Thursday, May 28, 2009

Art Day

Today marked the begining of a summer full of arts and crafts for the kids at Huntington Creek. Our newest volunteer, Mrs. Jeanne, from Mt. Zion Baptist Church, will be coming every Thursay with her art tub and brain full of creative ideas.

The kids got to make paintings inside salad spinners and create whirly designs on paper rotating on a record player. They learned today that God is a creative God, and when we create, we reflect his character.

(Thanks to Adam Fites - your comment on the "Art Gene" post inspired this lesson)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Church House Rock!

On Monday, I met with Brian and Mike from New Covenant Community Church. Like many congregations in this community, they've seen massive changes. Unlike many congregations in the community, they're still alive and are coming up with some powerful, innovative ways to bridge cultural gaps.

One of these ways is the arts. Needless to say, it was thrilling for me. While discussing our ministries, we talked about Borges, Dostoyevsky, Tom Waits, and the Handsome Family. Mike, the pastor, prayed very powerfully for our ministry, and Brian invited me to write a song to be played in church.

Those who have read or heard my lyrics will probably agree that church music is not my niche. However, I have a policy of embracing creative opportunities, and it is a chance to dive in to this community, and I have been thinking about the economics of the kingdom a great deal lately, so I said yes.

I've posted a rough draft over on my North Papers blog. I'm not the best self-editor, but I want to bring them something meaningful and well-thought-out. That, my dear readers, is where you come in. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Six Flags Bonanza

Most theme parks have the same theme, and it's, "Wait in line, fatty!" - Demetri Martin

My sister Lisa, my friend Aziz, Ruthie and I all went to Six Flags today. I'm not a fan of most theme parks, but the lack of lines and the abundance of roller coasters made for good times. After a few rides, Aziz and Ruthie decided to sit down and rest while Lisa and I clambered aboard Goliath, a massive roller coaster.

If you look closely at the picture below, toward the tail end of the train, you can observe me in an excited state.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bayo Interview Clip 1

I've been interviewing Nigerian missionary Bayo Otiti for two months now, and I decided to start bringing my camera. The following is one of several clips of Bayo telling his story. I'll post more as I put them together.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Candy Crazed Samurai

Highlights of today:

  • Locust Grove: Despite the town's wierd name, which evokes images of devastated farmers or plagued Egyptians, I usually have a good time down there. I spent the morning watching anime, listening to music, and talking about "eschatological angst" with my friend Adam. It's a fitting name for my battle with depression, because I've been promised comfort in the beatitudes, but I'm living in a broken body in a broken world. Plenty of reasons to feel down.
  • Happy Birthday, Leslie: Leslie, who lives in the apartment next to us and goes to our program, had her seventh birthday today. 15 minutes before the event, when we learned we were invited, we ran out to Wal-Mart and got her a disney princess keyboard. It turned out to be fun, if a little uncomfortable because of language barriers. Leslie is a little angel until you give her a stick and sick her on a pinata. Holy Smokes. We had to leave the party a little early to get to....
  • Creature from the Black Lagoon...IN THE THIRD DIMENSION: Awesome. I have never been to a 3D movie before. The technology is really dated, but it's incredible to experience. It gives you a monster headache (notice the dazzling wordplay at work), but it's worth the pain to see the way the creature jumps out of the screen. Which leads me to a point I want to make about idiots at these events, particularly the ones behind me who thought their commentary was funny. They need to keep it down.

Okay, well, we got plenty of pictures and video, which would take forever to load, and it's 1:01 in the morning, and I need to stay awake in church tomorrow. Maybe we'll post them later. Goodnight, my dear readers.

Dance Dance Yeah!

The kids enjoyed some music during Refugee Beads class this week and started to boogie. Below are clips of some of their greatest moves:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Looking at yesterday's blog was such an uplifter for me after a tough day's work. I'm so thankful for time with Jennifer and her family.

By the way, Jennifer is the sister of Melvin, who was featured in our first video. Jennifer will be hanging out with Ruthie this summer and helping with Refugee Beads.

Tonight was a difficult night for me. I came home exhausted from my day job, and I still had four unedited videos waiting to be worked on, an unmailed-out newsletter, unwashed dishes (my daily chore), and no younger brother to hang with (Eric is busy sunbathing in the Philippines).

However, I improved the forecast for this weekend by purchasing two tickets to Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D. How many times does one get to watch a classic movie like this in 3D? Not very often. That's the correct answer.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rosin Eating Zombies

Jennifer needed a ride to her orchestra concert tonight. After hours in front of my computer, trying to edit an interview into something usable, I was ready to get out. Ruthie and I picked Jennifer and her mom up and headed over to Sequoiah Middle school to see the show.

Jennifer played her violin very well, and received two awards for her work with the 7th grade orchestra. She plans to play with the orchestra through the rest of middle school and into high school.

We dropped Jennifer's mom off at an evening class, and took Jennifer out for some Chik-fil-a. She was too nervous before the show to eat any dinner. Of course, since it was a special occasion, we all got ice cream cones.

Oh and the title of this post was actually the title of one of the songs the 8th grade orchestra played. It included stomps, screams, and high, fast trills on the violins. Obviously, it was awesome.

An International Gospel

I got some great footage of the kids we work with talking about Jesus.  They all understand him a little differently.  Junior's account of Jesus included his "superpowers," and sounded like a comic book, complete with Jesus busting out of a locked cave. I'll edit the video and you can see for yourself.

This morning I spent more time with Bayo Otiti, who has ongoing dialogue with the Muslim community in Clarkston, and is making unbelievable headway with Somali and Ethiopian men. We shot our conversation on video and were careful about lighting and sound, so it should make for a great short when I edit it.

A big focus of our work is empowering immigrants like Bayo and Junior to embrace and share the gospel with their own people groups.  

This video will be a tool for Bayo to begin raising funds and fighting sex slavery in his home country of Nigeria. Junior's account of Jesus will be put together with dozens of others to call American churches to invest in the international community.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I'm still suspicious that Twitter may be a time-sucking technological black hole, but on the counsel of my supervisor, and following the lead of McSweeney's, I'm diving in.

For a roller coaster ride of ministry-related suspense and thrilling international episodes, you can click here or go to this link:

Monday, May 18, 2009

High Tech!

Due to the recent installation of a high-speed internet connection, the recent acquisition of a camera, the reunion of three of the North siblings, and a visit to the suburbs, we present the following video, with apologies in advance for the idiotic content it contains.

I've got some great video stuff coming, like an interview with Liberian refugee/artist Aziz Tody, and some powerful storytelling from my fellow missionary Bayo Otiti. Until these are finished, however, please feel free to play, replay, and relay this warped little gem.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Art Gene

I was enjoying the new Bob Dylan CD, Together through Life, today, and I remembered being angered when another Christian mocked him. I wanted to go into a whole tirade about why Bob Dylan is challenging and edifying across generations, but I kept my mouth shut. I think it was a good move.

I've tried to explain to Christians why art is so important to the kingdom, with mixed results. Many feel that we should only engage art we agree with. Others think "secular" art only has value insofar as we can link it to our evangelistic efforts.

They like it when we talk about making ourselves hip enough to minister to hipsters, or educating ourselves on the language of a lost world. The underlying assumption is that once we are Christians, we can't learn anything from non-Christians except what those non-Christians are up to these days.

After banging my head against a wall so many times in this area, I just tend to treat art-mindedness as a fundamental personality trait. You really can't teach it. Usually, when I see I'm talking to someone who doesn't have the art gene, I make my presentation like this:

"You may not like the art world or understand it, and that's fine. I don't have much sense for (insert his/her occupation here). However, my generation is leaving the church by the millions (11 million, according to Christian Retailing magazine), and it might have something to do with the aspects of life that the mainstream Church has disregarded, which are pretty important to us. Art is a great example."

"That's why, while we don't need to be on the same page, you need to trust me that engaging the arts is important. That it matters to the church. That loving, affirming, and supporting artsy types like Ruthie and me is 1) probably the best PR move you can make and 2) a great working example of differing roles in the body of Christ."

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Question of Strategy

Since college, I have done most of my theological pondering in conversation with close friends. Lately, I've spent a lot of time working through ethics, specifically how we can best present the gospel. 

Last night I drove down to visit my friend Adam Fites. Most people who are really into philosophy and theology tend to be pretty obnoxious in conversation. Adam is one of the rare exceptions, so when I'm wrestling with an issue and I want someone to be patient and helpful as I work out ideas, I talk with him.

Our main discussion topic during this visit, besides Asian cinema, was evangelism. I feel a tremendous weight when I think about the kids who we work with. I want the gospel to take root and bloom in their lives. However, I don't want to cheat.

There are easy ways to generate a prayer. There are ways to pitch the gospel that seem appealing. There are easy ways to offer approval and love on the condition of conversion. There are ways to name people Christian without allowing their hearts to speak true repentance.

I really can't nail down the mechanics of salvation, nor do I wish to judge whether or not any specific conversion "counts." I believe that the Father can use pretty much any presentation he wants. I'm just concerned with following his lead on my place in the whole process.

What I'm working toward is creating rich, full relationships where the gospel can enter lives on its own terms and address hearts personally, directly, and redemptively. At least for now, that seems the most effective way to reach the people around me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Liquid Assets

Ruthie and I watched a documentary recently called Sliding Liberia.

I'm admittedly a fan of surf documentaries. Although I've only surfed a few times (even then, it was arguable if my repeated wipeouts and falls could be called "surfing"), I love the culture, music, and art of riding waves.

I caught Step into Liquid about four times during its limited run in the theater. I bought Jack Johnson's The September Sessions and Thicker than Water. I viewed old VHS copies of Year of the Drag-in and a few other docs featuring the Mavericks Crew. And of course, I loved the Endless Summer movies with their old-school-aw-shucks-let's-catch-some-waves narration.

I can say without reservation that Sliding Liberia is the best I have ever seen. First, while other documentaries cut to the natives to break up the footage of riding waves, this film presents the surfing and the environment of post-war Liberia as thoroughly integrated. The trip is an experience built on the people, and surfing takes an appropriate place as a platform for relationships.

I've been working with Liberians for a few months now, and this is the first I've seen of the more beautiful parts of their home country. Typically, you only get to see the footage of sweltering, war-battered cities packed with hungry people. Just like the Philippines where I grew up, Liberia is an abused, but resiliently beautiful land.

As they often do, my thoughts went to the music of the land. Just as the arresting scenery cuts through all the misery and violence that bathes Liberia, the music and culture hold bright spots that could be seeds for rebirth. Here's hoping that these assets will overcome the grave circumstances, and form a hopeful future for this broken country.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ups and Downs, Strikes and Gutters

I recover from my illness, and Ruthie gets hit with a new one. This morning, she woke up and could barely walk because she was feeling weak and dizzy.

I encouraged her to cancel her beading classes and recoup for the day, mainly because I did a little too much while I was sick, and now I feel my recovery time dragging on. At least one of us needs to be up and running.

I spent the morning working on installing our video editing software and importing from the camera. It's very time consuming to figure out, but we'll have some great applications for it, as you can see from the video I posted earlier.

We're also looking forward to the summer, where we can work with the kids to find out what they are interested in exploring. We plan to have videography, guitar, art, and story writing "clubs" that the kids can sign up for. Eric will head up the guitar, Ruthie the art, and I the video and writing stuff.

When you help a kid find her/his real interest, you open up all sorts of doors for communication and mentoring.

The Melvin Interview

Our friends Josh and Margaret Feit run this amazing bike co-op called Communicycle. It has given us a chance to spend more focused time with some of the kids in our program. Last night, Eric and I took Melvin Sosa to work on building his own bike.

On the way, we were playing around with my video camera, and we shot a short interview with Melvin about his alleged steroid use, his career aspirations, his academic interests, and his philosophical leanings.

Here are the highlights:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fleet Foxes

Monday is the new Sunday.  Ruthie and I slept in, then did lunch at the Continental Park Cafe in Stone Mountain Village.  It was one of our first date spots about seven years ago.

I spent some time looking for new indoor soccer shoes. The American-run places only had Sambas (which I might end up getting if nothing more exciting turns up), and the Mexican places favored shiny, small shoes. Any advice on where to get a good, affordable pair?

This evening, Eric and I decided to learn "White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes, so he printed out the chords and tabs and we got to work.  We both struggled with the vocal harmonies, and I kept playing rhythm guitar with too much swing. We had a few good moments.  When we nail it, I'll video it, and we'll post it on this blog.

Tomorrow, it's back to work from 8:00 in the morning til 9:00 at night.  Ay carumba.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sick Sunday Blues

I am still sick.  While Ruthie headed out to do some Refugee Beads stuff, I parked at home and did some reading, watched three movies, drank a full pitcher of hibiscus tea, and complained incessantly to my poor brother Eric who was too kind to tell me to shut up.

We'll be back up and running tomorrow (I hope).

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I've been sick this weekend, which is not a surprise considering my lifestyle lately.  The blog has taken a backseat to drinking gallons of tea, water, orange juice, horchatas (I keep trying to like the stuff), vending machine chai, and lemonade.  Thankfully, Ruthie put together this great collage for your enjoyment. Click on it to enlarge.

Suggested uses: iron-on t-shirt design; billboard; laptop background; face painting pattern; online entertainment; prayer guide; donation motivator; poster

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Ruthie and I sat on the patio tonight looking out at the apartment complex and thinking about relationships.

Some days, it's difficult for me to be down here.  I get homesick for the people I love back in Chicago.  We gathered around great music and movies almost every night. Life here is rich and rewarding, but it gets profoundly lonely sometimes.

I suppose this is culture shock. The glory of the exotic life you dreamed of peels away, and you find yourself waking to a day-to-day reality.  The fact is that in my neighborhood, I'm an oddity. I wouldn't trade it, but it's lonely and overwhelming sometimes. 

Of course, it helps that we work with a bunch of warm-hearted, lovable kids.  When I arrive home from my day job, nerves sparking from the stress, they call to me from their balconies and they remind me that this work I've given my life to is worthwhile.

The picture above interrupted me in the middle of a spell of depression tonight. I thank God that he gives me good things to capture my attention in the times when I'm blind to the glory he's placed all around me.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Refugee All-Stars

Picture credit: banker white

This morning, I ran errands while listening to a CD by Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, a reggae band formed in refugee camps outside Sierra Leone while the country suffered a long, bloody civil war.

I was thinking about how moving the music feels to me, although I haven't set foot on the continent of Africa or lived as a refugee or even really worried about being able to eat. It doesn't take much to connect with another human being. One shared idea or the resonance of a tune or a line in a drawing can unite people in a powerful way.

Some film producers found this band and made a low-budget documentary, and it was enough to give these refugees a voice to reach me, a white guy driving a new car with a working CD player (see yesterday's post).

I pay close attention to stories like this, I delight in the connections, and I pray that, by God's grace, I will help make this unifying joy possible for others.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Missionary Ride

We borrowed my brother's car for the past six months. When he came to live with us, we returned the keys. At that point, our friend Jesse Cummins agreed to let us use his for a while until we figured something out.

Today, thanks to a donor named Darrell Suderman, we have wheels! It's a buick with a great interior and (get ready- this is a first for Ruthie and me) a working CD player!

The vehicle has a few minor issues, but that's why we call it a "missionary car." I don't even know if I'd feel like a legitimate minister without a few car problems.

It was interesting to learn how many connections Darrell has with my family. One of his best friends worked on my parents' and my older sister's cars for years. Darrell attends First Baptist Atlanta, where my younger brother works. His home church in Denver is Foothills, which has supported our family for years! And now he donated a car to Ruthie and me.

Which brings me to an interesting point: when you're doing missionary work, it really is a small world. For whatever reason, since moving down here, I have seen some crazy coincidences.

"But Ian," you tell me, "there is no such thing as a coincidence."

"Listen, (your name here), you know what I mean, so just loosen up," I reply.

Which brings me to another crazy "coincidence." I got all excited recently because two of my favorite African musicians, Femi Kuti and King Sunny Ade, are doing a show in Atlanta.

I was telling my fellow missionary Bayo Otiti about this, and he replied that he just happens to have been good friends with Femi Kuti's dad, and Sunny Ade's son had just called Bayo from New York a few hours prior to our conversation.

Interesting stuff.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Village Gathering

We had our first "Village Gathering" hosted by Rachel Weast. We were so grateful for her hospitality!

Everyone wore their traditional dress, even little Susan. She is a regular at our jewelry classes.

This is Purna. She is from Bhutan and spent 17 years in a refugee camp in Nepal. She made Nepali tea for all the guests. For many of the women, it was the first time to visit an American home. I asked Purna to tell me one thing she noticed to be different about it and she said, "so many kitchen things."

The American women did not hesitate to support the refugee women by buying their handmade jewely. I saw pure joy on their faces when their pieces where admired and chosen.

We were all pretty tired at the end, especially little Susan.

After the "Village Gathering" I took the women to my parents house to show them were I grew up. I was glad to share a peice of my history with them.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Welcome to the New Millenium

Ruthie had her first "Village Gathering" today, which was a party where she brought refugees to meet with Georgians and share stories.  She brought back some great shots of the event. However, uploading the pictures on this dial-up connection typically takes nearly an hour after all is said and done.  

Tomorrow, Comcast will be coming to our apartment to welcome us into the new millenium.  After they install a good internet connection, it will take mere minutes to do what used to take hours.  So at that point we'll lay the pics and stories on you and there will be much rejoicing in the land.

Until then, have a good night.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Futbol con Peruanos

It's no secret to anyone who has seen me exercise that I am sorely out of shape.  Six hard Chicago winters and heaps of great international food have joined forces to render me pretty much worthless on a soccer field (or a tennis court converted to a soccer court).

Just keep that in mind as I unfold this here tale I'm about to tell. 

You see, I was never great at soccer, but I used to be able to run around in 100 degree heat and have a pretty good time. That is not the case today.  In preparation for a 5-mile run around Stone Mountain, a confederate version of Mount Rushmore, Eric and I went to the park for a quick jog.  It did not go very well.

As we finished our second mile, Eric bounding around the last curve with his hair streaming behind him like a mane, and me staggering in an odd gasp-hop-fall-forward-style run, we heard the sounds of soccer coming from the tennis courts at the back of our apartment complex.  All the complexes in this city once catered to the tennis-playing set, but the demographics have changed a little since those days.  Now the courts have no poles or nets, and weird PVC rectangles are strapped to the fence to serve as goals for the latino tenants.

I had a stupid idea.  Why not play with them?  My brother and I used to stomp opponents back in the old days.  So we stretched out and went.  After watching for a few minutes, the guys worked us into teams and we got going.  My teammates were stout, potbellied construction worker types, and they immediately saw that Eric's team got the better deal.

Anyway, you can imagine how it went.  Eric dancing around the court, nailing shots from deep in his own zone.  Me staggering around, a little late for everything, getting yelled at by my middle aged teammates.  At half time, we all sat down and got to talking.  Apparently, Fridays are Peru day at the court. I told them I had been to their country, and we knew enough of each others' languages to string a good conversation together.  The break ended with me inviting all eight of them over for fish on Wednesday.

Also, I offered to start teaching them English, which I haven't the faintest idea how to do.  But these days, I'm pretty much in "what the heck? Let's give it a shot" mode.  So now our ministry with the men in the place is up and running.  

Not that I was up and running for much of the rest of the game, although I played smarter, nailed a couple of goals, and our team came out on top. Eat it, Eric.

Now, as I type, my arms have disturbing discolored splotches on them and I feel a bit like my nerve endings are all loose wires, sparking, I'm on my second gallon of water, and it feels great, to tell you the truth.