Thursday, December 9, 2010

First Shona Wedding

One amazing Sunday we visited a different church and discovered that we'd chosen a wedding Sunday. We had met the pastor's wife and had come to connect with her; were we in for a treat!

In 19 years in Mozambique, we could count the church weddings we'd witnessed on one hand. Honestly, it isn't that people weren't making families; simply, culture dictates that church weddings be outrageously expensive, so people opt out. Zimbabwe, despite its economic hard times does not have the same attitude.

Before the wedding was Sunday School as usual, taught beautifully by the pastor's wife. Then after the appropriate arranging of musical instruments, lighting a few candles (turning off the fans so the candles would stay lit), and much anticipation--it happened.

First we heard the wedding party arrive in their cars, horns blaring and people cheering. Shortly, five little girls in white dresses paraded down the aisle strewing flower petals in their path. The one with the veil was carrying the pillow with rings. After them, the four couples standing up with the bride and groom came, one at a time, in a sedate Shona two-step. Each couple took two steps forward and two back (feet synchronized), but the steps back were slightly shorter than the ones forward, so progress was made. The rhythmic music was easily followed and we had plenty of time to admire each couple. Once they were seated in the front row, the groom and his best man came in, just as slowly. It was easy to spot the groom. The best man was having a ball and the groom looked very apprehensive. We discovered later that he had good reason--Shona culture encourages quite a bit of good-natured razzing.

Once the two men reached the front, they turned and awaited the bride flanked by her parents. Halfway up the aisle, they stopped and the wedding was put on hold. The MC turned things over to the pastor, who gave various announcements and then introduced US, in the middle of the wedding! (I felt sorry for this girl, but she didn't seem to have the attitude that it was "her" day alone.)

Then came my most favorite part. This is where the groom thanks the parents for the wonderful job they did raising this girl.

Brief cultural interlude: We have learned in our Shona lessons that clapping is one of the key methods of showing appreciation. Men clap with their hands vertical, women horizontal. The number of claps is significant of the measure of gratitude. It is usual to clap to a child once or twice, to a person you are meeting two or three times. Women clap more times for men and so on. It is very hierarchical. One doesn't clap with hands flat, but slightly cupped, for more resonance. Now, back to the wedding.

At his point, the groom and his best man and four compadres (who came down the aisle with the lovely girls on their arms) all came together before the bride and her parents, then THEY KNELT DOWN and on cue clapped in unison. Thirty-six claps. Now if you consider that there were six guys on the floor clapping, that is a total of 216 claps. This girl must be something!

I haven't mentioned all the other details about bride price, and other gifts given by the groom to the bride's family. And cows are still a part of that, I'm only telling you what we saw.

Once the bride finally got to the front, handed over to the perspiring groom, and her parents seated, the actual ceremony began. They exchanged vows and rings and signed the register--just like western folks do.

Then they sat patiently in their seats, facing us, while the pastor preached about marriage. For an entire hour. He even had a married couple stand up front and modeled how things interfere with communication and a couple grows apart (he had them step away from each other at each example until they were at opposite walls). I didn't catch everything, the sermon was mostly Shona, but the phrase he kept repeating in English was: "this is a till death do us part kind of thing." I think everyone got the message and no one was bored.

I was touched by how much the couple, although the reason for the celebration, did not expect all the attention. (Truth be told, I'm sure the groom was relieved when they stopped picking on him!) The event was for us all--and we were all blessed.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blind and Positive

Not long after our visit to the preschool graduation, our friend/nurse/colleague, Julie, took us to visit a destitute family in the rural area nearby. She had visited the previous week and came with a distressing report of this family’s situation.

The father is 75-years-old and blind. The mother is 35 and HIV+. They have four children between the ages of 10 months and 10 years. The baby was sick.

When we drove into the “yard” around the rondavel where they lived, it appeared to be completely deserted. Rusted pots and broken detritus of living were strewn haphazardly. Nothing was planted deliberately, but weeds were profuse. I didn’t see a latrine or an area for cooking.

Inside the little round hut the floor was at least cement. The blackened thatch hung in cobwebby strings. About a third of the floor space was obliterated by junk. The ancient blind man was kneeling on a mat with the baby tied to his back. The baby had recovered. His wife lay on her side on the floor covered from head to toe in a nondescript blanket. Only one thin foot protruded. She did not respond to any talking to her, but moved so we knew she was alive. Julie had spoken with her the week before and said she was very weak and gaunt.

The husband never stopped thanking us for visiting, bowing forward with the baby bobbing forward and back. He so appreciated the honor we did him by coming. This visit Julie was prepared and had brought several sack of corn meal, oil, dried fish, sugar and food items provided by TEAM for those without means.

Julie said that the previous visit, the hut had been filthy, the floor littered with dirty clothes and excrement. A kind neighbor, whom we met, had come to help and clean, even bathing the patient. Her face was radiant and I sensed the depth of her concern for this family.

This type of situation is not uncommon in Zimbabwe. As a nurse, Julie hears about them frequently, always being asked for more help than she can give. We prayed with them, as the pastor and she had done the week before. In the midst of the misery, the Lord received the glory for the help of the neighbor and the gift of food. Will this family recover to become healthy and be a part of Kingdom building?

Common sense says no, but I am becoming more aware that common sense isn’t able to account for the God-factor.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gatsby at Goromondzi pre-school graduation

It was a Friday morning with a surreal air: we were attending the very rural Little Stars Pre-school graduation. It was over an hour on some pretty metaphysical roads--roads in the abstract if you will. However, the bright pink building was not hard to find as we came within sight. It was my first pre-school graduation. The point still baffles me: no other graduation, not even high school, is honored here to this extent, except perhaps the doctorate.

Pastor Diamond greeted us warmly. The kids were assembled, sitting on the dusty cement. We sat on tiny chairs along one wall with tiny desks in front of us, covered with tiny table clothes. After a prescribed amount of verifying, readjusting decor, and the sound crew (on their tiny chairs with tiny desks seated under a window to our left), the programme began.

This effort was planned and rehearsed since school began sometime in January. These small ones had memorized in English (with very little idea of what they said) Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star complete with hand motions, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and an entire Nativity play. It was half way through that we realized that was also in English. There were also many Shona songs and skits--usually starring the best-in-class.

The highlight of the occasion was the capping and reception of diplomas. There were several little black capes and two little black mortar boards to go around for 65 kids. So the children stood at one door dressed in a cape, came forward when called, had the mortar board placed on their heads, received their paper, had the mortar board removed, and turned around to run into the next small one coming in with cape flying. It was a delightful, chaotic, musical event. Everyone was having a ball. Most of these kids are orphans, taught by the dedication of Christian Zimbabweans committed to making the Kingdom better by whatever means they had.

Then a bizarre twist reminded me of the frantic scramble for success and material prosperity in this land devastated by AiDS and corruption. When the first ten or so graduates had filed up and back, a family, well-dressed, complete with father, mother, and baby accompanied one of the graduates up to the front again to the Christmas tree. The ceremony was continuing and this family, laden with gifts, stood for a photographer who officiously posed them and took portraits. Then the boy who had graduated began to open his gifts. Two of them were battery-powered toys. One was a helicopter with lights, which ran and made a racket, the other was a reindeer which played a Christmas carol. Father proceeded to put batteries in and the toys were set on the floor. The graduation dimmed as every eye focused on this special child. Not only did he have two parents and nice clothes, he had gifts and a photographer documenting his good fortune.

I looked into the faces of the other small ones, those being ignored as they received their little certificates, those who stood with forgotten papers in their hands, mouths open, watching the helicopter flash green, red, yellow lights, whirr, hum, and careen across the cracked cement. I could not read those little faces. Was it admiration? Envy? Disappointment? Pain?

The Tom and Daisy Buchanans have arrived in Zimbabwe. They are scrambling up a scree-covered slope. It has been a long haul, and no doubt there have been some reservations overridden to reach the top. I tried to read the faces of the father and mother as they paraded back to their places after their little interlude in the limelight. I could not read them, either. They had made their point. They are on the top of the hill and for a time it is theirs.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Adapting to Change

Transitions are formidable because the rules change from place to place. How one operates, interacts; what is acceptable, what not. For the most part, the rules are not written, so one sails uncharted seas for a while.

Quelimane didn’t boast a single traffic light.

Harare has a plethora of traffic lights, about half of which don’t have electricity at any given moment. When the energy is off the challenge begins. The four-way-stop is unknown here, so each motorist develops a style. Some are inchers, some are blusterers, and some just figure they have the right of way and everyone had better stop for them. Some have accidents. I catch myself trying to route my trip where the electricity might be on.

Intersections provide another risk: blind begging must be profitable at the busiest corners because blind people led by small children walk up and down the white dashes between cars when the light is red. When it is green, they just stop between lanes (not on the median strip) and wait. Crossroads are also popular vending places and one can buy cell phone credit, newspapers and blow up beach toys at most busy lights. If a transaction hasn’t been completed, the entire line of cars waits while the vendor fiddles for change.

Quelimane is not blessed with parking lots, as the Portuguese pretty much built everything very close together. So parking is done on the street and people weave among parked cars. Harare has parking lots wherever there are stores. And vendors populate most parking lots. One hot afternoon while I waited for Phil to find a saw in a hardware store I was approached by vendors to buy: strawberries, brooms, a reflective triangle, steering wheel covers, window awnings, fly swatters, electric fans, knife sets, and spray bottles. All in only 15 minutes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the market for any of these items but the strawberries.

Let me not forget the policemen. They are ubiquitous on Zimbabwean roads, but especially in the city. On a 10-minute trip to drop Phil off, I passed three police roadblocks. They are particularly interested in the stickers on the windshield, reflective triangles (hence the vendors), reflective vests, and fire extinguishers: all required by Zimbabwean law.

Such are the vagaries of crossing a simple African border.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Culture Shock

Tremors deep under the surface send shock waves through solid rock and the earth quakes. Buildings sway, shelves teeter, books and living paraphernalia scatter everywhere. Things disconnect, solid things seem liquid, nothing is where it was.

No matter how many years you live overseas, culture shock can creep up and blindside you. The more “acclimated” you are, the less likely you are to beware. We knew that life was different in Zim, but we thought we were used to “Africa.” That big, dark continent that confounds aid and relief organizations and has absorbed countless missionaries.

Moving to Zimbabwe has been a “step up.” Although we read tragic stories of deterioration since 1980 (independence), Zimbabwe still has vestiges of being a developed country: supermarkets, used car lots, hospitals and clinics, schools with pools and immense sports grounds, hardware stores with hardware, roads in pretty good condition, traffic signals (which work when electricity is on), internet cafes (ditto), landscaped parks, lovely homes with pools and gardens.

There are elements which reflect years of neglect and deliberate exploitation: erratic power because the bills are not paid to countries of production, use of the US dollar and SA rand because the Zim dollar could not survive the inflation it generated, prices 5 to 10 times the value of the items, police randomly pulling drivers over for imagined offenses.

We have the added mix of moving to a city probably five times larger than Quelimane. A new language (Shona), a new culture (not all African cultures are alike), a new map, new transport (our bikes are out of the question for “getting” there), new people to get to know, a new ministry. It gets a bit overwhelming at times. But it’s part of the price you pay to be where you believe you should be, doing what you trust you should be doing.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

London: not tired yet

One of my favorite quotations is Samuel Johnson’s “The man who is tired of London is tired of life.” It still holds. London is an amazing place--busier and more crowded than ever. I enjoyed it this visit, but it was so different from my college trip in 1974. This time I didn’t see nearly as many English people. London is full of foreigners. And I can hardly complain, because I’m one of them.

So--no complaining--just bewildered amazement at a place so full and so busy.

The underground, affectionately known as “the Tube” is a marvel of engineering which gets hundreds of thousands of people where they want to go throughout a day. It is pricey, but it works like a Swiss clock.

Some impressions of London. Mind the Gap. Lion King. Phantom of the Opera. Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap” still playing after 58 years. Stephen Fry (Jeeves) is a very popular stand-up comedian--posters of him everywhere. Bookstores on Charing Cross Street. The Behemoth art exhibit in the Crypt of St. Martin in the Fields: paintings of modern martyrdom and man’s inhumanity to man. The Victoria and Albert Museum. The marvelous advertising in the tube stations. The British Natural History Museum, a veritable temple to Mr. Darwin sitting in his marble throne overlooking this monument to his religion enshrined with scientific calibration and so much “fact.” Not a whiff of God in there. But the building looks like a cathedral.

Perhaps the most bizarre event was being accosted by a Japanese couple (there were very many). The woman had dyed her hair light brown. She wanted photos of herself with as many “bronde” people as possible. So, being “bronde” I was asked to pose with her, which I did. They must have had a hilarious day.

I’m not tired of life, and certainly not of London. However, it is good to be back in Africa where everything doesn’t work like a Swiss clock and tea doesn’t cost $5 a cup!

Coming soon: Some thoughts on education when my mind collects them.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

fare: to turn out, happen, travel

fare: to turn out , happen, travel
farewell: to do any of those well

We are faring well and farewelling. Last Friday night was our “farewell” and a potpourri of cultures: Mozambican, Nigerian, Rwandan, American, Australian, British, Brazilian, Indian, and Portuguese--blended to say “turn out well, happen well, travel well.”

The evening was one of remembering and of food. We were blessed by memories of 17 years from friends. Some memories we had never heard before: first impressions we made on an unsuspecting Quelimane. In an attempt to live simply and reduce the distance with these very poor people, we chose to simplify. We parked our pickup in a shipping container and rode bicycles. I was probably the first woman biker in Quelimane, and I was “great with child.” We heard from a few who observed our attempts and concluded we were “strange.” Surely we were. For sure we are still.

Other memories surfaced: surprise birthday parties, the multi-ethnic Fourth of July meals, the Portuguese school, malaria, that helpless feeling when your child is ill, vehicles rolling, being stranded on the roadside with multiple flat tires, and good things too--friendships that last. We laughed and cried and ate. We have lived our family -life here amidst this people.

And the festa was bordered by the reality of illness. Three little girls of long-time friends were ill, one hospitalized. Peniel, the daughter of Francisco and Carla (who live with us) is three months and had her first case of malaria. Watching the concerned maternal faces reminded me of my own times when fever robbed my peace.

It was a blessing and encouragement to hear words of love sending us on our way, wishing for Zimbabwe the best we have to offer.

With such a precious backdrop of memory and affirmation of our time here, the Lord gave me a word from His Word. I will take this as my sword with which to enter Zimbabwe: Jeremiah 29:7.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

a wedding: a milestone

My African landscape has been littered with countless deaths and funerals, but after 19 years in Mozambique, I have just attended my fifth wedding. In a cultural twist which reflects what is truly important: the West promotes marriage to the point of big business, Africa relegates it to "whenever we have the time and the money simultaneously", which is seldom. Besides which, who knows how long this is going to last and there is very little point in spending all the money to feed so many . . .

Funerals cannot be put off, people must be buried very soon after they die. Weddings, on the other hand, are optional and represent a massive outlay of resources. (Funerals also require funds, but their urgency means that there will be contributions.)

So it was with great joy that Phil, Isabel and I attended the wedding of Paulo and Carina, two twenty-somethings, partners for five years, (second partners for both), whom we have been mentoring and encouraging for several years. They attend the church in the bairro (slum) and this was a giant leap for them. Weddings are costly anywhere, and here the couple is expected to feed all comers a full meal. But I get ahead of myself:

At the church, the couple processed out of the pastoral house to the church, walking on clothes spread on the ground before them.
Inside it was darkish and dusty, but the couple stood while Pastor Elias scrutinized his notes. It was Elias' second wedding. and he did well despite his nerves.
The service was exceedingly formal, which meant Elias was reading archaic Portuguese, so he frequently explained in asides so the congregation could follow the event. After a family member of each spouse and a church member all testified that there were no impedimentia to the marriage, things went off without a hitch--well, except for theirs.
Smiles are not standard fare at such serious events as weddings, so it was a relief to see that Carina was happy as well as beautiful. As we drove at a funereal pace from the church to their home, we heard comments about the queen in the car, thanks to Carina's plastic crown complete with faux jewels.
Once at the house, the agenda was to begin with cutting the cake. (Before the meal? Never mind.) It was delayed by rearranging the seating under the 3 shade clothes several times. Finally Paulo and Carina were settled facing the crowd!
Around the edge of the festive arena were palm fronds woven for privacy. But this is a slum and neighbors all want a piece of the action. Small children opened holes to enjoy the show. No amount of shooing would keep them away for long!
After Paulo and Carina had fed each other a sliver of cake and drunk a little orange fanta, it was time for gift-giving. This was a lengthy process with Orlando calling out specified groups: neighbors, Paulo's family, Carina's family, the young people, the women's group, the missionaries, and on and on. As a group was called, various members would sing and prance forward and slap down coins or even a bill now and then. This is called "hitting the table." Quite a heap of small change was amassed this way. Gifts, wrapped and unwrapped, were brought to the table. The chicken was quickly whisked off, lest she deposit on the tablecloth!
After close to an hour of giving accompanied by song, the feasting began: chicken for the seated guests at the table (about 12). Plenty of rice to fill empty bellies, cabbage fried with tomatoes and bean gravy. The young people weren't shy about helping themselves. Cutlery is optional at all events, and here was no exception.
When the guests were sated, the photos began. Here are Paulo and Carina with Pastor Elias, beaming over the milestone they have achieved.
The blended family. Carina's two daughters by her deceased Muslim partner are Ornila and Esperanza, Paulo's son is Eriki. Paulo and Carina have been unable to have children together yet, which is a cause of concern to Carina--she feels it reduces her worth and desirability. Paulo's willingness to marry her despite this shows great faith in God's inscrutable Hand. Pray for their family, that it will be a light in a dark community.
The joy that comes from deciding to make a commitment and follow it through can be seen in their faces. It cost them culturally, economically and stretched them spiritually. They are a few of this generation who are prepared to take a stand and be a visible witness to God's design of a man and woman forsaking all others and becoming one.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

the abiding city

"While living in a world of change, let us seek the abiding city."

In a month we will move to Harare, Zimbabwe. We will study Shona and learn to clap our hands when saying thank you. We will meet new people with an entirely new set of problems, mostly defined by hiv/aids.

We did not seek this. But it has come to us clearly from God's hand. One by one, He closed the other doors. This one is held open by eager hands. For the most part I was overwhelmed by inadequacy and reluctance. But His grace is sufficient, He keeps saying. So grace lurks behind that door when I step through.

Now suddenly, at this late hour, are we asked to reconsider and work elsewhere. Such sudden out-of-the-blue requests disorient me. But the Lord's Hand is in everything that comes. I don't know why the request. All I do know is that the decision to go to Zimbabwe came with prayer, thought, meditation, and fasting.

Oh yes, there is an urgent need elsewhere. More than once at Columbia Professor Kingsmore in his Scots lilt reminded us: "the need doesn't constitute the call." I'm glad he said that. It sounded harsh at the time, but it is bedrock.

"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." Lord, keep me single-minded. Secure me by Your Grace as I sail across a stormy sea. Keep me mindful of what You told us in the Light.

Monday, April 19, 2010

limping forward

This morning in our reading at the breakfast table, this brilliant sentence ended the meditation:

"Let us rise and go forward from where we are to the next place of freedom, limping forward in the therapy of grace."
John Piper.

What a great image. Limping forward/ therapy of grace. I love it. I am definitely a limper. Never have been athletic. I identify with this halting progress. How appropriate for my spiritual life. I am blind in my progress because I cannot see the spiritual. So my steps are tentative and uncertain. And I am wounded one way or another, whether aware of it or not. Because I am not a creature of grace by nature.

In this life we are neither perfect nor graceful. Limping along. And our culture, so therapy-crazed, hasn't even recognized that the truest therapy of all is Grace.

Grace is my word for this year. Lurking grace, because it catches us unaware. Jeremiah died last week. And grace has snuck in. His friend Mike, subject of prayers and witnessing for weeks before, found Jesus after the memorial service. Grace seeps into another limping soul.

Where are we going in our halting gait? Why, to the next place of freedom. Every once in a while I forget we're born slaves. The trappings of slavery are slowly divested. But as we limp along we find freedom. Ever more freedom. Freedom to lay down our lives.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Africa hurts

I have an indelible mental photograph. Our friend John Dina sitting in the back of a pickup gazing into the distance. His hand protectively stretches over the tarp-covered box which holds the casket in which Jeremiah's body rests.

It is a peaceful photo. It follows a sad and painful procession of people-packed pickups and cars wending their ways through the rain-filled potholes to the airport some 4 km outside of Quelimane. The rain stopped soon after the service which was under an awning right next to the Casa Mortuaria at the Central Hospital. The service was heart-breaking. More than 150 Mozambicans and our few foreign faces (like a little salt mixed in with the pepper) quietly stood as the lead-lined casket was carried in to sit on a carved table. The singing and the faces were subdued. Jeremiah was only 21.

Jeremiah Johnson had come to Mozambique in 2009 to work with the Baptist missionaries in our province; he returned this year for five months. He was supposed to go home next month. But as Cleber, the Brazilian giving the message observed, Jeremiah didn't only come to serve, he gave his life. We were all challenged by his vitality and commitment to the Lord. We are reminded of our own mortality and that of our children.

In a place where sun beats relentlessly, the drizzly rain was a relief as we huddled under the rustic roof. Whether we knew Jeremiah well or had merely met him a few times; whether he'd lived or eaten in our houses or not, he was telling each of us something. He is our brother in the larger family of God and he had gone home ahead of us.

He was killed in a motorcycle accident on Monday afternoon and despite a bureaucratic labyrinth, he was on his way to his parents Wednesday. Now it is Friday and I have heard that his final flight to Arizona has been confirmed.

Each year the Lord gives me a word to meditate on and learn from. Last year's word was "sovereignty." I am picking it up again and find it as curiously heavy and opaque as then. It is a word that feels deep and serious. It tends to be the answer to questions that don't really have answers. Which means that I still don't grasp it, I just stroke it and know that it is power. Stealth power--because it doesn't show off. It doesn't protect young people on motorcycles from random motorists. It doesn't intervene and save every child from malaria or abuse. But it is surely there or we would not be able to survive this world.

So why do I entitle this post "Africa hurts"? These things happen on other continents. Mothers bury their strapping sons. Irresponsible people get behind the wheel. Police turn a blind eye to the victim in a crisis--after all, the victim is dead. But Africa doesn't sanitize its pains. It feels sometimes like Africans walk into the pain with open arms. They attend funerals and wakes. They walk slowly alongside a coffin-bearing truck, chanting the same words over and over. They honor death more than life. It is a more tangible thread in the fabric of their life than we have with elegant hearses and padded coffins with pillows.

Death is definitely in one's face and consciousness here. It is pervasive and frequent conversation fodder. But only rarely is there a ray of the hope that we heard at Jeremiah's service. Death is the absence of hope for many here.

It gives me pause and reminds me what a privilege it is for me to live my life where I may be able to share my hope with someone who desperately needs it and may not otherwise hear.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Africa is not fair

Almeida worked for Phil for a couple years when the house and driveway were in process. He learned a lot as a cement worker and had an affinity for it. So Phil helped him with a few tools and advice and showed him how to be a DIY guy so he could put cement floors in for his neighbors. He and Phil also dug a well in his yard and lined it with blocks he made, then covered it with cement. (A hand-dug well with cement walls and a good lid lasts many years longer than a quickly drilled well brought in by hi-tech, money-powered organizations.) Almeida has the knowledge to help many neighbors in the slums with his minimal expertise and should be able to feed his family.

But he can't. People don't save to put in a well or cement floor. So Almeida went to the marketplace to find work. He found it. He works 10 and 1/2 hours a day, seven days a week and makes less than 1/2 minimum wage. His take-home is about $1/day. He has four children and a wife who cannot keep an at-home business functioning.

Phil challenged him to tell his boss he needed Sunday mornings off for church. Not attending was affecting his family-life. So he told his boss who told him that he could stay home Sundays, and would be discounted $3 for every Sunday missed. (Do the math.)

There is a Ministry of Work. Someone somewhere is supposed to be making sure that workers are treated fairly and the laws are followed. If Almeida were working for a foreigner, in a few minutes he would have his rights defended, clarified, and the foreigner would have to pay massive fines for this mistreatment. But Almeida works for a Mozambican. If he complains to the powers that be, he will merely lose the job and the dollar a day that he does have.

This is the kind of thing that just needles inside my head. And the Almeidas of Mozambique will just sit quietly and lament the mistreatment by their own kind.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Africa is physical

As I regain my African acceptance of a slower pace with the high temperatures and crushing humidity, other little physical reminders creep in.

It will be three weeks tomorrow. Already I have fought a fungus on the top of my foot, squeezed 2 fly larvae out of my body (must have used a towel that wasn't ironed), tested negative for malaria, and am finishing a course of drugs for giardiasis (don't ask). It's all part of living here. It feels like breathing to me. Two decades is long enough to feel like you belong someplace.

But in some ways, I still don't. We are resident aliens and our color and our background set us apart. Thinking about what a huge thing color is brings home how amazing it is that we have so many friends who look past it. We aren't just Americans or missionaries, we're friends. One young Nigerian man calls me "Mom" since his own mother died several years ago.

Other reminders of the gap keep sneaking in. For the next few days I will post some of those reminders as they come, signposts to show that culture is a huge thing. For many of us it is integral to who we are. I find my reactions to these define me in some ways. Sometimes I'm disappointed by my reaction, but it is part of learning how I can be Christ to people who haven't seen Him in their culture or history.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

there are certainties somewhere

"Whatever may or may not be the truth about mysterious and inscrutable things, there are certainties somewhere; experience has placed some tangible facts within our grasp; let us, then, cling to these, and they will prevent our being carried away by those hurricanes of infidelity. . ." (Charles Spurgeon)

A timely note from a godly friend reminded me of Spurgeon's brilliant confidence that there are certainties somewhere. What a blessing, especially from a man battered by depression. Having come through a year of many uncertainties and some insecurity, I needed a reminder: there are certainties somewhere. Certainties that my heavenly Father knows all about, being the Author of them.

We returned to Africa a week ago. We're remembering so many things: the familiar humid heat, the drums at night, the crying babies, terrifying traffic, chasms in the road called "potholes" in which many, many pots could fit. Those first vivid impressions that tourists get, we resume as normal. But we are also regaining the friendships and territory we slowly acquired over years.

Sunday we attended a service in a huge green and blue tent. The sun beat through and a breeze blew. The Scriptures were read in 5 languages and the sermon rambled as babies competed with the preacher then the interpreter. Africa. There were at least four special music presentations (SS, young people, young women, older women) and many choruses sung in multiple languages and the keyboardist punctuating with frequent "Amen?"s. After three hours we came out quite warm and dripping, but knowing that we'd connected again.

Being back in a culture we've come to understand and love came close to being a certainty somewhere. They grieved that we are leaving Mozambique, but encouraged us that we had not left the mission over the move. They are determined to pray us back to Mozambique. That is some faith!

Meanwhile, we are heading straight into some more uncertainties. But we are sure that God is leading the way and as He goes before us, our faith will grow. The more mysterious and inscrutable the path, the more amazing our God.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Icarus in free fall. I sense a random eddy of air lift momentarily.
But without feathers I cannot remain in flight.
Descending, speed mounts. Air pockets cannot hold me now.
Wax congeals on my arms, leaving imprints of feather shafts.
Waves beneath me are very distinct.
Little white caps grow quickly.
Won't be long now.
No matter--
to soar so close to Helios--
'twas worth it.
I'll not regret the flight for the plummet.
The vantage of the eagle is hardly imaginable
to one confined to earth.
I am Icarus.
I have no regrets.