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.