**This was a collaboration between my wife and I, it’s written from her perspective. Thanks for reading!

 

I cant wait to fill all of my readers in on how my life has been radically changed these past few weeks thanks to Africa! I truly will never be the same and I am incredibly thankful for the time God allowed me to spend in His presence in Rwanda. Until I get to tell you about my trip, I want you to read something that is very dear to my heart and something I see as an urgent request for your prayers and maybe an even deeper commitment if you feel called!

The organization we worked closely with in Rwanda is called Africa New Life (ANL). They have several different areas in which they minister to the people of Rwanda. The area I want to focus on right now is child sponsorship. ANL allows families in need to register their child for an opportunity to get sponsored by a family in America. For $39 a month you can CHANGE A KIDS LIFE FOREVER! A child that gets sponsored gets to go to school, is provided a uniform (mandatory to attend school), scholastic needs, food, bi-monthly Christian discipleship, and even health care. By sponsoring a child you are also changing a whole families life as well.

Simple Church sponsors more kids in Rwanda then any other church in America. When SC takes a trip to Rwanda you have the opportunity to meet your sponsored child. Evan and I have sponsored a child in Tanzania since 2006 through another organization and did not currently sponsor a child through Africa New Life. We thought we would just give some extra love to everyone else’s kiddos during our trip so we packed our luggage full of toys to give everyone else’s’ sponsored kids. Well, The Lord had different plans.

Evariste’s Story

             It took about 12 hours in Rwanda until I felt completely at home. Yes, there were moments of culture shock but the people there….they have stolen my heart. The people of Rwanda have more joy than anyone I have ever met in my life. Their big beautiful smiles and deep mocha eyes are forever burned in my heart.

As soon as I was there I kept telling God two things. I don’t ever want to leave this place and please use me to impact these people.

The first few days we visited a school where we got to tutor students in English. We served them lunch and then were assigned a small group of seven to ten 4th-5th graders. This particular school in the Bugesera district is completely run by Africa New Life; every child that attends is a sponsored child! When I sat down with my small group I told them about my family and where we live. A couple of the students could easily point to America on the map and when I referred to my family they said they had family there too. I thought “Oh that’s cute I’m sure that’s in the schools motto or something.” But then some of them said things Ill never forget. In their sweet broken English they called their sponsored family by name and even told me where they lived! “Mike from Texas”  or “my sponsors live in Portland”. My heart stopped I thought these families have no idea that today they are proudly standing before their classmates saying where their “American families” live. They included them as their family and wanted to see if this crazy white girl knew them too. It was then that I felt the Lord begin to tell me that this was how He wanted to use me to impact these people.

I couldn’t forget the conversations I had with these students and I knew that if sponsorship was that big of a deal to these children then it is a big deal. I felt the Lord tell me I needed to sponsor a child. So I did what I usually do when the Lord speaks to me. I asked him if He was sure and I wrestled with it for three days. Every time I was alone with Evan my heart pounded a little bit knowing that if I told Evan he would definitely hold me accountable. I knew how big of a commitment a sponsorship was and I am so weary of long time commitments (except for my marriage). And then on the third night I just word vomited everything to Evan and before I could get it all out Evan would finish my sentence and tell me, “I know. We are supposed to sponsor a child here.” I was so relieved that Evan didn’t think I was just on some emotional high and that obviously the Lord worked in his heart for the exact same need. We both knew the harsh reality that this may be the only time we get to be in Rwanda together and that we needed to tell someone from Africa New Life right away with the hopes of actually getting to meet our sponsor child. So after praying about it again that night the only thing I knew for sure was that it had to be a boy. God specifically put on my heart to sponsor a boy in need.

Mike Stern was our fearless leader from the Africa New Life U.S. office. He led our crazy group the whole time we were in Rwanda. Evan and I told him about our exciting news and he was genuinely thrilled by the news. He said, “Wow, you’re going to change some kids life.” We told him that we didn’t care from which part of Rwanda or how old all we wanted was a boy who needed us the most right now. SO naturally they wouldn’t “choose for us” so he brought us two child profiles with a short description of them and a precious picture of them. I told Mike he was killing us by making us choose because we knew they were both in great need. I begged everyone just to choose for us and no one agreed. I stared at each photo wanting someone to jump out to me, I chose another kid who had an easy to pronounce name. I took pictures of his little profile card and was just so thrilled to be able to meet him.

 

God knew better.

 

The Africa New Life trip leader, Mike, pulled us aside the next day with “Bad News”. I immediately feared we wouldn’t be able to meet our child, but he went on to tell us that the offices had mistakenly put pictures on sponsorship cards with the wrong names for about 40 children, one of them being the one we chose to sponsor. The picture was actually a girl, so if we wanted to meet our child we would have to choose the 13 year old boy we had passed over. The staff was very apologetic and felt bad, but to me it was a clear sign for something we had prayed for: that God would show us what to do.  I knew he told me I needed to sponsor a boy and so it was easy to agree to sponsor the 13 year old, and would meet him a few days later.

 

We pulled into the school in Kageyo, and Brian our Rwandan guide gave us the background of the area. In 2006, the Tanzanian government had run out of patience with the refugees from Rwanda in their country. The government sent out buses with the news that they would have 3 days to pack everything they could and leave the country of Tanzania. Tanzania, however, seized their property and cattle (the source of income for many poor Rwandan farmers.) As the thousands of Rwandans returned with little to nothing, the Rwandan government scrambled to find a way to help. Their answer was to give the refugees roughly 3000 sq km from the Akagera Game Park (the safari park in the country) for free.

 

The problem was, it was a game park the day before. As you can imagine, there was not a lot of development in the middle of a national park. Like plumbing. Or buildings of any kind. Or food. Not to mention there was a large population of wild animals in the area, and our guide told us early in 2006 it was common to hear of refugees killed by wild Hippopotamus’

 

That’s right. Wild Hippopotamus’ attacks.

 

So as the refugees settled in an attempted to build homes and make a life for themselves, things gradually go better but were by no means “ideal conditions”. The area, called Kageyo, had come a long way in 7 years but as our guide explained, “If you thought Rwanda was the sticks, this is the sticks of the sticks”. Kageyo had one school that partnered with Africa New Life, Kageyo A, and it had been doing well. So well in fact, their test scores for 2011 made them the best school in the district and earned them a grant for a huge solar panel to help with electricity. It was a huge honor for the school.

 

This national attention led the government of Rwanda to approach Africa New Life with an amazing opportunity; help them open a new school in Kageyo and replicate what they were doing already to help the even more remote areas. This included a full grant for the cost of everything; the building, teachers salaries, supplies, everything. ANL would be in charge of the public school, and they agreed. However, news grew of the new school’s reputation and people flocked from all over to make sure their children could go to the new school. As of last week, the school is designed for 600 students but has over 1000 enrolled.

 

One of those 1000+ is Evariste Rwabuhungu, our child that we were going to sponsor. As the week went on and people on our trip got to meet their sponsored children, our anticipation grew. Then, at lunch on the day we were going to meet Evariste, Mike told us there was another thing. Our minds immediately feared the worst, but he was letting us know that because of the mix up, we would actually be there the first time that he would be told that he would be sponsored. Then when we went to visit his home, we would personally deliver the news to his family that we were going to partner with them and help change their lives. *

 

*To help grasp this, I asked how much an average salary was in Rwanda. Their currency, Francs, had an exchange rate of 645 Francs to $1. The average YEARLY income in Rwanda was around 100,000 Francs or $170 a year. A YEAR. So by paying the $39 a month, you essentially multiplied their income by 4. So that’s someone showing up to the average U.S. home making $50,000 and telling them they will now have someone give them an additional $150,000 a year.

 

Needless to say we were emotional about the idea, and I was truly nervous with excited anticipation as we pulled up to the school, Kageyo B. At each location we visited we got to throw a party for the children Simple Church Sponsors. Since it was a Saturday, the only kids there were the 100+ sponsored by Simple Church. As we got everything off the bus, we were told to walk to the side to meet Evariste.  My heart was pounding I wanted to so badly to be able to speak his language and for him not to be afraid of us “white people”. He stood there, the most beautiful boy in all of Rwanda with the deepest Mocha eyes. I knelt down beside him, looked him in the eyes, and was able to say “Evariste, my husband and I don’t have any children of our own. We don’t sponsor any kids in Rwanda either. But the Lord made sure to tell us that we could not leave this place without sponsoring YOU! I chuckled a second to hold back my tears and said God made sure to tell us that “It had to be You Evariste.” then I got to watch my sweet husband tell him how we are committed to him that we will always pray for him that we will support him financially to make sure he has food, an education, and that all his medical needs are taken care of. His tiny little 13 year old frame just sank, I think if he wasn’t so terrified of his first white people experience he probably would have wept. So we just all hugged, a new family of three. We then got to feed him the biggest meal of his life (literally, they told us). We gave him his first bottled drink; a Fanta to be exact. Our translator let us just be alone with him and I just remember praying God please let him know how much you love him and how much we care about him. I am not a touchy feely person, but I just couldn’t stop hugging him, holding his hand, putting my arm around him. I may not have been able to speak his language, but I was absolutely sure he was going to know this crazy American loves him!

 

We spent the next few hours around the school constantly by Evariste’s side. Through awkward conversations via translators, playing, and watching him around other students we realized that Evariste was super shy. He barely spoke above a whisper, and always with his head down avoided your eyes. WE (he got to ride with us) loaded the bus to head to their homes.

 

We found out we would visit Evariste last because, unlike the other 3 homes we would visit in Kageyo, his was “way out there.” Our guide pointed to a hill way off in the distance and explained, “He lives past that.” So when we headed to the Rwabuhungu residence we realized they weren’t kidding. We found out it took Evariste about 2 hours to walk to school each way. When we finally arrived at his “village” of roughly 30 houses in the middle of a hill, it was almost dark and our bus driver told us we had to walk the rest of the way up.

 

We unloaded and hiked up the hill, stopping to take a few pictures here and there. We noticed as we ascended the hill, we got to see the most beautiful sun set over the African hills. It was seriously breath taking. We had so many people following us up the hill just walking between banana trees and following us up the red dirt road. A couple here, a few there, and by the time we arrived at Evariste’s we had about 100-120 people watching the “Muzungu’s” (White people) on parade. A woman emerged from the house and Evariste ran to his mother as our translator introduced us and asked if we could come in. She seemed very sweet, but very ill. She couldn’t stand for much longer than a few minutes and invited us to sit with her on her straw mat outside her house. (Our guide told us this was the first time he has ever not been invited inside a Rwandans home.) I knelt down beside her and Evan and I told her the same thing we told Evariste. That we are here to sponsor him and help take care of him and his family. That the Lord loved us first and we want to show that love to them. Her face beamed with joy but she was still very quiet. She told us that her husband had passed away (we didn’t pry, but our guide said he was most likely murdered) and that she was recently diagnosed with Uterine Cancer. My heart sank, as if it couldn’t break any more than it already had.

 

I remember singing the song Hosanna earlier in the week and praying “lord break my heart for what breaks yours” and in this moment I believe He did just that.

 

She then said she has 4 other boys besides Evariste. So here is a widow in the smallest mud house I’ve seen, cancer has taken over her body and she still has five kids to raise. I racked my brain for something I could say and I told her how much we love Evariste and how great of a mom she is.  We prayed over her and Evariste and the rest of their family. Then she said something I will never ever forget, “ Evariste is so shy because we have never lived around people before. We use to live in the bush. My whole life I have dreamed to have visitors like this . My boys and I recently started going to a Christian church and we are all born again Christians. Because you have showed up here with this great news I know that our God is real and that we made the right choice.”

 

I still am flooded with tears when I think about this precious moment. Why did God use me to make him known, believed in, and trusted in that day….I will never know. I am so humbled by this experience. And this journey with Evariste and his family has only just begun.

 

****So here is where you come in. Evan and I aren’t the type to walk away from this story and think we’ve done enough. Because in reality we haven’t. We have to pray for the best but still we knew we could do more. Normally, Africa New Life only sponsors one child per family so that more families can be sponsored and helped through this organization. We met with Augustine, the head of all child sponsorships before we left Rwanda and we told him his story. He put his head in his hands and said we do have to do more. He told us that we could be advocates for Evariste’s brothers. SO this is my responsibility Evan and I are asking you to pray about this commitment. The brothers are in the process of being registered, and as soon as we get profiles we will of course put them on every form of social media. But we want you to seriously consider sponsoring one of his brothers. We don’t know how much longer Evaristes mom will live, it could be years, she could be miraculously healed, but if not these boys will need you! My email is mallorysemanco@gmail.com I cant wait to hear from you and partner with you to change this one families life. Our guide told us this ancient proverb:

 

Change one life, change the world.

 

**Warning** This post will contain graphic images

Our 3rd full day in Rwanda was the most emotional yet. If you do not know what happened in Rwanda, roughly 1 million people were killed over a 100 day period from April-July 1994. You can read more here, or watch “Hotel Rwanda” or “Sometimes in April”. 

Today we visited an actual massacre site, the church at Nyamata where 10,080 people were killed in a 2500 sq ft space.

Let those numbers sink in.

Nyam

This church sheltered 10,000+ people attempting to escape the genocide by seeking refuge.

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Today, it serves as a national memorial of what happened in Rwanda. Every article of clothing represents someone that was killed in May 1994 at this one location. This photo is about a third of the room.

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The land behind the church became one of multiple mass graves where the government sends bodies when they are found. 19 years later, and bodies still turn up or killers confess and reveal the hiding spot of their victims. 45,000+ people’s remains rest here at this site.

45,000+ people. And this is one of many mass graves. 

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As part of the memorial, they created this underground display highlighting some of the massacred. They focused particularly a woman who was pregnant in May 1994 that was tortured, raped, and killed along with her unborn child.

But that is just a fraction of the tombs.

Skmurambi

Camera’s are not allowed in the memorial itself, but I found this online and it is less than 1% of what was on display at the memorial.

The memorial we visited previously was a museum of sorts, very cold and factual. Today, the stench of death was suffocating in these tombs. It stopped being about facts and became much, much more real. 

The whole time I was inside and even now my mind could not comprehend the reality in front of me. I found myself thinking “These are like movie props” and almost trying to convince myself that it couldn’t be real.

But it was real. Our guide lived through it to tell.

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Her name was very African, and I won’t insult it by attempting to spell it. She was a young mom in her late 20s when the genocide occurred. Everyone in her family was killed except her.

Her husband. 

Her children.

Her grandparents.

Her sisters.

Her brother.

Everyone.

19 years later she opened up to us (our translator from Africa New Life said he had never heard any tour guide there share their personal story) and it was as raw as if it happened yesterday. Today, she has adopted 4 genocide orphans and spoke of her new family.

That was what I loved. Mike, our trip leader, said as we were driving off. “We intentionally come here in the morning and then to one of the schools Africa New Life sponsors afterwards because the story doesn’t end there. Hope is here in alive in Rwanda.”

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The future is bright. The new government’s phrase is “We are all Rwandans.” The children in this school, preschool-5th grade, are all born post genocide. And all 536 students in the Kibenga schooll we visited today are sponsored by people in the U.S.A. and the U.K.

100%

536 kids. All can go to school because of the $39 a month (2-3 meals out) someone gives.

The school is one and half years old (school is essentially year round, January-Late November). They brought in highly educated teachers and have new facilities with the goal, straight from Julius the headmaster, to be the best in the Bugesera district and change this region. In a short glimpse today, it’s working. The 4th graders I tutored got fourteen our of fourteen correct on math facts, knew geography better than some people (cough Mallory Semanco cough) and are essentially bilingual in English and Kinyarwanda.

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This is Rwanda now. Potential. Hope. Promise. I am so honored and privileged to be a part of a church that sponsors kids (one of the top 3 churches in all of Africa New Life with 363 sponsored kids as of May) and an organization in Africa New Life that sponsors 5,000+ in the country of Rwanda. But there are 800+ children in the Bugusera district alone that have been registered and are awaiting sponsorship.

Reflecting now as I try not to fall asleep, the day was so shockingly different. In 24 hours we went from the worst of humanity to the best. The equivalent of the entire Simple Church Easter service being killed in one act of violence to a staff of teachers who loves Jesus and “loves with two hands; the gospel and meeting needs” and children who are getting a chance to change Rwanda forever. 

If you’d like more information about Africa New Life, check out their site below, or hit me up somewhere online and I’d love to tell you more. Not everyone can go to Rwanda (although we have people who have never left the country, were deathly afraid of flying, and are getting on up there in age) and i’m writing this  to share what I’m wrestling with at 10:30 p.m. in a guest house in Rwanda. I hope this challenges / appalls / moves you and i’ll reading your thoughts   next year as you experience it yourself.

http://www.africanewlife.org/sponsorship

As I write this, I’m lying in a bed at the Africa New Life guest house in Kigali, Rwanda.

Think about that statement for a minute. 

 

You are reading what I’m writing and i’m most likely THOUSDANDS of miles away from you in a place I’ve never been. But thanks to the magic of the internet, we’re connected. We arrived at Kigali National Airport (where you walk on the runway for a couple hundred yards once you get off the stair car) around 8:30 p.m. Kigali Time. We’re 7 hours ahead here, so I’m currently writing this from the future, June 2nd at 12:17 p.m.

Once we got through customs, met the AFNL staff here at the house and had some great spaghetti we just did the logistical things (3 minute showers, Juarez trips taught me that skill long ago) and now I’m going to sleep excited, praying to see what God wants to show me these next 9 days. I can’t wait to share the stories I encounter, 6 years ago to the day I was laying in a bed in Nairobi, Kenya and that jacked my life up. 

Thanks for following along here, I hope all of you reading that couldn’t go enjoy and get motivated to be here in 2014! 

Been a While…

May 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

Looking at the date of my last post is shocking. March 20th was 71 days ago…hard to believe. 

The reason for the post today (and hopefully a renewal of my blogging) is the series of posts I hope come out of my trip tomorrow. At 7AM, 12 of us from The Simple Church load up and head to Dallas en route to Rwanda, Africa.

6 years ago to the day, I was getting ready to leave for Nairobi, Kenya as an intern with Bigstuf camps. We partnered with Compassion International to help get children sponsored all summer at camp, and the best way they felt for us to encourage others to sponsor that was to go see what Compassion does. 

We got to tour Compassion facilities, meet the workers and the kids, and get an idea of how much Compassion really does. It was life changing. All the cliches are true; until you walk the streets where sewage openly pours into drinking water, talk with a family in their hut that is made of dirt, or see children dancing and playing in a foreign country just like kids here do, you can’t really understand it. 

I am forever thankful for the great leaders in my life who instilled a desire to go and serve at an early age. My freshman year of high school I went on my first mission trip to Nashville, TN to roof houses and Danny Perdue taught us a ton about hard work. Chip, our high school pastor, had us go through a book the next year “It’s not about Me” by Max Lucado. Title is pretty self explanatory. He had us memorize a verse that forever changed my life:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to give His life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45

If Jesus didn’t make it about him, (who had every right to), we certainly should not be. I would not be who I was today without Chip’s investment in me and his leadership in making our student ministry a place where we didn’t just talk, we did good.

While on that trip, there was a girl that I got to know and really stood out. It was a lot of things, but one of the most attractive was her desire to serve. Even though she was a freshman in high school, I could see she had a heart for others that most other people didn’t. 7 years after that, I would ask her to marry me.

Tomorrow I get to go with her to Africa for her first time, and now more than ever I know how special she really is. We cannot say enough how thankful we are for everyone who helped us get her financially and with your prayers, and I hope I can share as the trip goes on what’s happening in our lives, and via us you will be blessed.

Yesterday I got thinking about filters. You can read that here.

Today, I want to act as a filter for you. You’re probably reading this because we know each other somehow, and I love having a place to write and discuss ideas.

That’s why I wanted to offer up some of the things that have influenced me, and help “filter” some choices for you that I’ve connected with. Obviously, not everyone has the same tastes, but with the glut of choices out there, a personal recommendation from someone you know goes a long way. 

So that’s why I went with Netflix first. If you don’t have Netflix, you can obviously find the choices other places, but for $8 a month, their streaming really has been worth it for us (we had the DVD service before the price debacle, don’t currently have it.)

So here are some of the best shows/movies on Netflixs you might not have seen:

Netflix

America, the History of Us – Originally aired on History Channel, I have to admit I’m predisposed for this kind of miniseries because I love history. I was a history major for a year (before I switched to Business) and have always been fascinated with what got us to where we are today. This series did a great job showing smaller events that might not be text book worthy, and the implications those events had on the country. One example was how Hollywood got started (Episode 5) and how it became “Hollywood”. Beginning to end it’s excellently done, definitely worth watching.

Conan O’Brien: Can’t Stop - I am a Conan fan, so when everything went down at the Tonight Show (more here) I followed along intently. Part of his contract was he could not be on TV for a year, so he took his show on the road to theaters around the country. This was a behind the scenes look at that show, seeing him as a real person struggling with the situation instead of a “funny guy’ was very revealing and made me a bigger fan.

Battlestar Galactica (reboot)I actually typed this one first, and this was the whole reason I wrote about Netflix, but I didn’t want you to lose interest because of a sic-fi show. If you’ve read this much, give me a chance. I’d always heard about Battlestar (negatively on the Office), but the now defunct Steelehouse Podcast turned me on the the deeper meaning of the show. This reboot of the 1978 series had all the Sci-Fi elements with a lot more story. Started in 2004, the show is really about terrorism, morality, and religion that just happens to be set on a spaceship. Issues like where we find our identity and torture were addressed week in and week out, not just an occasional PSA like when Family Matters addressed drugs. This show hooked me into the characters more than almost any other show (Lost is close) and did a fantastic job challenging my beliefs today via a futuristic space show. Give it 3 episodes, and even if you aren’t a Sci-Fi fan, I think you’ll be hooked. 

The Constant Gardner (No link, don’t want there to be any spoilers ;)  - The 2005 film staring Ralph Fines and Rachel Weisz is a film I connected to on a deep level because the setting, Kenya, was a place I visited in 2007. The slums in the film are places I actually walked, and the idea of a pharmaceutical company taking advantage of the poorest of the poor makes me furious. The concept is actually based on a real life case in Nigera, and it’s a great thriller with a convicting look at how businesses operate overseas. 

Arrested Development – One of the funniest shows I discovered after it was off the air, a friend was such a fan that they practically forced me to buy the first season on DVD. I became hooked. It’s the story of a highly dysfunctional family who’s patriarch, Jeffrey Tambor, lands in prison and the only “normal” son, Jason Bateman, has to hold the family together. Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Tony Hale, David Cross and more make a great ensemble cast, and guest appearances from Ben Stiller, Andy Richter, and tons more just add to the hilarity. It perfectly fits my sense of humor, and I laugh (still) more per minute than almost any show I’ve ever watched (30 Rock and The Office would be right up there.) All 3 seasons are on Netflix, they’re approximatly 22 minutes per episode, so you can watch a season before you realize you’ve sat there 3 hours. Plus, it’s timely beacuse they’re making brand new episodes exclusively for Netflix in May! Go watch, or you’ll make a terrible mistake. STEVE HOLT! (Those last two lines will be much funnier when you watch.)

So those are some of my picks, what are some under the radar choices on Neflix I need to check out? Comment below.

I love lists.

I don’t feel like I’m alone in this, because it seems like ever sports show / website / talk show have lists. My favorites like Not Top 10 from Sportscenter, make large amounts of information digestible. It’s helped make David Letterman’s career. Lists like the best movies of the year help me decide what’s worth seeing.

For some, this is the problem with this generation; instead of thinking for ourselves and reading/researching in depth, we let someone else do it for us. The problem is, with the flood of media/information/entertainment available, it is literally impossible to read/watch/listen to even the “best” things that are put out there. 

Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelety and About a Boy, said it this way: 

“In 1450, there were 100 new books published, 2008 there were more than a million. There is a new book published every 30 seconds. It would take you 15 years just to read the titles of every book every printed. And you’re going to watch TV tonight?”

This is why I think Seth Godin has his finger on the pulse of what’s happening today; he encourages marketers to form a Tribe in a “niche” that will buy into what you’re selling. You don’t need to reach 50,000,000 people with a Superbowl ad; you need 1,000 who buy into your product and will tell their friends. He promotes “relational marketing” where your customers trust you, have a relationship with you and what you’re selling. Social Networking has made this easier than ever.

Trust in a source that recommends books, TV shows, movies, and everything else in-between is critical. With our finite time and money to invest, knowing where to turn is critical. For me, sources like Relevant Magazine, bloggers like Michael Hyatt, and sites like Lifehacker are sources that I trust and turn to for reviews, new products, and entertainment recommendations. Unless you are seeing every movie that comes out, downloading every new CD, or buying every new product on your own, you have filters as well.

Before the internet, limited filters existed. Three channels weren’t hard to scan; 1,000 are. Gone are the days of Siskel and Ebert guiding movie choices; instead Ebert’s one voice in Rotten Tomatos crowd sourced reviews. 

So the next couple days I’m going to post a few of my “favorite lists”. I hope you find some things that you aren’t aware of, things you might give a chance. I hope to see some of your favorites that can expand my own lists.

So who are the people/sites/companies you trust for recommendations? Comment below.

Twenty Percent Done

March 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

 

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2013 is 20% (19.45 to be precise) done. 

Think about that. 

It’s March 12th, and 1/5 of the year has already passed. It’s hard to believe. The year is flying by, and now with daylight savings, it’s beginning to feel like spring.

So I wanted to do a check of myself, and I hope you do the same. The more understand how I work, the more I find that I need goals/ deadlines /something to work towards to keep maintain motivation.  Just thinking about these goals have challenged me again to not slack off, to get back on them. Here are my goals for this year and where I stand: 

1. Read 12 Books

Sucking this one up. I’ve only read 1.5, Out of My League by Dirk Hayhurst (Baseball Book) and half of Multiply by Francis Chan and David Platt. Both have been really good, and I’m hoping once I get through fantasy baseball draft season I get back to reading

Grade: D

2. Take Mallory (my wife) on a date every week

Probably the goal I’ve done best so far, I believe in 11 weeks we’re 9 for 11, one being a weekend I had to speak at a D-Now and the other when we decided together we’d rather just chill at the house. I don’t think it’s an accident that the goal I’m doing the best at has someone holding me accountable to it.

Grade: A-

3. Weigh Under 200 Pounds

Started the year at 243, the biggest I’ve been since my senior year of high school. When I worked at Bigstuf camps in 2007 I was the smallest I’d been since about 4th grade, 171 lbs. It’s been steadily ticking up ever since. As of this morning (when I was at the gym this morning at 5:30 a.m.) I weighed 236 pounds, 7 down from January 1. In 11 weeks it’s a little under where I want to be, but at this pace I’ll be a little over 200 at the end of the year. 

Grade: C

4. Write 150 blog posts

Probably the worst goal. This will be the 8th post, which at this pace would mean 40 this year, only about 11o under the goal. I think my biggest problem is if I don’t get to it in the morning, i’m putting it off for other stuff. Not good at all, but I am excited about going to Rwanda in May and will be post in a lot during that trip (in theory)

Grade: F

5. Read through the Bible

I have really enjoyed this one, I’ve read through the Bible cover to cover twice, and this will be the third time. I’m still seeing things I have never noticed. The last week or so, I have been reading through the story of Joseph and hope to get a blog post out of that soon. I’ve missed 10 days or so in 70 and I’ve been reading 2 a day to catch up the last few days. 

Grade B

So put that all together and I’m a C. At this pace, if nothing changes, I’ll only accomplish 2 of my 5 goals, which is why I wanted to write this post. First, to give myself a kick in the pants. Second, to encourage all of you out there not to just quit and write off something you want to do this year. There still 304 days in 2013, and you’ve got plenty of time to change, accomplish goals, and make it a great year. But you have to start now, work gradually, and commit to them.

And that last sentence was probably more to myself than you.

So I want to know, where are you on your goals for this year? How are you doing? I’d love for you to comment below.

Two posts in a row! 

Yesterday I was thinking about music, it’s been on my mind after watching the Grammy Awards. You can go  read my post about it yesterday here.

Today I want to talk about one of the bands I actually liked on the Grammy’s, The Black Keys. I’ve never considered myself a “music snob”. I didn’t follow the Black Keys until their first “big” album, Attack and Release in 2008. “I Got Mine” got some airplay, and it was a catchy song. But when their next album, “Brothers” came out in 2010, I got hooked on “Tighten Up”. It had a great hook and got a lot of critical acclaim, including 3 Grammys that year. Plus, I think it was one of the funniest, most sarcastic album covers I”d ever seen. (And the title of my post yesterday was a nod to it.)

220px The Black Keys Brothers

Then they released “El Camino” in 2011 (which is dumb that the Grammy rules made it up for awards in 2013) and they went on to win 3 more Grammys this year and perform with the super weird Dr. John.  I had listened to some of the album, but it was on sale and went ahead and bought it after the Grammys. It’s a really good album. 

My mind is funny though, and when I find an artist (or really anything) that I like,  I want to know their backstory. I think that’s a big reason I liked Lost so much (posts about that are coming one day). So I started reading about the Black Keys history and listened to some interviews with them. It’s pretty shocking in this day and age to find a band with their story. 

The Black Keys are 2 guys, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. They met when they were 9 and lived in the same neighborhood in Akron, Ohio. They started the band in high school, even though Dan was captain of the soccer team and Patrick was an indie kid. I personally relate a little more to Patrick. 

Evan Patrick 

Patrick Carney from the Black Keys and High School Senior Evan Semanco

They dropped out of college to tour, put out 5 albums before they “broke out”, gradually building a fan base. They got produced by Danger Mouse (the other guy with Cee-Lo in Gnarls Barkley) and started getting bigger. As it seems to happen, the band started to unravel with success. Patrick got divorced, Dan made a secret side project without telling Patrick. On the brink of breaking up, they reconciled and put out their best album (in my opinion): Brothers. (A very intentional title they say). 

After the success and the Grammys in 2010 (which, after they won for the first time, they left 15 minutes later while the show was still going on. That’s so Rock and Roll.) they went back and worked harder and changed up their process for their next album, El Camino. 

Black Keys El Camino1

The van on the cover is the one they actually toured in in the beginning of their career, their parents bought it for them; the air conditioner was broke, and when they sold it it had 190,000 miles. I had a purple minivan that was passed on from my parents and the air conditioner didn’t work. It had about 150,000 miles on it, and I can’t imagine going more than 20 minutes in it. 

All of that to say, when you listen to the Black Keys, watch interviews with them ( I think they’re hilarious, I relate to their sense of humor. Like a video where they get shot and blown up and then talk about being dead in a diner), and see how they dress/act even with their success, I think there is an authenticity that people relate to. 

In the One Direction/Justin Bieber world (The Black Keys have a well publicized feud with the Biebs) where artists can become a success over night (looking at you Willow Smith), I think the Black Keys are a refreshing change, two guys who loved music who worked at what they loved. They became “successful” without changing who they were. 

Are they role models? No. Are they people I’d be friends with or want to date my sisters? Nope. But I think the bigger takeaway from their success is how badly we crave authenticity. For me, I want to listen to music where I believe what the person is saying. I believe that these guys have made mistakes and are dealing with the pain the only way they know how: music. I think the church as a whole has been portrayed as inauthentic, with scandals and groups claiming to “love their enemies” bombing abortion clinics. It’s a sad generalization, and there are tons of great churches out there. But public perception of Christianity seems more Beiber lip syncing and less authentic Black Keys. 

An organization I love, People of the Second Chance, posted this picture with a lyric from their song “The Next Girl” the other day:

Photo Feb 18 7 44 59 PM

That’s something that connects with me, more than “All I need is a beauty and a beat.” But that’s just me. 

What about you? Agree? Disagree? Belie-ber who’s gonna post death threats? Do it below. 

My life was changed my freshman year of high school by someone who probably has no idea what they did. 

It’s a dramatic statement, but it’s true. I had just joined a small group of guys at my church, and one of the juniors in the group lived nearby, so he started giving me a ride to church. This was awesome, because we forget, as a freshman it’s a huge deal to have a ride without your parents. The guy was great, and we became friends. When we would go places, he’d play music I’d never heard of. Some was weird, but some I really liked. 

Growing up with great, Godly parents, they did their best to protect me from the evils of secular music. Up to that point, I’d been shaped by the weird Christian ska movement going on at the time (Five Iron Frenzy or The Insyderz anyone?) and Newsboys were a huge deal. I’d sneak songs on the radio (for some reason an angst filled 7th grade Evan really like Eminem) but for the most part I didn’t have access to anything but the Christian music my parents bought. Remember, this is 2001 and the iPod had just been released to the world. I still didn’t have a portable CD player. I rocked my parents hand-me down walkman and some cassettes. (Side note, the only “secular” tape they had was Green Day’s Nimrod because they wanted “Time of Your Life” and since that was the only way to get it at the time, they bought the whole tape. I wore that tape out. Literally. Thank you for making music so much easier to get now iTunes.)

Back to rides with the cool upperclassman. Listening to music with him was awesome, but I wanted more. So I saved up my money and bought a portable CD player and some blank CDs (because they were expensive back then!) and asked if he would burn some of his favorites on CDs for me. This opened the floodgates, and I got way more than I bargained for. But none impacted me more than - 

Dashboard Confessional.

220px DC SAR I had this in Vinyl. Seriously. 

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go look some of their stuff up on Youtube. To a shy, awkward freshman who was still pretty intimated by girls, this was gold. Someone who was way cooler than me (he had sleeves!) singing about his own girl problems. I was hooked. Little emo Evan was born, and from that day on I started looking for music that related to me. I couldn’t really relate to Jay-Z’s lifestyle or even the Strokes; but wondering if he ever got the girl, that I connected with. That was my life.

With my musical world suddenly opened up, I began my search for artists or songs that might not be “mainstream” (whatever that means anymore) but have a message, a story I relate to like Dashboard did. I like things that are different (most would say “weird”), not just to be hipster (although I did see the Fray open for Ben Folds in 2005 before anyone knew who were they were, and I called that they would be big. And they were better before they got big.)

I do not claim to be an “expert” or really even in touch with the music scene anymore. At one point in college I would buy/download a new CD every week and listen to it on repeat just to learn new music, but now it’s less of knowing the next big thing and more of finding something that has a message. 

Adults reading this, you are probably forgetting how critical music is in your teenage years. Even now, at 25, I’m less likely to listen to music and more likely to listen to talk radio. But being around teenagers, it’s their world. It’s a huge part of what they talk about. They repost lyrics. They cover songs and put them on Youtube. They remix them. They buy everything an artist puts out because they relate to them. They illegally download tons of stuff they’d never be able to get otherwise. Music is a part of who they are.

That’s why as a Pastor, I try to stay in touch. To be honest, I dislike most of the stuff that my students listen to. I’m not going home listening to the new Taylor Swift or Lil Wayne just for fun. But I do know who those artists are. I know what they’re saying to the teenagers when I’m not around. They listen to those artists a lot more than they listen to me. Personally, I feel responsible for knowing those messages, and how to use them as an example of either what not to do, or sometimes what truth they have tapped into that could be pulled out of the Bible (You had a lot of moments that didn’t last forever, Now you in the corner tryna put it together, How to love) ((and how you just read that shows how in touch with music you are)).

This is not an endorsement of any artists as people. Most of the time, even today, we have no idea what really happens behind the scenes in the lives of “celebrities”. The ones that are vocal about their faith sadly fail, often. The ones that are living “like the world” could be searching for God and find him, then radically change (see Haggard, Ted and Welch, Brian). Growing up very conservative, I still cringe at cuss words and sexual lyrics (doesn’t that make me sound old). I am a firm believer that what input you take in (music, movies, and television, etc) affect who you become. Especially in the critical years of development from 11-18.

But I also believe that if we stick our heads in the sand, we’re not going to reach anyone. Separating from culture is not the answer. We’re to be in the world, not of it. Key part of that is still being in the world. So over the next couple posts I want to go through some music that is “popular” now and attempt to look more critically at what these artists are saying, good or bad. 

Because people are listening. Teenagers are listening. I want to be ready to engage them where they’re at, and that includes music. As I’m writing this I’m listening to the Black Keys after seeing them on the Grammies. I’m trying. 

So how do you feel about “popular” music? Hate it, love it, tolerate it? Comment below. 

It’s a milestone day for 2013. Football has gone, and pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Games don’t start for a few more days, but it means baseball is back. 

I’ve liked baseball since I was a kid, played (if you could call it playing) a terrible right field, and had maybe 2 hits in 3 or 4 years. I got into soccer and basketball, leaving baseball behind in middle school (mostly because I couldn’t play). After my only attempt at organized sports as a teenager (going out for the 8th grade basketball team, didn’t make the first cut), I gave up on the idea of playing team sports and really clicked playing golf with my dad. 

In high school though, I got to play with our church softball team, which made me fall in love all over again. I was definitely not the all-star softball player, but on a co-ed team with all my friends I found a perfect way to connect with people and have a purpose, a start and finish, a united goal. 

I really learned a lot about leadership, being a good sport, and working as a team. As a junior in high school I became the “captain” of our student ministry team, mostly because I cared enough to call everybody and make sure they’d show up (remember no texting back then) and put together a lineup. Again, I had my opportunities and made plenty of mistakes. The worst was the day when I led two girls to a hatred of the sport.

In my defense, we were having one our better seasons (most of the time we were under .500) and there was a lot on the line…in my mind. You had to play four outfielders, two had to be girls, so I set our outfielders and we started playing. Around the second inning a guy smoked one to the wall in right field, where girl A (I’m protecting their identities) took approx 45 minutes to get the ball, throw, pick it up again, throw it again, and get the ball in to the pitcher (me, who had given up the long drive. But it wasn’t my fault…).

Needless to say, it was an inside the park homerun. A couple batters later, with 2 on base another guy jacks one to girl A. Girl A, again, gives up an inside the park home run. The second for those of you keeping score at home. So as calmly as I could, I had her come in and switched her with girl B. Girl A took it surprisingly well, and we were set. Girl B proceeded to give up between 2 and 4 inside the park home runs that inning (it’s hard to remember, I’m pretty sure I blacked out with anger) and not to be outdone, Girl A threw a ball out of the field and cost another couple. 

At this time, the game is out of hand, and in hindsight it was pointless, but i snapped and benched both of them. In a church league softball game. I believe I actually went into the stands and got two other girls from other teams (again, it’s all hazy). When we finally got out of the inning, Girl A was furious and gave me the business and Girl B had already left to go home. Neither of them played again with us, and I’m pretty sure they go around and slash tires at the ballpark now out of their hatred of the sport.

Not one of my finer moments. Sports definitely brings out the worst in us (me particularly), but learning from that incident and many others I’d care not to relieve, I’ve learned to be more patient. I’ve learned it’s not all about winning. I’ve been able to control my temper and stop to remember that people who play sports are still people.

I think I love baseball so much because there is no time limit; the game goes until it’s done. The team shares the spotlight; a quarterback touches the ball every play, the point guard almost always sets the tone. But in baseball, a pitcher rarely goes the whole game; he has relievers to pick him up. You go to bat, but most of the time you need someone to knock you in. You can be the hero one day and strikeout 5 times the next. A guy like Marco Scuatro can come over late in the year and lead a team to the World Series.

Is watching baseball, or sports in general a waste of time? Probably. There aren’t many things in life that are truly life or death. But for me, baseball/softball taught me a lot and still is, so I will watch games this year. I will play fantasy baseball. I hope to have a softball team again.

Because I still need to learn.

What has taught you lessons in your life? I’d love to hear about it below!