Category Archives: Bethany House Trust

Touching Lives

“Life is not a path of coincidence, happenstance, and luck, but rather an unexplainable, meticulously charted course for one to touch the lives of others and make a difference in the world.” — Barbara Dillinham

My daughter Steph came home from a year in Africa yesterday. She served as a counselor to young victims of trauma and abuse for Bethany House in Krugersdorp outside Johannesburg, South Africa. She was heartbroken to leave all the children behind who took captive her heart, as well as all the friends and colleagues who made her year so special.

Steph in Africa

Her cat Sammy (my furry grandchild) kept circling around her, sniffing her clothes and hair. She doesn’t smell the same way she did when she left. He wonders if she’s the same Steph who left our house one year ago. He’s right. She’s not.

After a year of living and working in another continent at the bottom of the world in a totally different culture surrounded by ten unique languages and the vestige of apartheid, she changed. As a professional counselor, she listened to stories of heartbreak and horror from children who:

  • lost their parents to the ravages of the creature called AIDS that devours the lives of an entire generation of adults (and may have AIDS themselves),
  • live with their grannies (who can’t afford to feed/care for all the little ones left to them),
  • or an abusive family member,
  • or pretend to live with a family member but instead serve as the child head-of-household for their younger siblings;
  • have very little to eat and too many responsibilities to study,
  • see no hope for the future, and
  • often believe suicide is the only way out.

Steph’s world view altered irrevocably. In a good way — though at times she too lost hope, overwhelmed by the despair she encountered. Many of the children she’s come to love won’t live to the age of 14. AIDS will claim them too. Each time, she had to shake off the weight of the world,  take a breath, and start over again. She’s a plucky little thing, I must say. She touches lives. She changes hearts. She transforms the hopeless by offering tools to deal with their emotions and circumstances.

Many are tempted to give up if we can’t solve ALL the world’s problems. Instead, the answer is for each of us to do what we can to make a difference: one person, one problem, one day at a time.

I may not get to spend my days out in the field helping people, at least I can take steps to make the world a better place through creative programs at NASA, like LAUNCH and Fragile Oasis. My small contribution is helping to inspire citizens of this planet through our space endeavors to take special care of our communities and neighbors — AND sending both my daughters off into the far reaches of this world to help others.

What are you doing to make a difference inside your circle of influence? A smile. A hug. No effort is too small to touch lives in a positive way.

For now, I’m doing lots of smiling and hugging, now that Steph is back!

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Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust, Fragile Oasis, LAUNCH, poverty, space

STS-134 NASA Tweetup: Day 2

Day 2 of the STS-134 tweetup started with great hope for an afternoon launch. I passed this car in the parking lot. LUV it!!

Space Shuttle Team: Doing What Others Dream

Space Shuttle Team: Doing What Others Dream

What a day. We started with a NASA Tweetup marriage proposal and ended with a launch scrub. Oh, and a visit by the President of the United States and First Family somewhere in between.

NASA Tweetup Proposal @tempegirl @chriscardinal

NASA Tweetup Wedding Proposal: Chris Cardinal @chriscardinal + Nina Tallman @tempegirl

Nina Tallman accepted Chris Cardinal's wedding proposal

Nina Tallman said YES to Chris Cardinal's wedding proposal

We took our traditional NASA Tweetup Countdown Clock pic. What a good looking group of tweeps.

STS-134 NASA Tweetup Launch Clock portrait

STS-134 NASA Tweetup Launch Clock portrait. Photo credit: NASA/Paul Alers

Good luck finding yourself in this shot, tweeps. I’m sitting crosslegged in front in white pants. They weren’t quite so white after the shot. 😉

Our Brits celebrated the Royal Wedding in their very own way — complete with flag-waving in front of the Countdown Clock. They are hoping to “launch” Royal Kate and William into wedded bliss. At least, that’s my interpretation.

Brits @tristamsparkes @jackdearlove @DrLucyRogers

Flag-waving Brits @tristamsparkes @jackdearlove @DrLucyRogers

@JackDearLove trying to take over NASA tweetup

@JackDearLove trying to take over NASA tweetup 😉

@JackDearLove's flag

@JackDearLove's flag

We had great lineup of speakers, starting off with Astronaut Ricky Arnold. He’s somewhere in the sea of tweeps in the photo above. Here are a few great quotes tweeted out during his talk. The Barbies were all so excited. Ken too!

@VenusBarbie & friends

@VenusBarbie & friends

@jenniferHuber Ricky Arnold food tweet
@SusanMazza quoting Ricky Arnold
@michaelbmore quoting Ricky Arnold
@TimLillard quoting Astronaut Ricky Arnold

NASA’s Education Chief, Leland @Astro_Flow Melvin came to speak next.

@SpaceTeam tweet about @Astro_flow
@schollem lego tweet about @Astro_flow
@brendajburrell quotes @Astro_Flow
@CarsonSkinner quotes @Astro_Flow

Tweeps heard more about NASA’s activities with LEGO from Daire McCabe, LEGO designer, then heard from Lt. Col. Patrick Barrett, Launch Weather Officer.

@DrLucyRogers LEGO mission patch
@NancyBroden weather tweet

We broke for lunch then lined up along the “road to the launch pad” to wave to the STS-134 crew as they pass by in the AstroVan. But, alas, they drove past, turned around and went back where they came. The dreaded SCRUB!

AstroVan headed to Launch Pad A

AstroVan headed to Launch Pad A

AstroVan returning Crew

AstroVan returning Crew

We went back to the NASA tweetup tent to wait for more information about the next launch attempt. The President and First Family toured the Kennedy Space Center and met with the crew. Some of our tweeps waved to them as they passed by.

POTUS with STS-134 crew

POTUS with STS-134 crew. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

We found out that the earliest next launch attempt will be Monday at 2:34 p.m. EDT. Many of the tweeps had to say goodbye, sadly. But not before lots of goodbye pics like the one below with the LEGO mission patch.

Space Tweeps

Space Tweeps

We packed up, making plans to start this show again on Monday, if all goes well. Our DC Twitter rep, Adam Sharp, was the very last to leave around 6:30 pm. He has a meeting Monday and can’t stay for the next launch attempt.

Last to leave the tweetup tent....

@Sharp: Last to leave the tweetup tent....

Here’s my last look:

NASA Tweetup Tent Sign

NASA Tweetup Tent Sign

Looks like Seth Green, Clare Grant, Nicole Solomon and Abe Benrubi will be coming back for Monday’s launch attempt. WooHoo! (BTW, thanks Nicole for strongly encouraging me to using Hipstamatic pics. They really are so much fun!

@SethGreen tweet

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Filed under AIDs, Bethany House Trust, NASA, social media, space, tweet-up

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.

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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. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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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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.

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Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust

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

Skype: It’s a Small World After All!

My youngest daughter, Steph, moved to South Africa. We’re continents apart now. She’s freezing in winter. I’m melting in summer.

Yet, technology collapses the distance.

Yesterday, we had our first Skype date. She got off work at 5:00 p.m. — her time. I had the day off, so I was available at 11:00 a.m. — my time. What an amazing, incredible experience. I could see her and talk to her, as if we sat only a few feet from each other. (Yes, I’ve Skyped before — for business meetings. Somehow it feels different with a loved one living so far away.)

View from Steph's window.

View from Steph's window.

Steph gave me a Skype tour of her new living space. She walked around the room pointing her computer (iSight webcam) at the living area, kitchenette, bath, and window. From the window, I could see the neighborhood and the park she crosses every day to walk to work at the Bethany House.

Our grand plan was to get the iPhone G4 for Steph, once she arrived in Africa. We hoped to FaceTime each other during the year, as well as toggle the iPhone as her internet connection. Alas, she couldn’t get an iPhone, so she bought a regular phone with an South African service provider, and purchased a aircard for internet at home.

During that first week, though, without phone or internet to Steph, my 24/7 instant comm IV felt yanked from my veins.  Once she got back online, my world order was restored.

Communications tweet

After Steph and I Skyped, I thought about our astronauts living on top of the world for six months at a time. Technology allows them to video chat with family, just like I did with Steph. Technology connects us — on and off the planet. I, for one, am thankful I can reach my daughter in a moment through e-mail or text messages or Skype video calls.

I can’t imagine surviving on smoke signals and carrier pigeons.

Think about early explorers. They left home to discover new lands, never knowing if they would ever return or see family and friends again.  Many left behind only silence and unanswered questions.

Lottie Moon

Lottie Moon

Missionaries Hudson Taylor and Lottie Moon traveled across the world to China in the late 1800’s. While we packed Steph for Africa, I kept thinking about Lottie Moon — a very tiny woman who traveled alone to a land where she knew no one nor spoke the language. I can’t begin to imagine the courage and faith it took for her to say goodbye to her family (perhaps forever) and step on the boat for a journey of many months across angry seas.

Steph, by contrast, is only 18 hours away by plane, and a click away on Facebook. Whew!

Technology puts it all in perspective, really. The same technology that shrinks the distance between us, also reveals the great divide between Earth and other planets in our universe. It connects us with each other, yet isolates us with the knowledge that we humans are alone as far as Hubble’s eyes can see.

Helix Nebula: The Eye of God

Helix Nebula: The Eye of God. Credit: NASA

Technology allows you to connect with Steph too. You can follow her South African journey at Steph Beck’s Blog.

Bethany House Trust

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Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust, Earth, NASA, social media, space, technology