Making Progress

“I’m thirsty all day long. And I have to sit on a bench all day so my back hurts and my neck hurts. It’s hard to sit on a bench with no back to it. And the bun in my hair is giving me a headache. I hate wearing buns; they always give me headaches….” The tirade went on for several minutes in this vein. I can’t say I blame my daughter for her rant. I completely get where she is coming from. I would have the exact same woes were I to have a tight bun in my hair, to sit on a backless bench all day, and not have a water bottle handy. But I think it is a great lesson for her.

Last week was Apple Valley School week for Clara’s class. On Monday, the fourth graders all arrived in period costume and were greeted by a somber and proper Mr. O’Brien – the multi-tasking teacher of kindergartners through high schoolers in the one-room schoolhouse circa 1854 which had once been a 21st century fourth grade classroom outfitted with projection screens and computers and other modern amenities like over-head lighting. As the class went through the re-enactment of life in an 1854 schoolroom, they had a lot of fun.

Clara circa 1854

Clara circa 1854

Dunce caps, fate cards (like Clara drawing a card that said she couldn’t catch the cow and therefore couldn’t get the milking done making her tardy for school for which she lost 5 points), funny names like Matthew who was for the week Carl Jr. (Get it? The fast food joint?), and a classroom that had a cardboard and paper stove, ye old blackboards instead of wipe boards, and a noticeable lack of technology all added to the enchantment of the re-enactment. They had age-appropriate lessons in math and writing and reading (in that each student was given a new age to show the broad spectrum of ages and abilities an 1854 schoolhouse would have housed). There was even an old-fashioned spelling bee.

The first time the ruler hit the desks to get everyone’s attention, there was a visible jump among the students. Old-fashioned manners were in play… bowing and curtseying, ladies first, addressing the teacher in a manner more formal than with the familiarity that has fallen over everyone in the last weeks of school. For misbehavior, students stood on a brick or wore a dunce cap. Clara nearly came unglued on Tuesday morning when she discovered that she had marker on her hands and she would lose points for coming to school with dirty hands. Hats and bonnets were put on when stepping outside and were taken off immediately upon entering the schoolroom.

And lunch was interesting. No Ziploc baggies, no plastic containers, no pre-packaged foods, no cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, juice boxes, Lunchables, water bottles, you get the idea. I packed real foods in a cloth handkerchief all week. But I was not able to let go of the refrigeration element. The ice pack must go in.

It was fun and educational, but as Clara’s tirade after school indicates, it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies. Sometimes, in our high-speed lives, we get to romanticizing the past, thinking that the simple life of yester-year was truly better and if we could just recreate that simplicity we would find our own personal nirvana. Go ahead, chase that rainbow, but any pot of gold you “discover” will be fleeting at best, elusive at worst.

So, why am I bringing this up? Well, first of all, it is fun to see how far we’ve gotten since 1854 when public schooling first began. A group of moms was chatting after school, waiting for our cherubs to emerge from 1854, and we were particularly discussing the challenges of packing lunches circa 1854. As I said then and will say again, “Progress is a good thing.” While there have been aspects of last week, namely the increased manners at school, that I’ve liked, I wouldn’t change 2013 for 1854. No thank you. I rather like plastic and refrigeration and over-head lighting and computers and a closet full of clothes.

Do I need to tell you that there are places in the world where the progress of 2013 looks more like 1854? Because we deal with medical care through CompassioNow, this is the area where I see this the most. Take Zambia, for instance. Through Mission Medic Air, doctors and nurses fly into the bush for monthly health clinics. Otherwise, people in the bush are left to fend for themselves medically. There is no local CVS to head to for over-the-counter antibiotic creams, pain relievers, or bandages. The closest doctor does not hold a Ph.D. but rather has completed extensive training in magic and voodoo. Healthcare in the bush is rudimentary at best.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article (click here to read the full article May 29, 2013 edition) discussing the fact that counterfeit malaria medicines are flooding Africa right now. These medicines, being sold in open air markets and in shoddy “pharmacies” across the continent contain no active ingredients and are threatening years of progress in the quelling of a disease that proves fatal for people who do not have access to adequate, up-to-date healthcare.  According to the article, “Massive Western aid programs have financed the purchase of millions of doses of Coartem and other antimalaria efforts such as insecticidal nets and spraying. Combined, they have helped bring about a sharp reduction in malaria fatalities, health experts say. Over the past decade, annual deaths from malaria in Africa fell by a third, to about 600,000, according to the World Health Organization.” A seizure of counterfeit malaria drugs in Angola last June recovered 1.4 million packets of the medicine, enough to treat over half of the annual cases of malaria in Angola in a year. One report estimates that 1/3 of all malaria drugs sold in Uganda and Tanzania are counterfeit. The article states that, “A study published last year by the Lancet medical journal and conducted by a unit of the National Institutes of Health found that 35% of 2,300 malaria drug samples tested in sub-Saharan Africa were of ‘poor quality’—either fake, expired or badly made. Such pills ‘are very likely to jeopardize the unprecedented progress and investments in control and elimination of malaria,’ the paper’s authors concluded.”

Concurrently, reports of new drug-resistant TB strains are spreading from the third world to the first world. TB, according to the World Health Organization, is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest worldwide killer. Between the years of 1990 and 2011 the TB death rate dropped 41%.  Yet, due to drug shortages worldwide, including in the United States, the drug-resistant strains are threatening this progress. The clinics we support see malaria and TB as two of the top complaints they address along with HIV/AIDS. However, they have a hard time keeping typical medicines stocked. Government funding is slim, availability is scarce, and knowledge of sanitary practices among the broader public is lacking.

That doesn’t stop us from trying! Because any progress is good in the realm of healthcare, we continue to look for new ways to send supplies, funding, and aid to the clinics we support. Above all, we make sure that the medicines we supply are up-to-date, not set to expire, and are legitimate. And we continue to add new clinics when we can to spread quality healthcare to people who need it. Several of our Compassion Tea team just attended the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas where they met tea suppliers from all over, including Uganda. We are very excited about the prospects of selling tea grown and processed in Uganda where we just recently added a clinic to support. Stay tuned!

Progress is good. Progress is rapid here… too rapid sometimes. But in Africa, progress is slow and is constantly in jeopardy.  That is worthy of a tirade, too.

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Inspiring Pu’ erh

Anne and Chris watch as Didi pours another infusion of her family’s pu ‘erh tea during the World Tea Expo held in Las Vegas in June.

The team gained insight into what Chris describes as “a meditative way of life that weaves the calming effects of tea into the building of relationship.”

“I was sitting in the hospitality room at the hotel, sipping wine, relaxing, and keeping to myself,” reminisced Lee Kennedy recently as he retold of an amazing experience he and the other founders of Compassion Tea Company had at the World Tea Expo held in June in Las Vegas. “And then Anne walked in and started doing what Anne does best,” he continued, sitting back in his patio chair. The people around the table chuckled because we all know what Anne does best; she’s a master at creating relationship where there is none.

Anne Kennedy, Lee’s wife, picked up the thread of the story. “There was an Asian man sitting near my husband and we started chatting.” And in the course of the conversation, they realized they were both there for tea. As Anne relayed some information she had just learned, the man became increasingly excited. As it turned out, the man was Professor Kanzo Sakata from the Laboratory of Molecular Bio-catalysts, Institute for Chemical Research, at Kyoto University in Japan. He specializes in the development of floral aroma during the production and processing of oolong and black teas. He works with the Japanese government to assist Japanese tea makers improve the quality of their teas, and Dr. Sakata was the one who had studied the impact of a certain leafhopper insect on the leaves used to make oolong teas; his published study was exactly what Anne was relaying. Immediately, a bond was formed.

With Dr. Sakata was a Chinese student named Didi Liu. A foremost expert on pu’ erh (pronounced poo air) teas, Didi was leading a class in these teas at the expo the next day, and she urged Anne and the other Compassion Tea directors to attend. The group of directors consisting of Lee and Anne, Chris and Jack Faherty, and Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom also met Didi’s parents who own a tea garden and a tea production business in the Yunnan region of China. The Liu’s purchased the land for their garden when they saw tourists trampling hundreds–of- years-old tea trees. Their tea garden contains tea trees that are roughly 800 years old and this age lends great flavor and value to the pu’ erh tea they produce.

The following day, the Compassion Tea directors headed to Didi’s seminar but found it sold-out and closed. Disappointed, the team strolled off to other parts of the expo. Later, they saw Didi again in the hotel hospitality room and shared their disappointment. Didi, also disappointed her new friends had been unable to attend the class, offered to serve the team tea.

What ensued turned out to be the highlight of the expo for the entire team. Joined by Dr. Sakata and Jane Pettigrew (an English tea guru who leads many seminars on tea), the team spent the next hour and a half in near silence punctuated by commentary about the pu’ erh tea and the ceremony itself. Didi’s mother prepared the water and cups in the background while Didi quietly and gracefully led the team through multiple cuppings and infusions of her family’s own pu’ erh tea. The cups she used had been designed by her mother especially for the ceremony of tasting pu ‘erh tea. The team described the ceremony as “purposeful,” “delicate,” and “gentle”… each participant receiving a thimble-full of tea to taste after each infusion. Chris remarked at her amazement that one serving of tea leaves could change and develop so markedly through multiple infusions, the leaves offering new colors and flavors with each steeping. Truly, they were in the presence of a great pu’ erh tea.

At the end of the ceremony, Didi presented each couple with their own cake of pu ‘erh tea from her parents’ garden and pressed in the ancient tradition by a stone weight. She instructed them to save the cakes for 5, 7, and 10 years, sampling one at each milestone. Pu ‘erh tea, because of the microbes introduced into the tea, ferments with age; like a fine wine, this is what gives the tea it’s uniquely dark, earthy color and flavor. The team views these teas as priceless.

During that hour and a half, the team gained insight into what Chris describes as “a meditative way of life that weaves the calming effects of tea into the building of relationship.” As Chris described the Chinese culture as humble and private, Lee remarked, “It was a true privilege. The ceremony gave me an added respect for tea and I feel a stronger connection to the roots of tea.”

The team felt that in sharing her tea and the ancient ceremony, Didi had shared herself, had built a relational bond, and had passed on an ancient art form. They spoke of the privilege, the contrast between our fast-paced American culture and the purpose of the timeless ceremony connected to the past and connecting them to their new friend. They spoke of the “fullness of being together,” of sharing, of passing the tea cup, of relationship building… all things we at Compassion Tea knew tea could mean for people and part of the reasoning behind our mantra, “Share Tea, Save Lives.” Tea brings people together, inspires meditation and communion and relationship, and provides a platform for revealing the true self.

As the sun sank behind the LA hills, and the chill of evening settled around us, Anne concluded, “I believe it was God’s little treat for us.”

A Wink and a Nod

One day, two clean-cut young men dressed in stark white, freshly pressed shirts and black dress pants rang my doorbell. As I opened the door, they asked if I had received Jesus as my Savior and would I mind if they came in and shared the Gospel according to the Mormon Church with me. People have all kinds of reactions to door-to-door solicitors and preachers, most of which are less than hospitable. Most of the time, my inclination is to get rid of the person as quickly as possible without being outright rude. But these two were a bit interesting. Yes, I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, so really the literature they were holding out should be saved and used perhaps at a house down the way where Jesus is a curse word rather than a name of holy praise. One pushed further. “Do you believe God has sent prophets to our world even today?”

Now that was a great question! There is an overriding sense in Western culture that God is dead. Burning bushes, seas opening up for people to cross over, staffs turning into snakes and back again, flaming altars quenched by rains that appear out of nowhere after a lengthy drought… those are the stories of a time so long ago it almost feels irrelevant. It certainly feels antiquated and archaic. God just doesn’t appear to His people anymore, let alone send people into the world to prophesy.

When these two young men showed up at my door, I was beginning an eye-opening process whereby God was opening my eyes to the ways in which He does work in the world minute-by-minute, second-by-second, behind the scenes, covertly arranging and mystifying the person willing to look. At the beginning of this process, God had introduced me to a woman, a very good friend, who dreamed dreams, saw God in places I would never have thought to look, and who boldly and uncompromisingly preached God’s Gospel. Did I believe at that point that God sends prophets into the world even today? Yes. It was fun to see the faces of those two men when I jumped into my own experience with a prophet of today. Yep. There wasn’t much else they could say or do except invite me to join them at church someday.

Willing to look for God in my world, I am now seeing Him everywhere! One of my favorite places to look is in creation. When the white moon hangs over the brilliantly green ridgeline in the abundantly blue sky, my heart soars in praise of His creativity and goodness. But God is unlimited and even when we try to limit Him because of our own smallness, He shows up in big ways. If you are willing to look.

For example, this blog has been writing itself in my head for the past week. On Friday, Joni Eareckson Tada emailed this as her daily devotional.

“Oh, magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together. Psalm 34:3 (NKJV)

It’s time for the NBA basketball finals. When Ken and I went to a playoff game in the Los Angeles Staples Center, we sat in the cheap seats-up so high in the stadium we had a difficult time seeing the basketball players on the court. They looked so small. But then I glanced at the towering jumbo screen above the court. What a difference! We could see every player up close. Even facial expressions!

The screen magnified what was already there. The magnification didn’t actually make the players bigger, they just seemed bigger to our eyes. Every aspect of each player could be enjoyed. Here’s my point: When we “magnify” the Lord, we make the God who looks small in the world’s eyes seem…huge! No, we could never change anything about Him. He’s the same “size” He has always been. We can’t make Him any more grand or great or powerful than He already is. We just “enlarge” Him before the world’s eyes so they can see Him up close.

As Christians, our lives are a little like that jumbo screen. Through our actions and attitudes, we enable others to see God better. When we let the Lord showcase His grace and power in our lives, when we display His peace and patience and joy in our daily attitudes and circumstances, then we truly are magnifying Him.

The world has such a diminished impression of God. He appears so insignificant to so many. Most people don’t even take notice of him. This is why the world needs to see the true details about who God actually is. They need to see Jesus, in His love, His strength, His majesty, and His tender care.”

God knew what was on my heart; He probably put it there! Here’s a wink and a nod that I’m on the right track. Because we put limitations on God, have reduced Him to archaic and antiquated, we also don’t look for Him. But believe me, He is still showing up!

The Compassion Tea team believes that God is our CEO. That is one of the founding principles of our company. We invite Him to join every activity we have whether it be our weekly meeting or while we are preparing for a large event. We believe He comes and directs our paths. This week, He has led us down some amazing roads and reminded us of people He has put in our paths before who might be resources of information and aid to us. We only see a few puzzle pieces at the moment, but knowing that God sees the whole completed puzzle before us is enormously calming. He will reveal each piece as it becomes relevant to our road, to our puzzle. And we are so excited by the possibilities for outreach and compassion.

Let me relay one way God showed up for us recently. The first weekend in June was the big World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. If you follow us on Facebook, you know that some of our team attended. Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom had recently been to London for business. While there, they had the opportunity to purchase a special tea produced by the East India Company and picked from a bush HRH Prince Philip planted in 1954 in Sri Lanka. Only 500 caddies of this tea were produced and numbered. Ed and Wendy presented this gift to Anne and Lee Kennedy, Compassion Tea’s dynamic president and spouse who have done so much for the company, while in Las Vegas at the Expo. The number of this particular caddy? 85. Because they are willing to look for God, Ed and Wendy asked if anyone could come up with a special significance to that number. Lee did. “We have 85 memberships as of today!” A wink and a nod from God. When Lee and Anne returned home, membership 86 came in!

I think the world sometimes scoffs at Christians who look for God to show up and who see His influence. Happen stance, coincidence, fortune, magic, science, “miracle of modern medicine,” astrology are all ways the world today explains God showing up. Let’s call it what it is, people. God’s got a wink and a nod for you, too. Will you catch it?