Looking Ahead to 2010

The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps. (Proverbs 16:9 NRSV)

No one knows what a day will bring, much less an entire year. While making news years resolutions wasn’t part of my upbringing, I’ve long been into goal-setting.  Is there a difference?  Maybe, or maybe not.  I do know that the year ahead holds quite a bit of potential and that I don’t want to pass any of it up through lack of focus on my part.

First, my brother-in-law Marcelo has succeeded in his request for a visa to visit the United States.  He is the Brazilian missionary who stayed on in Uberlânia with his wife and kids when I moved my family to the United States.  Under his leadership one congregation has become two and a young man who was converted through his ministry went away for a two-year ministry training course.  Great strides have been made in the evangelization of the city, and Marcelo and Selma (his wife) share a vision not only for bringing people to faith in Christ but to truly help people in practical ways.  They work in marriage and family counseling, holding workshops and seminars to help people live better and have happier homes.  There is a recovery aspect to their ministry as well and a group in the church has organized to help out in social projects, such as volunteering at a local orphanage and arranging donations of funds and goods for this work.  Marcelo’s purpose in coming to the United States is to raise awareness and support for the mission in Uberlândia.  He has yet to finalize travel plans but intends to come to New Jersey first, then head to the Midwest.

Second, my family is planning on making a trip to Brazil.  This is especially significant because my wife hasn’t been back there since 2006 and I haven’t set foot in Brazil since leaving in October 2003.  Had things gone according to plan we would have been back in full-time mission work there in 2008.  At this point it seems more likely we’ll be working indefinitely with the Brazilian community here in the northeastern United States and making occassional trips to Brazil.  It would be best if we created a fund for these trips.  At this point we are nowhere near the estimated $3500 we’ll need for airfar, and I’m estimating that renewing our paperwork for travel (including American passports for my wife and daughter who were naturalized in 2008) will cost no less than $1000.

Third, this is the year when we intend to get serious about youth ministry.  A few of our congregation’s young people are now teenagers and we are anxious to begin holding regular youth group meetings in our home beginning in January.

Fourth, my wife and I want to head to Honduras in December 2010 to help with the second annual “Jesus Banquet."  Click here and here for more on this effort.

Fifth, there are unsettling uncertainties we face here in the year ahead.  The start-up I work with in New York is running out of investor funds.  If we don’t succeed in raising another round of funds by the end of January or beginning of February we’ll have to close up shop.

Through it all, with all the hope, potential and insecurity of a new year, we move forward believing in the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who was revealed most fully in Jesus of Nazareth.

Your prayers for us and the good we seek to do are deeply appeciated.  Happy New Year!

Advertisements

It’s Really Steam Power

What makes something “steam powered”? Typically people think of steam power in terms of coal and wood, and the words conjure images of steam boats and Victorian-era factories. The fact of the matter is that steam power is alive and well today, and nuclear power plants are a prime example.

In a nuclear power plant a fission reaction is used to create intense heat, boiling water under pressure and channeling the steam to turbines which turn to generate electricity. The video above explains the process more completely and accurately.

The power source is richer than wood or coal and far more is involved in the way of containment and processing, but in the end nuclear power is still fundamentally steam power.

Looking Back at 2009

When I was a child I remember feeling as though the two months of summer vacation was an endless golden expanse of time. My mother told me that the older I got the faster time would seem to go by. Like everyone else I have discovered this to be a sad truth. Looking back at 2009 I see that it was a very full year, however quickly it now seems to have passed.

Some of the best times have been those spent with brothers and sisters in Christ with the Brazilian church in Newark, NJ. Aside from our regular service schedule we’ve also celebrated every major holiday together, held countless cookouts at each others homes, hit the beach a few times (I don’t go in for that myself!) and held our annual church retreat. We were especially glad for the retreat this year, having lost our spot at Camp Manatawny, we found another camp which we were able to rent for a couple of days. We studied the Bible and worshiped together as well as spent a few hours with activities in the camp lake (paddle boats, swimming, etc).  Click here for pictures.

For me, the real high point of 2009 took place at our church retreat when I baptized my daughter into Christ. As I’ve said elsewhere, it really doesn’t get much better than that.  Her decision wasn’t made in a vacuum, of course.  Since she was a little girl I’ve been reading Bible stories to her and my wife and I have prayed with her and discussed what it means to believe in God and follow Jesus.  She’d been saying for a while that she wanted to be baptized, but didn’t seem serious until she spent a week away at church camp.  She returned dead serious about becoming a Christian.  I spent a couple of weeks studying the Bible with her nearly every evening before baptizing her at the retreat.  Another girl from our congregation was similarly affected by her time at church camp and was also baptized at the retreat.  We are thankful that our children are making commitments to Christ and pray to be more effective in reaching people, young and old, beyond our immediate family and fellowship as well.

Shortly after the church retreat my wife and I took our daughter and a young man from church to RevGen, a major Christian music festival in our part of the country.  Click here for pictures. We had a good day there and we began to consider again the possibility of active youth ministry.

There were a number of immigration victories for some of our church members as well.  One couple began the year being granted permanent visas and promptly arranged their first trip in over a decade to visit family in Brazil.  Another couple received word over a month ago that their permanent visas should be available soon, and have been issued valid work permits.  Another man who was actually picked up by immigration authorities over a year ago has been approved for permanency, opening the door for his wife (their son was born in the U.S. and is therefore a citizen).  We rejoice with these good people and continue to pray for our friends who have their cases pending in the immigration courts.

About a month ago I was finally able to get a website up for our congregation.  We are talking about splitting it into two websites, as there are Brazilian and Hispanic congregations meeting in our building and sharing leadership.  For now it is one website which you can see by clicking here.

Last but not least, my brother-in-law Marcelo was approved for a visa to visit the United States in order to raise mission support!  I thought it nearly impossible with our present immigration climate for him to receive this visa, but apparently the consular official looked up our record and that of my mother-in-law (she has been in the States twice to visit) and opted to give him a chance.  He plans to come to the U.S. next year, so more on him in my next post where I’ll talk about goals and plans for 2010.  Click here to see a photo of Marcelo, Selma and their children.

Thank you for your continued encouragement, support and prayers as we seek to promote peace and development in Brazil and throughout the Brazilian diaspora.

Exoplanets

Ever heard of “exoplanets”?  That’s what scientists and researchers call planets located outside our solar system.  So far they have been able to find quite a few, though not by direct observation.  Such planets typically have to be quite massive and even then are located by gathering different types of data.

None of this proves the existence of life beyond our solar system, but given the apparent prevalence of planets and that our universe’s physical laws tend to favor life as we know it, the liklihood seems quite high that life is not uncommon.  Even that does not indicate that there is “intelligent life” (again, as we know it).  Still, it’s a big universe, and life can hang on in some pretty odd places

Boosterspice Won’t Help You If Your Head is Chopped Off

Ever heard of “boosterspice”? In science fiction author Larry Niven’s Known Space, this was a substance that could extend human life indefinitely. Think of it like leaves from the tree of life. Niven made a good point in at least one of his books (can’t remember which one) when he said that boosterspice doesn’t really make a person immortal. Disease, aging or minor injury might not kill you, but sooner or later something will. The odds are against any mortal going on ceaselessly.

So, when I heard about the Manhattan Beach Project and efforts to reverse aging by 2029, I didn’t get too excited. Not only could I not likely afford the necessary treatments to maintain my life endlessly, I’m not certain I would want to do so, and of course something would eventually kill me anyway.

A question I really think needs to be asked, though, is whether any real or proposed universal health care system would automatically include these anti-aging techniques. I mean, is the goal really to preserve human life? All human life?  Perpetually?

Oddities from the Sixth Planet

 The Cassini Equinox Mission has turned up some interesting data that NASA has shared recently.
The first is about Iapetus, one of Saturn’s 61 moons.  Giovanni Domenico Cassini, the astronomer who discovered this moon around three centuries ago, noticed it had two tones.  It appears to be half dark and half light.  The dark side was not in shadow, leaving the cause of this color difference a mystery.  Images the probe sent back has led scientists to believe that part of the explanation is that dust is continuously deposited from Saturn’s orbit.  The brightness of the light side may be intensified by water vapor drifting and re-freezing in another location.
Another strange image sent back from Saturn is of a hexagonal weather pattern near the planet’s north pole.  What causes it continues to be unknown, but fortunately the Cassini probe has the proper tools to gather data for researchers to construct weather models.  It’s entirely possible that scientists will be able to get to the bottom of this mystery in the next few years.

Although a case may be made against manned spaceflight beyond our lunar orbit in the coming decades (though I still favor it), there is too much to be learned for the unmanned effort to be abandoned.


See also:

Solving a Tonal Mystery in Orbit Around Saturn (NYTimes)

Cassini sheds light on Saturn’s 30- and 300-year mysteries (Ars Technica)

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

My maternal grandmother once told my mother (her daughter) that a book she was reading was so terrible she could barely finish it. My mother, knowing it was a library book, asked why she bothered. Apparently my grandmother couldn’t imagine not finishing a book she’d started. Normally if I can’t get into a book a couple of chapters in I set it aside. If it’s one I own I just put it back on the shelf and try again later. Sometimes a book is more interesting to me at a different time in my life (this happened to me with “Mere Christianity”). I’ve found that despite my best efforts, “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” (SSSM) is a book that I can’t slog through.

Now, I wanted to like this book. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (PPZ) was enjoyable, despite the wordiness of dialogue between zombie mayhem. That’s the key to what made PPZ successful. I was willing to suffer through the boring details of dinner parties and gossipy victorian women’s worries about matrimony because I knew that sooner or later there’d be zombies. With SSSM I find myself not caring either about the seemingly endless conversations or the monsters.

For the life of me I can’t figure out why, if aquatic life has become so aggressive towards humans, people in SSSM are depicted as dedicating their lives to living from, on and even under the seas. It’s ridiculous. In PPZ people were doing the best they could. SSSM simply makes no sense.

This is a briny, waterlogged novel that is best left on the shelf, an entirely forgettable mash-up.

Now the publisher will likely never give me another review copy. More’s the pity….