Creekbank Blog

The writing blog of Curt Iles and Creekbank Stories. Our mission: To connect hearts to God by using stories of encouragement and inspiration.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Green Lake, a volcanic lake near Goma, Congo. Eastern Congo is located in a branch of the Great African Rift valley. Because of this, Goma is surrounded by five active volcanoes.

With one of the churches we visited in the foreground, Mt. Nyiragongo lets off steam.

African stories and faces
The walls of African churches are simple.
The worship taking place within these walls is touching.
Often they have so little, but the way they worship is worthy of a big God.

The inside of the churches are dark,
but the drumbeat, singing, and joy light up the room.

The family of Pastor Habimana Athanase. Reggie Burnaman and Bill Calloway are shown after we enjoyed a wonderful African meal with this gracious family.

Pastor Habimana has faithfully shared the gospel for twenty-five years in Goma, Congo and the surrounding mountainous area. There are now over eighty churches in his fellowship.

Being with he and his family was one of the highlights of our trip.

Coming tomorrow: The beauty-- and tragedy-- of Rwanda


A Love Affair with Longleaf Pines... and a life lesson from them.

(Above) A "Landmark" Longleaf Pine. Longville Gravel Pit Road. When the Longleaf Pines of western Louisiana were cut early in the 20th Century, some trees were left as "landmark trees" or "testimony trees."

This is my favorite about five miles southwest of Dry Creek.

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The next best time is today.”

We’re just finishing burning season in Southwestern Louisiana.

Five days of rain and the greening of the grass ended one of the driest winters we’ve had in years.

The following story is from my 2004 book, Wind in the Pines. It tells about another spring ten years ago.

Burned, yet Blessed, by the Fire…

Nothing breaks my heart like a field of dead burned pines. Yet, that is exactly what I’m looking at driving down Highway 113 toward the community of Reeves—forty acres of longleaf pines have been the victim of a forest fire.

The fire must have been hot. It completely burned the smaller trees and blackened the bark of the more mature trees over ten feet high. It’s a sad sight seeing acres of pines with blackened trunks and brown straw. This entire stand will need replanting.

There is an amazing story behind the fire in the pines. These trees might look dead, but they aren’t.

The history of the longleaf pine, Pinus Palustrus, must be understood in grasping this story. This native tree, also called the yellow pine, ruled the virgin forests of the South from Virginia to East Texas. Because of its hardiness and adaptability in growing in shallow, sandy soils, it covered much of the acreage of the southern United States

These beautiful pines existed in vast tracts called pine savannahs, upland areas where the pines were scattered throughout grassy areas. Because of the tall grasses, fire was always a reality during the dead of winter when frost had killed the surrounding vegetation.

The first humans burning the woods were the native Indians. They burned the savannahs to better see game animals and lessen the chance of their enemies hiding nearby. Later, white settlers burned these same grasslands for better grazing for their cattle and sheep, as well as killing pests such as redbugs and ticks.

A lightning struck pine tree on fire.
This fence row pine had been struck earlier in the year. As I burned the fencerow, the sap on the lightning scar caught afire. I ran to the house, got my camera, and captured this unique picture.

No matter the reason for these fires, the longleaf pines could survive the heat. In fact, fire is imperative for the early development and growth of this species.

The early stage of a longleaf pine is called the grassy stage. The tree has hardly any trunk above ground and the long green needles more nearly resemble a wild type of grass than a tree. The pine will stay in this stage indefinitely—until a fire sweeps through.

Notice the candle bulb on this young longleaf pine. It is leaving the grassy stage and will experience upward growth for the coming decades. This pine is in my front yard. The larger trees in the background are slash pines.

However, tremendous growth is taking place underground. The small visible tree is sending down a strong taproot, that anchors it deeply into the earth and stores energy and nutrients for the future.

During this grassy stage, the above ground portion of the pine will remain dormant in growth due to what is called Brown Spot Needle Blight. This fungus attacks the top growth area of the young pine, called the candle bulb.

The combination of the tall grass around the tree competing for sunshine and nutrients, and the Needle Blight keeps the young pine tree from growing upward. The surrounding grass keeps the area moist, which is the condition the Needle Blight needs to attack the small pine’s topmost candle bulb. The result is that the longleaf sapling will remain alive, but never grow upward.

This species will never reach its potential until a fire rushes through, killing the grass and other trees competing with it for water, sunlight, and nutrients. Additionally, the heat of the fire kills the Brown Spot Needle Blight. The bushy longleaf pine is now freed for growth to its intended height.

A few years ago, I was hiking in the “Red Dirt” area of the Kisatchie National Forest. This is an area still populated by tall, thick stands of longleaf pines. At the end of my hike, I hitched a ride with a forest ranger back toward my truck. We began talking about the beauty of the pines of Louisiana. He made a memorable statement “My daughter just got back from visiting twelve different states. She told me, ‘Daddy, I saw lots of pretty sights and trees. But I didn’t see anything more beautiful than the longleaf pines of Louisiana.’”

I agree with her. I love those pines and one of the reasons I love these pines is because of their resilience. Looking across the tract along the Reeves highway, I see pines of all sizes blackened and charred. The needles have been burned off the smaller trees, leaving a pitiful stump. In spite of their appearance, I know the small trees are still alive.

In the succeeding weeks, I inspect the field hoping for new growth. Finally, in March the tops of the trees begin showing new green growth. Soon new healthy candle bulbs, some nearly a foot long, begin reaching upwards. Over the coming weeks and months, these thin bulbs turn into tree trunks and sprout fresh pine straw. These longleaf pine seedlings, once dwarfed by the grass and bushes, will never again compete for water, sunlight, or food.

Knowing about this species, I also know that this same growth is taking place underground. If you’ve ever seen the exposed taproot of these trees, you know that it has a deep strong foundation for growth.

There is a spiritual application from the story about these pines. In our lives, we need the fire of trials and challenges for growth into the persons God wants for us. None of us desire these times of heat and pain, but God uses these times for the shaping of our heart for maximum growth.

We see a memorable example of this “burned yet blessed” experience in the wonderful Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The book of Daniel tells of these three young men being thrown into the fiery furnace after not bowing to the idol of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.

The fire was so hot that it killed the soldiers tossing them in this furnace. Our three heroes were thrown in tightly bound, as good as dead.

In a few minutes the King and his advisors were amazed at seeing them walking around in the fire. His words tell the story better than we ever could:

"Look!" he answered, "I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Daniel 3:25 NKJV)

I In the fire, God did not desert them but showed up personally and stood by them. In this fire, “what bound them” was burned off. Just like the longleaf’s fungus blight, the hot fire burned off what held them back.

We all experience being in the fire at various times in our lives. None of us is exempt. Your fire will probably be much different from mine. Regardless, God wishes to use this fire for shaping and using you. Throughout history, the people God has used the most have been those who’ve worked through difficult circumstances and grown to their “maximum” height for use by Him.

Are you in the fire? If so, remember that God has not abandoned you. Just as God joined Shadrach and his two partners in the Babylonian fire, you are not alone. You can rest assured that your faithful Father is using this fiery trial in shaping you for maximum use.

If you are ever driving along La. 113 between Reeves and Dry Creek, look west at about mile marker 3. You’ll see a field of longleaf pines of all sizes. Some are in neat rows while others are wild pines that have come up on their own.

And remember that the hot fire has burned all these pines. In fact, they’ve been burned yearly for continued maximum growth. What looks like a terrible thing is truly a blessing.

Looking at them, I hope you recall the story of these pines—trees with deep roots, thick bark, and a lasting resilience.

Longleaf pines that have been burned, yet blessed, by the fire.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

African Eyes

This photo was taken while we taught Congolese pastors. I later placed my hand through one of the cracks, and soon a small black hand grasped mine and began stroking the hair on my arm.

It was a special moment in our trip and I hope this photo captures the beauty of the young eyes and hearts of Africa.

I have but one passion-- it is He, it is He alone. The world is the field and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can most used in winning souls for Christ." -Count Zinzindorf

As I share photos and stories about Africa, it is evident as to how God has turned my heart to this continent.

I cannot explain (nor do I fully understand) why or how God has focused a Southern redneck's heart on Africa. I only know it's happening.

I'm always concerned that I sound as if I think everyone ought to go on overseas missions. That is not my job or wish. That is God's job to direct the hearts of His followers wherever He wishes.
That includes Jerusalem (where we live and minister daily) all the way to the "ends of the earth." If eastern Congo ain't the ends of the earth (as least for where I come from) it's close.

Enjoy these photos.

A Baptist church at one of the Refugee* camps outside Goma, Congo.

The construction is very simple and the floor is volcanic rock.

The official names for these camps are Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps. the UN gives them this designation due to the fact that these residents have not crossed an international border.

There are six camps in the area housing an estimated 300,000 people. The needs are great and the conditions are primitive.


Photos from Africa

Bill Calloway of Glenmora teaches at a "Bible School" in Goma. This is where pastors and church leaders come for training.

Our fine translators, John and Plamedia. These two young Christians were a key in our teaching and visiting throughout the Congo.

Notice that Plamedia is holding a copy of Wind in the Pines.

One of the joys of writing and traveling is sharing my books. I gave away a small suitcase of titles to English readers and schools.

It's all about influence and spreading the Good News through our voices and pens.
A Congolese soccer player shows off his ball made of plastic bags and string.


I'm sharing this week about my six favorite words. So far, I've written about compassion/passion/integrity/gratitude, and resolve.

Today, the word is relationships


"Everything rises and falls on relationships."

I'll be adding to this blog as the day goes on.

In the end, it's all about relationships.
When it's all said and done, the people around us are all that matters.

No one ever asks to be surrounded by their material possessions on their deathbed.However, the stories are legion of men and women calling for their family-- especially estranged family-- at that critical moment.

There are several directional relationships we'll look at, and as always several stories illustrating about this word that is one of six words to live by.


When you break it down, whatever you do is built on relationships. It doesn't matter if you're a working mom, salesman, CEO, teacher, pastor, or the greeter at WalMart-- you're in the business of building relationships.

Those who spend a lifetime nurturing friendships and relationships are the happiest people.
We were created to have bonds and bridges with others.

In his excellent book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell defines a group of people called "connectors." These are folks who seem to know everyone and go through life making friends and contacts.

One of the joys of their lives is connecting people together as in "I've got a friend whom you must meet, they're also interested in ___________."

Connectors are relationship builders.

In my estimate, the most important relationship is the vertical one between me and my God.
I don't view it as "religion" but a relationship.

This relationship with God is very personal and an intimate part of my daily life. It should influence every decision and action of my life.

This relationship with the Creator God of the universe is cemented through my relationship with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice I use His full name. He's that important. The Lord Jesus Christ.

All of the other relationships of my life should take a back seat to that one. As Jesus himself commanded, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."

"All these things" are all of the other important things in my life, including family and friends.

This has nothing to do with neglecting or ignoring my other relationships. I firmly believe "seeking the Kingdom of God first" only makes a man or woman a better mate, parent, worker, and human being.

It's a powerful word and must be a priority in our lives.
In every direction.
In every way.

Coming next: The sixth word: Legacy


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pictures from Africa

Pictured in Rusty Pugh, a wonderful Southern Baptist missionary in the Congo.

When Rusty put his cowboy hat on, I had him pull it down over his eyes and sing,
"The devil went down to Georgia, looking for a soul to steal."

He does resemble Charlie Daniels (especially when he puts the hat on.)

Rusty, a Lower Alabama native, is a relationship-building worker sharing Jesus with the folks in Congo. He is on Facebook for you social networkers out there.

Seriously, Satan is seeking to steal souls-- not just in Georgia, but all over.
Especially in Goma, Congo.

Jesus identified Satan in John 10:10a, The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

Satan is busy killing, stealing, and destroying in Central Africa. Warfare, systematic rape by soldiers, corruption, AIDS-- the list could go on and on.

However, Jesus continued with his statement in John 10:10b: But I have come that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.

Jesus gives life, and He gives freedom from the thief.

The red soil and black volcanic rock of Eastern Congo is a spiritual battleground. A place where the thief is busy destroying.
but Jesus, the Son of God, is powerfully changing lives. There is an openness to the gospel- the good news of hope.

Folks like Rusty Pugh and his wife Debbie, as well as the strong native pastors of the Goma area, are busy in the battle.

They need our prayers.
They need our encouragement.
They need our presence.

I've been there. The fields are ripe.
Let's pray to the Lord of the harvest for workers.

Joy and Christian, their daughter Lovely and local boys

How Africa will be reached for Jesus

This is my third trip to the continent. I'm more convinced than ever of this: Africa will be reached by the good news of Jesus by Africans.

Westerners will not reach Africa.
White people will not be the vehicle by which the continent is won.
We Americans do not have all of the answers.

Africa will be reached by Africans.
Jesus-followers (the term I like to use. It denotes a relationship as opposed to watered down terms we've come to use.) who are African are the vehicle of hope.

Rusty Pugh shared this model for teaching and sharing: M.A.W.L.


Rusty believes that anything we do should be, and must be, reproducible. In other words, it must be something folks can learn, adapt, and use in their culture.

I fell in love with the family shown above. Joy is the daughter of Pastor Habimana Athanase. She and her husband Christian are the parents of Lovely. They are a neat young couple building their lives for Jesus.

Families like this of committed Jesus-followers are the future of Christianity in Africa (as well as the United States and every other country in the world.)

Our job is to teach, equip, mentor, and encourage these younger Christians.

It's how a city, country, continent, and world can be reached.


Research Question
A rose by any other name is still a . . .

I'm starting a new manuscript tentatively titled, A Spent Bullet.

It takes place in SW Louisiana during the large La. Army Maneuvers of August 1941, and involves the evolving relationship between a young La. schoolteacher and a soldier from Wisconsin.

I'd appreciate reader input about what folks call "cold drinks" in different regions of the U.S.
Your names and details will help me.

Here is a short anecdote from that time.

A young boy, holding a coke and candy bar, was outside the local general store in his small town. He stood watching the endless procession of Army transport trucks passing by. (500,000 troops were in SW La. during this time.)

As the convoy stopped, a soldier called to him, "Hey, boy. I'll give you a dollar for that cold drink and candy bar."

The boy, who had paid 10 cents for both of them, gladly handled up his snack and took the dollar bill.

He was smart enough to realize he'd "found a bird nest on the ground." He spent the rest of the day buying cokes and candy bars and turning a neat profit each time.

He took home more money that day than his sawmill-working daddy made in a week.

Here's the question: What would soldiers from various parts of the U.S. call the "coke?"


The children of Goma

Faces from Africa

I'll be adding photos in the coming days.

Pastor Habimana Athanase and his granddaughter, Lovely. Pastor Habimana is the leader of a strong fellowship of over 80 Baptist churches in the city of Goma, Congo.

My favorite picture of the trip. This "singer in sneakers" was part of the children's choir in the church I preached at on Sunday. The church had four choirs that sang. It was a day to remember as we worshipped with our African friends.

I traded my tambourine for an African shaking box. The tambourine had been me in Central America, South Africa, and an Irish pub, but now it'll stay in the Congo.

Three sisters shaking their shakers. (Try saying that three times in a row.)

Typical housing at an IDP camp. ("Internally Displaced Persons)

There are about six IDP camps outside of Goma, Congo "housing" an estimated 300,000 persons. The UN designates "refugees" as those crossing a national border for help, while IDP
s are those moving within the borders.

These two groups are treated differently on regulations and aid.
Basically, the camps consist of thousands of crude shelters as those seen above.
Water and toilets are supplied at central locations.

The military/political situation in Eastern Congo is very complex. Here it is in a nutshell.
Rebel armies, consisting of several Rwandan factions (from both the Tsutsi and Hutu tribal groups) are imbedded in the mountains surrounding Goma.

In addition a Congolese militia called the MaiMai are also active.
Mix in two more groups: the Conglese army and an United Nations peacekeeping force and you have the formula for confusion and conflict.

Goma City has been occupied by five armies over the past decade and its future status is always unsure.

The fighting is an outgrowth of the Rwandan civil war/genocide of 1994 and a desire for the rebel armies to control the vast mineral wealth of the mountain areas.

Please pray for peace for this troubled region.
Many of the pastors we worked with are risking their lives by going into the mountains to witness to the Rebel groups.

Additionally, we met pastors and church members in Goma, who were forced to flee their homes and churches because of fighting. Most of the time, they will return to charred homes and destroyed crops.

Because farming is so important to rural Africans, crop destruction or even the possibility that they'll not be able to harvest their crops, leads to famine and sadness.


A word to live by: Gratitude.

I've been working on my six words to live by.
So far, I've written about Compassion/Passion, Resolve, and Integrity.

Today, I'm thinking about gratitude.
It's such a powerful word.
It's more than simply being thankful for one event or blessing.

It is an attitude that should permeate every second of our lives.
It's an attitude of gratitude.

A thankfulness that flows out of the heart and examines every detail of our lives in the bright light of gratitude.

Gratitude is a first cousin once-removed from Grace.
Like grace, gratitude humbles us and helps us realize that "every good and perfect gift is from above..." (James 1:17.)

The best lesson I was ever taught on living with gratitude wasn't learned in a book or sermon.
It came from my lifelong friend Vance Gill. (I always tell my guitar-playing friend Vance that he is only one vowel from being famous.)

Vance related this: 'Once I had a water leak at my well. I spent all morning digging and repairing the pipe. As I knelt there in the mud, I just stopped and thanked God I had running water."

Now that is gratitude.
It's an attitude.
Thanks Vance for the lesson.

Like Vance, we're to look for the blessing in every event. Paul, who wrote from many a jail cell, said, "In every thing give thanks." (I Thess. 5:18)

Theologians are divided as to whether this means we're to be thankful for (seemingly) bad things or to maintain thankfulness in spite of our circumstances. (Did he mean "in everything" or "in every thing?")

I think they're both right.

Just like any good habit, living with gratitude takes practice.
I'm going to be practicing the art of thankfullness today.
Why don't you join me.


Curt Iles


Saturday, April 25, 2009

News on A Good Place, Curt's new novel and the sequel to The Wayfaring Stranger.

Today is the grand opening of our A Good Place blog. Click on
to read Chapter 1, give input on a character name and background for Chapters 24 and 25.

You'll also find information concerning the publication date and timeline of this coming novel.

We're excited about A Good Place and want you to help shape it.

See you there!




Leave this world better than you found it!

It's a good motto to live by.
Whatever we touch. Wherever we go, we ought to leave it better.

I've always loved camping and hiking. Part of the joy is in setting up camp along a bubbling mountainside creek or under the tall pines of the forest.

In breaking camp, I always like to inspect the place and think of how no one will ever know a human has stayed here after the next rain.

Many times at popular campsites, you'll find trash in the fire pit or other signs of thoughtless humans who've passed. Often I'll load up their trash and carry it out.

It's just a matter of respect.
A matter of stewardship.
Leaving this world better than we got it.


More sketches

Top left If an African's hands are dirty, wet, or they've been ill, they'll extend their wrist to shake.

Middle left: Everything can be carried on an African head. The old sewing machine was my favorite.

Middle right: Every move of a "Mzungo" (white man) is followed closely. Even a trip to the outhouse draws a crowd or children, who will faithfully await your return.

Bottom: There's always an easier (but dangerous) way to do everything. There were actually two bike riders catching "a free ride."

A Goma tollroad.

the roads in and around Goma, Congo are the roughest I've been on (and I've been on some bone-jarrers and teeth-shakers.)

As a result of war and poverty, very few Congolese roads are paved.
Goma is built on volcanic rock and that is what the roads are made of.

Potholes are numerous, deep, and ready to break any vehicle suspension.

The sketch above relates to a group of "volunteers" who are patching the potholes with small rocks.

When finished, they set up empty water cans as a barrier across the street and "invite drivers" to donate in appreciation of their work.

They are reluctant to move the can barriers without a franc or two.
It's an African toll road at its most basic form.

I admired these entrepreneurs. They were out working, making the road better, and showing inititative.

An African tollroad.
In a town called Goma.

Upper portion of page: Two things you don't see in Goma: pets or cigarettes. The absence of these two are so illustrative of the poverty in this area.

No one can afford a pet.
And if you had one, it'd probably be stolen (and possible eaten.)
Few people smoke because it is simply too expensive a habit. Cigarettes are sold singly and usually shared among a small group.

One of the fascinating parts of our trip to Congo was being in a city surrounded by five active volcanoes.

Nearby Mt. Nyiragongo belched smoke the entire time. At night it gave off an eerie red glow from its crater.

We stayed at a Catholic guesthouse in Goma. It sat on Lake Kivu, one of Central Africa's "Great Lakes."

  1. We are awakened early each morning as the fishermen paddled out to fish. They sang and chanted to keep time on their paddling. It carried far across the water in an eerie way that seemed as if they were fifty feet away.

The Catholic guesthouse we stayed in had wonderful paintings on the wall. This was my favorite: Peter bowing to Jesus in the midst of a miraculous catch of fish on the Sea of Galilee.

Because the guesthouse sat on a large lake (Lake Kivu) this picture really connected with my heart.

My favorite part of the narrative is when they got ashore, Peter and his fishing crew "left the nets and followed Jesus." They left behind the catch of a lifetime to follow Jesus.

He's worth following.
He is worth whatever it takes.

I especially like how this picture (and the others in the guesthouse) showed an African Jesus.

Lake Kivu at sunset.

Central Africa's Lake Kivu serves as part of the border between Democratic Congo and Rwanda.
Some of its sister lakes (Lake Victoria in Uganda is the largest and Lake Tanganyika is where Stanley stumbled up on David Livingstone and uttered, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume.") are larger and more well-known, but I cannot imagine their being more beautiful.


A word for today.

I'm working on the six words that drive my life.
I encourage you to write down your own list.

Why six? Because five is not enough, and seven seems too many.
Seriously, your list of words can be short or long.

I've already covered Compassion/Passion (I'm cheating and using them as one word.)
We also talked about Integrity.

My third word is Resolve.
It means to persevere.
No quit.
To keep on.
To hold fast.
As we say in the rural South, "To show grit."

There are several uses of the word, but I love the definition that speaks of persistence and grit. Webster’s defines it as “to act with determination, boldness. To be steadfast and faithful.”

Resolve is a trait found in the lives of all great leaders and difference makers. It is that willingness to carry on no matter the cost. It is the fixed and focused intention to achieve a desired end/result.

Jesus had it.
I want to have it.
He can teach us how.

We see resolve in the life of Jesus. In the ninth chapter of Luke, Jesus has turned His face and feet toward Jerusalem even though he is currently in Northern Galilee. It is time for Him to begin His final journey to the cross.

As he begins this journey, the disciples believe they are going to a crowning… a coronation of the Messiah. But for Jesus Christ, it is a death march. He is moving toward the cross, not a kingly coronation. No golden crown is waiting – only a crown of thorns that will cut his head and draw blood.

So Luke 9:51 is a great verse to examine the resolve of my Jesus. It states: “As the time drew near when Jesus would be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind and set out on his way to Jerusalem.” (NIV).

Listen to the same verse from The Message: “When it came close to time for his ascension, he gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem.”

The NKJV says, “… He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem.” I can see the jaw of Jesus clinched tightly. There is purpose in every step as He begins the journey southward. I can imagine His eyes taking on a deeper focus and intensity.

Jesus in now ready to do what He was born to do. He was born to die - to die for the sins of all mankind, including you and me.

When we need resolve and determination to take on a tough job… and to finish a difficult task, there is a place to turn for strength, understanding, and guidance.

We can turn to this same Jesus who set His jaw, gathered up His courage, made up His mind, and started the long, lonely journey to Jerusalem

He will give you the resolve you need. Ask Him. He is faithful.

Next word coming soon to this blog: Gratitude.

Sketches from AfricaScroll down to an earlier entry to read about the lesson on living passionately I learned from a dancing deacon.
I am not a true artist.
I'm only a sketcher.

I'm learned that one of the best "friend-catchers" in a foreign country is one's journal and sketches.
Even the shyest person cannot help but looking over your shoulder at your drawings.

So with no further adieu (Too much time in a French-speaking country) here are some drawings from Congo and Rwanda.

Alongside the main highway connecting Rwanda and Congo, I spied this advertisement. It tickled me with the title. What a difference one "o" can make. The "Jesus is Coming Saloon" is really a beauty salon.

Seriously, Jesus is coming.
Seriously, everyone deserves at least one chance to hear who Jesus Christ really is: The living Son of God who gave His life for our sins and wants to change our lives.

African Drums

I'm a drummer and love rhythm, so I enjoyed their music.

The American missionary we worked with, Rusty Pugh, has been in Africa for nearly twenty years. He told me, "When I get to heaven and see a sign pointing toward the Southern Baptist
choir room and another sign leading to the African choir, I'm going to the African one.

Me, too.

Notice in the sketch about the charcoal fire. The drum is placed over it and the heat "tunes" the drum head.
More sketches in next entry


To read the entire "suitcase" story, scroll down to the blue text.

Sketches of Africa

The Weight

It seems everyone is African is carrying something heavy.
All day.
All of the time.

We saw it all-- most of the items carried on the bearer's head. My favorite was the lady carrying an old Singer sewing machine on her head, arms free.

One boy riding a bicycle with probably three dozen eggs balanced on his head.

The Holsum bread man balancing homemade buns on the long stick across his shoulders.

This is a 1921 photo taken by my great great aunt, Eliza Iles Harris. It's a burden bearer in the Congo. Her descriptive handwriting at the photo bottom states, "The burden bearers of Africa."

I could tell Aunt Eliza this: they're still bearing the burden in Congo. This child is on his way to draw water. Water is heavy (8.34 lbs. per gallon) so this little man will be loaded on his way home.

As I watched Africans of all ages struggling under heavy loads, I recalled the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

The eastern Congolese have carried heavy burdens for the last twenty-five years especially. Constant warfare, uncertainty, disease, famine, AIDS, malaria, and volcanic eruptions have worn the people down.

They need the comfort, rest, and peace of Jesus.
We all need his rest. In America just the same as Africa.

I also reflected on Jesus and the woman at the well in John4.
Jesus' words "whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst."
The Samaritan woman, who hauled water daily from this well, misunderstood and asked, "Sir, give me this water so I won't . . . have to keep coming here to draw water."

She was used to carrying heavy loads of water back and forth daily from this well to her home.
Jesus offered her something better than a lifetime of Kentwood Pure Spring water at her house.
He offered her "living water:" His very presence-- and rest-- in her life.

She accepted, eventually, and left her empty water jug to tell the town about the "man who told me everything I ever did. (that's a fine statement for her.)

If you've never heard Dorothy Coates rendition of "Strange Man," you must hear this powerful song about the woman at the well meeting Jesus. Click here to hear/see it on YouTube.

That is why we went to the Congo. To tell about Jesus, the living water and encourage the Jesus-followers there to tell their "well story" about encountering Jesus.

We found the people were thirsty.
The were open.
They wanted to hear.

I'll always recall a Congolese woman who stood in her yard as we were leaving her neighborhood after a long afternoon of home visits.

Even though she spoke in Swahili, I could sense the frustration in her voice.

"Why did you go to these other houses and not come to mine. I want to hear the story, too. Stop and come now."

That's why I feel called to go.
To go where there are thirsty people.

This is an anecdotal story from the days when missionaries traveled across the ocean on ships.

An American family serving as missionaries in rural Africa had not been to the States in five years. The mother was so worried as to how her Africanized children would act.

She carefully ordered new clothes from Sears and Roebuck as well as tutoring them daily on how to act and behave.

With the children decked out (pun intended) on the ship, she proudly sent them down the ship's gangplank as they docked in New York harbor.

As she descended onto the pier, a older steward greeted her. "Ma'am, how was your family's trip over from Africa?"

She gasped. "How did you know we've come from Africa?"

"When your children came down the gangplank with their suitcases on their heads."


Friday, April 24, 2009

My great great aunt, Eliza Iles, as she left for the Belgian Congo in 1920.

The caravan arrives at the mission house in Congo. Notice the covered hammocks the natives carried the missionary women in.

This picture was taken in Nov. 1920, over three months since Aunt Eliza left New York City by boat.

Eliza Iles and Leroy Harris on their wedding day, Wiembo Namba, Belgian Congo.

2 Pebbles

Last week, I fulfilled a dream. I set foot in the Congo. As we walked across the "No Man's Land between the border of Rwanda and Democratic Congo, I thanked God for this privilege.

Clearing the border into Goma, Congo, I knelt and picked up two small red stones.
I brought them back to America.

They'll go on the graves of Eliza and her husband Leroy, where they're buried south of Lake Charles.

With my pen (or more exactly my laptop) they're going to "come back to life." I'm going to write their story.

It should be fun.
It will be challenging.
I feel compelled to write it.
I believe I'll call it "Eliza's Journey."
A story of a woman's journey from a piney woods place called Dry Creek to the red dirt of central Africa.

Scroll down to read more about Aunt Eliza and her journey.


In recovering and writing about my African trip, I'm sharing my favorite six words.
The sketch above shows an old deacon's feet dancing a jig in joy before the Lord. (see his picture and full story by scrolling below.)

This wonderful older man is still living life with my word #1: Passion!

My 6 words.

Today's word: Integrity.

What a fine word. John Maxwell describes it as "who you are when no one is watching, and what you will stand up for even if you're standing alone."

I don't believe you can improve or expand on that.

Great men and women of the Bible had it.

Jesus exuded integrity in his dealings with folks of all walks and ways.
Joseph of the Old Testament had a strong vaccination of integrity. His words to Potiphar's wife, "How can I do this evil thing and sin against God" is a high point of the entire Bible.

Integrity makes up its mind ahead of time what is right and wrong. Therefore it is not easily swayed by the crowds, popularity, and whispered voices suggesting short cuts or sin.

Another Joseph of the Bible-- Jesus' earthly father (what a neat title to have) exhibited it in his desire to "put away quietly his espoused (pregnant) wife Mary."

His wife Mary showed integrity when she answered the angel's startling news (having a baby without the usual sexual relations is definitely what I call "startling.") with a calm, "May it be as the Lord has said.

Integrity. It involves a calm assurance and faith in God.

It's a word I want to work on in my life. John Avant, pastor of First Baptist in West Monroe has his life goal distilled down to this simple but profound sentence:

"I want to be a man God can use, and be respected by my wife and children."

That covers it all. A man God is using will always possess integrity.

If a man is respected and admired by those who know him best-- his family-- then he is walking with integrity at home.

Integrity. It's a good word to live by.

Curt's six words (with a seventh one for lagniappe.*)
1. Passion
2. Compassion
3. Integrity
4. Relationships
5. Resolve
6. Legacy

6a. Gratitude.

*Lagniappe is a cajun word for "something a little extra."

Scroll down to read more on words 1 and 2


Thursday, April 23, 2009

A church built on the rock... Volcanic Rock!
This is one of the Union of Baptist Churches near Goma, Congo. In the background is Mt. Nyiragongo (0ver ten thousand feet high), one of five active volcanoes in this area. You can see the smoke boiling out of the mountain. At night, you could see a red glow from the crater. One night, the upside down Big Dipper was above the mountain and seemed to be pouring water on the fire. It was cool (no pun intended) to see.

We were also far enough south to see the Southern Cross constellation.

As you can see, this church is very simple: using white tarp and scrap lumber. The floor is solid volcanic rock. Most importantly, the spirit was very sweet inside this church.

This area is about 3 degrees below the equator. Days and nights are nearly exactly the same length year round. Equatorial sun is hot but the high altitude of the region brings nice temperatures.

In the Congo, we worked with a wonderful missionary, Rusty Pugh. Here he is holding a baby. Rusty and his wife Debbie are the only two International Mission Board employees in the entire country. (Democratic Congo is one-third the size of the U.S.)

We really enjoyed being with this special man of God.
Rusty is on Facebook. Ask him to be your friend and you can keep up with his work in Africa.
(In the background is team member, Bill Calloway of Glenmora.)

Reggie Burnaman of Glenmora is shown with Pastor Innocent Kazaviyo of Hoseanna Baptist Church in Goma, Congo. Reggie is also on Facebook and has been sharing about the trip. Pay him a visit.


Curt and Lovely Habimana.

Lovely is the granddaughter of
Congolese Pastor Habimana Athanase .

Back home from Africa.

Thoughts from my heart.

Two things to bring home from any international trip: jet lag and a full heart.

Lord, my prayer is this: Help me get over the former and never lose the latter. Amen.

There are six life words that drive my life.* I am nearly ashamed to even mention them because I personally fall so short of each of them.

However, these six qualities are perfectly pictured in the life of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God and so much more.

While in the African countries of Democratic Congo, Rwanda, and Kenya, I saw these qualities exhibited in the lives of so many Jesus-Followers.

Throughout the day, I'll be adding their uniquely African stories to this blog.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

1. Passion. I've always loved this word. It means to live life to the fullest and have "The joy of the Lord as my strength."

It's a word that describes how Jesus lived. He lived fully and with passion. Every act of his life from driving out the moneychangers to praying at the garden, he did it with passion. He lived life, not just existed.

This joyful passion is evident in the worship of African Christians. From my travels, I've noticed that the less these Jesus-Followers have, the more joy of the Lord they seem to exude.

I saw this Godly passion in an old deacon at a Congolese church. As the drums began beating and praise singing began, this gray-headed man couldn't help himself. He left his bench and began dancing on one leg with utter joy on his face. As we say in the South, he was "cutting a rug."

I'll always remember the joyous passion of his feet, face, and heart.
I told Bill and Reggie that's just exactly the type of old deacon I want to be: full of passion for life and God.

A dancing deacon who epitomized "the joy of the Lord is my strength."

Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10

The dancing deacon (third from left) and other pastor/leaders at Hoseanna Baptist Church in Goma, Congo Africa.

2. Compassion What a wonderful word. An action word. It love in motion. Compassion cannot sit back and wait or watch. It has to act. All through the gospels it is a word associated with Jesus. "He had compassion on them..."

In Jesus' signal story of the Good Samaritan, he uses the term, "He looked... and had compassion."

It's a word for everyone of us as Jesus-followers to live by.

Compassion. It's one of my favorite words.

* My six life words as of 4 23 2009:

My life words change from time to time as God works on me and in me.

Do you have a life verse? List of life words? A written group of beliefs and statements that drive and focus your life? If not, this is a good day to start yours.

The link below is to a fascinating article entitled: "As an Atheist, I Believe Africa Needs God" by Matthew Parris. I encourage you to read this insightful article.