Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Gift

We are stuffed, not just fed,
clothes to wear, roof overhead.
Christmas comes, begs us heed
ones without even basic need.

And why this call as year winds down
to reach across our world and town?
Could we not better serve God’s way
by living Christmas every day?

THAT, my friend, is just the plan
Nicholas hoped we’d understand.
Winter’s pitch, pierced by light,
opens hope, beckons right.

Gifts from “haves” to “have nots” spread,
one beggar offering another bread.
Hand that set the world in motion
longs for love, seeks devotion.

Box the crèche, store the lights
but don’t forget in darkest nights
star appeared, drawing wildest wild
to Immanuel, the God-flesh child.

Seasons come, seasons go
but always remember the gift we know;
‘twill open us as we opened it
transforming us until we’re fit.

No burnt offerings, ritual pyre
but hearts aflame, love afire,
seeing Christ in every face,
sharing love, unleashing grace.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Eve

You know the day is bound to be long
When it’s called an “eve” at sunrise.
Long it is for many folks in varied ways.

Long for those whose hopes are set
On simple magic of chimneys, sleigh,
Airborne reindeer, gifts galore.

Long for those whose plans are such
To stave off disappointment from
Such childlike dreams of abundance;

Working and saving for eleven months;
Decorating and preparing for weeks;
Outlasting excitement to assemble.

Long for those little ones whose hopes
Are beaten down 24/7 by birth, circumstance
But can’t help hoping one more time.

Longer still for beleaguered parents from
The have-not side of life who must figure out
How to explain tomorrow’s emptiness.

Longing is a deeper long for those whose pain
Is heightened by the absence of a life-long love
Or knowledge that this year may be the last.

Into this long and longing day that
Moves toward darkness all too soon,
A candle flicker moves toward life.

For those whose patience births a faith,
Nurturing a flame that warms a hope,
Single candle turns to tongues of fire.

Light, warmth, grace all overflow;
Gold, frankincense, myrrh arrive
Joy is stirred deep in the soul!

© 2008 Todd Jenkins

Saturday, November 21, 2009

16 Years

It was December, 1993. Owen, our youngest, was one year old. Katie and Holly were seven and five, respectively. A puppy was on everyone’s (at least all of the children’s) Christmas wish list. Being the practical parents that we were, and recognizing that we always visited (out-of-state) family for about a week immediately after Christmas, we decided that the responsible thing to do was to ask Santa for an “Invisible Fence” (since the yard was not fenced) instead of a dog, and a note instructing us to adopt a puppy from the local animal shelter after we returned from our holiday travels.

Whoever wrote, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” was spot-on. About two or three days before Christmas, our church’s choir director (who knew of our plans) found an adorable little black puppy abandoned under her tool shed. She called us and asked us (parents only, of course) to come see him. It was love at first sight. The choir director offered to keep him before and after Christmas for us. We decided that Santa must have accidentally dropped him out of the sleigh on a pre-Christmas “practice-run” through middle Georgia.

On Christmas Eve, after the children were in bed, Jennie went over and picked him up and brought him home. He was quite filthy, so she decided to bathe him, but she was concerned, since the bathtub was between the children’s bedrooms, that any barking, crying, or whimpering would wake them up and spoil the surprise. As if he understood the predicament, he didn’t make a sound.

The next morning he slept in the big cardboard box beside the back door and went unnoticed while the children unwrapped the Invisible Fence. Instead of the originally planned “post-holiday animal shelter adoption” note under the tree, there was one telling the children to look in the big box in the kitchen. After that it was pure puppy pandemonium. Since he was a Christmas dog, we couldn’t think of a better name than “Gabriel.” He chewed and destroyed everything he could find, and it took him nearly six months to grow into the hefty collar that went with the Invisible Fence, but eventually he learned how to stay home and avoid the shocking perimeter of the yard.

Gabriel endured all of our moves—from Fort Valley, Georgia to Fourth AVE, Fayetteville, TN, then to Lovers LN—and adjusted well to the addition of a “sister” (Gloria) in 1998 and a “cousin” (Gracie, the cat) in 2004, always eager to find attention, fur-rubbing, and food, but not necessarily in that order.

Our friends can tell you some wild “Fourth of July” and “New Year’s Eve” stories about Gabriel. We’re out of town on most of these holidays, so others have often been in charge of the pets’ care. Gabriel was deathly afraid of fireworks, and if he were left outside during the neighbors’ celebrations, he would do anything possible to find somewhere to hide. One New Year’s Eve a few years ago, he wedged himself under a small car in the driveway, and couldn’t get out. Our friends had to jack the car up to help him escape.

His once-entirely-jet-black fur gradually turned white around the edges as the years went by, his hearing left completely about a year ago, his back legs eventually led a near-complete mutiny that sometimes rendered him painfully and fearfully immobile, and his digestive system began an increasingly-successful revolt. On November 21, 2009, with advice from our veterinarian and family agreement, Gabriel was relieved of his physical suffering and laid to rest. His grave is marked by four stepping stones, in the far corner of the back yard. Sixteen years is a long time for a dog to live with a family and vice versa.

I’ve heard it said that dogs offer humans a near-perfect example of God’s unconditional love. For sixteen years I’ve also experienced it. Thank you, Gabriel.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Monday, November 16, 2009

Grief Examined

Sometimes I just have to stop and cry. Sunday afternoon I received a message from our LWW Guatemala Team. Rumaldo, pastor of the El Jute congregation where they just finished a water installation, lost his wife. Telma, his 45 year old wife, became ill a few days before, went to paralysis, then stroke, coma, and died Sunday.

Rumaldo spent most of the last days of Telma’s life working with our Fayetteville/Pulaski LWW team, making sure that the water filtration system was installed properly, and that his team of operators and educators were equipped to keep clean water flowing from their church and educate the community on the health, hygiene, and spiritual curriculum that supports the ongoing water distribution plan.

It’s not supposed to happen that way. Evil—or at least pain, suffering, and grief—are not supposed to come from the self-giving generosity and efforts of good people. And yet they do.

The Sunday Tennessean had an article about a Nashville area pastor who was moved to preach an 8-part series on exactly what Heaven is like after his 19 year old son died. The pastor explained, “I noticed that, generally speaking, others at the church and in the general community were not well-taught or well-educated on how to deal with when people go to heaven."

He’s had great demand for copies of the sermons in the series. The author of the article wrote, about the pastor, "He's found a population hungry for specifics."

People deal with answers, whether the answers are right, wrong, or imagined, much better than they do with questions and mystery. Scripture has more questions and mystery than specific answers, but that's never stopped humanity from conducting conciliatory shoe-horning. Faith is what we're left with when the answers run out.

I wish I had specific answers to give Pastor Romaldo—or that he could find them for himself. I wish I had such answers for many of you, and even for myself. I do not.

What I do have are faith, promise, trust, and hope. These are the things that nourish us through the unanswered questions; through the well-meaning but inadequate answers that are often offered. These are the things that give us courage to live with the questions; that give us strength to boldly proclaim that God’s ultimate answer of, “Yes!” is both powerful and loving enough to overcome all our earthly grief.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans Day

As we approach, observe, and pass by the 91st recurrence of remembrance—the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we remember with profound gratitude the sacrifices made by those who joined arms and forces in defense of our country, during the first War to End All Wars, and in every subsequent war to this very day.

We recall President Wilson’s words on that first anniversary (11/11/1919): "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"

We recall the U.S. Congressional resolution in 1926:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations;

Let us this day and every day, O Lord, remember, give thanks, and turn our faces and hearts toward the goal of peace that has yet to be reached. Let us pray, work, and demand that soldiers be given all honor, protection, respect, and assistance before, during, and after active duty. Let us pray, work, and demand that war’s duration and intensity be lessened; that minds, hearts, and technology be bent toward peace; that nations and leaders—elected, appointed, and self-appointed—set aside vested interest, ego, and posturing in favor of integrity, honesty, and concern for all humanity and all creation; through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Monday, November 2, 2009

Saints and Ain'ts

“It falls on a Sunday this year”
explains the pastor,
“so even us Protestants should
find a way to celebrate All Saints Day.”

“But saints are the sole possession
of Catholics, aren’t they?
We’re not sure what
or who they are, much less
whether we want to
conjure them up in worship!”

“Far from it, my friend.
We may not have an organized
structure to classify them,
but they’re all around us.”

“Mama always told me a saint
is nothing more than a dead sinner.
At least that’s what I’m counting on!”

“Now you’re getting warm.
All we need to do is reclaim
this Goodwill word from
our Roman sisters and brothers
and we’ll be on our way.”

“Do you suppose they’ll
readily give it up?
We haven’t always succeeded
In sharing the path with ease.”

“Our past inability to agree or share
is no reason to doubt that
what we aim can be accomplished,
provided we only take what we need.”

“And what is that, pray tell?”

“We only need to claim
a meaning of the word
for ourselves, without disclaiming
others’ use and meaning.”

“How, then, should we lay
this claim in such a way
that all are still able
to feast at the table?”

“Without respect or disrespect
to canonized veneration,
we should lay hold of this day
when all who’ve passed
before us in the faith
are remembered with deep gratitude
for all the ways their living and dying
revealed to us the gift of grace.”

“I ain’t a saint, and that’s for sure.
Those who know me best
would certainly be hard pressed
to conceive of such a cure!”

“Ah, there’s the rub,
for what we’re claiming
in this particular usage,
is that God can do
what we’re not able.
Thus the answer’ll always be:
Not yet, my child, be patient!”

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How Much?

Not just, “How long?” but
“How much can one family take?”
When the “C” Reaper circles
the block, over and over,
faith is hard pressed to
maintain its full-bodied flavor.

We cry in the closet sometimes,
trying to be strong for others,
because that’s what we think
we’re supposed to do.

But you, O Lord, have created us
for community, for each other,
and if there’s any time we need
each other more than ever,
surely it is now!

Surround us with the love
of those who can and will
sing the songs of faith for us,
recite the creeds on our behalf,
believing for us, for a while,
until we can breathe again.

As much as we think we want to
see and understand the big picture,
what we’d really like right now
is to change the smaller picture,
re-pixeling the molecular details
of our very beings until
normal returns from its exile.

Into your hands, O God,
we commend our lives,
our love, our souls.
Hear our cries and answer us.
Hold us with the fierce but tender care
of a mother and father;
breathe into us your life that is sustained
now and forevermore. Amen.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Monday, October 19, 2009

Deep & Dark

So, a friend says to me, “Why are your poetry/prayers—always about depressing stuff?” This is not the first time I’ve heard this question. It made me think, because I do not really know why.

That led me to an earlier conversation with someone else, who had inquired as to the source for a recent prayer for someone dealing with cancer. My reply was, “There is often a particular event or story that triggers the Muse’s flow, but each piece carries the accumulation of many people and stories.” I have figured out at least this much.

As a pastor, I hear many stories and receive many requests for prayer regarding all sorts of tragedies and dire life-circumstances. That’s when people most often find and claim their own true faith: in the midst of challenging and threatening times. It stands to reason, then, that empathy and compassion are often centered around difficulty.

Hope—the kind of expectation that transforms lives through and beyond the valley of difficulty’s dark shadow—most often comes from the bottom. The deepest and darkest places are the ones from which light and life eventually spring. The most authentic and long-lasting experiences of joy can arise, not from abundance and providence, but rather from nothingness and absence. It is often in the midst of emptiness that we first find the gift that truly fills.

In my younger days, I did some SCUBA diving. I’ll never forget the feeling when I first went 100 feet below the surface of a spring. After we got our bearings and settled in the bottom of the cavern, we turned out our lights. There, with the multiplied pressure of atmospheres squeezing in on me, in the blackest darkness I could ever imagine, I felt a great peace.

I would be lying if I said that there was not a simultaneous sense of panic trying to gain my attention. But, trusting my instructor and my equipment, I set aside the panic and gave in to the peace. When I hear and immerse myself in others’ stories of injury, illness, disease, pain, and suffering, I feel as if I am back in that cavern. I know that panic and fear are lurking. But I also know that peace and hope are available. In my prayers and poems, I try to realistically describe our human condition—including its inevitable suffering—and then find a connection to the place where hope springs eternal and grace abounds.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Everlasting Hope

(For all those who are dealing with lung cancer.)

The breath of life itself is at stake here, O God;
shuttle that transports oxygen to work
and brings carbon dioxide home
after an exhausting “day.”

Somewhere in the midst of this bodily function
we try to identify your gift to humanity—
the thing toward which we all aspire;
the gift with which you inspire.

Spirit, breath, wind:
all part of divine inspiration
that claims us as your own, O Lord.

And then the "C" word rears its ugly head,
stepping outside the bounds of cell’s cycle,
refusing to yield, hell-bent on growth,
damn the torpedoes-- full speed ahead.

Our plea is for you to intervene,
through medicine or miracle.
Bring your healing touch.
Show us the hem of your garment.
Our arms are outstretched.
Let mercy triumph once more.

As pulse elevates and anxiety rises,
give us pause to notice our own respiration;
give us focus to appreciate both the gift
and the calming effect of its slow and deep practice.

Let us feel, in strong, measured intake,
your comforting promise.
In exhalation, give us release
from all that we cannot control or understand.

Wrap us and those we hold dear
in the peaceful blanket
of your everlasting hope;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hole in My Soul

“The Dark Night of the Soul” is a phrase that describes the vacuum that many people experience in the depths of their intentional journey to God. When our expectations of God’s presence or performance are dashed, the silence is deafening. This is not the place where I want to tackle the question of whether God is ever really absent. My experience is that, as human beings, we are not capable of distinguishing between the perception of God’s absence and the reality of it. For us, then, the perception of God’s absence is as real and effective as God’s absence itself.

When we perceive God’s absence, or even the dislocation of God from the center of our beings, we become aware that something essential is either missing or askew. Franciscan Richard Rohr describes the recognition of this dislocation from God as, “the hole in the soul.” We are well-trained by our culture and our economy to fill the hole with lots of things, and to fill it as early and as often as possible. Never mind that the other-than-God things we pour into it have no hope of filling it. Never mind that it is a God-shaped and God-sized hole that only stops gaping when it is filled with the very self of God.

Some time ago, while thinking about this hole and our attempts to fill it, I wrote this song:

There’s a Hole
(Sung to the tune of “Give Me Oil in My Lamp”)

There’s a hole in my soul, and it’s burning.
There’s a hole in my soul that’s deep.
There’s a hole in my soul and it’s burning;
tried to fill it but it just won’t keep.

There’s a hole in my soul and it’s empty.
There’s a hole in my soul that’s dry.
There’s a hole in my soul and it’s empty;
stuff I’ve filled it with just makes me cry.

There’s a hole in my soul and it’s God-shaped.
There’s a hole in my soul that shows.
There’s a hole in my soul and it’s God-shaped;
fills up only when my spirit overflows.

There’s a hole in my soul but it’s filled.
There’s a hole in my soul no more.
There’s a hole in my soul but it’s filled;
gift of grace from God’s own store.

Filling this void with other things and steadily pouring in stuff, in an attempt to avoid the emptiness, only increases the chances that the experience of God’s presence will become more remote. While there is no mystical formula or ritual that can conjure up God’s presence, living with the discomfort of God’s absence is precisely the way that we can prepare ourselves to recognize and eventually receive the very self of God. Focusing on the empty hole, instead of what we can fill it with, is the path that eventually leads to being filled.

© 2008 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Constitutio Aqua Reformata, Semper Reformanda

“Water system reformed, always reforming.” Correct my Latin, if you please, but don’t miss the forest for the trees. Living Waters for the World (LWW) is, without a doubt, a thoroughly Reformed organization in the best way.

Just when you thought everything was figured out, someone figures out something even better. Many organizations eschew change by investing heavily in human resources that are great cheerleaders. Cheerleaders play the important role of keeping morale and motivation at their peak, often by touting the benefits and comfort of maintaining the status quo—the way the game is currently being played. Other organizations corral change by investing heavily in mechanical and human resources that can function in only one way: the way we do it now.

LWW is constantly in search of the “New Superlative Way”(NSW) —the new best way. I just received a NSW Clean Water Systems Handbook in the mail, detailing the new best ways to treat and deliver safe drinking water. “Standard” is the word used to describe the set-up and treatment system for the majority of situations which fit LWW’s parameters. You may think “standard” simply means “ordinary” or “usual.” With LWW, I believe that the constant search for the NSW makes “Standard” the goal/measurement by which all others are evaluated.

How does LWW do it? How do they function so flexibly? The key, I believe, lies in keeping their focus on their goal and partners. Their mission statement: “Living waters trains and equips mission teams to share the gift of clean sustainable water with communities in need.” When your goal is to provide as much of the best water with as many people as possible, innovation is a welcome improvement, rather than a threat.

I find it ironic, hopeful, and inspirational that an organization with its roots firmly sunk in the church can be so fluid. If the church, which is high atop the hill of “We can’t do that because we’ve never done it that way before!” can give birth to a child of such shape-shifting, then perhaps all the mainline naysayers and their doomsday predictions aren’t as accurate or frightening as we might think. I wonder what would happen if we, at First Presbyterian Church, Fayetteville, Tennessee, spoke, lived, acted, and worshiped with similar passion and focus toward our vision to: “Reveal God's grace to all generations now and forevermore.”

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wearing Off & Sinking In

This is for all those to whom grief seems spreading pall:

When grande grief is bearing down
Upon life unaware,
Spirit gives anesthesia
So we can live and bear

Pain that is too great for anyone.
Numbness spreads and covers
A safety net, our heart to hold
Bits of loved and lovers

That would fly away otherwise
Into the great abyss
Leaving us breathless, without hope
For those we dearly miss.

There comes a day that fog’s so thick
We can’t remember how
We walked or even tried to think
Beyond the here and now.

As time goes by, feeling returns
And pain becomes so real
Excruciating sensations
Beyond our wish to deal.

The promise of the gospel is
That Christ will be our salve;
‘Twill take us deep within to where
Our love will truly have

The chance for pain to sink into
The growing places where
A person gives the self away
All for the chance to share

Love that once was rooted in
A life no longer here
But one that still kindles the flame
And always will be near.

Because this is a pain so deep
Its roots will reach the place
Of anchor in the self of God
Where every breath is grace.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Litany for Labor

[L] Sabbath is a command to set aside a day to recognize the inherent glory and generosity in the work of God’s creation.

[P] Let us rest from our own labors, in order to understand and appreciate the primal labor from which we and our ability to work are sourced.

[L] Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness to give them time, space, and energy to offer praise and worship to God.

[P] Praise be to the heavens for God’s deliverance to worship for Israel and for us.

[L] Our nation sets aside the first Monday in September to honor the work of our bodies and minds.

[P] We pray this day for all who labor and are heavily burdened; for heads of household who struggle to feed their families on part-time hours at minimum wage; for the undereducated and the unqualified whose lives are shortened by the market’s brutal disregard for their health. Make us instruments of change in individual and corporate circumstance, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[L] Let us also remember those who are driven to workaholism by the tapeworm of consumption.

[P] We pray this day for all who, in spite of hefty portfolios and incomes, work longer and harder with less and less satisfaction. Help us to mirror healthful family, community, and faith relationships, that we all might measure our worth with and receive our joy from your gift of grace, O Lord.

[L] Our congregation sets aside the month of September as a month for particular emphasis on the practice of stewardship.

[P] We pray this day for all who struggle to decide when and how to hang on and let go of the bounty of our inheritance and our labor which come from your providence, O God. May we find ways to keep our palms upturned and opened, that we might freely receive and give your gifts with joy and generosity, as you guide us through the nudging of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

© 2005 Todd Jenkins

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It Only Takes a Spark...

You know how the familiar camp song goes. You may even have seen the light and warmth of its metaphor at work in your own life. Here’s how I’ve witnessed it in Guatemala:

Having already bought-in to the Living Waters for the World (LWW) vision, “to train and equip mission teams to share the gift of clean, sustainable water with communities in need” and completed LWW’s five-day education component (Clean Water U), our team of three spent a week in October, 2007, visiting communities in northeast Guatemala, in search of a partner for our first covenant and system installation. Water samples were collected, and surveys to determine water-related health issues were distributed in six different locations. Each place we visited was in need of a more healthful source of water for food preparation, cooking, and personal hygiene. Our task was to choose one, and to negotiate a covenant with community leaders that spelled out responsibilities and a schedule for site-preparation, material acquisition, human resources, installation, education, and operation/maintenance training.

We settled on Guastatoya, capitol city of El Progresso, a rural town of about 7,000 people. The host organization would be Iglesia Presbiteriana El Dios Vivo, an eager, well-established, and connected Presbyterian congregation. This was not the location with the greatest need. Other more remote towns had less access to clean water. We chose Guastatoya because we envisioned it as a hub from which systems for other nearby towns could radiate, and because it held the greatest potential for success and sustainability—important to us as well as to our Guatemalan brothers and sisters.

We negotiated all the terms of a covenant, each partner accepting varied responsibilities for particular components in the program—everything from supply procurement and building preparation to government regulations and various expenses. Then we celebrated, spending the next day and a half eating and playing together, enjoying warm hospitality and building trustful relationships. By the time we parted ways, each with a schedule and list of tasks to accomplish, we all had new-found family members and a commitment to a “reunion with a purpose”, six months down the road. The spark was glowing.

The next six months kept us busy in preparation for our installation/education trip. We raised congregational and community awareness, recruited additional team members, and secured funding to meet our portion of the covenant. In April, 2008, seven members of a combined Rotary/First Presbyterian team from Fayetteville, TN—fully loaded with filtration system components, high hopes, and overflowing prayers—flew to Guatemala to fan the spark.

Our Guastatoyan partners had been engaged in reciprocal tasks and preparations. Together, inspired and guided by the support of our respective congregations, we were able “to accomplish far more than we could ask or imagine.” Aside from a 36 hour-long water bottle drama and a power outage, silk worms could not have laid a smoother path. Before week’s end, clean water was flowing for another community of God’s children.

Fast-forward to April, 2009. A year had passed, along with numerous translated e-mails, and plans were underway for a first-anniversary check-up on the water system’s operation/operators and its parallel health/hygiene education program. Since our April, 2008 installation, systems had also been installed and were operating in two other spoke locations. One of those installations was undertaken by friends (and relatives) of ours from First Presbyterian in nearby Shelbyville, TN. During their first installation trip, the Shelbyville team also negotiated a covenant for a second installation at Berea Church, San Jose.

Beyond the Guastatoya check-up, we also negotiated a covenant with another spoke-location, and included team members from another of our sister churches, First Presbyterian, Pulaski, TN. Within an hour’s drive of Guastatoya, in the state of Zacapa, lies the small town of El Jute, home to Templo Evangelico Presbiteriano “Getsemani.” Preparations for the April 2009 trip included contact with Getsemani’s pastor, confirming their congregation’s desire to form a partnership and install a water filtration system. Pastor Romaldo and members of his Consistory (Session) were waiting for us with open arms. They had done their homework—having visited several nearby LWW installations, and given some creative thought to a suitable location for their system. Prayerful and thorough negotiations were again completed, fanning the flames even higher.

In November, 2009, a team from First Presbyterian of Shelbyville, TN, and a Pulaski-Fayetteville, TN, team will both travel to Guatemala on consecutive weeks for installation/education trips to Berea, San Jose and Getsemani, El Jute, respectively. Through Living Waters for the World we are weaving a missional connection that links PC(USA) congregations and towns, Guatemalan churches and communities, and brings us all together in a web of hands-on empowerment that spreads the gospel one bottle of clean water at a time. Pass it on! http://www.livingwatersfortheworld.org

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Walking the Web

It’s amazing how connected it’s all become. What started out as 1987-1990 seminary classmates and neighbors in Decatur, GA, has now reached all over Middle Tennessee, numerous parts of Mississippi, and touched most of the rest of the continental 48, not to mention Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Cuba, Peru, Ghana, Laos, and at least 14 other countries. The web is being spun by Living Waters for the World, Clean Water U, and all of the people and organizations that it has brought together and sent out in the name of Jesus Christ, who is living water for our bodies and souls.

In little more than 2 ½ years, I have found myself connected to people who know people who know people… I’d even venture to predict that, if Living Waters for the World continues to expand at anything near its current pace and continues to provide connections for organizations and communities across the globe, there will be a day in the very near future when the notion of “Six Degrees of Separation” will become too limiting a concept, and someone will posit that it’s probably more like three or even two.

Think about it. Someone from your church or civic club goes to Clean Water U or CWU-West, and makes a connection with 40 or 50 other people from across the USA and the world. Then they come back and form a LWW team, perhaps partnering with folks from a nearby town, traveling thousands of miles to develop a relationship with a school, hospital, church, or community center of a village in a developing country. You maintain those ties, eventually bringing your international partners to visit your hometown, and maybe even get them to attend Clean Water U. Do you see the silk stretching? Do you feel the vibration when someone on the other side of the world picks up a bottle of clean water?

I do!

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

If the Way Be Clear...

In a late-night Clean Water U-21 conversation with another CWU instructor—a conversation that turned to “things Presbyterian”—this phrase was used: “If the way be clear…” It is a churchy-legal way of saying something like, “We’re going to do this if at all possible.” Or, as my grandmother used to say, “Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise…” At the end of this conversation, a low-wattage flash-bulb fired in my brain, giving me cause to jot the phrase, “If the way be clear…” on a napkin and tuck it away for later reference.

In turning this phrase over in my mind, I found the reason for the flash. “If the way be clear…” easily morphs into, “If the water be clean…” Living Waters for the World teams often find themselves beginning (both at home and abroad) in situations where “If the water be clean…” seems nearly as impossible as “If ice becomes fire…” How can we, in our congregation and/or civic group, possibly raise enough awareness, concern, human resources, and capital to source a system and team? How can the people of a rural village in a developing country possibly build a room (or a building!) to house the system or find the people to operate/maintain the system and educate the public?

As a friend of mine taught and reminded me in a recent sermon, the answer to these and other questions of impossibility is, “These things can’t be done… until someone actually does them.” The English poet Ralph Hodgson wrote, “Some things have to be believed to be seen.” That’s the way it often is with Living Waters for the World in particular and mission in general. We may start with the caveat, “If the way be clear…” but there comes a time when the faith of a few suddenly becomes the pathway through impossibility toward a reality that has never before existed. That’s when, “If the way/water be clear/clean…” becomes, “The water IS clean!” or, as LWW ambassadors like to put it, “Let clean water flow!”

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Monday, August 3, 2009



Though it sounds and looks like a security code or some encrypted message, it is not. It’s five numbers and one letter—six different things that became very clear to me during the course of the most recent “Clean Water U” (CWU)—the five day intensive educational component of Living Waters for the World (LWW).

21 The last session of Clean Water U was the twenty-first. In our culture’s measure of human chronology, that means Clean Water U has reached “adulthood.” Though CWU may have reached adulthood, the staff and volunteers who animate its body, mind, and spirit know that maturity is measured by actions, not age; and wisdom is not so much possession of a subset of knowledge as it is the ability to effectively integrate ideas that are becoming available while humbly acknowledging the exponentially larger set of that which is yet to be known.

300 About the time you read this document, the documented number of LWW water filtration systems installed worldwide will surpass 300. Included in its 22 countries of installation are the first system installed in a country led by a Communist government (Cuba), and multiple systems in the USA (Appalachia). LWW has come a long way from the early years, when “the” team installed 11 systems in its first 6 years. That’s a lot of systems, a lot of relationships, and a lot of lives transformed (on both sides of the water tank). There are thousands more villages in need, millions more people needlessly dying and suffering from easily-preventable water-borne illnesses.

900 The number of people who have been trained at “Clean Water U” is now over 900. With October’s inaugural session of CWU-West, at Calvin-Crest, CA, ten miles south of Yosemite National Forest, LWW and CWU are more fully blanketing the world. On the final night of CWU, students are equipped to begin fulfilling their role as “Clean Water Ambassadors” (CWA), spreading the good news of LWW’s message far and wide. How many Clean Water Ambassadors do you know? How many more people do you know who could become CWAs?

2 Our congregation is working on its second LWW system. Partnered with our local Rotary Club, we are maintaining a relationship with the El Dios Vivo congregation in Guastatoya, Guatemala, where the first system we initiated has been operational since April, 2008. Partnered with First Presbyterian Church, Pulaski, TN, we are developing a relationship with the congregation of Temple Getsemani in El Jute, Guatemala. The Pulaski/Fayetteville team is working toward a November, 2009 installation/education trip. I pray that this number continues to grow until all God’s children have access to safe, affordable water.

1 The more I am immersed in LWW and CWU, the more I am aware of the oneness of it all. We serve one God. We are one people. We have one purpose: to spread the good news of God’s love in every tangible, life-altering way possible. Clean water is one of the most powerful tools I’ve seen. It breaks down the walls of language, culture, economics, politics, and social status. Being a part of sharing clean water gives people on both sides of the table an opportunity to experience the joy of God’s grace.

U This single letter is commonly used in our fast-paced, technology-driven world to represent “you.” When “you” is part of a conversation, it’s as personal as life gets. All of these numbers and the story they tell relate to “you.” Whether or not you ever attend “Clean Water U” or go to Guatemala, or contribute to the Mission Fund to support these projects and other mission endeavors, or take it as a part of your prayer life to specifically pray for the people whose hands and hearts are deeply invested in this mission, “you” are part of this and other work that define and give missional energy to our congregation. Thank “you” and, “Let Clean Water Flow!”

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mission Has Beckoned: LWW

Mission has beckoned
From earth's four corners;
Water as God’s force
No longer gives
Life and health freely.
How can we share what
We're given so that
Everyone lives?

Show us the web, Lord,
Of our connection;
Teach us to value
Gifts that all bring.
Covenant people
Bringing together
Resources garnered
Makes Your heart sing.

Give us the courage,
Give us the wisdom,
To be your hands and
To be your feet.
Give us compassion,
Give us the love to
See Christ reflect in
Each face we meet.

People are waiting,
Wond’ring and watching:
Who will remember?
Who’ll be our grace?
We are an answer,
We’ve felt the calling.
With God’s empow’ring,
We’re mission’s face.

Show us the way to
Give while receiving;
Hearts and minds open
While we’re at work.
Share what we’re given,
Take what is offered.
God’s gifts abounding,
Make us the kirk.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I’ve heard the statement, “We’re witnessing history.” a lot lately, with regard to politics, economics, and even church. Truth be told, history is not limited to earth-shaking, momentous occasions that are captured on paper, video, or stored in fire-proof cabinets. We not only witness history every day, we participate in it—we MAKE it—the good, bad, and ugly, as well as the mundane.

Our congregation has a long, storied, and essential history in this community. From its courthouse worship gatherings since 1812; to its cyclone-razed frame worship structure erected in the 1820s; to its bricks-burned-on-the-spot sanctuary that weathered not only Civil War casualties, but also a multi-oxen steeple tear-off; to the 1967 kitchen & education wing that hosted countless fellowship meals, education events, wedding receptions, Vacation Bible Schools, and God knows what else; to the 2004 Family Life Center that is just coming into its own as a preschool and host for a plethora of church and community functions; this congregation has participated and is participating in countless faith and community events that have nurtured and shaped our community.

Buildings don’t even tell half of it. Elected, appointed, and volunteer community leaders from this congregation have provided and continue to provide direction, vision, and leadership for government, social, service, and civic organizations all across the Tennessee Valley. For all the programs, missions, and ministries to which we directly connect, there are dozens more that are driven and supported by individuals and families from this congregation. All of this is history MAKING—foundational blocks on which our whole community was built and continues to be built.

We, as a congregation, have been particularly careful over the years to maintain records of that history—to save for posterity the people and stories that gave shape to who we are and who we are becoming. With our 2004 building and renovation program, we set aside a room for this purpose—a history room. We committed technical and human resources to archiving and storing those stories, and have just recently received shipment of fire-resistant storage units for that purpose.

As we move toward 2012, we are gearing up for the congregation’s 200th anniversary celebration. All of this is a part of preserving and celebrating the history that is already ours. But your Session is not content to rest on its laurels. The gospel calls us to participate in and claim the new history of God’s future. We are also constantly considering what part we will play in tomorrow’s history. Do we only want a “place in history” or do we also dare to seek a “part in the present and future coming of God’s realm”? The difference is between accepting only a static residence in the past, and acknowledging our past at the same time that we are reaching toward a life in God’s future.

“History is what we make of it” as the old saying goes. Whether we make something of it or not, it will eventually claim each of us once and for all. We will BE history—finished though maybe not forgotten—but certainly gone. We will also surely MAKE history. The question yet-to-be-answered is: “Will the history we MAKE open the door for this congregation to continue making more history in the future?” It is my hope that we are willingly embracing a grace-inspired vision of a vibrant future; my prayer that we are warmly encouraging and accepting the energy and ideas of all generations; my dream that we are passionately pursuing a present filled with growth and its life-giving change.

History—God’s history—is not just about the past. It is about opening ourselves to the possibility of God’s future. THAT’s the future in which we need to participate. Are you in?

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Grace’s Garden

I’ve always enjoyed the fruits of others’ gardens, but never really planted one of my own. I’m sure the grass or flower seeds that I planted in a paper cup in kindergarten sprouted, but I never stayed focused on their growth and health long enough to remember. I don’t even pay enough attention to the potted plants in my office to notice their need for water. If it weren’t for Jennie and others of you in the church, the pots in my office would cease to be organic, and would only qualify as a “dried arrangement.”

This doesn’t mean that I don’t think about and even sometimes dream about gardening. The other day, as I was daydreaming about what kind of garden I’d like to grow and tend, I tried to imagine the one fruit, vegetable, or flower that I could contribute to the lives of those around me—the one thing that we all need more of—I went through the usual suspects: tomatoes, squash, mint, basil, cilantro, beans, cucumbers, greens, lettuce. None of this produce, as tasty and important as it may be, really grabbed me.

That’s when it hit me. The one thing that we all need more of is grace! It’s the perennial that makes the world go ‘round, the nourishment that truly refreshes, the sustenance that makes everything not only possible, but worthwhile.

I’m going to pay more attention to watering, feeding, weeding, and sustaining grace at every turn. It’s going to be my garden project. Together we can water the grace that blesses our lives with our tears of joy and sorrow. We’ll feed it by celebrating the places it easters up in our lives. When chaos, confusion, and guilt choke out our grace-vision, we’ll pull those weeds so we’ll be able to see grace more clearly. Together we can sustain grace’s garden in our community.

It is a year-round, lifelong plant that’s already been over-sown in every nook and cranny of our lives. Grace is not an introductory offer. There is no time or circumstance for which its currency is insufficient; no thought or act beyond the reach of its healing salve; no cup or soul too broken to experience its overflow. It can be refused, but it will not be withdrawn.

Do you see it?

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Friday, July 3, 2009

Ministering to

Out of town this week to visit Katie for a few days. I'll give you a quote from FDR, and let you tell me where and how it is applicable in our world and your life today:

Facing the continuation of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke to the nation in his 1933 inaugural speech:

"So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear. . .is fear itself. . . nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.…..
These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow-men."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Female Pastor?

We pick up where we left off last week, as Abbe continues responding to the question: How did we get from there [church tradition/polity that prohibits female church leadership] to Pastor Jessi?

A few examples of passages that few, if any churches take literally:

Deuteronomy 21:18ff states that stubborn or rebellious teenagers must be stoned to death. Leviticus 27:31-33 requires that everyone give one tenth of everything they grow and produce to God, or else. Leviticus 19:19 prohibits livestock and seed cross-breeding or hybridization, as well as fabric made from more than one type of fiber. Literal interpretation alone would mean that countless adolescents, missing contributions to the church of incalculable value, hybrid seeds/animals, and polyester fabric have all escaped proper church judgment, if not death/punishment.

The New Testament is not exempt from selective literalism. If we believe that Paul’s words are definitive with regard to prohibiting women in church leadership (instead of, say, the words of Jesus against women, which, incidentally, are non-existent), then shouldn’t we also follow his admonition to cover or shave all women’s hair (1 Corinthians 11:6)? If not, why not? Who decides which is first century custom and which is essential biblical teaching? In Paul’s defense, we must also not forget all the women that he commends as saints and leaders in the early churches which he helped form: Philippians 4:2-3; Colossians 4:15; 2 Timothy 1:5.

All this talk of evolving and selective scriptural interpretation notwithstanding, the church has not taken the parameters of its call to ordained leadership lightly. Our Book of Order—one of the essential guiding principles for church government—reads: Both men and women shall be eligible to hold church offices… As persons discover the forms of ministry to which they are called… they and the church shall pray for the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit upon them and upon the mission of the Church. (G-6.0106) Our Book of Confessions—source of our most important historical faith statements and second only to the Bible as a document influencing our faith and practice—has this to say: The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles, rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture, engages us through the Word proclaimed, claims us in the waters of baptism, feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and calls women and men to all ministries of the Church. (A Brief Statement of Faith 10.458ff)

Things finally changed when congregations, sessions, and presbyteries began to see that both men and women possessed the gifts and skills for leadership and ministry. When we finally recognized the reality of Pentecost: In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2, quoting Joel) the question of Peter (Acts 11:17) demanded an answer: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

See you at Pastor Jessi’s installation service and celebration?


Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Dear Abbe,

Most of us probably grew up in religious traditions that prohibited women from taking leadership roles in the church. How did we get from there to Pastor Jessi?

Sign me,
Help My Unbelief

Dear HMU,

Our great, great grandmothers were most likely never allowed to own property or work outside the home. Our great, great grandfathers probably owned human servants of African descent. Our great grandmothers were surely never allowed to vote in U.S. or local elections. Did these circumstances occur because the social or moral fabric of society would have been ripped by female property ownership or entrepreneurial exercise, because slaves were sub-human, and because females are intellectually inferior or otherwise created in ways that make it dangerous or unwise for their votes to be counted?

I think a major part of the answer to these questions is, “No, but we’ve always done it that way?” Church, as an institutional body, is queen of that phrase. For the most part, “always” simply means “for as long as we can remember.” You might be surprised to know that the very early church ordained women. In 451, the Council of Chalcedon declared "No woman under 40 years of age is to be ordained a deacon, and then only after close scrutiny." As I understand it, anyone ordained to the Holy Order of Deacon would be eligible for later ordination to the priesthood as well.

The first ordained female deacon was installed in the Presbyterian Church in 1923, the first female elder in the 1930s, and the first female pastor in 1956. In most small towns and churches like ours, it was 40 or more additional years before women felt comfortable and confident enough to accept nomination to church office.

The Church has sanctioned and strengthened patriarchy (i.e. “Father Knows Best”) much more and longer than society in general. Change in the church is often hard and halting. Refusal to enfranchise female voters and treatment of various ethnic people as property were not only supported and justified with biblical arguments, they were championed by church leaders. Dogmatism and doctrine are sometimes the bottleneck in which ethical/justice issues are entrapped.

The real issue boils down to a few critical determinations. Is it possible—more significantly, is it God’s intent—for us to limit our interpretation of ALL scripture to a literal one? My answer to both of these is “No.” Aside from separatist cults, people and churches who insist that scripture be taken only literally ALWAYS pick and choose which passages are on their “Top 10” literal list. Other passages are ignored or explain-away. Following any scripture literally, without also holding it to our understanding of God’s purposes for us by the Holy Spirit’s guidance is risky business.

(Continued next week.)

Monday, June 15, 2009


Convenio is the Spanish translation of “covenant.” It describes the document that evolves from a relationship of mutual trust and respect, in which partners agree regarding the components of a project for which they will take responsibility. There are multiple physical and fiscal resources to consider, as well as important human ones.

After the water testing was complete and our lab bottle was secured, sealed, and stored for transport, we sat down with Getsemani’s Consistory (Session) to work out the details of our water system plan/program. You might imagine that financial considerations would be the only ones of consequence. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Negotiation is the key word. There is give and take, offer and counter-offer, as the members of Getsemani’s Consistory and members of the Fayetteville/Pulaski team commit to provide a lengthy list of essential resources. Beyond the construction of a room, Getsemani’s leaders agreed to pay for and procure various components of the system, and Fayetteville/Pulaski’s team members committed to deliver and fund others.

In addition to arranging and paying for travel, transportation, lodging, and meals, the all-important resource of human beings must be addressed. In order to ensure the system’s long-term success, the Operating Partners (in this case, the Getsemani church) must commit to provide employees/volunteers to construct, operate, and maintain the system. To maximize the health benefits of newly-available filtered water, the Operating Partners must also provide educators to learn, teach, and share with the community on an ongoing basis a basic curriculum that has spiritual and health/hygiene components. In a culture that rarely has access to adequate amounts of filtered water, it is important to reinforce hygiene practices and remind/teach residents the why, when, and how for safe practices of common daily activities that involve water.

As Initiating Partners, we (Fayetteville/Pulaski team) needed to know how many people Getsemani would provide for these various tasks, so that we could adequately plan for their integration in the installation/education process. Aided by our interpreter, we carefully worked our way through all of the resource components, making written notation on parallel English/Spanish documents. Once each group was satisfied with the agreement, signatures were added and copies distributed.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Thursday, May 28, 2009


After our initial meeting in which we got acquainted with Pastor Romaldo and the Consistory of the Getsemani congregation, we returned to our hotel in nearby Tecultan, ate supper and prepared for the next day. For some of our group, preparation was quiet time or bedtime. For others it was a competitive card game of Tic. Morning brought renewed energy and enthusiasm and, after breakfast, we boarded the van to return to the village of El Jute.

During our absence and over the course of the evening, the Consistory of Getsemani had decided that option [b] building an additional room onto the front of the church building, was their best choice. Having decided that, we sat down to work out all the details necessary for the installation, education, and operation of a water filtration system. The first order of business was to collect samples for immediate and laboratory testing. The day before, we had established that their water was from a reliable and high pressure source. Now that we needed to collect samples, however, the water had mysteriously stopped flowing.

How can you test water that won’t flow? With ingenuity, of course. One of the elders, who lived a few blocks from the church and received his water from the same source, still had water pressure at his home, so we sent Joseph and Robert with him to collect samples.

The first order of business was to fill a Whirly-Pak—a sealable plastic bag containing “bacteria food”—with sample water. When properly filled and sealed, Whirly-Paks accelerate the growth and accentuate the visible presence of a particular strain (fecal coliforms) of bacteria and serve as a marker species for other harmful bacteria. A positive Whirly-Pak test indicates that the pathways for the introduction of harmful bacteria exist. After 24-48 hours at room temperature, a positive sample in a Whirly-Pak will turn dark and stink to high heaven, as the “germ food” accelerates the growth of the marker contaminants, providing very powerful visual and olfactory evidence of the possible need for a filtration system.

In addition to this most dramatic test, there are other important tests that can be done on-site that indicate a water source’s levels of other elements of concern. In chemistry-lab fashion, Joseph and Robert dipped, swirled, and color-charted test strips to get preliminary readings for calcium, total dissolved solids, chlorine, free chlorine, and other elements whose presence and concentrations help determine not only the need for a filtration system, but the particular type of system that will be successful and sustainable. Finally, we collected a sample to send to a testing facility in the USA, for more detailed analysis.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Let's Do It Again!

“That was fun. Let’s do it again.” I cannot tell you how many times I have heard these two statements in my life. I remember them most often with my children—when we were enjoying ourselves with some game or activity. Once is never enough when it’s something good. So it goes with Living Waters for the World, as joy at the depths of the human soul supplants “fun.”

One installation and one relationship are not enough. After we completed our check-up and renewed our friendships at Iglesia Presbiteriana El Dios Vivo in Guastatoya, we set out to repeat the process. Twenty-five or so miles from our first installation, in the state of Zacapa, lies the small town of El Jute. In this town there is a Presbyterian Church: Templo Evangelico Presbiteriano “Getsemani.” This congregation had been a part of our initial survey in October, 2007. Getsemani was one of six congregations where we had taken water samples and left a copy of the Water Issues Survey for completion.

Prior to our 2009 trip, we reviewed the completed Water Issues Survey and made contact with Getsemani’s pastor to confirm their congregation’s desire to form a partnership and install a water filtration system. Pastor Romaldo and members of his Consistory (Session) were waiting for us with open arms. They had done their homework—having visited several nearby LWW installations, and given some creative thought to a suitable location on their own property.

We spent the first afternoon getting to know one another—finding out about families, vocations, and other personal information—as well as explaining the workings of both the system and the covenant partnership of the Living Waters for the World program. Both locations they suggested were suitable. One would use an existing classroom at the back of the building, and the other would have required a three-wall and roof addition to the front of the existing building. We departed the first night, leaving them to decide: [a] use the existing classroom at the back of the building, and require filled water bottles to be carried all the way through the building, or; [b] build an additional room onto the front of the building and have a convenient distribution point near the street.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Open Wide & Say "Ahhhhh"

Our first priority was to do a check-up on the system installed in Guastatoya, GUA, by the Fayetteville Rotary/First Presbyterian team in April of 2008. We arrived at the Guatemala City airport, by way of Nashville & Houston, right on schedule. Knowing that the filters, bulbs, and coffee in my carry-on could not only arouse suspicion with Guatemalan airport security, but might also result in the assessment of somewhat-arbitrary fees/taxes, I did my best imitation of confidence and self-assuredness and walked directly toward the airport exit without being diverted into the optional Customs queue. Avoiding an awkward Spanish/English attempt to explain what I was carrying and why was a great relief, and the air outside seemed exceptionally fresh.

After a brief delay, attributed to our failure to adjust for Daylight Savings, we were reunited with old friends and introduced to new ones. The 2 ½ hour drive to El Progresso/Guastatoya was punctuated with typical interpreted questions/answers, as well as standard-fare Guatemalan driving—something that feels like “Cross Country NASCAR” for those of us unaccustomed. By the time we arrived at our first night’s destination, there was time for little more than check-in and supper, though we did manage an after-supper walk around the town square/park.

Tuesday was dedicated to an in-depth analysis of the system and a querying of its operators to determine their operational proficiency and adherence to a business plan. Before the trip I was skeptical about the need to carry several repair parts, including an extra bulb for the ozonator. My skepticism was erased when it was determined that every spare part we brought was needed to restore the system to full functionality.

Tuesday evening began with a worship celebration at the church. We used music from a variety of instruments and sources, Scripture, prayer, and a full quiver of both Spanish and English to give thanks and praise to God for our ongoing partnership centered on the gospel and Living Waters for the World. After worship, the community’s Health and Hygiene instructors were assembled for a review with our group. This was a very productive meeting that lasted late into the evening.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

We’re Baaaaack!

Our week in Guatemala was a truly amazing experience. The more I leave the comfort zone of my controllable surroundings and venture into the great-beyond of the rest of God’s creation, the more I realize how vast, diverse, and glorious God’s world and plan truly are. A 5:30 AM airport arrival for TSA/Homeland Security baggage check is always an adventure, especially when you are carrying-on water filtration components.

As my carry-on went through security-screening X-Ray, a flurry of airport employees assembled to greet its exit from the machine. “This your bag?” “Yes sir.” “What you got in there?” “Carbon water filters and ozonator bulbs.” “Looks just like pipe bombs to us, so we’re going to take a closer look.” “Okay.”

As the entire contents of my bag were dumped onto a table, I suddenly realized that the pound of Hawaiian coffee I had purchased from my favorite hometown barista as a gift for our Guatemalan host might trigger an additional search for hidden drugs. Agents scrutinized each filter, bulb and box, being careful to swab every crevice for explosive residue. Once the swabs produced negative bomb-residue results in the TSA scanning equipment, I was allowed to re-pack my bag and proceed.

Thus began a week-long journey in mission that also served as a lifelong lesson in appreciation and letting go. I once saw a bumper sticker that read: Life is what happens while you are making other plans. This was definitely a week of “life.”

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since our Rotary/First Presbyterian team travelled to Guatemala to install its first Living Waters for the World (LWW) water filtration system. Reports from other LWW partners traveling through the area, as well as e-mails from the system operators, indicate that they system continues to function and provide clean, affordable water for residents living around Iglesia Presbiteriana El Dios Vivo (Presbyterian Church of the Living God).

April 27-May 3: a week of travel & mission partnership for seven folks from Middle Tennessee. Our team: Jennifer Taylor & her son, Jonathon (Fayetteville Rotary), Joseph Hamilton & Todd Jenkins (First Presbyterian, Fayetteville), Robert Montgomery, Teresa Burns, & Raymond Shackleford (First Presbyterian, Pulaski).

Our first purpose will be to visit and provide a check-up for the El Dios Vivo system and its operators, ensuring that they are continuing to maintain and operate the system efficiently, and encouraging them to continue to use it to provide safe water for more of the area’s neediest residents. The second part of the trip will be a journey to Aldea el Jute (Jute Village) to begin the negotiation and preparation process to install another system later this year. Please keep the people we’ll be working with, the system, and our group in your prayers.

Prayer Itinerary
April 27: Fayetteville/Pulaski to Nashville to Houston to Guatemala City to Guastatoya. Please pray for traveling mercies.
April 28: Meeting with the LWW system’s Operating Partners; examining the system, the business plan, and the community education process. Please pray for clear communication, trust, and friendship.
April 29: Repairing/adjusting the system. Please pray for Murphy’s Law to take a vacation.
April 30: Saying goodbye to Guastatoya friends and travelling to Aldea el Jute. Please pray for safety, peace.
May 1: Getting to know the community of Aldea el Jute and the folks there who are interested in getting their own water filtration system. Please pray for openness and deepening friendships.
May 2: Negotiating a LWW convenio (covenant) with Aldea el Jute; traveling to other villages to test water. Please pray for diplomacy and good water-testing skills.
May 3: Aldea el Jute to Guatemala City to Houston to Nashville to Fayetteville/Pulaski. Please pray for Godspeed.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins