Friday, September 28, 2012

Home to Amish country

Terrill & I currently find ourselves in Holmes County, Ohio. It is my birthplace and where I spent the first 12 years of my life. Over the past 20 years, my family has returned often to visit my mother's family, and being back in Amish country never seems to tire us. This time around my father, twin brothers and nephew traveled with Terrill & me up to Ohio. Dad needed to come up to speak at a banquet in support of prison ministry, but he also wanted to drive my grandmother's vehicle back down to Florida. My maternal grandmother is moving down to Tallahassee next week, to the great excitement of her Florida family. She's trading her snow boots in for flip flops. 
It was really neat for me to have a few days with my father, brothers & nephew. One of our first stops was Troyer's Trail Bologna store. This store is located near-by our old house, and we used to visit it often as children. My dad would frequently take us in to get Trail bologna and Swiss cheese sandwiches at the counter. Now my nephew, Cristian, has now had his first Trail bologna sandwich.
On Sunday, the Ohio family had lunch together. This includes my cousins Nick & Steph with son Joe (on the near right), my aunt Karen & uncle Todd, Grandma Stutzman, and cousin Tasha. We are a small group but close-knit. It's a good thing we pretty much like each other.
One of the best things about the past few days was interacting with my 4-year old nephew. I haven't been around for most of his life since we moved to Africa. I suppose it's one of the regrets I have...missing their growing-up years. When we are together, I want to hold him a little longer and savor the time. Cristian loves to wear boots, so was excited to discover uncle Todd's foam boot.
Another treat of being in Holmes County is the access to Amish home-cooking. A particular specialty is biscuits and sausage gravy...and lots of it. 

When stopping at an apple orchard to get cider, I got a shot of this buggy. Anyone who has been to Amish country knows that buggies populate the roads almost as much as cars do. Where else in America would one find such eco-friendly people? Besides other Amish settlements, that is. We could learn a thing or two from them about simpler living. 

On the way back from the orchard, we passed this first house where we lived until I was seven. I used to walk to school all by myself at the age of six. That is how secure the neighborhood used to be. 

This is Holmes county, Ohio...the place where hundreds of my good memories have been made. Even as I sit here and enjoy the familiar sights, smells and sounds, I'm beginning to miss Timu and my flock of children. It can only be God that would change the direction of our lives and the desires of our hearts. Without His nudge, I might never have left this place. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Further Proof

The incredibly delicious foods widely available in the United States constitute further proof, for those that need it, that there not only is a God, but that he is good. Food wouldn't have to be tasty, you know.

It may seem hard to believe, but we do do more than eat. Even to us, though, sometimes it hardly seems so. Many days in America appear to be about getting to the next meal, which, if you are in Holmes County, Ohio---home to the Amish and their divine Germanic-y foods---like we are now, that's not a bad thing. At least not for the taste buds. Oh my. I can summarize it all with two words: Cheesy Goodness.

But one of the foods we craved the most in Timu was the good old chicken sandwich from Chik-Fil-A. Here we are savoring said food for the first time:

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Even the name itself---Prague---evokes some of this city's medieval mysteriousness. This capital city of the Czech Republic was our next stop after Germany. Why Prague? Prague seemed kind of like the ultimate destination for someone looking to soak in the deep history of Europe. Unlike many other ancient European cities, Prague was not destroyed in either world war. The buildings in and around the old city center are ancient and magnificent, steeped in the history of numerous oppressive regimes, both Czech and foreign. The city is popularly known as the most haunted city in Europe, partly due to its legacy of inventive torture techniques. A mix of old and dark with new and bright also makes Prague one of the most romantic locations in Europe.

In general though, I wanted to go to Prague so we could grow in our understanding of human history: how can a place like Timu where we live with the Ik and a place like Prague exist in the same world, in the same universe? Why in Timu are there buildings of sticks and straw that last five years, while in Prague massive buildings of stone last centuries and millenia? The main reason we do what we do in Timu is to help the people flourish spiritually, but a resultant and related goal is to help the people prosper in ways that the Czech people of Prague, for example, have prospered: education, enlightenment, science, technology, healthcare, architecture, cuisine, music, art, environmental awareness, etc. So it's a fascinating thing to go from Timu to Prague in two weeks and let our senses take it all in and our brains try to process the causes, effects, and differences between the two places.

This is my lovely wife Amber in front of the fountain at Hotel Braník where we stayed:

This is a picture of Charles Bridge over the mighty river Vltava:

Here a street musician plays a single metal drum that emits different notes depending where it is struck:

The city from one of the high places near the Castle:

The Castle, which today serves both as a touristy place but also as government offices:

Here is the Cathedral (sorry, I'm not good with names...) inside the Castle walls:

Inside the Cathedral:

Amazing stained glass windows:

The Cathedral and a clock tower:

The different kinds of cobblestone streets and sidewalks; we walked miles and miles on such stones.

View of the city from just outside the Castle:

Yours truly having a delightful time:

Goulash in a bread bowl; yuuum, so good!

'Dumplings' and meat, another Czech specialty. We found the German and Czech cuisine quite hearty: lots of bread, meat, and cheese!

Picturesque old buildings in the Old City Square:

Terrill posing with Lenin at the Communist Museum. The Czech people were 'liberated' by the communist Russians, only to be enslaved by them and their own communist party for forty miserable years:

An interesting quirk of the Prague Communist Museum is how they use humor as anti-Russian propaganda. I have to admit, some of the stuff was pretty hilarious, but only until you think of what took place back in those days. All the plaques in the museum were written in six major European languages...except Russian! These people have a sense of humor...

A Russian doll with a Czech anti-Communist twist:

The Castle and Charles Bridge over River Vltava at night:

After five days in Cologne and three days in Prague, I was ready to reconnect with nature. So I went exploring and found this rock to climb:

And here is the view from the top of the rock:

On the last day we visited a museum of Czech inventors. You'd be amazed at how many common modern-day inventions are credited to Czech people. A smart bunch of people:

So did we get answers to our deep questions in Prague? Only partly. People are people. The Ik are not fundamentally different than the Czech. The Ik have architecture, cuisine, music, philosophy, religion, education, art, history...all of their own kind and to their own degree. But they have not yet even come close to what one might call the upper limits of human flourishing in all these areas. What is the spark that ignites a people to progress to that upper limit? That's the question I still wrestle with. As a Christian, I might suggest belief in God and Jesus is the spark. But today, in a so-called post-Christian Europe, the human gifts continue to flourish. But are they living off the legacy of a Christian past? Perhaps a personal walk with Jesus is a way of life, regardless of what stage of 'human development' a people finds themselves in? There are no easy, simple answers here. What do you think?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

US of A

Last night we landed in Jacksonville, Florida! Amber's parents, Doug & Marilyn Gingerich, were at the airport to welcome us. It was the first among many happy reunions we're looking forward to!

Here we are enjoying one of our favorite fast-food joints: the great Taco Bell.

It's really, really good to be back for a while.

More to come...