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Kenya 2.0

Now that everyone is settled into 2014, I thought I'd fill you guys in on my trip to Kenya with CARE for AIDS. I've been thinking about writing this blog for a few weeks, but honestly just got busy with Christmas parties, family time, New Year's plans and running a half marathon, so I apologize to all of you who supported me and haven't heard an update yet!

In case you haven't run into CARE for AIDS before, they are a small non-profit based in Atlanta and Nairobi that focuses on equipping HIV positive Kenyans to live healthier, more productive lives. This involves partnering with local Kenyan churches to run a nine month program that teaches individuals how to care for themselves, as well as providing spiritual counsel and job training.

The beautiful Kenyan backcountry, near Naivasha.

From the get go, I've been impressed with CARE for AIDS. Their desire to create real, long term and sustainable solutions for people in need was what first got me on board with their vision, but seeing how well they partner with local pastors and community health workers was what really impressed me.

Jennifer and I actually went to Kenya a little earlier than the rest of our group. We left the day after Thanksgiving to go visit some of my friends who live in Nairobi, and some of her colleagues that work in Kisumu, near Lake Victoria. It turned out that we saved about $700 on airfare if we went early, so it was a no brainer for us to go spend some time with friends we rarely get to see. When we returned to Nairobi, we met Duncan, Cornell and Francis, Kenyans who are in charge of the programs in Africa, to greet our team as they arrived. Unfortunately, the team was about 5 hours late, so we didn't get back to the CARE for AIDS house where we were staying until about 2:30am.

Francis, striking a pose for the camera while we're on client house visits. 
He is always up for a good time!

The next few days we spent meeting with the CARE for AIDS local staff. There are about 50 full time Kenyan staff, and only 5 full time American staff. Their staff meetings are, shall we say.... lively. They start out by singing and dancing (and yes, they sing loud, and actually dance!), praying together and spending some time catching up with each other. My friend Doc and I got the chance to spend some time encouraging the 15 or so Spiritual Directors, local pastors who's job it is to care for each client in the program. It was amazing to hear the stories, successes and struggles that these men have with clients as they dig into the emotional and spiritual issues (abandonment, a feeling that no one loves you, lack of community, shame) that are associated with having HIV. We also met with the community health workers, who gave us updates on how the clients were doing physically (were they taking their meds correctly? are clients getting proper nutrition? Had any clients died in the last few weeks?).

After meeting with CARE for AIDS staff and running a short afternoon program for the children in a Nairobi slum (games, singing and being mobbed my 100 kids because I brought out a soccer ball!),
we spent a few days riding along with the Spiritual Directors on house visits. Every week, each CARE for AIDS client gets visited by their Spiritual Director and their community health worker. Riding along on these was both heartbreaking and immensely encouraging. We heard story after story of how the CARE for AIDS program has changed people's lives, but also heard how so many of the people who have HIV/AIDS have been shunned by their communities, or how they simply don't tell their family or friends about their condition for fear of the consequences.

Jennifer and I, enjoying a beautiful Kenyan sunset.

Spending time in these people's homes, eating with them and holding their children reminded me that everyone desires the same things in life. We all want to be valued, respected and loved. I honestly think that CARE for AIDS does a great job of showing God's love and acceptance to those in great need in Kenya, and I hope to work more with them in the future.


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A Few Thoughts on Easter

I hate winter. If you know anything about me, you know this. I value sunshine and warmth, long days at the lake and sunburns from surfing too long. Sailboats and board shorts, front porches and cold sweet tea. Winter just seems so... dead. In the dark, cold months after Fall I get cranky. I forget to notice the beauty of the world around me. A part of me starts to lose hope.

And then it happens. Spring. One warm weekend, and I emerge from the pale unhappiness of my reluctant hibernation and I feel the renewal and expectation that comes with April in Georgia. Saturdays in Piedmont Park. The Braves opening weekend. Renewed LIFE. I think thats why I love Easter so much. I can't help but believe it's a physical manifestation of what is happening spiritually during the season of Lent.

Forty days before Easter, many Christians around the world agree to give something up for the season of Lent. We agree to sacrifice. When I was younger, I remember my Dad giving things up for those 40 days. One year it was chocolate, another year, Coke, still another year, dessert. I however, was less noble in my efforts. Vegetables, baths and homework were perennial favorites, and to my dismay, Mom wasn't exactly supportive of my commitment to serve God by refraining from broccoli. Obviously I was missing the point.

The purpose of these sacrifices isn't to make ourselves miserable in some extended act of penance. Just the opposite. It's a way of acknowledging that we are alone and lost without the presence of a Savior. It's a way of pressing in with our Creator and preparation for what is to come. Just as the barren ground in winter is being prepared for the renewal of spring, so should we prepare to renew our hope in the grace that God has offered us.

On this Good Friday we should feel the burden of our shortcoming, remember the consequence of sin and that we are incapable of effectively dealing with it ourselves. It is a heavy thing to mourn the heart of God, and Christ's crucifixion is a graphic and painful reminder that we are fallen and sinful beings.

The beautiful thing is, the story goes on. The power of our sin was, is, and always will be less than the power of God's love for us. Resurrection is eminent. And in the coming days and weeks, nature will be screaming out the hope of new life that God desires for us. How cool is that? Every budding tree tells God's story of forgiveness, each blossoming flower, the beauty of His grace.

I pray that this Easter as we enjoy warmer (and longer!) days, green grass and a home opener win from the Bravos, we remember that the same hope and renewal of life that we witness in nature is available to us in our hearts. Happy Easter.

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What's Important, and What's Not

There's a good chance I should be spending tonight in a hospital somewhere in Atlanta. Instead, I'm sitting here on my couch, drinking the best Gatorade I've ever tasted (the key is adding a little more powder than you're supposed to) and thinking about what's important.

I was in a hit and run accident this afternoon on my way home from work. This is the second accident that I've been involved in the past five days. Two cars totaled, one sore neck. Apparently my reckless streak is catching up with me.

The accident today was a lot worse than the first, which was a simple rear-ending (whoops!). Today I was going about 70mph down the interstate, when a guy in a Mercedes dodged through two lanes of traffic and slammed into my passenger side going about 100mph. He kept going, I spun around three or four times, hitting another poor woman's car, flipping the back of my car up and landing on the median. At least that's what I've been told, it's all kind of a blur to me. Life really slows down when you're spinning out of control, and it's both revealing and funny the things that are important in that moment.

"I hope I get out of this okay, I want to see my nephews grow up."

"Is my car seriously in the air right now?"

"Will I be able to find my iPhone?"

Profound stuff, I know.

The aftermath of the wreck is a little different though. One minute you're driving home from work, stressed because sales are down and you don't know how to fix it, and the next, you've got a serious adrenaline rush and everyone is telling you "close call" and how lucky you are to be walking away from this unscathed. It really makes you realize how fragile life is, and puts into focus the things that are important. At the end of the day, here's whats important, and here's whats not:

IMPORTANT

Faith: Some people may say I'm a lunatic/uneducated fool/product of a southern upbringing, but this is really important to me. I could quote a bunch of C.S. Lewis quotes or Bible verses, but if you don't believe it's important, probably nothing I'm going to say here will change your mind. I'll just say that a relationship with a loving, graceful God changes your perspective on the world, and makes everything else on this list a little more substantial and wondrous.

Family: The people that understand you better than anyone else. They know your strengths and weaknesses, you're weird quirks (even numbers only on car radio volumes, thank you very much). They've seen you laugh till you hurt, yell till you cry and cry till you're empty. Don't take family for granted. Tell them daily that you love them, even when you're mad, and especially when you're hurt. Have a short memory on the bad, and a long memory on the good. Be honest with them, and be quick to forgive when they're too honest with you. Above all, love them well.

Community: I love that tonight my phone has been ringing off the hook, even if I haven't been answering most of your calls. That means I have great friends, and I'm not doing life alone. Love these people well too, they are your adopted family.

Purpose: A sense that I am on this Earth for a reason, and that I'm uniquely created to be someone that no one else is. For years I've tried to fit the mold, run with the right crowds, know the right people, buy the right things. What matters is that I strive to be the best Bryan that I can possibly be (that sounds a little like something on Reading Rainbow, but I don't know how else to put it), and life will be a bit easier if I embrace and celebrate that everyone is unique. Encourage people's strengths, have grace with their weaknesses.

Wonder: It's so important to have a sense of wonder about the world around you. Without it, I can assure you that your life will be long and you will be grouchy. Laugh for no reason, explore a new city, climb a mountain and when people ask "Why?" tell them, "Because it's there!". Curiosity is vastly underrated in our day and age. Embrace it.

NOT IMPORTANT:

Houses, iPhones, IKEA furniture and the latest fashions: Anything that you can buy and lose in a week is not important. It might seem important for a day, or a month, or even ten years, but ultimately, when you're life is as temporal as ours are, iPhones are pretty stupid things to be living our lives for. Agree to live simply. Spend a lot less money on things, and more on experiences and unexpected generosity. Turn off the television (or your texting!) and actually talk to your roommates. Buy gifts just for the hell of it.  You won't regret it.

Opinions: There's a reason why op-eds are separated from news articles in most papers. It's because they're not truth. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, yes, but don't let other people's views dictate who you are. Identity is something that our Creator alone instills in us, but most times we listen to what everyone else says about us, instead of what the God who loves us most says about us. Be confident in who you are. Do you love to watch House Hunters all night? More power to you (Yes, you, Joel Perkins). Are you infatuated with painting but no one "gets it"? Paint anyway and hang them proudly. Do you hate the thought of corporate life? Go get a job you're passionate about, and if no one will hire you, make something up yourself (talking to myself here).

Being Interesting: My goodness I struggle with this one. The people who you want to be around don't like you for what you've done, they like you for who you are. There's a big difference. If you're hanging out with people who only care what you've done, or for that matter, what you can or will do, you're going to end up disappointed, lonely and bitter.

Your Salary: As long as you're living within your means, how much you make is not the least bit important. Comparing yourself with others will always frustrate you. There will always be someone who has more than you. Imagine how frustrated Kanye West must be that Bill Gates is so much richer than him. That's no way to live. Just enjoy what you have, and use it for good.

Toyota Carollas: I should know, I've gone through two of them this week.


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Want an iPad? Here you go!

This summer has been interesting, to say the least. After phasing out of my job at Booster, I've climbed mountains, run more miles than I care to think about and have literally been around the world and back. Now that I've returned to Georgia and settled into my new place, its time to find my dream job.

Call me brash, impatient or cocky, but there is no good reason I'm not employed with a great company right now. I'm hungry, talented and fired up to start a new chapter of my life. I've got a few irons in the fire right now, but nothing has come about quite yet. I'm determined to dig in deep and keep working my butt off to find not just A job, but the RIGHT job. So....

I need your help.

That's right, I'm crowdsourcing my job hunt. Don't worry though, I'm going to make it worth your while. It's a simple concept- you hook me up with my dream job, and I will buy you an iPad2. I am completely serious, y'all. When I get my first paycheck, I will give you your choice of an iPad2 or the cash equivalent (about $400).


16 gigs of Apple brilliance could be all yours!


Now I know you're thinking there's a catch, and you're absolutely right. I'm a visionary kids, not a sucker. Here are the rules...

1. This offer starts on September 3, 2012. That means if you introduced me to Richard Branson last year and he decides to give me a job managing Necker Island next week- sorry, you're out of luck.

If you can score me this suit as well, I may change my mind.


2. You actually have to make a meaningful connection for me. None of this, "Hey Bryan, I was the one that told you about that job testing ice cream for Ben & Jerry's...". That's not going to cut it. Introduce me to Jerry? iPad for you, my friend.

Bring me a shrubbery (and a job)!


3. Let's not waste your time or mine, so only approach me about opportunities that I'm qualified for. As much as I love throwing the old pigskin around, I'm not quite ready to take over for Matty Ice...yet. Watch out for me in your 2014 fantasy league, though!

I'm gunning for you, Matt...

I am, however, qualified for a variety of public relations, marketing, business development and customer relations positions. I want to work for a young, growing company that is doing important work and gives me opportunity to be challenged and grow as the company does. Also, company culture is a huge deal to me. If I'm going to spend the majority of my time with a group of people, they need to be pretty awesome.

Need more info? E-mail me at bryancfarrar@gmail.com and I'll send you my resume and answer any questions you might have.

I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in this next season of my life, and I can't wait to see what you guys come up with. Happy hunting!