Category Archives: Africa

Significance Vs Obedience

I’ve been struggling a great deal since returning from South Africa just one week ago. I’m having trouble readjusting to “normal” — as in my daily routine. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than when I was surrounded by the children of Bethany House — playing, sharing, laughing, snuggling. Just being fully “present” with them felt important to me, like I made a difference in their lives, though even just for such a short time.

Bethany House

Bethany House CourtyardBethany House CourtyardToddler House @ Bethany House

While we were there, we also had an opportunity to serve meals to the homeless at the new Ikusasa Bethany House homeless shelter for boys. Ten boys are now living at the shelter, and over 50 homeless adults come for meals. My contribution: scooping chicken vegetable soup onto a container of pap, a mashed potato looking food. Such a simple act, yet so satisfying.

Bethany House Ikusasa Shelter for Street ChildrenIkusasa Shelter

Serving others puts “self” in perspective. If you’ve ever volunteered to help those less fortunate in disadvantaged areas, you know how humbling the experience can be.

We’re forced to face the contrast between our lives and theirs.

In America, many of us take for granted our giant TV screens, multi-car garages, family cell phone plans. We accumulate the newest, fastest, coolest fad gadgets, and when something breaks, we see it as a welcome excuse for the newer version of our toy. We don’t worry about where the next meal will come from or where we’ll find shelter each night. We’re not faced with decisions that you see described in the Bethany House poster below. Shudder!

Bethany House poster

Returning home to my “normal” existence here feels something like survivor’s guilt. I’m just not sure what to do with myself. Being at work feels like I’m not doing enough to make the world a better place. I don’t know how to put my life in context, now that I’m back.

As I pondered all these things this morning, my eyes fell on a book that Steph sent home with me,I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter with God” by Bilquis Sheikh. I picked up the book and read it cover to cover, crying through much of it. Not from sadness but because of how amazing God is! I needed this book on this very day. I feel renewed after reading about the faith of one woman, who yearned to know God and risked her entire existence to follow Him.

In the story, set in the 1960’s in Pakistan, Bilquis Sheikh struggled over her lack of “results.” God taught her to focus on obedience, and leave the results to Him. Yes, I cried at this point in the book too. I realized, yet again, that God placed me exactly where He wants me — to accomplish His purposes, not mine. God didn’t ask me to be “significant,” but rather to be obedient.

Significance is all about me. Obedience is all about God. Huge difference.

Right now, obedience translates for me as being a good civil servant. My NASA salary enables me be a “sender,” allowing others to serve God in the mission field while I stay put here at home.

Over two decades ago, God placed a burden on my Daddy’s heart for Africa. He asked our extended family to refrain from exchanging Christmas gifts and donate the money to charities to help feed the African people. He never got to visit the continent he loved, and yet, look at his legacy: Daddy’s little brother Phil and his granddaughter Steph both serve in Africa. How cool is that? One man’s simple act of obedience reaps rewards even today.

One step of faith at a time.


Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust, culture, NASA, poverty

South Africa: Creatures Large and Small

South Africa is home to many exotic creatures. Some are amazingly beautiful and others quite ugly — yet all are majestic, intriguing and fabulous in their natural habitat. I wanted to share a few pictures with you from our trip.

The zebras amaze me. I can’t get enough of them. Each one looks like a painting.

Zebra: South Africa Pilanesberg Game Reserve

The giraffes seem so awkward, yet so compelling. The elephants so ancient, yet agile. They can run faster than a car — especially the rental car we had. Our little rental car could barely make it up a hill. That’s why we moved out quickly when the elephant (below) started flapping his ears and moving toward us. I wanted a head start in case he decided to give us a scare.

Charging Elephant: Pilanesberg Game Reserve

The Wildebeest remind me of Klingons. You Star Trek fans know what I’m talking about.

Wildebeest Looks Like WorfWe missed seeing the lions at Pilanesberg Game Reserve, so we visited a Lion Park to pet the lion cubs. I had visions of holding the cute little darlings in my lap. That’s not exactly how it went down. The cubs were quite cranky by the time we got our turn inside the cage to pet them. They fussed and paced. We chased them around for the elusive snuggle time. Hey, we tried.

Lion Park Cubs

A highlight of the trip: Seeing South African penguins up close and personal, not once but twice. We saw them at the Penguin Colony in Simon Town and also at Robben Island. I’m quite taken with the little tuxedo-creatures. So much poise. So much character. They’re simply adorable. And they mate for life. How cute is that?

Penguins: Simon Town

Come with me on a visual stroll through my virtual zoo.

I’ve also thrown in some pics of the Bethany House animals — hog, turkeys, chicks — and some geese we encountered at a local shopping mall. 

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After spending time out in the countryside in South Africa (which, BTW, reminds me SO MUCH of Texas), it’s hard to conceive how society “progressed” from living off the land with caves as shelter and wild berry snacks to wifi-wired life with computers, cubicle farms and vending machines. Yes, I’m addicted to wifi and comfy beds, but I long for more time in nature away from traffic and deadlines.

Someday. But, for now, I’ll enjoy trips to visit Steph in South Africa.

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Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust

Rhino Poaching: A Nasty Business

Mike Boon: "Zambezi"During our time in South Africa these last three weeks, we had a chance to visit with my buddy Mike Boon and his family. I’ve written about Mike before. We met in high school in the 1970’s when Mike was a Rotary Exchange student in Texas. After a career in the military, he became a successful businessman and author. He’s written two books: “The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership” and “Zambezi: The First Solo Journey down Africa’s Mighty River.”

Mike owns a private game reserve near Mookgophong (formerly known as Naboomspruit) in the northernmost part of South Africa in the Limpopo Province. He reclaimed farmland and stocked it with giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, hippo, impala, eland, rhino and more. Pretty amazing place.

Giraffe @ Mike Boon's Private Game Reserve

Giraffe @ Mike Boon's Private Game Reserve.

True confession: the rhino scared me the most when we visited Mike’s farm in August, 2009. (Hippo rank a close second.) Let’s face it. Rhinos look like prehistoric beasts. HUGE head, two massive horns, beady eyes, snarly snout, wrinkled hide. Shudder. Mike’s rhinos ran along either side of Mike’s jeep, only a few feet away from us. Their horns seemed larger than the jeep itself. I found myself quite intimidated by the creatures. But not Mike. He stopped the jeep and walked out in the field with them, teaching us that the rhino has very poor vision, but a keen sense of smell and hearing.

Mike's Rhino. Photo credit: Mike Boon.

Mike's Rhino. Photo credit: Mike Boon.

In October and November of this last year, the unthinkable happened. Poachers attacked Mike’s tranquil farm, killing two of his six rhinos. The surviving rhinos suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

Rhino’s are killed for the “healing powers” of their horns — though they are nothing more than protein keratin (think fingernails).

Sometimes poachers collude with local vets or game wardens to identify where the rhinos might be found. They use planes and helicopters to spot their prey from the air, then drop guys in the field to track the animals on foot. After shooting the creatures, the poachers hack off the horns with an ax, leaving the creatures to bleed to death– as was the case with Mike’s rhinos.

Heartbreaking. Horrifying. Barbaric!

The story of Mike’s rhinos could be ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel — complete with kidnapping, intrigue, and gunfire…and it’s not resolved yet. Working with the local police authorities, Mike tracked the poachers in the bush, catching two of them. You can read the news article for more details. I predict a third book in Mike’s future.

Poaching is a nasty business — the result of basic economics: supply and demand. As long as the demand is great and the supply scarce, poaching will continue.

For those of us who live away from the magnificent creatures who roam the bushveld in South Africa and other countries, we may be blissfully unaware of the poaching crisis across Africa. I can’t fix the problem, but I can at least write about it. I can share with you the story of Mike and his rhinos. I help point to stories that debunk the myth of special healing powers. Education is the key in the long run…as long as it’s not too late for the creatures at risk.

Arm yourselves with knowledge.

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Filed under Africa

WordPress blog stats: 2010 in review

I received this email from WordPress. With a click of one button, voila…a blogpost. Thanks WordPress!


The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 4 fully loaded ships.

Atlantis framing my tweetup badge

Atlantis framing my tweetup badge

In 2010, there were 59 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 107 posts. There were 576 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 352mb. That’s about 2 pictures per day.

The busiest day of the year was May 16th with 304 views. The most popular post that day was STS-132 Launch Tweetup: It’s a Wrap!.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for earth, tracy caldwell dyson, aquarena springs, astro_wheels, and western movies.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


STS-132 Launch Tweetup: It’s a Wrap! May 2010


About Beth April 2009


Dads: Be A Knight-in-Shining-Armor June 2009


Time Warp…or Memory Wormhole? October 2009
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Zambia: Land of Livingstone September 2009

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Filed under Africa, astronaut, NASA, space, technology, tweet-up

Bethany House: Children in Crisis

The Bethany House children overflow with love to give. They come from unhappy, often tragic home environments. Some have lost their parents. Some have been removed from their parents. Some have been abandoned by their parents.

But each child yearns to love and be loved.

My heart overflows for them. Spending time with the Bethany House kids during our time here with my daughter Steph in South Africa has been a tremendous blessing. I love seeing how much they love Steph. The moment they see her, the kids chant her name and run to her for hugs. We’ve been privileged to benefit from the hug-fest ourselves. My oldest daughter Carol and I have been squeezed and fought over. We have chocolate fingerprints on our clothes. The kids run for our laps each time we sit down. I’ve learned to carry two kids at a time, as others wrap themselves around my legs. Though we’ve only been here a short time, we already have favorites. We can’t help ourselves.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will forever be highlights for me. Our impromptu Christmas Eve dance party with the older girls of Bethany House was such a blast. We twirled and giggled. What a crazy fun evening. Christmas Day morning, we attended church with the Bethany House kids, followed by a delightful picnic Braai (BBQ) in Bethany House Gert and Antoinette Jonker‘s backyard. Children everywhere!

I really can’t remember a more wonderful Christmas with my daughters! It wasn’t about gifts, but relationships. What better way to celebrate Christ’s birthday than to be surrounded by children from ages three months to 18 years.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

Sadly, I can’t take pictures of the kids. I could put them at risk by posting their pictures online. Some have been removed from dangerous situations and their location must remain unknown — for their own safety. Our world is full of children in crisis. We just don’t want to think about the horror some of them face. And yet, they are so resilient. They blossom with counseling, attention, and love.

I wish you could see the joy in their faces. Your hearts would melt!

It’s SO hard for me NOT to take pictures of the Bethany House kids. I want to share them with you, and also take home memories with me. Today, for instance, I played Cricket for the first time. I really really don’t get the game, but I tried. I played soccer with the boys the other night. Now that I think of it, perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t have photographic evidence of how badly I play their games.

We only have one full day left in sunny South Africa before flying back home to winter in DC. I’m heartbroken to leave Steph, but I know she’s in good hands. She’s made wonderful friendships with the Bethany House staff. The kids will hug her cares away, so that she won’t miss us as much when we leave. They’re glad she’s staying here in South Africa with them — though many have offered to stow away in our luggage for the return trip to America. If only I could fit them all in….

So, not only will we leave Steph, but also all the children we’ve grown to love here.

As we close out 2010 and look ahead to a new year, I hope you can all find a place in your heart for children in crisis. It won’t be hard for you to find them in your neighborhood, county, state, or even internationally, as with the Bethany House. You can contribute your time or your pocketbook, foster or adopt…or simply smile at children you encounter.

The world conspires to crush their spirits. Your smile alone can make a difference. Your action can save a life.

Blessings to you for a Happy New Year.


Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust

Cape Town: Visual Delight

We’ve spent the last week in Cape Town. What a great vacation for Steph. This is her first time away from the Bethany House since July.

We discovered the cute little Cafe Doppio Zero down the street from our hotel. Free wifi!!! What an amazing thing, when every other place else costs per MB. Since I tend to process pictures (major MB), Doppio Zero is our fav hangout. We’ve come every day since we found it. This is our last full day in Cape Town, so I wanted to share a few pics with you. The stories will come later as I have time to process.

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We fly home tomorrow to spend Christmas with the children of Bethany House in Johannesburg. My daughter volunteered my potato soup for Christmas Eve. I’m used to making it for the three of us, not 50+. I think we’ll be peeling potatoes for the entire day. But, what fun!

Merry Christmas to you all!


Filed under Africa

Flying South for Winter

The temperature dropped to the mid 20’s here in the DC region today, with the wind chill factor registering in the teens. Brrrr. Biting cold. The heater in my house rarely gets over 64 degrees on cold days like this. As I pack for a Summer Christmas in South Africa with daughter Steph, I find the irony amusing.

Giraffes from Mike Boon's South African Game Reserve

Giraffes from Mike Boon's South African Game Reserve.

Note: For those who don’t know, my daughter Steph works with the Bethany House counseling school children who are victims of trauma. The stories the children tell her keep Steph awake at night. Part of our journey to South Africa is to encourage and uplift her, so that she can pour out her heart to the children who are hurting — damaged by unspeakable abuse and heart-breaking life experiences.

Here is a excerpt from Steph’s blog

Steph talks about her journey in her Blog

Now, let’s talk about our airline-imposed travel constraints:

Jet Blue allows one bag for the DC to NYC leg of the trip. South African Airways allows two.

Here’s what I need to take with me:

  • Steph’s summer clothes (she didn’t have room to take down with her in July  which is winter in South Africa),
  • gifts and goodies for the children of Bethany House,
  • Steph’s Birthday gifts (she turns 25 next week),
  • Christmas gifts for both daughters, and …last but not least…
  • my clothes.

Basically, I’m faced with an over-constrained equation. The only way to make this work –remove variables. Meaning, my clothes!

I spent yesterday trying on summer clothes in an EXTREMELY chilly house in my effort to edit down to the bare essentials for three weeks in Africa.

This little packing exercise got me thinking.

  • What about our space pioneers who pack for six month on Space Station — especially if travel means tucking three humans into a Russian Soyuz spacecraft? What do you take? What do you leave behind on Earth?
  • What was it like for early American pioneers leaving behind family treasures to load up a westward-bound covered wagon for the nine-month journey across mountain passes to uncertainty on the other side?
  • What about families who left Europe to start a new future across the ocean in the Americas?
  • What about refugees who flee violence or poverty or drought in countries around the world today?

The shacktowns in and around Johannesburg are filled with families who left everything behind to build a better life in South Africa. Take Portia, for instance….

We met Portia outside Johannesburg.

We met Portia outside Johannesburg.

My buddy Mike Boon introduced us to Portia last time we visited South Africa. Portia lives in a one room tin shack outside Johannesburg. She welcomed us into her home. No electricity. No plumbing. No running water. (The orange containers in the doorway are for transporting water, which she has to do every day.)

Squatter's Village outside Johannesburg

The shack village where Portia lives.

Yes, I’m spoiled. We live in a land of excess. I’m ashamed to admit my struggle over what NOT to take with me for a three-week trip.

Perhaps I should take a cue from the birds who fly south for the winter: Take nothing, find food and necessities along the way.

Matthew 6:26 comes to mind:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Last word: After hearing my tale of woe today, Adam and Ben of Jess3 called Jet Blue and discovered I can take an extra bag for only $30. I know. I know. I could have checked myself. Somehow that never made it to my to-do list. Now, I get to decide if it’s worth it to repack and add back my “excess” things.

So, do I fly south like a bird, or like an American?

At least I have a choice.

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Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust, poverty