Jeepers, Creepers, Where’d Ya Get Those Peepers?

(Finally, after months of not being on stage in front of an audience, Steve Wilent has been able to perform a couple of times recently. He discovered things are a little different than  what he was used to before the pandemic.)

Guest blog by Steve Wilent

I was standing on stage about to start my one-man show According to John. I have performed this 45-minute version of the Gospel of John for over 30 years but this would be, thanks to COVID-19, the very first time that I have performed it to a congregation of masked people.

It was a bit jarring at first.  I was used to seeing full faces out there.  Faces that had mouths that would grin if I said something funny or would fully open if I said something really funny or perhaps droop in sadness to a character’s failure or lips that stretched thin during a stressful scene.  So many ways to know that the folks out there were connecting with me and in turn I with them.

But that was all gone now.  Now, due to the masks, all I had to go on, apart from a bit of body language and the muffled noises they made, was their eyes.  The biggest problem with having a sea of eyes to look at is that, regardless of the emotion, everything looks like a squint!  Happiness, sadness, stressfulness, nervousness, passion, hatred . . . it all comes across as a squint.

I remember an advanced acting class when I was in college.  I was in a short scene with a female classmate. We were portraying two young lovers experiencing their first argument.  I don’t remember the script. I don’t even remember my acting partner’s name, but what I do remember is that right at the height of the argument Jim Kirkman, the class instructor, suddenly yelled, “Stop!”

I remember freezing right there on stage and thinking, “What the heck?! We haven’t even got to the good part yet!” Kirkman then hopped up onto the stage and walked briskly past my acting partner and over to me. “Close your eyes,” he commanded. Ever the compliant, affable actor, I did so.  Mind you, I didn’t simply allow my eyelids to softly come together; no, I shut them with such force that you might have been able to audibly hear them slam together. There was a sprinkling of suppressed laughter coming from the other students, who in this moment were quite happy not to be the target of Kirkman’s coaching.

I heard him say, “Steve, relax.”  Again complying, I relaxed and for some reason decided that to fully relax I must also open my eyes.  Kirkman grabbed my shoulders and quickly spun me around so that my back was now to What’sherface. Kirkman gently squeezed my shoulders and said, “What color are her eyes?” Understandably nervous I said, “What color are whose eyes?” I heard titters of laughter coming from the cheap seats. Before Kirkman could say, “What’sherface’s eyes,” What’sherface, sounding annoyed said, “My eyes, you moron.” Calling me a moron, I thought, was just her way of letting me know how attracted to me she was. I thought.

Kirkman, gesturing with his thumb over his shoulder said, “Yes, Steve, what color are her eyes?”  Being put on the spot tends to do funny things to people.  My usual way of handling this kind of pressure was to try to say something funny.  So taking a cue from a popular Elton John song I said, “So . . . excuse me forgetting, but these things I do. You see I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue . . .” Truthfully, I just wanted to say that, what I actually did say, in a moment of surprising self-awareness was, “I don’t know.”

Kirkman suddenly spun around to face the class and pointing back at me with a bony finger yelled, “Exactly!  You don’t know the color of her eyes because you were acting at her and not with her! When you act with a fellow human being you focus on their soul.  The eyes are the windows to the soul, people!  Use your eyes to see into their eyes!”

Back on stage in front of the masked and socially-distanced congregation, remembering Kirkman’s words helped me to link to a much wiser man’s words, “The eye is the lamp of the body . . .” Jesus said.  Suddenly the sea of squints out there became a sea of souls to me.  Precious souls, who now more than ever needed the hope and the courage to be able to thrive in this time of pandemic.

I have now made the decision that when things “get back to normal,” I will continue to focus on and minister to people’s souls, through their eyes.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, mine are blue!

What Does Jesus Want for His Birthday?

It was after a performance of In His Steps at a church in Southern California in August. With the challenge of the drama “what would Jesus do?” fresh on their minds, I shared with congregation about our work with the ministry of Food for the Hungry and left the platform to go wait at the display table, hoping that someone might stop and sponsor a child.

Gino approached with his fiancee, Mary. I began to explain the process: “Select the child you would like to sponsor and—“

Gino cut me off and said: “Just one? I was thinking maybe six.”

And he did… he sponsored six kids! He took the challenge of “what would Jesus do?” and did what Jesus asks of us all to do.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

It’s Christmas time, and if you are like me you are probably getting swept up in all the activities of the season. One of those in our house is the making and checking of our Christmas lists. It is easy to get so caught up in the festivities that we can forget that it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. While we “make our list and check it twice” we forget that Jesus has a list as well. Since it is His birthday we celebrate, it might be a good time to see what it is that He has on His list. It starts out: “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink.” The list ends with:  “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Gino’s response was a powerful reminder of why I do this ministry. Amidst the list of all I have to do—the traveling, performing, scheduling, writing and rehearsing—I need to remember what is on Jesus’ list. When it comes down to it, it is the very reason I started this ministry in the first place. The very name of this ministry “Master’s Image” was created as a reminder to be conformed to His image in the work we do. While at first glance you might think, “it’s just that Christian actor guy that does those plays in churches,” for me it’s about so much more. It’s about lives changed, it’s about people like Gino and the six kids whose lives were helped because Gino saw a play and was moved to do something that Jesus would do.

While I work on my Christmas list this year, I am also adding things that I am thankful for. This ministry turns 34 years old in 2018 and it could’t happen without the prayers and support of people like you. If you are reading this letter, you are one of those who have made this journey possible. That’s hundreds of performances and thousands of lives impacted like Gino and the kids he sponsored. Thank you!

As you look forward to 2018, we would be so very honored if you would remember us by giving a gift to Master’s Image ProductionsWe would be especially grateful if you could support us on a regular basis with a monthly pledge (if you are already doing that, thank you!). You can also designate your gifts for the benefit of a specific artist (Marcia Whitehead and Steve Wilent).

Merry Christmas!

One Time or Monthly Donations:

Your donations make this ministry possible! We welcome your participation. (You will be taken to a PayPal page to complete your contribution.) Master’s Image is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.  Donations are tax-deductible.

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Master’s Image Productions, P.O. Box 903, Salem, OR 97302

P.S: If you would like to sponsor a child with Food for the Hungry you can do that here: (sponsorships through that link also help Master’s Image!)


We’ve Got New Stuff!

As you may know, in addition to the stories I share in my travels, we also represent other artists through Master’s Image Productions. Two of our team have added to their lineup recently and I think they are productions you should consider for your church/organization.

Marcia Whitehead – Broken

If you have experienced Marcia’s presentation You Raise Me Up you know she has a powerful story to tell of her journey to discover life after loss. Her story does what a good story always does—leaves you wanting more.   People had so many questions they wanted to explore that she was compelled to create a sequel to address some of the issues left unresolved in You Raise Me Up.  Her newest presentation, Broken, does just that. It addresses her continued journey to healing and wholeness, a message of hope that will inspire those who listen. To learn more or schedule Marcia for a presentation:

Steve Wilent – Unlikely Prospect

Steve has had a varied career, from cleaning windows to working as an actor in Hollywood, and pastoring a rural church as a young seminary graduate. It is from this experience as a young pastor that he shares his story called Unlikely Prospect. I have had the pleasure of looking over Steve’s shoulder as he wrote out this story and I can tell you it is a story for anyone who has ever wondered about the purpose of the church—a fellowship of believers learning how to live life together as the body of Christ. You will laugh, squirm and be moved to tears in this inspiring true life story of faith. Check out Steve’s presentations at

While I don’t have a new production waiting in the wings at this point, I am still enjoying sharing my stories and especially those that, like Marcia’s and Steve’s, are based on my real life adventures. So be sure to check out Truth be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up and Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story.

It it matters, there’s a story!

Merry Christmas 2016!

As I sit here writing this I am keeping one eye on the window, watching for the anticipated snowfall that is threatening to shutdown Salem later today. I am a little anxious because I am scheduled to perform tonight in Silverton, OR. There is a very good chance the performance will cancel.

As I reflect on that thought, I am realizing that there have not been many cancelations in my 42 years of ministry. A few caused by weather, a few caused by family/medical emergences. But all in all, it is a rare event. In fact I think I could probably count the cancelations on two hands. (I estimate that we have given about 5,000 performances during that time—that is about .2%!) I count that is one of God’s blessings on this ministry. And we’re still going strong and busy as ever!

  • Performances— Over 100 performances by our artists again this year.
  • Ministry growth— In addition to my performances, my associates, Steve Wilent and Marcia Whitehead have been keeping busy.  Just this month we are adding a new artist to our roster. Wes Whatley lives on the East Coast and will be great addition to our team.
  • Child Sponsorship— One of the biggest blessings of this ministry is that we also get to advocate on behalf of the poor through our partnership with Food for the Hungry. This year about 400 more sponsors were added and over the life of our ministry over 6,000 sponsors have been joined us in tacking poverty around the world.

We fully realize that it is the prayer and financial support of people like you that make this work possible.  We so appreciate your partnership in the work that we do.  As you look forward to 2017, we would be so very honored if you would help us keep the story going by giving a gift to Master’s Image Productions.  We would be especially grateful if you could support us on a regular basis with a monthly pledge (if you are already doing that, thank you!). You can also designate your gifts for the benefit of a specific artist if you like.

May God bless you and yours this Christmas and in 2017!

Chuck Neighbors

Donate online (one-time or monthly):

(You will be taken to a PayPal page to complete your contribution. To make your donation an automatic monthly donation be sure to check the “Recurring” payment box.)

Donate by mail:

Master’s Image Productions, P.O. Box 903, Salem, OR 97302

Master’s Image is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Donations are tax-deductible.

Looking back at 2015

It’s hard for me to believe that another year has passed. It seems like yesterday that I was saying that about 2014! It has been a wonderful and eventful year for us. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Performances— Over 100 performances by our artists again this year. Lots of travel and performances in churches of all sizes and denominations. Each performance becomes special as we are able to witness lives touched. Sometimes it is evident in silence, sometimes in laughter, sometimes in tears and every once in a while in spectacular ways as evidenced through stories and comments we receive after the event.

Ministry growth— In addition to my performances, we have two other artists that are a part of our team–Steve Wilent and Marcia Whitehead. Both Marcia and Steve have been creative in working to develop new material to add to their repertory. My booking schedule has been robust and I have managed to schedule bookings about 6 months in advance.

DSC07760Child Sponsorship— One of the biggest blessings of this ministry is that we also get to advocate on behalf of the poor through our partnership with Food for the Hungry. This year Marcia and I were able to travel to the Dominican Republic to witness their work and to each meet children that we personally sponsor! As a ministry we were able to help over 400 children find sponsors this year! This is one of the most important aspects of our ministry and a rich blessing indeed!

IMG_4028On a personal note, the biggest highlight of our year was that Lorie and I became grandparents to Lucy Paige Neighbors. This precious child was born with a heart defect and spent the first 2.5 months of her life in the hospital, but as of this writing is home and doing well!

We fully realize that it is the prayer and financial support of people like you that make this work possible.  We so appreciate your partnership in the work that we do.  As you look forward to 2016, we would be so very honored if you would help us keep the story going by giving a gift to Master’s Image Productions.  We would be especially grateful if you could support us on a regular basis with a monthly pledge (if you are already doing that, thank you!). You can also designate your gifts for the benefit of a specific artist if you like.

You can mail tax deductible gifts to:

Master’s Image Productions, P.O. Box 903, Salem, OR 97308

or just click the button to donate online:

May God bless you and yours this Christmas and in 2016!

Chuck Neighbors

2014 The Year in Review

Chuck & Lorie Neighbors

Chuck & Lorie Neighbors

Dear Friends,

It’s almost time to turn the page on another year. With each page I turn, I find myself marveling in the story we are making, both in our personal lives, and in this ministry that God has called us to! 2014 was a milestone for us, as June marked the 30th anniversary for Master’s Image (and 40 years for me as an actor in ministry)! Here are just a few of the highlights:

Performances— Over 100 performances by our artists this year. In the 30 years we have been in existence there have been an estimated 3,000 performances and an estimated total audience of over half a million people! Those performances, have been all over US and in 17 countries around the world!  That’s an amazing statistic for this “Christian Actor Guy” to even begin to comprehend.

Ministry growth— In addition to my performances we have two other artists that are a part of our team–Steve Wilent and Marcia Whitehead. In 30 years, we have been able to help 6 other artists establish a ministry. We have also consulted and mentored numerous artists from across the country on various projects. God has blessed us and allowed us to be a blessing to others who are called to ministry through the arts.

Child Sponsorship— Clearly one of the biggest blessings of this ministry is that we also get to advocate on behalf of the poor. This year we were able to get 350 children sponsored, who live in poverty in third-world countries. Over the years, we have acquired close to 6,000 child sponsors. Not only are we able to impact and touch lives through our ministry on a local level, but through sponsorship lives are being changed around the globe! Blessed indeed!

We fully realize that it is the prayer and financial support of people like you that make this work possible.  We so appreciate your partnership in the work that we do.  As you look forward to 2015, we would be so very honored if you would help us keep the story going by giving a gift to Master’s Image Productions.  We would be especially grateful if you could support us on a regular basis with a monthly pledge (if you are already doing that, thank you!). You can also designate your gifts for the benefit of a specific artist if you like.

You can mail tax deductible gifts to: Master’s Image Productions, P.O. Box 903, Salem, OR or just click the button to donate online:

May God bless you and yours this Christmas and in 2015!

Chuck & Lorie Neighbors

Actors who are Christians

Faith on Stage: Keith Ferrin, Marquis Laughlin, Steve Wilent, Jason Nightingale

Faith on Stage: Keith Ferrin, Marquis Laughlin, Steve Wilent, Jason Nightingale

I am just back from a retreat where I got to hang out with some dear friends–professionals in the world of the theater–who happen to be Christ-followers and are intentional about using their craft and talent under the banner of Christian ministry. (Notice I did not say “Christian actors” in the title of this article—I have voiced my opinion on that topic in the past here). These people are my peers and while you may accuse me of a certain bias, I have to say they are some of the best, most talented and dedicated people in the entertainment industry–and you probably have not heard of any of them. (Notice also that I said “entertainment industry” and not “Christian entertainment industry”…whatever that means).

There is a small group of more famous actors that might make your list of actors who are Christians. You can see their names associated with the more recent crop of films coming out of Hollywood these days that cater to Christians. (Although one should not make the naive assumption that an actor appearing in one of those films is necessarily a Christian). While I mean no disrespect to those more famous actors, or the films they are creating, there is a group of actors who travel the world plying their craft not on famous stages or in movie houses, but rather doing their work primarily in churches. There are others in this group who go to places where you might not find many “church people.” Places like university coffee houses, prisons, the street and even bars and nightclubs. They go there because God has opened doors for them to share their gifts and the message of God’s hope to the world through the medium of entertainment, which is the language of our culture. They have my highest respect.

The performers in this group are not only actors, but also storytellers, spoken word artists, musicians, poets, mime artists and dancers. These are the artists that raise the bar far higher than what most of us imagine when we think of the art typically shared in most churches. It was my privilege to share the stage with this group. I want to invite you to check them out and consider inviting them to your church. They are:

Drawing Water – Music and drama performed by Cara Walter and Tracie Gorham

Wesley Brainard – Actor, and Mime Artist

Marquis Laughlin – Actor/Storyteller

Jason Nightingale – Actor/Storyteller

Steve Wilent – Actor/Storyteller

Keith Ferrin – Actor/Storyteller

Phil Long – Poet

Marcia Whitehead – Musician/Storyteller

This is just a small representation of some of the artists out there who have dedicated their craft to the building of the Kingdom. I’m honored to be associated with this group. Check them out! Know that the art being produced in Hollywood under the banner of “Christianity” is not the only art, or necessarily the best being produced by people of faith. Some of the best could very well be seen in your church sanctuary by one of these talented artists—artists who are Christians.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!


It’s that “most wonderful time of the year” again! We just put the Thanksgiving leftovers in the refrigerator and now I am procrastinating on my duties to pull out the Christmas decorations. (Didn’t I just put those away last week?) It’s also time for the annual update on the ministry and it has been a “most wonderful” year indeed. Here are just a few of the highlights:

• A very busy year— In spite of the fact that churches seem to be doing less inviting of outside guest speakers and artists, we have managed to keep busy. And God has blessed our efforts, as our performances continue to challenge, encourage and inspire others in their life and faith.

• Ministry growth— In addition to my performances, we now have three other artists that are a part of Master’s Image.

Steve Wilent continues to impact audiences with his dramatic presentations.

Marcia Whitehead has made the transition to make her performing a “full-time job.” Her performances are having a profound impact. She is now in the midst of raising funds to record her much anticipated first album. If you would like to know how you can support this project visit: Marcia Whitehead’s Album.

Brian Bopp, an actor and storyteller from Iowa, is now a part of the team and will be filling a niche we have been missing—ministry to children and families. He has a special gift and passion for younger audiences and we are happy to have him on board!

• New show— I have added a new presentation to my “life stories” series. In this one I tackle fatherhood with my own personal stories I call “Go Ask Your Mother…A Father’s Story.” I have had the opportunity to perform it 5 times and the response has been encouraging!

World Vision— We are blessed to continue our partnership with World Vision in helping the poorest of the poor through child sponsorship. In 2013 we acquired over 400 new sponsors!

We fully realize that it is the prayer and financial support of people like you that make this work possible. We so appreciate your partnership in the work we do. As we look forward to 2014, we would be honored and blessed if you would consider a gift to Master’s Image Productions. We would be especially grateful if you could support us on a regular basis with a monthly pledge (and if you are already doing that, thank you!). You may also designate your gift to support a specific artist. Just include a note telling us who you would like to support! You can mail tax deductible gifts to: Master’s Image Productions, P.O. Box 903, Salem, OR or just click the button to donate online:

May God bless you and yours this Christmas and in 2014!

Chuck & 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 ( 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!

World Vision Trip to Lesotho, Africa

The first week of March, Steve Wilent and I had the privilege to travel to the country of Lesotho, Africa. We went with a group of other artists, mostly musicians, to observe the work of World Vision, the Christian humanitarian relief organization. Master’s Image Productions is pleased to represent World Vision as partners in this ministry. This trip would focus on the work being done to bring help and hope to those suffering as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is sweeping many of the countries in Africa. What follows are my journal entries for the time we were there. If after reading this you feel you would like to know more or would be interested in sponsoring a child through World Vision, I invite you to give me a call or send me an email at I would be delighted help you get involved!

Feb. 28th to Mar. 1, 2004

The flight over was a test of endurance. Cramped airline seats for 15 hours from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa. Got in at 9 AM (10 hours ahead of Oregon time). A 6-hour layover then off on a small plane to Maseru, Lesotho. Greeted warmly by World Vision staff and taken to the Lesotho Sun Hotel, which is VERY nice and is a sharp contrast to the rest of the area–very western, modern and even has TV with a half dozen channels. Two restaurants, a casino, health club and more. It also has an internet-equipped business office, but it doesn’t open until 8AM and it closes at 8 PM so at this time I am doubtful I can use it.

We were ridiculously tired on the first night but met at about 8 PM for dinner. Food was good but took way too long to be served. We Americans are used to quicker service and our impatience around the table proved this. Sleep well but awoke every two hours for some reason. Bed was comfortable and even came with good pillows.

March. 2

Up at 6:30 AM. Actually went down to the health club for a short workout this morning–what is wrong with me?! Good breakfast buffet but find I am more at ease trying to stick with more western foods–I like bacon and eggs.

On the road by 8:00. Our first stop is the World Vision Headquarters for Lesotho. Cramped office but we arrive in time to join in for devotions. They had asked us to perform something this morning and so Junko, Andy Allen, Jason Gay, and Steve Wilent are nominated. When we arrive for chapel we crowd into a very small room with a huge table in it for board meetings. Devotions are great but the room is not conducive to performing, although we manage. However, since we are running late we cut our program, which means, of course, they cut the drama. (You can tell that musicians are running the show 🙂 So Steve doesn’t get to perform, but no problem really, as there was standing room only in the space.

After we sing a few choruses and we are totally blown away by the World Vision Staff who jump to their feet and sing for us. Very good! We sing together a familiar song and then they sing in Sesotho and it is stunningly beautiful. We are very welcomed and this time of worship together was very cool.

Next it is time to go to visit a project. We load up in the vehicles. Mostly Toyota 4-wheel drive pickups with four doors and back seats. A driver and 3 or 4 passengers. A little cramped but doable. Our driver is Chris and he is very knowledgeable and fun to be around. Jenny, Steve, Junko and me in our vehicle.

We drive about an hour in some very beautiful country. Think Utah for a comparison. Flat-top mountains, canyons and at this time of year, green. Also the day is marked by a constant change in weather from clouds to sun to wind to rain, which repeats over and over. We arrive at the project headquarters, a fairly modern building with offices and a large meeting room. We all sit in a large circle in the meeting room- about 20 people representing staff, volunteers and committee members. This is kind of an awkward meeting. Introductions and then we decide to sing for them, only as Andy is pulling out the guitar to start, they immediately start singing at the same time. I think it was a missed signal. But they are great and I sort of feel like they out-shone us artists. Language is more of a barrier than I expected. Like Kenya, this country is bilingual, but it is clear that English is a second language for them. Most of the Africans are speaking to us through an interpreter.

Next stop is a World Vision school. This was AWESOME. There were riders on horseback that escorted us from the highway to the school (about two miles). Halfway there they were joined by people from the village: school children, dancers and singers. It turned into a huge parade and it was so humbling to see the outpouring of good will and excitement from the people just because we were there. The whole village sang for us and then we sat at school desks and girls from the school performed several dances for us. The people are beautiful and have the most awesome smiles. Like Kenya, the kids love to touch you. We were told that many Africans in this part of the country think of white people as having no fault and that to be white is a blessing. Touching a white person brings them luck.

We had lunch after the performance. They prepared a rather interesting porridge for us–traditional–it was edible but not something I wanted the recipe for. Fried Chicken and French fries for lunch.

Next stop was a meeting with caregivers for HIV/AIDS patients. Now we are getting into the more serious stuff. These people are nurses that visit the sick daily and help with caring for them. Nursing tasks, cleaning and cooking are just a few of the things they do. All volunteer. This is not an easy task. Most people who are sick live in denial that they have the disease. World Vision is doing all it can to educate and care for them but it is hard when the people don’t want to admit they are sick or at risk, and won’t get tested. This meeting turned emotional. They, too, sang for us and we prayed for them.

Then we visited some HIV/AIDS patients. First was a young teenage girl, living with her parents. She has “TB” but it is mostly what they feel comfortable calling the disease because TB has some hope of a cure where AIDS does not. Her father is also infected. Then we visited a woman who is quite sick (more visibly with the sores and all). She has a beautiful daughter who is 7 and is feared that she, too, is sick. This woman, even with this more advanced stage, doesn’t want to admit she is sick with AIDS. So sad.

We have one more visit to make and this one is a bit of a drive up a mountain road–although to call it a road is a bit of joke. It is a good thing we are in a four-wheel drive. Here we meet grandparents who are caring for a one-year-old whose mother died from the disease just a month or so after the baby was born, and the baby is also infected and will not live long. Very moving.

At the same time the people of the village are with us as we visit this child, and the mood is strange. They are all in hyper-celebration mode with us there but at the same time we are confronting a very sad situation. The women make a high-pitched screaming noise to communicate their happiness and welcome to us.

We return very tired to another late night meal and rest before we start up again for another full day beginning at 7:30 AM.

Wed. March 3

After a good breakfast we load up at 7:30 for an hour and half drive to another ADP. Our day begins with a meeting of healthcare workers and volunteers that make up the support group for HIV/AIDS patients. We begin with devotions and more singing. These villagers love to sing and so far every meeting includes them singing for us. Singing seems to be almost a form of gift giving and both sides are appreciative of what the other has brought. The meetings consist of introductions and Q&A.

We also visited a plant nursery where young men in the 20-30 age range are learning to grow trees and vegetables for the village and also for micro-enterprise. These young men are very industrious and it is pointed out that this job is in addition to other responsibilities in the family and village. When questioned about their dreams for the future their answers are in sharp contrast to the values in our own country. They want to help develop their country. They want to help make their village better so they can be proud of it. Try getting that kind of answer out most of our youth in America.

The “highlight” this day is a visit to the home of a couple of AIDS orphans. Relebhile, 14-year-old girl and her 7-year-old brother, Tsepang live on their own after losing both parents. We see their former home: a broken down brick building, windows broken, holes in the thatch roof. It is one room with a cowhide for a bed and a little fireplace for cooking and heat. World Vision has built them a new home, and latrine. While certainly no palace, the new home is two-room, cinder block and has food storage, a bed and a more modern cook stove. Keep in mind that NONE of these homes has electricity and all the villagers live a very primitive lifestyle. The children are pulled from school to come and visit us. The girl is happy and, while I think overwhelmed by us, she is happy to share her home circumstances with us. Several on our team are quite moved by this situation. Even though their situation is improved they are still quite vulnerable–their grandfather has taken their house key and comes whenever he wants, basically stealing their provisions. World Vision is aware of this and the project manager is working on a solution.

Andy and Pam Allen on our team are moved by these two precious children, and notice that the bed the children share is not very impressive and offer to buy them a new bed. While this gesture is appreciated, it makes for a difficult situation because to help them also singles them out from others in the village, and we come to understand the reality of trying to help one child and not all the others in the village. This is something that World Vision is very aware of and I am even more appreciative of their sponsorship model of helping the entire project not just the sponsored child. A solution is reached: we shall buy the bed for the children but also buy each of the 8 surrounding families some pots and pans. All of us are going to chip in for this.

We visit a couple of other AIDS patients and this proves difficult for all of us. We feel awkward staring at what one might call “living dead.” The entire team seems unsettled by these visits.

An hour and a half drive back to town and pizza for dinner! A good time!

When I look in the mirror I am surprised by the red glow coming off my face and regret that I did not cover myself in sunscreen.

Thursday, March 4

After another good breakfast we are on the road again. This time to visit beautiful preschool children. They are unbelievably cute, as they, of course, sing for us and we for them. It is photo opportunity time as we each get pictures taken for our use in promoting World Vision. I am drawn to one little boy and spend time trying to communicate with him. I decided before leaving on this trip that sponsoring another child is a possibility. I ask if the little boy is sponsored and am told he is not. We are not certain if he is in the World Vision program so they are going to check that out for me. His name is Masilo Nbabeni and he is only 2 or 3. Very adorable–I think Lorie will approve.

Next we meet with another support group for HIV/AIDS patients. This meeting is better than the one yesterday, at least for me. After the sing-off we ask questions. The numbers here start to hit home as they share with charting how many have the disease and how many have died in the past month–over 40, both male and female, adults and children. During this meeting a shift seems to take place among our entire team, as we start to realize that these people need something from us. Something more than us telling them we are going to tell their story when we get home. We stand and give them words of encouragement. We express our gratitude for them being the hands and feet of God. These are people who regularly visit and care for these sick people. They have a difficult job and yet seem to do it with a good attitude. I share with the group a few insights from my own recent experience with the death of my mother in-law: the idea that sharing Christ becomes the most important thing in what remains of their time on earth. It strikes us all that these people are God’s hands in caring for the suffering. We are in awe of them.

We visit a young woman who is dying of AIDS. She is actually a sponsored child and though now in her 20s, her sponsor family is still supporting her. While this is not normal, World Vision is keeping her in the program to keep her health care coming.

Off to town to buy a bed for the orphans we met yesterday, then back to the hotel for dinner and a emotional time of sharing our impacts for the week so far. We leave at 7 AM tomorrow for a few more visits.

Friday, March 5

One thing we won’t be able to say is, “I miss the rain down in Africa” because it is pouring today. Rain is considered a blessing here. The fact that it rained on the day we arrived and on our last day here is considered by the local people to be a very good thing.

Last night we bought a bed for the orphans and today we are off to deliver the bed, as well as purchase some pots and mealy meal for the local neighbors to the orphans so they won’t feel neglected when we bring gifts for the children. This outing proves to be a bit of an adventure as we somehow miscommunicated our meeting place with our main host, “Lucky” (we can’t pronounce his name but it means “Lucky” so we call him that). After our purchase we go to the home of the orphans and deliver the goods. This was so neat. The kids are grateful, if a little unsure quite how to respond. The phase “too many chiefs” comes to mind as we deliver the bed. The adults in the village want us to leave the plastic covering on the bed to protect it. However, we think it should be removed to keep it from mildew and to allow it to breath (even though wrapped in plastic, it is wet from the rain that has found its way inside from the trip to the village). We compromise and slit the plastic to remove the bed so it can dry but leave it for them to put back in later.

The gift of the pots to the villagers prompted more songs from them and then back from us. Music has become our common language. The pots immediately go up on their heads creating a great photo opportunity. We leave the village with a good feeling of having done something significant to help.

Next we go to a primary school for kids in more the junior high age. More singing and finally some DRAMA. These kids put on a play about HIV/AIDS that is excellent. Even though we can’t understand the words we get the message and understand the story. Steve and I are very encouraged to see our art form used in such a way. Once again we share a Q&A with an HIV/AIDS support group and feel we were an encouragement to them. Steve takes the opportunity to perform a portion of The Gospel of John before our closing prayer and it seems to connect with them. So now Steve is an international performer.

It is time for goodbyes as we go back to the project headquarters for a final meal in the field and farewell speeches. The World Vision staff here give us gifts, each of a traditional Lesotho straw hat. Nice, but I don’t know how I am going to pack it. Maybe I’ll just wear it home…NOT. We get into party mode and join them in trying to do some of their dances. Lots of laughs, more pictures, more singing.

On the way back to the city we take a detour in the country to drive by the king’s palace. We can’t get too close but the view is incredible. A fun bit of trivia: Prince Harry arrived while we were here. He has apparently been bad (partying and such) and so the Queen has sent him to Lesotho for some character building time, supposedly 2 months. He is to help the poor while he is here. I have no idea what that means for him. Anyway, our hotel was overrun on Wed. with the British foreign press who were following the story. When we get to our hotel tonight, who is there but Prince Harry! I am not sure, but assume he came there to play in the casino–such discipline!

A bit of a surprise when I get to my room: my key won’t open the door! The hotel master key also will not unlock it. I am thinking the worst–that someone got into the room through the window and stole my stuff and bolted the door from the inside. But fortunately this is not the case. They have to break the lock to get the door open and I am moved to a new room.

Off to the Italian restaurant we ate at a couple nights ago. Many of the World Vision national staff are there to join us. Good time around the table.

Tomorrow we leave. We will finally get a few hours in the morning to do some shopping. I am ready to endure the long ride home. I miss my family. I miss my wife.

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