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.