The Advocates’ Arrival

My teammates and I at the 3-D Dinosaur Movie
at the San Diego Natural History Museum last Sunday
 Concentrating on my crayon sketch of T-Rex at the Dinosaur Exhibit

A large group of us volunteered last Saturday to clean up and help 
paint a local high school before school starts up

It is truly a blessing to have a weekend to rest and recharge after going hard for about 55 hrs at the office last week. The last two weeks at the Invisible Children office have been incredibly dense with trainings on everything from public speaking and merchandise to van and personal hygiene (yes, they want us to be clean!).

We have also been booking screenings like crazy during the earlier hours of the days. I’m proud to say that I received 3 screening agreements this week and our team, East Coast, is out in front with 79 screenings as of Friday night! As a whole, the tour has about 715 screenings booked, leaving another 285 to go to reach our goal. It was crucial to make as much headway as possible this past week because we knew that on Friday afternoon, the remaining members of our teams were flying in…

If you want to see where I work and some of the people I work with, check out this Justin Bieber lip-sync video that we made during lunch break (I'm not in it though)

So there we were, deep into a gender/team relations training that Margie Dillenburg (former head of Movement Dept, current head of Alumni Relations) was leading, when Zach Barrows (current head of Movement Dept) interrupted the meeting and said, “This is probably the worst training to have to cut short, but we have to—your advocates have just landed.” It was as if we had all practiced an emergency office evacuation drill several times before: in less than five minutes there were 60 employees loaded into all the vans and down the parking garage!

We were short on time and it just so happened to be rush hour in downtown San Diego. Thankfully it was only a mile or two away and we were parked in about 10 minutes. Everyone burst out of the vans and began sprinting full speed toward the airport lobby—Dale ran so hard that he actually broke both of his flip-flops in the process! It took us a minute to figure out just which way they would be coming from, but then we spotted two dozen Ugandans all wearing the same Invisible Children shirts; we ran faster than the wind until we collided with them and greeted them with a 20-minute long hug fest!

To my surprise, we didn’t get disciplined by the airport security, but they were definitely paying close attention to our massive and loud group. Here is a photo of our completed East Coast team after things settled down a little bit:

from left to right: Lawrence, Dale, Sunday, Me, Tracy and Jaymie

Today we met up with our Ugandan teammates again at Mission Beach to swim and play soccer before another long week at the office.  There is only one full week of booking left and our team has a practice screening (but real audience) on Tuesday and Sunday this week.  We will be launching out on September 8th for a 3,000 mile drive out to West Virginia to start out our East Coast tour for 10 weeks -- we can't wait!

Week One as a Roadie!

You would think that after being involved with an organization for over four years, you would have a good grip on all the projects going on; I definitely learned a lesson in humility this week on just how much I still had to learn about the company I now work for, Invisible Children.  I am thrilled to now share some of that with you, but first let me tell you about living in a house in San Diego with 60 other full-time volunteers!

I arrived in beautiful, always 72 and sunny San Diego (it truly is!) last Sunday and had 60 new names and faces to memorize, as well as having to adjust to living out of a suitcase and in a room with 14 other guys; I had more space when I lived in my college dorm! It’s a good challenge though and it’s only for another 3 weeks which I will then be living out of a van and sleeping in stranger’s homes for 10 weeks.  The Roadie/Intern house is a 5 bedroom, 3.5 bath house at the top of a hill in La Mesa, CA and fits 60 people quite snuggly.  Our landlord and neighbors are saints who have a ton of grace and understanding, thankful that its only this packed for one month.

My teammates that I will be on the road with are Dale, Tracy, and Jaymie, plus Sunday and Lawrence, our two Ugandan teammates who will arrive next week along with 20 other Ugandan advocates.  We have already formed a great bond and are thankful that we are all Christians and will be able to come to one another for prayer and devotions (most, but not all roadies are Christian). We have been attending a local church together along with many other roadies.

The western sunsets have been remarkably beautiful, especially with the hills in the foreground.  I am really loving the geography here.  The mountains here are such a drastic contrast to the soggy plains of most of Florida.  Because of the surrounding hills, our house actually reminds me so much of the house in Freetown, Sierra Leone that I stayed in during my trip in 2007. We have also had a chance to take the trolly (!!!) to downtown San Diego and see the bay as well as a trip yesterday to Ocean Beach. (Click on panorama below for larger view of my new backyard!)

Tuesday was our first official day as full-time unpaid volunteers of Invisible Children, which started off with a most remarkable and inspiring welcome message from founder Jason “Radical” Russell.  We were also introduced to all of the department heads and their staff.  It’s crazy because in having been an advocate on the ground in Orlando for several years, I met about 9 sets of roadies; what’s more is that many of the current staff had been Deep South roadies at one time or another that visited Orlando.  In fact, off the top of my head I can count 6 former Deep South roadies who are still working for Invisible Children, just not necessarily as roadies.

Our training has been quite rigorous but we have all been sponges ready to soak it all in.  Like I said, I have been blown away by how little I knew before this week; or let me rephrase that: I was surprised at how much more that there was to learn about the history of the war, the programs of the company, and the direction it is headed. So much care is taken to ensure that all of the Ugandan programs are developed and implemented by Ugandan experts, not Americans. I will spare you the lessons on all our programs and such for now, but I hope to do some future blogs that will break down each program into more detail.  Schools for Schools is the program that we will be mostly focused on this semester, but we also have the Legacy Scholarship Program, MEND, Conservation Cotton Initiative, and a few others.

Thanks for taking the time to read about my first week, and I can't wait to tell you more as things progress!

New Malaria Drugs???!

Not sure if you knew this about me, but when in Sierra Leone in 2007, myself and a few other teammates caught malaria despite our Malarone -- preventative pills. Came across this short article discussing promising research coming out of Central Florida!

Way to go UCF Research!

Responding to IC Roadie Prompts

As part of my pre-arrival training for being an Invisible Children roadie, we have to post replies to the blogs that are set up for us.  Here are my first two:

The first prompt was simply, "Why are you here?" (keep under 200 words) My response -----

First, a Haiku:

The Son compels me
“Take the plow child, don’t look back”
Adventure looms here

When I first watched the rough-cut documentary over four years ago, it was like a switch flipped inside me from a life of apathy to engagement. Like many people, I just could not walk away and pretend that didn’t just happen. Not long afterward, I began a renewed life in Christ and have been learning what it takes to follow Him and exemplify devotion like Luke 9:62 – not easy. Laboring for IC and the Lord has always been very challenging yet so rewarding.

But I am here not just because of a great cause, story, or adventure, but because it would be sheer wastefulness to return to apathy and not pursue the passions God has placed in my heart and has given me the tools to labor for His Kingdom. I am thankful that He always remains faithful to the desires and prayers that we have, even though it happens on His clock for His purposes. I have hoped for this day for quite a while; it is truly a blessing to say I am a Roadie. 

The second prompt was to read and understand the timeline of the organization's history, and then talk about either some event you missed that you wish you could've attended, or an event that you were at and  something wonderful about it.  I did both:

Short of traveling to Uganda, the one event that would've been a great addition in my life is The Rescue Riders. As the event chair in Orlando FL, I didn't really have the ability to abandon our 1,000+ attendees and board the Roadie van & caravan; responsibility came first. But if I could have done it, I would have. What dedication.

I'm ever thankful and like to reminisce on how things went in planning Orlando's GNC, DMe, TR, and Lobby Day caravan, but one blessing stands out among all my experiences with event coordination, and it happened at Displace Me: The reward of looking up from my clipboard to witness an seemingly endless circle of hundreds of people holding hands as they prayed during the 21 minutes of silence. THIS WAS NOT PROMPTED FROM THE STAGE. I had just returned to the main stage after a first aid scare, and couldn't believe my eyes. THIS was what it was all about; THIS is what will bring change to the lives of the Ugandans; THIS is LOVE.

(The magic happens at 1 min 57 seconds!)

I still get choked up every time I think about this.

On the heels of Joseph Kony

The Enough Project's mission is to end genocide and crimes against humanity through the help of a permanent constituency (that's us!). They just recently released a document outlining the history of the LRA violence over the past 2 years.

For a detailed update on what's been happening with the Lord's Resistance Army LRA of Joseph Kony in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Congo, check out this article here:

Its a long article, but the main points are that there are several hundred newly abducted CAR and Congolese children in the last 2 years, several hundred confirmed dead, and roughly 20,000 refugees between both countries due to the LRA violence (a whole other problem in itself).  They also discuss the ill-equipped Ugandan Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) and the military of the CAR, which is far worse.  For the LRA to be taken down, it is absolutely necessary for the US to assist the UPDF in locating the LRA with our advanced military intelligence, and hopefully this will be happening soon with the passing of the new bill ( in May 2010.

Feel free to discuss this with me further if you're interested.

I'm Officially an Invisible Children Roadie!!! Plus a testimony

WOW.  This news is still hard to fathom for me --- Something I have dreamt of for years has become a reality --- I feel like dancing!!!

As you enjoy laughing at this photo from my first night in Banta Mokelle, Sierra Leone in 2007, let me tell you a little about what this means to me:

In January 2006, when I first learned about the atrocities committed by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) on the people of Uganda, my life was forever rocked.  For some reason it was this unfathomable conflict that shook my heart and soul awake from apathy and selfishness.  No other news report, lecture or sermon had made me so aware of the world outside of my own like this film, and I believe it was God's purpose in that deafness. I still clearly remember the first time I set up a public screening of the documentary Invisible Children in an open field at the University of Central Florida.  It was clear to me that more could and needed to be done.

After that first screening there was no turning back for me; my own life seemed to carry little significance anymore when I knew that there were so many people in far worse conditions by no choice of their own.  Before I knew it, in April 2006 I was working with a dear friend, Sultana Ali, on planning a huge outdoor gathering in Orlando to raise the level of awareness of night-commuting children and child soldiers in Africa's longest running war. It was called the Global Night Commute and took place in over 130 cities and 7 countries and drew out over 80,000 people, with at least 800 here in Orlando on April 29th.

Now that was one incredible night, but the story doesn't end there -- the next day I was scheduled to work at Barnie's Coffee, but ended up oversleeping from a nap and got to work 2 hours late.  My manager fired me despite having the best excuse ever, but I called my friend Julie afterwards and she talked me into coming to a church with her called Status where a bunch of friends that I had made from the event were going to be.  I decided I would go, and that night the Lord did some serious work in my heart and soul.  He showed me His love so clearly and how He wanted me for His Kingdom.  The pastor that night even said, "In Heaven, we won't have jobs in the sense that we have them on earth...So, Pastor Loveless, does that mean I won't have to work that Starbucks Barista job when I'm in heaven?" 

Since that night, I've helped put together countless screenings, several benefit concerts, two other large scale events in '08 and '09, started a club at UCF, and lobbied in DC, but the glory for all this belongs to God because it was through His authorship of my life that all of this came to be.  I also believe He deserves the glory for all that has happened in Uganda and America through Invisible Children's work and partnership with other organizations leading to education, employment, refugees returning home, and more.  We are still celebrating the victory on Capitol Hill last month when Obama signed the "LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act." The LRA is still out there though, so we must press on.


This was actually a very short summary, but clearly my story of understanding and following the life of Christ is intertwined with the story of Invisible Children.  That is one big reason why I am so thrilled to have this opportunity to go work for them, even if I'm not getting paid.  As I learned several years ago, there are so many things more important that the "American Dream," and relying on the Lord to provide in every ounce of your life is truly the most freeing thing in life.  The more you release the clutch of controlling your life and giving that control to God, the more you will experience the love that your Creator has for you.  Its like Jesus said, "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone...If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

(Unorganized prayer circle of several hundred people during 21 minutes of silence at "Displace Me" in April 2007 in Orlando, FL.  This, in part, makes what I do worth the effort.)

"Prayer Warrior"

Below is an obituary that I came across when reading through the paper the other day.  I recently found out that my grandparents keep a folder full of obituaries from all their friends & family...I thought it strange at first, but I actually think its great and I want to start one for people like this "prayer warrior" named Robert Hudson.

It is quite an incredible legacy that this man has left behind, and quite a deserving title for an obituary.  This inspires me to desperately seek deeper relationship in the secret place, especially with prayer.  After all, Paul encourages us to strive for the "crown" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

"Robert Hudson: Prayer warrior who tended garden of life" 

Three things were of utmost importance to Robert Hudson: taking care of his wife, praying for the people on his prayer list and gardening. Described by family as a prayer warrior, Hudson awoke at 2 a.m. every morning and prayed four hours for the hundreds of people on that list. Some had been on it since the late 1990s when he and others from the congregation of Community United Methodist Church in Casselberry started the Thank God It's Friday prayer group. The group met from 6 a.m. to 7a.m. Fridays at the church, and Hudson arrived early to prepare the coffee.

"Once you got on the list, you never got off," said his son Richard Hudson of Orlando. Even while in the hospital dying, he was recalling the names of those he had been praying for. He also asked his son to make sure before he passed that the letters he usually mailed to group members got out.

Hudson of Winter Springs died of a heart and lung condition Sept. 4. He was 81.

Hudson greeted everyone with a big smile, and whether you liked it or not, he would give you a big hug.

A farmer at heart, he planted three gardens every year and kept track of what was where by making a list. Then he shared his crops with others and canned whatever was left.

Watching tomato and vegetable plants grow from seed to fullness was dear to his heart, said his son Ben Hudson of Orlando. And in fact, his father would be quite pleased if — in lieu of flowers — tomato plants surrounded his coffin at his funeral.

(I also posted this in another blog called "Enter the Secret Place")