Friday, June 18, 2010

Wanna-be bohemian

Henna & a 30cent boat ride in Dubai (photos from last time I got stranded here)

I love the fantasy of bouncing around the globe on a shoestring budget. There’s a certain thrill and pride that comes with packing light, being frugal and working without a net—to never be certain what town (or country) you’ll be in tomorrow, how you’ll get there or where you’ll sleep once you do. This sort of lifestyle is very glamorous in the movies. In reality, it can be not fun at all. You spend a lot of time tired, hungry and stuck in places/situations that weren’t on the agenda.

It takes a certain personality for this sort of thing. In all honesty, I don’t seem to have it, but seeing that it is implicitly part of the Friendly Planet job requirement, I’m working on it. In fact, I am beginning to wonder if it is the kind of trait that is developed over time (like from Bishop’s Schnase’s new book Five Practices of Fruitful Living).

So here is my step process:

Step #1: Let go of any delusion that you can control the itinerary.
Step #2: Get over your money issues. As some famous guy wrote and my dad always repeats, “If you can reduce your problem to a price tag, you don’t have a problem; you have an expense.” Pay it and move on.
Step #3: If you can’t be where you want to be, want to be where you are. Make every situation an opportunity to learn and/or contribute to this world. (i.e. Channel your inner Pollyanna.)

I’m not sure what the next steps will be, but I’ve still got a ways to go on mastering the first three.

As my Facebook friends know, I’ve been having a lot of airline ‘adventures’ lately. As I write this, I’m stuck (again) in Dubai. Been in this airport 32 hours straight and will be here at least another 24 more. Luckily, it has free wireless, water fountains, quiet rooms, and even showers.

I’ve been trying to focus on what I can learn from this, and there is a lot that can be learned from spending time in a major international hub. The de facto world fashion show alone is intriguing. When I’m having an extroverted moment (I’m an introvert at heart), I ask strangers what they can teach me. Yes, I walk right up to them and ask. Generally they are amused and have given me some interesting answers. I often learn more about their home country or how hard it is to live in Dubai when you are a [insert any low-paying job at airport]. I sometimes even get restaurant freebies just for being someone who noticed that they exist.

So here I am after 5 full days of airport hopping sitting on the floor with an aching back and stale bag of clothes. Not exactly glamour by my definition, but I’m sure 007 and Indiana Jones often had the same problem—except they could skip to the next scene.

Indiana Taylor

World's tallest building (couldn't fit it all in the photo)
locals on commuter ferry in Dubai

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Q&A #3: What's this I hear about a new training center?

Wednesday evening December 1, 2009 I received a path changing e-mail. SIFAT’s Executive Director Tom Corson and International Team Coordinator Peggy Walker were in town and looking for the Methodists. They had come to see the land The United Methodist Church (UMC) was purchasing in Lusaka and discuss plans for the new SIFAT training center that would be built on it. Sadly, their primary contact in Zambia, Rev. Jean Kalonga (Bishop Katembo’s assistant and de facto bishop of Zambia) had unexpectedly died while they were in route. Jean hadn’t had a chance to share his correspondence with anyone, so no one in Lusaka was expecting SIFAT’s arrival. SIFAT’s SOS e-mail bounced around cyberspace until it was forwarded through the Methodist connectional system to me. They only had a couple days left in town and did not know whom to call. This was a disaster in the making, but thankfully my Internet was working that day.

There are things you can do in The UMC in central Africa that are near impossible in the USA. One of them is rapid mobilization. SIFAT wanted to meet with the district superintendent, key church leaders, the lawyer (real estate agent) and see the land. No problem. I made a few “Cancel your plans for tomorrow cause SIFAT is here” phone calls and texts, picked up Tom, Peggy and Isaiah (who is from Bishop Katembo’s office in Lubumbashi) and we all gathered at the District Superintendent’s house by the next morning. Several routine tasks were taken care of while SIFAT was with us (like kneeling before the chieftainess for her approval of the land deal and briefing the member of the Lusaka District on the project’s timeline). What came next was where it got complicated.

SIFAT was able to build this training center because their connections at University of Alabama’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) had connections with the leadership of B.L. Harbert, the construction company that won the contract to build the new USA embassy complex in Lusaka. Very long story condensed, Harbert would donate skilled labor, use of heavy equipment, and a large amount of construction materials. EWB students would make blueprints for the facility (as graded class assignments) and come in May 2010 to help start building it. The catch was that there needed to be a piece of land to put the center, and the owners of the land needed to have all their paperwork/permits in order. SIFAT turned to The United Methodist Church with an offer: if the church would purchase the land and take care of the paperwork, SIFAT would have the center built on it. The land and buildings would then belong to the UMC and could be used in a multitude of ways on days SIFAT training events weren’t being held. Sound too good to be true?  Well, there was a catch.

It turned out purchasing property in Zambia was the easy part; obtaining an actual title deed is tough and time consuming. Everyone we asked for advice said if we worked hard perhaps we’d succeed by 2011, but we had until April 2010 at the latest or the whole deal would fall apart. From Dec-April, the District Superintendent with the support of district leaders (especially our lay leader’s husband Chris) turned this ‘hopeless’ task into his full time pursuit. As soon as I returned from Christmas and clergy meetings (RIM) in Indiana, it became my all-consuming work as well. I’ve lost track of how many days were spent at the Ministry of Land or the number of road trips made to file forms in regional offices.

At the Zambia Provisional Conference Executive Committee meeting in Kitwe (5 hours north of Lusaka) the end of February, we launched a conference-wide prayer and “who do you know in the government who could help us?” campaign. Not long after this, I finally managed to get a meeting with the Commissioner of Lands who assured me that we would be ready in time for the May groundbreaking deadline. True to his word, our offer letter arrived just in the nick of time. 

EWB, SIFAT (along with a pastor of an Alabama conference congregation that had contributed to the land purchase) and Isaiah (representing Bishop Katembo’s office) arrived the second week of May. Together with a large team of United Methodists from across Lusaka, we began the building process.  There is still a long way to go on this project, but Thanks Be to God we are out of the tunnel.


Build Week Photos:

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Q&A #2: What does Taylor do in Lusaka?

‘Fall’ 2009:

When we first relocated to Zambia in September 2009, I figured that I would be spending most of my time across the border in DR Congo, since that was my primary motivation for moving here. God seems to have had a different plan.

As a protocol abiding United Methodist pastor, I informed the District Superintendent of Lusaka of my arrival as soon as I obtained a phone and his phone number, which took some creative thinking to obtain since no one I initially asked had a clue as to the location of the local United Methodists (minimal signage since they all meet in rented classrooms except for the one Zimbabwean immigrant congregation that still worships in Shona).  To my surprise, DS John Ilunga, armed with only knowledge of what neighborhood and street I lived on, rounded up a welcome team and showed up at my gate the very same day I called him. Unbeknownst to me, his family and the church’s leadership team were feeling overwhelmed and had been praying for God to send them someone to help…and then I showed up. [I know how that sounds to some ears; I eschew reinforcing the destructive belief that salvation comes from America/Europe, but what they were wanting was a flesh & blood mediator, and that role is best played by an outsider]

 Taylor, DS John Ilunga, and Bishop Katembo

DS John immediately put me to work as an itinerate preacher with the focus on increasing morale and the spirit of unity in and between the congregations. Each Sunday I was sent to a different congregation in the district until I had been to them all—and then circuit rider style I started again.  I itinerated with the DS and an interpreter (interpretation is a challenging task in these polylingual communities—even some of our local pastors use interpreters).  A few weeks into this Brian, my main interpreter, told me that he was getting strong feedback from congregations. They suspected that he was telling me their secrets since my sermons were directly addressing their specific issues. He got himself out of hot water by explaining that I was following the lectionary and it must simply be the Holy Spirit speaking through me.  I suppose that this is true; the Spirit has been shifting my worldview for some years now through profound friendships with church leaders from Congo, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. I have been beginning to comprehend the way in which scriptures and stories resonate with the common struggles here.  And, quite frankly, the Biblical stories burst off the page here in a way I had never experienced back in the USA.   

In addition to preaching, I am involved in church, district, and conference meetings and training events (even hosted a district clergy/spouses dinner at my house).  Co-officiating funerals is sadly a regular honor. [I plan to do a separate blog post just about funerals]  The turning point in my work in Lusaka happened in early December right after the death of Rev. Jean Kalonga when I received an e-mail about the arrival of SIFAT. The SIFAT/Friendly Planet/UMC collaboration I'll save for the next post.


See also: Life in Lusaka Part II  and Life in Lusaka