Friday, August 30, 2013

Desk Dirge

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I cleared my desk,
I did, you’ve seen—
The wood was shiny,
Bright and clean.

All projects done,
All deadlines met,
All papers filed,
With room to let.

But, while asleep—
It must have been,
Disaster struck my little desk
Destroying all that had been clean.

A flare-up of an awful sort,
An upsurge came, tsunami-size.
My quiet reverie all forgot,
Vacation not to be my prize.

The work appeared,
Paper scattered all around;
A flood of lists, to do, to don’t,
Now unhappily abound.

The wood is covered on my desk
As suddenly objectives change.
Who knew last night the wave would come
And take control as though a mange?

The lamp is lit, there is no choice,
Work must be done, no matter what.
This rash of chores still face me here,
No end in sight to this great glut.

In vain I cry, “oh mercy, please,”
I’m overwhelmed by this great wave
And long for that once sweet, clean desk
And all the promise that it gave.

A pill, a prod, a puncture won’t
Relieve the problem now at hand.
The onset of some long, hard days
My future now for me is planned.

I make this desperate last appeal,
Oh clean desk, once so pristine,
So virtuous, so neat and nice—
How could you do this, why so mean?

Hostility has broken out
Between we two
Your outburst has me quite confused
I thought our friendship was like glue!

Together we would plan ahead,
I’d do my part then sleep in peace
With the assurance that as I slept
Work wouldn’t procreate, increase.

What’s that you say?
Do my ears hear right—
That it’s not your fault that
The flood of projects came to light?

You’re telling me that I’m to blame—
That this explosion on the wood
Lies squarely on my silly head
And means to me not bad, but good?

Now that I think upon the cause
You have a point, I must confess.
If I don’t work, bills don’t get paid
And I don’t eat, then more is less.

Sad, but true, the story tell,
That nice, clean wood is deadly thus.
It needs to suffer the disease
Of work, of challenges, of muss.

Beside the need of worldly blunt
There is another story to be told;
My idle hands and mind would be
No mine of silver or of gold,

But rather hay and stubble grow
And idle time produce no good,
But devil’s playground surely be.
So break out work, oh blessed wood—

That Godly glory shine in me.

Friday, August 23, 2013

God's Gardener

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Mary Moffat stood in silence in the doorway to her home. The baby, her namesake,* whimpered in her arms, aware of a tension she was too young to understand. Mary jiggled her gently and the child fell silent, calmed by the familiar gesture.

The barren landscape shimmered under a blazing sun, heat radiating from the hard baked ground. It hadn’t rained for a very long time—too long. Like mirages in the desert, the scrub and stunted trees seemed to wave and roll in the rising heat, but the delegation of Bechwana warriors confronting her was all too real.

They were not happy.

“You must leave. Because of you, there is no rain. The cattle are dying, the springs are dry, and there are no crops to harvest. If you do not leave our land right now, we will kill you where you stand,” threatened the leader of the group, his spear pointed at her husband’s chest.

Mary shifted the baby to her left side, out of sight of the men now threatening them. Robert stood just in front of her, facing their visitors and partially blocking her from their view.

He had urged her to go inside when the intentions of the Bechwanas had become obvious, to which Mary had replied: “Robert, God made us one, and as one we will face whatever happens.”

She and her husband had been at Bechwana station at Lattakoo in the interior for several years. Robert, along with several co-workers, had arrived in South Africa in 1817, under the auspices of the London Missionary Society. Mary had followed in 1819 when her parents had finally relented, given her their blessing, and allowed her to travel to Cape Town to marry her fiancé.

Robert slowly began to unbutton his waistcoat. Throwing it open, he said: “If you will, drive your spear to my heart.”

For a moment, time stood still. In that brief space, as the implications of her husband’s solemn words settled, Mary remembered her father’s nursery garden near Manchester, where she had first met Robert Moffat. Even then he had been preparing himself for missionary work, convinced that God wanted him to nurture a spiritual garden rather than the physical ones that he first put his hand to at the age of fourteen.

From behind the relative safety of her husband’s body, Mary heard the shuffling of feet and murmuring.


Anticipating the question, Moffat turned slightly. Keeping his eyes on the warriors now huddled in conference, he spoke softly to his wife.

“I don’t know. I think they were startled by my answer.”

Mary allowed herself a small smile.

“Or your state of undress?”

The threat of death had often hung over Robert Moffat’s head. As a youth he’d gone to sea, causing his mother great anxiety. On his first trip across South Africa, he’d been stranded in the desert without water. In one of his letters to her after that experience he had commented: “I feared that my first trip would be my last; that my dream of planting a garden for God in Africa would end before it had begun.”

Later, Robert had terrified his friends when he mentioned that he was going to move to the kraal of the infamous Afrikaner, a man whose name was hated and feared across the countryside. Not only had God protected Moffat but Africaner, his brothers, and others, became ardent believers under his ministry.

However, the Bechwanas had not been such easy ground to work. They laughed at the concept of salvation. Love didn’t exist in their vocabulary. The only softening they had shown was some moderation in how they went about stealing cattle. They had also gone without the services of their rainmaker—the results of which they now blamed on the missionaries.

Robert had despaired at the lack of response, only to be gently reminded by his wife that the Bechwanas needed to hear God’s Word in their own language before they would be convinced. Robert immediately dedicated himself to that task.

“Mary, look.”

She left the shelter of the doorway to stand beside her husband. The warriors had finished their discussion. As one man, they lowered their spears and turned away. As they moved off, the Moffats heard their leader say to his companions: “This man must have ten lives, since he is so fearless when he is faced with losing this one.”

Once more faith and courage watered a corner of Africa’s garden.

*Baby Mary would grow up to marry David Livingstone

Friday, August 2, 2013

Who Killed Felix Ortega?

It seems like ions ago when the events happened that are fictionalized below. However, we know that people continue to disappear, to be made to disappear, in the interests of political and corporate ambition. God will judge.

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 In the house hugging the foot of the Avila,* the conversation was subdued. The walls had ears.

“Felix has got to go. There are 400 names on his list and ours are among them.” The man slouched on the sofa looked worried.

“Be reasonable,” said another. “Montero got away—jogged away from his secret service minders right into an embassy where he could be sure of being granted asylum. We could easily do the same.”

“They will be more careful now. The leader of our movement walking away from house arrest in the plain light of day embarrassed them,” added a third conspirator.

“It’s only temporary. They will get someone to replace him,” suggested a fourth companion, adding: “We can only hope he’ll be less diligent.”

The subject of the clandestine meeting was state prosecutor, Felix Ortega.** Two years after what many considered a failed coup d’etat, Ortega was working his way through the list of supposed participants. At 38, he was a rising star on the political scene. His success and his public profile had become a threat to many.

Not far away, in an opulent reception room of the official residence of the president of the republic, others were having a similar conversation for different reasons.

“He’s got to go. He knows too much,” insisted the Minister of Justice.

“He’s fair,” said another.

“That’s the problem. Being fair means he is not necessarily going to be loyal to the revolution.”

“So, replace him.”

“No good. To fire him will throw him, and all he knows, into the arms of the opposition.”

Ortega had arrested members of the Metropolitan police, who had been accused of shooting and killing civilians during the march on the presidential palace that began the failed attempt to overthrow the government. He was also investigating the popular mayor of one of capitol’s satellite cities, implicated in the bombing of several embassies. Felix Ortega was tightening the noose around several necks.

In the house, plans were made.

“He has bodyguards. It will be hard to get to him.”

“If we were talking about a gunman, maybe. But a bomb is another thing. He’s taking a graduate course at night. They will guard him, but perhaps not his SUV.”

“Remote controlled?”

“Yes. He is most vulnerable on his way home from the university.”

In the presidential palace, other reasons for Ortega’s demise came to the forefront.

“The commandant wants it done,” said the president’s right hand man. “You know how he hates anyone to get more press than he does …”

“…or be more popular…,” interjected another.

A sharp glance from his companions silenced him. Even here, the walls had ears. They all looked around somewhat nervously as if expecting the Presidential Guard to rush in upon them.

“C-4 will do the job. There will be plenty of opportunity. He’s told us himself that he always dismisses his bodyguards when he goes to class,” said a minister.

One of the men chuckled. “We can always blame it on the opposition—or the CIA. He’ll make a handsome martyr for the revolution.”

On the night of November 18, 2004, a yellow Toyota SUV cruised through the darkened streets of the city. Just five minutes after the vehicle had left the university parking lot, two explosions ripped through the thin black fabric of the night. The car, consumed by flames, continued its forward momentum until it eventually crashed into a store.

Felix Ortega’s death is fact, as are some of the details in this story. The names and faces behind his death remain a controversy. Arrests were quickly made, but few are convinced that the real killers were found. The truth is that jealousy, fear, and lust for power killed Ortega. His death represents only one of many that God will charge to the account of the ambitious men behind the political turmoil that has marked this South American nation over the last ten years.

Paul’s admonition to Timothy is a constant reminder that unless those who rule come to faith, there will be no peace for anyone—including believers.

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4

*Part of the Andes mountain range
**Names have been changed.