Tuesday 31 March 2009

Nick Vujicic shows what it means to get back up after falling down...

Born without arms or legs, Nick Vujicic faces major obstacles every day of his life. He's living proof that it's not how you start or how many times you fail, it's all about determining to finish strong. To fall down or fail is not the problem - the problem is not trying to get back up!

Listen all the way to the end where he describes his motivation. What an inspiration Nick is to people all over the world!
(Warning: you might want to get some tissues, because this story will grab your heart.)

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Mark This Down: We Have A New PERMANENT "Home" Address!

Clair and Carole Anne Hochstetler
PO Box 827
Mawson, ACT 2607

No, we're not really living in Mawson - just establishing a convenient "collecting point" in an environment where we are keeping "light on our feet"...at least for a while.

This week I am moving all our stuff out of our home for the past 5 1/2 months in Duffy, most of it into storage. I'm moving myself, my unicycles, my recumbent bike, and a few other "essentials" into a small independent flat in Chiffley connected to the home of the Keith and Ruth Blackburn, a generous couple from our congregation (Canberra Baptist.)

It's just the right size for one person for a month or so... The Uniting Church in Weston needs their manse back. The arrangement has been fabulous for us while it lasted - and we had it three months longer than originally promised.

This morning I took Carole Anne to the Canberra airport whereupon she flew to the Sunshine Coast (near Noosa, in Queensland) to spend 6 weeks with her sister Linda and brother-in-law Graham, who have been living there the past five years. This is all part of our "grand scheme" for coming here to Australia; Carole Anne will be going there from time to time -- but only at the "best" times of each year - and she will be house sitting and taking care of a dog that whole time, just a block away from her sister. And that free rent in Noosa for almost six seeks can't be beat!

I hope to fly up there and back to join them all for a "long weekend" after Easter, April 16-20. (To drive a car from Canberra to the Noosa area is like traveling the full length of California, requiring about 18 hours of road time , and completely out of the question!)

In any case, on the 2nd of May Carole Anne and I will meet up in Sydney and fly to the States together during my annual leave/holiday time. We will have been gone from "home" - Goshen, Indiana - for 11 months by then; hard to believe! We'll be "taking care of business" and visiting family and friends in Indiana, North Carolina, and Massachusetts, then after three weeks I'll need to fly back here to work at The Canberra Hospital.

Carole Anne, however, will stay on with her family in MA until mid-June when she returns to join me in house-sitting for two months in Griffith, right across from St. Clare's College. It's all saving us HEAPS of money (as they like to say in Australia.) Plus, we are getting to really know the city and making lots of new friends this way, as well. By mid-August, though, we'll want to find another "still point" to provide some balance in our flexible lives.

It's all OK - home is not a specific piece of real estate for us, at least not yet, it's mostly where the heart is. And as long as Carole Anne and I have each other, hey, we're happy. And learning to live with a lot less "stuff" has actually been quite freeing, and feels kind of nice! Although it's required some creative thinking and initiative on
our parts, God has been so good to both of us: We have literally never had to worry about where we'll be living, or having friends or things to do...

I'll close off with three special messages for my Canberra-based friends:

In the short run, I'm going to have some extra time on my hands, especially weekends and evenings, so if you wanted to find some good "informal" opportunities to get together, i.e. go walking, biking, camping, or visiting nice places around Canberra together...whatever...well, here it is! I'm game.

I'm also seeking a sheltered spot to park our car while gone the three weeks in May...there is not a good place at Blackburns. Any suggestions?

Last, but not least - and I'll just put this "out there" - if a person or two feels inclined to lend me a hand on Thursday or Friday late afternoons or early evenings THIS WEEK moving some bins into storage using our cars (or have a truck available to do so) just let me know!

Looking forward...

Monday 23 March 2009

"Early Warning" in 2007 on the Financial Market Meltdown - From Two Comedians!

John Bird and John Fortune - a British duo dubbed "The Long Johns" - are seen here brilliantly and accurately describing "the mindset" of the investment banking community in this satirical interview.

Repeatedly over the past number of months we've heard various claims from politicians, financial reporters and bank CEOs - when questions are posed regarding why all our "protected" retirement funds have been evaporating during this great "credit crunch" - all basically come down to: "We didn't see it coming."

If that's so, how did these two COMEDIANS see this great "meltdown" coming, way back in the summer of 2007 during the sub-prime mortgage financial crisis?

If you go to the source of this on You Tube and click on "more info" on the upper right side you can read some economist's explanation behind all this - but I like the Long Johns' better. (Don't miss their final line!)


Friday 13 March 2009

Bruno Torf's Art Garden in Marysville, Victoria To "Rise Again" Out Of Bushfire Death and Destruction!


Carole Anne and I were in the Melbourne area only 20K from this place during a weekend retreat for the Anabaptist Network for Australia and New Zealand the end of January - only two weekends prior to the onset of the fires that destroyed the entire town of Marysville, the location of what you are about to see. I had read a brochure about this wonderful place - one of the world's most unique and deeply inspiring experiences for art and garden lovers of all ages, constructed over many years by Bruno Torfs - and really wanted to see it but knew we had no extra time at that point. I vowed to take the time to see it next time we were in the area.

However, on Saturday the 7th of February, the raging fires in Victoria completely destroyed his unique forest creation taking over 300 paintings and sculptures. It makes me feel "sick" to realize this fantastic collection and lifetime "labor of love" has literally gone up in smoke, just one of a whole litany of tragedies in that environment.

As you "take a walk" through this forest I invite you to reflect on the beauty gone and the many people who have lost their homes, their loved ones, their livelihoods, the severely injured, the animal life and the dedicated fire fighters, police, civilians, and those involved in caring for the traumatized and injured - still to this day and for many weeks to come.

This is a real testament to Australian resiliency, and an opportunity for art lovers the world over to join in supporting a visible symbol of resurrection, rising up from the ashes of death and destruction!


Saturday 7 March 2009

A Near "Mis-adventure" Inside Hezekiah's Tunnel In Jerusalem At Age 21

A chaplain friend of mine named Mark - from Athens, Georgia - was recounting his spelunking experiences today on one of our chaplains' e-lists when he received a question from a queasy/claustrophobic member: "My anxiety level just shot way up! Were these little-tiny-crawl-space caves...or big stand-up & then crawl-because-it-got-dark type of caves?"

Mark's response: "You usually run into both. I have been in places where you had to exhale to move forward and in places where you are crawling on your belly bumping your head on the ceiling and trying to keep your nose above the water that half fills the passage. Then I have been in rooms the size of stadiums where you could not see the other end. Most are in between. The killers are those long passages where you are bent in half!" Some others joined in with their own stories about spelunking challenges in days of yore.

All this resurrected very strong emotions associated with an experience emblazoned in my own memory from way back in the spring of 1975. I was 21 years old, feeling invincible and adventurous, and in the last semester of my Bachelors Degree in Biblical Studies. But I wasn't on campus in the Shenadoah Valley. I had joined 40 other students spending those three months in a first for Eastern Mennonite University - a special transcultural seminar in the Middle East and beyond, under the leadership of Dr. Willard Swartley accompanied by his wife Mary and their two adolescent children, Louisa and Kenton. (The next three paragraphs are more detailed background, to help the reader gain the full impact of the "real" story.)

We first flew into London for a couple days at the British Museum, then spent six or seven weeks taking an intensive biblical archeology course based at the American Institute of Holy Land Studies in Old City Jerusalem which incorporated at least one exciting field trip each week. We ventured all over Palestine, studying the stories in context at Cesarea by the sea, walking around the ruins of Meggido near where Elijah encountered the 400 prophets of Baal, observing the border near Lebanon, watching the sun rise over Galilee, visiting original sites in Nazareth, dipping water from the Jordan River, hiking wadis going down from Jerusalem into Jericho, clambering up to and around Masada, floating in the salty Dead Sea, surveying the site where his disciples declared Jesus as the Messiah at Cesarea Philippi, looking at a Crusaders' castle in the Golan Heights, traipsing all the way down to Beersheva in the Negev -- and experiencing many other highlights in between all these places. I got to join in with a Good Friday procession to Golgatha, and witnessed an unforgettable ecumenical worship service Easter morning at the traditional site of the Garden Tomb.

Following this we spent two weeks under the guidance of Leroy Friesen, at that time the country director for Mennonite Central Committee, interviewing and studying the dynamics of the history and conflict among the Jews and the Palestinians - which involved interaction with leaders, ordinary people and families from all along the spectrum of political and religious life in Israel and Palestine during this time of relative freedom for groups like ours to do so. We rode a bus over to Amman, Jordan and from there explored the ancient Nabatean dwellings and ornate temples at the red rock city of Petra. The last month involved a week in Greece: Corinth, Athens etc, and a few days in Rome, then 10 days "on our own" before reuniting in Luxembourg and winding up our time in Paris for about three days focusing on treasures in The Louvre, and surveying ancient biblical manuscripts at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. My unicycle came in handy to "get around" during many of these explorations.

I graduated with my BA two days after returning from that trip. The overall experience impacted and enriched my entire world view and theological understanding in a profound way that I could not fully comprehend or appreciate at the time. However, the journal I kept of these adventures is one of my most prized possessions to this day. And all this is simply background and context for the strong memory triggered today by Mark's story:

Out of dozens of profound experiences, one of the most memorable - and exceedingly dangerous, as it turned out - was the one we still talk about at reunions of this group: the day we took a tour through Hezekiah's Tunnel, about 1/3 of a mile in total length.

NOW, BEFORE YOU READ ANY FURTHER, if you have not "experienced" this place for yourself, please get oriented to its significance by scanning this story and paying attention to the photos of this particular family's verbal and visual description of that ancient wonder. And by all means DO NOT SKIP absorbing the first two photos at the top of the third page, right here!

I remember the cool water flowing out of the Gihon Spring and through that tunnel in March of 1975 as being about exactly the same depth as described and documented in James Lancaster's story on "the web." Our group also descended into it via the long stone stairway, entering at the same place you just observed in the Lancaster photos. Out of the forty of us, if I recall correctly, about six or seven declined the opportunity to wade through, but said they would meet us on the other end where we were to emerge. Of course, being me, I was very enthusiastic about this adventure and got myself near the front of the line - not far behind Jim Fleming, our guide and archeologist from the Institute. Things went quite well for a while, as we held candles and cameras above the very cool water. We got used to it after a bit, and kept moving forward with the flow of the water, enthralled by Jim's description of the various features of this unique place.

But, what the local tunnel-minder who let us in had not thought about was the fact that since almost three dozen bodies were in there at once, we displaced a lot more water than usual as we got closer to that narrower and shorter section. Not only did those of us near the head of the line have to start bending down (it's only averages around five feet high about that point - and only 4' 9" at the very mid-section of the tunnel where the two teams who originally hewed this thing joined up) but the water couldn't flow as well to get past all those bodies, and we started to noticed the water "piling up" behind and around us.

Guess what happens when chilly water is rising up to your neck, some of the candles start going out when the air gets stale, and there isn't much room left to breath even when swimming, which a few short people near the front of the line had to do with ruined cameras still in hand?! It took us quite a while to convince the ones way back behind us to pass the message back that we ALL NEED TO TURN AROUND AND WALK BACK OUT WHERE WE CAME FROM - and that WE ARE NOT JOKING! (My heart is racing now - just remembering all this while I write.)

It was one of the few experiences in my life where I was emotionally on the verge of panic - and it became a real challenge to maintain one's cool while working with each other offering emotional and spiritual support including singing - and anything else we could think of - to a few in our group who actually did panic. We held each other up to survive, and it seemed like it was taking forever until we could get our entire group (especially the last ones in the line) convinced to turn around and our somewhat shaken group could all swim, crawl, walk, and push our way back out against the flow of the water coming at us from the Gihon Spring. We met up with the very worried and now relieved waiting members of our group, who knew we were long overdue, and walked around to the exit side of the tunnel to observe where we should have come out under normal conditions. We finally all began to relax right there at the Pool of Siloam - a place of healing!

Later we were told the water was actually flowing unusually high that season, and we should never have been allowed in that time of day in the first place. And we heard they had to close Hezekiah's Tunnel down for a while when someone in a tour group actually drowned in there not long after we were there. I would say it was a miracle that our own group escaped from disaster that day. I thank God, because quite a few members of that group have been leading very influential lives in the years since, and a different outcome could have put a real kaibosh on plans for future crosscultural excursions EMU sponsored in the Middle East and elsewhere over subsequent years.