of you directly assisted with your purchase of scarves. 

By this time next week Colon will have a new school, just in time for the start of the new school year here. It will be the result of a beautiful partnership between the Onzole River Project, the community of Colon and all of you back in Canada. It will stand as a testament to the power of relationships, love and mutual respect and hard work. It will be a beautiful thing indeed.

Nelson Mandela once said that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

While I personally believe the most powerful catalyst for positive change is the unconditional love of God, I do believe that championing the emancipation gained through education is something that flows directly from God’s great love. 

This is what this school will represent for the community: the power and importance of education provided by the immense love of Christ. It will be the work of the community, for the community and God will, without a shadow of a doubt, bless it greatly.

Your thoughts and prayers over the next few weeks would be greatly appreciated as we move forward with the build and the rest of the time the group of Canadians are with us along the Onzole River. 

With Love!

C3 C2 C1

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MI Kick Off!

Three months ago I embarked with 15 others on a new initiative; the Mission Immersion Project. Recently one of the participants exclaimed; “I will never be the same. The things I have experienced, the people and the lessons I have learned have changed me for a life time.”

Mentoring, curriculum, group discussions, weekly mission involvement, journaling, readings, along with two highly experiential practical mission encounters all combine to form the ‘Project.’

At this very moment the group is in the jungle of northern Ecuador. I am on my way to join them. For the next few weeks we will live and work alongside a people who have seen their country’s leaders turn their backs on them and their needs. We have a number of projects and activities that we will seek to carry out. The primary aim I have for our Immersion gang is that they would grow to understand the needs and opportunities that exist with this particularly people group, Afro- Ecuadorians, and do the hard work of understanding what our responsibility might be. The entire 4 months have been established to help each participant understand what their contrition to the process of change might be, and grow in understanding how they can embrace that role. 15 wonderful people: 15 young, creative, energetic, gifted young men and women, each in the years ahead moving out into their world with a solid commitment to work for change in the lives of another! It just doesn’t get any better.

Programs and activities each have an important role, but at the core of real transformation is people and relationship. I cannot remember a time when I have been more encouraged over an initiative that I have been involved in than the Mission Immersion Project.

We intend, when possible, to chronicle our experiences. Visit lifechangeadventures to read more.

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An Invitation: Help Make Some History

Man, I really enjoy Wednesdays!

Late in the afternoon, I go over to a local school and fill my car with kids. Chattering, stories, smiles, (tears sometimes), hugs are all part of the weekly drama.

Yesterday, we are just driving along. Me, rushing as we were late. The radio gets tuned to 91.5 “The Beat”. Music is blaring. A particularly song starts up. Immediately the entire car erupts. Everyone is singing and tapping the beat. And there leading the bunch, with a huge smile across his thin face, is Jon. This grade 6 kid is full of life, but never is he more alive than when he is with music.

I need your help. Next week we are starting Jon into guitar lessons. He is more than excited. Does anyone have a guitar that they would-be willing to donate?

Just think, one day, when Jon becomes famous, (and he will!), you can say with pride; “I gave that man his start. That was my guitar he learned on!”

Hope

He stood erect and confident as he related his dream. All around life bustled along.

This was far from his first project; he had learned a lot. His present plan involved mobilising friends and family to raise the necessary funds to supply clean water for life to a 1000 children.

‘A formidable goal’, I thought.  I probed further and it was obvious that he had done his homework. He went on to recount in detail the amount of money needed and his practical plan. Remarkable!

“What have you done lately?” He then asked, turning the tables on me. It was a straight-up question; a legitimate enquiry coming from one so invested in change. I was a little startled, but was able to recount a little about a recent initiative. He seemed satisfied. I had passed his test.

‘Very interesting,’ he responded with genuine enthusiasm. ‘What organisation do you work with?’ And then the question that totally caught me off guard, ‘Could I raise money for you?’ I have never had anyone ever say that to me!

Earlier I had been chatting with the principal of a Catholic school in Waterloo when she suddenly stood up and enthusiastically marched me down to meet Casey, a grade 7 student.  The12 year old before me stood erect and with his mob of dirty blond hair flopping into his eyes, spoke with clarity and passion of his commitment to make a difference. He knew that the odds were great, but he was undeterred and he was determined.

I am not a cynic; rather I possess a great hope for a better world. Today as the world leaders engage in yet another dangerous wrestling match, this time with Ukraine as  the focus, the basis of my hope rests, in part, with this soon to be teenager and all others who possess a desire for change and a will to work towards that end.

What does it take to make change happen?   A 12 year old with a dream, passion and commitment.

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Desiring change?

Wow… change is hard! Often feels like a constant pushing against a hard charging stream. How do I know? I know me! I talk a lot about my desire to change, but resistance to any kind of change is my daily companion;   I want to be fit but fight to go to the gym, I want to assist someone, but second guess myself even into paralysis, I want to learn a language, acquire a skill, study something, but always, lingering just on the other side of decision, is my companion, ‘inertia’.

I recently met Simon.  He seems to live naturally within the constancy of change.  But ‘oh the  cost… as a young boy he ran for his life from war ravaged Sudan, watching as mother, father and brother each succumbed to violence and illness under unrelenting African sun. And then he spent 20 years ‘trapped’ in a massive and oppressive Ethiopian refugee camp.  His profound state of homelessness resulted in him being profoundly detached from ‘things’. His devotion to relationships and community building overrides everything.  Simon possesses little fear of change and confidently strides his seven foot frame directly into mouth of the future.

What is it that I fear about change?  What am I afraid to give up? Where do I place me my confidence?  If I had nothing to lose would I be more open to change? I heard it once said “Fear is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life.” I think fear is the great enemy of life!

Malala Yousafzai,exclaimed that her attempted murder resulted in the following;t “weakness, fear and hopelessness died; strength, courage and fervour were born. “

Fear… when you have nothing to lose you have nothing to fear.

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Its a Beautiful Thing

“Jeremy I made it, I made it! His face was a picture; eyes sparkled, smile immense, proud, so very proud. My 9 year old friend, introduced to basketball a year ago, today was one of 12 selected to the travel team. Major accomplishment!

Few things give me greater satisfaction than feeling the success of others, than in watching someone succeed or realise a new achievement. Simply stated; I love helping set the stage for someone to breakthrough and succeed, and with each breakthrough a new door, a new possibility.

Accomplishment builds momentum. I have concluded that it often doesn’t take all that much to help another; opportunity, hope, time together and encouragement, go an awful long way. And a beaming smile makes the effort so very worthwhile. Mother T. said that even a smile could make a difference… I think she might be right.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”

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Learning from the Margin of Life

My office walls are lined with books, so many that they spill into the room next door room. love books! I have sat through multiple sermons, listened to grad school lectures, conversed with some very experienced and wise people, but nothing, nothing has brought me more learning or promoted greater personal growth than my involvement with those who have been forgotten, who struggle to make life work or who have been bruised by our world. The lessons learned have been truly transformative. They form the bedrock of life. I am not anti-luxury, anti-wealth, anti-privilege or anti-power… but my experience has taught me that these do not lead us to the real value of life, if anything they tug us away.

 Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a few days with the families of Pambil, Ecuador. The people of this very remote and largely forgotten village have established their lives on the daunting precipice between life and death; the place where each day brings survival struggle. Our time has served to pound home a number of truisms for me. I am keen to share these with you in the hope that all of us may be reminded of that which matters most in life.  Next post – “People: Simply Astonishing”

Together We Must Change the World

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Reflection of a freshly minted 60 year old

Two days ago as Mary and I sat on our porch soaking in the remnants of the day’s sun a woman walked by. She had seen me limping around the block and so asked how I was doing. (I had my knee was replaced 4 weeks ago). She then surprised us by asking if she could join us on our porch. I had only interacted with her during a sidewalk walk-by a few days before. We didn’t even know her name!

For the next 90 minutes, as the evening breezes turning to cool, we listened and she, with tears pouring, (lap dog licking them away,) related an immensely sad and desperate story… one of profound abandonment, failure, disappointment and conflict. Now, more than 60 years of age this frightened woman is alone; without anyone and with only the flickering hope for a better future.

Yesterday, through various media, including old fashioned postal mail, I have been affirmed and loved with many greetings for my 60th birthday. (Do I need to get a real job now?) I was reminded that the greatest of riches is to be found in the quality of our relationships. And I am a very wealthy man!

I am humbled by the contrast! How many others are like this woman?

In my little life I try to make the world a better place… more compassionate, more just, and more beautiful. I know I am hopelessly naive and idealistic, but I chose to believe this can happen if only more and more people care for another. So here is my birthday wish/request, here is what I would like for my birthday… if within the first 24 hours of reading would you attempt to make the world a little better for at least one other person? However you chose to do it; but make one other person’s life a little bit brighter… a gift of flowers, a kind and gentle word, an act of kindness. Perhaps it’s a significant act? Your call. I would be thrilled if you were then to take a moment and communicate the act or deed and what, if any results you experience. Yesterday I chose to rededicate my life to making this world a better place. I will believe that change is possible. I love being idealistic.

“If you don’t change, you’re lost.”

Don is my neighbour. In the summer we watch him trim his hedges and weed his gardens. In the winter he will shovel the snow from his driveway before he carefully backs his car slowly into the road. Donald celebrated his 100 birthday on December 26, along with his twin Oscar! Must be some kind of record! Donald is a survivor; wars, depression, extensive travel, illness. There is little remarkable about the man.

“Is that a surprise? I don’t see it as a surprise,” he said with a smile when questioned about his use of an iPad. “You’ve got to change with the times. Change is good. If you don’t change, you’re lost.”

My life is dedicated to helping change happen. Donald is a living example of the ‘Ghandian’ principle; the change we desire to see in the world must first be evidenced in me. I wish it wasn’t so. It would be far easier to simply be able to observe the faults of others and set out to fix them. But Don is right. Change in me is what keeps me relevant and real.

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How much does it matter?

Christmas Day work at St. John’s Kitchen. For those of us who volunteered it was a great experience; coming together with so many from with such diverse backgrounds. It reminded me but again just how much can be accomplished with joint effort. But to be honest; there is little that is praiseworthy or noble about what we did. For us it was enjoyable and fulfilling. Tiring, yes, but satisfying!

http://www.therecord.com/news/local/article/859696–christmas-spirit-overflows-at-st-john-s-kitchen

The real heroes are not those who swoop in for a few moments and leave feeling better about themselves, no the real heroes are the men and women; some employed, many not, some retired, some not, students, etc. who join the Kitchen day after day, week after week, year after year to provide warm and nourishing meals. In my mind the real heroes are the people who get up at 6:00 each morning to head off to the elementary schools of our city to provide healthy breakfasts for children. Across our city men and women engage with amazing consistency, largely in anonymity, and care for others. Our world has duped us into believing that heroes are sports stars or rich business tycoons or entertainer. Rubbish! The real heroes are those with little fanfare, who day after day go and care for others, who by their consistent actions say ‘ You matter! You matter to me. You are important.”