Friday, July 25, 2014

Guest Post: “Saving the Species”

It’s 4:45 in the morning. My alarm obnoxiously sounds off. I spring out of bed and quickly hustle to throw on some clothes. I tear out of my bedroom and run down the path towards the faint outline of a white truck.
A voice calls out to me. “You ready? The first day is always a memorable one.”
“It’s a dream come true. I could barely get any sleep last night I’m so excited,” I reply.
It’s day one of a six- week adventure as a volunteer with a conservation organization called Wildlife ACT (African Conservation Team), in the heart of Zululand in eastern South Africa.

I sit down on a seat in the bed of the truck and am joined by two other volunteers. The engine lets out a growl and we tear out of the drive, racing through the thick cloak of darkness that surrounds us. I look rampantly to my left and right, squinting to see if I can make out anything moving in the grass. Nothing. Soon the sun peeps up behind the tall mountains in the distance. It climbs higher and higher, emitting a crimson hue that illuminates the most beautiful stretch of African grassland before us. Herds of wildebeest and zebra graze peacefully as we whiz by.

Fortunately, every morning for the remainder of my time with Wildlife ACT began this way. And each morning I was awestruck by the magnificence and beauty of the world God made around me. But sadly, not everyone sees it this way.

Africa’s wildlife is engulfed in a war, a brutal massacre that has slaughtered millions and is pushing many species closer to extinction. The reasons for these heinous crimes range from poaching to snaring to habitat loss. But regardless of the reasons, the effects are indelible.

In the early 1930s and 40s there were an estimated 3-5 million elephants roaming through Africa. Today there are fewer than 690,000. This decrease is a result of the demand for ivory. And though the ivory trade is illegal, an estimated 12,000 elephants are killed each year in Africa. At this rate elephants could be extinct in 50 years.

In many traditional Asian medicines rhino horn is a valuable ingredient, despite no scientific proof of its medical value. The horn is ground to form a powder or made into tablets as a treatment for illnesses such as nosebleeds, strokes, convulsions and fevers. This high demand has resulted in organized poaching efforts in which poachers use night vision scopes, silenced weapons, darting equipment, helicopters and other highly advanced technologies to kill rhinos. Rhino poaching has sent populations of both white and black rhinos plummeting, with about 20,000 white rhinos and fewer than 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild.

There are of course many other species that are also affected. A 2010 United Nations report estimates that gorillas will disappear from most of the Congo Basin by the mid 2020s. The African Wild Dog is the second most endangered carnivore in Africa (after the Ethiopian Wolf) with fewer than 6,000 remaining in the wild. At one of the reserves I worked on several of the dogs had three legs due to snares set up by poachers. Leopards have suffered from falling prey to the shots of hunters who see the cats as a fashion accessory rather than the magnificent creature they are.

But poaching is not the only threat to wildlife. Another prominent threat is the co-existence of humans alongside animals. The rich culture and heritage of the many tribes and peoples of Africa stretches back thousands of years, and much of this heritage is still practiced today. Each of the three reserves I worked on had a boundary marked by a fence, and on the other side of that fence were houses and land that belonged to the surrounding communities. Relations between the reserves and communities are often tense, and members of one community even started a fire on one of the reserves I was at as a reminder that they could be a threat, and as a protest to being removed from the land. Many communities feel a strong attachment and right to the land since many ancestors are buried on the land and the community can benefit from the reserve’s resources. Many of the animals are killed illegally, except instead of the ivory trade or medical industry the animals are killed to feed families.

The mindset is also different. Conservationists often struggle with convincing communities that some rituals, though practiced by ancestors for many years, can be destructive towards the environment. For example, there is a church in South Africa called the Shembe. This church has around 5 million members and participants in ceremonial rituals must wear a uniform consisting of a loincloth of monkey tails, a leopard skin belt, headgear with ostrich feathers and a leopard skin cape strewn across their chests. Members must wear the cape because it epitomizes power and represents being the Zulu king. Most of these capes come from leopards that were illegally poached in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

The war on wildlife and the environment stretches far beyond Africa. There are an innumerable amount of issues affecting every part of this planet. From my time working on the front lines of conservation I am reminded that the splendor of the earth, from its soaring mountains to deep oceans, and the creatures who call it home, are all apart of God’s glorious kingdom. This kingdom is facing imminent and serious threats, and everything that can be done, must be done in order to protect it.

Psalm 104:14-21 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart. The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees. The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the coneys. You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. You make darkness, and it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out. The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.

Matthew Bowen has attended Sardis with his family since 2003. He is a junior at the University of South Carolina where he is currently studying Public Relations. He spent this past semester studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland and this summer working in South Africa. He loves animals, Gamecock football, traveling and the outdoors.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest Post: "It Takes An Army"

Saturday morning at 4:00, I was wide awake. In three hours, fifteen or so people were supposed to come and carry a bed, two desks, a dresser, a cabinet, a washer and a dryer, three bedside tables and well over one-hundred bags and boxes down a flight of stairs, drive them a mile down the road and up another flight. (These people, in my opinion, were either the most loyal of friends… or the craziest.) My mind wouldn’t turn off. Would they come? Would I have enough coffee and Munchkins for them? Would it rain? Would it be sweltering? Would someone get heat exhaustion, stung by a wasp, or trip going up (or heaven forbid, down) the stairs? Would someone decide I just wasn’t worth it and go home? Would I fall back asleep and miss all the excitement (unlikely). Would my cats hate me by the end of the day and scratch me to death? (Um…that kind of did happen.)

It was a lot of people coming together just to perform a service for someone who really didn’t deserve it. I found it humbling and was reminded that service is what we are called to do, and to do it joyfully. Although some friends were in a hurry to finish and get on with the day, I don’t recall anyone who wasn’t understandingly happy to help.

Mine was a small operation, but because I am so brilliant (note the sarcasm), two days after the move, this past Monday, we began Vacation Bible School here at Sardis, a slightly bigger event that requires the services of many. In between the running around (literally), emergency runs to the store, trying to be creative with supplies when quantities were off or projects didn’t work right, finding an extra “something” for “someone”, (when that something could have been located in the Fellowship Hall, Preschool or Sardis House but more likely in the closed-off Education Hall), and attempting to stay away from the sour cream ranch dip in the snack room, I noticed that it takes an army to make this week of teaching children about God run as smoothly as possible, AND be all for God’s glory.
VBS is about children… kind of. If you don’t have any (neither do I, actually), or yours are long out of preschool or elementary school, don’t tune out just yet, because in some ways, VBS isn’t about children. Those children will become youth, young adults and adults one day. They will be the Christians to carry on the global church. So what they learn today is what we’ll have tomorrow. There are many inheritances we can leave our children. How important should our faith be one of them? That’s the obvious way it’s “kind of” about children.

Beyond that, and more the point, VBS is also about people who are called to spread the word of God. As I sit here towards the end of Day 2, I realize that everyone here today and who will volunteer this week, has taken up that call. These are people you know, no matter who you are here at Sardis. Some are the parents of our 3-11 year olds. Some have well retired and have *never* had children. Some have just recently married and as yet have none. Some are grandparents of children. Some are youth who have recently passed beyond Elementary school. Some are members of Sardis. Some are not. Some are best friends who took their summer vacation to come help out (take a wild guess). There are people who are spread across all ages and stations in life.

But all… ALL have taken up the command given by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus didn’t leave us with a suggestion. It was an exhortation that we DO THIS: GO THEREFORE AND MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS. It takes an army… one much bigger than the small one that helped me move… to lead our church’s and the community’s children through childhood as they learn and grow in our faith in hopes that someday, they will do the same as they “go and tell all nations”. From the bottom of my heart, I thank all who were part of God’s army this week for VBS. 

Heather Eddy is the Assistant Director of Christian Education. She is a guest post crowd favorite, and we look forward to hearing more from her. Heather is spending her summer recuperating from taking Sardis children through the wilderness of Vacation Bible School, continuing to take her college students through the wilderness of Pre-Nursing Anatomy and Physiology, and hoping that her legs recover from climbing the Statue of Liberty and moving to a new home a few days later. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Guest Post: "Happy Anniversary"

I have a wedding anniversary coming up soon and it has led me to contemplate anniversaries in general. There are lots of anniversaries that we are made aware of by others. Companies celebrate anniversaries of the years serving their community.  Churches celebrate anniversaries of their establishment.  Employees celebrate their years with their employer.  Some events mark the number of years that particular event has occurred.  And, of course, there are wedding anniversaries and birthdays (which really marks the anniversary of our birth). We seem to want to know how long things exist and take pride in the growing numbers. There are some anniversaries that we fail to acknowledge or even are aware of. Today I received the following note in my email box:
It’s your e-bay anniversary.
We want to say thanks and let you know how much we value having you as an eBay community member. All of us at eBay wish you the very best in the year to come.
Thank you!
     (And it was signed by the President and CEO, eBay, Inc.)

I do not believe I have received this letter in the past years. According to the attached certificate in the email, eBay says it is our fifth anniversary. (I have often told my husband that the anniversaries divisible by five deserve a little more emphasis – maybe eBay is in agreement.)  It did add to my wondering about the anniversaries we celebrate…and don’t celebrate. Are we celebrating years? Yes! But, we are really celebrating moments. A particular moment when an event occurs that makes a change in our lives. It may be the day we were ordained into ministry; the day we changed jobs or bought a new home. The moments that have been special to who we are. 

How do you determine what anniversaries to celebrate? What makes an event so important that you will mark it and remember it each year?  Is it a day when you declared your love for someone else in the presence of friends and God?  Is it the day that marks the death of a loved one?  We are the ones who decide if any particular moment is significant, important and notable. I wonder what dates were important to the men and women we find on the pages of Scripture. Did Abraham mark the date that God called him to leave Ur? Did Moses celebrate the date annually which marked the encounter with the burning bush? Did Mary yearly remember the day when an angel told her she was going to have a baby, a very special baby?  Surely, Paul remembered each year that blinding moment on the road to Damascus when he came face to face with Christ.

2014 Sardis Confirmation Class
Do you remember the date you declared your faith in Jesus Christ?  Do you remember the day you joined the church? Or even the date of your baptism? Is there an anniversary of a special call from God to a role you have answered?  Maybe you remember your confirmation or your first communion.   Is there any faith date you remember?

As I thought, I realized that I know when these events occurred, and with a few minutes to think about it, I can come up with a date for most of my faith events, but I am not celebrating any of them annually.  My faith and your faith largely defines what kind of a person we become. Our values and even our sense of who we are are largely defined by what we believe.  Our relationship with God should be of utmost importance to us.

So why am I not celebrating an anniversary date?

My relationship with God is so much more than a date on a calendar, and it is always changing. To be honest, was there ever a time when God was not in my life, even if I had not acknowledged it? How do I celebrate and mark one particular moment in that relationship?  I receive God’s grace every day. To me, this gift of unmerited love should be remembered daily, not just once a year. Maybe I should pick a faith event and celebrate it annually, but which one would I select? Every moment in my life is special and a gift to be acknowledged. As I celebrate living each day, I am celebrating another day with God and the blessings of that day. Today I have received more from God than I had yesterday, and I know that tomorrow, no matter what happens, God’s presence in my life will sustain and guide me.  

As I celebrate every other anniversary in life, I just need to remember that God’s hand was in each. As I approach a wedding anniversary, I believe that God had a part in me meeting and marrying my husband. We have kept God central in our marriage and family life.

Each wedding, birthday, children’s birthdays, etc. – are also a celebration of a moment where God is present in our lives; and each celebration in the future will be a celebration of his gifts. If we remember and acknowledge that in our lives, then we are marking anniversaries with God, and that is a daily anniversary we can celebrate!

Renda Brinson is the Director of Christian Education. She lives in Matthews with her husband, Earl and dog, Daisy. Renda has four grown sons, and five grandchildren with one on the way! If you enjoy her writing, you should check out her blog at

Monday, July 7, 2014

Guest Post: "Freedom: Blessing or Curse?"

Sweet strawberries with cool whip, swimming until hands are pruned, and the color of red, white, blue blanket my aunt's lake house this exact same time every year. The Fourth of July is a time when my family celebrates the joys of freedom. This year I will be appreciating this holiday from afar as I have moved to the equator in Ecuador two months ago. Because I am not there to celebrate, the freedom I am feeling here has transformed into a completely different meaning. It is the kind that is centered on my freedom to choose.

This God given free will can be a curse or a blessing.  God guides us every day but as flawed people we have a choice for everything; for breakfast, our career, a spouse, and of course our outfits. Which sometimes fashion is our biggest mistake! I find myself wrestling with the choice of how am I going to spend my life? What am I meant to do to make this world better?  As a young twenty-nothing battling to find my place in the world, free will at times seems like a curse. This freedom is one that can be a monster in my dreams whispering “don’t make the wrong decision”, while other times it floats by in the form of a butterfly saying, “your opportunities are endless, go where you wish”, thus my move to Ecuador. This never-ending song seems to continue to play like the popular summer tune on the radio, over and over. Have I made the right choice to move? Have I made the right choice to be a science teacher? Am I making a difference?

As constant as this tune may be, God has been even more present, even in the middle of the world. He has found ways to settle me when I am anxious, calm me when I am angry, and lift me to new heights when I am ready. He has given me strong individuals to surround myself with that give me perspective when my family can’t wipe away the tears from my cheeks. He has shown me beautiful sunsets and allowed me to taste delicious cuisine. I am pretty sure God speaks Spanish and does it way better than I ever will! I have found that he doesn’t say if I am making the right choice, but rather gives me the strength to continue on my journey. Maybe there is no “right choice” but rather “my” choice and he is there to support me with whatever I decide. He created me in his own image and that is good enough for him. In theory this sounds wonderful, but to release the stress of being “right” is a weight that I have been carrying since I graduated college. I know that I need to turn this over to him as we all should do, but this is easier said then done.

So today I will choose to smile at all who pass by my morning bus stop. I will choose to continue working hard for my students. I will even choose to remember the mouth-watering watermelon to be eaten with friends and family while floating in the refreshing lake water every July 4th. And everyday I will thank God for the freedom to choose “my” journey. Freedom in the states is fought for, while Gods gift is given so let us all choose him.  Lets choose to do his work no matter what shape that may take.  Because we as people of Christ have one life too live and I hope with God by my side I will choose to live life to the fullest on “my” journey.

Psalm 119:45 “And I’ll stride freely through wide open spaces as I look for your truth and your wisdom.”

Alison Crossley has been a member of Sardis since 2010. She has been a high-school youth advisor up until she left for Ecuador this past April. Alison is now a 3rd, 4th, 5th grade science teacher at Colegio Menor in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Check out her blog about her adventure through Ecuador: