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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A Trailer of Blessing

Vintage photo of "the Trailer"
When I was growing up I never associated a trailer with poverty or with camping.  My grandparents lived in a mobile home/trailer from the time my parents got married in 1969 until my grandmother moved into a nursing home in the late 1990's.  It was parked on a secluded lot just under a kilometer from my childhood home.
   When we went there on Sundays after church it felt like a cozy home.  In some ways it even seemed luxurious. Nobody else in my rural neighborhood had an air conditioner like they had in the trailer! The kitchen had a propane stove, an almond refrigerator and a dining table. The living room was carpeted and held a couch, a rocking chair, two armchairs and an old shortwave radio. There was a spare room with a single bed, a three piece bathroom, my grandparents' bedroom and a little shed attached to the side for the chest freezer and assorted tools. My grandmother kept it tidy, and there were fun things we could do there as kids: coloring books, a few picture books and sitting with the adults.
   How my grandparents came to live in the trailer I learned later.  You see, the house where I grew up used to be their house.  When my parents got engaged, my grandparents were willing to sell the house to them.  However, my grandfather had another idea that was less appealing.  He wanted to put a mobile home for himself and his wife along the end of their lane way!  My grandfather had a controlling personality, and he also felt a measure of responsibility towards my dad who had some challenges managing stress.  He was going to have difficulty letting his son be an independent adult.
   Fortunately, one of my uncles saw the problems inherent in having in-laws living so close to a young couples starting out.  He did some research about the 100 acre farm in hopes of finding a different corner to locate the mobile home.  He discovered that part of the 100 acre farm became separated from the rest of the parcel when the township changed the path of the road decades before because the original steep incline was a winter hazard.  Historically, this little slice of a lot belonged to the farm's holdings and was the perfect spot for my grandparents' trailer home.
   The relationship between my mom and her in-laws was strong.  Visits were common.  It was the perfect distance for a walk with the baby carriage when my sister and I were born.  It was the perfect outing for us when we were 10 and 11 years old and my mom needed some time to herself.  "Why don't you walk to Oma's house and pick her some wildflowers along the way?" she would suggest. Once when our house was full of overseas guests, I slept in her guest room for three weeks and biked back to the farm in the morning for breakfast.
   When I drive past trailer parks, I don't think to myself that the people who live there are underprivileged.  My grandparents were always content with the space they had, and they took good care of it.  When I go camping and see similar trailers serving as summer homes, I can imagine them being year-round homes.
   After my grandfather passed away and my grandmother moved to nursing care, the trailer continued to serve others.  A local pastor used the space for a retreat.  A single man made it his home for a period of time.  Today, the trailer is unoccupied and the roof has rusted through.  It has lost its former glory.  But I still think of the blessing that trailer was to my relatives and how its location served my parents by giving them space to start a life of their own.

Monday, 10 October 2016

An analysis of leadership in the film "The 33"

   The film entitled "The 33" commemorates events that took place in a Chilean copper and gold mine in the Atacama Desert between August 5, 2010 and October 13, 2010.  Thirty-three miners were trapped underground when a large part of the mine collapsed, blocking the way out.  The details of how they survived and were ultimately rescued are shared in this 127 minute movie.
   Since I am taking a course on leadership, I took note of how both the miners and those on the surface demonstrated leadership in this story.  I realize that not everything dramatized in the movie actually happened, but I still think we can learn some things about what leaders do and do not do.
Underground Leaders
   Without individuals taking leadership after the mine collapse, the outcome would have been much different.  In the film, we have the shift leader Luis making sure all the men made it to "The Refuge" because it was the safest place.  He had earlier tried to speak with his boss about broken mirrors in the mine that were indicators of shifting rock and thus danger to the workers, but his warnings were ignored.
   When the men realize that the radio is broken, the first aid kit is not fully equipped, the ladders in the ventilation shafts do not go up to the very top and that there is only food enough for three days, they are ready to despair.  Their company has not taken good care of them to this point, so how could they expect anyone to try to rescue them?  At this point Mario speaks with conviction and says, "I choose to believe that we will get out of here."  He is not the shift leader, but he inspires confidence in the other men.  They entrust him with the key to the food cupboard and accept the rationing plan he makes in order that the canned tuna and other staples will last as long as possible.
   During the time between being discovered alive and actually being taken out of the mine, the media finds out about Mario's leadership role.  He is offered an exclusive book deal; when the other miners find out about this they become upset.  In their minds, he has lost his status as a leader because they feel betrayed.  However, Mario ultimately determines not to sign the book deal and tells the others he has not done so because he wants them all to remain "brothers."  Mario, then, shows himself to be an ethical leader they can trust.
   Jose is another leader, a spiritual leader.  He prays with the men and counsels them.  When one of them is caught in the ravages of alcohol withdrawl, Jose is gentle with him and helps him overcome this demon.
Leaders on the Surface
   The first so-called leader we encounter is the boss at the Copiapo mine.  This man had the power to prevent the trauma that these miners endured.  He was given clear evidence that seismic activity was making the area unsafe, but all he could think of was quotas of copper and gold he wanted the workers to extract.  He was so focused on production numbers that he failed to see the human beings being placed at risk.  After the collapse, he makes excuses and begins to name the psychological problems that some of the miners have, hinting that they will kill each other before any rescue plan can be expedited.  This person is a leadership position loses his authority as the government takes over the rescue operation.
   When the Minister of Mining, Laurence Golborne, addresses the Chilean president, they discuss that the mine is privately owned. There is no legal obligation for them to get involved, but the moral obligation is given weight.  The Minister of Mining goes to the site to assess the situation.  By seeing the human face of the family members calling for answers, he stops at nothing to try to reach the trapped miners.  When the chief engineer tells him there is only a 1% chance that the drills will be able to reach The Refuge due to the drills veering off course because of depth and the hardness of the rock they are going through, the Minister of Mining says they try anyways.  When the chief engineer has given up because none of the attempts thus far had yielded any results and because he can't imagine the miners could still be alive after so many days underground, the Minister of Mining urges the workers to learn from the mistakes of earlier attempts and try again.
   The Minister of Mining and the Chief Engineer both dedicate weeks of their lives to this effort. They forego sleep and the comforts of home because they are bound to the mission of rescuing every last man from the depths of the mine before it becomes too late.  The willingness to accept help and expertise from a variety of nations contributes to the happy result that not one man was lost.
Divine Intervention
   The rescue of the Chilean miners could not have happened without the leaders among the miners themselves or the leaders of the search and rescue operation from the surface.  Nevertheless, the miners themselves and the President of Chile acknowledged that the happy ending for these miners was none other than God's miraculous intervention.  The miners turned to God in their time of desperation.  Family members and strangers prayed that these men would be found and brought back to the surface.  The miners wrote on one of the walls "God was with us." Priest Juan Carlos Sansadrai, who was ministering to families in Chile reported "It's been a trying time, but faith can move mountains" [1].

[1]   "Faith Plays Key Role for Trapped Chilean Miners, Families," CNN. 9 September 2010. from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 10 October 2016.


Saturday, 8 October 2016

Pitching a Tent near Benton Harbor

   From the body language of the folks we met in a church foyer in St. Joseph, Michigan, the adjacent town of Benton Harbor was considered to belong to "the other side of the tracks."  We already noticed that it was an impoverished community with run-down homes, shabby looking businesses and streets in need of repair as we drove from our camp site to the church on the Sunday morning.  We received a warm welcome as visitors but the looks became curious when we told them we had camped the previous night in Benton Harbor.  We may as well have told them, "We pitched our tent near Sodom" because of Benton Harbor's reputation for crime. The conversation quickly became uncomfortable.
   The phrase "Lot pitched his tents near Sodom" is used in Genesis 13:12 as a criticism of Abraham's nephew.  He chose to live near the city renowned for wickedness because he coveted the fertile land that could be found there.  Over time, he adapted himself more and more to its mindset and became comfortable in the city itself.  His daughters were married to men from Sodom, and when the warning came from angels that Sodom would be destroyed imminently, Lot had a great deal of difficulty taking action.  In fact, the angels had to take him and his household by the hand to lead them out.
   Our decision to spend a night at Eden Springs Campground in Benton Harbor was made even though we had heard some negative things about the city.  However, we had a richer perspective because of one of my classmates at a summer course I took in Iowa.  She was the principal of a Christian school intentionally planted in Benton Harbor.  She and a group of Christians did not "pitch their tents" in Benton Harbor because they were lured by worldly values.  Rather, they saw the great need of the mainly African-American population and endeavored to provide Christian education to families regardless of their financial situation.
   The River of Life School reflects the ministry of Jesus, who entered our broken world.  When John 1:14a says, "The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us" (NIV), the original Greek word translated as "lived for a while" is the same one that means "pitched his tent."  When the Old Testament was translated into Greek 130 years before Christ (the Septuagint), the exact same word is used for Lot's action and that of Jesus.
   Our motives for living in close proximity to the broken people and places in our world make all the difference.  With the Holy Spirit to guide us, we can live faithful lives no matter where we make our dwelling.