TED Talk Tuesday: Finding the Next Einstein in Africa


Hat tip to Megan Roddie for bringing this talk to my attention.

The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences is the product of a big dream by one man, physicist Neil Turok. He believes that within the people of Africa lies untapped potential to create significant change for Africa and for the world. I share Turok’s belief.

One visit with a group of Kenyan students was all it took for me to realize that there are brilliant young minds out there who are simply starving for opportunity. And what I have seen, (which Turok doesn’t mention) is that when these young students have their physical needs cared for, they often excel in school. Once they no longer have to spend their time, energy and mental resources trying to figure out where they are going to find shelter or food or clothing, suddenly, they are able to devote more time to their studies and more energy to thinking about their future.

One of the great lies that has been perpetrated by Africans and non-Africans alike is that the western world has, is or needs to fix Africa. As Turok says and a good Kenyan friend of mine also says, “If Africa is going to be fixed, it’s going to be fixed by Africans.” Our greatest contributions, then, can be those of education, training, early intervention and a mentality that seeks not to help Africans survive, but seeks to give them the tools they need to excel no a global level.

Could the next Einstein come from Africa? Absolutely! Let’s do what we can to turn this dream into a reality.

We Are One with the People of Kenya

Westgate Mall - NairobiAs I sit here in Houston, Texas on a beautiful Sunday morning watching the sun rise, my thoughts are far away in Nairobi, where the sun is setting on the day – a day of prayer, mourning and reflection. The attacks on the Westgate Mall have cast a shadow once again over the nation of Kenya and over a people all too familiar with pain.

When I first read the reports yesterday, I, like many others around the world, prayed for the victims, for the police force, for the survivors and even for the attackers. I prayed that God would intervene in this situation, end the standoff and spare the lives of the remaining hostages. But there was something much more personal about this attack. 

You see, Westgate is not just some mall in a far away land, it is a place I have been to on multiple occasions. It is a place my friends visit on a regular basis. Even as I write this, I’m not sure if all of my friends in Nairobi are safe. I don’t know if any of them were in the mall on Friday. What I am sure of is that even if none of them were there, they have been touched by this tragic event.

I don’t really know how to explain it, but the community of people who frequent Westgate is a very connected group. It is very difficult to visit the mall without running into someone you know. And so, the people I know who live in that area almost certainly knew one or more people who either died or lived through the terror on Friday.

As the reports continue to come in regarding the attack, the hostage situation, the death toll and the possible motives behind the act, I am left with a startling realization: For many people, this is just another attack in a land far away and far removed from our “safe” life. The New York Times is running pictures of dead victims on their website (something they certainly wouldn’t do if this attack was in New York City), Twitter is ablaze with talk of “those people” and how this stuff always seems to happen “over there”, and while the Boston Marathon bombings caused our hearts to pound in our chest and made us rise up in action and prayer, the Westgate attack has barely been a blip on the radar for most Americans.

And I get it. The closer an attack is to home, the more it affects us. If not for my ties to Nairobi, I probably wouldn’t be nearly as affected as I am by this event either. But that doesn’t make it right. The fact that our value of people is largely based on how closely we identify with them – how much we have in common – is a troubling reality. Does it really matter if the attack happens 800 miles away or 8000? People are dead, families are affected and lives are forever changed through this act of violence.

As I sit and watch the sun rise in Houston, I know it’s the same sun that is setting over Nairobi. It is the same sun that has passed over all of the joy and pain of every person in every corner of the world in just 24 hours. And, to me, that sun serves as a reminder of the one God who is with us through it all.

The God that will be worshiped in churches across the U.S. this morning is the same God who was worshiped in thousands of Kenyan churches just hours ago. We pray to the same God. We seek direction from the same God. We place our collective hope in him. And, today, as the people of Kenya continue to process their loss, we need to join them in remembering that this is our loss too. Let us pray that God will intervene and bring this standoff to a peaceful end with no more loss of life. And let us remember that in this world, we are one.

TED Talk Tuesday: Lessons from Death Row Inmates


After a short hiatus (months fly by when you have an infant!), TED Talk Tuesdays are back.

Regarding the death penalty, everyone seems to have an opinion. Some are well-informed. Many are not. Most are well-intentioned, though some seem to be something else entirely. In his talk at TEDx in Austin, Texas, attorney David R. Row attempts to find common ground – a “corner of the debate” as he calls it – where those of varying opinions can coalesce and agree.

Row is an unabashed “abolitionist” when it comes to the death penalty, but he seeks to shift the talk away from a debate about the death penalty itself and more toward how we can stop the one thing everyone agrees is tragic – the murder of an innocent person.

Row’s challenge to our government, social and (though he doesn’t mention is) religious sectors is simple: We need to intervene in the lives of at-risk children sooner and with more intentionality. As a pastor and father of adopted children, I’ve heard stories like Row tells time and time again. Without intervention, many of these stories will repeat generation after generation.

But there are ways of breaking the cycle. They cost money. They take time. Most importantly, they take a population dedicated to doing more than just punishing bad people. We must step up and take responsibility as a society to care for those children who are the most at-risk.

The question I would ask after watching this talk is this: How much is a life worth? If time spent with a troubled kid today could mean saving the life of an innocent person 15 years from now, isn’t it worth whatever it takes? What if the life saved is your own or the life of someone you love? Would it be worth it then?

Whatever your take on the death penalty, I hope you are challenged by Row’s talk. I certainly am.

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