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.