To Prove I Am Not A Ghost

Posted in: Uncategorized by bill-o on August 13, 2010

Two “extreme tourists”, Guilluame Combot and Enora Nedelec, have recently made the 18-month journey by foot from Capetown to Khartoum, from south to north across sub-Saharan Africa. Surviving on about $2.00 (US) each day and with only two backpacks of supplies, the pair walked each day not knowing where they would sleep each night. You can read their story here: “Extreme Tourists Set Off To Walk Across Africa”.

Combot and Nedelec entered some areas of southern Sudan that are so remote that the local people did not even know what a “tourist” was. The locals there could only conceive of the possibility that these two travelers were really foreign aid workers.

But at one point, the very-long-distance pedestrians entered a village that is so isolated that its inhabitants had never seen white people before. The villagers forced Combot to eat something to prove that he was not a ghost.

Knowing Personally

Posted in: history,Science and Nature by bill-o on September 11, 2009

According to the podcast The Missing Link, Episode 6, when European farmers began to settle southern Africa about 200 years ago, they noticed that the native inhabitants of that region had a completely different way of keeping track of their cattle.

When it came to cows, the Europeans were masters of headcounts. If a count came short by the expected number, then these farmers knew that cows were missing. The native African farmers, on the other hand, had a completely different way of keeping track of their cattle. As far as counting was concerned, the Europeans quickly discovered that most of the African herdsman could not count beyond the number ten.

Instead of counting, the native farmers took the time to know each of their animals personally. For example, the African herdsmen would carve, over the course of a long time, the horns of cattle into distinct shapes and curves. Special care was then paid to the various spots, colors, and patterns of each animal. The native Africans would raise each of these animals from birth and knew which ones would be near certain others in the overall herd. The rich pasturelands of southern Africa allowed the native Africans to live with their cattle rather than having to send them off to distant grazing areas. Another memory aid: Names were assigned to each of the animals that matched their personalities and habits.

The culture of the African tribes also supported the personal care of their cattle. For instance, the Xhosa tribe’s creation story tells of their ancestors emerging from a cave with their cattle. Additionally, cattle were held in high regard and only killed on very special occasions.


So we see here in the difference between these two methods of keeping track of cattle a way of knowing versus knowing personally. And it is knowing personally that is the true spiritual path.

The New Monasticism: The 12 Marks: Mark #3

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on March 01, 2009

Continuing with our reflections on the 12 marks of the New Monasticism, we encounter the third mark:

“Hospitality to the stranger”

The first mark of the new monasticism dealt with getting to the right location, whether physical or spiritual. The second addressed sharing with one another within a living and vital community.

This third mark of the new monasticism take things one step further: sharing hospitality with strangers.

After all, it’s one thing to share resources and time with people that you know well: friends and family that you know and trust, sometimes for years or even decades. It’s a bigger step of love to reach out beyond your typical circles of relationships to give freely to those in need whom you may have never met before.

The dictionary defines hospitality as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers” and, perhaps more enlightening for us here, “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way” (

Although this mark pertains specifically to strangers, it is often the case that guests and strangers come together. Who of us have not had occasion where we were planning to entertain a guest yet that guest brought along a stranger whom we had not met before? In these cases, I think that this dictionary definition might need to say “guests and strangers” instead of “guests or strangers”.

And while I think that “tag-along” strangers that come along with intended guests are indeed strangers, I think that the intent of this mark is to drive our imagination out to care for the strangers for whom we cannot even call “friends of friends”. 

Some of you may have seen the Africa Trek television series, where Alexandre Poussin and his wife Sonia walk across Africa from south to north. During this amazing adventure, Alexandre and Sonia walked through remote parts of Africa that were far from any hotel. As they walked, they often encountered strangers who insisted that the two of them stop and stay with them for the night. Much of their journey centered around the hospitality of these perfect strangers who then became friends. In a very real sense, this cross-continent journey was not Alexandre and Sonia’s alone, but also the journey of the friendships and hospitality that they found along the way.

So what is the hospitality that we should offer?

I could offer a list here, yet I think that the yearning to be hospitable should be whatever is truly and uniquely on your heart to do.

At its heart, true hospitality, whatever it is, is, ultimately, an expression of love. It must be something more than a mere “bargained-for exchange”. True hospitality is all about giving of yourself and expecting nothing in return.

I also believe that hospitality is an expression of home. Hospitality is where strangers and friends are welcomed in and truly made to feel “at home”, if only temporarily. And please remember that sometimes we are the ones who bring the hospitality, that true sense of home, to others by visiting those who cannot go out themselves: the shut-ins and the prisoners, for example.

What prevents us from offering that hospitality?

1.  Well, I think that the first mark has to come first: relocate to the abandoned places. You first need to be a location where strangers are more likely to be found.

2.  Second, you should be practicing the second mark: sharing with friends. If you are already being hospitable to friends, it will be a lot easier to do so with strangers. Here, you are already practicing the habits of hospitality with each other.

3.  Hoarding prevents us from giving to others: to friends or to strangers. After all, we each need to be reminded that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive. Giving is a lifestyle choice (as is hoarding, BTW).

4.  Strangers often come at times that are the most “inconvenient” to our personal schedules. Because we don’t yet know them, there is no way to “synchronize our schedules”. Yet this inconvenience becomes convenient when it’s something that marks our lives. Showing hospitality to strangers is all about putting other people first, even when it adversely (and probably temporarily) impacts our time.

5.  Finally, sometimes we’re scared. After all, strangers are not people that we know and trust (at least not yet). Yet this, in and of itself, should not be an excuse. Depending on your own particular circumstances and as you are led by the spirit of God, you should be able to practice hospitality to strangers in a way that is safe and secure.