Sunday, February 27, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Blah blah blah, you guys have heard it all, but I seriously cannot stress to you how wonderful he is. The amount of compassion in his heart is astounding; it multiplies when he goes to Kenya.
Nick has visited Kenya for the past two summers as part of Baylor's Medical Missions team. I would love to tell you more about it, but he's the knowledgeable one so it would be easier to let him tell you himself.
Below is a letter he was asked to write by the professors who lead the trip to give to Baylor's President Ken Starr:
There has been no single more transformative event in my life than the trip I took to Kenya in 2009. Yet even this statement does not adequately portray the significance that visiting Kenya’s Nyanza Province has in my life. That 3 week long trip has blossomed into an ongoing engagement with my Baylor brothers and sisters, and a newfound Luo family living atop that beautiful plateau; one that continues to transform me. Every time I revisit my memories of hiking across miles of earth under an equatorial sun, planting fruit trees that orphans now care for, or dancing with children and holding their hands, I am moved. Usually to tears. Baylor Missions has a phrase they like to use: transform and be transformed. Each day I choose to remember, choose to engage with the Luo people in my heart, I am transformed a bit more.
The only response to the love found sitting at the edge of the Nyakach Plateau, watching the sunset with parentless children whose joy can never be matched, is to dedicate your heart to love and service. While I am not usually too good at this part, nowhere have I seen our Savior’s instructions to love and to serve seem so natural; nowhere is it so evident to me that the kingdom of heaven is indeed at hand. I have seen Christ on the plateau – playing on a swing set actually – seen Him in an orphan, a student, a volunteer… image-bearers of the Creator God existing as they were meant to: in love and communion with Creator and created.
When I said that the only response to the love I found in Kenya was to dedicate your heart to love and service, I deceived you. There is another response: to return! In 2010 many of the students and adults I was blessed to travel with in 2009 returned to where we found our hearts at home. And what did we find? Hope. A community baffled by a group of “rich Americans” who cared enough to not only come and bless them, but to return! So we played, and treated the sick, we gathered for church, and built rainwater collectors to quench the parched. We bought goats, deliberated greatly to deduce names for them, and gave them to the poor. We again hiked, treated, built, and tested.
Today, we continue to work – testing drinking water, acquiring filtration systems, attacking public health crises – continue to brainstorm and leverage the resources of our minds, our friends, our family, and our university to one purpose: to bless and love our fellow children of God. As researchers sought last Fall to pinpoint the source of serious drinking water contamination, they saw a community transformed. I hear stories of the grassroots community meetings of hundreds of our brothers and sisters, of schools being built, and agricultural microeconomies emerging from what began as handful of goats with funny names. I hear of excitement. I hear of change.
Have we transformed? Undoubtedly. Am I transformed? Irrevocably. But both changes continue on as weeks pass, and months. They continue on each day we choose to engage each other in our hearts.
Pretty much makes you want to fall in love with him, eh? Yeah, back off.
As if that wasn't enough to move you, below is a letter to you.
After reading all of that, I am sure you're feeling called to assist. How can you help? Multiple ways!
Every time I prepare to venture to Kenya, I run into a problem. It costs about a third of my yearly income to go. So, let me start by saying that I understand what it is to be financially tight. Family comes first. If that’s where you are, read on anyway – not so I can give you a “sales pitch,” but because this trip is absurdly cool, and this group of medical missionaries is a group worth hearing about. Someday I’m sure there’ll be a book. Consider this a sneak preview.
Straw to Bread is a partnership between a community of Americans and a community of Kenyans. In Western Kenya, atop a plateau overlooking Lake Victoria, is a community of orphans and elders. A local pastor , a man of compassion, has selected 60 of the poorest of the poor and formed a community for them: Bethlehem Home. He does his best to provide food for all of the orphans and elders, and eats the same: one meal a day of the cheapest grains he can find. They survive. When drought comes, some do not. As I write this, they are in the midst of a serious drought, food prices skyrocket, and cholera spreads as people are driven to less and less sanitary water sources. Just this week their last water source dried up. Habil and his wife, Faith, spend their days carting water back and forth from distant sites for their community. Funds collected by American churches in Colorado and students in Texas hope to stave off dehydration and starvation with desperate attempts to transport bottled water from a town two hours away.
Pastor Habil, the Elders of his community group, and the people of the community have a vision for their plateau. A vision for the poorest of their poor. A vision of children with food to eat, and water to drink. Of elders and orphans with connections and companionship. Of education for children, and healthcare for the elderly. They have the dream. And we have the tools to help them to it.
We have this amazing opportunity to go beyond “band-aid” help and lend a hand in transforming their plateau into the community they want for themselves: a self-sufficient, economically sustainable, community of humans free to live beyond a battle for subsistence. We have helped them build rainwater collectors and large cisterns, which helped forestall the effects of their most recent drought. We are studying their water sources in an effort to direct them to the sources with the lowest biological and chemical toxicity. Members of our group have donated dozens of ceramic water filtration systems. Others have planted fruit trees. Still others purchased goats, and built swing-sets. Every year we set up a clinic to provide healthcare – to those who otherwise only have it if they are mortally ill, and fortunate enough to have transportation and funds (neither likely). This group of Americans – students, teachings, doctors, nurses, along with adults of all professions – provides the funds to safeguard subsistence today, and the tools to build a tomorrow of Kenyan vision. And not a penny gets lost in administrative costs. Straw to bread is simple, sustainable, and personal. It’s a church helping a church. A family helping a family. People helping people.
=The best part is seeing the results. I have gone for two years now, and seen this vision materialize into concrete good. This is no drop into the ocean of poverty, with no tangible difference. I’ve seen people breathing, walking, and laughing that by all rights would have not been. I’ve seen a community change, seen the bud of hope blossom.
Why does Nick Saltarelli go to Kenya? It is amazing. Joy seems to me something like gold: only fire can test its worth. If this is true, it is not the quantity of elation that marks truest joy, but its ability to persist through hardship. This is a mute point atop the Nyakach Plateau. There joy both sparkles more brightly and exists more enduringly than any precious metal. It is crazy to think of starved, familyless children and elderly dancing and singing. Aren’t they supposed to hang their heads and hold out there hands like in the commercials? No. They aren’t. And they don’t. If you want to have the time of your life sharing joy with friends and strangers, if you want to be blessed by surrounding yourself with those more wise than you, if you want to live for a few short weeks as though you really grasped the truth found in living with and helping our fellows, you should come. That is why I go: what it does for me.
I make a difference. Straw to Bread is fundamentally a relationship, and personality matters in relationship. I remember my friends on the plateau, and they remember me. We pray for each other. It brings them joy to see that that really tall one, Nick, has returned again and remembers them. Their hope is rewarded regardless of who arrives, but their human nature is blessed when it is a familiar face. I’ve been twice before and serve as leader for one of our sub-teams. My close friend Audrey and I coordinate our research efforts, which include topics as varied as women’s reproductive health education, investigating the cause of the widespread anemia we encounter, and optimizing water filtration techniques. I discovered, through a sampling campaign during my first two trips, that analysis of one water source indicated levels of a highly toxic metal 100x’s what is considered safe in the US. This is information that can change lives. I continue to work on mapping the region using GPS technology. We’ve undertaken new projects in asthma and malaria. My education at Baylor has given me a skill-set that I can put to work to affect the lives of real, living breathing humans. That’s why I go: I feel I have a significant role with this team.
I fear the truth may be that the beautiful people of the Nyakach Plateau will go on living and dying whether I go to visit them for three weeks yearly or not. The community is being transformed, but that will happen whether I go or not. I cannot fix their problems. I cannot save them from death. I cannot give them hope. I am not that important. Hope is theirs to have, or not. Problems are theirs to overcome. And death, theirs to face. The truth may be that the most important things in life, the things that truly matter, I am powerless to effect. In these inner decisions, we each have a powerful autonomy. Each man’s will, if nothing else, is an island. How does Habil go on striving for his people, knowing that so often he cannot save them? Why do we go on working, knowing at times the best we can do is buy people one more week, one more day? If we are powerless in the most important things, why bother? In the words of Habil, “they can take one more stride.” I may not be significant, but I can attend to the most important things in life: the inner decisions of my will. That is why I go: I decide to make one more effort so that my fellows can “take one more stride”.
2. The team also sells t-shirts to raise money and serve as a way to let people know about our friends at Bethlehem Home. If you would like to buy one, they sell them for $15-20. You can email Nick (email@example.com) and he can ship you your size.
3. The Run 2 Kenya Challenge was an idea born out of the distance between Waco, TX and the plateau in Kenya: 8,656 miles. As a team, they undertake to that distance before May 1st. They are seeking sponsors on an individual basis. You can sponsor Nick by the mile (he aims to complete at least 225), or, ever better, join him in running/biking/swimming/rowing and acquire sponsors of your own. There is more info on the Facebook group titled “Run 2 Kenya Challenge!”
4. You can A. Open a Bank of America checking account with $125 B. Make one debit card purchase in 30 days; if if you fill out a referral form (that I will send you) both you and Nick get $25. If you open a savings account at the same time, you get $25 more! So, you get money AND help fundraise!
5. Have an idea? Join the facebook group “Nick’s Kenya Fundraising Coalition!” and share it, or email Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Friday, February 11, 2011
After ten seasons, however, I'm pretty sure I've figured out the secret to being on reality TV. Okay, so these things have been clear in previous seasons, but this year it seems more prevalent.
1. If you want to get past the pre-audition that they give you before you get to see the "star" judges, have a story. You could be like Stefano Langone, the guy with a beautiful voice who was in a horrible car accident in 2009 and prevailed. Or you could be Lauren Alaina, who promised her cancer-stricken cousin she'd pursue a singing career to fulfill her dying wish (she survived!). You've gotta have a good voice, yes, but you must have a story so that featuring you on television brings ratings.
2. If you don't have a story, have a personality. "Different: A red apple in a pile of green apples" is a great descriptor for Brett Loewenstern, especially if you're going for the whole ostracism thing (although props for standing up for yourself; bullies ain't got nothing on your voice, kid). Or, you could be the extremely overly happy and optimistic girl, Victoria Huggins, who has had her own "official website" since age 8 (the little ball of crazy was just eliminated in Week 1 of Hollywood, which is sad 'cuz I thought her Miley Cyrus-esque twangy young voice was kind of adorable). Or the introverted Drew Beaumier who couldn't sing worth a lick but made an awesome Transformer costume. If you don't have a story, a personality will get you some camera time and almost guarantee an audition in front of Steven, J-Lo, and Yo Yo Dawg Randy.
3. If you don't have a story or a personality, steal one or make one up. Jersey girl Tiffany Rios pasted stars on her breasts (and brought attention to her "J-Lo butt") to catch the casting directors' attention (I thought she was low average as far as singers, and yet she made it past Hollywood Week 1, if you can believe that). She actually wrote her own song for the initial audition, which ended with, "You need me, oh baby they need me, America needs me for higher ratings on TV." Mmhmm. There's also Nick Fink and Jacqueline Dunford, the couple who are "in love" and yet seem very suspicious (click here to watch Nick freak out as he doesn't make it past Hollywood Week 1 although his "girlfriend" does).
4. Be really, really, really good at singing, like Paul McDonald whose version of Maggie May is incredibly soulful, or be really, really, really bad, like Melkia Wheatfall (although I give her props for singing her heart out).
I've also noticed that anybody who says, "All my friends think I'm a good singer" or "My parents think that I should win American Idol" are generally tone deaf and should not even be given camera time.
Lastly, I'll leave you with a hilarious quote that opened up the San Francisco audition: "Just because somebody farts, let 'em finish singing, okay?"
Have you been watching American Idol? Who is your favorite contestant thus far?
Saturday, February 5, 2011
But last Friday, it snowed.
I'm sure you're all aware of Snowpocalypse 2011 in which the entire right side of the United States was covered in inches (or feet!) of snow, but I live in Central Texas.
Texas. Central Texas.
For any snow to come down is a big deal, but to have accumulated snow is almost insane.
Nicky-Tony asked me to come over the next day and I hesitated, as when it snows in Washington state, the entire weekend is shot because everybody's afraid to drive on the ice.
In Central Texas, however, the day following the snow is so warm that not only will there be no leftover snow or ice, but you'll need to wear shorts and sunglasses.
So now, when people say, "Only when hell freezes over!" you can refer them to the time it snowed in Central Texas.