Stories vs. Statistics

It's just one life.

And yet as I look into the fact of a person that's dying, I realize the value of that one life.

As we both pray to your heavenly Father, speaking different languages, I recognize the beauty that He poured out in this life, even though her outside appearance has been destroyed by disease. 

As I look into the faces of her children, I know that her life mattered in a way that can never be calculated in the death rate statistics of Subsaharan Africa. 

I know the value of that life, because I know, at least in part, the story behind it.

It's a lesson I've never forgotten. First learned sitting on a stump in a village in Kenya, and carried with me back to America, as I think about the issues of the day - healthcare reform, immigration, international aid, I'm reminded of that lesson time and time again. So often we make our decisions in the aggregate. We compare statistics and chose the option that will cause the least damage or the most good. But in doing so, let us never forget that those decisions are impacting individuals lives. And when we stand before our Maker, it's the stories of the lives that we touched that we'll be called to give an account for, not the statistics. 

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When Outsourcing Changes Lives

Fast Company recently reported on the work of Samasource, a company that trains Sudanese and Somalian refugees that are currently residing in Kenya. The refugees are taught basic computer skills and are employed at a local computer center managed by CARE. Businesses from the US, then contract with the organization to complete computer tasks and in doing so pay them a wage ($2 a day) that is four times what they would be paid breaking rocks in a nearby quarry. $2 a day may not sound like much to us, but for these refugees it's changing their lives.

And this is an amazing thing. We've all read plenty about the damage that outsourcing can do, both to a domestic econcomy and when the outsourcing companies are unscrupulous with the way that they treat workers. In countries where worker protections are few, we can't overstate this concern. However, like with so many things, we have to be careful to not throw out the good with the bad. If we can better someone's life by training them with new skills, hiring them to perform productive work, and allow them to provide for themselves in ways that they previously thought were impossible, then shouldn't that be something that we celebrate? And shouldn't that be something that we actively seek to do?

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Two Dead, Two Survive, All Keep “Give A Damn?” Film Rolling

For those of you just joining the Give A Damn? journey this post, originally a press release, bringsthe central facts up to speed.  Don't miss out on the "real stuff" - check out the posts by Dan, David and Rob for personal insights and first hand accounts.

Rob Lehr and Dan Parris to edit extreme poverty documentary as David and Tim Peterka film across East Africa, dedicating “Give A Damn?” to Frank Toews and Ryan Williams


     St. Louis, MO USA & Nairobi, Kenya (August 14, 2009) Within minutes of narrowly surviving a plane crash, Rob Lehr and Dan Parris tweet  and film from mobile phones keeping the Give A Damn? film alive. They tell followers that the ride to the Nairobi hospital is like a scene out of The Bourne Identity, terrifying. While the private car careens through crowds and heavy traffic on sidewalks and the wrong side of the road, speeding to the hospital, Lehr and Parris endure searing physical pain and mental agony that only comes from not yet knowing the fates of pilot Frank Toews and flight mechanic Ryan Williams. These events made earlier struggles to film under self-enforced poverty seem minor. Choosing to keep cameras rolling may have resulted in a crash tape, unexpectedly transforming an adventure documentary on extreme poverty into an action adventure created by two extreme documentary filmmakers. Fast forward to two weeks after the August 1, 2009 crash, Give A Damn?’s Lehr, Parris and David and Tim Peterka change plans, ramping up their commitment to finish and dedicate the film to Toews and Williams. Each man left a wife and four children, as well as four dedicated filmmakers who plan to honor them on screen. 

The adventure began July 5, 2009, three 20-something St. Louis, Missouri suburbanites hitching their way to East Africa to explore and experience on camera extreme poverty. “The first marketable documentary to take an honest, straightforward approach to extreme poverty appealing to both the activist and the apathetic,” according to the film’s visionary Dan Parris. Parris views youth as the untapped resource for change. “The idea is to use a certain style of film to ask young people, ‘should you give a damn about extreme poverty?’”  With the offbeat humor of Lehr, Parris and David Peterka set against the struggle of living on a $1.25 a day for food and lodging, the filmmakers hope to hook the YouTube, Jackass generation into activism. After a month-long combination of hitchhiking, planes, trains, and buses from St. Louis through Europe to Nairobi, Keyna, the trio rejoined cameraman Tim Peterka for filming in Africa on July 30, 2009.

On their second full day in Nairobi, August 1, 2009, the film crew charters a flight with pilot Frank Toews and flight mechanic Ryan Williams of African Inland Mission Air to gain areal footage of Africa’s largest slum, Kibera. The small Cessna 206 plane had room for only two passengers, and for some unclear reason skilled areal photographer Tim Peterka thought he should stay on the ground that day. Brother David agreed; Lehr should get the areal experience. Lehr, the film’s antagonist, vividly recounts the flight and its crash landing via blog  and audio. On the return to Wilson Airport, the plane flew low with no engine hum, struck an electrical pole or wire before spinning to smash into a four story apartment building, flipping to crash upside down.  Lehr walked away from the wreckage toward the crowd, stopped and returned to the mangled plane in flames. His actions literally set him afire freeing Parris and returning to free Williams before a few brave Kenyans pulled both to safety as the plane exploded. Police confiscated the rolling camera in Lehr’s hands. Lehr and Parris were rushed to the hospital in a different car from the one transporting Williams.  Neither Lehr nor Parris knew the fate of Toews or Williams. Toews died on the plane’s impact. The cause of the crash remains unknown.

The three survivors were transported to the hospital by fast acting bystanders as Lehr posted an update from his mobile phone to social media site Twitter. On arrival Lehr again used his phone to film Parris, who provided additional audio a few hours later. Within hours of the event Lehr’s Nairobi TV debut outside the hospital, containing footage of the crash captured by a bystander’s cell phone and wreckage photos, posts to YouTube. By Parris’s side, Lehr recuperated in the hospital for five days, sustaining cuts, burns, and trauma as the only conscious member of the crash. At first the extent of Parris’s injuries remained uncertain, tests soon revealed fractures in his collar bone and third lumbar as well as a highly bruised and pain filled GI system. Parris ventured out of the hospital on August 13, 2009.  Ryan Williams, flight mechanic, fought for his life in a Nairobi hospital with broken bones and extensive burns. Shortly after being medivacd to a burn center in South Africa, Williams succumbed to his injuries on August 7, 2009.

Both Toews and Williams were missionary pilots living with their families in Nairobi, Kenya.  African Inland Mission Air (AIM Air), the organization both worked for, is a Christian missionary aviation organization providing air transportation for missionaries, church workers, and Christian relief and development agencies in East and Central Africa based in Nairobi, Kenya. Mission Safety International and the Kenyan Aviation Authorities are investigating the accident. To aid in the investigation AIM AIR suspended flight operations.

The loss of 35-year-old Frank Toews from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and 33-year-old Ryan Williams from Florida, U.S. has been devastating to family, close knit AIM Air, African missionaries and poverty stricken areas of East Africa aided by their work.  Frank Toews is survived by wife Tiffany and four children ranging in age from 5 to 13. Ryan Williams is survived by wife Dawn Williams, a medical missionary in Africa since 1993, and four children ranging in age from 3 to 8.  On the day of William’s passing Charles Mungaithi, Acting Director AIM International Services, post on the AIM Air blog included:

“Ryan and Frank have been reunited. And so will we, one day. But today we will mourn. Today we will support our family – especially Dawn and Tiffany, and those eight precious children who, each one, bears the mark of their father.” 

For insight into the lives of two extraordinary and compassionate men: Toews personal blog  and Williams personal blog about missionary aviation, East Africa, and life. Memorial services were held for Toews and Williams this week in Kenya. 

Today, Lehr is home blogging about poverty and the plane crash while negotiating Post Traumatic Stress (PTS).  He is not ready for conversation yet, awaiting the arrival of fellow survivor Parris.  Parris is due to arrive home in the next week, once he is cleared to fly.  All four film crew members were able to hold a production meeting before Lehr left, committing to finish the Give A Damn? film. It was decided Lehr and Parris will begin editing while recovering at home, as the Peterka brothers keep the film rolling for the East Africa leg of the planned journey. 

Shortly after the crash news spread, invitations to film other extreme poverty’s causes and cures started arriving from across Africa.  Over the next few months David and Tim Peterka will film well digging with George the Kenya Shoeman in Kisumu, Kenya; visit Food for the Hungry in Kampala, Uganda; live with a Pygmy tribe in the Congo; visit micro finance project Kiva and the genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda; tour the slave museum in Zanzibar, Tanzania; film the HIV clinic just off the coast of Bukoba, Tanzania; “Kick it with the Maasai” a nomadic tribe in Kenya and Northern Tanzania; and connect with an orphanage in Mombasa, Kenya; before returning to Nairobi, Kenya at the end of September.

The Give A Damn? web site is being retooled over the next few days to reflect the heartfelt human tragedy and plot changes.  The team’s blog on Conversant Life, Twitter page and other social media, accessible through the web site, continue to tell the story in real time.

This adventure has a current cliff hanger: Damaged tapes from both video cameras used during the flight were recovered by Give A Damn?.  The film crew believe the footage on the tapes is recoverable in a specialized lab; how much footage, and what exactly was filmed is yet to be discovered.

Although they are not quite ready to speak publicly, Lehr, Parris and all of the Give A Damn? team are accepting requests for interviews and speaking opportunities while they rest and recover.  Requests can be emailed to their public relations advisor, Kellee Sikes of P3 Strategies, Inc., Please include full details of the request and contact information.  The health of the team will determine their availability.

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Story from the Ground: GADD Cameraman Tim Peterka Talks about the Plane Crash

Give A Damn? cameraman Tim Peterka and brother, actor, producer David Peterka were on the ground when the plane crash occurred this morning. Because there was room for only two passengers they decided Dan Parris and Rob Lehr would go while the Peterka brothers took in the Brazil vs. Kenya football (soccer) match... until they received an urgent call. Here is Tim Peterka's piecing together of the events that followed.

Surviving the Plane Crash in Kenya: Give A Damn? Rob Lehr Shares His Experience

On the morning of August 1, 2009 Rob Lehr and Dan Parris went up in a single engine plane to film the Kibera slums near Nairobi, Kenya for their poverty documentary Give A Damn?. Within moments the flight turned tragic as the plane hit an electric telephone pole spinning to smash into a building before crashing three stories to the ground. Of the four passengers, Lehr, Parris, the pilot Frank and flight engineer Ryan, Lehr was the only one conscious. His actions and those of by-standers changed the course of history for himself, Parris, and the flight engineer Ryan. The plane exploded approximately five minutes after the three where safely away. Sadly the pilot Frank died on impact. Lehr gave his account from the Nairobi hospital just five hours after the crash while being treated for wounds and burns.

Miracle - Give A Damn Team Survives Plane Crash in Africa


Dan and Rob were filming from a plane today over the Kibera slum outside of Nairobi Kenya.  The plane crashed.  The pilot was killed and an airline employee is in critical condition.  Dan and Rob are still in the hospital being checked.  David and Tim were not in the plane and they are fine.  Rob has burns, cuts, and other pains, but he is in pretty good shape.  Dan was in worse shape, but so far they haven't found anything serious.  Still checking some pains.  Please thank God for this miracle and pray for their fast and full recovery and for God's will in all this.  This has been very traumatic for them and us.  Updates will be posted on twitter.

Thanks for your prayers!

Doug Parris

(Dan's father) 

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Lent - A Gift, A Miracle...


THERE is a video at the bottom of this post that YOU HAVE TO WATCH. This post is a good read too!!

Today is Ash Wednesday and it's been a great day so far. It's been a full day of reflection, discussion and conversation about this mysterious God that I've put my life towards (ash on head and all!). It started by going to Ash Wednesday Mass at my dear friends Parish called Mt. Carmel in Tempe. The homily was confronting. The priest talked about how we are so afraid to be alone. He called us 'cell phone junkies' and called us out on the reality of how desperately afraid our culture is of being alone, even those of us in Christ. We don't know how, we're scared to, we're resistant to, we're afraid of and we fill our lives with so many things that keep us connected to people so that we won't have to be alone. Introvert or Extrovert we all have 'things' that we do that keep even our minds occupied. I was confronted by the Holy Spirit in time of reflection, during church this morning, to prioritize more time to just soak in His presence and commune with Jesus. Is this just me or are you with me on this one?

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