Monthly Archives: October 2009

A Max moment months later

By Kari Costanza—the final post about Max Lucado.


Kari in Burundi. (Jon Warren/WV)

A few months after we took Max Lucado to Ethiopia, photographer Jon Warren and I flew to Burundi to do a story on the beginning of World Vision sponsorship there. Burundi has been hammered by hatred. Two people groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis, have battered one another for decades. Poor governance has left an unsteady infrastructure. But recent peace has brought an opportunity for development through child sponsorship.

We then traveled north to Rwanda to tell the story of a country with a similar ethnic context that’s made great strides toward peace and development.

Rwanda confounds me. It is beautiful in every way, from its people to its landscape—but in April 1994, gorgeous turned grisly as nearly a million people were killed. Being in Rwanda leaves me in a swirl of emotions—with confusion at the core.

I checked e-mail while I was there and saw an UpWords column from Max titled “Death: Because of Christ You Can Face It.” In the column he writes about the eve of his heart surgery and how he felt about the possibility of not making it through. That night he prayed, wrote letters to his family, and decided he was ready to go. He felt brave and sure.


Children in Nyruguru, Rwanda. (Jon Warren/WV)

Max’s words bolstered my spirits. And they got me thinking about my dad. He went through heart surgery in April 1990 and then surgery for cancer that August. I flew home across the country to sit with him in ICU. There wasn’t much I could do—the nurses did everything—but it was good for us both to have me there. My dad wasn’t afraid of death in any way. In fact, witnessing the confidence he had that a new life was waiting, I stopped fearing death myself (for the most part!). He died right before Christmas.

Max’s column inspired me to write a blog that night on my dinner at the Hotel Rwanda. It’s the hotel where more than a thousand refugees were sheltered in April 1994. I wrote about people of strength like the hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina, who risked his life to save the refugees, and about my dad who did so much to keep our family strong. And I considered the strength it takes to get through every day in Rwanda—a place that was turned upside-down by hatred.


Max offering a personal touch in Ethiopia. (Jon Warren/WV)

Max commented on the blog entry. (I’d told him he inspired it.) He said, “Thanks for the reminder. This can be a harsh world.”

And it’s true. Rwanda provides too much proof. But that’s why we have brave people around to soften the blow.

Related posts: Max makes me talk (Oct. 29, 2009); Max and the camel (Oct. 27, 2009); Judge of character (Oct. 26, 2009); Dinner at the Hotel Rwanda (Sept. 3, 2009)

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Max makes me talk

By Kari Costanza. The third of four posts about traveling with Max Lucado.


Kari keeps going with Ethiopian coffee. (Jon Warren/WV)

In my job for World Vision, I sometimes plan trips for people, particularly Rich Stearns, World Vision U.S. president. We’ve traveled to Zambia, Malawi, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, and most recently to Ethiopia, with Max Lucado. Photographer Jon Warren captures the images Rich uses in his speeches and communications with our supporters.

I play two roles on these trips—getting us around (with much help from our national staff) and finding stories that represent World Vision’s work on the ground. I like working with Rich. He’s a good reporter. He carries a reporter’s notebook and asks questions that make me think, Why didn’t I ask that?

This job fuels my passions. I love to ask people questions. I love to find out what motivates their behavior—why they do the things they do. But on this trip, I ended up on the other side of the reporter’s notebook—because of Max.


Shimelis Habte, a pastor who was persecuted for his faith. (Jon Warren/WV)

It happened toward the end of the trip. We’d seen so much. Irrigation projects that support hundreds of families. How sponsorship answered a woman’s prayers when she was on the verge of suicide. A pastor who suffered persecution—in taking a public stand for his faith, he ended up in a lice-infested prison.

We were talking through these experiences when suddenly, somehow, I found myself talking about myself—telling Max about my family, my husband and children, my brother and sister, my parents, even about our dog. Why am I talking so much? I thought. And why can’t I stop? I’m the reporter here! I should be asking the questions! Max and his wife, Denalyn, are good listeners and really good conversation prompters, and I found my words tumbling out.


Max listens to Wosene, a once-dispairing widow and mother. (Jon Warren/WV)

And you know what I learned? Telling stories is cathartic. Revealing oneself creates bonds. This is something my brain knows, but in talking about myself to Max and Denalyn, I felt it in my heart.

When we go out and gather stories, everyone benefits. When World Vision shares stories of people with needs, those families benefit from the prayers and support of donors who respond. Our donors benefit with a closer connection to the poor, the brokenhearted.


Max and Denalyn with Mimi, their sponsored child. (Jon Warren/WV)

But there’s a benefit that goes beyond how a story is spread and heard—the feeling of “I matter” that you get when you share your soul with someone who cares.

And that’s what Max and Denalyn helped me understand.

Next Memorable Max Moment: Months later, Max gives Kari a boost.

Related posts: Max and the camel (Oct. 27, 2009); Judge of character (Oct. 26, 2009)

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Max and the camel

By Kari Costanza. The second of four posts on traveling with Max Lucado.


Max Lucado draws a crowd in Ethiopia. (Jon Warren/WV)

Getting Max Lucado from Point A to Point B in Ethiopia was a challenge. Max is “people bait.” Everyone wants to talk to him and tell him their stories. I saw men and women who barely spoke English stopping Max to introduce themselves.

I wasn’t sure why it happened. He didn’t wear a big sign that said, “I’m Max Lucado. Tell me your story!” He just moves through the world letting life stop him at every corner. If he were a refrigerator, he’d be covered with magnets.

Max communicated with the children in an especially delightful way—he did magic tricks. It was not uncommon to see him surrounded by children—all of them smiling. I loved watching Max with people. He is the way we’re all supposed to be: loving God and loving one another.


Max and his magic tricks. (Jon Warren/WV)

As the trip coordinator—like Julie the cruise director on “The Love Boat”—it was my job to ensure that everyone had a fulfilling trip. In playing that role, I put my own needs aside.

So I was really surprised by Max at the water hole.


A heavily used water hole. (Jon Warren/WV)

We took the group to a place in Ethiopia where every day, thousands of people fight for water from a handful of holes where water bubbles up from the ground. It’s a surreal spot. At any one time, there are dozens of people queuing for water while their donkeys stand patiently by to carry it home. The wealthier people bring camels that galumph their way through the canyon, laden with yellow jerry cans. Monkeys, waiting for their turn, watch the activity from the top of the limestone walls.

The sights were amazing—as was the knowledge that it takes so much time for men, women, and children to vie for water. It defines how they spend the rest of their day. Children miss school. Men and women cannot advance because they’re too busy just getting the water they need to live.

In the midst of this almost overwhelming scene, I spotted Max near one of the camels and asked him if I could take his picture. He quickly changed gears and obliged (as did the camel). Then Max surprised me. He asked, “Would you like me to take your picture, too?” I handed him my camera and crouched next to the camel.


Kari and the camel. (Photo by Max Lucado)

I love that picture. It reminds me of the way so many people in the world live—fighting for water, something we take for granted. But it also reminds me of Max and the way he made me feel included and special. It’s the way he makes everyone feel, whether you’re a camel, a child, or a cruise director.

Next Memorable Max Moment: Max makes Kari talk.

Related post: Judge of character (Oct. 26, 2009)

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Judge of character

By Kari Costanza. The first of four pieces on traveling with Max Lucado.

Max Lucado and new friend, Deborah. (Jon Warren/WV)

Max Lucado and new friend, Deborah. (Jon Warren/WV)

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I met Max Lucado. He’s a big name who’s written a lot of books—85 books in all.

Back in December 2008, we’d started planning Max’s trip to Ethiopia. He wanted to write a book based on Acts. He wanted to find out how World Vision worked. We decided to take him to a place where World Vision has child sponsorship and where one of Jesus’ disciples might have traveled. It turned out that two disciples might have gone to Ethiopia: Matthew and Matthias, the disciple chosen to replace Judas.

I was a little apprehensive. What would Max be like? Would he be high-maintenance? Demanding? How would he interact with the children? With World Vision staff? “Don’t worry,” I was told, “Max is the friendliest man you’ll ever meet. Completely disarming. When he talks to you,” they said, “he really talks to you. It’s as if you’re the only person in the room.”

We’ll see, I thought. We’ll see.

The trip in May began at World Vision’s main office in Addis Ababa. Our Ethiopian staff gave Max the big picture—how World Vision responded to the famine in the mid-1980s. How sponsorship had grown over the years. How places of death and sorrow were now blossoming with life. I stole glances at Max. He was engaged. Interested. But was he the friendliest man I’d ever meet?

The Lucados worship at a church in Adama, Ethiopia. (Jon Warren/WV)

The Lucados worship at a church in Adama, Ethiopia. (Jon Warren/WV)

We then piled into cars and traveled south to Adama, formerly called Nazret. I love that name; Ethiopia is filled with wonderful references to its Christian heritage. The first event for Max was a meeting of the Hope and Light Association—a group dedicated to fighting the stigma of HIV and AIDS. He and World Vision U.S. President Rich Stearns (another very nice man) would participate in a candlelight coffee ceremony with association members.

I sat behind Max and his wife, Denalyn. They were tired from travel—it takes almost 24 hours to get to Ethiopia. They’d hit the ground running with very little sleep. I was worried. Were they too tired? Was this too much?

A little girl answered my questions.

Denalyn Lucado at the candlelight ceremony. (Jon Warren/WV)

Denalyn Lucado at the candlelight ceremony. (Jon Warren/WV)

Dressed in her prettiest, frilliest dress, 1-year-old Deborah tottered from her mother’s arms, up the aisle, and plopped herself right into Max Lucado’s lap. He cuddled her like a granddaughter. Deborah liked Max’s lap. She didn’t leave it through the ceremony—except for when Max and Rich lit candles to commemorate the occasion.

Deborah was all the proof I needed. Children know nice. I was going to like this guy.

Next Memorable Max Moment: close encounters with a camel.


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By Jane Sutton-Redner

A few weeks ago, before the weather turned and before I’d put away my summer clothes, there it was: Costco’s Christmas section. Reflexively, I started to stress; the first signs of Christmas have that effect on me. My mind goes immediately to the work involved: shopping, decorating, cleaning the house for guests. Some years, it seems that I miss “the reason for the season” all the way up to the Christmas Eve service—when the lyrics to “O Holy Night” finally sink in.

Advent adult coverIf you’re like me and you’d like to approach the celebration of Christ’s birth in a joyful rather than frazzled state of mind, consider observing Advent this year—spending four weeks in reflection and anticipation for Christmas. My colleagues have developed a useful tool for groups or individuals to observe Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, Peace. The free PDF leads you through week-by-week candlelighting, Scripture, prayer, and action ideas.

Children's Advent CoverThere’s also a children’s study, Sharing Christ’s Love, which is great for Sunday school groups or families with younger children. It delves into the Christmas Story and helps kids see the similarities between biblical times and our world today. There are also creative, hands-on activities. And it’s free.

Maybe this is the year I can get it right—cut down on the crazy holiday busyness and take time to prepare my heart for the joy of Jesus. Who’s with me?

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Little girl lost

Laura Reinhardt, a frequent magazine contributor, is in American Samoa with a team assessing World Vision’s relief response to the earthquake and tsunami.

Memorial to 6-year-old Vaijoresa. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

Memorial to 6-year-old Vaijoresa. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

The little girl was buried, as is the custom, in her family’s front yard in Leone, between her uncle’s and great-great grandfather’s graves. She was buried in an adult coffin. They’ve run out of children’s coffins here.

“I feel a little bit stronger now because she’s laying right there,” said Taitasi Fitiao of her daughter, Vaijoresa, 6. “I know she’s in good hands with God. And I believe I’m going to see her again some day.”

Sitting in front of her tsunami-damaged home, this bruised and battered mother told me about losing Vaijoresa. I’ve never cried so much during an interview.


Pinned between two cars, Taitasi couldn't hold onto her daughter. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

Right after the 8.0 earthquake on Sept. 29, Taitasi hurried down the main road to the elementary school her children attend because she knew there was a possibility of a tsunami. Vaijoresa and her brother Phoenix, 13, were heading her way—the school sent them home after the quake.

Vaijoresa and a friend ran ahead of Phoenix. The girl met up with her mother at the village bridge, and Taitasi grabbed Vaijoresa’s hand just as the first wave hit. They stayed together until Taitasi got pinned between two cars. “Then all of a sudden, I couldn’t feel her anymore,” Taitasi said. “She just started floating away. She said, ‘Mom, please.’ She wanted to live, but I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t do anything. I knew right then she was gone.”

Taitasi thought she herself would drown, but she caught onto some branches and pulled herself out of the trap. “When I got up, I couldn’t see my daughter,” said Taitasi, overcome with emotion.

Brothers in mourning, Phoenix and Raven, in their FEMA tent. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

Brothers in mourning, Phoenix and Raven, in their FEMA tent. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

Phoenix survived when passersby in a truck pulled him in and took him to higher ground. From there he watched the wave roll in. He felt scared and sad because he wasn’t with his little sister. “I’d always protect her when she wanted to go somewhere to play,” he said. “I’d always touch her hand and take her to where she wanted to go.”

Taitasi’s husband found his wife sobbing and learned that their daughter was missing. He and oldest son Raven, 16, searched all night for the 6-year-old. The next day, searchers found Vaijoresa’s body buried under rubble. She still had her school backpack on. She loved school, her father told us. “I really miss her. I miss her a lot,” he said.

Raven and Phoenix continue to watch over their little sister, sometimes sleeping next to her grave. They both feel guilty that they could have done more to save her. Taitasi tells them, “It was no one’s fault. It was a natural disaster.”

The tree planted by Vaijoresa's family still stands. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

The tree planted by Vaijoresa's family still stands. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

Visible from Taitasi’s house is a small island with a lone palm tree. It’s striking, sitting out in the harbor, all by itself. Some people call the tree “The Lonely Palm Tree,” but the Fitiao family knows it by another name—Niuaveve (pronounced Nu-ah-vay-vay). Vaijoresa’s great-grandfather, who planted the tree, named it this. Taitasi gave it as a middle name for Vaijoresa. Every time Taitasi looks at the island, she feels her daughter’s presence.

Vaijoresa’s father looked out at the lone tree and said, “The tsunami couldn’t destroy it. It’s still standing, and I know my daughter is still standing.” He paused for a moment before adding: “If she’s listening, I love you, baby, and God bless you.”

See a video clip of Taitasi on World Vision’s Web site in the “My Story” section.


Filed under American Samoa, On Assignment

“Life is not the same”

Laura Reinhardt, a frequent magazine contributor, is in American Samoa with a team assessing World Vision’s relief response to the earthquake and tsunami.

Amanave village: the view from high ground. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

Amanave village: the view from high ground. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

On Saturday, the sun shone brightly, bringing sweltering heat. Our first stop was the village of Amanave, in the western part of the island. As Bishop Tavai drove us there, Tom and I exclaimed over the beauty of the ocean. The water turned from shades of pale turquoise to deep azure and was so clear that we could see all the way down to the rocks. Palm trees, bread-fruit trees, and coconut trees swayed in the soft ocean breeze.

Looking at this tropical beauty, I found it hard to believe that this same seemingly benign ocean had wrought such devastation.

As I wandered around Amanave taking pictures of the wreckage, a woman called me over to her house. A young man who had been talking with her told me, “This is the high talking chief of Amanave.” I had no idea what a “high talking chief” meant, but it sounded important.

The woman, Taua Niualama Taifane, explained that she is the voice for her village. She makes sure that the needs of the people are met. Since the tsunami, this has been quite a job; many of the homes were damaged or destroyed. Her own home did not escape untouched. The roof over her family’s living quarters and adjoining store collapsed. All the items in her store were destroyed. “Life is not the same,” she said.

Eddie Boy Tiafane, tsunami survivor. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

Eddie Boy Tiafane, tsunami survivor. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

When the earthquake struck, Niualama headed over to the local school to check on the children. She ordered her own sons, Eddie Boy and Victor, to get to higher ground.

Eddie Boy, 19, who sat plunking a guitar as we talked, told me that he and Victor hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck. The first wave knocked Eddie Boy off the truck. He ran for his life and reached higher ground. Looking back down on his village, he saw the second wave strike. All he could see was the rooftops. Then the third wave hit, and he couldn’t see anything, not even the church.

The family slept out in their driveway for the first week until they got their FEMA tent. The tents are supposed to sleep four people, but I looked inside, and three cots take up most of the space. The tents have no floors, so when the rainy season comes, people will have little protection against the elements.

We drove on to the village of Peloa. The cleanup doesn’t even appear to have begun there. The road was blocked off, so we went in on foot. An eerie stillness hovered over everything; the village was abandoned. Every car seemed to be smashed and sitting in strange places—in people’s yards, in front of the church. One even seemed to be taking a dip in the tropical waters.
A church in Peloa village. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

A church in Peloa village. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

Family pictures, children’s toys, shards of broken tile, linoleum ripped from floors—all were scattered in front of people’s homes. The wave hit one church with such force that the pews ripped loose from the floor. Now those pews sit stacked up in front of the church.

Pamela Luaao with her FEMA tent. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

Pamela Luaao with her FEMA tent. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

On our way back, we stopped again in Amanave, where we met Pamela Luaao, 34. Her family home and guest house were wiped out in the tsunami. Where the guest house once stood, now there stands a FEMA tent with her colorful laundry drying on top. She said that her family barely escaped the wave. They were just ahead of it as they barreled up the hill. “Our truck literally saved our lives,” she said.

She described a dream her 8-year-old son had after the tsunami. In it he was a member of a superhero team. His power, he told his mother, was the greatest of all the superheroes, because was able to stop the wave from hitting his village.

More to come from Laura in Samoa this week.

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