Today it is me: Tomorrow it is you – Amina, the refugee


I traveled to the world’s largest refugee camp in Dedaab, Kenya, with Ambassador Tony Hall, a legendary leader in the fight against hunger and now director of the Alliance to End Hunger.  Dedaab is 50 miles from the Somalia border and home to three-quaters of a million refugees. This is story of just one of them.

Amina started her journey from war-torn Somalia towards the refugee camp with her husband, four children, and a small herd of goats. Three months later she arrived in the world’s largest refugee camp in Dedaab, Kenya, with no husband and only two children. Because of the warring factions in Somalia, the drought in the Horn of Africa turned into a famine. To stay was certain death for her entire family either from starvation or murderous rebels. Fleeing was their only hope.Red on Red- Dedaab Refugee Camp

Amina and her clan are called pastoralists because of their nomadic lifestyle looking for green pastures upon which to graze their goats, cattle, sheep, or camels. Their homes are tents made of goatskin or cloth.

Amina’s husband had been abducted by Al Shebaab, then executed. She found others to travel with for protection. They would sell a goat and travel as far as they could with the proceeds. Then they would sell another goat. Finally, they found the bus the United Nations High Commission on Refugees patrolled the porous Somalia/Kenya border. The bus was sent from Dedaab because the fifty-mile stretch from Dedaab to the Somali border had turned into “visions of hell.”

Children in Dedaab Refugee Camp

Children in Dedaab Refugee Camp

Like other refugees who make life or death journeys, the horrors along the way are literally hell on earth. Two of her children grew weak and were close to death, but they had to keep moving. So she lay her children in a makeshift shelter or covered them with branches. She hoped to get far enough away she couldn’t hear the cries of the children dying or the wild animals devouring them.

The life Amina will live in the refugee camp holds very little hope other than the sustenance of food. 85% of the refugees are women and children- the men have been killed or abducted. She will most likely be raped- repeatedly. Her daughters will be forced before puberty to have female genital mutilation with rusted knives, broken glass, or sharp rocks. Her daughters won’t be educated- only a few of the boys will find hope through education.Suspicion

She was given 21 days of food rations to make the decision to become labeled a “refugee.” A term they hate, but find necessary to survive. After 21 days, she will give up many of her rights just to get food.

Firewood for cooking will be a huge issue over the course of time. She, along with the other women, will be sent to gather it. If the men go, they will be killed or maimed. So the women go, knowing they will most likely be raped, but their life will be spared.Choices Most Horrible

She had nothing left except her two children and the clothes on their backs.

But she had her faith. She said God would take care of her.

And she had a small community of people whom she trusted based on survival. They shared as they traveled based upon a Swahili saying: Maanta waa aniga, berina waa adiga -Today it’s me; tomorrow it’s you. It would be like me sharing with you today if I have food, because tomorrow I might not have food and I will need you to share with me. Community based on survival.Water of Life


I am a theologian by education and profession for twenty years, but I confess I am deeply humbled by the faith of the impoverished. I have met thousands of the world’s poorest people and find their faith inspiring. Faith gives them the ability to interpret their circumstances and suffering in a positive light. Perhaps the strongest component of faith within the community of the poor is a belief in a better life-after-death. Religion is not the opiate of the hungry masses; it’s often the only hope that keeps them going. It is tragic that some radicals turn religious beliefs into a justification for violence.

The Power of Community

I stopped my neighbor recently and said, “Maanta waa aniga, berina waa adiga -Today it’s me; tomorrow it’s you.” I told him the combination to the keypad on my garage door and told him if he ever ran out of food, he was welcome to raid my fridge and freezer. I also told him I expected him to return the favor if I was hungry. He asked if I was on medication. Or if I needed to be!

We base community in the U.S. on shared beliefs and values. A hundred years ago, people of Little House on the Prairie era learned to live with each other in a small geographic region seldom more than ten miles apart. However, because of transportation opportunities, we choose our communities now based on stylistic, economic, and shared value systems. People think nothing of driving 30 miles to attend a faith community in another city.

But for the impoverished, sharing is based upon survival; we base community on convenience.

I often think of Amina. I wonder how she and her children are doing. I wonder if she knows how much her faith inspires me even though we are from different religions?Despair

You can read more stories like this in my book, Hunger Bites: Bite Size Stories of Inspiration.

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How to Win People Over: A Lesson From my Dog


I don’t need to take a Dale Carnegie Course in How to Win Friends and Influence People. Instead,  I can watch our little dog win over the affections of a feral cat and believe it will work on people.

A year ago, I agreed to get another Shih Tzu on one condition: she couldn’t be a froufrou dog with ribbons in her hair and a diamond collar. Nosirreebob, I like tough little dogs that rumble in the bar on Saturday night then go to church on Sunday morning.

Naming our dogs is kind of an evolutionary process. We started off with Pepper, but it soon extended to Peppernuts then I shortened it to just plain Nuts. She’s a tough little dog that spends every waking minute looking for someone to torment.

Recently, my wife befriended a feral catch she named Patches. It took a while for Christine to win her trust, but once she did, the cat is ferociously affectionate to the point we wonder if it is really a cat; Patches acts more like a dog.

Although Patches the cat likes the humans of the house, our other animals are not objects of her affection.

However, Pepper will have none of that. Over the course of time, Pepper has won the cat over and I’ve learned a few things.DSC_3505

Persistence:  As soon as Pepper goes outside, she looks for the cat. The cat is often perched on the railing of our deck so Pepper would circle the deck first, looking up. Next, she heads out to the stone patio. Then Pepper would bark:

  • Hey! Hey you! Yeah, you, the cat. I’m a dog. I like cats. Want to be friends?
  • Hey! Hey you! Yeah, you, the cat. I’m a dog. I like cats. Want to be friends?
  • Hey! Hey you! Yeah, you, the cat. I’m a dog. I like cats. Want to be friends?

Pepper is not the sharpest knife in the cutlery set.

Proximity: Although the cat was usually pretty clear on her lack of interest in a mutual relationship by baring her teeth and hissing, Pepper would get as close as she could without getting mauled. Four feet seemed to be the safe space that gave Pepper enough time to run if the cat turned aggressive.

Patience: It took Pepper about six weeks to win the affection of the cat. In the sales and marketing world, it’s generally assumed that it takes six to eight touches to generate a real lead; few people buy the first time. Therefore, sales and marketing folks create various methods of getting in front of a potential customer six to eight times. Pepper probably had sixty.

We’ve watched Pepper do so many dumb things that my wife and I now form a marble-sized circle with our thumb and finger and say, remember, her brain is only that big.

Nonetheless, I’ve learned a few things from our little dog about how to win people over.

But I’ll leave the barking to her.

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My Huggable Heroine: Carmen Miller


When Carmen Miller lined her children up for a lickin’ when they were kids, I stood in line and took my medicine, too. Her children – the little hooligans I write about in The Cows of Hobson’s Pond series – were all my age so she just seemed like a Mom and not a sister. I was thirty-five years old before I realized Carmen was my sister and not another mother.

But we made a transition from parent/child to sister/brother and, then, best of all, best of friends.

She was with me on my first trip to Nicaragua when a starving five-year-old girl asked me to feed her. She was the first person I told that I wanted to spend the rest of my life feeding hungry people.

She was with me on numerous trips to Nicaragua where we provided food and medical treatment for thousands of people.

“It’s really big, baby, it’s really big. God’s plans for you are really big.” Carmen has breathed that into my soul for over two decades now.

She was with me when I came up with the idea of packaging meals for the hungry. She was with me when we engaged 120,000 volunteers to package 20 million meals for the Haiti disaster in 2010. We were at one event where a thousand people were in an arena packaging meals and she gave me a hug and said, “I’ve been saying, it’s really big, baby, it’s really big.”

She’s the first person (after my wife) I gave the draft of my novel, Voices on the Prairie.

I spent twenty-years in the ministry talking to people about how much God loves them, but I never really felt it in my heart until I started hanging around my sister. If you know her, you know she loves you. I’ve heard her say to the some of the biggest rascals on earth, “I don’t care where you’ve been, but I love you and care about who you are and who God wants you to be.”

I’ve read some of the greatest minds of history that have expounded on the nature of God and can say without question that I have learned more about the love of God by watching my sister than I have any other preacher, prophet, or poet. She lives the love of God.

I call her up and read her all my blogs before I post them; it’s the highlight of my day. Everyone should have as big a fan in their life as I do in my sister. I want to be to others what she is to me; one who simply makes others better by believing the good about them.

And now I’m with her. She was in Wenatchee, Washington, visiting her daughter when an emergency surgery discovered she had a tumor on her colon.

I read this one to her and we both cried.

We both wept as I held her hands and prayed for her.

When I’m asked about the top three people of history that I would like to meet, Jesus is always my first answer.

As I prayed for Carmen, I realize I’ve already seen Jesus; my sister looks just like him.

The photo in this blog is of Carmen caring for a dying woman in a poor village in Nicaragua.


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Growing Up Kansas: Win Big at Rick’s Shooting Gallery!

sunflower 2

When I was a kid, being bored was an entry-level crime in our house. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, Mom pontificated. She also kept a pitchfork in the broom closet for those times I either admitted to, or looked like, I was bored.

“Here,” she’d hand me the pitchfork, “if you’re bored, go clean out the horse barn.”

“I’m not bored,” I lied. “I’m meditating.”

“Good. Go meditate with The Horse.”

If you think cows are sarcastic, just walk up to a horse’s barn with a pitchfork in your hand.

“Time for a little road-apple therapy, is it?” The Horse neighed. “Did our Mommy catch us being bored again? Love the smell of horse-hockey on our boots, do we?”

I never did understand why The Horse talked to me in questions. Horses are the most beautiful animals on earth that can kill you with one well-aimed horseshoe. I’d sass back to a cow, but never a horse.

I don’t remember being bored much except during the winter when it was so cold outside I’d wake up in the morning with The Horse in my bed. He put off enough body heat that I didn’t mind, but horses are notorious for flatulence. He’d pass gas so loudly the covers on the bed rippled like a flag in the breeze.

But, again, a horse can kill you with one well-aimed horseshoe so I kept my mouth shut.

Country kids just don’t get bored; there are too many things to explore, blow up, light on fire, tease until they chase you, or tempt fate with to ever want to stay inside and be bored. I see well-padded playgrounds today and think to myself, we’re raising sissies. Atlantic Monthly has an article that agrees with me about why kids nowadays need to be exposed to the Things that Could Have Killed Me as a Kid.

We stayed outside from sun up to sun down because there were lots of adventures. That, and if we went inside, one of the adults quickly made indentured servants out of us. Running from the Cows of Hobson’s Pond was much more fun than doing dishes.

Other than going a few miles down the road to church a few times a week, we seldom made the seven-mile journey to El Dorado, an oil town that carried the rotten-egg smell of crude oil on its boots.

However, we did make it to the County 4-H Fair once a year to check out the exhibits and ride as many rides as we could on the money we collected from 3-cents-a-pop- bottle returns.

I grew weary of the Ferris wheel and tried my luck with The Bullet, a torpedo-shaped apparatus that hung you upside down until all the change fell out of your pocket then loopty-looed you around in circles. Little kids learned to barf upside down riding The Bullet.

Still woozy from that ride, I stumbled over to the Shooting Galley. The straight-shooting gun must have been put there by mistake. Either that, or I was so cross-eyed from The Bullet that the crooked barrel of the gun aimed right where I couldn’t focus. Anyway, in short order, I won a stuffed-animal the size of John Candy with a hair-do like Donald Trump. The carney finally told me, and the gun, he’d had enough of both of us and it was time for me to go barf on The Bullet again.

When I look back on my life to find the moment of inspiration to become an entrepreneur, it was that moment. I enjoyed the shooting gallery so much that I wanted to offer it to others, for a price of course, because that’s what entrepreneurs do: find a way for people to pay for pleasure.

I returned to our five-acre spread in the country along Highway 54 and began The Official Strategic Business Plan for Rick’s Shooting Gallery.

Since I wasted all of my capital at the County Fair, my low-budget plan left me without the option of building a new Shooting Gallery right along the well-traveled Highway. I surmised that since folks in the city would stop at a little kid’s lemonade stand, then folks sizzling by at 70 miles-per-hour would hit the brakes if they saw my cherubic face imploring them to stop and try lady luck with my Daisy Red Ryder.

The next best option was the horse barn. However, first I had to negotiate with The Horse.

“I need you to move out of the barn for a while,” I said.

“Why? You get kicked out of the house?” The Horse asked.

“No, I want to start a business. Can you see it now? In black spray paint on the corrugated-tin side of the barn: Rick’s Shooting Gallery! Kind of like a neon sign only cheaper.”

“Do I get a cut of the profits?” The Horse nickered.

After two hours of hard negotiation, we settled on an amicable arrangement that allowed him go into the barn at night and during thunderstorms, plus gave him a 40% cut on all profits. He was also required to let me paint “Rick’s Shooting Gallery” in big, bold letters on his side; he was a walking billboard in the pasture.

Next, I had to make targets for customers to shoot. Dad had an old pair of tin-snips, rusted sheet metal, and baling wire so I cut out various shapes like stars and ducks. Then I hung them at varying depths and heights in the barn and put a two-by-four shelf in the door as a shooting rest to separate the customers from me, the proprietor.

I had only one granddaddy of a prize I could offer, a giant stuffed animal that looked like John Candy with a hair-do like Donald Trump. But I scrounged around for a while and came up with a slightly-used fishing pole, a metal bait bucket minus a handle, a seine net without poles and an antique tackle box we found buried in the creek bank. At least we called it antique. It’s all about the story.

Next, I asked Kendall and Annie if they had any in-kind contributions to my new startup. Annie came back with an assortment of Barbie and Ken dolls needing surgery, matching apparel, and a Spirograph. Kendall returned with some slightly used cattle ear-tags and an empty paper-towel roll with matches scotch-taped to the end; he said it was a flashlight. At that time, that kind of flashlight had a national ethnicity to describe it, but I wouldn’t dare call it that now less I offend almost everyone in America and half the population of Europe.

I wanted a huge billboard by the side of the road, but all my budget allowed was an old piece of plywood barely big enough to spray paint “Stop Now! Win Big! Rick’s Shooting Gallery.”

The only gun I had was a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. I was forced with my first ethical business question: do I keep the barrel straight or bend it like the carneys were inclined to? I chose to be honest mainly because, if the business failed, I could still use the gun.

One of the hard lessons I learned as a ten-year-old entrepreneur was the importance of connecting product creation to product sales and marketing. You can have the best product in the world, but if you can’t find a customer then you’ll go bankrupt. My Shooting Gallery was a great product, but the problem was that my customers whizzed by at 70 miles-per-hour. My cherubic face and the appeal of winning big prizes was not enough for them to slam on the brakes.

Later, when I started my photography business, I asked the most respected and successful photographer what the key to success was and he said, “3 things: marketing, marketing, marketing. I know great photographers who can’t sell postcards because they don’t know how to market. I know mediocre photographers who have learned to market and are making a killing.” As J.B. Clay and Floyd Hammer say, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.”

The business went belly up after a few short days. My only customers were Kendall and Annie who wrote me I.O.U.s each time they played. However, they stopped after it dawned on them that they were winning back gifts they had donated.

In lieu of payment, The Horse made me clean his barn every day until the spray paint wore off his side. The cows, for once, expressed disappointment that my business scheme failed. They were much more supportive than I expected, but I later discovered The Horse told them that if I made a lot of money, they were all getting new barns. I may or may not have implied that in my negotiations with him.

Although I failed, at least I didn’t go bankrupt. If I can ever get Kendall to pay me that three-dollar-and-fifty-cent I.O.U., then I can show a profit. But, he doesn’t think he owes me since he gave me another paper-towel flashlight as a Christmas present that winter.

I tried various business opportunities listed on the backs of comic books such as selling greeting cards, raising sea monkeys, starting an ant farm, and x-ray glasses but soon discovered how the heavy-hand of government regulations crush small businesses. The Sheriff stopped by and told me to quit painting signs on the side of The Horse. Apparently, someone turned me in to the humane society.

I’m pretty sure it was the cows.

This is a part of a series of stories under the category The Cows of Hobson’s Pond, which you can find on the menu above.

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How to Handle the Critics in Your Life


“And, of course, with the birth of the first artist came the inevitable afterbirth- the critic.” – Mel Brook’s “Birth of the Art Critic.”

Getting a publisher interested in my first novel, Voice on the Prairie, was a fulfillment of years of hard work, rejection letters, and dreams-come-true. I felt like little kid the night before Christmas waiting on my box of books to hit the streets.

Naturally, the first 3 responses to my new book were all negative.

Artists don’t like to be confined to rules, but

From the time we let the crayons slip outside the line, someone pointed out where they think we went wrong.

However, I’ve learned that if I can identify what kind of critic has launched a grenade  to blow up my creation, then I can react to the criticism in a positive manner. The adolescent retort of, Oh, yeah, well so are you!” just doesn’t work anymore.

Different kinds of critics:

The Ignorant Critic is like the sports fan on his third six pack yelling at the wide receiver to run faster.  They don’t know what they’re talking about but assume that if they’re loud enough, someone will think they are an expert.

The Destructive Critic will usually lie first by saying things like, I want to give you some constructive criticism. The destructive critic points out your faults without any suggestions or solutions for improvement.

The Constructive Critic seldom, if ever, uses the word constructive criticism while talking to you about becoming better. They’ll use words like challenge, or suggestion, or encourage.  A good critic can walk you around yourself to see a blind spot in such a way that you choose to become better without any sense of shame for not being perfect.

The Vindictive Critic is someone who wants to deliberately hurt you with criticism. Yet, they often say they are being constructive.

The Comparative Critic likes to compare you in a negative way to someone else or to them. They can do it better than you because, well, they think they’re better than you. Or they compare you to some superstar.

The Jealous Critic is hard to spot because they’re sneaky; no one will ever admit they are jealous of you. But they point out your faults, not so much because you’re wrong, but because they want to be superior to you. Their criticism is more about their inadequacy than it is about your faults.

The Unhappy Critic is never happy with anything – especially themselves – so they criticize anything their unhappiness runs over each day.  Avoid these people like the plague.

 How to react to criticism

Regardless of the motive of the criticism, it is always good to examine the truth of the criticism.

  1. Is it true?
  2. If it’s true, what steps do I take to improve?
  3. Do I really care what that person thinks?
  4. How can I turn negative criticism into a positive force in my life?

Some folks say I just need thicker skin. I’m not sure I want thicker skin, but I do want deeper roots.

and the brush in the hand of the artist.

If you happen to read my book, would  you please be so kind as to go to Amazon and post a review? Amazon has an algorithms that measure comments and, the more reviews I get, the more Amazon advertises my book.


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