Tuesday, December 30, 2008

the strange case of Orlando's unwedding

Another little window opened into Mozambican culture:

Orlando and Eugenia have been together over ten years. They have three sons, the youngest is Belarmino, less than 3 years old. The leadership in the church have been trying to encourage the members to marry their common law spouses in order to communicate that marriage is a God designed spiritual relationship. So far three couples have taken the plunge and been very excited to see a new level of commitment and communication growing.

In June Orlando set December 28 as his date, but on the 21st he announced to the church that it was not to be. And here is why:

Although in his 30s, Orlando considers himself an orphan because his parents are deceased. He has two living uncles who are feuding and have been so for quite some time. When he invited them to his wedding, they assured him the one would not attend if the other were present. In essence, he had to choose between them, delay his wedding for their peace making, or go ahead without either of them.

Finding himself in this very tight spot, Orlando opted for the second alternative. Wait for the uncles to make peace. Why would he choose this route? Well, as an orphan, he has to consider the welfare of his family. If he were to die unexpectedly, Eugenia and the boys would need some looking after. It would probably fall to the feuding uncles to take care of them. If he got married without their presence, they would feel that they had no obligation. If he chose one over the other, then only the one would have the responsibilitly. This way they are both equally required to maintain his widow and orphans.

Yes, Orlando is a Christian. He believes he is an adopted son of God by the blood of Jesus. He would say that he believes God supplies all our needs according to His riches in glory. On the other hand, his uncles are both animists who have no link to the church or his belief system. In fact, the church would quaintly and accurately call them "pagans." Not only is Orlando a Christian, but he is the elder in the January Church which is currently without a pastor. So he has been preaching, doing visitation, and fulfilling all the pastoral duties since February. Now he will step down and there will be a gap. No one else is quite prepared to fill those shoes of his. But the mandate for church leaders to marry their common law spouses is to be obeyed before the end of 2008.

As I write, I am still amazed at the power our cultures have over us. We choose to do things, knowing they are counter to what we profess. Easy for me to wonder how Orlando can say, "I am a son of God" and still want the security of some unbelieving uncles who may not even come through in the crunch. How blind I am to the log in my own eye.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

very unadvent thoughts

This special season has its own aura in the northern hemisphere, one I relish all the more for only enjoying it every 4th year. So picture me: it is evening so the brutal sun has gone to bed, but it is still sweltering and the ceiling fan is valiantly attempting to helicopter a breeze. The window is open and the frogs croaking in our rice field are intermittently deafening and silent. Yes, the decorations (including fake tree) are up and the carols are playing. But this is Africa, after all.

A while ago one special friend called me her "window on the third world." Never had thought about that before. Made me realize how spattered and unclear a window I am because I have not tried to give the view. Thinking about it made me decide I liked the job and I resolved do it better. (I mentally began organizing a blog-tour of Quelimane so you would "get the feel" of 3rd world living.) Maybe I will give the engaging travel-tour chitchat sometime. But something happened yesterday that made me, again, say, "I've lived here HOW many years? and this culture still astounds me?"

Those who have read about developing countries (specifically Africa, but elsewhere, too, I suspect) have heard the marvels of life in community, "it takes a village to raise a child" and all that--except that when it's up to the village, the child doesn't get raised, he just wings it himself. I digress, where were we? Ah yes, the communal life. One aspect that is the financial fluidity. People never have enough money to do anything, so they borrow from friends and family and it is never directly paid back, but the favors come and go, and the theory is that everything works out right in the end. (If you are very interested in this, please read "African Friends and Money Matters" by David Moranz. It is the absolutely best book on the subject I have encountered.)

The underlying value is that everyone stays at roughly the same economic status. Getting ahead is not very nice and makes people suspect one of witchcraft, cheating, or having a friend in high places that one isn't "sharing" with others. The envy doesn't show on the surface, I didn't see it for the first seven years or so. But now I recognize it beneath most informal financial interactions. Refusing to "lend" is seen as stingy: if you have the money, you are obligated to lend. So most people just spend as fast as they are paid so they don't have to hand out their paycheck to relatives all and sundry. Who can save in that atmosphere?

Yesterday's story is about Pastor Elias. He fell foul of the network system because there are so many unscrupulous family taking advantage of the culture's expectations and censure.

Elias is a carpenter. Earlier this year he made a number of doors and decided to haul them south to Maputo to sell them, since he would get a much higher price for them down there. He had to go to some church meetings there, anyway, so it worked out well. As it turned out, he was not able to sell them all before he had to return north. But he had stayed with his wife's brother who was willing to help out. Elias left the unsold doors and the brother-in-law agreed to sell them and get the money to him later. That sounded nice, and he was family after all. But the doors were sold and the money was spent and Elias was without. He had to travel down again for more church business, and visited the brother-in-law. Rather than face Elias, he made a reason to leave and did not return to the house until Elias had finally given up--very late at night. Elias realized he would only get his money if he made a scene. Elias doesn't do scenes, and besides he is a pastor.

He returned north, a poorer somewhat wiser man. Now the story gets complicated. When Elias went down with the doors, a cousin also had some doors to sell, but could not make the trip. He asked Elias to take and sell them for him. Elias is a kind, obliging person who does favors without thought of being paid back. He agreed. So the cousin had some doors that the brother-in-law thief did not reimburse Elias for. So now the cousin wants his money and decides to "visit" him until the money is forthcoming. The cousin and his dad (Elias' uncle) come on a motorbike to Nicoadala, where Elias lives. The uncle is not very motor bike savvy, gets his heel seriously damaged by the spokes on the wheel, and is laid up in Elias' house. The cousin moves in as well. Elias is now feeding two grown men as well as his own family and paying the doctor bills for the infected foot. It is unspoken but clear that until the money is handed over, the cousin and uncle are there to stay.

Next week is Christmas, Elias is eager to get his month-long guests heading back home, but he needs money he does not have to satisfy them. He is caught between an unscrupulous brother-in-law and a greedy cousin who doesn't care about Elias' mitigating circs. So Elias comes to us for counsel. We already have a "no loan" policy. (Subject for another blog, but arrived at after 14 years of ineffectively bailing people out of their poor decisions.) Elias is now willing to sell half of his property to the church so he will have money to get his cousin out of his house and off his dole, and his children will be able to have enough to eat.

I don't have the emotional energy to describe the church's position, trying to minimize the value of the land as much as possible, knowing that their pastor is in a very tight position.

There are more details, I'm sure, but the outline is here. This is not atypical. People defend this system as though it is the saving force of the small communities--then we see how they mistreat one another. We started out trying to save people and help them out of one disaster after another. We could have spent our entire salary and more, and not been a drop in the bucket.

What does one do? Ideas anyone?

Friday, December 5, 2008

the Truth's the Truth for all that

OK, I confess, we are studying Robert Burns.

The inspiring thought for this post is that marvelous quality of Truth, that it remains True whether we know it or not, acknowledge it or not, or someone else testifies against it. Francisco, a Mozambican pastor/missionary in town who has become a great friend of ours, spoke at the International Fellowship a few weeks ago. His assigned verses were "the guards report" at the end of Matthew, Didn't leave much room for improvisation, but it will go down as one of the few sermons I've heard that I will remember. His point: regardless of what the guards said, Christ still rose. Simple. Straight. True is still true.

Sometimes it doesn't seem quite so straightforward. Last night I tried to glean (from the internet--not a wise thing to do, there is way too much to glean anything) some insight into Obama's birth certificate hulabaloo. I found many adamantly, certifiably correct web sites claiming it is absolutely authentic and just as many insisting it was a verifiable forgery. The internet has become a tangled web, and Truth is hidden somewhere in it. Probably where you least expect it. Once I perceived it as a blessing out here where information (about spider bites, dysentery, home remedies) is vital. The internet is a gold mine. Well, I discovered it has its share of fool's gold, too.

All this contemplation on top of Francisco's sermon inspired me. So I wrote a poem. If you don't do poetry, stop here. I enjoy the speculation of what it might have been to be one of the eye-witnesses to something really awesome.

(Have to include an Italy picture--this is the guards of Vittorio Immanuel's monument.)

A Guard of the Tomb

“An easy duty, rest assured,” the priests and elders said:
“To guard a rock-hewn garden tomb and keep a dead man dead.”
I saw them carry in the corpse, the wrapping thick with gore.
They laid it on the granite slab centered in the floor.

What job was this for legionnaires? Our indignation rose--
But Rome still gives the orders with her discipline imposed.
The storied stone was rolled in place; we five were out of breath.
And once in place, a seal was set: to break it would be death.

We were alert, the night was cool, no ghostly hauntings there;
Suddenly the garden quaked and Power filled the air.
My breath came short. We double-checked the seal upon the stone.
Before our normal watch resumed, a deep unearthly groan

Issued from foundations and the night grew strangely colder.
Spirits? My heart pitched to hear the grating of the boulder.
Horror-struck, we watched as some Almighty, unseen hand
Rolled back that stone, no effort shown: brought down the Jewish plan.

We witnessed, knowing certain death; to fail was execution.
My fellows fell as petrified, my mind was a confusion.
Moonlight pierced, the stone rolled free and pagan death reversed.
I fought to breathe; I grasped my sword to fight: I felt the curse

Give way and out the gaping hole a figure came in white.
No blood marred Him. He was not death. Dare I trust my sight?
For one brief pause, our eyes full met. He looked at me and smiled,
Then through the waking garden strode. I rooted like a child.

I saw Him rise--I felt His strength, and peace, that makes no sense:
His liberty was my arrest. There’d be strong recompense.
We fled straight to the city and reported what occurred.
Expecting threats, recriminations, the outcome was absurd.

They offered us a soldier’s dream: retirement and gold.
Instead of twenty years, I’m free in ten and not so old!
We simply said we fell asleep and His disciples rolled
Away the stone and took Him off. They paid in Caesar’s gold.

So with a lie I saved my life, betrayed my soul, however.
When I denied I saw Him smile, His peace left me forever.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

venus, the moon, and jupiter

Isn't that amazing? Luke took the photo. The one I attempted looked like I was trying to write on a chalkboard with a 23 inch piece of chalk. Not a keeper. Tuesday evening, 6 p.m., as Bell and I walked back from the city pool (she was doing laps) she reminded me that there was to be a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter very near our moon. Sure enough, it was so startling, I was surprised everyone wasn't walking with their eyes skyward--but that would be dangerous in this town.

So when we got home, I asked Luke to take a picture and he sensibly took the tripod out, found a good spot and voilá.

As I gazed (for truly, one doesn't simply look at something that amazing, one is impelled to gaze upon it), my mind sped through the improbability of our being advised in advance to watch for this on December 2. First, someone would have to understand the process of defining the elliptical orbit of a planet. Then find all the orbits of all the planets and plot them. Next, discover their velocity at the various points of orbits, to find if there would be times when they would apparently be "nearby" from our perspective. Then bring in our moon, so much closer and variable in shape and location--and determine that two planets and our moon would appear a cozy threesome. We were warned which day it would be in plenty of time to enjoy it.

I think this amazes me so much because despite home schooling (or maybe because of) we are exceedingly aware of the subtle role of evolutionary thinking in the sciences. How anyone can stop and consider the mathematics involved, the possibilities of a creature evolved from one cell ever being capable of the research and ingenuity necessary to consider the planets and their orbits and predict when they would appear where in the sky? But the so-called rocket scientists do it every day. How can it be that man has learned so much and craves to know so much more, but our dogs still don't even know geometry.

I know if an evolutionist read this, he would sadly shake his head at my delusion. (How could she believe that hogwash, he would be asking?) Basically, it is a faith matter. I prefer to put my faith in God; evolutionists in "chance" and "natural selection." It makes me think of Galileo when put on trial by the Catholic establishment because he published his discovery that the earth revolved around the sun. He chose not to die for what he knew to be true, he verbally consented to the official line. But as he left the courtroom, he was heard to say, "Yet it does move."

What I think or what the prevailing experts tout is not significant. Truth is truth no matter what. It doesn't change.

I find that comforting.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

twenty years together

Today Phil and I celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. Twenty years-- already! We've been a few places and attempted stretches far beyond our reach. This past week I was feeling somewhat subdued--looking back. Thinking how little there is to show for the effort.

Bell and I are working on Western Civ this year. We learn about legions of great people--every century has its litany. And those are the few who get a blip in a history book. History is still made up of the little people like us. [St Francis was a very small person, in stature and self-image. He didn't write, exposite, or tell anyone else what to do. People tried to copy him and before very long, made a travesty of his life and vision.]

So as I looked back, which is a healthy thing to do now and then, I realized that we are not trying to fill little buckets in Q (which all have holes, by the way) we are trying to kindle a fire that can spread from person to person.

On Thursday I visited Assma--a long-standing Muslim friend. I taught her little brother English in the Portuguese school ages ago. We worked on a few emails in English and as I was about to go, she commented on my kids. How "different" from other teenagers they were. Not like other kids with dancing, drinking and "going out" (i.e. sex) on their minds. How did I get them to be like that?

One doesn't get an opportunity that blatant very often. I was able to share with her what makes the difference when someone is different from the inside out. This wasn't the first time to share with her at depth, but what thrilled me was her repeated observation: "No, I know many Americans, but your family is different. You are more like Muslims. You care about dressing modestly, not watching too much TV, not drinking or parties. You know . . ." and a little while later she would say it again.

It's been nearly eight years with her, and she begins to see that we aren't the same as all the others. She has lived in London, traveled widely, seen many foreigners up close. What a privilege that she could see a difference. What a gift that she should mention it to me. What joy to tell her that Luke and Bell are different because they have a personal relationship with Jesus. That a heart that is changed brings a life that is changed. I think she heard me.

Next time, we'll be one step closer . . .

. . . twenty years together takes on an eternal significance for me.

Monday, November 17, 2008


"When the heart is taken up with the weighty things of eternity, with the great things of eternal life, the things here below that disquieted him before are now of no consequence to him in comparison with the other."
--Jeremiah Burroughs (Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment)

What weighty things of eternity is God putting into my life that I am not attending to? Separating the big stuff from the small stuff can be so elusive at times.

Looking down the battlement wall from a fortress off the Naples shoreline gives me a sense of the strength and solidity of Eternal God in a universe immersed in time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Remembering Venezia

Bell and I just logged on today to share a photo of a wonderful memory: a stroll in Venice under Luke's guidance. I recall the excellent pizza we discovered in a hole in the wall, how little birds scrambled for the crumbs we scattered, and the light reflecting on the water. Venice is a magic city.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


One aspect of life that is very important in Africa, and under-valued in more fast-paced places, is visiting. Visits establish contact, share perspectives and show we care about one another. It works here where life is more deliberate, everything takes longer anyway, and you often bump into someone you know on the sidewalk and can "make a plan" to get together. I'm still American enough that I don't spontaneously visit at random. I like to be sure someone is going to be home. Going to someone's home certainly suits this social set-up where we are all geographically rather condensed. Don't try this in a sprawling US suburb!

Yesterday I called on Sabina, an Indian friend living in an apt less than a km from us. Hadn't seen her in months, then she drove by me walking on the sidewalk last week, stopped her car in the middle of the road, called out to me, and we had a conversation right there, with traffic going around us. That's how we do things here. She admonished me for not visiting her, so I made amends.

Sabina is working for an NGO focusing exclusively on hiv/aids patients. She is a counselor, having graduated from the local arm of Mozambique's university. Sabina comes from a Muslim family, is of Indian descent, and is very articulate and vivacious. First she interrogated me about a false cult she has visited occasionally, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. What she described confirmed what I had heard that it is a scam to manipulate hurting and confused people out of their money. Great chance for me to distinguish between that and the True Church. She heard me.

I asked her about her work. Many foreign governments allocate huge budgets for the aids epidemic: they counsel, educate, and hand out ARVs, going so far as to send people to collect the remote patients on bikes to come in and take their medication. She confirmed that fewer than 10% actually take their required medication.

She told me a story which made my heart ache. She assured me that this was a frequent type of occurence.

Last week she counselled a young couple with a one year old child. They are both hiv negative. The wife's mother is positive, and was pregnant at the same time as her daughter. They gave birth at roughly the same time, the mother's child being positive. Both mother and child are receiving treatment.

The young woman needed to work in the family garden in order to provide food for them during the lean months. The gardens are some distance from the city, and require being away long days or sometimes several days. She taught her mother how to prepare millk/water/juice bottles for her son. The mother is informed about the means of transmitting aids. She stayed home and watched the two babies together so her daughter could work the farm.

By the end of the season, the daughter's son became very ill with diarrhea, his legs were paralyzed and he was taken to the clinic. The father asked for aids testing (though both parents are negative) and their son is positive. The grandmother, knowing what she was doing, breastfed her only grandson and infected him with aids.

Sabina mourned the difficulty of counselling people who have such complicated lives and problems. Her own religion does not bring the forgiveness issue into the equation at all. What can she say to these people? Only what she was taught in the government university. And her colleagues continue to dispense ARVs to extend the lives of those who would deliberately infect others. It is more common than not.

It grieves me to see those without hope trying to counsel the hopeless. I tried, too, to express that we change human conditions in vain if we do not change the heart. But the pragmatic thing seems to be to 'fix the problem" then worry about their hearts.

The Body of Christ has the answer. How I wish we would focus on sharing it rather than our own petty agendas.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I cannot say it better than this:

The righteous shall flourish like the palm--and this is a palm in my front yard.

Dear Father, take this day's life into Thine own keeping.
Control all my thoughts and feelings.
Direct all my energies.
Instruct my mind. Sustain my will.
Take my hands and make them skilful to serve Thee.
Take my feet and make them swift to do Thy bidding.
Take my eyes and keep them fixed upon Thine everlasting beauty.
Take my mouth and make it eloquent in testimony to Thy love.
Make this day a day of obedience, a day of spiritual joy and peace.
Make this day's work a little part of the work of the Kingdom of my Lord Christ,
in whose name these my prayers are said.
--John Baillie

We begin another week. Lord, You have plans for us we cannot fathom. Each successive week brings new potential, new plans, and new pain. Use us. Use us. Use us.

This weekend we anticipate a visit from the national leader of IEM, Salvador Vilanculos. He is a godly man whom we greatly respect and admire. He has brought IEM to her feet and is bringing her (kicking and screaming) into "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." Pray for him in the face of the obstacles that confront him.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Whatever the cost

It has been a difficult week--not surprising for it to follow fast on the heels of a God-glorifying wedding. We obviously encroached on Enemy territory and the retaliation came rather quickly.

Details and convoluted stories are sometimes better not shared. Our pain this week came from an unexpected, previously supportive person. Rather than ask Phil directly about an issue, it was taken to other people, complained about, fanned to grow out of proportion and finally reached Phil through a third party. Praise the Lord for dear Joe who saw the cross of Jesus through it all and chose reconciliation. He stood in the gap between two brothers in Christ. He wrote us and told us about the resentment and resulting anger. Reading the misunderstandings, the twisted spin and finally false accusations was very painful. Through the years Phil has been the champion of transparency and Truth. Ironically, this is what he was accused of betraying.

As Phil’s other and more emotional half, I certainly shouldered more than my share of the pain. I was supposed to take it all to the foot of the cross and leave it with the other burdens that have been deposited there through the centuries. But no, I chose to haul it around for a few days. It was heavy, had sharp edges and didn’t smell too good.

Then this morning, Isabel, my precious girl showed me this prayer by Tozer:
Heavenly Father: Let me see Your glory, if it must be from the shelter of the cleft rock and from beneath the protection of Your covering hand, whatever the cost to me in loss of friends or goods or length of days let me know You as You are, that I may adore You as I should. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(The Knowledge of the Holy)

It spoke directly into my heart--or whacked me on the side of the head. Take your pick. Whatever the cost, I desire to know God as He is so I may love Him as I should. Sometimes the cost is high relationally, but God is our goal.

On a hopeful note, after Joe’s intervention, Phil was able to contact the “party of the first part.” Phil apologized profusely, took any blame in the issue, and reiterated his desire to serve all concerned. His apology was accepted and things are on the mend. But the process is long in Africa where so many issues blow up over cultural miscommunications. Sometimes things are not over that seem to be over. Prayer fodder.

Another minor disappointment was arriving at church to teach SS this morning and having no one show up. Not a kid, not a teacher-in-training, no one. I waited for 45 minutes, packed up my lesson and biked back home.

It has been a tough week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Lopez and Joana tie the knot

Here is the happy couple. He is 59, she is 49. They are an anomaly in this culture: neither has been with another spouse in all these years. They have had eleven children together, six are living. (The other five died before the age of four.)

Here they are with four of their children. (The oldest has gone to South Africa and has not been heard from in years. Another son is high schooling in Maputo and could not attend.) From L to R: Jimmie, Lila, Varuca and Felismina. Jimmie and special friend have two children. Lila is married and has a daughter. The other two are still single.

One angle of the wedding banquet under shade cloth in front of their house. The neighbor kids are all sitting on the edge, waiting for the food that isn't eaten at the table to be shared out. Plenty for everyone. Let me tell you about the heat. It was so hot in the church that my official job as witness (bridesmaid) was to fan them! I didn't wipe the sweat dripping from their faces, but I did supply they each with a clean white hanky. We don't look at thermometers here, just aggravates the situation.

Here they are holding the pile of presents. Most gifts were money and are in the basket on top of the gifts she holds. Present giving is a lengthy part of the process and people come up, dance around the chair, and put their money in the basket.

Here are Phil and me with the happy couple. We were their witnesses and are supposed to guide them in wisdom and supportive advice. It feels funny, since they have been together longer than we have. They are so excited about their kids following their example now.

As African weddings go, it was dynamite. Plenty of singing, dancing, interaction, you name it. Their son in law translated the Portuguese into Chuabo for the locals, embellishing with witty jokes. Pastor Elias dragged out the "does anyone know of any reason these two should not be married" section so long that the blind man got up and made a comment for which he was thanked and ignored. (I couldn't hear him.) This aspect of the western ceremony has taken their fancy, so it receives extra emphasis. Elias kept mentioning the time and that he would not give them another chance, so they had better take it.

It was Elias' first time to perform a wedding--Phil was his support and encouragement. Elias just got married in August. After the ceremony at the church, we processed to their house, about 3 km away. The couple, Phil, myself and a few others were in our smallish car. Everyone else walked and sang. Phil tried to drive at walking pace--not an easy task. A few times we were mistaken for a funeral, so passing bicyclists stopped and reverently waited for us to go by. We had a laugh at that. (It is culture to stop and respect the dead, so all funerals cause traffic jams in town.)

Lopez is a trained cook, so the food was excellent. And there was an abundance of it--which is important here, as everyone expects to fill the belly. As for me, I can say I am acclimatizing, because it didn't bother me at all that around where we sat neighbors and their offspring stared over the interlaced palm branches and gawked as we ate.

Joana works for an American here with an NGO in AIDS work. Stacey is out in the "field" dealing with hiv/aids and the difficulty of treatment and logistics. We brought her and it was her first Mozambican wedding. Joana was thrilled to be honored by her and her daughters' presence. I was blessed by an observation Stacey made near the end of the meal. She noted that there was a sense of love and community in this group of people that she has not witnessed in the various neighborhoods and districts she has worked. She knew it was because this was a church. But it encouraged me because after all the pain and disappointment these precious people have known with three pastors who betrayed them for personal ends, they are still showing the love and grace of the Holy Spirit. Remember Florencio, the last pastor, who sued Lopez and wanted him in jail? Well, his abused wife and five of his kids were at the wedding. I saw the teenage son embrace the bride and groom and there were no hard feelings.

Having someone outside the church notice the love within reminded me that they are special. Sometimes I am so close to their problems that I don't see the work of grace which is conforming them to that wonderful Image of our Lord.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

just love gardening

Don't spend enough time in the garden, but every minute I do spend is restorative. Almost like a cup of tea. This is a bee sipping from a fancy amaryllis whose name I cannot remember. (something about apples)

little Evaldo

Saturday, the day our church has Sunday school. Why don't we just call it Saturday school? Who knows.

I am training Dina and Felismina to teach SS, so I find myself there at 8 a.m. and hope either or both of them will show. Kids are always there. Yesterday one of my trainees showed up 15minutes before the end of SS, so I guess it was pretty good. (I did ask her how she was and her answer was "normale" which in this culture is code for: not very well at all, thank you.)

The story of the day was Job, but that is not the story I have for you. Your story is "Evaldo." He attended yesterday. He is about three, the son of the ex-pastor. Chubby, cute, and imperious, he has been used to having an important father, getting his own way (by creating scenes), and being the darling. Almost a year ago his mother birthed Cristina, and he has been in competition ever since.

Combine that with the stress at home of parents who don't love each other, big step-brothers who abuse him and disrespect his mother, and a father who beats his mother and you have a pretty good idea of his mental state. He is the terror of Sunday School. He attends under the supervision of his sister, Raquel, a quiet unobtrusive eight-year-old. He hit other kids, threw shoes (everyone takes them off), beat the drum, and stretched out on the floor for a few improvised tantrums. Each time I explained what was unacceptable and several times picked him up and placed him outside the church door (we meet just inside the door). This was resisted, and he came back in banging wood against the doorpost, but found himself outside again.

The time for drawing pictures came and Evaldo made sure he was inside. He was supplied with notebook and colors. He tried a few offensive attacks, but calmed down. Once he began to shout at Dina and I told him to speak in a respectful voice or head on outside. He actually began to whisper. The change was so radical the other kids started laughing. They had never seen him respond so.

He still had another time out or two, but generally didn't command attention the whole time. At the end of class, I wheeled my bike down the steps. He grabbed the front tire. He likes wheels. So I let him "help" me get the bike outside. Just before mounting the bike, I impulsively asked him for a hug. He gave me a blank stare. (maybe he didn't know the word?) I picked him up--heavy little blighter--and tried to hug him. He was stiff as a board.

"Will you come to Sunday School next week?" I asked. He nodded.
I hugged a little tighter. "Did you like the story?" He put his head on my shoulder, nodding.
"Can you try to learn your memory verse with Raquel?" Another nod. Then his little arms tentatively crept around my sides and he hugged me back.

I wonder how long it has been since anyone just hugged him.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

rare jewel

For two weeks I have been mining the book “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.” It is rich. But God isn’t limited to book learning. In this week, four friends have suffered in ways I have never been called. Suddenly my boundaries seem very pleasant. In fact, I am overwhelmed that I have no reason for discontent.

--First Laureen asked for prayer at fellowship. Her baby, Glady, (9 months) was in hospital for a week with malaria. Laureen is a Kenyan Muslim who converted to marry and then was abandoned by her Christian husband. She has found her Lord and will not go back to Islam, even to receive help from her family. She lives in a room behind a “big house”. Her room has a light bulb, a mosquito net and mat, no furniture to speak of. She has a 3 year old as well, Rachel. Laureen teaches English to get by. She has never asked for a thing but prayer.

--Then my Brazilian friend went to Maputo to get a check up. She had prayed for a baby for two years and found she was pregnant four months ago. The check up discovered that the baby must have died and been reabsorbed. Her pregnancy had continued, she grew, the placenta and cord grew, but there was no baby.

--Another friend who has fought several rounds with cancer has been told there are new spots on her lungs
--Veronica shuffled up my driveway Thursday morning while I taught Bell. I didn’t recognize her at first, her husband had beaten her very badly. She had blood down her dress front, swollen eye, injured arm, broken spirit. He prophesied that she would get tired of the treatment and run away from him. Her husband is the pastor who was removed from leadership in February because of his adultery.

I don’t believe in comparison, but often get caught in its trap. Seeing the pain these friends are facing, I could scold myself and point out how “good” I have it, and it would be true.
But God is teaching us each different lessons. He also wants us all to find our contentment in him--no matter our situation. Be it cancer, death, abandonment, illness or abuse, He is God in Heaven.
And Heaven Rules.
Remember after Nebuchadnezzar’s rather unusual lesson, he said:
“I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” Dan 4:37
From the mouth of a pagan king. Wow.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, to be content.
Philippians 4:11

Wish I could say the same thing. But I am on the right track; I'm learning.

Last week when I was visiting a friend and grumbling (rather more freely than I do in prayer updates and on the blog) about the slow progress with the chronological Bible storying with women and the leadership transition in the fellowship, aforementioned friend bounced out of her chair with a: "Have I got the book for you."

I love books and it's a good thing. Because this one is like a 2x4 over the head. It was published in 1648, which gives you an idea of its timelessness and integrity. Jeremiah Burroughs, Puritan extraordinaire, wrote, "The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment." The theme is the verse I started this post with.

His description of contentment is: "that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposals in every condition." Then he explains what he means for the next 212 pages. You'll be hearing more from me on this, be assured. It should take me months to work my way through this book.

For me, this little cul-de-sac in Venice would be a great start for a contented frame of mind.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A thought from Dante

I walked through this weekend, having relinquished two beloved family members to the vagaries of Mozambican travel. Luke flew to Maputo (the capitol) to take his SAT test. Return flights were booked for days, so he returned on the infamous "chapa." Phil drove to Morrumbala on roads that must be seen to be believed.

Isabel and I had some great "girl time" safe at home.

Dante's words reminded me that whatever the outcome of the weekend, God was reliable.

"In His will is our peace." Six one-syllable words. But they say it all.

His will is completely secure. Not necessarily safe, by our definition of safety. But in His Hands, we are secure. I lighted on those words, briefly at first, then kept coming back.

If I am not a peace, where am I regarding His will? And if I am in His will, why should I not be at peace? God's will doesn't come with the type of guarantee I would draw up. But it does promise His presence always. That is all I truly need.

Well, the guys are back, safe and whole. But if the scenario had played out differently, God would still be in control, and my peace would still depend upon His will in my life.

Here are some photos of the ferry over the Zambezi River. If you strain your eyes, you might recognize Luke and Bell waiting for the pedestrian embarkation time.

You can also see the type of transport Luke took on his "cross country" trip.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sunday school on Saturday

Here are a few pictures from last Saturday

The women are in the front of the picture: Eugenia, Carina and Veronica (nursing). The teen is Lidia, often involved and helpful. The children are seated around a bench at the back.

Here they are, busily copying the days of creation. They don't have much practice with crayons and pencils, so that makes it all the more special. Hopefully this will help some manual dexterity, too.

This is Andaiti (left) with his cousin Candido. Both have a strong motivation to hide God's word in their hearts. Keep them in your prayers. The next generation may be the one to bring lasting change to this country.

May God receive all the glory for their enthusiasm and hard work.

Monday, September 15, 2008

life: a multiple choice question

God is doing something in this world, and I am
a. just along for the ride
b. kicking and screaming that I want to get off
c. asking "are we almost there yet?"
d. looking for my part in His plan

it really isn't about me after all

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Andaiti and the Kingdom coming

Here he is, Andaiti, the boy with a smile.
He is twelve and comes from the island of Idugo which is about 60 kms from here. Last year his father moved the family to Quelimane to live in the house next to the church as a guard family. No building is safe without a 24 hour presence, so when the pastor's family moved away, Carlos' family was invited to move in.

Without invitation or enticement, Andaiti began to attend the women's chronological Bible story class. He sat in a corner and tried to be invisible. His mother, a non-churched alcoholic, attended intermittently. But Andaiti was faithful. When I realized he was learning all the stories, verses and songs, I told him he could earn the booklets by memorizing the Ten Commandments and Psalm 23. The next week he had learned both and earned both booklets.

Today when I arrived at 8 a.m., only Andaiti was present. The church had been swept, the benches arranged in a square, and a small chipped vase held some fresh flowers. He had done it all on his own initiative. He had also invited his cousin and a few other kids.

If that wasn't enough of a thrill, imagine this: I was able to tell the story (and I love to tell stories) of Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego in the fiery furnace to a first time audience! Not one of them had heard the story before. It was exhilarating. Many stories I tell they have heard bits and pieces of and confuse with one another. This was a special treat.

I can almost hear the soundless footfalls of the Kingdom treading alongside us, invisibly. Clouds of witnesses, seeing the effects of what we do where we cannot.

I hope it gets you excited about the small ways God calls to us and obedience brings results far outweighing the effort. To what? Obey.

Another great stanza from George Herbert:

"Sweet were the days, when thou didst lodge with Lot,
Struggle with Jacob, sit with Gideon,
Advise with Abraham, when thy power could not
Encounter Moses' strong complaints and moan:
Thy words were then, "Let me alone."

Yes, those days were sweet, but they are gone. Now we have much more to be responsible for. Let's cheer each other on. And thank God for each Andaiti He sends our ways.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

his name is King

Two weeks ago a grizzled dread-locked musician showed up for Sunday morning worship at the International Fellowship. He came with the young dread-locked artist who has attended almost two months. Rinaldo at first brought his 3 year old nephew named Sprite (after the soft drink), but invited his Rasta uncle this time.

I greeted this "elderly man" (have since found out that I am older than he is) and chatted over tea with him after the service. We had a mutual acquaintance in the Culture House in town. Monday he went back to the fellowship house, asked where I lived, and tracked me down. This was a feat because he was given some circuitous directions by the resident pre-teen.

To be sure I was surprised to see him at our gate, but he said he wanted to talk and had obviously taken some effort to find me. He shared a burden on his heart which had to do with the mutual friend at the Culture House. (I had already heard her side of this problem, since I tutor her in English every Wednesday afternoon.)

We sat for over two hours on our front verandah and King (that is his name) regaled me with stories of his life in the resistance movement, famous people he knows and is related to (nephew of the assassinated first president of Frelimo). He has traveled the world; music is his passion; Rastafari is his ideology. Please just look it up on the internet, I had to. I only had the vaguest notion of what it entailed and could not begin to explain it to you. Suffice it to say, it is Afrocentric and revolutionary.

So, middle-aged white woman converses with world-traveled troubador full of resentment for neo-fascist feminists. What does one say? He wanted someone to hear his resentment at being marginalized and treated contemptuously.

What a beautiful opportunity to beg pardon and tell a story about a God of love who created us for fellowship. And we spurned it. So He came in flesh to explain and open the communication again. Then we killed him. King heard me through. I hope he saw the parallel: God doesn't force Himself on us. He gently calls us.

The problem has not been resolved. But what amazes me is that he came back to fellowship this morning. He was very subdued. He wouldn't stay for tea. Nevertheless, he came. . . . why?

Maybe Holy Spirit is blowing fresh breezes through King's dreads. Maybe something miraculous is going to happen. I don't know. But I've resolved to take the opportunities that come. Don't shortcut something that seems a detour.

"When Thou callest me to go through the dark valley, let me not persuade myself that I know a way round . . ." (Baillie)


Saturday, August 23, 2008

early Sunday morning

Today as I spent my earliest moments with my Lord, this passage of petition shone out in the book of prayer that I use:

Teach me to use all the circumstances of my life today to bring forth fruit of holiness:

Let me use disappointment as material for patience:
Let me use success as material for thankfulness:
Let me use suspense as material for perseverance:
Let me use danger as material for courage:
Let me use reproach as material for long suffering:
Let me use praise as material for humility:
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance:
Let me use pains as material for endurance.

--John Baillie

I need to focus on the purposes of the circumstances in my own spiritual formation--not as things to be endured, overcome or a means to an agenda I have in mind.
"Invitation to a Journey" defines spiritual formation as "the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others."
God put us here and chose us time out of mind (whatever that means) to conform us to something very unimaginable so that we can help others. I shudder to think of when I have been a block to trip over rather than a help, but He forgives contrite ones and still uses their weakness to point to His great power.

Must get ready for church.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The King of love

On Saturdays when I teach the women at church, we usually sing some choruses that I have "created" from great hymns that I love and Portuguese verses they need to learn. Every once in a while, I manage to translate a hymn nearly as it was. Seldom does the translation also transcend to the culture. But this lovely one worked and, believe it or not, the little 12 year old boy requests it every week.

(Andaiti is another story in himself and I'll tell about him another day.)

Here are those ancient words--a variation on David's incomparable 23rd.

The King of love my Shepherd is, Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His and He is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow my ransomed soul He leadeth,
And, where the verdant pastures grow, with food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed, but yet in love He sought me.
And on His shoulder gently laid, and home rejoicing brought me.

In death's dark vale I fear no ill with Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still, Thy cross before to guide me.

And so through all the length of days Thy goodness faileth never:
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise within Thy house forever.

--John B. Dkyes

This marble table is in the Vatican, in a room full of incredible table tops. You can see why I chose this one!

Monday, August 18, 2008

church windows

Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?
He is a brittle crazy glass:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.

--George Herbert

I love the church windows in the ancient old basilicas and cathedrals. Stained glass or not, there is something about the quality of light through those carefully architected casements. What a reminder for me that I am a window for others to see God's grace. If I am following "instructions," that is.

Lately I've shared dryness and disappointment. They are part of being a child of God, but mainly because children take their focus off their parents occasionally. When I was disappointed about the poor response of the women, it was because they had become my goal. I had things I wanted them to learn. I'd forgotten that I was teaching for Jesus, and I just happened to be teaching them. Whatever and whether they learn is not my goal. Jesus is.

Isn't the window metaphor great? We are glass for the rays of God's love and grace and justice and mercy and all His other attributes to shine through. It isn't about the windows and it isn't about the folks on the floor looking through the windows. It is about the Light.

I have such a long way to go.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

just a little silly

Instead of writing some of the profound things that are going on in my head these days, I thought this silly picture of Bell in the Vatican with Laocoon would bring a little relief.

I tend to take life a little seriously and maybe I should follow Luke's advice and "Chillax."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

what are we doing here?

Ever have one of those "what am I doing and why am I doing it" times?

I spent a lot of time asking God questions like that a few nights ago. He was gracious enough to allow this insight to come across my reading path:

"It is precisely because of the eternity outside time that everything in time becomes valuable and important and meaningful. Therefore it is of urgent importance that everything we do here should be rightly related to what we eternally are. "Eternal life" is the sole sanction for the values of this life."
--DL Sayers

So teaching half-hearted marginalized women is a task with eternal significance. How I embrace it makes a difference.

A walk that Bell and I took down to the Italian coast from Sant' Agata was a joy. It reminded me that God blesses us (and uses us )in the small or random or impulsive things just as He does in the big over-all things. Her expression is a precious reflection of that awareness that it is all from God and He is relating to us through His world and the details of our llves.

Yes, the Mediterranean is that blue.

Monday, August 4, 2008

a dry time

On July 24, 2008 Steve Godbold was freed after over nine months of being hostage to a rebel group in the Tibesti region of northern Chad. The same week a friend with metasticized cancer received the "all clear" from her doctor. The tumor is dead.

What marvelous answers to prayer--both miracles--in so short a time.

But my eyes have not been upwards as they should. I have been in a desert. "A dry and thirsty land where there is no water," as my version of Psalm 61 reads--hyperbole sometimes makes me feel better.

Sunday we had no service in the fellowship. We are looking for a neutral venue. God is working in us and has plans for our growth, spiritual not numerical. Things take time, especially in Africa. God isn't in a hurry anywhere on this planet. (Ask Steve about 9 months in his Chadian desert.)

So when I was singing through some old hymns on Sunday, this one touched my heart. I feel kind of sorry for my kids and their generation which knows so few of those ancient, strong, pain-begotten hymns. Hear the longing in the words of this:

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand--
The shadow of a mighty Rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat and the burden of the day.

Upon the cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One who suffered there for me;
And from my smitten heart with tears two wonders I confess--
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

I take, O Cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face.
Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the Cross.

--Elizabeth C. Clephane

This mosaic is in the convent of San Marcos in Florence where Savonarola lived and served.
Click on the picture if you want to see a beautiful large version of it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

needing to look up

I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world's altar-stairs
That slope through darkness up to God,

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.


Italy is a pleasant memory and Africa dominates the horizon. There have been some tough situations, sadnesses, hard decisions. Africa doesn't wear gloves in dealing with people. Two families we know have lost beloved children recently; another dear missionary colleague has been diagnosed with aids. Friends have been mugged, a thief has jeopardized the meeting of a houses church.

So when this excerpt from Tennyson's "In Memoriam" came across my reading, I had to share it. The image of climbing stairs to an altar is powerful--all the altars we saw in Italy were set up on marble stairs. But the altar we seek is infinitely above us, and the stairs we climb are this world. It is all we know, we cannot even see the altar from where we are.

The important thing is to keep looking up. We stretch out our lame hands and look up. So I chose one of my favorite "up shots" from our trip. All the arches and the intricacy of the architecture are simply amazing. But they were all manmade. If I can be so impressed by the work of medieval artisans many centuries ago, how much moreso the design of my Father?

This picture is taken inside the basilica of Pisa.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bell towers of Italy

They are called "campaniles" in Italian. Beside every basilica or attached to every church is a tower soaring high to send the bells' message to all the countryside. Pray. Adore. Worship. Each one is a marvel of architechture; each is an artistic delight. When I finally organized my pictures, I found 28 photos of campaniles. I've chosen six of the best, just to whet your appetite for your trip to Italy.

A side thought: although bell towers proliferate in Italian towns, they never compete or clash with each other. The bells harmonize with the ambience; crowded, narrow streets, buildings pressed closely together, all reaching upward.

Living in Quelimane where two mosques at either end of town compete at the five daily prayer calls--with the imans slightly off-key or seeming to want to drown the other out--the bells of Italy seemed synchronized and unified. To me they were a reminder of our life-purpose: to call others' attention to God.

I confess an attraction to them as well, but they compelled more than appreciation of the artistry. The original builders did succeed in constructing for "Soli Deo Gloria."

These two we found in Rome.

Italy's most famous campanile of all: Pisa's leaning tower. it is worth a quick google investigation to learn about the history of this miraculously still standing tower. If you check the previous blog on facades, the first picture is Pisa's basilica. See how it matches the bell tower perfectly.

St Mark's in Venice has a massive bell tower in front of the basilica. However, the facade is so impressive, the bell tower is not as outstanding right next to it. But if you see the tower from the water--its size in relation to the other buildings is more obvious.

Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore also has a bell tower whose architecture matches the facade. We took this photo from the top of the dome of the basilica so you get a feeling for the entire city.

This unique bell tower is in out-of-the-way Orvieto, not even part of the basilica. The church is St. Andrew's and the octagonal tower is nestled between the front of the church and a nearby gatehouse. (You can see me with my rucksack down in the bottom of the photo.) Orvieto still has a strong medieval feel and the number of churches, for its small size, was astounding.

Friday, May 23, 2008

other prize winning basilica facades

Just had to include three more favorite basilicas--before blasting you with marvelous bell towers.

First is Pisa's facade which takes the prize for most columns. And the baptistry and tower are coordinated! Columns are the dominant feature and all three structures were designed as synchronized whole. Sounds vaguely Leonardo-esque, doesn't it?

Then St Mark's in Venice--as you see, it is under renovation. But for flair and presentation, it is phenomenal. The wild assortment of decorations, statues, mosaics, and gargoyles remind one of the on-going Carnival atmosphere that Venice evokes. Picture the cathedral at one end of a huge square in which hundreds of people are feeding doves, others are drinking cafe, and a small stringed ensemble is playing classical music.

Milan is the cathedral of spires. I suppose they have been counted, but I have no clue how many there are. Seems there isn't a spot available that doesn't have one reaching up. Again, you see scaffolding: most cathedrals we saw were being cleaned or renovated. That is encouraging to someone who lives in Africa where buildings are just supposed to fall down and then be replaced.

Next time, I'll show you some bell towers and you'll see that Pisa's is leaning as much as ever.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Basilica facades--our favorites

Basilicas were the spiritual centers of the medieval times which means they were the architectural zeniths of their cities. Here are some of the most inspiring, creative and mind-boggling of the many which we saw. In a later blog I hope to share with you some of the wide variety of campaniles we also saw. Normally each basilica consisted of a cathedral, a baptistry and a bell tower.

Florence had three marvelous basilica facades: Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce and Santa Maria del Fiore which was also the base for the Roman church there.

Santa Maria Novella

Santa Croce

Santa Maria del Fiore

Orvieto's facade is known as the jewel of Europe. We were fortunate to be there as the setting sun shone its rays on the gold mosaic of the ornamentation. Can you see the small statues symbolic of the four evangelists above/between the doors?

More next time.

Friday, May 9, 2008

pictures do it better

In front of St Peter's Basilica, which is the most lavish and incredible cathedral imaginable--with an entrance line stretching several hundred meters--are several impressive fountains. That is where we see Bell, Jess and Luke. Inside, the photos are dim, the atmosphere medieval, the saints in the chapel pictures are shadowy, sculpture is large and looming from the most unlikely places. Time and again Bell and I would stand before a statue trying to guess who the saint or angel was. It would be weeks before we felt familiar enough with their symbols to know Jerome had a lion and a red hat, Peter has keys, Mark a winged lion, Augustine a bishop's hat, Catherine a martyr's palm and the Magdalene was for the most part blonde.

By the time we arrived in Venice, we were feeling comfortable walking on ageless marble floors with stairs worn away by many pilgrim feet. Mosaics and frescoes had meanings and some of the simpler ones we actually knew. Venice appeals because its very infrastructure defies modern transport. (Except for jolly boats, of course.) Large paving stones all over the island are occasionally dug up by various plumbing/maintenance personnel who fix whatever has leaked underneath and then replace them as before. Most efficient and time-saving. My favorite item in Venice is the "bridge." A city of multiple islands and canals needs lots of bridges and each one in Venice is unique and artful.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Pleasant Inns

"Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home."

One of my favorite quotations by CSL in The Problem of Pain. It is so true that He delights in giving us respite from some of the frustrations of a temporal life on planet earth--but for the most part, this is where we live. We try (maybe I should say "I try") so hard to get comfortable in this life. By nature I am a nester. I like living in a homey place, with ambience. I hang things on the walls and rearrange furniture. (You can ask Phil about that.)

But it is all a yearning for "home"--that elusive thing for which we were created. The house with many mansions inside. What an image. Home is where we long to be at the end of a wearing day. There is no place like it. I thought it would be good to share some pictures of a few of the homes we enjoyed in Italy. The pink courtyard is inside the apartment building we lived in in Rome. A friendly, fat, black and white cat welcomed us back at the end of our forays each day. The tall, extremely narrow pink hotel (one room wide) is the unique hotel we stayed in in Genoa. We stayed in the Holiday Inn in Milan where a complimentary breakfast costs 15 euros. Luke and Bell stand before the front door of the sagging building in Venice where we climbed crooked stairs and slid across slanted floors. Each place had its appeal--the apartments moreso than the hotels.

Funny enough, as we trekked around each city, when we came to the end of the day, we said, "Let's go home," each resting place of our suitcases honored with the title "home." For pilgrims, I guess home is carried in your heart and where you rest at day's end.

Now we are home in Africa and contemplating the variety of homes we enjoyed in Europe. But looking forward to the home with our Father beside which all others pale.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Trevi Fountain

In a city full of fountains, certain ones stand out for their lavishness and beauty. Of course, Trevi has a promise attached: throw in a coin (over your left shoulder) and you will return some day. Naturally, Trevi was crowded beyond belief. It was hard to get up close enough to throw in our coins--of course we did. OK, we were there on a Sunday afternoon, but I was astounded at how many folks congregated just to congregate, nearly unaware of the art in front of them.

Trevi is beautiful. Keep in mind that you can scarcely walk down a street without some remarkable sculpture decorating the corner, the intersection, a doorway, or another fountain--and you realize that to grab attention, the carving must be extraordinary. Quite simply, it is. Much of the base looks like raw jagged rocks springing up from the deep, water falls and cascades on multiple levels. Your attention is grabbed from all directions: Neptune top and center, humans, merpeople. winged horses, fish . . . It is overwhelming. No wonder it is attributed with the "power" to draw you back.

The fountains all over fascinated me. Bell and I had a little "fountain alert" whenever we passed one and we tried to photograph as many as we could. The profusion of water was impressive, especially coming from Africa where it is often in short supply for part of the year. Another instance of Roman engineering and ingenuity.

The Romans delight in their water displays. Many are lit at night which adds more atmosphere. Water is obviously appreciated everywhere--and valued. We were told with pride that we needn't buy bottled water, their water was good enough to drink. Many times we filled our bottles with city water. But water that quenched thirst for good--no, they didn't have any of that. Everywhere we drank, we got thirsty again.

And if the Romans are anything, they are thirsty.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Roman reflections

A photo from our first day in Rome: the three intrepid teens standing on the remnant of an ancient Roman spiral staircase. We are in the Palatine/Forum area which is full of ruins and remarkable sections of buildings and temples still standing: Titus's arch, for instance, and Caesar's tomb, which had fresh flowers on it.

Marble was the staple material and the varieties seemed endless. An especially beautiful purple marble, porphyry was imported from Egpyt and we were told that the Romans took all that there was. So the columns of this marble that we see in buildings today were all quarried back then. I shall attempt another photo with that marble. Interestingly, we found some of those precious columns in the cathedral of St. Mark's in Venice.

This expanse of archeological paradise is within sight of the Colosseum, the Circo Massimo, and Constantine's arch. It was almost too much to take in--such proximity and not enough time to absorb. We wandered through a maze of broken cornices, tombs, fallen columns and temples to speculated gods and goddesses. Although guides spoke authoritatively, we became aware that much of the information they pass on is guess work and educated opinions.

The avenue outside this area of excavations is lined with Romans famous and infamous. I took the requisite photos of Julius Caesar with Jess and Isabel in front and one with Luke. It was only after we had finished the photo op that we saw in Caesar's uplifted left hand, yes, a small, plastic child's sword. Unique Italian sense of humor?

This avenue, too, had the most human statues we saw congregated in one place. These people dress up in robes or costumes, paint their faces gold, black or white, and stand immobile until someone drops a coin in their tin can. Then they smile, wink, bow or whatever suits their persona. It's a living, I guess.

Ciao for now.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

home again, home again

My goodness, we have been home nearly a week, and I am finally getting back to the blog.

We had a wonderful trip from Italy to Joburg, marred only by Bell catching her pinky in the taxi door at the airport. Very painful. No ice. And every time we went through a security check, she had to dump her bottle of cold water (for soaking it) and refill on the other side. Odd sidelight: we flew Rome-Milan on our way out, had to go through immigration in order to sit in the airport awaiting our flight out to Emirates. A few folks in front of us had single entry visas and weren't allowed "back in"--and they hadn't even left Italy yet! Inscrutable are the ways of airport personnel.

We had a lay-over in Dubai from midnight to 4:40 a.m. so we were entitled to a meal at the Emirates restaurant. It remains our preferred airline, for obvious reasons. That airport is like rush hour at all hours. It bustled even in the wee morning hours.

The rental car Phil arranged for us was perfect and on our arrival in Joburg we drove up to Tshipise (6 hours) for a refreshing conference with our South African and Zimbabwean TEAMmates. Wonderful to see everyone again. They spoiled me on my birthday, too. We have a very special group of people there--the kids are really cool, too. I'm missing those chats in the warm baths under the starry skies each night.

We came home last Saturday. So why haven't I told you before? Well, we had to unpack. And the kids had to organize their end of this school year. So we are back on track with studies. If you enjoyed the European travelogue, don't stop coming to the blogl I intend to write snippets and reflections and even post photos now and then. As I look back, I realize I'm learning more in retrospect than I could at the time. Maybe I'm a slow learner, or just slowing down. Whatever, I have a great teacher up there.

Catch you in a few days! Thanks again for all our prayers--we weren't seriously ill or robbed the whole time.

Friday, April 4, 2008

back in Rome

Thank you all for prayers regarding our hotel in Rome. Although the travel agent who had booked the hotel was informed that Jolly Midas Hotel was overbooked for the night of the second, when we went and asked for a room for that night, we were given one. Only the Lord could have orchestrated that.

Rome is our final wrap-up stop before we head home tomorrow. We have had a chance to see some things we missed the first time around--taking a day trip to Ostia Antica. That is an ancient site on the mouth of where the Tiber used to be with amazing ruins. What makes ruins amazing? These because so much of them was intact (contrast to Pompeii) and how straight and organized the lay-out was, even way back then. Anyone who thinks Romans were obsessive about right angles and proper construction has good reason. They must have written the books on engineering.

We have enjoyed staying in a very jolly hotel (read very British). Although out of town a bit, the hotel has a shuttle into the city, so we were able to take advantage of that and still look around a bit. The highlight, of course, was seeing the DelBoccio's coming in from their cruise last night.

We are staying at the same hotel (in fact, we are honorary cruise members for this hotel) and have had a great time catching up with Jarm, Dan and the kids, Olivia and Mario. Their Steps of Paul Greek-Turkish cruise sounded wonderful. Today we were able to meet them outside St Peter's Basilica for lunch. What a treat.

We will be heading back to Africa tomorrow afternoon, so more details and ruminations of our trip will have to wait for our arrival in South Africa. We land on Sunday morning around 10 a.m., and then we rent a car and drive north to Tchipise. See if you can find that on google maps!

We have had a trip that has taught us many things, about ourselves and this wonderful world in which we live. Thanks for following along with us. We have needed your prayers and still do. Next week we will be in conference with our South African and Zimbabwean colleagues. Hopefully I can post you an update then.

Keep the prayers going,
ciao for now.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Genoa, on the sea

This morning we arrived in Genova from Milano in an hour and a half. Pleasant, and we shared a train compartment with a cat in his traveling box. Probably a Turkish Angora and he appeared sedated. Hence a happier traveler.

Today we didn't have time for much. And museums, etc, are closed on Monday in Italy. But we took the bus down to see the oldest working lighthouse on the Mediterranean (and maybe the world, who knows? we couldn't go into the museum). Then we went to the Aquarium which I would say rivals Chicago's Shedd for variety of fish, display, size and concern for the well-being of the fish. Bell even patted a manta ray.

This is a quickie, just to let you know that we are on the home stretch. Tomorrow we return to Rome and hopefully will wrap up a few things we didn't do on our first few days. Please pray about the hotel situation. The hotel saved April 3-6 for us and we needed April 2-5. Now it appears that there is no problem dropping the 6th, but they are booked for the 5th. Since I have another room arranged for the 1st, hopefully I can keep it an extra night. Thanks for your prayers for this.

We are all a bit tired and looking forward to some African warmth. But it has been a powerful learning experience and I'm thrilled to say that Luke and Bell have performed admirably. Taking responsiibility and making decisions is all part of this process and they are getting the idea that sometimes it isn't easy to decide what to do or where to go. I trust this will be a good starting point for more growth.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Milano, modern city

Yesterday we bid Venezia farewell and enjoyed a three hour train ride to Milano. Trenitalia is efficient and convenient. We arrived at the station an hour early, just to sit around and drink coffee, but discovered we could get on an earlier train!

Milan is the industrial, fashion, and economic heartbeat of Italy. The streets are broad, trams, buses and the underground are all in full force. We walked a bit yesterday to get a feel of the place. It would be hard to tell Milan from another European metropolis. People still speak Italian and pizza is still available on nearly every street. It is just bigger, noisier and more crowded. There are many more teens here. They congregate in large groups, with apparently little to do or see-except each other. They look very hip, punk, modern, whatever. Spikey variegated hair is normal. Clothing is just to draw attention, not to provide cover or warmth. At first the bizarre flair made me smile, then I noticed their faces. These young, pierced people are not happy. Not happy a bit. In fact, they seem desperate and bleak. The word "triste" fits: Italian, French and Portuguese, it means SAD. My heart breaks for them.

We won't be able to see Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper because we didn't reserve space last week. However, we walked to the Cenacolo where he painted it and enjoyed the church and cloister there. The actual painting is in the museum next door. We have seen many replicas, faithful ones, and we will enjoy what we can see and do here.

The Duomo (basilica) here is awesome. Finally, a legitimate chance to use the word. This church has more spires than you can imagine. It seems that every available piece is reaching up to the sky. The architects just went wild. This morning we went inside to see it. We were blessed by hearing the choir which was singing for the morning service. The stained glass windows were the best we have seen yet, easy to decipher and visualize. The medievals had a mindset that soared to God. Perhaps He was not as personal and immediate to them, but they realized the aspect of greatness and omnipotence that sometimes gets diminished in our modern techno-terms.

Here is our first stay in hotels. Up til now we have been in apartments rented for a week or several nights. So, we are in Holiday Inn, but it doesn't feel American.

Oh, we went to the All Saints Anglican Church in town. Again, a blessing to worship and pray with people who understand us!

Tomorrow we head a short way to Genova (Genoa) to see the Mediterranean's oldest lighthouse, among other marvels.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Venezia, city built on a lagoon

Much delayed post for many reasons. There are very few internet spots in Venice. They cost the earth, who knows why? Four times the price in the other cities.

Venice: amazing labyrinthe of sidewalks, bridges, canals and tall irregular buildings. To leave the flat without a map is suicide. Places keep seeming like you have been there: the pastry places and butchers all arrange their windows similarly.

I must leave thoughts of Venice to later. We have other, more pressing thoughts. We are only three traveling now: Luke, Bell and me. On Saturday Jess took sick and on Sunday Cheryl thought it would be better to return to the US with her directly from Milan. You can imagine what a shock this is: to have been a group of five wandering around Italy down to just our little family. It has been a wrench and we are saddened. We appreciate your prayers for adjusting to the change in dynamics. We are also praying for Jess' health. (Cheryl was not interested in experimenting with Italian hospitals--understandably.)

So, back to the present: you would have to see our little attic apartment here to believe it. It is at the top of what looks like a derelict, cracking building. Don't be alarmed, most of the buildings here are cracked. The floors slope towards the center of the building. The doorposts skim Luke's hair. The furniture reminds us of Resthaven conference days (sorry, only the Zim friends will understand that reference.)

To ascend to our little apartment, you can either climb 3 sets of stairs at different angles to each other in the building, or you can take a cute little octagonal elevator (limit 3 persons)which has a door opening on one side to enter and exiting at 90 degrees. If you have suitcases on the floor, you have to be creative.

Venice, though cold, has been fantastic. We took a ferry down the grand canal to see all the wondrous buildings on either side. At St Mark's square, Bell fed the pigeons. We three went into the basilica. Luke and I saw the treasury which also had some reliquaries where we saw some saints' fingers, teeth, and other biological bits. The Quadriga is the museum with the 4 gilded horses which stand over the main entrance. (Repilcas are there now, the originals are inside due to pollution.) Amazing things in this place: one entire wall is a mosaic of Mary's family tree. The floors are very uneven, although marble, a reminder that all is built on pylons.

When we entered the basilica, the floor was dry, but before we left, water had seeped in up to three inches in places.

Today we went to Padua (Padova), but I will share about that in a later blog. This is getting long.

Thanks for praying.

Monday, March 24, 2008

last day in Firenze

It is raining cats and dogs here. Firenze is such an animal-loving city that it is entirely appropriate. We have seen so many dogs in raincoats, sweaters, and galoshes that you would agree. Africans would be amazed: clothes on dogs. Wow. We even see many ceramic cats in the shops, all clothed, of course.

The rain kept us from heading off to Assisi, but that may be just as well. (Save Assisi for another trip?) Isabel is already planning places she wants to see on her next visit to Italy that we just don't have time for this round. We are washing clothes, finding that our bags need to expand with a few of the purchases we have made. No problem, the bags weren't bulging to begin with. And we need to get organized for Venice, the city built in a lagoon with canals for streets. Gondola ride anyone?

Thoughts on leaving Firenze: I'm going to miss the huge flagstones in the streets, but not the narrowness. I'll miss the soaring buildings and just chancing upon yet another church. I have no idea if anyone has tried counting all the churches in this place, but I haven't seen a stat on it. (I could make one up!) I will miss the river Arno and the frequent bridges which make it so appealing: it is never an obstacle to cross, it is an event. Wish I could just show you Ponte Vecchio. Hopefully when we get home I can post photos a few days and let you see some of the best sights.

Wherever you go, as you get used to the twists and turns, feel that a place is familiar, an attachment begins to grow. That has definitely happened here. We have heard that Florence has pollution issues in the summer. That is believable: even at this time of year I feel it in my lungs.

Thanks for keeping track of us. You will hear from us next in Venice. Tomorrow we take the EuroStar and it will only be a few hours to arrival time.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Buona Pasqua

Blessed Easter to anyone still catching the blog. Sorry my posts have been so long, but we are learning and doing quite a bit and not able to write each day. What a surprise to find our friendly Beatles-loving internet manager open this afternoon.

It is a rainy and freezing cold day to celebrate The Resurrection, but the hearts were warm in St Mark's, reputed to be one of Florence's most beautiful churches inside, and we have to agree. The bishop who celebrated last night and this morning (there were several confirmations last night, what a privilege to join in the affirmation of our faith with them) spoke both times in different ways on the absolute necessity of the Resurrection being our foundation. How wonderful to hear it spoken strongly from the pulpit, forcefully speaking out against those who would like to explain away the turning point in history.

We have short memories, we humans. We have short lives. But we have the privilege of passing on the Truth and wisdom that we have gained from others who have gone before. Many faithful footsteps lead the way for us. I am seeing them in a new light. How easy it is for any generation to find fault with the way the earlier generations did things. (This is especially common in missions.) But they are our heritage.

Well, tomorrow it would be lovely to go to Assisi, but much depends on the weather. We with African blood can only take so much cold despite the many layers we wear.

May the blessings of the Lord's resurrection startle you anew this week.

much love and thanks for your greatly needed prayers

Saturday, March 22, 2008

day before Easter

Saturday, tomorrow is the most important festival in the Church year besides Christmas. Without either one, we would be people of no hope.

Today I read: According to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:13

Helps me get it into perspective. Today Bell and I found two more marvelous churches on a mountain-hill here on the southern bank of the Arno. They are a stone's throw from each other. One is shiney, green and white marble with gold mosaic above the main entrance. The other was that lovely sand colored cement and simple, but still huge. We are quite used to feeling dwarfed when we go into a church anymore. The pillars going up the nave seem to disappear into the dimness of the roof. Then sometimes we see hints of fantastic paintings up there, sometimes it is just too dark. Then along either side, we stop and contemplate the paintings in the various chapels. Paintings reminding us of Christ's life and work as well as some incredible saintly people who paid a very high price for their faith. Just a few candles and the long, thin windows let in light.

Every church is a new experience and I feel the dedication of those who worked so hard to leave a reminder this massive and vivid. The Kingdom, over time, is an immense whole that it hard to contemplate when you are limited by finity.

Then the verse just popped out at me. I've been reading 2 Peter quite a bit lately, it is the book the Quelimane Thursday group is studying while we are on this trip.

We are waiting for new heavens (plural) and a new earth. Imagine what they must be like. These immense, soaring cathedrals and monuments to Christ and the change He brings to a life, they will all be gone in a flash. They will be burned to nothing.

It would make me sad except for the great promise that the new heavens and new earth will be where RIGHTEOUSNESS dwell. Something to give you pause.

May this be a most blessed Easter for you and yours.
The peace of the Lord be always with you.