10 Random Observations about the Church

A row of Church pewsI travel and perform/speak in a different church almost every weekend and have for the past 40 years—that’s a lot of churches. You do the math. And these are churches of all denominations and sizes and colors. Lunch with the pastor after a morning service is typical. I can almost always count on being asked a question like this:  “Chuck, you are in a lot of churches… what are some observations you’ve made about the church today?”

I know they want an answer with some profundity, but I don’t know if my answers will satisfy. So here are 10 random observations about the church, for what they are worth, and in no specific order.  This is not a scientifically researched treatise… just my observations.

1) The medium-size church is disappearing. I am often in church buildings designed to hold 500-1000 people with less than 100 in the worship service. There seem to be churches of under 100, and the mega church with thousands of people, but not much in between—churches of 200-500 are few. Pastors routinely over-estimate their attendance. They will tell me they have 150 people in worship but when I arrive there are less than 100… this happens a lot!

2) Based on my experience it would seem that the average age in most churches today is over 50. There is plenty of gray hair and there are not very many millennials in the pews.

3) The “Meet and Greet” moment in the worship service needs go. Most churches do it and in most churches it feels forced and awkward. I see plenty of meeting and greeting before the service that seems genuine. If your main goal is to make a visitor feel welcome, I think there is a better way to do it.

4) I have rarely visited a church that matches the negative stereotype portrayed in the media or by Hollywood. (That being the extremes of super fanatical or super boring). I’m not saying they don’t exist… but they are certainly not what I have found under the majority of steeples in the country.

5) People really do “play hooky” from church when the pastor is gone. I often fill in for a pastor who is away at a conference or on vacation. I almost always hear the head deacon say, “I don’t know where everybody is today.”

6) Contrary to what the media would have you believe, the church is filled with people who care about the poor and are involved in ministries that are truly striving to make a difference.

7) At the risk of sounding like my parents… your music is too loud!

8) People still sit in the back (maybe because the music is too loud) or are very spread out in the sanctuary, making those 100 people in a space that hold 500 feel even more empty.

9) There is not much being done to encourage and elevate the arts in most churches. Other than the worship team/band, the opportunities for an artist to be involved in the life of the church are very limited. (I’ve blogged about this one before, but I have to throw it in here.)

10) It can be a challenge today to figure out a church’s denominational affiliation. Oh it still exists, but you won’t find it on church signs and in printed material like you used to. This can be good thing. It can also be embarrassing if, say, you are charismatic and think you are in a Pentecostal church, only to find yourself being stared down after raising your arms and shouting hallelujah in a Baptist church.

Like I said, no science here… just some observations from that “Christian Actor Guy!”

Meeting Cristal!

Meeting Cristal Mariel, our sponsored child in the Dominican Republic. Her Grandmother looks on.

Meeting Cristal Mariel, our sponsored child in the Dominican Republic. Her Grandmother looks on.

I am just back from visiting the Dominican Republic with my ministry partner, Food for the Hungry. As a partner with this ministry I take a few moments of my stage time at my performances to invite people to consider sponsoring a child. Food for the Hungry does an excellent of job of reaching some of the most vulnerable communities of the poor, and through child sponsorship, works to transform those communities to become self-supporting within a window of about 10 years. They help with such things as clean water, food, health care and education. They work with the church to  address the spiritual needs of the communities as well. It is a excellent program and I was privileged to see it first hand on my visit.

My wife and I sponsor a little 7 year old girl named Cristal in one of these poor communities and it was a thrill to actually meet her on this trip. I think the visit was a bit overwhelming for her, and who can blame her. I’m sure I would be intimidated too, if a group of people I had never met showed up at my door all excited to see me, and me barely having a clue who they were or why they were there! I brought some gifts for her and was able to see her home and meet some of her family. I will be looking forward to being a part of her life for many years and look forward to the day when her situation is improved enough to no longer need our sponsorship.

Here is a little video of me presenting gifts to Cristal:

If you would like to sponsor a child and begin a life changing relationship with one of the “least of these” you can do that be clicking this link! Sponsor a Child Today!

The Gift of a Child

It’s the season of Christmas and we are busy with the hustle and bustle of getting ready for the big day.  But if you are like me, you need to be reminded that Christmas is first and foremost a birthday celebration. We busily search for just the right gift for Mom and Dad, Billy, Suzy and Uncle Joe, that we can often overlook giving a gift to the one whose birth we are celebrating.

Last weekend I saw a beautiful example of a gift given to Jesus.

After my performance at a church in Elk Grove, California, where I had shared about the work of World Vision and their sponsorship program, there was a young girl who really wanted to sponsor a specific child. She waited around clutching a the picture folder, waiting to talk to her parents. Her father finally came over to the table, but told the girl they would not be able to sponsor the child and placed the folder back on the table among the other pictures of children needing sponsors. The little girl walked away, heart-broken.

Another lady from the church observed this scene.  She pulled the father aside and there was a brief conversation.  With the father’s blessing this lady sponsored the child as a gift to the little girl. That picture folder was going to be under the tree waiting for that little girl on Christmas morning.

What a great example of the true meaning of Christmas!

How do you give a gift to Jesus on his birthday?  This girl, and this dear lady know the answer to that question.  Jesus gives us his very own Christmas “wish list.”  He is very explicit in how we can give him a gift. It is found in the parable of the sheep and the goats.  It goes like this:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

   “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25: 34-40 (NIV)

If you would like to give a gift to Jesus this Christmas, sponsoring a child with World Vision is one excellent way you can do that. You can even do it as a gift to another person—you pay the sponsorship and let the gift recipient participate in the relationship with the sponsored child.  What a great gift for a parent or grandparent to give to their children and grandchildren!

Merry Christmas!

A Turkey And The Gospel

Remember that old Carol Arends chorus: “They will know we are Christians by our love”?

A great theme to be sure. But I think many of us in the church are a bit conflicted on how to show those around us that love.

To some, showing love means sharing the Good News of the Gospel—”how can I love my neighbor if I don’t tell them about Jesus and how He came to save us from our sin?”

To others, showing that love is more about serving others and social concerns—“how can I love my neighbor if I don’t give water to the thirsty, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless?”

Both are right.

Yet many churches strive to excel in one of those areas and often ignore or fail at the other.

This last weekend I was privileged to participate in a weekend outreach at a church that struck a balance between the two… and in my opinion did it very well.

The church was Crossroads Tabernacle in Ft. Worth, Texas. They decided to reach out to the community around them, targeting people in the more needy communities. They canvassed the communities, distributing flyers announcing the weekend services and promoting the special services featuring an actor performing a one-man show (yep, that would be me).

I have been featured at outreach events before… and it is humbling to admit it… but I am not much of a draw.  People who don’t normally attend church are not motivated to go see a show with some “Christian Actor Guy” that they have never heard of.

It takes something greater than that to get people to respond… and this church found it.  The answer?  A free turkey!

In order to get the turkey, you needed to call and reserve it and agree to come to the church to pick it up. The turkeys would be distributed after the services so you needed to attend the service and see the performance in order to get your turkey.

Call it a gimmick if you like, but it worked.  The church had between 300-400 reservations for turkeys for the weekend.  Both services were packed.

The church purposed to make sure the people visiting felt welcomed and I was impressed with the spirit of the congregation. This was not just one pastor’s vision—it was obvious to me the entire church shared the vision to reach out to the community. An hour before the service the members of the church gathered to pray for those who would be attending.

The church also purposed to make sure that nothing was required or expected of their visitors except to show up. An offering was received, but with explicit instructions that this was for members only… “please DON”T give” was the message to guests. Guests were encouraged to submit prayer requests, however, and many did.

The pastor had requested that I present something with a clear presentation of the Gospel and so I chose to present Encounters, a drama on the life of Christ.  The play was done as the “sermon.”  The audience was one of the most responsive I have had in a worship service setting. There was laughter, applause and profound “hmms” coming from the audience. I am sure that many were surprised that the “message” would be presented in a format that was entertaining as well as meaningful.

God moved.

After the play the pastor gave a simple invitation to receive Christ and at both of the services several came forward for prayer. Bibles were given away to anyone who wanted one and I don’t think they had any Bibles left to give away a the end of the second service.

It was a very impressive weekend.  This congregation found the balance. They served the needy and fed the poor. They shared the Good News of Jesus and love for all people. They let the community know that there is a church in the neighborhood that cares and showed that in a tangible way.

I believe there are people in that neighborhood who can say “we know they are Christians by their love.”

“We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love”

Uganda Part 2 – A Chicken Story

I think we Americans take chickens for granted. We eat their eggs, make a pillow out of their feathers and eat them deep fried, baked and stewed. We don’t get to know our chickens and very few of us have held one and even fewer have actually raised a chicken.

In Uganda a chicken is not only food, but is lifeline, not taken for granted. A bird of great value that is given as gifts and used as currency. This the story of one such chicken.

We visited a grandmother who is caring for her four orphaned grandsons. A grandmother raising four young boys would be tremendous task in our own country and for this grandmother it is monumental and amazing that she is able to do it, because this grandmother is in poor heath herself and nearly blind. In our own country we would be caring for her, but in Uganda she must push on for the sake of her grandsons. The family lives on one meal a day. The boys spend a good portion of that day walking to find water and carry it back to the village for their daily use.

World Vision has just recently discovered this family and is scrambling to their aid. Soon the boys will  have each of their faces on one of those picture folders. An opportunity for one of us to be Jesus to one of “the least of these.”

After visiting the grandmother we journeyed on to meet Olivia, the sponsored child of one of our team members, Mark Anzelon, who was unable to make this trip at the last minute. While this family is poor by anyone’s standards the contrast between this family and the grandmother’s is striking. They have a home with more than one hut (once a boy reaches age 15-17 they usually build their own hut). This family has 8 kids, 5 girls and 3 boys. And extended families often cluster together so we are in a spot in the bush what has about 4 or 5 huts. The children are dressed up in beautiful dresses, some shirt and ties are seen on the older boys and men. They have more stuff in contrast to the grandmother’s stark living conditions…and they have chickens, several in fact.

A beautiful visit. The girls sing for us. Olivia is given gifts sent by Mark, and not only gifts for her but gifts for everyone in the family as well. There was love all around. There was pride on the part of the father and smiles and hope exuded from each family member. Then Olivia tracks down a chicken, a good size one. The feet are bound with duct tape and the chicken is presented to Matthew Paul Turner on our team who is acting on behalf of Mark. On the practical side of things I think we are all thinking: “What in the world are we gonna do with a chicken… don’t think we can clear customs with that!.” But yet we know we have no choice but to accept the chicken to refuse it would be an insult. So we say our goodbyes and leave with live chicken in hand.

A decision is made.

We journey back to the grandmother. We find her napping alone in the shade outside her hut. She seems a bit confused that we have returned. Sam, the 13 year-old son of team member, David Konstantopoulos, is elected to present her with the gift. At first she doesn’t understand. Takes the chicken from us and possibly thinking we just wanted to show-off the gift we received tries to give it back. Then she understands that we are giving her the chicken… a smile… a big smile. She is so very happy.

I think the boys will be too… that chicken stew will be one of the healthiest meals they have had in a long time!

“I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” The Message, Eugene Peterson

Sponsor a Child in Uganda

Uganda Part 1 – Children of War Rehabilitation Centre

It is hard to know where to begin in describing my experiences here in Uganda. We began the trip with some casual sight-seeing, and while I enjoyed that, the real reason I am here is to experience the work of World Vision in this country devastated by 20 years of war with The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)–that on top of a country struggling with poverty and disease… it is hard to fathom from my recliner at home… Seeing it first hand is mind boggling.

We visited the Children of War Rehabilitation Center (a project of World Vision). Over the years over 14,000 abducted children have come through the gates of this facility to receive health treatment for physical wounds and emotional and spiritual treatment for the psychological damage inflicted upon them. Imagine being attacked in the night your adult family members beaten and murdered. The children abducted and along with other children tied together in a human chain. As the rebels take off with the children the army attempts to rescue but the children become a human shield and many are killed or wounded in a failed attempt. These children are then forced to become soldiers themselves and even attack their own people to survive. Unthinkable. Yet it was the reality in Northern Uganda. While the LRA has moved on the after effects are long lasting.

We walked into one room where the events I described above are told in paintings on the wall. We view the dorms which at times have housed hundreds of rescued children at a time. In World Visions work to rehabilitate this children they have them draw pictures to describe the things they remember. On a table we view hundreds of these pictures. It is heart breaking to say the least. (On my Facebook Photo album I have shared a few of these pictures).

Samuel and Grace are two formerly abducted children we are privileged to meet. Samuel was one of those who was shot in the stomach in the crossfire. He is doing quite well today. Grace was abducted when she was 13, managed to escape when she was 18. Last year Grace was named Woman Achiever of the Year in Uganda.

Currently there are only about 20-30 formerly abducted children in the Center. LRA is still active but they have taken their terror to other countries–at least for now. We asked one of the directors of the center if this work was being phased out. Her answer: “Not until the last child is returned home.”

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep”
Luke 15: 4-6

Sponsor a Child in Uganda!

Depends on Your GPS

I was leaving a busy restaurant tonight with a friend I had not seen in years. As we were saying our good-byes on the sidewalk a voice calls out to us. “Excuse me, can I ask you men a question?”

The voice came from a fairly well dressed woman seated on a bench near the door to the restaurant. She smiles and then stares at me, and says, “you look familiar.” Not able to figure out how that might be… this is Georgia and I am from Oregon… and have rarely performed in the area. She then proceeds to ask our help. She tells us that she has been at the airport all day, her flight canceled and the airline has put her up at the hotel across the street. She says that she embarrassed to admit it but she needs to get $24 to get some Depends. She roles up her pant leg to reveal a tube that is set up to connect to a colostomy bag.

The woman then also shares how she was waiting for a table to get something to eat at the restaurant and that someone man said loud enough for her to hear “what’s that smell?”

“That’s when I came out here to sit.” she says “I have been in these clothes all day and I am not clean, I just need $22 to get some Depends.”

Both my friend and I look at each other…neither of us reach for our wallets… but we are both processing. “Is there a store nearby?” my friend asks. She tells us that the shuttle driver said the closest place was a Krogers. My friend and I then excuse ourselves saying, “well, let’s look and see what is nearby.” This is a busy area and surely there must be a drug store nearby. Not immediately seeing anything, we both walk to the end of the parking lot to see what might be in the neighborhood. As we move out of earshot of the woman I ask my friend “do you believe her?”

My friend says, “I would feel better if she showed us an airline ticket.” I think we both have some doubt but at the same time, how could we be so heartless as to ignore this woman’s need. It has to be humiliating to ask for this kind of help, we are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. We are willing to try to restore some measure of her dignity.

We both simultaneously pull out our cell phones. Both our phones have GPS and so it is dueling cellphone GPS systems, to see who can find the nearest drug store. Bingo! I find one… a CVS about a mile and a half away.

As we are zeroing in on the location the lady comes over to us… “the shuttle driver says he would take me to Krogers.” I explain that we are looking for a drugstore nearby, “Our phones have GPS–and I found a CVS nearby.”

She says “oh they won’t be open.”

My friend says, “Yes, they are open 24 hours.” then he asks,”Do you have an airline ticket I could see?”

“It’s in the hotel room, but I have a room key” and shes shows us an electronic key.
Then she asks “do you have a car?”

“Yes” my friend says.

“Oh, just forget it” she says and walks away, down the street, away from us, away from the restaurant… away from the hotel.

There were other clues that I missed until reflecting further. If she had no money, how was she planning to eat in this restaurant that would probably cost her at least $15 for a modest meal. She was quick to show us the tubing for the colostomy bag… but there was no bag… only the tubing…meaning that the liquid would have just… well, you know. And the price of Depends dropped from $24 to $22 in a matter of seconds…

We were not heartless, both my friend and I were determined to help her. We were going to go to the store and buy that lady some Depends. She was convincing… she was not the “typical” street beggar. And of all the stories I have heard from the typical street beggars, this was certainly a new one!

Modern technology. A GPS became a truth detector.

Chuck Neighbors

Thoughts on Lima, Peru

By Lorie Neighbors

November 9, 2008

On November 2 my husband, Chuck and I met a team of 7 other people in Lima, Peru for a 4-day learning experience. Most of us are Artist Associates with World Vision, the Christian international relief, development and advocacy organization; others are staff facilitating this event. As performing artists (actors and singers) we talk to our audiences in the U.S. about child sponsorship and how they can impact a child in this simple yet life-changing way. We were invited to see firsthand what World Vision is doing in the inner-city slums of Lima. Bob Pierce founded World Vision by praying a simple prayer: “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” Mission accomplished.

Peru is a beautiful country and Lima boasts some breathtaking beauty! Our hotel was just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean, which was similar in some ways to the Oregon coast-pounding waves and except for a few designated areas, not very swimmable (they do have great surfing, though). Palm trees, cacti and aloe, but vegetation is sparse. The coastal area is a desert, which is odd since it is very humid and the temperature is moderate.

It was fascinating to learn that in some areas, if land belongs to someone but is vacant for 10 years, anyone has a right to it. So, slums are erected on empty land (so-called “invasions”) and it’s not unusual for 5,000 dwellings to spring up literally OVERNIGHT. The government provides electricity relatively soon, but it takes years for water and sewer. (The usual time from “invasion” until a community becomes self-supporting is 25-30 years.) The slums are built into hilly, unstable areas. No paved roads; just myriad dusty paths and roadways barely drivable. The further away from the city center we drove, heading to the slums, the more apparent it became that we were in a desert. Sand and dust everywhere and virtually no vegetation. A stark contrast.

Each day after breakfast at our hotel, we boarded a bus and drove to a different Area Development Project (ADP) where we were enthusiastically met by staff and volunteers eager to share what World Vision is doing in their area. It was exciting to see World Vision Peru partnering with the local people to enhance their lives and help enact sustainable solutions for the future of their communities. We were shown homes in three phases: before, during and after World Vision’s help. They augment or rebuild, depending on what is needed-giving the homes sturdy foundations and walls of brick, mortar and rebar; flooring and glass windows; plumbing, a toilet. It was also encouraging to visit marketplaces and see micro-enterprise made possible by low interest loans from World Vision. One woman had a produce stand; another an upholstery business.

The main component is child sponsorship. Once an area is chosen for an ADP, families are visited to determine children eligible for sponsorship. We met many sponsored children and were proudly shown letters and photos that their sponsors in America and Canada had sent to them (other countries have sponsorship programs, but we only saw U.S. and Canadian projects on this trip). World Vision helps all of the families in an ADP by offering classes on nutrition and child development to mothers of children under 5. We were told that anemia is the main health issue for children in these slums-almost 40% of children here are anemic. Each day families are offered iron-rich food to supplement their diets. Two ADP’s made a spread with chicken blood, powdered milk, sugar and water, which is boiled, then cooled and served on crackers. A few brave souls (yours truly included) ate some. I actually thought it was good, and had 3, to be extra polite! (I became ill that evening . . . hmmmm, could I have had one too many chicken blood pate crackers?)

We were told that, sadly, these children grow up not knowing how to play. World Vision believes that the future of any country lies in its children, so its focus begins there. Two of the ADP’s had “toy libraries.” These brightly painted buildings were divided into focused learning areas: there were puzzles, books, musical instruments, a little “store,” a “house” (each had a definite educational purpose). Kids could earn the right to come to the toy library for 2 hours each day by minding their parents, doing chores, getting good grades in school. Wonderful teenage volunteers help out-we were so impressed by the teens we met! All of them were respectful and fiercely loyal and loving toward their families even with difficult upbringings. All were committed to going to college, even though it is very expensive and we were told there are no scholarships or student loans. They give many hours each day mentoring younger children in good values and non-violence. Abuse and domestic violence are critical issues in the slums of Lima. However, Peruvians are private people and normally don’t report domestic violence.

(Side note: We were told that Peruvians believe that expressing personal feelings is rude and don’t tell their problems to anyone. Someone could be dying and no one would know! Our translator told us it is shocking to see the changes in a Peruvian who goes to live in America then returns-they talk too much about themselves [“we don’t have to know about every ache and pain you have!”].)

The highlight of the trip for Chuck and me was getting to meet the little boy that we sponsor, Enrique, and his mother, Patty. Words cannot describe the feelings we had as they walked into the room and we hugged her and got to hold this precious child that we have been helping to support through our prayers and finances. Thanks to sponsorship, he is healthy and happy. His mother loves him so much but she is poor, lives with her parents and cannot support him alone. She was so appreciative that a family in America would care enough to help them have a better life. A very moving experience for us all.

A lovely Peruvian woman we met asked me to tell people in America that art is not commonly seen among the poor, and they believe they have no right to access art. They struggle for the children to understand that LIFE IS ART! They want to incorporate drama, art, painting, as it helps children’s spiritual and cultural enrichment. Some people believe there are no artists among the poor. “We are a repressed people and any contact with art helps us glimpse reality.”

I believe we helped with that in a small way last week. Everywhere we visited, we shared our art with them. We sang, played instruments, did a simple improv game. The children sang for us, performed authentic dances in traditional dress and proudly showed us their artwork. I believe there are artists among them. I believe that with World Vision’s help they are learning to play and love and glimpse a future that holds out hope for them.

If you would like to sponsor a child like Enrique and bring help and hope to a community like the ones we visited in Peru you can do that now by clicking the World Vision logo below!

Blessings to you!

Lorie Neighbors

Mission Trip to India

Dear Friends,

I am writing to share with you about our recent trip to India. First, let me say that this trip was indeed a blessing and God’s purpose in sending us on this mission was confirmed to us in the response of the people we were able minister to in our travels. Your prayer and financial support made this ministry possible and for that we are grateful!

Travel to India was long but included a stopover in London both on the way there and back. This little overnight break helped to make the trip less grueling and we are glad our itinerary allowed for the rest! On this trip we were also more immersed in the culture than on some of my previous travels. We fared well, although there was some adjustment for me and my traveling companions, Steve Wilent and my son, Liam. Food proved to be a challenge as pretty much all Indian food is spicy and my system doesn’t do so well with that! We found that the word “mild” is relative and all of us have our “too hot to eat” stories. We also experienced eating without the normal fork and spoon we are accustomed to! So the phrase “dig in” when it comes to eating has a new meaning for us-as does the phrase “finger-licking-good!”

The first half of our stay was in the city of Chennai (formerly Madras). Here we stayed in guest rooms at the Inter Church Service Center. Pretty much dorm style rooms with hard mattresses (I could not get my sleep number dialed in!) and lukewarm showers the norm. It is summer here and temperatures are in the 90’s and quite humid. Thankfully our rooms are air-conditioned!

We have a free day before our first workshop begins. We are able to sightsee a bit. Chennai is the city where the apostle Thomas was martyred and we are able to see the shrines and churches that commemorate his life and death. We also visit Marina Beach, the second longest beach in the world and one of the places that was hit by last year’s tsunami.

We are hosted by Dr. C.D Jebasingh and his associate, Abraham Anand. They are part of a ministry called Galilean International Films and Television Services (www.giftsministries.org). Their mission is to spread the gospel through visual media and they have invited us to India because of their vision to see the dramatic arts used for evangelism and ministry throughout India.

On Monday we begin our three-day workshop with a group of about 30 leaders from a wide variety of churches and organizations. The meeting room is not air-conditioned and over the course of the next three days we find the heat stifling but we are able to manage (we consumed copious amounts of bottled water). Our students are eager learners and we were amazed at how they clung to our every word. The vision for visual communication in spreading the Gospel is readily accepted. We were concerned about them understanding us but that fear was laid to rest. However, the ability to speak English on the part of our students varied widely-leaving us to say “would you repeat the question?” more often than we wanted. Liam opened each day leading worship on guitar and Steve shared a devotion to start the morning. Both Steve and I shared the teaching time throughout each day.

At the end of three days we were honored and humbled by the words of encouragement in a closing ceremony where we handed out certificates to the participants and they honored us with a garland of sandalwood and gifts. They made it very clear that this training is much appreciated and waste no time in inviting us back in the future!

On Thursday we travel to Mumbai (formerly Bombay). In Mumbai we are put up in a hotel-nice but not the Ritz. We do have slightly softer mattresses and this time hot showers! The restaurant in the hotel also offers some western fare, so we get a break from the hot and spicy food!

Friday is a full day. We conduct a one-day workshop for about 30 people and again are impressed with their eager attitudes to learn and utilize the training. On Friday PM we have our only performance of the trip. This is the only part where we are a bit disappointed in the numbers. Our audience is about 30 people and we had been expecting over 150 people. Dr. Jebasingh confided that a key employee that was responsible for much of our arrangements here, resigned just a couple weeks before our arrival and the ball got dropped on some of the details. Still we give it our all and the audience loves the performance. I am particularly proud of Liam, as he sings a closing song and truly sells it like an artist beyond his years and experience. In fact he has been quite the trouper this whole trip. Where other teens might have grumbled about the lack of creature comforts or succumbed to homesickness, Liam has had a wonderful attitude and demeanor the whole trip.

On Saturday we are privileged to visit some of the work that World Vision is doing in India. As you may recall, our ministry is in partnership with World Vision and when I travel outside the USA I like to visit and learn more about their work and also encourage the workers who are doing so much to help the poor. In Mumbai we visit projects that are working against the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus that is devastating so many third world countries. We hear the stories of women who are living with the disease. The cycle is so sad. While women are expected to remain faithful in marriage, it is expected and accepted in this culture that men will have extra-marital affairs. Also, the concept of family is quite different. Where we would encourage our adult children to move out and establish themselves on their own, here the adult males will marry and move in with their parents to be a support to them in their old age.

So the man has multiple partners, acquires the HIV/AIDS virus, passes it on to his wife, who then may infect her child. As the disease progresses the husband may die, the wife is often blamed for infecting him and then booted out of the home by the rest of the family, along with her children. She becomes an outcast and a pariah to her family and community. The really sad part is that the truly innocent victims in this scenario are the children. World Vision is working to educate men, women and children to end this cycle. We visit a Drop-In Center where women can get support and encouragement. We visit a classroom where women are being taught to sew in order to get work to support themselves and their children.

A special treat for Steve and me is to visit a group of youth that perform street theater on HIV/AIDS. How affirming it is to see that the arts, especially drama, is a front line tool in fighting the war on this disease. Through drama young people are being presented with truth and challenged to be responsible in their lifestyle! Awesome!

Sunday is our last full day in India. We attend a three-hour church service and all the sudden appreciate the shorter services that we are accustomed to back home. Some last minute shopping is required to complete our time. We return to London and then to Oregon. Home sweet home where Lorie awaits her husband and her youngest child. Steve is also anxious to connect with his loved ones.

It will be about a week before our internal clocks reset themselves-but we know that the time spent in India was worth it. Our lives are better for seeing and experiencing this country. Most importantly we feel the ministry was well worth the time, expense and energy it required to get us there.

This is only a short synopsis of our experience, but I want you to know that your prayers and support were not in vain. We are so grateful to be sent by you to do this work. We continue to pray that the seeds we have sown will bear much fruit in the lives of the people of India! Thank you for being a part of that!

Until the next time!


Chuck Neighbors

P.S: If you would like to sponsor a child through World Vision we would be most happy to help you get started! You can change a life for as little at $30 a month. Click on the World Vision link below to select a child and transform a life!

Dominican Diary—World Vision Trip to The Dominican Republic

Monday, February 27, 2006

After about 20 hours of travel I arrived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic just before midnight. It really doesn’t take 20 hours to travel to this country from Oregon, but due to tight connections I was forced to have an 8-hour layover in Fort Lauderdale. Of all the airports I have had to kill time in, I would rank this airport near the bottom of the heap. It is a major destination airport for those going on cruises and the place was packed!

Anyway I had a good night’s sleep and was able to relax part of the next day at the pool. I later hooked up with Bruce Cripe, who is a 30-plus year veteran with the WV Artist program and will be our guide/host on this venture. I have come on this trip in part to learn from Bruce and how he organizes these trips. The plan is for me to lead a trip later in the year with some other artists. Bruce is a great guy and knows his stuff. I decided to join Bruce on a trip to the airport to get the rest of the team who arrived today. The team is Jennifer LaMountain and her husband Lynell, Christy Janzen and husband Jim, the Martin family (John, Doty and Debbie), Alan Atwood, and Joey Nicholson. Also along for the trip is our photographer, Jon Morgan and our videographer Heidi Groff. I am delighted to have Jon and Heidi along, as they were also on the trip to Africa!

After returning from the Airport we all went out to eat at a nice Italian place near our hotel (El Embajador). We then hit the sack, as we are to depart at 6:00 the next morning.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Today we traveled to the other side of the island to an Enriquillo Area Development Project (ADP) that is on the border of Haiti. It was a long bus ride (between 5 and 6 hours) and we were able to see much of the beautiful countryside: a mix between tropical and then high desert in the mountains. Bruce was masterful at preparing us for the day. Since we had a long bus ride, he took advantage of the time to tell us a bit about what to expect. He had each artist share a bit about themself, share a devotional and pray, laying the groundwork for us to bond over the next three days. Joining us for the three days is our guide and interpreter, Raphael. He is one impressive man. He is a former professional baseball player (once drafted by the Yankees, though he never played for them), very intelligent and a very loving and warm individual. It is easy to tell that we could not have had a better person to aid us on this trip. Raphael spent much time telling us more about the Dominican culture and some of the challenges they face in their work here. He reinforces something we have heard before. The men are very into machismo, and it is not uncommon for a man to have more than one wife. One of the difficulties in helping a family is the risk that as a family starts to better itself, the man will often want to take a second wife. This is a huge problem, as the man will then start a second family with less resources to provide for them. For this reason and others, most aid and micro enterprise is focused on women. Women, according to Raphael, are more honest and trustworthy.

Upon arrival we met with the leaders of the ADP and they were proud to give us a report on what is being done here. This area was devastated by a flood a little over a year ago. Several were killed in the flood (including some sponsored children) and a number of homes destroyed. World Vision is working to rebuild homes. Because of the limited funds we asked how it is determined who will get a new home. The answer is the best possible under the circumstances: “whoever has the greatest need.” Huge in the selection process will be the children affected and helped. One interesting thing we noted is the excellent job that World Vision does in making sure the people receiving benefit are also involved in the work. They are expected to help build, to learn and to teach others. We hear the word “multiplier” used over and over again. They want each person to multiply themself, and through this process true “development” takes place.

Around us in the room where we met was a large mural painted by the kids. The theme of the mural is child abuse. We learned that one of the biggest problems in these communities is child abuse, including children being sold and sexual abuse. I found the mural chilling to view. Central to the mural is a picture of Jesus crying—very moving.

After the meeting we went to lunch. Sitting outdoors on a patio that serves as a restaurant, we ate a typical Dominican meal: juice, rice and beans, chicken, goat meat, salad and grilled plantain. For dessert, a coconut and milk pudding–all and all not bad. (Note: we didn’t eat the salad… when traveling in a third world country you learn to avoid raw veggies and drink only bottled water and soft drinks).

After lunch we traveled to a project run entirely by single mothers: a tilapia farm. These women have dug the pond and stocked it with tilapia as a means of micro-enterprise. In about 4 months’ time the fish are ready for harvest. I am amazed at the incredible ingenuity of this idea. Here in a high desert location a plot of barren land has been transformed into a life-sustaining project providing both food and income! Way to go!

We take a short drive to the border of Haiti. Raphael has shared with us that there are many from Haiti who try to sneak into the DR. There are armed guards at several checkpoints along the road, the DR army looking for Haitians trying to get into the country. While the two countries share this small island they are very different countries. The DR has Spanish influence and Spanish is the spoken language. Haiti, on the other hand, is French influenced with French being the spoken language. Both have an African influence. Haitians are a darker-colored race for the most part. And there is some tension between the two countries. Raphael has been careful to point out that at this ADP there are many Haitians as well. We are allowed, without even showing our passports, to cross over on foot into Haiti. Even though both are poor countries, we as a group sense a more oppressed and desperate feel to Haiti. We walked about the marketplace, which consisted of mostly flea market stuff. Not a market for tourists, to be sure. It is dark, dirty and oppressive, and I stepped over a dead rat in the aisle between the rows of merchandise. I was not eager to stay here long and indeed we left after only about 5 minutes of walking around—we had seen enough.

Next we are off to a Children’s Festival in town. When World Vision artists come to a project, a highlight for both artists and community is opportunities for both to perform for each other. Bruce has set this up in advance and so in a park in the middle of town we met about 300-plus school children, most in uniforms and busting with energy. I was impressed right off the bat with the behavior and had serious doubts that 300 children in a park setting in the US would be so well behaved. We took turns with them performing for us and we for them—music and dance (no drama in this setting).

Joey Nicholson proved to be the “rock star” today. He took the stage with his guitar and started singing, “I Could Sing of His Love Forever.” It was obvious this was a familiar tune to them, but not the English words. Then Joey started the second time through in Spanish and the crowd came alive singing with him. Very cool!

We said our goodbyes to the kids and started the long ride back to Santo Domingo. We were tired but felt very glad we came. On the way back we stopped for some fast food fried chicken for our dinner. After dinner we decided to play charades on the bus. This turned out to be great fun for all and created some memorable moments. Bruce came up with the winning song title: They Girdle the Globe With Salvation. He claims it is a real old hymn title, but some of us are not so sure!

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Today was not so much of an endurance test as yesterday. I slept well last night and was able to sleep in a bit. Hard to get out of bed this AM. After a bite of breakfast we visited the national office of World Vision in the DR. Met the President of WV DR, Claudio. What a wonderful, intelligent and passionate man. We spoke with him through translators and I was very impressed with this man’s zeal and his heart. We also visited with the department that handles all the letters, translations, and such. Fascinating to see how they work. There are some major differences between WV here and what I observed in Africa. The DR has been established with WV so much longer and thus has programs that have been working well for several years. Africa was more primitive and in earlier stages by comparison.

After our visit to the office we did a bit of sightseeing in Old Santo Domingo. I didn’t remember this from my history classes (I should have been paying attention) but Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the Americas. It is where Columbus landed. We visited the home of his son, Diego, walked the very first street in the Americas, and visited the oldest church in the Americas. I had to capitalize on this opportunity, so I gathered several of the team around me and performed a few lines from Sacred Diary, just so I can now say, “I have performed in the oldest church in the Americas!” It will sound great on my resumé and on the website!

We walked around Old Town and looked in some shops and then went to lunch. Ate at a nice place but service took way too long. About 2 hours later we were done with our meal. We then visited a really neat ADP. It is an inner-city project that is driven by youth volunteers. Think of it as kind of a drop-in center, continuing education center, health club and fine arts academy all rolled into one. The highlight was sitting outside with these incredible youth who sang and performed for us and we for them. Awesome atmosphere. I actually performed the Bible Backrub with Rafael translating. It went over great. The whole thing ended in a time of worship together. Joey brought back “I Could Sing of His Love Forever” and we sang it… forever. (But it was cool.)

This center made such a great impression on all of us. We think of World Vision in terms of relief—feeding the hungry, helping after a disaster, caring for orphans, etc. And I have seen that in action. But it is great to be reminded that it is also a development organization. I found out that Raphael was himself a sponsored child, but with a different organization. Without being asked to choose favorites, he told me that while he is grateful to the organization he was sponsored by, if he had to choose he would pick World Vision over it. I asked him why and he said it was because WV deals with every area: not just basic physical needs, but spiritual, educational and every area of development. As artists we were delighted to see kids have an opportunity to be in a place like this center that could help them realize their potential in areas of talent and passion. What a blessing!

Drove home in rush hour traffic (or should I say we crawled home). We then had a nice dinner outside at the hotel as we unwound and shared our impressions of the day.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Today we visited some schools that World Vision has built. Fascinating to see the before and after of the school rooms that these people have used in the past. Mostly outdoor, open-air classrooms with dilapidated desks.

Once again we met the staff of this ADP and they shared their individual projects with us. It is so important for these people to share with us what they do. It is important for us to encourage them and pray for them. They do the really hard work and we are privileged to see it and acknowledge it. As a staff they had prepared a song for us and sang it beautifully. We, of course, sang “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” (this song my be stuck in my head “forever!”) We also found out that our group makes a nice little choir doing a very good job on Amazing Grace!

In the afternoon we met and shared quality time with families affected by HIV/AIDS. Found out that the Hope Child Program in the DR is not the same as in Africa. (Note: Hope Child is the program put in place by World Vision to aid people affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.) In Africa the kids in a country like Lesotho are automatically Hope Children, whether or not they are personally at risk, as such a large part of the population is affected. The DR offers both Hope and Traditional sponsorships. So a Hope Child in the DR either has AIDS or has a family member with AIDS. Today we went to a program put on by some of these children. They sang and then we sang. They danced and sang some more. Then we played a game in which I was “volunteered.” I had to place a cookie on my forehead and try to get it into my mouth without using my hands. I failed but got lots of laughs in the process. It is possible and a couple people succeeded!

Then went into another room and each of us in our group sat at a separate table with a “family” affected by AIDS. We were asked not to talk about AIDS or their situation, but just to be with them and participate in an activity with them. This is where I met Ruth. There was some awkwardness, as we could not understand each other (at times like this I wish I had been a better student in life and learned another language). I asked, “como se yama” (don’t know if I spelled it right but it means “what is your name?”) Also at the table, in addition to Ruth, was a woman probably in late 20s named Carmen and an older woman named Tata. I started to bond with Ruth by playing volleyball with a balloon that I had given her. This progressed to volleyball using only our noses (I mean to bat the balloon… we were not hitting each other’s noses!) Next we were given paper and glue and told to make a card for each other with a message on it. So I did this. All was well.

I assumed that Carmen was Ruth’s mother and that Tata was the Grandmother. I decided to ask, thinking they would understand “Mama.” So I looked at Carmen and said, “Mama?” Carmen gave me a sharp look and wagged her finger at me to say “no.” I then looked at Tata and said, “Grandmama?” and again got another sharp look and sort of a reprimand from both ladies. Carmen was wagging her finger again and Tata was running her finger across her throat with the universal symbol of “slit your throat” meaning STOP! It was then that I understood. Ruth was an orphan. These two ladies were not family but simply filling a role to be caretakers. I felt about one inch tall. We were told not to talk about anything related to AIDS and here I was crossing the line in a way they clearly did not want me to broach. Thankfully, either Ruth was oblivious or gracious as she did not let on and we went back to playing volleyball and eating a snack of juice and crackers.

I was struck by just how hard it must be not only for a child like Ruth, but for all those working in this situation to be sensitive and loving caretakers in an extremely difficult circumstance. Not only are your parents dead, they are dead from a disease that nobody wants to talk about. Her parents died with a “stigma” attached to them. Like leprosy, AIDS results in people being shunned and outcast. The truly heartbreaking part of that is what it does to these children—children who are truly innocent victims… children like Ruth.

That evening we gathered one last time as a group for a nice dinner at the hotel. Bruce went all out to make this last night special for us. We shared our insights, our impacts, even some tears as we reflected on all we have seen the last three days. We resolved to do our best to try to share what this trip has meant to us. We want to communicate the needs that we have witnessed. We want to do more to help World Vision accomplish the wonderful work it is doing. This trip, like my trip to Lesotho, brings poverty, pain and disease close to home. It gives it a name and a face. For me that name and face is Ruth.

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