Thursday, October 23, 2008


Today I got in an elevator that displayed a small sign saying "Take the Stairs!" This message was accompanied by a stick figure energetically hoofing up a flight. I immediately wondered if the elevator was encouraging me to take the stairs because it was broken. (it was not)

Cigarette ads in magazines have pictures of people doing something like lighting up while having a cookout on a rooftop with a pool. Then has a tagline like: "Newport Cigarettes, Alive With Pleasure!" Followed by a disclaimer that essentially says "consistent use of these products will eventually kill you." Well, at least you'll be "Alive With Pleasure" until you die young.

When I sold lawn and garden equipment at Sears, we were encouraged to pitch the excellent quality of the product (they really did sell great stuff). However, management only cared whether or not we sold extended warranties. Basically, I was supposed to say "Buy this mower and it won't tear up on you...except when it does...and that might be on a frequent basis." (my response to the bosses was always 'how can I sell a warranty if I don't sell a mower first' seemed to baffled them.)

Two months ago I stood in the Atlanta airport holding a boarding pass for a flight from Atlanta to Knoxville. Due to a few absurd circumstances, the customer service agent said: "You are not flying today." So I had a had a document that told Delta "Matt Hickman gets seat 27C on flight 1732 to Knoxville." But Delta said "Matt Hickman cannot have seat 27C on flight 1732 to Knoxville." (The boarding pass is now a $200 bookmark)

Seriously, I urge you avoid Delta if at all possible. Their policies defy logic and their customer service department has all the answers to questions you don't ask. Oh, and I'm excited to go home and see everyone tomorrow...I'll arrive on an 11:00 flight from Atlanta...on Delta.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Abandoned Buildings

About 10 years ago, I was traveling with my parents back to Tennessee from a visit to Florida to see my brother and his family. I loved and hated these trips…loved them because I got to see my family…hated them because riding in our egg shaped Toyota van was like riding in a mobile greenhouse. The giant windows had no tinting and the a/c blew 77 degree air with all the ferocity of a wheezing asthmatic. On one of these journeys, dad decided to wind through the back roads as opposed to driving monotonous I-26. Only 30 minutes or so off of the interstate we came upon a gas station, saloon, restaurant, and department store, each appearing to be suspended in 1955. Every building was abandoned, bearing its own thick coat of neglect. Passing by, we realized that we had stumbled through a modern ghost town. I openly wondered why the place was abandoned…in movies there always seemed to be some sort of disaster or supernatural cause that emptied towns. In seeing buildings forgotten by man and time, I could not avoid feeling slightly depressed. I don’t really know what it was…maybe just seeing emptiness and finality made me sad.

Roughly ten years later those feelings returned as I walked through Hisarya, Bulgaria. Though this town is home to roughly 15,000 people and numerous businesses; abandoned buildings stand on every corner, casting their hollow shadows. This place was like an inhabited ghost town. A three story hotel was started, but never finished, its glassless windows exposing its belly to the elements. A school boasting an elaborate arched entry and open lobby sat without any inhabitants. A large building intended to house shops, businesses, or apartments lay in shambles, though still displaying an advertisement for razor blades. Again, I could not pass these places without their sadness latching on to me. Around these buildings were open businesses and homes, bustling with movement and conversation like saplings growing in a rotten stump. Still, the feeling of melancholy and heaviness remained.

I think the reason that these feelings infected the forlorn structures is because each one represented something finished and unfinished. A dead dream. A lost cause. A missed opportunity. Gone. Lost. Past. Over.

Our society loves to preach hope…hope in politicians, athletes, books, celebrities, progress, and positive thinking. Each of those have a hollow ring to me. People always fail…hope is not truly found in people. My heart hurts for those who live unaware of the abounding love and grace of Jesus. Picturing my life without Christ is like one of those abandoned places…standing empty, forlorn, and wanting.

Maybe that’s why abandoned buildings make me sad…because there are so many all over the world...

Monday, October 20, 2008


Sorry it has taken me so long to post. Oddly, I had internet access in Bulgaria, but had no such luck in Greece. I thought it might be good to take a minute to fill you in on what we did in Bulgaria and Greece.

Once every three years, NMSI has an event aptly named Triennial which gathers all affiliates from around the world. This conference is a chance for the NMSI family to reunite, meet new members, discover the ministries worldwide, and have a time of spiritual renewal. I was truly blessed by getting together with our 250+ missionaries, learn about their ministries, and understand what the short term division can do to serve them. The things that God is doing through NMSI is staggering…from Bible colleges in Uganda, to church planting in Myanmar, to Gypsy village ministry in Bulgaria, God is being honored and the Gospel is being spread worldwide. I’m proud to be a part of this organization and I’m excited to see where God is going to take me on this journey.

The past two weeks were truly a blessing filled with education and spiritual renewal. In the next coupe of days I’ll be adding more reflections from the past two weeks

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A few observations

Here are a few random thoughts regarding travel, culture, and whatever else enters my mind.

1. Spanish people make out a lot in public...a lot
2. Bulgarian fire extinguishers are huge...and look like they're about 50 if you're wanting to put out a fire quickly, you're in trouble.
3. The big dude who sat next to me on my flight across the Atlantic silently resented me for 8 hours...I'm sure of it.
4. The feelings were mutual.
5. Speedos are never a good idea.
6. Number 5 applies to you as well.
7. There are a ton of really cool cars in Europe than aren't in the US
8. Techno music is not as cool as some people think.
9. Unless I am just not as cool as I think I am
10. I just realized that number 9 is entirely possible
11. I think I'll stop here

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thoughts from a Bulgarian Lobby

I'm sitting in the lobby of a Bulgarian hotel, surrounded by diversity, dank post communist decoration, and the Cyrillic alphabet. I'm in an aging burgundy leather chair occupying a convenient spot in the middle of the lobby. Caddy corner from me sits an older Asian man with a wispy moustache. His thin glasses peer down to the screen of his gray Dell laptop on which he types away. Behind him sits a rotund woman who seems to be a local. Her fire truck red hair matches her lipstick as she glances at me with suspicion in her tired eyes. To my right is a couple from Germany. She's a native German and leans forward on her chair, deeply focused on the book she is reading. Her American husband sits close and stares at nothing in particular. To my left stand two female Bulgarian desk clerks. Both are rather attractive, one answers the phone, the other seems perplexed by whatever it is her computer is telling her.

Right now I'm paralyzed by the truth that each of these people have a story. Deep, intricate stories filled with love, grudges, victories, defeats, and who knows what else. Far too often I merely pass by others, entirely wrapped up in my own story, recently filled with transition and heartache. Sometimes my story is just too important to me...I guess we're all wired to be consumed with ourselves. Perhaps part of growing up is seeing your story fade and the stories of others grow. I do know that my story is still being written, just like the man in front of me, the lady behind him, the couple to my right, and the women to my left. The portion of my story that has been written isn't all that important the rest will be written is. Maybe when my story engages the stories of other people, its place of importance will finally be a distant third behind God and others.

For the moment though, I'll just soak in my eclectic surroundings and allow my story to be written more deeply.