World AIDS Day 2010 : I Remember

Just last night I was visiting with a couple while riding home from a photo shoot… we got to talking about my experience in Malawi… I made the comment that I couldn’t believe that it’s been two and a half years since I boarded a plane and said my last goodbyes to that wonderful place. It is really scary how time gets away from you… I’m starting to understand what my dad means when he makes those statements.

Each year, days like today sneak up on me. I promised to never forget the things I saw. There is no doubt that I won’t forget the things I saw. But the reality is… I woke up today, and were it not for Twitter, I would have no clue that it is World AIDS Day. Each year, I find myself further and further away from my connections with the reality that people all over the world are suffering from a disease that is crippling societies… destroying families… stripping the last strands of hope that people are holding on to.

Yeah… it’s been two and a half years since I left that place. But, there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think about Malawi. It may be a cup of hot tea that I drink in the morning… a dish that we have for dinner one night… when I just naturally call one of the kids in our Life Group “Iwe”… or give Sara and sad face when she is complaining about something and say “pepani” (“sorry”… said in a very childish-tone… yeah… I’m mean like that!).

Today I remember.

Today I’m wearing the shirt that a Malawian friend made me… randomly I already had it on before I remembered it was AIDS Day.

Today it is important that our friends and neighbors around the world know that they are not alone in this fight.

For those of you who didn’t know… I lived in Malawi, Africa for almost a year working with a program called HOPE for AIDS. Check out the wonderful work they are doing! I wrote about all my experiences on a blog called Hope From Malawi. Here’s a particular post I wrote when I was visiting an AIDS clinic that we supported.

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World Malaria Day : 2010

As this blog is turning more and more into a photography blog, I’ve been getting more and more of a crowd around here. Fun times indeed!

But, I’m realizing that for those of you who don’t know me at all or just started getting to know me more recently, you might not realize that I’ve got a crazy infatuation with Africa… specifically Malawi. Hence the main image on top not being one of a bride, but of a young Malawian boy.

After I graduated from Texas A&M back in 2007, I decided to pack my bags and do something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I moved to Malawi, Africa for 9 months.

This experience changed my life. Forever.

Almost two years have gone by, and I honestly think about Malawi at some point every day. Little Chichewa phrases pop in and out of my mind and my heart drifts back to a place that was very different than where I am now.

I give you that bit of introduction because I don’t want you to ride off this post as just another one of those “jump on a band-wagon to help people” posts that seem to be around every corner of the internet. I’m all for helping people… indeed!

But, there are really only a few things that are pretty raw in my heart if I’m honest.

This is one of them.

When you’re in Africa, malaria is one of those things that you think about very often! I would compare it to brushing your teeth here in America. The threat of malaria comes into your mind every time you get in and out of bed (lifting up the mosquito net to quickly get in without letting anything else in with you), or when part of your morning routine is downing a pill as a proactive measure.

Now, the reality is, it’s pretty simple to keep yourself safe from getting this terrible sickness. Heck, you really don’t even have to take the pill at all if you just avoid the mosquito. But, the sad reality is that every day… EVERY DAY… more than 2,000 children DIE from malaria.

>2,000

Humans.

Die.

That’s a lot!

Statistics tend to just get all jumbled up in my mind usually, and the way I deal with that messiness is that I just put it in the compartment of my brain that says “crap that’s huge and I’m not huge… I’ll deal with that later”.

The reason why this is different for me is because of the faces I’ve seen. I haven’t just witnessed numbers walking around websites trying to vie for my attention. I have seen a little girl.

Her name is Gladys.

She lived in the house next door to me for several months, and was one of the most lifeless beings that I have ever seen.

For the longest time we couldn’t figure out if she was just malnourished or what.

But, finally, we figured out that this tiny child had severe malaria.

She wouldn’t have lived much longer had we not taken her to the hospital and started her on some heavy meds.

Gladys was one child out of millions. When I looked into her eyes or threw her up in the air to make her laugh, her life had tremendous value to me.

So, when I read a number like 2,000 children a day. I’m able to take it out of its compartment and put a face with that. I can place sounds and touch with that number.

So, allow me to be an advocate for the 2,000 Gladys’ that will die today from a disease that could be prevented by the simplest means.

Check out this website to see what you can do to help and to learn more about Malaria:

Roll Back Malaria World Malaria Day 2009

world . aids . day

Around the world today, people are stopping to consider the impact that HIV&AIDS has had on the human race.

As I stop and do just that, I’m reminded of many faces that became friends while I was in Malawi. Many people who contracted HIV and were doing their best to make the most of life with this virus.

As I write this, I am becoming aware of my tendency to move on from that experience. Faces and memories are getting blurry, and with each word of Chichewa that slips my mind, my soul forgets another detail of the reality for people living with AIDS in Malawi.

Today is as much for me as it is for them. For people living with HIV, they don’t need to be reminded that it exists. Each and every minute of every day, they know what HIV is doing to their body and to their society. It’s not for them that we pause to think… it’s for us.

It’s for us to consider the fact that 33 million of our fellow humans are currently living with a disease that is killing them at an alarming rate.

It’s a day for us to consider why 95% of those living with HIV are in developing countries.

It’s a time for us to think about the impact that this one tiny virus is having and will have on society.

It’s a chance for us to contemplate how we [you + I] need to respond.

You can’t simply ignore the fact that this is something plaguing the world.

I highly encourage you to check out this interactive AIDS experience. It will change the way you see those living with HIV.

If you’re new to this blog or haven’t known me for very long, you should also check out things I wrote while living in Malawi working with those affected by HIV&AIDS. I’ve pulled up some of the posts that I wrote specifically regarding HIV&AIDS… you can check them out here.

Refuse to not be educated about what’s happening around you.

Refuse to turn your head away from those sitting on the side of the road.

Stop.

Listen.

Help.

Crazy Day…

So, today has been a really interesting day for me.

It all started bright and early with a 5:30am phone call. Not knowing why my phone was ringing me out of deep sleep, I just answered it with an ID that read “unknown number” or something like that. On the other end was a lady with a British accent talking about something. So, I got out of bed and headed to the living room to have this weird conversation with this lady. She was actually a reporter with BBC News.

Yesterday, the BBC posted a “Have Your Say” forum on a new legislation that the Malawian government is proposing that would give loans to prostitutes in order to help them start a business and get off the streets. Of course there is plenty of debate about such a legislation. And, because I love Malawi so much, I just chimed in with my 2 cents, left a comment and then kinda forgot about it.

Now… here I am at 5:30 in the morning talking to this lady (who sounds just like the lady that says “BBC newwwws” on the radio … if you’ve ever listened, you would know exactly what I’m talking about) about what my thoughts are on this legislation. Honestly, I was pretty confused as to the reason why she: a) cared so much about this legislation and getting all this info about it; and b) why she cared what a guy in Texas thinks about it.

Turns out, out of the 120+ comments that people made, some people had pinged mine as an opinion they would want to hear more about. The reporter thought that I would offer an interesting perspective since I had lived in Malawi and worked with HIV/AIDS prevention and stuff.

So, she invited me to participate in an hour long live BBC Africa broadcast that started at 10:00am today.

Basically, it was kind of a forum where they start a discussion and then pull people in on the line to give their opinion about it. At the same time, people are e-mailing and texting in thoughts as well. I sat on the phone for quite a while and, based on the people they had on their talking (Malawian Minister of Gender, actual prostitutes, other important people from around the world), I was pretty sure that they probably weren’t going to get to me. But, I listened to this lively debate and had many thoughts throughout the hour.

Then, the guy said, “and now we’re going to go to Ryan in the States and see what he has to say about this. Ryan, do you think that this plan that the Malawian government is proposing is something that will actually work based on your time there?”

I had been practicing my non-Texan accent all morning to prepare for this opportunity… I really didn’t want to sound like a hick on world news! So, I talked really fast (like non-Americans tend to do) and said:

“I feel like we most certainly need to focus legislation on sex workers, but I think that the current proposal is lacking in that it only focuses on monetary things. By simply giving someone a loan, you are failing to address other important factors such as investing in the person spiritually and emotionally. Let’s try to get at the root of this issue and invest in people… invest in education. But, I also want to commend the Malawian government for at least starting down this road and developing progressive legislation that would attempt to tackle this hard issue. I just feel like it needs to be developed more and that the long-term implications need to be considered before this gets implemented. What we need is not a bandaid approach here… their needs to be a more holistic approach that deals with why people have gotten to this point.”

Then he asked me what I did while I was in Malawi, and I told him.

It was pretty short.

I just think it is crazy that I was just on world news talking about something that I honestly don’t have more than a few opinions about (by no means expert opinions).

Who would have thought that my Thursday morning would go this way?

This is the reason I LOVE BBC News!

You can check out the comment discussion here. If you click on “reader’s recommended” tab, my comment in the 8th one down. Unfortunately, I don’t think that they are going to post the audio from it. Oh well…

world.malaria.day

April 25th  is World Malaria Day. 

Malaria is a reality that far too many people live with on a daily basis around the world. 

While living in Malawi, I was reminded each morning when I filled a glass full of water and swallowed a giant doxy pill of the reality of Malaria. 

The problem is… I was definitely in the minority of people swallowing pills on a given day. Most people just took their chances against the dreaded “malungo” (chiChewa for Malaria). 

Luckily, by the grace of God, I managed to avoid Malaria while I was in Malawi. I say “by the grace of God” because it was really nothing that I did! I was really more reckless than I should have been. I never once applied mosquito repellant while I was there, and there were a few occasions where the thought of having to tuck that stupid net in around me just made me want to give up… and I did. 

However, not everyone is so lucky. 

Each year, Malaria kills approximately 1 million people.

Out of that 1 million, an estimated 80% are children.

In Africa, every day, about 2,000 children breathe their last breath because of this preventable disease.

Preventable.

Malaria IS preventable.

Something as simple as sleeping under a bed-net can save a person’s life. 

There are many initiatives raising support and providing these resources to people that simply can’t justify spending money on a bed-net when they haven’t put food in their child’s body for over a day.

If you would like to give a bed-net, do it here.

Also, for those of you living in the Brazos Valley… a good friend of mine is the youth minister at A&M United Methodist Church. On May 1st, they will be hosting a benefit concert for “Nothing But Nets” featuring Jimmy Needham. Check it out here.

WHY DO I CARE??

I’ll recap a story for you that I wrote about when I was in Malawi:

Returning from a trip down south to her home village, my neighbor, Agnes, had an extra piece of luggage. This piece of luggage had a name and was wearing a nice peach colored dress. 

Her name was Gladys, and she was probably 4 years old. 

Gladys was placed under the big tree in our back yard each day to sit with the other kids. But there was definitely something different about her compared to the other kids. While they would be running in circles, laughing and screaming, she would be dozing in and out with her eyes kinda rolling toward the top of her head. 

If someone were to ask me to define what “lifeless” looks like, I would simply say “Gladys”. 

I remember the first time I picked her up and held her in my arms. I had never felt something so limp before. 

For weeks, she stayed next door, where she was getting much better nutrition compared to the modest 1 meal a day she may of got from her incredibly poor family. 

However, it wasn’t until one of the missionaries convinced Agnes to let us bring her to the hospital to just get her checked out that we discovered that malnutrition was minor compared to a much more serious problem. 

Gladys had been suffering from a level-4 case of Malaria for quite some time. 

For someone like me, level-4 would have put me on the brink of death.

It was only the grace of God that had protected her and allowed such a tiny child to survive such harsh treatment to her body. 

They discovered that as a result of the Malaria, Gladys had become severely anemic and to top it off, her body was infested with worms. 

The doctor prescribed some intense anti-malarial drugs and we just hoped for the best. 

It was amazing to see the progress that Gladys made once she received the medication. 

Out of simple ignorance and a lack of resources, this precious girl nearly lost her life. 

When I think of Malaria, my arms feel the weight of a lifeless 4-year old girl laying on my shoulder. 

That weight extends from my arms and is a weight that plunders my soul. 

Tribute to a Great Man.

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For those of you who followed my blog while I was in Malawi and have an exceptional memory, you may remember a post from last February about a Pastor friend of mine. Here is the transcript of that post… (it’s worth your read)…

Abusa (Pastor) Prince Stazio

A young guy in his 30s

Overseeing numerous churches in the district of Chikwawa, Malawi

Husband and Father of 2 (Yanko and Prince Jr.)

Living in a small, but adequate house in the town of Chikwawa that is never lacking in traffic.

Church members throughout the denomination drop in to see this man of God on a regular basis.

After picking Stazio up last week and accompanying him to a remote village, I got to know a little bit more about this man.

Each week, he has the responsibility of looking out for a number of churches within the denomination that have no pastor.

On this particular instance, he was hitching a ride with us in order to visit a church member that had recently lost one of his young children.

He is one of those guys that just makes you smile when you around him. You would never assume that he is a man of importance.

Over a meal of goat and nsima, I figured I would try and get to know him a little better.

“Stazio, what were the circumstances of you realizing that you were called to be a pastor?”, I asked.

“Well,” he replied, “after receiving my education in Blantyre, I was a businessman working down in Nsanje. I was doing pretty well, but as I was going to church, I realized that God was wanting me to be a pastor. When I told my family that I was going to go to Bible School, they were not very happy. I was the responsible person for all of my extended family. I was about to go from a well paying job to the small salary that a village pastor receives.”

Yet, he was faithful to the Lord.

Even though this decision meant certain sacrifice, he knew that when you are called by God, you don’t just say no.

Sacrifice for a pastor like Stazio means, hopping on a bicycle on Saturdays and riding at times up to 50 Kilometers to get to the church where he will be preaching Sunday morning

In a country that does not have a church on every street corner with 5 staff members and the majority of the people sitting in the pew possessing enough Bible knowledge to be a leader themselves, such sacrifices are simply necessary.

When he was asked whether the demands of his job ever discourage him, he replied:

“I’ve been chosen by God, so I can’t resign.”

Late last week I received word that this dear friend was in the hospital suffering from some severe damage to his liver that was not treated in time. The vibrant, smiling man that I once knew apparently looked very different now.

Last night, Pastor Stazio passed away at his home in Chikwawa village.

I have been wrestling with God about this every since I found out about it on Friday night. I have shed many tears and spent lots of time begging God to heal Stazio.

The first thing that I did was seriously question the sovereignty of God. If God is really in control of everything… and He appoints all things for His glory… why in a million years would He see fit to take away this man that is doing so much good for His Kingdom and is so young and has little children? I wish I could say that God revealed to me some amazing answer for His purposes, but it hasn’t come to me yet.

I’m trusting that the Lord is in control. I’m trusting that He is faithful. I’m trusting that He will use this to bring an incredible amount of glory to His name in Malawi.

Through this I have become so keenly aware of how poorly I suffer. When I read the Bible… or even when I read what Christians all around the world are going through today because of what they believe… but, yet I see resilient brothers and sisters that refuse to deny the Lord when their child is tortured for something that they believe in. Then I look at this circumstance that is relatively distant from my day to day personal life and see how I react… I have got a long way to go.

I pray for more faith.

I pray for the abilty to suffer well when I don’t understand the reasons behind anything.

Please pray for Stazio’s wife and 2 children as well as the numerous people that are affected by this.

My new favorite song…

So, you know how every once in a while, you come across a song that just hits the spot? You find yourself just pushing the back button on your ipod when there are only like 5 seconds left and just listening to it all over again…

Well… that has been this song for me! Sara Groves is rockin’ my world with her song “When The Saints”. I mean, any time I find a song that molds social justice stuff with a Hammond organ and a gospel choir in the background, you know a brother has got to smile! But snap… read these lyrics and see if it doesn’t get you krunk…

But more importantly, you should get this CD and add it to your collection, because it is well worth the money, even if it were for this song alone.

Lord I have a heavy burden of all I’ve seen and know
It’s more than I can handle
But your word is burning like a fire shut up in my bones
and I cannot let it go

And when I’m weary and overwrought
with so many battles left unfought

I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard
I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars
And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them

Lord it’s all that I can’t carry and cannot leave behind
It often overwhelms me
When I think of all who’ve gone before me and lived the faithful life
Their courage compells me

And when I’m weary and overwrought
with so many battles left unfought

I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard
I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars

I see the shepherd Moses in the Pharoh’s court
I hear his call of freedom for the people of the Lord

And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them
And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them

I see the long quiet walk along the Underground Railroad
I see the slave awakening to the value of her soul

I see the young missionary and the end of the spear
I see his family returning with no trace of fear

I see the long hard shadows of Calcutta nights
I see the sisters standing by the lepers side

I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor
I see the man with a passion come and kicking down the door

I see the man of sorrows and his long troubled road
I see the world on his shoulders and my easy load

And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them