Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas

I’ve had a blast blogging the last few weeks and I look forward to 2009. Until then, Merry Christmas from the Hoggs.

Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Romanian Journey

During our stint in Romania with IICS in 2004 blogs did not exist or were not that popular, and even if they were, internet access was another subject in itself. What I did keep was a daily journal of this memorable journey. I never had much use for the journal other than our monthly newsletters; however, with my new blog I’ve decided to post once a week on our journey. I hope you do not mind.


Some of my most memorable moments in Romania were in the villages. Our home away from home was Susani, a small village with approximately 300 residents. This village is home to two of my closest friends Daniel Olariu and Ovidiu Patrick. Daniel is a local farmer, business man, and jack of all trades. Ovidiu is the local pastor. Visiting Susani is like taking a step back in time. There is not a single paved road in the village. Residents live in small homes with a large garden out back. The coolest thing is seeing the livestock grazing in the fields nearby, open range.

Each year after it turns cold families return to the villages to visit family and to process meat for the coming winter. This is where the ride in the time machine begins. We processed the animals the old fashioned way. I will save you the details but it pretty much involves an axe, knife, a tree and rope. At the end of the day they have a bucket full of meat to either be smoked or salted that will last the year.

Romanians are event oriented and this is definitely an event for the ages. Everyone returns to the villages and they have a large feast. Kacee and I were fortunate enough to “enjoy” this feast. We had pan fried liver and lungs, brain, pork, bread, and pickles. Kacee and I mostly had pork and bread. I did try the lungs and liver but I have had brain before and I chose not to try it again.

Most people would get wrapped up in this process and how archaic it is, as well as how unpleasant the brains, liver, and lungs were. But if you truly look beyond this you find yourself a culture steeped with tradition and appreciation for quality time together. This was one of the first things I grew to appreciate about Romania and still miss to this day. All too often I find myself consumed with speed and productivity. We miss so many opportunities in life for fellowship and relationship building.

No doubt one does not have to travel to a village half-way around the world to experience these things. And there is no better time than Christmas to refocus on family and traditions. I hope you find what you are looking for in the next few weeks.

Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Plantin’ Chickens

Many of my Aggie friends take offense to the numerous Aggie jokes told around the world. I however, both, find the humor, and realize the free publicity A&M receives from these jokes. One of my favorites is about an Aggie that decided to raise chickens. He goes to the feed store and buys some chicks. He takes the chicks home, and plants them with their heads sticking up. He waters them, but they die. He goes back to the feed store and tells the proprietor that he bought defective chicks, and gets another set. This time he plants them with their heads sticking down. He waters them, but they die. He then sends a letter to his Alma Mater, describing the problem. They send a letter back asking for a soil sample.

Guess this is a case of agriculture confusion. I’m reminded of another story of a close female friend (you know who you are) that proceeded to argue with me that square bales of hay could not be “bales” of hay; they were shaped nothing like a “bell.” Apparently she always thought a “round bale” of hay was called a bale because of its shape! But probably my favorite example of agriculture confusion was when a member of my Sunday school class in Houston told me how much he liked my cowboy boots. He then proceeded to ask if they were CACTUS. Of course they were not cactus but rather ostrich!

As Will Rogers once said, “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” It just seems a greater percentage of our population lacks sufficient knowledge related to agriculture. Now, I don’t want to beat a dead dog. I already made a case for Agricultural Literacy in my last blog. However, I do want to focus a bit more on the value agriculture could have around the world.

According to World Vision, “Close to 799 million people go to bed hungry each night — most of them women and children and more than 153 million children below the age of 5 are underweight.” They go on to say that, “Reducing malnutrition among children under age 5 in poor countries can decrease child mortality by 20 percent.”

Research from the Penn State University estimates that “two-thirds of the Third World Population draws a living directly from agriculture; meaning 60% of the absolute poor in Third World are farmers.

Even a dumb ole’ Aggie could conclude that with over half the Third World being farmers we should be doing a better job of empowering them to feed themselves and the world. Dr. Norman Borlaug, senior consultant and 1970 Nobel laureate once said, "Agriculture is the engine that stimulates change in rural development. A farmer's neighbors come to see the results of using new methods, and a village is transformed very quickly."

It’s easy for me to say this, but much more difficult to conclude HOW we can reach these farmers. That is where you come in! I hope you will join me in starting a discussion on how we can join together to change the world. I hope to hear from you.

Aspire to new heights!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

This Stinks: The Case for Agriculture

I’m an Aggie. Yes, yes, I know you are fully aware that I’m a Texas Aggie (the grief I catch proves it), but more than that I’m just a good ole’ farm boy (aggie). My roots run deep in agriculture. I grew-up in a small farming community. I showed animals. I was in 4-H and FFA. My first car was a truck. I even have degrees in agriculture from TWO outstanding agricultural institutions.

Some would say I have abandoned my roots. I don’t live in a small town anymore (depending on your perspective). I don’t farm. I don’t own a single animal except a cat. I drive a VW Jetta. I don’t have a single Ag related book in my office. The diplomas on the wall have even been replaced with pictures of children from all over the world. But don’t jump to conclusions. As the saying goes, “You can take the boy out of the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy!” Don’t believe me? Take a look at my feet! Nine times out of teen you will find cowboy boots. They are my tennis shoes!

Just last week Kacee and I were in Las Vegas at the National Finals Rodeo. We rarely miss a chance for a good rodeo, especially the finals. This is our chance to visit a crazy town like Las Vegas with common, simple, good folks like us. Plus I get the chance to bust out the Wranglers and dust off the old cowboy hat. It’s just who I am. It’s in my roots.

It is for these very reasons that I was taken back a few days ago when I read an article about States charging farmers a tax for the “gas” their animals produce. And no, this is not the kind of “gas” you can put in your car. According to MSN this new law “would require farms or ranches with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 hogs to pay an annual fee of about $175 for each dairy cow, $87.50 per head of beef cattle and $20 for each hog.” How crazy is that? The government wants to charge someone for growing or producing something we need; while at the same time provide a subsidy through the Farm Program. Maybe we should just start importing agricultural products like we do fuel. That has worked really well for us hasn’t it?

Now I promised early on that I was not going to take a political stance in my blog. I’m going to stand by that. Today’s blog is not about the “cow tax.” Rather it is about something I personally still believe in; agriculture. I have always felt that agriculture was too important a topic to be taught only to the small percentage of students studying agriculture. In college I took history, math, English, golf, even flower arranging (easy A!). So, why not have everyone take an agriculture class? How can you make informed decisions at the grocery store or in policies like those above if you don’t understand agriculture?

Even more important is the value agriculture has on the world. As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” I personally believe Agricultural Literacy and Education could be the future for developing countries. Think of the difference that could be made by simply giving someone a small piece of land, a cow, a pig, and chickens, and then teach them how to grow crops and care for their animals. They will never be rich, but they certainly would not be hungry. They could grow all they need to survive and sell or trade the excess for other products. Just a simple thought from a simple farm boy. But don’t take my word for it; Heifer International and World Vision are just a few non-profits already striving to change the world, one “cow” at a time!

So the next time you buy a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread, think about what it took to make that product and also consider what this knowledge could do for others.

Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Romanian Memories

During our stint in Romania with IICS in 2004 blogs did not exist or were not that popular, and even if they were, internet access was another subject in itself. What I did keep was a daily journal of this memorable journey. I never had much use for the journal other than our monthly newsletters; however, with my new blog I’ve decided to post once a week on our journey. I hope you do not mind. Please know that my Romanian blogs are not meant to poke fun at anyone other than myself and the experiences we had. By no means do I feel anything we experienced was wrong, just different than what we are accustomed to!


Last week I shared with you our car buying adventure. As I pointed out, this process seemed simple to us at the time. Unfortunately things got complicated! Upon purchasing a new or used car in Romania you are immediately given temporary registration papers and temporary license plates. The letters of temporary plates are in red to indicate they are temporary. Now, in Romania under normal circumstances one would receive their permanent license plates within a four week period prior to the expiration of your temporary plates.

My initial concern came after not receiving our plates for three weeks. With translator in hand I visited the registration office. During this visit I was told they would be in tomorrow and to return then. What followed was a daily visit for an entire week with the expectation our plates would arrive the following day. Finally, after a week had passed, my friend Daniel made a phone call to get to the bottom of the situation. He was told that our plates were lost but they were in the process of locating them and that I should return in a week. Now, I know what you are thinking; “Hasn’t your temporary plates expired?” Yes they had. Because of this I was told that we should “park” our car until our new plates arrive. My request for an extension to the temporary plates was denied.

To make a long story short; I returned every other day for several weeks without any luck. Finally, my translator discovered that my plates were not actually lost, but rather my plates were given to someone else by mistake. You see, in Romania your plate number matches the “talon” or paperwork you carry in your car. If the plate number does not match the paperwork then you have serious problems. The talon is worth more than the car! So my translator asked when the plates would be returned. We were told they would be returned when the person that had them wanted to return them! After a few more weeks of walking to school, taking the bus, and riding in taxis, Daniel had all he could take. He called one morning to tell me he would take care of the situation. Several hours later he arrived at my door with our permanent plates.

I asked Daniel how he got the plates but he swore he would never tell. A year later when we moved home I asked him to reveal his secret. This time he said, “After discovering where the car was with ‘your plates’ I took the other plates and personally switched them!” I guess that is taking matters into your own hands.

So the next time you have problems with your local DMV realize it could be worse; they could make you walk for a month! Have a great weekend. Aspire to new heights.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

From A to Z, and everything in-between

Over the past few weeks I have quoted many famous people. However, today I want to quote someone just as important to me, but maybe a little less famous! While living in Romania, my wife Kacee resolved that “Sometimes God takes us one place to get us to another.” This prophetic statement no doubt came during one of those long, sleepless nights after an even longer day of soul searching (probably grocery day!).

Kacee and I both felt called to Romania. It was our longing desire to serve there that prompted us to accept a position at University of Banat Timişoara. Our objective was to minister to my students via the classroom and beyond. Our hope was to develop relationships through movie nights, game nights, and Bible studies. But, God had even greater plans in mind. A month or so into our stint, we discovered international medical students from Africa and India in need of Christian friends and discipleship. Who knew God would send us all the way to Romania to give us a worldview.

Now that I work for Buckner we have been able to expand upon that worldview. I’ve been blessed to travel to all over the world, but more than that, God has opened our eyes to an entirely different ministry opportunity in our own back yard. In September, Kacee and I, along with Donald and Wendy Lie and Ahnna Parker started a LIFE group (SS class) for international university students at First Baptist Church of Lubbock.

What a wonderful opportunity! Just think of the impact one international student might have if they return home as a Christian. How small minded of us to think that the only way we can reach the lost is to send a career missionary to them. Though sending missionaries is no doubt effective, empowering the nationals with the knowledge of Christ can be just as powerful. The vision of IICS is “To change a nation, teach the leaders…” Ironically, this same vision can be carried out in your local church. There are thousands of international students in the U.S. and most will return home at the completion of their education. Just this semester we have had students from China, Taiwan, Burkina Faso (West Africa), Mexico, and Ethiopia; all of which could one day be missionaries in their own country.

Isn’t it amazing how God is in control? As the old saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Today I can look back over my life and see God’s finger prints on every aspect of my life. What started as a small seed planted through family to visit Romania in 1998, grew to a number of visits to not only Romania but Russia, Guatemala, and Kenya and eventually led to a long term stint in Romania with the International Institute for Christian Studies. During that stint God planted seeds in our hearts for orphans and international students which we continue to harvest today through our careers and our church.

So the next opportunity you have to do something that God is obviously prompting you to do, say “yes,” He may be leading on place just to get you to another. If nothing else it probably will change a life. And more than likely it will be yours.

Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Romanian Journey

During our stint in Romania with IICS in 2004 blogs did not exist or were not that popular, and even if they were, internet access was another subject in itself. What I did keep was a daily journal of this memorable journey. I never had much use for the journal other than our monthly newsletters; however, with my new blog I’ve decided to post once a week on our journey. I hope you do not mind.


Kacee and I decided early on that we wanted a dependable car while living in Romania. This was not typical for missionaries (what is) and really not necessary considering the quality of public transportation. However, we were going to be on the run a lot with visits to several orphanages and friends that lived two hours away. Plus, how would I keep my girlish figure if I walked everywhere? We also made the decision to tour parts of Europe while we were living in Romania. We were young, did not have kids, and history was all around us. This would not be possible without a dependable car. The decision was easy, the purchase was an adventure!

The most affordable and “reliable” method of purchasing a used car in Romania is at the piaţa de maşini (car market). When you think car market, think U.S. flea market with cars! One of my favorite things about Romania was that there was a market for everything. There were flower markets, car markets, fruit and vegetable markets, meat markets, and clothing markets. One day I will have to share with you my experience with the animal market! But for now I will stick with the car market.

The car market in Timişoara was once a week and individuals from the area would bring used cars they had to sale. Most of the cars came from Germany, or at least the ones you wanted to buy. You would have to see some of the roads in Romania and how some Romanians drive (me included) to understand why. Typically a Romanian would travel to Germany, find a good used car, return to Romania, sale the car and return to Germany to buy another while keeping the profits. This was their source of income.

Our good friend Daniel took us to the market three different times before we found our car. Over these three weeks we saw hundreds of cars. With cash around my belt (cash only) we honked horns, kicked tires, turned up radios, and test drove a number of cars. Ultimately we found our “new” used car. It was a 2002 VW Passat station wagon. Of course it was diesel and five-speed. This pleased Kacee because she cannot drive a stick and she had no desire to drive in Romania, nor did I have any desire for her to drive!

Once we made the decision to buy our car we took our cash to a small van to fill out the paperwork and pay for the car. Inside the van a gentleman typed out our temporary paperwork and gave us our temporary license plates. Within 10 minutes we had our paperwork and our car. However, one stipulation was that we drive the previous owner to his home two hours away.

Though this process seems simple and it seemed simple to us at the time, things can get complicated. What happens if you don’t get your permanent license plates? What happens if your paperwork gets lost? Unfortunately, I know. You will just have to read my blog next Friday to find out!

Have a great weekend. Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The future from a child's perspective.

Monday I had the distinct pleasure of an extended Thanksgiving vacation. Now before you get jealous you probably should realize I had the stomach bug. I was the last of our family to have this 24 hour near death experience. In the days that followed all I wanted to do was lie in bed, sleep and watch T.V. (with my own personal bathroom nearby). As many of you know, these are luxuries you give up when you have children, especially multiple children. And, living in a 1,300 sq. ft. house does not help either.

I never knew a day could go by so fast (sarcasm!). We watched Blues Clues, Cars, Care Bears, and Tinker Bell. The day was also filled with Brynlee jumping on the bed to cheer me up and the occasional knock on the bathroom door to make sure I was okay (she has her mother's compassion). It was somewhere in the middle of the “I love you’s,” “hold me’s,” and “Daddy be a horsy," that I realized how innocent children are (and that they have no concept of a day off!).

Oh, to be a child again. I can’t remember that far back, though Kacee seems to have a much better memory, but I know life could not be that complicated. What’s to worry about? From my perspective it appears Brynlee’s main concerns right now are cartoons, toys, and clothes (takes after her mother). And Becton’s main concerns right now are sleep, eat, and bathroom, repeat as often as necessary (takes after me). Neither has been affected one second by the stock market falling, cost of fuel, the election, or the recession.

I’m reminded of Matthew 18: 2-4 when “Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Life was so much simpler as a child. It is no wonder Jesus wants us to look upon the world through the eyes of a child. And for good reason. As Wes Stafford, President of Compassion International said, “For children, today is all about tomorrow. By nature, they look to the future, since so very little of life lies behind them. Everything worthwhile is in front. The future is waiting to happen for them.”

This gives me hope in the days ahead. Maybe I shouldn’t dwell too much on the past, or even the present for that matter. As John Wayne once said, “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday.” So tonight maybe I will be more like my children and forget about the day and anticipate tomorrow. After all, it is a new day. What’s the worst that can happen? I get another shot at it!

Aspire to new height!