Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cultural Superiority: Good or Bad?

When, if ever, is pride a virtue? When is it a vice?

We recognize and condemn it in arrogant individuals (other people, of course, not ourselves). We recognize and condemn it in the destructive nationalism of a Nazi Germany or a xenophobic Japan.

But does our sense of "American exceptionalism" (the decline of which I have heard lamented repeatedly since Obama's election) ever cross the line from appropriate self-awareness to hubris?

What about the nationalistic pride of other nations?

Whatever the answer, it is clear from the following that geographic and demographic boundaries do little to foster humility. A new study by the Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project reveals that nationalistic superiority complexes, though robust, might be in decline. Commendable? Or lamentable?

The report:

About half of Americans (49%) and Germans(47%) agree with the statement, 
“Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others;” 
44% in Spain share this view. In Britain and France, only about a third or fewer (32% and 27%, respectively) think their culture is better than others.
While opinions about cultural superiority have remained relatively stable over the years in the four Western European countries surveyed, Americans are now far less likely to say that their culture is better than others; six-in-ten Americans held this belief in 2002 and 55% did so in 2007. Belief in cultural superiority has declined among Americans across age, gender and education groups.

For more go to:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Leaving Guatemala

Yesterday (Sunday) was full. A trip to the morning market, to Antigua, to afternoon church (so many work in the market or have to buy provisions), then debrief.

This morning, a 4:15 am rise, and here we are at the airport.

What an eye-opening, inspiring trip. It has been everything we've prayed for, and more, as we consider next steps and possibilities for ongoing partnership. There's more to share, but we'll get back to the States first. I've maxed out my international data plan and don't want to pay for another 50 meg, so no pics this post.

So for now, it's the three gringos signing off. Adios amigos!

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Two from our team with Reuben (youth pastor)
and Reuben (family pastor)
In this city of 35,000 there is only one basketball court and one soccer field. As the tallest and most athletic of the three gringos, you can imagine how I feel about this, personally.

Soccer is the main sport in Guatemala, so the church had a vision to provide a soccer field as a ministry to and gathering point for the community. The soccer field is pictured here (they are some pretty tough hombres to play on concrete). Actually, it will have astroturf on it.

There's not a single playground in Sumpango. So that's here too. This was built by the E-Free Church in Lodi, Wisconsin, partnering with Kids Around the World, with whom LakeView packed meals for Guatemala.


Through incredibly sacrificial giving, the church here has been able to purchase one of the few available tracts of land in Sumpango (this is the land that the student team from Lakeview helped clear two years ago).

One elderly woman, who was too poor to go to the doctor, and was dying, had her son give her "last offering" to the Lord of all she had saved. He brought her $25 to the church after her death.

Such selflessness would surely have been commended by Jesus in one of his stories.

But rather than start with a church building, they've begun with something to serve the community directly (see next post)

Sumpango viewed from the bottom of the field

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

El Gringos Stupido

Eric, Butch and I headed off to the church. The other time we had gone in a group, we were talking and not paying a whole lot of attention.

So we took off, talking. None of us was leading and we were all following each other. It was a beautiful thing. Till we got lost.

We asked directions in our special gringo dialect that we hope to trademark some day, and an elderly woman very nicely pointed us in the wrong direction. She probably said, "You three gringos better not head down this road, or you will be robbed and murdered."

We smiled and said "gracias!" And then headed down the road. It was the opposite direction from the church. After a bit of laughing and muscle-flexing (easier for some of us than others), we spied a few from our team walking up a nearby hill towards us. We hid behind a building to surprise them. Five minutes later they had not arrived. Eric peered around the corner; they'd vanished. "Ah," we said. "Oscar's house must be down there." It was, along with directions.

We were almost to the church when Marta, one of our translators, popped out of a sidestreet behind us. "I have been looking for you," she said. Three big, sheepish smiles, but nothing more. You may have heard about the famous "gringo code of silence."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Home Visits

Last night we divided up and went out on home visits with the elders. My small team visited a single mom whose boyfriend left her for the States as well as leaving her with a lot of debt. She said, through tears, that God was breaking her rebellion and drawing her to himself. I got to share, through the translator, a little of the parable of the prodigal son with her and God's unconditional welcome home. Then we prayed with her.

Our second visit was to a sick woman and her non-Christian husband and their twenty-something daughter. We had a great visit talking about the gospel and the 40,000 chickens he sells per year at the market.

Tonight we dispersed all over Sumpango with the youth group, distributing food packages to the poorest of the poor. Fourteen of us piled into the back of a small pickup and careened around horses, dogs and people and over speed bumps and potholes. It was a litigator's dream.
Living on the margins as these people do, they were so grateful for these gifts given in love and Jesus' name.

Sumpango viewed from Oscar's house

The Hairiest, Scariest Gringo of All

The Tallest Gringo

On land for the future Los Olivos Church

The Feminine Gringo

Cornstalk Houses

A few of the homes in the village are still made of cornstalks. Oscar grew up in one of these. He would get up at 4am, when it gets light down here, and walk an hour with his father to work in the field. It wasn't until he was 8 that his mother convinced his father to let Oscar start school. School is a waste of time if your family is perpetually hungry and your career path is assumed to be the field. So he would rise at 4am, work with his father till the last minute, then run to school. What a beginning for a guy who would become a Fullbright scholar and do research for Harvard University in Guatemala.

One of the needs here, besides stoves and latrines, is concrete flooring and beds. 60% of the houses have dirt floors. Most sleep on the dirt or concrete. At night in winter here it gets down to freezing.

Food for the Hungry

The mortality rate in El Yalu is shocking. Men work incredibly hard in the fields. Women work hard at childbirth, starting at 14 or 15. The infant mortality rate has been as high as 50%. Those who make it through childhood last only into their late forties.

Malnutrition is widespread, with many subsisting on a diet of tortillas alone.
Manu Con Manu has a program that has changed this trajectory. Three times a week, when the men are in the field, around 300 mothers and children come and receive a vitamin, a protein drink (pictured) and a high-protein meal.

Some members of our team who had been here a year ago said they noticed a major difference in the healthiness of the children. Additionally, some of their beliefs had changed, such as the rumor that the gringos would steal the kids, or worse, eat them!

Here's a link for more info on Mano Con Mano:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Let There Be Latrines!

The leading cause of death in developing countries is diarrhea. There is no sewerage system in El Yalu. You just go a little way from the house, maybe behind your favorite (or, perhaps, non-favorite) tree, and pick a number from 1-2.

Oscar talking about the latrine program
Los Olivos has been erecting latrines, which also double as showers (I know that sounds weird) for $250 all up, including the pipes that take it all away. I never knew the difference a flush can make.

Seeing these opportunities to serve in Christ's name and make such a dramatic and tangible difference, and how the people have responded, is heady stuff. The year-old church has many new believers, with 40 now attending and growing. God is at work in very practical ways in this subsistence-level village where ancient Mayan beliefs have been blended with Catholicism. But there is so much still to do.

Stoves That Save Lives

A grandmother with her grandaughter
next to their wood-burning stove
The second highest cause of death in developing countries is respiratory problems from cooking over open fires (and, in the cities, I'm guessing, from smog).

Government agencies have tried to bring stoves to El Yalu, only to have the metal stripped out of them for needed cash. Los Olivos has been able to install some of a different design for $250 each as they have the funds. They're made out of concrete, with 4 metal rings to cook on. Each family contributes something to the cost, so don't end up destroying what they've paid for.

El Yalu

After breakfast and hearing more of Oscar's story, we packed into a van and the back of a truck and headed into the lush countryside over potholed and sometimes precarious roads. Los Olivos church has partnered with Mano con Mano (Hand to Hand) in this small rural village of 2000 in some phenomenal ways to make a difference--often of life and death.
We're here now.

Sumpango By Morning

A good night's sleep, though the single blanket got thinner as morning drew closer.

Big Butch must have scared away the spiders, though Eric, in another room with Enrique, killed three. Paul, a youth pastor from Manitowoc, found one half the size of his hand. Luckily they're not on the menu for breakfast.

A busy day about to begin seeing the projects and ministry Los Olivos (the Olives) Church which serves the city of Sumpango (population 35,000) and the surrounding district (another 15,000).

Sumpango from Oscar's parent's top floor

Thursday, November 17, 2011


We flew through thick clouds that opened up to a gorgeous vista of green and sunlight, a volcano and Guatemala City. My first txt upon booting up my phone: you have exceeded a $200 voice limit. Strange that the text was sent before leaving the States! Aaaaarrrgggg to AT&T.

We drive to Sumpango, about 45 mins out of G.C. and enjoy dinner with the rest of the team. Orientation and introductions are made in English and Spanish. I try a bit of Maori, but no one can translate, including me.

We meet the elders of the church here and hear what God has been doing. It's inspiring and humbling. Other partner churches have had a lengthy and deep involvement with things like medical clinics. Wish I had a few more surgical skills. But it's cool to know we've had a small part too. I can picture my 2 kids and their team two years ago hacking a field here with machetes. Maybe one day they'll be surgeons.

It rains heavily and turns bone-chilling cold in the open but roofed top floor where we are meeting. Eventually we head to our digs to blog and to crash.

Guatemala Map

Houston, We Have Landed

Gracious God, Heavenly Father of all peoples who are called by your name, give us your heart for these wonderful people in Guatemala. As we look for ways we might be privileged to serve them, given how much you have blessed us, may we have none of the western sense of superiority which we confess so often characterizes us. Instead, may we be humble and teachable and open to the richness of their life and culture and relationship with you that often makes ours seem impoverished by comparison.

Here at Ohare

It was a 3:55 am rise after an evening of solving all the world's problems. Great to chat together about church and anticipate what doors God might open up for Lakeview to help make a physical and spiritual difference in Guatemala in the future.

The shoe boxes full of goodies for the kids are on the container in Rockford, and we've got a couple of big bags of baby things for Oscar, the missionary we're partnering with. They're on the plane beneath us, and we're almost ready to go.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Gringo" according to Wikipedia

File:Three Gringos by Richard Harding Davis 1896.jpg
This 1896 book deals with the pre-history of the
Three Gringos. Notice the foliage which, evidently,
functions as an umbrella in the rain shower.

Gringo is a slang Spanish and Portuguese word used in Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries in Latin America, to denote foreigners, often from the United States. The term can be applied to someone who is actually a foreigner, or it can denote a strong association or assimilation into foreign (particularly US) society and culture. While in Spanish it simply identifies a foreigner, without any negative connotation, in English the word is often considered “offensive” or “disparaging.”

The term "Kringo" denotes a New Zealander ("Kiwi") who lives in the United States and who travels to a Spanish-speaking or Portuguese-speaking country in Latin America. 

The Three Gringos

You may have heard of, or seen, the movie The Three Amigos. Chances are you haven't heard of The Three Gringos, starring Eric Erickson, Butch Speth & Graham Blaikie (stand-in for Martin Short).

In this exciting sequel to the original Amigos movie, The Three Gringos head to Guatemala to encounter culture, adventure, and God--each in a whole new way.

Their entourage includes Rob Weise FLD Youth Director, who recently won an Oscar for directing Districts, the prequel to District 9.

Rob's first piece of cultural advice as the three gringos head to Guatemala is: "Bring flip flops for the shower, and an umbrella."

This particular gringo is already astonished by Latin American culture where one takes an umbrella into the shower. What surprises will tomorrow bring? Latin lessons?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Iran: 5 Nukes by April 2012

Hopefully, this won't put a crimp in our March 2012 LakeView-Israel trip. I don't mind getting a tan swimming in the Dead Sea, but prefer getting my radiation from the sun.

According to the briefing given to a closed meeting of Jewish leaders in New York Sunday, Nov. 13, the window of opportunity for stopping Iran attaining a nuclear weapon is closing fast, debkafile's sources report. It will shut down altogether after late March 2012. The intelligence reaching US President Barak Obama is that by April, Iran will already have five nuclear bombs or warheads and military action then would generate a dangerous level of radioactive contamination across the Gulf region, the main source of the world's energy.

More here:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Surprised by Sandusky

I have an innocent and unspoiled son, who has just turned thirteen.

And so I have been startled from my almost month-long blogging malaise by the sordid Sandusky scandal. Every blogger and his mother has been opining about the many evils of Jerry, and with good reason. I mean, the guy clearly needs chemical castration, if not castration by a rusty spoon (as some of my more out-spoken acqaintances would put it).

The case is cut and dried. Right? Or is it? Surely the whole world can't be wrong. Can it?

I'd like to (humbly) suggest it can.

I'm not talking about Sandusky's innocence. The investigation by the Grand Jury leaves little to the imagination (though imagining such evils is the last thing most of us want to do).

I'm talking about the monster we've made him.

Don't misunderstand me. He is a pedophile rapist. And as the father of three sons, myself, he makes my blood boil. He makes me want to vomit. He makes me want to direct all my anger and hatred at sin towards him. He makes me want to monsterize him. To dismiss him as the lowest of the low. To demonize him.

Only one problem. I'm not that much different. And nor are you.

That's the point we seem to have missed in all of our pontificating.

Now I'm not, for a minute, minimizing the horror of what those boys (and their families) have gone through, or will go through. It's not as if all sin is the same or that any other sin equates to the hell they've experienced.

What I am saying is that we are more like Sandusky than we'd like to think. That we are more like him than unlike him. At least, from God's perspective.

When I think of the revulsion I feel towards Sandusky's vile behavior, I perhaps get a little glimpse into how God views my sin. I mean, as a fallen human being like Sandusky, I am a whole lot more like him than I am like God.

God, who is utterly holy, other, and infinite is as unlike me as it is possible to be. My similarities to Sandusky, however, are many more than I want to admit. I, too, am a sinner. The difference is simply type and degree.

Put Sandusky on this line, and he is on furthest-left stroke of the 'P' that starts the sentence.
Put the infinite, holy God on the line above, and he is as far from Sandusky as possible--the period on the far right. So, where am I on the continuum? You? We are with Sandusky, somewhere on that 'P.' Maybe we're a little to the right of him, but the distance that separates us and God remains gargantuan. We have no absolutely no basis for pride. From God's vantage point, we're a lot closer to Sandusky than we think.

That is what I believe has gotten lost in this whole tragedy. Our shock and horror and revulsion at Sandusky has allowed us to demonize him and canonize ourselves. Our disdain for him has so easily morphed into pride in ourselves. Rather than thinking, "there, but for the grace of God, go I," we think, "I would never do something like that." Rather than trembling at his particular display of human evil, and searching our souls deeply to see what we might be capable of, and repenting of our own wickedness, we ask, "How could any one possibly do that?"

Sure, let's go after Sandusky and his ilk to the nth degree of the law. Let's put him in the slammer and even throw away the key.

But may we never forget that the evil which consumed him also crouches at our door desiring to master us (Genesis 4:6-7). That the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). And that the heart--yours and mine--is so desperately wicked, who can possibly understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9).