Readin’, writin’, & arithmetic; what went wrong?

My house in North Mississippi is only about 2 miles from the Tennessee state line and the city of Memphis.  Memphis can be a beautiful place.  The culture is diverse.  When I first moved to the area to attend seminary, I found myself for the very first time in my life in places where I was the only light-skinned person in a room.  When I went to work at night, the people of color knew that it was really uncomfortable for me–so they looked out for me; they taught me how to act a speak in their culture; they helped me appreciate different kinds of food–and best of all, they became my friends.

Lately, across the state line over there in Memphis, a lot of finger pointing has been going on over education–or the lack thereof.  Well-meaning, but misinformed community leaders, convinced the people of Shelby County that it would be best to combine city and county school systems–to save money–snicker, snicker.

The outlying municipalities in Shelby County didn’t want anything to do with it so they determined to separate themselves from the city/county system in an effort to establish there own school systems.  If the results of today’s vote (as it is being reported) is accurate, their desire is overwhelming, 80+% in favor.

In fairness, being a Mississippi resident, I need to point out that among the 50 states, MS consistently ranks dead last in most areas.  Thankfully, Desoto County, where I live, leads the state while being the largest of its districts. Many, many Shelby County/Memphis families have moved to Desoto County in recent years to escape the system that they perceive to be broken at best and corrupt at worst.

What is going on? Well, according to very recent national statistics, 70% of American 8th graders can’t read proficiently, and most will never catch up.  More than 1.2 million American high school students drop out of school every year.  44% of dropouts under age 24 are jobless and that ends in $300 billion in lost wages and lost productivity from the class of 2007 alone.  And it is only getting worse.

High School graduation for me came more than 40 years ago.  I can still remember many of my teachers and the profound effect they had on my desire to learn.  They taught me to love reading, to push myself academically, and to expect the best–from myself AND my classmates.  Even back then, I can remember community leaders saying we needed more money because American education trailed other countries.  In the 1980’s they were singing the same song, just like they did in the ’90’s, just like the did in the first decade of this century, and just like they are doing now. Give us more money, they say, so we can better educate your kids.

Readin’, writin’, and arithmetic; what went wrong?  I’ll be glad to tell you.  First, let me tell you it is NOT a lack of funding.  America, in total, out-funds all the other 25 highly developed nations.  Part of the problem is that our funding is the hands of government bureaucrats and the unions of the NEA; a top-heavy combination NOT interested in education but rather controlled by self-interest.  It doesn’t take much investigating to find out that far too many teachers in the US are under-qualified or unqualified to be teachers from primary all the way through the secondary system.  Additionally, union protection keeps the worst of the teachers either in the classroom or in a lounge somewhere on school grounds sitting all day, getting paid, but not teaching because they don’t know how!

But, let me tell you, that is not the REAL problem, as bad as that scenario is.  After the Great Depression and World War II, our parents and grandparents determined to make life “easier” for us.  They worked hard so we wouldn’t have to work hard.  They made excuses for many of us and that made it OK to not excel.  In the decades since, it has only gotten worse.

Now, teachers don’t have time to teach because they spend most of their day corralling unruly children. Those earlier generations of parents, in their desire to have bigger homes and better cars, began to ignore the importance of God in their lives.  I know this because you cannot pray in school these days, and in America it is easier to kill an unborn baby than it is to euthanize a dog.  BTW, I love dogs.

And that, my friends is the heart of the problem–no Christian God.  How has that cultural change affected our society.  AUTHORITY, DISCIPLINE, & PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY are ideas not understood by most of our children today.

Because American parents are not the final authority in the American home, they do not properly discipline their children and the kids do not know HOW to take responsibility.  Before I close this writing, let me say just a word about how I know this to be true.

I have taught at the graduate level, my son has taught in secondary schools, and my daughter-in-law has taught on the primary level.  I am personally involved with hundreds of the kids in my school district every day of the school year.  And I have four grandchildren, the oldest of which is seven.  Just last year, he sat in a 4th grade class and read to the students in that class.  You might want to argue that he is sharp because his mom & dad are professional educators.  I’ll give you that.  But, even if they weren’t, they love God, they love their kids, they lovingly discipline them, and I see in these children something very different from what I see in the lives of a lot of kids I work with everyday–self-discipline, respect for authority, and self-motivation.  Thank God.

The American public education system is top-heavy, liberal, and undependable–and parents have been fooled into believing they are not the most important ingredient in the successful education of their children.  That is what is wrong.

I’m too old for this. . .

Working in South America as a missionary church planter requires money, time, and the ability to speak the language of the people, Spanish. Now, being from “South America,” that is, Mississippi, my English is not what you get from a standard textbook.  Our southern drawl sometimes gives four syllables to four letter words, none of our vowels are truly long, and our slang is, to put it mildly, other-worldly.

I’ve discovered that Spanish is no different.  I spent time earlier this summer cooped up in a car for days with two young guys, both of whom live around Lima, Peru.  Imagine my surprise when they would be speaking to one another and neither could figure out the right word to use in a certain context.  That didn’t help me a bit trying to figure out what to say.  I couldn’t tell if I was complimenting someone about their accomplishment or asking them how to get to the bathroom.

So. . . coming back to the States, I’ve become convinced that I need to really learn Spanish; how to read it, how to understand it and, for sure, how to speak it–at least good enough to carry on a basic conversation.  So. . .I drove over to the local community college today and filled out their standard application.  The dear lady sitting at the receptionist desk in the registrars office looked over my application, complimented me on my penmanship, and told me I’d have to supply copies of my high school and college transcripts as well as proof of my scores for both ACT and SAT.  I looked across her desk and said, “Do you have any idea how old I am?” supposing that surely she has looked at the box where I printed my birthdate.

“Well,” she replied, “that’s required of all new applicants for any of our degree programs.”  Well, I thought, I can handle this ’cause I’m not looking for credit nor a degree.  I have plenty of both.  After a few more minutes of back and forth, we established that I just need to “register” for the class and “audit” the course(s).  Surely, I thought, this will be easy.  Pay my money, buy my text, sit through some classes, and viola, I know Spanish.

Oh contrare. . .I have to go through “registration.”  I remember going through registration in days long past–standing in long lines, talking to administrators and counselors, signing up for classes, paying fees and then trying to find the classroom where I’d sit for months trying to make sense of the coursework.  Yep, believe it or not, gotta do it again.  In about a week, hundreds of kids young enough to be my grandchildren will converge on that beautiful campus, texting on their smartphones, dressed like the Bieber and Selena, speaking yet another form of English that I don’t know, everyone of them trying to act like they are adults when we all know they are not.

I’m too old for this. . .and yet, I’ll be right there with my bald head and my faded jeans, hoping I can connect with them on some faint level.  Why? I need to learn Spanish so that when I go back to South America in December, the day after Christmas, I can somewhat intelligently communicate with the people and tell them about Jesus!Image

The young man of God

Almost a year ago I met a young man who smiles all the time and draws you into his world immediately after you meet him.  He speaks Spanish and very little English–and I can barely understand him [for now].  And yet, in his eyes and his infectious attitude, without a word, I see Jesus.

His name is Edwar Calderon, he’s in his early twenties, and he is one more special young man of God.  Edwar lives in Lima, Peru where he works and goes to school.  On Friday evenings, he boards a crowded bus to ride all night up into the southern Andes Mountains to Ayacucho, Peru.  Then he takes a “taxi” [I call them suicide rides] further up into the mountains where the cliffs along the gravel roadside are sheer and the drop-offs end somewhere in the neighborhood of endless.  After nearly 24 hours of riding, he arrives in the town of Pampa Congallo where his parents live late on Saturday evening.  On Sunday morning, he gets up early and walks to his “preaching points,” some of which are more than seven kilometers from home.  

He preaches all day, says hasta luego to his mom, gets back in the taxi, down the mountain to Ayacucho, back on the bus for the hours-long ride back to Lima, gets a few hours sleep on Sunday evening, and shows up for school bright and early on Monday morning.

May I say at this point Edwar is my hero.  Why? He has been doing this every weekend for three (3) years, trying to finish his education so that he can spend the rest of his life winning the lost among his people–the Morochucos whose language is Quechua, much different from the Spanish spoken by most other Peruvians.

Edwar is getting married in December of this year.  In fact, he has asked me to do a traditional Peruvian wedding ceremony for him and his bride [who, by the way is from Wisconson].  I spent several days with Edwar in early July walking, witnessing, preaching, eating, and sleeping among his people.  Edwar told me that while life would be easier if he stayed close to Lima, once he finishes school and is married, he is going to settle in Pampa Congallo.  He is building a house there.  He said to me, “I will die among my people.”

You see, Edwar’s faith, his walk with God, his spirit-led determination, his smile are all real. They are fueled by the power of the Risen Savior, they are led by His Spirit, and they are grounded in the Word of God. I love this kid. . .he’s younger than my son who is a preacher, but they are a lot alike; single-minded and dedicated to serving God and their families.

One final thing. . .this Sunday we’re taking up a special missions offering to help us help the people in southern Peru. We’re raising money to feed a thousand meals, wash a thousand pairs of feet and put new shoes on them, and buy a thousand bibles to give away–plus we’re going to purchase a brand new 4-wheel drive ATV for Edwar. . .so he can spend more time preaching the Gospel and less time walking.  

The young man of God is named Edwar.  Would you pray for him?  Please?

It seems to me. . .

I first voted in the presidential election in 1972.  It just occurred to me that I voted for the eventual winner in every election since then, except for two presidents; Clinton & Obama. In both cases, the campaigns called for change, that’s not all that unusual because in some form all the contenders claim they will change something.

The sad truth is that very little changes, at least changes that benefit most Americans.  When democrats are in control,  the so-called poor get a boost because social programs are infused with more money.  When republicans are in control, business is the beneficiary because policies are drafted that benefit them.  Democrats are generally liberal, they are most responsible for class warfare, and they take more and more tax revenue from middle America to fund the bums that won’t work–not those who can’t work–those who won’t work.  Republicans are generally more conservative and create an economic environment where more people can find jobs and middle America feels a little more at ease.

Sadly, neither party really does much that significantly impacts middle America in a way that leaves more earnings in their pockets, more savings in their bank accounts and, hence, more perceived security for their families. Both the leading parties sponsor House and Senate bills that waste money we don’t have to begin with.

So, what’s the problem?  What’s the problem, especially in light of what we’re facing as Americans right now with the Dems seemingly in charge led by an obviously extremely liberal president?  Is president Obama the problem?  Is the Democrat party the problem?  Is the economy the problem?  Is world unrest the problem?  The answer to all these questions is uncatagorically, no.  Politics is not the problem.  Religious preference is not the problem.  Sexuality is not the problem.

The problem in America is that for most Americans, “there is no God.” I know that sounds a little strange, but it is absolutely true.  Average Americans live as if God does not exist; they live as if the “Big Bang” is not a stupid theory, but fact.  They live as if there are no consequences for bad habits and bad morals; they live as if they have no responsibility to defend their nation or their neighbor; they live for only for themselves with pride and greed as their guiding principles.  Americans are the problem in America.

Unless and until Americans turn back to the true and living God, the one who created everything and who sent His Son to die on the Cross for their sin and then rise from death to save them and give them eternal life, America is doomed to do all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons–which will eventually (sooner than later) lead to the destruction of this once great, God-fearing republic.

Oh, and BTW, we desperately need a change at the top, the White House, that is!

Hello world!

You’ve heard it said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” or something like that.  Well, today is the first day of my blogging life.  How about that!  I wanted to do this for a long time but it was not until being in Florida last week and meeting some really cool people at Church By The Glades in Coral Springs that I decided to take the dive.  In particular, I’m thinking about Heather Palacios who blogs at <>.  Heather’s husband, Raul, is a pastor at that church  where my son Chris also serves.  I read some of Heather’s posts and decided it was time for me to add my 2 cents, maybe 1 and a half cents to the blogosphere.  So, here goes.

The title of my blog is The Syko Ward; any idea why?  Of course, it is because I’ve lost my mind; I’m a psycho, a crazy, a nut without a shell. . .I am crazy by the way, crazy about Jesus, the Lord Jesus Christ, Lord of Glory, that is.  And, I’m crazy about missions. . .world missions.  God has opened the door for me to go to South America and work among some great folks.  Right now that means Peruvians.  Later on, who knows (I think Ecuador is next).  The Peruvian people have been so very nice to this gringo.  They have given me some really tasty, weird food; they have welcomed me into their homes; they have allowed me to preach the Gospel all over the place; they have listened intently; many have come to faith in Christ.  What more could a missionary/church planter/pastor ask for?  [I’ll get back to the “ask for” part in a few minutes]

Being the senior pastor/teaching elder at Lake Forest Baptist Church for almost 22 years has been one of the most surprising, rewarding, and longest lasting accomplishments of my life.  I never thought I’d last this long.  I never imagined so many lives would be changed through what God has allowed me to do.  What a ride!  And now, the experience and possibilities are just getting better.

Case in point. . .our mission team is getting ready to go back to Peru in December, about 20 persons strong, with 1,000 meals, 1,000 pairs of shoes, and 1,000 bibles to be a blessing to the people.  We’ll feed them, wash their feet, put a new pair of shoes on those feet, give them a bible, and send them out with the Good News that JESUS SAVES!  See, I told you that it’s getting better.  But that’s not all.  God is already opening up doors for 2013 and 2014.  Oh yeah, we’re also working on paying off a piece of property in Pampa Congallo for one of our church planters (we currently have a church plant in Lima — Lake Forest Baptist Church, Lima!!!!!) and we are going to buy for the young man there in PC and new 4-wheel ATV so that he can get to his ministry points without having to walk so many kilometers every weekend.

Now, back to the “ask for” part.  We need a lot of prayer.  God has me all in so far over my head it’s not only spinning from excitement, it is about to explode from expectations.  You see, I just believe God.  And God told me in His Word that if I would share the Gospel, people would be saved.  How about that.  So pray for me and the team that we will have freedom and opportunity to share to Gospel on street corners, in vacant lots, in homes and, of course, in local churches.  The other thing we need is financial support.  Oh yeah, here it comes, the begging part.  I’d beg if I thought it would help, but that is not what I’m doing here.  I’m simply asking you for your help.  If you have a heart to help, then do so.  If you can’t help us with dollars and cents, certainly you can pray.  We still need about $14,000 American to cover all our expenses for this mission and buy the ATV (for Edwar Calderon).

One other thing before I end this first entry. . .please pray that God will open my mind to Spanish.  I really need to learn it and learn it quick (I promised a lady who runs the kitchen at the camp where we stay that I’d be able to talk to her in at least broken Spanish by the time I get there the day after Christmas this year), but I also need to learn it well.  God has given me a big vision for the future and it involves a lot of time in South America; so I need the language to overcome what is a great big barrier.  And I know that my God is able!

That’s it for today.  Check back tomorrow and from time to time.  If you know me well at all, you know I have a lot to say.

Lake Forest Mission Team @ Palabra de Vida Camp in Canete, Peru