Archive for February, 2011

The Power of a Name

In the past couple of years I have been called by many names.  In Uganda, the children called me Lion and I was often refered to simply as Mzungu (white).  This past summer in Togo the street vendors named me Body Guard and many of the Togolese natives simply refered to us as Yovos (foreigners).  I’ve been called Artist, Writer, Christian, Blondie, Tall One and (one of my favorite) ‘the kid with the face’. 

People call us by many names according to our words and actions as well as the names that we have been given (and various variations of said names).  Sometimes the names we are given are not the names we would like and other times we use them to introduce ourselves.  Some are offensive, while others speak of our character, our lives and our skills. 

I was given a name by my parents, Sean Thomas Kerr, when I was born.  An honor in and of itself, taken from those that came before me. 

These names given to us by those who bring us into this world are the first of many that we receive throughout our journey of life.  Throughout our years we receive many others from family, friends, those that barely know us and our enemies as well.  We receive them out of kindness and friendship, mutual respect and anger. 

They define us.  They tell others, as well as ourselves, who we are.  There is a power in them that cannot be taken away, cannot be revoked. 

As we have all been given names by many people, our greatest name has been given to us by God.  That is the name of Child.  Son.  Daughter. 

When Christ Jesus died on the cross for each of our sins, God washed away our sins and accepted us as His children.  He has called each of us into his family.  He gave us a name that no one has the power to take away.  He calls us each by name and he calls us each home. 

The power of this name, being called a Child by God the Father, frees us from the sins of our past.  While it doesn’t make us perfect, nor does it prevent sin from entering into our lives, it has the power to change how we live and how we view life. 

In Togo, West Africa, we we, the crew of the M/V Africa Mercy were often called by the name Yovo, foreigner.  During my first time in the Togolese Market, I was given the name Body Guard after shoving a local vendor as he tried to pull me away from one of the girls in our group who was being hastled.  Every time I returned, the local boys would run down the street shouting “Body guard!  Body guard!”

This name, though some were shocked, was not an insult or a threat, but a warning saying who I was, a protector.  Someone who was willing to stand up to the hastling and prying.  Someone who watched out for everyone. 

Like my name in the Togolese market, God’s name for us speaks of our character, our lives, our actions.  We have been named, called out.  We are children of God.  Yet so many times, we do not live up to this name. 

I wouldn’t have been called Body Guard if I didn’t take a stand.  It didn’t change who I was when I received the name, it just changed others perspective of me.  Being given a name does not change who we are, but reinforces what we do, our actions and the perception of us from others. 

God gave us a name.  We must accept it and live up to it.  Anything else is to turn our back towards God.

God Bless and PEACE

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Smoke Over the Mountains

In the past two weeks, I have been up here in Crown King, AZ, helpin’ out the Fire Department with Fuel Mitigation work.  basically, the AmeriCorps NCCC team, Sun 3, goes out with some of the members of the local Fire Department, cut brush, pile them, dig line around the piles, then light them on fire.  All in all, we are having a lot of fun up here in the Bradshaw Mountains. 

While we are all enjoyin’ what we are doing, not all our work would seem like fun and games.  We work long hours (usually from 7:45 am to 5 pm, but sometimes longer hours due to classes, trainings, drills and meetings), work hard controlling the burns, and we have to mop-up all our fires (make sure they are out and will not burn anymore than we want them to).  We work in hazardous conditions (steep terrain, falling trees and smoke), working to keep control of the flames themselves.

If you were to ask any one of the members of the Fire Management Team, none of them would trade this project and this work for any other project.  We have had the experience of a lifetime in the few short weeks that we have been here in Crown King (the two that I’ve been here and the six that the team has). 

We have each found something that we love here.  Between the small, ghost-town that we reside in to the experience of learning and playing with fire, each of us has found our nitch here.  I’ve come to discover, throughout the Fire Fighter training in Colorado Springs and the few short weeks here, that I have found something that I would love doing, fighting wildland fires. 

It is dangerous work, but God has given each of us a passion, a will and a oppertunity to do what we love.

God Bless and PEACE

Questions

Every day we find ourselves facing questions from every direction.  Questions about our faith, about how we live, about why we love, about why we do what we love to do.   I have come to find that the hardest questions are never asked by others, but come from the heart. 

In the past couple days, Matt, the team leader for the Fire Management Team (Sun 3) with AmeriCorps NCCC asked each member on the team a series of questions.  The initial answers bring forth more thoughts, questions and discussions. 

Why did you join NCCC?

I Joined AmeriCorps NCCC to explore, experience and develop both as a leader and as a man of faith. 

There were many factors that led me to joining this organization;  The opportunities to grow as an individual, to serve those in our own country, the chance to be part of something that is so much more than myself.  I find that I joined for more than something to do or for the $5,500 to help pay off student loans, but for adventure, the opportunity to grow and to experience something new. 

Why are you still here?

I am still here because I made a commitment to, first and foremost, myself and to various others to see these ten months through.  It is out of respect for them that I have not pursued other opportunities that have come up in the past several months. 

I am here to grow as an individual.  I accepted this position and no matter how tough it may get, I am willing to finish what I started.  I gave my word to a number of people in this program that if they gave everything and hung in there, I would stand side by side with them until the end of our service.  I have no plans on backing out of my word, even if greater opportunities arise.  Some have already risen to the surface, while others have always been an option, even before I started in the NCCC. 

What would you be doing if you weren’t here [in AmeriCorps NCCC]?

If I were not here, I would most likely be doing missionary work in Africa or pursuing opportunities in Grad. School or photography. 

To tell the truth, I don’t know what I would be doing if I were not in AmeriCorps NCCC.  I had opportunities to do missions work throughout Africa that were already lined up.  I could have gone into Grad School.  I could have gone and worked with a non-profit.  The point is that I didn’t.  I’m here and this is where God put me, I truly have no interest at looking back at what could be, or what could have been. 

[What is] A quality that you admire in others?

The one quality that I admire most in others is the ability to listen with more than their ears, but with all their senses.

This includes, but is not limited to, paying attention to body language, tone of voice and the silence between words.  Listening is actively paying attention to the actions (or inaction) of those around you, the environment and community that encompasses the individuals involved, how the words (or lack of words) is said.  This is what I admire in people, and more specifically in leaders. 

[What is] Something you’re thankful for this found?

I am thankful for all the support and love that I received from my team (Sun 7) and numerous others both in and out of the NCCC program as I have made the transition to the Fire Management Team. 

Though I am on Sun 3, the Fire Management Team, I still consider Sun 7 my team.  They have become my family here in AmeriCorps NCCC.  They have given me more support, encouragement and love than I could ever repay.  There are numerous others thought out the different teams and units, as well as a number of friends outside the program.  Without the support and strength of all these people, I would not be the same man I am today. 

Questions are healthy, they allow us to grow and figure out what is important in life. 

God Bless and PEACE

Ghost Towns and Forgotten Faces

A few short days ago, I joined Sun 3, the Fire Management Team for the Sun Unit, up in Crown King, AZ.  The town of 100+ people is a small living ghost town up the side of the mountain, Saloon, General Store and the Prospector Mall all included.  To get here, you must brave the 24 mile drive off of I-17, over dirt roads, up the mountain and into the middle of nowhere.  It’s basically two stores, a fire station, the forest service, the Saloon (bar and cafe w/ internet) and a handful of houses and other buildings. 

Crown King is almost forgotten to the world.  Once a bustling city of 1200+ people, it now has less than ten percent of its once glory days population.  If it weren’t for the Fire Department and Forest Service, I doubt that there would be anyone would still be living up here. 

(note:  The General Store has some of the best home-made fudge.  The 45 min drive is worth it just to have some.)

The human memory is fractured and shrouded in darkness.  Like Crown King, we forget things.  It isn’t that we try to forget, but snippets just go missing over time.  Names come first, then come their faces.  Places and events.  Nothing seems to stay forever. 

Though we will forget who these people are, their actions will always be engraved into our lives.  Like a fire that burns across the mountains, the scars can forever be seen.  The towns still dot our landscape, though ghosts are the only ones that dwell there.  memories of a time long past. 

Actions are what will remain when our names and faces are long forgotten to time.  So what will be your legacy?

Just something to think about.

God Bless and PEACE

The Art of Shoveling Snow

On monday night, the storm of the century hit, leaving over half the country in an icy grip of snow and ice.  For the past three days, the AmeriCorps NCCC teams Sun 7 and Fire 3 have been snowed into the recreation center where we are living in Tulsa, OK.  Yesterday, we ventured out into the unknown, armed with pots, pans, trash cans, brooms and other improvised shoveling devices.  With a determination to escape, we attacked the 13+ inches of snow that prevented us from leaving our current domain.

After preparing ourselves mentally and physically for the assault, bundling up in as many layers as possible, we grabbed whatever could move snow and led the charge out onto the ice, snow and the unknown.  We used everything from trash cans, pots and pans, bowls, milk jugs and dust pans, as well as two garden shovels, a broom, a hoe and a borrowed snow shovel from a neighbor who was kind enough to allow us to use it. 

After two days of being stuck inside, it felt great to venture out into the cold, crisp, fresh air that surrounded us.  We fought the good fight against the snow and ice, relishing in victory and enjoying one another’s company. 

We experienced team building, overcoming challenges (like the fact of no shovels), and persevered in the face of challenge through relying on one another.  We also enjoyed the snow fights, the snow angels and face planing into the fresh snow that covered the ground.  And after putting snow chains onto the vans and moving them closer to the street, we all rushed inside to escape the onslaught of the cold air that seeped though all our layers and was now biting at our skin. 

God Bless and PEACE

Unspoken Elephants

Last week, I received the call that I was being called up as an alternate to the fire management team for my unit.  Though I was told, I was not allowed to share this information with the rest of my team.  A couple of people knew, but it hung over the weekend like a cloud, threatening to break.  It was the elephant in the room that everyone ignored, that no one spoke of. 

Many times we find ourselves in that same situation.  Nobody speaks of faith, religion, politics, or all the other taboo topics, but they hang around in the air between us.  They make us uncomfortable and cautious.  We sooth our words and emotions, hiding who we really are and what we really think. 

Ignoring these elephants will not make them go away.  While I was unable to talk to my team about leaving to join the Fire Management team, that didn’t change the fact that I am going to be departing soon.  Just because we do not talk about our faith to others, out of fear, respect, or awkwardness, does not change the fact that we believe what we believe. 

But in not addressing these issues, we find ourselves living a lie.  We don’t speak what we really want to say.  We take the edge off of our words and say things that we truly do not believe.  We take our faith, our beliefs, our feelings and place them aside. 

If we ever want to truly live out our faith, we cannot have these unspoken elephants in the room with us.  Yes, our faith will offend some, but it will also open doors to alow us to talk freely.  It was difficult interacting with my team, even those who knew, while this information lingered in the air between us.  It was freeing to address the issue head on and get it out in the open.

On Sunday night, after coming out and telling my whole team that I was going to be leaving them in a matter of days, there seemed to be a heavy veil that was lifted off of everyone’s shoulders, not just my own.  We didn’t have to avoid the topic anymore, but were free to speak openly about it. 

By addressing these awkward situations, we may open doors that lead us into something deeper than a casual conversation, but a discussion, a debate, a chance to challenge what causes us to believe what we do.  We may discover something more, strengthen what we already believe, or realize that we are entirely human and wrong. 

We may get the opportunity to live and to love fully, without something between us and God. 

Take the chance and reveal the elephant in the room, you may be surprised at how little it becomes.

God Bless and PEACE