Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nuru International Leadership Training Team at the Regional Training Center in Kuria Kenya

All of this week I've had the privilege of meeting various leaders who are executing the scaling of Nuru's programs. I've been able to listen to them describe their plans for growing and scaling their work and helping new communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty in remote rural areas of Kenya. Not only have I been able to hear these plans, but I've also been able to walk the shambas (farms) with many of these leaders and watch them execute their plans. One thing has been true across every program. These people are highly capable, and they have a vision for impact far beyond their local area.

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to meet some of the people who are creting a leadership training curriculum for new Nuru employees. Francis, Lucas, John, and Paul, are the curriculum development team who aree creating a system by which future Nuru leaders will be trained on wholistic, sustainable, and scalable development. They will also be trained on the concept of servant leadership, and why it is important to be one who can humbly but confidently lead others.

Yesterday they walked us through their vision for where Nuru is going in the next 3-4 years. As they are developing their curriculum, some of the things they are considering are, how does one teach people who do not understand Kiswahili, KiKuria, or English. They are also considering how people learn and incorporating teaching modules that involve stories, visuals, and definitions.

There is a passionate desire among everyone here to work hard to see their neighbors and fellow Kenyans who live in remote rural areas have access to the tools and training needed to lift themselves out of extreme poverty. I'm so in awe of the dedication and focus that the staff are demonstrating, and I can see the fruit of their focus in the results they are producing. Two and a half years ago a handful of farmers decided they would test Nuru out and receive training on better farminging techniques, water and sanitation hygiene, economic savings, healthcare, and improving education for their children. Today, there are over 10,000 people participating in these programs and improving their own lives and doing so with a greater vision of helping even more people!

It is really awe inspiring to see this place, to hear these stories, and to learn from these incredible people during my time here. What's even more inspiring is that this whole chain of events was catalysts by a small group of friends back home. If you have been part of this journey, you are really part of something magical. If you haven't yet joined us in this fight, I ask you to consider your means, your talents, your skills, and join this small movement of people from around the globe who are confronting the crisis of extreme poverty, and working together to end it, one community at a time!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Celebrating my birthday with Nuru Farmers in Kuria Kenya.

Wow! March 30th, 2011 will have to go down in history as the most incredible birthday I've had in my life. I wasn't sure what it would be like to be far away from my family and most of my friends, and while my experiences here were no substitue for being back home, the experience was absolutely amazing! (brace yourself, this will be a longer post)

After going through my usual routine in the early morning hours, I set off to walk through the farms with Nuru's Kenyan healthcare team. Each member of that team has an amazing story of overcoming adversity and hardship that most of us will never experience. And we set off to wlk through the area to visit people's homes. Each month, Nuru healthcare workers make their way from house to house to talk about a critical healthcare issue. This month and next month the focus is on educating people about malaria, what the symptoms are, what causes it, how it can be prevented, and where to go if they or a member of their household is demonstrating symptoms. At each home the healthcare worker also reinforced topics from previous months like water purification, hand washing, and nutrition. The healthcare worker also offered tools for sale such as water guard (a water purifier), soap, and bed nets.

As we visited each house I was thoroughly impressed by the gratitude shown to these healthcare workers for training and educating each household. Most families did not have money for purchasing products, but asked the healthcare worker to come back soon when they would have money. In the west we would probably Not be received well going door to door, but here, it is different-these healthcare workers are offering life-saving tools and training that are fri endly and convenient.

I've been learning as much of the local language here KiKuria as I can, and employing it I n conversations. The healthcare program leaders here Nelly, Puce, and Isiri, has been pretty impressed with the speed at which this mazungu has picked up their language. The members of our team from the states told the team that I did not have a Kurian name. And so, On my birthday, I became Billy Wandwii (Lion), which I've got to admit is a pretty rockin name!

As noon approached it was time for me to leave the healthcare team to grab lunch with the economic development team. I met three individuals, Andrew, Peter, and Moses. One thing that impressed me about all of the staff here is a passionate desire to serve, along with a zeal for being the best they can possibly be. These men and women leaders are humble, and they care about their community deeply. Andrew pulled me aside after he learned it was my birthday. He sai d that it was a very big deal that I would choose to work and serve on my birthday, and. It meant a lot to him and the people here. When I think about what problems Andrew and his team face every day and the stories and successes that need to be heard and shared with others, I told him it would be incredibly difficult to NOT work and serve.

And believe it or not, my day kept getting better. After lunch, we traveled to Ngochoni (which was about 45 minutes away by car. We came for a meeting of the Nuru farmers in the area to talk about creating savings clubs. One hundred sixty five people showed up. They showed up for their. 2pm meeting on time (even though many had to walk up to an hour to get there). Moses led the meeting (which was conducted in Kiswahili and KiKuria) he made a brief introduction of me and the other western Nuru staff (and he introduced me as Billy Wandwii) and then proceeded with a meeting that took an hour and twenty minutes. The end result was that every farmer who showed up wanted to learn how to save their money better and take another step toward lifting themselves out of extreme poverty. I had to figh back the tears as I got up off the ground for a second to take a picture--what a significant milestone!

Driving home, we encountered flash floods and we were delayed slightly while we waited for the waters to subside (that might be a separate post at some point-it was pretty crazy to see that much water coming down the road). Also, while we were traveling we received updates via text from Andrew and Peter. They had traveled to two other new areas to conduct a similar meeting and in total FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY SIX people committed to meet monthly and start savings clubs!!!

After an event filled day, I made my way back to the staff house for one more huge surprise. The team here made an incredible birthday dinner and even had a birthday cake and ice cream. By the way there is no refrigeration at the staff house, so they had to bring the ice cream from the market to make this happen, and the market is not incredibly close. I am blown away by the love that was shown to me by friends old and new in Kenya, and I'm incredibly grateful that I cow ld spend my birthday and hopefully the rest of my life serving in this mission with such wonderful people.

I have been thoroughly blown away by all that I have seen and experienced among these beautiful people and in this wonderful place. I thought I was committed to this cause and to these people before I left, but I'm not sure I even fully fathomed what commitment could even look like. I hope you will join with me when I return to the states to make an even greater impact as we work together, to end extreme poverty, one community at a time.

What an incredible way to celebrate a birthday and any day for that matter!!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

37 Years

Today, as I awaken to greet the sunrise and watch the clouds begin to dissipate as the land becomes bathed in the warm glow of morning, I am filled with gratitude for another day of life, another opportunity to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. I will always be able to do the last one, but I imagine when I meet my King face to face, I won't remember injustice or a lack of mercy because they won't exist. But I will always be able to walk humbly with my God.

Today is my 37th birthday. I have been on this earth for 13,514 days. And as each one of those days comes and goes, I feel like I'm gaining a better understanding of what it means to truly live. To really live, one must be willing to give it all up and lay it all down, to live a life of surrender. A life that lets people experience a taste of God's Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Today, I will be visiting the homes of people in Kuria who are being offered an opportunities and choices. There are so many opportunities and choices we take for granted each day. And as I've been here in this community I've had my heart wrenched so much by some of the stories I've heard and the beauty I've seen as people in this community are caring for each other and helping each other make a better life and have some of those basic opportunities we take for granted. I mean, I can think of many times I've been in a dilemma about what I should eat, and as I've walked the fields with Jake and others, I've seen people who finally are able to grow enough food to feed their families.

So as I sit and write these thoughts from rural Kenya on my birthday, I'm filled with gratitude. Gratitude for life, for choices, for opportunities to do justice and love mercy as I walk humbly with my God. And I'm thankful for the opportunities you and I are able to bring to others through the work of Nuru. It is an honor and a privilege to be part of lasting change for our global neighbors. And, I'm hopeful that I'm given many more years on this earth to continue to do justice, love mercy, and to provide others with opportunities and choices. And I hope that you are given long life to do the same as well!

Visiting the Nuru International Regional Training Center

Regional Training Center from Nuru International on Vimeo.

Monday morning I was able to visit the site of the Nuru International regional training center with our team here, and I have to say that I have been utterly blown away by the vision and the scope of what the Kenyan Nuru staff are not only looking to do in the future, but what they are doing now. Two and a half years ago, Nuru was an idea, a REALLY good idea, but an idea nonetheless. Now, to see what it has become is utterly amazing.

As my friend Jake talked to us a little bit about the center, I just kept smiling from ear to ear. I was nearly to the point of tears from the joy I was experiencing. The center is the headquarters for all of the Kenyan Nuru Staff (and the number of Kenyan Nuru staff significantly dwarfs the western staff.)

So, where to start. I could start with the crazy amount of construction that has already happened. Thereof a bank being built, a education resource center that is being built, a center for educating children and preserving the Kurian cultural heritage. There is a large meeting hall for regional training conference for Nuru Kenya staff across the district and province as Nuru expands. And there is a kitchen under construction as well as classrooms and two floors of sleeping rooms for guests. There's also a healthcare commodities selling station under construction.

I am amazed at what this training center is already becoming. I met dozens of Nuru Kenyan staff who are working in our five program areas. These people are passionate about bringing excellence into every facet of the work they are doing to empower their entire community out of extreme poverty. I'm honored to see it, and privileged to be able to share many of their stories with others. Together, we are ending extreme poverty, one community at a time.

Sunrise from the Nuru International Staff House in Kuria Kenya

This morning I woke up at 530am to begin my day. I've found that by rising early, I am not only able to feel more productive during the day, but I also get to take in little treasures like this sunrise. And this sunrise reminds me a lot of some of the wonderful sunrises I've experienced from back home in West Virginia. In fact a lot of my experiences here in Kenya remind me of places back home.

This life is a gift. Every day of life we have on this earth is a gift. When we rise early we are given more time to appreciate the gift and it's Giver. Life is short, and all of life is precious. As you venture on your day I hope you were able to enjoy the treasure of the rising sun, and that you look for opportunities to bring beautiful and healing gifts to others by the life you live today.

This world needs each one of us to show up, and to allow our lives to be gifts to others. May we make the most of the time we have been given, to love well, to serve others, and to make the most of the time we have been given.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sleeping Under a Malaria Net in The Nuru International Staff House in Kuria Kenya

Again, I find myself with many stories to tell, but this one I'll keep short and simple. I just woke up after my sixth night sleeping in a different location. (my bed, my couch, an airplane, Nairobi, Border Point Hotel, and now the Nuru staff house). Each night since arriving in Africa, I've been finding myself more and more adjusted. Here in Kuria, it is the rainy season, and there have been some epic storms. Yesterday evening I sat on the front porch of the staff house and watched an amazing storm roll in, and for two nights in a row, I fell asleep to the sound of heavy rain on a tin roof along with thunder rolls I haven't heard in the states for a long time.

Sitting on the porch reminded me of times in my childhood when huge storms would roll in, and all of us who lived on 15th Street would watch as our street flooded. Sometimes people would play in the floods or step under their gutters with shampoo and take a 'natural' shower. Those are some bright and vivid memories of growing up, and now I'm making new memories while not forgetting the old.

Last night I slept in a bed undera bed net for the third night in a row. The first night I had a little trouble with my net, but I had no doubt it offered me protection. I could hear Mosquitos flying on just the other side of it, but I was safe and protected from their malaria transmitting bites. (but, I've always attracted Mosquitos, so I haven't been completely unbitten, but the nets offer a significant protection.

Looking at my bed, I sort of reflected on the fact that to some it probably looks like a canopy bed, but the purpose of this bed is not aesthetics as much as survival. Nearly one million people die each year from malaria. Most of them are under the age of five. Can you imagine it? Death from a mosquito bite? The way I got bit as a child, I would have been part of that statistic, had I lived in a different part of the world.

Here in Kuria though, this is all changing. The community is learning about malaria prevention, and local health care workers are taking life saving tools like bed nets into the community where they are sold for a reasonable price and where people can undergo proper training on how to use them. Without training and education, these nets become soccer balls, curtains, and wedding dresses because people just don't know how to use them.

That's one of the amazing things about Nuru's work here. It's all locally led, being built to be both financially self-saustainable and scalable to neighboring communities. In just two a very short time, Nuru has grown from impacting a few families to over 10,000 people. And it's not just malaria prevention and bed nets. It's food production, economic development, education, and clean water too.

Each night as I go to sleep, I give thanks for my bed net. I give thanks for the healthcare interventions that I have taken for granted for most of my life, and I think about how life is changing for these beautiful people in Kuria Kenya.

May we, as we lie down, and as we wake up, be thankful for the life and the opportunities we have been given, and may we each consider ways that we can use the lives we've been given to be ambassadors of hope to our global neighbors.

Bus ride from Nairobi to Kuria, Kenya

I've been here in Kuria, Kenya for two days now and my mind has been a flutter with trying to determine where to start in telling stories. So I'm thinking I will start at the beginning with my arrival and trip to Kuria. (btw I wrote this post once and the app I'm using totally crashed.).

I arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi at around 830 Saturday night local time. After making my way through the passport and visa line, I proceeded to baggage claim, but it was a quick stop because I didn't need to check bags. It appears that in all of my travels over the last few years I've learned how to pack light.

I proceeded out of baggage claim and came into a large area where there were dozens of people holding signs and looking for people who were arriving. And then I saw a Nuru International sign being held by a young Kenyan man named Julius Nyamohanga. Julius works for Nuru Kenya and has an amazing story (which I will probably share in a future post. We hung out together for about an hour while we waited for the rest the team from the US to arrive.

They got in around 1015pm and together we drove to a nearby apartment for a late meal and attempted to sleep. I think I finally fell asleep around 2am, but woke up at 415am to travel to a bus staging area in efforts to get a seat on the bus heading to Kuria. The bus we traveled on said Kenyan Airways on the outside (this one was obviously re-commisioned from an airport bus to be our source of travel but it was an incredibly appropriate name. We FLEW to Kuria. A trip that usually takes 6-8 hours only took us about five. And we hit a few bumps along the way that sent us airborne. Every time we hit a bump and the bus (and we) went into the air, Julius and I would look at each other, laugh, and say Kenyan Airways.

As I mentioned, we did make it to Kuria in pretty amazing time, but the whole experience has been pretty surreal. I hope to share more stories tomorrow-the work that is happening here is utterly amazing. I believed in what Nuru was doing before, but I have to tell you that everything I have seen and heard has utterly exceeded my already high expectations.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to share more soon!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Koffie Verkeerd with Stroopwafel in Schipol Airport

I wanted to at least write a quick note and give a brief update from my travels. So much to say but my next flight boards in just a few minutes. So far the travel has been amazing. I actually slept and enjoyed a smooth flight across the Atlantic through the night. I also watched 'The King's Speech' on the plane. Great movie!

Sitting next to me on the plane was a Nigerian man who has spent the last thirty years living in Detroit after finishing a degree at Michigan Tech. He currently works for Ford as a network engineer and goes back home to visit his mother three times each year. He was very well versed in the problems and potential of the African continent, and he was also designing a solar powered LED & battery charging lantern. 

Needless to say we had some great conversations and exchanged information as we departed at Schipol. 

I'm looking forward to more amazing connections to be made as I continue my travels. Speaking of connections, I better go. I really don't want to miss my next flight. 

Sent from my iPad

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Big Idea Has Become Reality: Traveling to Kuria, Kenya to See Nuru International's Project First Hand

So for the last four years, I've been involved with my friends Jake, John, Andy, Trey, and many others as we launched a social venture called Nuru International. Among the many posts you have seen on my blog, I have been writing for a long time about this idea that has become reality. In September 2008, Nuru sent it's first team to Kuria, Kenya, and over the last 2.5 years, over 10,000 people have had their lives changed by Nuru's work--for good!

Over the next few days, I will be traveling to Kuria, Kenya to see first-hand the impact that Nuru has had in it's efforts to empower families out of extreme poverty. I will listen to the stories of some amazing individuals who have been able to survive on less than $1.25 per day and who are now lifting themselves out of this condition for good.

I'm not sure what my internet access will be like over the next several days, but I look forward to sharing with you some the amazing stories of the people I meet. Many of you have been involved with Nuru for quite some time too. Whether it's through reading this blog, sharing videos with friends, volunteering, or even making financial contributions to our work to end extreme poverty.  Their stories are our stories as we, you and I, work together toward ending extreme poverty, one community at a time.

I'm grateful to all who have joined on this journey, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to capture some of these stories first-hand. I know my soul will be stirred deeply by this brief glimpse into the daily experiences of some of our brothers and sisters from around the globe. May we never grow weary in doing good in this world while we have the time and the resources.

Be hope. Be light. Be Nuru.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sala Thai Restaurant Bethesda

Before leaving the greater Washington DC area last week, I made one final stop. The location was a Thai restaurant called Sala Thai. I was first introduced to this restaurant (and Thai food in general) by the former principal chief of my tribe, Chief Joseph Raincrow. The year was 1996, and at that time it was called Thai Place. It's undergone multiple name changes over the years, but it's always served really high quality and affordable food.

My personal favorites are their Tom Kha Gai (Coconut Soup) and Chicken Pad Thai. I have many vivid memories of ordering take-out and taking it back to my Chief's house for a meal together, but the restaurant space is pretty incredible too. They actually have live music on some nights, so it makes for a great space to go and enjoy music and food.

If you ever find yourself in Bethesda, Maryland I highly recommend stopping by Sala Thai and giving it a try.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WVU Human Performance Lab, Daniel Plan, and Bod Pod Part 2

So a couple weeks ago I made it back into the Human Performance Lab at West Virginia University where my fiancée Jamie works. She’s finishing up her Master’s in Exercise Physiology this May.

I went in for a second Bod Pod body fat analysis and was really encouraged by the results. After my one month membership at the Human Performance Lab (which is only $30—and well worth the rate!), I reported a decrease in weight of about seven pounds.  And I also lost about nine pounds of fat over the course of the month.

I actually gained two pounds of muscle mass over the course of the month of February.

My first analysis at the beginning of February, yielded these results. 

Percent Fat: 27.2%
Fat Weight: 52.4 lbs
Lean Weight: 140.1 lbs
Total: 192.4 lbs

And now, here are my new numbers

Percent Fat: 23.5%
Fat Weight: 43.6 lbs
Lean Weight: 141.1 lbs
Total: 185.6 lbs

Needless to say, I’m really impressed with my progress thus far. I’m still about 15 pounds from where I’d like to be, but the weather is starting to warm up, and that will make cardio a little more tantalizing.

It’s hard to believe I started at 211.4 pounds back in January. 

My secrets are really no secret. I stopped eating heavily processed food, and began eating more fresh whole foods and I've been working hard to implement ideas from The Daniel Plan.  I also started exercising regularly and getting a little more normal sleep pattern started. It’s amazing what a difference little changes like this can make. Looking to get more fit? Start exercising, stop eating heavily processed foods, and mind your portions.  That’s been my solution.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

World Water Day 2011

Episode 4: Portraits of Kuria from Nuru International on Vimeo.

Today is world water day. Today, over one billion people do not have access to safe clean drinking water. They don't have a supermarket where they can buy bottled water either. Most of these people live on less than the buying power of $1.25 per day (or less than $456.25 per year), so buying bottled water is probably not top on their priority list.  We take for granted so much of what we have in this world.

This year, as world water day passes us by, I want to encourage you to consider doing something to help our global neighbors who are suffering without access to safe, clean drinking water. I want you to consider taking what you spend this week just on beverages, and at the end of the week, making a donation at that amount to Nuru International.

As you can see in the video above (which was actually made in late 2008), Nuru has been making a significant impact in the lives of the people of Kuria, Kenya.  Right now, there are over 2000 families who are starting to lift themselves out of extreme poverty in a sustainable and scalable way. There have been wells drilled, trainings on boiling water, and on proper use and installation of hand-washing stations. In all of these ways and more, problems associated with the lack of access to safe, clean drinking water are being effectively reduced.

Will you take a step toward ending extreme poverty and toward allowing others to begin to have choices in this life? Thanks for considering this challenge.

Apple Store South Hills Village and an iPhone4 Experience

Saturday night, I drove to Pittsburgh to connect with my best friend in the whole world, Willie, and some of his family. Sunday morning as I was departing, I realized-"Hey! I'm not that far from the Apple Store, and I've been having some sound issues with my iPhone4. Maybe I can have someone at the store take a look at my phone before my next round of travel." And so I drove to the Apple Store in the South Hills Village Mall in hopes I could get a timely genius bar appointment and discern what was causing the issues with my phone.

I was able to get an appointment with a genius within 10 minutes of arriving. As I described my problem, a clicking sound that sometimes occurs while using my Skullcandy Full Metal Jacket headphones, we attempted to troubleshoot it while in the store.  The first suggestion was a backup and restore of my phone. I backed up all of my apps, and when attempting the restore, my phone failed to be restored. The genius at Apple replaced my phone. But that wasn't the end of the story.

I had iOS 4.3 on my backed up phone, and the new phone was running iOS4.2.1 so the first dilemma was updating the phone's operating system.  After this, we restored the contents of my old phone to the new phone.  Then, this new phone kept restarting every 2-3 minutes. So we restored the phone again, and started the process from the beginning again, only this time, we launched all of the back ups as a sync to a new phone.  Everything seemed great, and I left the store to do a little shopping around the mall.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled out the phone (which was fully charged) to make a call, and it had turned itself off.  Thankfully I hadn't left Pittsburgh yet, and I could make one more trip into the Apple Store.  The folks at the genius bar were really understanding, and they said that they had never encountered such an array of set-backs with the phone before. I responded that I hadn't either. ;) They then proceeded to bring out another phone, and began the process from the beginning for the third time that day.

All in all, the whole process took about five hours, and I watched dozens of customers get their problems with computers, phones, ipods, and ipads answered during my time at the genius bar. I'm glad I had extra time to take care of any potential issues before leaving, and the staff in the store were incredibly helpful as we worked toward a solution to the problem of my phone.

I wanted to share this because it was an incredible day of quality customer service. I deeply appreciated the time the Apple geniuses (Tom and Haley) took to help me out. I know that when a problem doesn't make its resolution quickly, it can be tiresome for all parties, but the team at the apple store did an incredible job.

If you have a problem with a piece of Apple Technology and you are close to an Apple Store, I highly recommend scheduling a visit to the genius bar.  The staff are friendly, patient, and incredibly helpful. They do all that they can to help customers make the most of their technology.

Lately, I've been finding myself really appreciative of great customer service. Too often we hear horror stories and complaints, but I think we should make it a point to highlight and applaud companies when they do an exemplary job.

Have you had an incredible experience in customer service? I'd love to hear about it, and I encourage you to share it with others too!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Five years of Twitter

On March 21, 2006, Twitter was born when Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet.  Now, literally billions of tweets are emitted from mobile phones, computers, and other technology as people share news, updates from life, links, and sundry other 140 character pieces of information.

I joined the world of twitter on May 26th, 2008 while attending a leadership conferences for churches called Drive. I wasn't quite sure what to do with the technology at that point in time, but I thought it might be worth checking out. Over the last three years of my own use, I've been able to see it used a number of ways, including staying connected with friends I've met during my life's journey. I've watched people use it to share information with others on an amazing scale, and I've seen Nuru International use it to share the release of media, updates from the field, and more.

Twitter is defined as a micro-blogging technology. Since you are reading this post, you probably know what a blog is. A Tweet is 140 characters long and can share anything from links to life reflections. There has even emerged a form of philanthropy called Twestival which in years past has been used to raise $250,000 for great organizations like charity: water.

With the emergence of smart phones and dozens of apps and platforms for managing twitter accounts, I'm curious to see where this technology is going.  Do you have a twitter account? If so, what do you use it for? If not, what do you think about all of this tweeting going on?

Regardless, I think the emergence of twitter speaks to a great desire we have as human beings to share both information and experiences with others. Whether you tweet or not, may you find a community of people with whom you can share your experiences and may you together help make the world a better place.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March Madness

Today's a big day!  First day of the NCAA tournament and it's also St. Patrick's Day.  It's a big day for basketball, and a big day for the Mountaineers, as they start everything off at 12:15PM.  I"m really excited for the day, and I'm looking forward to getting back to Morgantown soon.  In the mean time, here's a little video to reflect on our season thus far...

Let's Goooooo Mountaineers!!!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday 2011

This morning, I woke up at 530AM and did some push-ups and sit-ups like my buddy Jake does every day.  I had picked up this ritual when we were hanging out for a few days last year, but had lost the habit.  After getting dressed, I then proceeded into the kitchen and began heating water for green tea, cooking eggs, and peeling an orange for breakfast.  I had pulled up my Bible and a small Moleskine journal.  As I finished preparing my breakfast, I sat down, paused, and began to reflect on the Book I was about to open, the Author, and His great love for me. I then read, "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here." As I reflected on this short passage of scripture, I considered the day, and the season of the year.

Today starts the season of lent, and millions of Christians around the world will gather in community to participate in a 40 day period of fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and repentance. I went to a local church at 7AM with my fiancée and our mutual friend Jess.  I've attended an Ash Wednesday service for the last several years because I feel like it is a great reminder, as well as a great opportunity to be intentional in my pursuit of knowing God better and loving my neighbor better.

As Father Fred placed ashes on my forehead, he admonished me with a reminder, much as others had done in years past. "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel." A simple message, and personally, I feel like it's one I need to be reminded of daily and not annually.  So as I walked back to my seat, I knelt and reflected.  God, what could I give up or add to my life that would help me become the best version of myself I could possibly be.  I know the version of myself that loves You and loves others best, is the the best version of myself.

And so I've committed to four things this year.

Engage in a daily fitness regimen. No matter where I am, I can do push-ups and sit-ups. If I can run, walk, or engage in other physical activity I will.

Don't wake up or go to sleep to the smart phone--I've developed this horrible habit over the last two years of checking my email, facebook, and twitter as I'm waking and as I'm lying down.  My justification is that it helps me prepare for my day, as well as keep up with the daily happenings with my friends. I think I can do without this habit.

Give more generously to causes I care about--I created a facebook cause wish to attempt to raise $1000 for Nuru International in honor of my birthday.  It is my hope that together my friends and I can totally crush that goal, and I plan to give generously throughout this lenten season. I will be in Kuria, Kenya for my birthday, and I imagine I will be reporting in detail what I see and feel.

Spend intentional time in prayer--In a culture that celebrates and encourages autonomy, it is all to easy to get weighed down with burdens and not call out for help. I've been very guilty of this as of late. I believe prayer is both a communicative gift from the Creator of the universe and a reminder that we can and should ask for help.

Some say, "Why observe lent? You don't need to have a special time of year to draw closer to God." I agree, I don't need a special time of year to start or end any habit, but lent offers a nudge toward becoming the person I want to be. It also is an opportunity for me to reflect on the wilderness fast of Jesus, and prepare, my heart, my mind, my body, and my soul to more richly celebrate Resurrection Sunday.

What about you?  Are you adding or giving up something during this season, to pursue Christ more passionately?  May we all take time to reflect and build habits that will help each of us to become the best version of ourselves we can be not only for our own sake and as an expression of adoration for our Creator, but for the sake of our fellow human beings.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Treasure of Good Friends

Last Saturday I was privileged to be able to hang out with three incredible friends of mine, Jimmy, John, and Andy.  Last year, we made a commitment to attempt to hang out at least once a year as a ‘guys day’ of catching up and having some fun together.  This year this annual gathering was made even sweeter because our significant others were able to get together and spend the day together as well.

I first met Jimmy in high school, but I don’t think it was until our senior year physics class with Mrs. Berry at Parkersburg High that we became good friends. We made a decision to be college roommates, and lived together for six years.  For the record, I finished my degree in five years, but it took him six. ;) 

John lived in my dorm with me and Jimmy our freshman year, and, while we were never roommates, there was just a special bond that was formed among many of the people who lived on our wing of Arnold Hall our freshman year.

I met Andy in the dorms too, but it was my junior year.  He and I also went on to live as roommates for six years (two of those were with Jimmy). 

For each of us, our friendship took on an un-anticipated depth when one-by-one we committed to a life of faith.  Each of us became involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, and became active participants in what was then a small community church in Morgantown, Chestnut Ridge Church.  I believe that our common faith journey took our friendship far deeper than it would have gone otherwise, and, I’m grateful for that depth.

It’s pretty amazing what these men have been able to do with their lives since back in the days of our undergrad.  Each one of them is highly successful in their career, incredibly passionate about their families, and committed to pursuing justice in this world. Actually, Andy and John are both board members of Nuru among their sundry other commitments.

So we got together, visited Eat-N-Park for some breakfast, watched the Mountaineers beat Louisville, and then went to catch a movie and grab a bite to eat.  Our conversation ranged from laughter and jubilation (at the end of the WVU game), to some rich conversations about our faith.

Every time I take a look back over my life, I’m utterly amazed that the Creator of the universe has allowed me to have such incredible friendships.  It’s not just Jimmy, Andy, and John and their spouses.  I have truly been blessed with some amazing friends who are making a true difference in this world by the way they live their lives.

As I started this post, I thought it was going to be nostalgic about weekend fun with these three guys, but as I’ve written, I’ve found my eyes welling up with tears of gratitude for the truly magical journey I’ve been able to travel in my short life, and for the incredible treasure of friendship that I’ve experienced with many wonderful people.  If you are reading this, chances are you are one of them.  Thank you for the gift you’ve given me by being my friend.

And, if I don’t know you, maybe one day we will meet and share stories too.

And, in this world of hyper-connectedness where ironically people are feeling more isolated, maybe take a moment to leave a note on a friend’s fb wall, send a text, make a phone call, or just visit. I know I need to make this more of a lifestyle personally.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Forty years of the WVU Coliseum

Last week, my dad, my uncle, Jamie and I were able to go to see WVU play UConn at the Coliseum.  I tried to capture the moment with a photo, but my big head got in the way of my dads face :(  It was an awesome game, and it was absolutely incredible to share in the celebration with my dad, Russ, and Jamie.  The team looks like it is starting to come together strong and just in time for the Big East Tourney.  Perhaps next year, I will have the foresight to schedule some time off and we will be able to land tickets to watch this legendary tournament in the Garden!  Until then, I will savor the memory of another Mountaineer win, and get geared up to watch the defending Big East Champion mountaineers play their first game game on TV with friends Wednesday night.

While we were there, this video played and it got me a little nostalgic.

The video walks through the 40 years of the WVU Coliseum's existence.  As I watched the video, I have to admit I got a little emotional. I started thinking about games I was able to see with friends and family over the years.  I reflected on photos my brother took when I was little and he was a WVU student in the early 80s.  I thought about listening to Jack Fleming on my dad's transistor radio as he made home made pizza's.  I remembered the disdain for Pitt for Pitt that was instilled in me from an early age via "Beat Pitt" signs on buildings in my home town of Parkersburg.

Finishing my undergrad and graduate degrees here in Morgantown, I have many more memories of going to games as soon as my classes were over and waiting to be allowed into the building.  I remember  the excitement of having a roommate who served as our mascot, the Mountaineer.  And I remember names of players.  People like Dale Blaney, Lester Rowe from Buffalo, Darryl Prue, Chris Brooks, Adrian Pledger, PG Green, Kevin Pittsnogle, Mike Gansey, Da'Sean Butler and more comprise the stuff of legend for Mountaineer fans during the Coliseum era.

I wonder what the next 40 years will look like?  If God would be gracious enough to allow me to be a father, I imagine we will probably spend time in a similar way, only this time, listening to Tony Caridi on the radio and sharing stories of many Mountaineer greats and legendary exploits as we are able to attend games ourselves.

I hope you enjoy the video, and, if you grew up in this state, I hope this video brings back some of those great Mountaineer basketball memories for you as well!

And, wouldn't it be something if we were able to get a second Big East Championship this week? :)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship Summit

2011 Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship Summit @ Ohio State Info Video from Bill Babeaux on Vimeo.

During my travels, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some pretty amazing people.  Not the kind that you see on the stage and screen, but some really monumental individuals who are dreamers with both feet on the ground.  They work hard to make vision a reality, and they invite others to come along for the adventure.

One of those individuals is a guy named Bill Babeaux.  Bill is a student at Ohio State University, who is studying International Business, International Economic Development, and Political Science. 

This spring, he and some of his friends are joining together to create the above mentioned summit at OSU.  The APTE Summit will take place this April, and will be hosted by an organization of which Bill is a dedicated member--The OSU Business Builders Club

On April 15th 2011, hundreds of students and professionals will converge on the campus of OSU to share ideas for building a better world through entrepreneurship, and Nuru will be among those represented.  Our very own Gaby Blocher will be presenting to folks about Nuru’s metric system and how we measure our effectiveness in our efforts to end extreme poverty in Kuria, Kenya.

If you can, make it a point to visit Columbus, OH on April 15th.  Mark your calendar now, and make sure you get there!  For more updates, check out the APTE facebook fan page.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Lasting Impact

My friend Jake posted this video on his twitter account recently, and out of curiosity I found myself watching this eighteen minute video where Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation shares how his foundation researches organizations to find those who are making a lasting impact.  If you look carefully, at one point there is a slide behind him that shows the logos of a number of organizations, including Nuru! Yay!

I wanted to share this video with you because I felt like Mr. Starr lays out some great criteria for individuals like you and me to consider when we are looking to invest our limited resources in projects that have the potential to make a lasting impact on problems in the world.

Here are the four questions he uses as a filter.

1. Is it needed?
2. Does it work?
3. Will it get to those who need it?
4. Will they use it correctly when they get it?

People are coming up with some really creative solutions to some major problems in our world, and at first glance, they all sound great, but upon further inspection, not as many have the ability to bring about lasting impact.  May these questions serve as a tool for you as you seek to make wise philanthropic investments of your limited resources to help create lasting change.