When I miss garbage trucks

One of my colleagues working in Congo posted on Facebook that she “never thought I would miss garbage and recycling trucks.” That brought back so many memories that I had to post back “Oh, this is so so true.”

Downtown Ouagadougou

I lived in a city of 400,000 inhabitants that did not have any garbage service. In Congo, I have yet to visit a city that had a functioning garbage service. It is a service that is most noticeable by it absence. It took a while to figure out how to make living work without garbage pickup.

That is the bad news. The good news is that Africans are recycling geniuses. Seriously!

My colleague tried something new. She held a Gar -bage Sale. That’s right, a garbage sale, not a garage sale..She paid someone to spend the day sorting, washing and hauling empty containers and broken toys to market or families who will use them. In the process she learned that ripped plastic mattress covers can be sewn into diaper covers and that dead cardboard boxes make the best fire starters!

Street with natural recyclers

When we lived in Ouagadougou, people prized our empty plastic and glass containers. After the recycling geniuses picked over our garbage the real garbage was a whole lot less. Necessity being the mother of invention, and poverty being a prime creator of necessity, wherever we have lived in Africa, people have created informal and unofficial recycling that put back into use a much higher percentage of “garbage” than the official programs in the US.

Their continent has lots of problems, but by and large Africans are ingenious and resilient. It is one of the things we enjoy. Of course, we have come a ways from the day we first realized that we were in a large city without garbage pickup. Now when there is not this or that, instead of panicking, we look around to find out what local solution has been devised.

I like living an adventurous life, even when the adventure is figuring out what to do with garbage.

Check out our website, or talk with us on Facebook. We would love to hear from you.

The New Churches

Economist magazine headerOn July 1, 2010, the Economist magazine published an article entitled “Slain by the spirit: The rise of Christian fundamentalism in the Horn of Africa“.  The article notes that “… about 17m Africans described themselves as born-again Christians in 1970. Today the figure has soared to more than 400m, which accounts for over a third of Africa’s population”.  An increase of 383 million born-again Christians in 40 years is a “revival”.  If one-third of Americans became born-again believers in 40 years it would not go unnoticed.

The article notes that most of the growth is happening outside the mainline denominations in what the authors call “the new churches”. The Economist takes an interest in this growth of the church because it is starting to have political and economic influence – as the Economist puts it, “they are now having a noticeable effect on public-policy debates in east Africa”.  Among the influences of the church cited by the Economist are:

  • Their insistent calls for self-discipline and education
  • Their prominence in anti-corruption campaigns
  • Their resistance to repressive political regimes

The Economist notes that the new churches believe in the spiritual world and in engaging in spiritual battles.  (Although the authors mistakenly attribute this to elements of traditional religion creeping into Christian faith.)  Like the Economist, others have noticed that “the new churches” believe the Bible, believe in God’s action in this world, and believe that evangelism is a primary call of the church.  Indeed, these churches undertake their own successful evangelism and missions activities.  A CNN blog – the Gospel according to Kenyan cabbies – notes the similar things happening in Kenya.

The Economist accurately notes that these churches display weaknesses.  There are plenty of hucksters.  One finds posturing for political or economic gain by church leaders.  But then, the Apostle Paul noted some of these same problems way back in the first century.

So what?  Why is this news important?  What does it mean?  Answering those questions would take many pages.  So I will limit myself to two.

  • First, one of the main reasons to support missions is that in the long run it is hugely successful so you will get big bang for your giving dollar.
  • Second, it changes the way we do Bible translation.

The “new churches” are key partners for Bible translation.  They have educated people, can raise lots of prayer support, and they already run successful outreach programs.  Doing translation in Africa without involving them would be like trying to engage in real estate or house construction without business partners that give mortgages.  The days when Bible translation can be done successfully as an isolated way by someone coming in from the outside are gone.

I am privileged to be doing some work in Ghana to enhance the involvement of the churches there .  Their leaders are convinced that the time is now for them to take the lead role in getting the  Bible into all the languages of Ghana.  Helping them understand how to do that is great fun and a wonderful privilege.  I just love it.

Does this information surprise you? Encourage you? Let us know.  (Click on any of the pictures to see more photos taken in the same city.)

If you feel the way we do, or you want to know more, see our website, subscribe to this blog, talk with us on Facebook, or sign up to support us through prayer or financial support.


I got up in the night on Friday (Sept 10) and as soon as I sat up in bed the world started going around, fortunately only for a few seconds. When I came back to bed and put my head down, around it went again. Disturbing. When I got up in the morning, same thing. More disturbing. Saturday night, same thing. Every time I laid down in bed and every time I sat up from lying down in bed.

So, I made an appointment with the doctor. I explained my symptoms. His response? “This is cool!” I was not expecting that, but it was reassuring. He laid me down to the left, which is not usually how a lay down. Nothing. Then to the right which is how I lay down and the world started spinning around me. Fascinating.

He declared that I have benign positional vertigo. I need to have something called the “Epley’s maneuver.” Apparently it will make the world spin like mad while it is being done, but then I will be cured.


If you know my wonderful wife, Dayle, you have probably seen her with a bandage on one or more of her fingers. For 12 years she has suffered from contact dermatitis. One of the main culprits is soap. All this time she has had to do dishes and household cleaning wearing carefully chosen gloves. She can only use certain shampoos and we have to keep special soaps at all the sinks in the house. After seeing the dermatologist for the nth time, she would just about get it cleared up and something would cause it to come back. Her skin would crack and bleed, or it would become so thin that anything would break it.

To make matters worse, many kinds of gloves cause a similar reaction as the soaps. Fortunately, we discovered nitrile gloves. So if she was not wearing bandages, then she was wearing purple gloves. Sometimes even that was not enough, so she would be wearing cotton or silk gloves inside the nitrile gloves. Cleaning up and packing dusty things also cause outbreaks, and we do a lot of that.

When we came to stay on the JAARS Center for a few months, Dayle asked a friend here to show her a bulk supply store. One place they visited was Earth Fair, an up-scale supermarket specializing in natural and organic products. We like it because they have the best price on bulk almonds and walnuts, as well as grains. While shopping there Dayle saw a natural dish soap made with real lavender and coconut oil surfactants. Always on the lookout for something less irritating to her hands, she got a bottle. It turned out to be very good dish soap. Better, it did not cause contact dermatitis. But it had even more in store. The more Dayle used it, the better her hands got until they were completely healed! Now we put it in the soap dispensers at every sink!

I saw our being at the JAARS Center for several months as a necessary interruption in our lives. I should have had a bit more faith. It has been great being here for a lot of reasons, but finding the solution to Dayle’s contact dermatitis is right near the top of the list. We can even order the dish soap on the internet, so we will have it in Oregon and we will be having some sent to Africa when we go back, where the soaps tend to be very unfriendly to Dayle’s hands.

God is so good to us, putting a healing blessing in an “interruption”. Probably you have had that experience, too. We’d love to hear about it.

If you want to know more about us and our ministry, see our website, subscribe to this blog, talk with us on Facebook, or sign up to support us through prayer or financial support.

PS: The dish soap is called Lavender Ultra Dishmate and it is made by Earth Friendly Products. It comes in several varieties. The one with natural lavender is the one that healed Dayle’s hands.

Boring stuff

Exciting. I hear that word all the time especially in church. I wonder if we are addicted to it because of our entertainment culture. But, some stuff that really matters is mind-numbingly tedious.

In the 1930s, when William Cameron Townsend founded Wycliffe Bible Translators he thought that there were perhaps 500 languages in the world. He found out later that his estimate was way off. Fortunately, he knew that he needed hard information, so he started a positively lackluster arm of Bible translation responsible for finding out how many languages there are. Back in the day, we called it “language survey”. I even did a little in Burkina Faso in the late 1970s but most is done by specialists. One of my friends, Douglas Boone (right), has spent his whole missionary career in this endeavor. I’ll bet he has never had a conversation that went:

Person in church: What kind of mission work do you do?
Douglas: I count languages.
Person in church: Wow, how exciting!

I could go into a lot of narcolepsy-inducing details about language survey. You might be interested in some facts about languages which are dying. But a discussion of a question like “What is a language?” might cause you to recommend me to your local sleep clinic – as a therapist!

Early on, those doing language survey started publishing a book cataloging the languages of the world, the Ethnologue. For years, every new edition of the Ethnologue would have about 400 more languages than the earlier edition. While we were in Burkina Faso, some of my colleagues discovered two previously unknown languages. They appeared in the next edition of the Ethnologue.

The number of languages in the Ethnologue stabilized in the mid 1990s at around 6,900, meaning that the list was finally very accurate. That is hardly exciting, but it is very significant. Most Bible translations in new languages published for the last 30 years were done because the languages were identified and cataloged in the Ethnologue. Otherwise, those languages might never have gotten a translation. In one man’s lifetime, we have gone from a wildly inaccurate estimate of 500 languages to a highly reliable catalog. In fact, the Ethnologue is so reliable that it has become an official standard of the International Standards Organization. For the first time we know how many language still need a Bible translation and we can project how much time, money and energy that will take. Church leaders, like the ones in the photo pouring over a language map from the Ethnologue, have information they need for their ministries. It might be a little exciting because it is a sign of the end times, if only a minor one.

I don’t know what we would do in Congo if we did not have a language map like the one below to tell us where each of the 223 languages is located. Knowing where the languages are and how they are related also allows us to add some time and money-saving ways of working.

My hat is off to all those who have cataloged languages, including the young woman I knew who died in an automobile accident in Africa while doing her “uninteresting” work.

So, let me know what you think. Do you think that “exciting” has too much attraction for us? Might  our fascination with the exciting sometimes keep us from the important?  Would you pray for someone doing language survey, or give financial support?

Update: Someone else wrote about boring stuff: We Need Boring Christians. Check it out.

If you feel the way we do, or you want to know more, see our website, subscribe to this blog, talk with us on Facebook, or sign up to support us through prayer or financial support.