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Back in Rwanda

I arrived in Kigali, Rwanda, last night after 7 p.m.  Flights were great all the way.  No problems and my luggage arrived (55 minute connection in MSP made me nervous that I would be bag-less).  Thankfully I left when I did as the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland has shut down some airports in northern Europe (I flew through the Netherlands).  We just got to the hotel and rested.

On this trip, I’m in Rwanda with the Provost of Pepperdine, Dr. Darryl Tippens.  This is Dr. Tippens first trip to Rwanda and first trip to Africa.  Early this fall I said, “Want to come to Africa with me?”  And he agreed.  We now have so many projects going in Rwanda among all that schools that I wanted him to see, first-hand, the country and the strategic impact that Pepperdine is making.  Over the course of the week, we are visiting with partner organizations, members of the government, and our students.  I’m hoping that Dr. Tippens and the highest level of Pepperdine’s university administration catch a vision for Pepperdine in Africa.  Needless to say, I’ve got lots of ideas!

Today we were up early to spend a day with our friends from Saddleback Church.  Saddleback Church has been a wonderful partner to us in Rwanda.  We go to know the church’s exemplary “Justice Task Force” a couple years ago and played a small role in their efforts to seek justice for those oppressed by violence in Rwanda.  Since Saddleback, a pace-setting megachurch, is located in Orange Country, California, we’ve been able to work together locally and we’ve had the Justice Task Force with us on campus many times.  I hope the example they set of lawyers (with traditional law jobs) seeking justice for “the least of these” in their free time is an example that our law students can strive to emulate.

Saddleback developed a unique relationship with the country of Rwanda after President Kagame read Pastor Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life.”  President Kagame decided Rwanda should be the Purpose Driven Country.  With that mandate, Saddleback set to re-think develop and re-think missions, combining them into a new model for a church to follow.  This model, the P.E.A.C.E. Plan is comprehensive, holistic, and strategic.  The details of the Plan could take a long time to share, so I recommend you Google it if you’re interested.  In short, the Plan utilizes the church as a tool to address the deepest problems in society—from spiritual emptiness, to reconciliation, to medical care and hygiene.

Early this morning, we were met by Eric and JP, two members of Saddleback’s impressive on-the-ground team.  After breakfast with them, we toured their office and drove nearly three hours to the west side of the country.  On the shores of Lake Kivu, we lunched with a pastor overseeing the PEACE Plan among regional churches and Saddleback member working on clean water projects.

After lunch, we visited a hospital where Saddleback was implementing a fascinating water purification system.  We also visited the home a woman who had successfully completed the PEACE Plan.  She testified as to how much her life improved—from personal happiness and well being, to her children’s health, to the relationships with her neighbors.

It was a full day with lots of driving across the country.  Nonetheless, I think it was a good day for many reasons.  It was good for Dr. Tippens to see the country (only seeing Kigali provides a skewed view of Rwanda) and being with people, seeing their lives, gives us rich context for our conversations coming over the course of the next few days.


You Never Know What You’re Going to See

God Given Child

Today I'm busy in preparation for my May/June trip to Africa.  To the right of my desk, I have this photo from Uganda mounted on my wall.  It's in my top 5 photos I've ever taken and a strong challenger for #1.  I shot this photo on my first trip to Uganda.  We were in Gulu, the epicenter of a long and bloody civil war where countless children were used as child soldiers. 

On this first trip to Gulu, the war had only recently subsided and the air was still tense.  When I took this photo, we sat on a public bus for the long, bumpy, uncomfortable ride back to Kampala.  Buses don't leave until they are full, so you could wait a VERY long time.  And we did.

Out my window was this bright red wall with the words "God Given" painted on them.  We had spent some time around various orphanages in Gulu.  Many of the children we met had been taken as child soldiers so the words on the wall reminded of God's interest and care for each child.  

I waited and waited for someone to walk in front of the wall to compose a great photo.  As I waited, the shadow slosely crept down the wall.  The, just as the shadow started overtaking the words, this boy in blue sat down.  I got this shot.  I'm reminded how I can't predict what will happen on these trips: the people I'll meet, the experiences I'll have, or the photos I'll take.  Sometimes you return with nothing, but other times you come back with a moment worth hanging on your wall.  Like this boy, these important, unpredictable moments can also be "God Given."


Access or Apathy: Why don’t more people do something about the things that matter to them?

It’s easy to complain about the things we want changed.  If you asked me a couple days ago why more people don’t do something about the things that matter to them, I would have said that people are apathetic.  In other words, it’s easy to complain and easier to stay on the couch than it is to do.

But, I’m starting to re-think that.

A few days ago, I posted a TED Talk by Dave Meslin called “The Antidote for Apathy."  Meslin argues that the reason people don’t engage civically (in Meslin’s field of focus) is that the barriers to entry to are too high.  He offers up a public notice of hearing for comment on a construction.  The document is almost written in another language—challenging to identify exactly what the project notice is about and what one has to do if they want to comment.  He argues that these barriers keep people from engaging because they don’t know what to do.  I have to agree with him

 A recent survey profiled in the Huffington Post found that U.S. had worst access to law for ordinary citizens.  The survey ranked “the United States lowest among 11 developed nations when it comes to providing access to justice to its citizens — and lower than some third-world nations in some categories.”

 This connects to what I work on globally at Pepperdine.  This week, we have Gary Haugen, President and CEO of International Justice Mission, visiting to teach a class (I’m sitting in because I organized it).  We’ve been discussing India and why the public justice system is largely broken for ordninary citizens.  I’ve been to India, sat in its courtrooms, and talked to its judges.  Mumbai has a 350-year case backlog! Good luck with the legal system there.  We see exactly the same problems in Africa.  Haugen’s class explained how British colonialism created the problems in India and Africa.  The colonial public justice system was set up to protect the colonial administrator from the public!  They were doing crowd control, rather than trying to provide a functioning system.  In India, some of the mandates for the public justice system from the mid-1800’s are still in effect.  In short, the barriers set up to keep people out are still in place.

While we have it much better in the U.S., I think we still see some of the same problems.  We build barriers around our public justice system to keep people out (and sometimes with good intentions – could we handle the flood of inquiries / comments / requests if there were no barriers?).

Like the public notice example, I see subtle barriers every day.  Take the contracts we have to sign almost daily with extended fine print where we still have language written in what seems like the King’s English (“Herewith”  “Whereas” “Henceforth”).  As a lawyer, I find the form charming, but, really, it’s an antiquated idea that can go.  There’s another TED Talk by Alan Siegel, who wants simplified contracts.  He wrote and presented a sound credit card contract that fits entirely on ONE PAGE in simple, plain English.

Overall, I find “access” to be a better explanation of why people don’t get engaged than apathy.  But, we become apathetic to access.  We don’t want to change the systems that will grant us access.  In India, the poor don’t expect better human rights because oppression is simply “how it’s been.”  Likewise, we don’t necessarily expect an easier system because it’s “how it’s been.”  That’s just the complex form you have to use and intricate procedures you must follow.  Rather, we need systems that we can all navigate and understand—systems that allow us to “do” something about what matters to us.

So, what’s is going to take to change a system like this?  For one, it’s going to take self-sacrificial leadership.  These changes will mean less job security for those in control.  Nonetheless, it’s a risk worth taking.


Arnold Schwarzenegger, Triathlon, and Worship

Two human rights lawyers walk into a coffee shop…  This is how my Saturday began.  I picked up Gary Haugen, President and CEO of the International Justice Mission, for his first class session at Pepperdine.  He's with us for a week to teach an intensive course on human rights and the rule of law.

It was early, so we went straight for Starbucks.  I did a double-take as we entered.  In good Malibu form, Arnold Schwarzenegger–the Governator–was sitting right there by the door, apprently stopping by Malibu on a morning  group motorcycle ride.

I asked Gary if he had met Schwarzenegger before.  He had.  Gary spoke at a governor's prayer breakfast a number of years ago.  He told me that part of his usual talk was to discuss "body builders" and ask why body builders do all this work to build muscle simply to pose.  They're aren't actually using the muscle!  Good point.  The thrust of the example was an analogy to faith that we can build it up, but we need to use it and not just pose.  As he prepared for his talk, Gary debated whether he should use his usual body building example with the Governator there in the room.  Ultimately, he decided it was the perfect opportunity TO use the illustration.

The next morning, Sunday morning, I got up at 4 a.m. for a triathlon.  It always seems like a great idea when I sign up for these things… I think, "Sure, I'll do this!"  Then 4 a.m. rolls around and I've got to get up and drive an hour to work really hard and I begin to feel a good bit of buyer's remorse.  Nonetheless, I'd been training hard for the past few months it was the first triathlon of the year.  As I started getting ready, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 came to mind, a verse that often popped into my head on long runs:

"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies."

In many ways, the triathlon felt more like church.  I've been building the temple for over a year–training for triathlons–and on Sunday morning I got to worship in it.  The swim felt fluid.  The bike was wonderfully fast (I hit 41 miles per hour!).   And the run, though painful, had an almost masochistic pleasure to it.

I recalled this famous quote from the movie Chariots of Fire: "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure."  That line resonated with me yesterday.  I felt His pleasure.  I got to push my body–the temple–to the limits of what it's made to do.  I didn't know anybody at the race.  No one came to watch me.  It was just me and the limits of what I could do.  It felt like worship.

Posing is defined as taking a position with the hope of impressing others or presenting oneself insincerely.  Posing seems figuratively and practically contrary to one's purpose.  It feels really good to find a purpose–even if it is a small one, like racing a triathlon.  Triathlon gives me a purpose for which to build the temple.  And, when you exercise your purpose–big or small–it's an act of worship. 


Even in South Dakota evil claws for a place. Thankfully, justice wins.

I've seen some evil places–I mostly find them in the furthest corners of the world just beyond the reach of the rule of law.  I've broken bread with women and children who have been trafficked in Southeast Asia.  I've visited the places where they've been abused and sat in courtrooms with the abusers.  These things always seems to happen far away.  In the last few years, we've come to acknowledge that human trafficking happens in the United States.  Nonetheless, it still seems removed–taking place deep in our largest cities.

In 2009, a human trafficking ring was busted in a tiny town on the outskirts of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  The man, a 27-year-old, had 10 underage girls in his operation.  This took place 10-20 miles from my family's home.

It incomprehensible to me that this can happen, not only in our world, but in a tiny town on the plains of quiet South Dakota.  Thankfully, justice wins in the end.  Today, the trafficker was sentenced to life by a South Dakota judge.  The judge said it was the most disturbing case she had ever seen and she did not accept a suggested plea deal.

Althougth I struggle to imagine this evil happened in South Dakota, I'm proud to see justice done.


Joy in the Darkness: Hallelujah Chorus from Mae La Refugee Camp

Mae La Camp - Hallelujah Chorush

Long after dark on our March visit to Mae La Refugee Camp along the Thai-Burma border, we were preparing for bed after a full day.  Suddenly and dramatically, we heard the loudest hallelujah chorus billowing up from under our feet.  Our Karen friends were singing at the top of their lungs as they practiced the chorus for graduation.  We ran down to experience it.

The chorus was beautiful and moving knowing that they live in the camp and cannot return to their homeland.  Reverend Dr. Simon, pastor of the Bible school in the camp, penned this moving testimony in 2000:

Our Living Testimony

They call us a displaced people, but praise God we are not misplaced. They say they see no hope for our future, but praise God; our future is as bright as the promises of God. They say they see the life of our people as a misery, but praise God, our life is a mystery. For what they say is what they see, and what they see is temporal. But ours is the eternal. All because we put ourselves in the hands of the God we trust.

If you ever get the chance to visit Mae La Camp, I recommend it.  The people there are incredible and their stories are moving.  One day alone is worth the trip across the pacific.  Enjoy the video below and congratulations to the graduates!


Launch of

Jay, Lisa, and Renae on top

This weekend was the launch of  If you haven’t seen my previous posts about our proposal to renovate the abandoned grain elevator in Worthington, Minnesota, into a region indoor climbing facility, then please check out the website.  We would appreciate your support in spreading the world.  And, yes, this photo is standing on top of this 110+ foot monolith tower over the prairie!!  Hopefully you too will get to see the view!


Is Our Generation the Solution for Smalltown USA?

I'm from a relatively small town.  I feel like had dual homes growing up: Sioux Falls, SD, and Worthington, MN.  My family and I were back and forth regularly and, in many ways, my deepest attachment is to Worthington.  I lived there was I was young, but we were always I my grandparent's house.  I lived with my grandparents in the summer.  I worked in Worthington at our family business, went to church there, and made most of my best friends there.  I found my first love in Worthington–WAKEBOARDING!–and, of course, I met another love there too–my fiance!  All this is to say, I feel deeply connected to the city and it's future.

Someone shared with me an article in the Worthington Daily Globe today  Author of Boomtown USA, Jack Schultz, spoke at a Worthington biotechnology conference this week.  He spoke about the keys to success in small towns.

One of his main points had to do with younger, upcoming generations, like the one to which I belong:

"[A key is] raising strong leaders and encouraging an entrepreneurial approach — and that’s where younger citizens come in.  'What really gets me is excited … is Generation Y, or what I call the millennium generation,' he explained. 'We have got to develop, we have got to nurture the young people and nurture their entrepreneurial instincts.'"

Most of my friends moved away to larger cities (as did I, going to Minneapolis, then Los Angeles).  So far, I haven't seen them come back.  We see this problem in developing nations: brain drain.  The best leaders, entrepreneurs, and talent leave their respective countries and never return.  There are better jobs in developed nations.

Small cities are a microcosm of our larger cities, our states, and our nations.  Do we give our youth enough opportunities?  If the youth don't have prime opportunities , their is no reason to return.  And I'm not talking about money.  I'm talking about opportunities where you can develop a vision and run with that vision.

Schultze cited vision as another important fact.  Vision and passion are inextricably intertwined.  Vision breeds your passion–it's your goal to get passionate about.  We need people with passion–they are the ones who change things.

Part of the challenge is that we often get hung up on "experience."  As I'm look toward my 30s now (a year away), I realize there are certain opportunities that open up–certain things need to be in your 30s to.  And there are still things that are largely out of reach until your 40s or 50s.  I disagree with this antiquated notion that age should open doors.  I believe that we should defer to deep, unbridled passion. (Passion, of course, must be controlled with good sense and forethought.)

In my view, for Schultz' view to work and for cities to grow, they must not merely encourage passionate younger citizens, but proactively and fiercely seek it out.  


A Trip that Changed Your Life?

Ecuador hike1_p

I recently returned from another trip to Thailand–my sixth!  I led a group of seven law students, most of whom were making their first trip to Asia and their first time to the developing world.  I think the trip had a deep impact on some of their lives.  I gauge this by the enthusiasm to dig deeper into the issues at hand and the burning desire to return.

Many of us have "that trip" or "that encounter" that changes our life.  You experience something that makes you come alive.  For me, it was a trip to Ecuador during my freshman year at Bethel University.  I had friends who previously went to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands on Bethel's biology trip.  I was determined, even before entering Bethel, that I would go sometime during my four years.  One of the first weeks after arriving, I saw an announcement in the fall that a couple spots were still available–the professor let me in even though he preferred not to take freshman.

I recall, vividly, the plane dropping into Quito.  I looked out the window and the world didn't look like what I what it did in Minnesota.  Our bags didn't arrive and the airport was a mess.  Police pulled over my homestay father immediately after leaving the airport.  He had to bribe the cops.  This was far from home and I wasn't sure I wanted to be here anymore.  I felt a little nauseas laying in bed that night–could I last a month?

That trip changed my life.  It set me on a course to keep exploring the world.  I attribute a lot of that to the fact that I was nervous–when you conquer your fears the experience is that much more brilliant.  Oh, and I dug this photo out of the vault–that kid with knee-deep in the rainforest with the red backpack–that's me!

Question: Is there a trip that changed your life?


One Man’s Treasure: Part 3 – History of the Grain Silo

We have received early encouragement with the Worthington grain elevator project.  The concept of a renovating the facility for a regional climbing center is appealing to many, but not without reservations.  The grain elevator is, in a word, embattled.  Legal battles over the elevator proceeded all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court (which did not grant cert).  I alluded to this checkered history in my first post, but chose to reveal little and allow the process to unfold on its own.  Many stories and viewpoints surround the history of the site and I did not want to share any inaccuracies.  This week I came across an article originally printed in the Worthington Daily Globe, which I wanted to share beause it summarizes the history as was made known to the general public. 

View from Diagonal

I anticipate that this will be my last post about the grain elevator for a while.  I look forward to making the next round of presentations to the city in about 2 1/2 weeks.   Also, see my photos from the top of the grain elevator in my previous post.

Appellate Decision Issued 

January 04, 2010

WORTHINGTON, MN — A decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals disappointed city leaders last week when appellate judges affirmed the decision made by Judge Jeffrey Flynn to grant summary judgment to New Vision Cooperative, dismissing the city’s claim regarding the grain elevator on 10th Street.


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