Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lua Cheia (Full Moon)

As I sat underneath the sky last night, I was delighted to discover that the stars were dancing. Whether it was a vibrant salsa or the slow melancholy of a waltz depends upon your unique perspective, and also your mood at the moment. For me it was somewhere in the middle, but that was not the point. I was just glad to see something keeping time to the music of heaven, celebrating what God has made through dance.

Nana (pictured below) is our nearest neighbor of only about 10 steps from our front door. A nurse for most of her life until failing health forced her to stop, Nana continues to live at the mission in her sweet round house. She cares for the sheep (our other neighbors) and mostly, she prays. This precious woman has taught us much about creation. She keeps us up to date on the coming of the full moon, and we recently (in May) enjoyed two full moons in one month! She knows that it will rain and tells us so, long before a single drop has even considered leaving its home in the cloud to refresh Mozambiquan soil. Sometimes we have the privilege of hearing from her exactly what types of birds are singing for us day and night whether we are listening or not.

It will be a full moon tonight... our last in Mozambique, at least for a while. I am excited about seeing it like a child on Christmas Eve who can hardly wait for dawn, and am already making plans to steal Sarah away for a walk underneath it. We won't need flashlights, because the moon will hold dusky brightness all night long. I suspect the stars will still be dancing.

Friday, June 29, 2007

God's Heart

The Rubatano volunteers are, without question, 37 of the most beautiful people I know. Although it's true that they are a good looking bunch:), what gets to me are the hearts, eyes, and passion of my Mozambiquan co-workers... jabbing where it hurts.

On the last Friday of every month there is a workshop for the volunteers, so today was the day. Sarah and I have taken turns teaching various things at each workshop and today was my turn. Carlos asked me not to teach today, but to preach, and to preach from my heart. I must tell you that as I stood before these men and women who pour themselves out on a daily basis while facing the same struggles of illness and poverty in their own families, I felt completely inadequate. Who am I to speak to them? They are the ones who should be speaking to me, and I told them so. I am leaving, but they will remain and continue to love, grieve, struggle... they have taught me so much more than I could ever teach them. They genuinely are sad that we are going home and say they will pray most earnestly that God will tell us to come back. They understand that we must follow Him because they, also, have discovered that following Christ is where life dwells.

I could sit and explain in detail how I have seen the heart of God in each and every one of them. Please pray for these men and women. Pray that God will bless their efforts and provide for their families. I am humbled at their selflessness in giving the little that they have, and long to follow the example that they set. Do you remember the story in Luke 21 when the poor widow brought as her offering only two very small copper coins? Wealthy teachers of the law scoffed at such an offering, but Jesus knew that she had given all she had. It was her gift that was acceptable to Him. Quite honestly, that makes me a little bit uncomfortable. I think it is in God's Word to do just that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Nigeria Dreamin'... Photos of Literacy School, Kano

Dave (in white shirt) is the program director of Kano Mercy Initiative. He is assisted by Dan (in blue and white) and Dan's wife, "Princess" (not her real name). They are passionate about what they do, and ready to move forward!

Kano is located in the Sahara desert. In spite of that, agriculture is still the primary means of livelihood.
Faces tell a million stories!

Kano is 92% Muslim, and was my first experience in a Muslim-dominated society. I enjoyed Kano very much and am excited to see what happens here in the future, as home-based care begins and volunteers from different religions serve their neighbor...

A group of women who have just completed 3 months at a brand-new literacy program one hour outside of Kano. The program was started by local pastors, who also serve as the teachers. Hands at Work is now partnering with them to assist in any way possible. We very much want to replicate this program other places in Africa, as it is so valuable. Who can underestimate the importance of being able to read! One woman gave a testimony of being a new believer who can now read God's Word. Awesome!!!

A Nigerian beauty. You can see the tribal markings on her face. Many places in Nigeria babies are still given this marks shortly after birth. Each tribe has a different set of marks which distinguish them from each other.

Children at the literacy school standing in front of their new toilet facility. A new well has also just been completed, and is a great tool in building relationships with local village leaders. Everyone needs water!

Children who attend primary school as their mothers attend the literacy school. There is a great need for schools in this area, particularly for children of Christians, as they are often kept out of public schools.

This tells the story of our time in Nigeria! Lynn and Levy, the two comedians... being their funny selves and leaving me in stitches. In this photo we are back in South Africa and have just finished sharing with the Hands at Work family about our time in Nigeria.
**I had intended to put up a variety of all of the Nigeria photos, so started at the end of the trip and was working up. But I got a tad carried away at the literacy school and have run out of time!! Lagos photos coming soon:)...

Over the River and Through the Woods to Elaina's House

Soft-spoken with dimples that light up her face with each grin, Elaina is endeared to my heart. She has also been sick for months with HIV, and has outlived her husband and two sisters. When I first visited her with Carlos and Rolinda, the Rubatano volunteers in Elaina's community, she was so weak she could barely function and yet was caring for 15 children... her own as well as nieces and nephews. Elaina is pictured here with a few of the children in her care. Visiting this family is always an adventure, far back into the bush over bumpy dirt roads, up and down hills with brush growing close on either side. It is well worth the trip.

In spite of overwhelming tragedy and deep need, Elaina bubbles over with love and sits contentedly, holding my hand and smiling. Always before leaving her home we sing together, Akuna Wakaita sa Jesu... There is no one like Jesus. But life is hard and food is scarce for this family. In early March while Sarah & I were down in South Africa for the Hands at Work conference, Elaina reached breaking point. One morning she told her children that she wanted to end her life... that she was leaving and not coming back. But God intervened and a friend from Elaina's church saw her and spent time talking with her, accompanying Elaina back to her home. Not long after she arrived there, Carlos pulled in on his bike with some food for her. He had no clue before showing up that she was struggling so much, but realized immediately that God had sent him. Over the next several days he and Rolinda spent much time with Elaina, reading their Bibles to her, encouraging her, and praying with her. By the time I returned from South Africa she was doing well.

Once again it had been several weeks since I had seen these precious ones, due to 6 weeks south to SA and north to Nigeria. Carlos informed me yesterday morning that Elaina has been sick for 4 of those weeks. We went to visit her children and found that all of her nieces and nephews had gone elsewhere to live with other family members. Remaining are her 5 children, the oldest, Inez, is 24 and has two little ones of her own. Inez is currently caring for her two children and her 4 other siblings, all under the age of 13. Their granny is also staying with them, and she is blind.

After finding out the situation with her children, we brought one of them and went to find Elaina. It was about a 12 mile drive. First we stopped at a local health post, where we talked with a nurse about her condition. She had a stroke 4 weeks ago. This may seem surprising at her young age, but being HIV+ greatly increases risk of stroke. Elaina is staying with her brother's family since he lives near to the health post and she can easily get her treatment. Though her right side is mostly paralyzed and she looks to be in great pain, Elaina still smiled with the left half of her mouth as we approached. We sat for a long time with her just talking, singing, trying to love... what is there to say??

Life continues to unroll in spite of struggle, even though we may occasionally have the urge to scream at it to stop. Parents die, children go hungry, disease does what it will. This is life in Africa. Hard as it is for me to fathom, my Mozambiquan friends keep on smiling and singing... Please pray for Elaina and her family.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Two Valiant Knights

God continues to provide little blessings when I need them the most. Last night we were invited out for dinner at the Beechers. They are a gorgeous family with two boys ages 4 and 6. There is something about Joseph and Kallum which makes me forget about everything else when I am with them. We quickly entered into a world of knights, castles, and dark dungeons... then transitioned into a unique version of follow the leader (dancing style) without pausing for breath. Superman and the police came onto the scene and before long I found myself the horse for two valiant riders. Sadly I think they discovered me to make more of an old and slow donkey than a blazing steed, but they kicked and "giddy-upped" with great gusto just the same. After dinner they shared their precious candies with me, and we entered the world of Richard Scarry as his pig family went on a picnic before giving lots of hugs and off to bed. With no other age group is it possible to visit so many worlds in only two hours! Wondrous imagination... I was so happy.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Nigeria Dreamin'... Yellow T-Shirt

Three of us from Hands at Work recently spent 10 days in Nigeria, partnering with Hope for AIDS in Lagos and Kano Mercy Initiative in Kano. We had an amazing time with relatively few instances where I would have liked to bury my head, or in this case my t-shirt, in the sand. One of the projects of Hope for AIDS is training 200 pastors in HIV awareness and how to start a home based care. There are 4 groups of 50, and each training is 3 months long. We were able to speak with the second group and attend the graduation for the first group. It was here that I committed my faux pau. Since I had anticipated spending most of our time in the slums, I brought very little for nice clothes. My wardrobe consisted of 3 skirts, which I rotated, and several t-shirts. On this particular day I was wearing an old kids club shirt (see photo at above right)... bright yellow, baggy, with a sun front and center and the words 'Smile, Jesus Loves You'. Lynn, our ring leader (or "my boss" as Rex affectionately called him), was not feeling well and needed to stay back from the graduation. He had chosen, rather unwisely I might add, to eat cow bladder two days before. I admit this was probably not what caused him to get sick, but I like to pin it on that. Lynn would have been the one speaking and handing out certificates, but in his absence that task fell to me. Now, I want you to know that before we left for the graduation I asked Rex if I should change. He assured me that what I was wearing was fine. We arrived to discover 50 pastors dressed in their finest. All of the men wore 3-piece suits and all of the women wore stunning gowns. I just looked down in disbelief to see a smiling sun staring up at me in bold yellow. To make matters worse, right before things got underway a professional photographer entered to take pictures of the festivities. She photographed everything... as I spoke, as I received an award on behalf of Hands at Work, and finally as each and every pastor received their certificate. They will all have a memento now of their special day, complete with me in my t-shirt.

Anyone who is planning a trip to Nigeria, be warned... they dress nice.

The conclusion I have come to is that really, this is all Lynn's fault. If he hadn't gotten sick this never would have happened:). I will write more on our adventures in Nigeria in the days to come!!

Today is Independence Day in Mozambique, so we are enjoying a public holiday. Among other things, I plan to spend it exploring this land that I love, writing in my journal, and reading. Hooray for public holidays! But first I would love some good conversation, so it's time for me to go and pester Sarah and Brooke until they get out of bed. Happy Mozy Independence Day!!!

Royal Servants International

My baby sister, Christina, is 14 this year and left on Saturday for her first Royal Servants summer missions trip. She will be at training camp for a week and then will travel around Europe for 7 more, which is the exact same trip that I did (also at age 14) back in 1998. I cannot believe she is old enough to do this, and keep imagining her on the familiar Illinois hay field, also known as training camp. I cannot help but reminisce about many summers past with Royal Servants...

It was while on RS that I learned how to pitch a tent, cook for 60, and be vulnerable. I learned the finer points of eyebrow plucking, that it IS possible for 30 girls to make it through 4 showers in 20 minutes, and that burned rice is bad rice but still edible. I met some life long friends while brushing my teeth at the trough, learned the importance of discipline, and discovered that an hour with the Lord in the morning is never enough. I will never think of malt-o-meal in the same way again, and I was hungry enough to be content eating noodle boodle (pasta with tuna and mayo) several times in a week. Many RS quirks have become my own. On RS we were rudely awakened at 5:30am, and now I pop out of bed quite happily almost every morning by 5. I still pack in ziploc bags in case it rains and I systematically memorize the numbers on all important documents. The beauty of RS was that everyone laughed and loved on one another while doing all of these strange and wonderful things. Yes, life changes after Royal Servants.

There are two things which stand out the most in my mind as having had long term impact. The first is a love of the nations! After my initial summer traveling through Europe, I then moved on to Nepal and only Nepal... three times over. On RS I was exposed to worlds outside of North America, and I have not yet recovered from what God has shown me here. It's a deep love, pure and simple. The second treasure was the comradery I discovered on RS. I began to get glimpses of the woundrous diversity of the body of Christ. Teams were not merely such, but actually family. To this day I struggle with making small talk... longing instead to see what is truly inside and wanting to feel the freedom to be equally authentic. I am excited for my sister. Of course I do not expect her experiences to be just like mine, but I do expect God to so something wonderful. He works that way:)...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I Wonder...

Thoughts from my journal, June 17th 2007

There is a glorious irony involved in eating an apple in a tree that makes me want to laugh. And then the sun comes... rose pink covering a corner of the sky while wisps of clouds saunter so slowly I wonder if they, also, are in awe of the sunrise. The birds are singing such sweet songs I wonder if music can ever be the same.. And there are cars. Two, three of them can be heard at a time, circling around Legagote Mountain, reminding me that life goes on outside of my little world in a tree. Something has happened... something I can't fully grasp. Whatever it is has made me virtually unable to walk by a tree without longing to sit on one of its limbs. Oh Lord, bright yellow is sending away the pink! Rising, and bringing snippets of warmth with it... the clouds have all fled in terror, except for one. It sits boldly above the heart of the sun... waiting, stretching, yearning to see something from its angle that is impossible to see with both feet planted on the ground, or even from a tree. It is as if that cloud needed and indeed, expected, to be made radiant before moving along to the business of the day.

My recent distraction has been accurately labeled 'recapturing Sabbath wonder', which I find beautiful, though no set of words can completely express how deep in my soul I have begun to feel. At what age did I stop climbing trees and building castles? God, praise be to You that imagination does not disappear when disregarded, but only grows flabby from lack of use. Imagination is a gift, as is laughter, and I cannot live well without either one. But God does not ask for me to do so. Instead, He tells me of a time He spoke through the stars, and a poor girl He made queen in order to save His people. He speaks about a lion and a lamb lying down together, and then even more boldly declares that He wants me to love others more than I love myself. The sun is a bit hidden behind the cloud now, but I am quite sure this won't last long. In fact, the sun has already taken back center stage, as soon as the cloud realized that to block the sun is to block light.

Annie Dillard says, "There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination." And then she says, "What can any artist set on fire but his world? What can any people bring to the altar but all it has ever owned in the thin towns or over the desolate plains? What can an artist use but materials, such as they are..."

I am learning that I need not understand everything... but sometimes must just look at the sun and trust the Maker.

Scrum, Drop Kick, Try... A Tribute to Rugby

I have always enjoyed both playing and watching sports. Maybe it comes from growing up with an older brother, boys for neighbors, and a competitive Dad. Or maybe I was just born with a love of game. At any rate, coming to Africa I lamented the loss of NFL, ESPN, and other matters of life and death.

A year ago I knew nothing of rugby, a crazy "he-man" sport beloved by most of the world, and especially critical to the life of most South Africans. During my first encounters with rugby I forced myself to suffer through the game, unwilling to enjoy a sport that was so clearly inferior to American football. But because of zeal shown by avid rugby fans all around me and my never ending love of game, my defenses began to crumble. With the influence of many Afrikaans friends and a little help from the internet, I have learned the finer points of rugby. Most Saturdays a group of us can be found in the living room of the only person on the mission with cable tv, eating popcorn and yelling for Percy to get his head in the game for crying out loud. Many times throughout each game I find myself wondering, how in the world do these guys drag themselves out of bed on Sunday morning? Then, as someone runs for a try, I forget about questioning and am just thankful that they do. I love it, and can hardly wait for the rugby world cup to start later this year.

I adore the fact that though God has brought me to Africa He is not unconcerned about little pleasures, and has chosen to indulge my love of game through Victor, Percy, Skulk, and the rest of the Springboks... I think He must smile at our delight in the little things.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Henri Nouwen on the poor...

"After teaching at elite universities and writing sixteen books, Nouwen had a resume to die for - which was the problem, exactly. The pressing schedule and relentless competition were suffocating his own spiritual life. He made a couple of six-month retreats at an abbey in upstate New York, then withdrew to South America, scouting a possible role for himself as a missionary in the developing world. In Peru he lived in a slum in northern Lima, a parish of 100,000 people. The family he stayed with had few possessions, but Nouwen felt their lvoe through the children who crawled all over him, giggling, squirming, playing games with the strange priest who spoke their language like a child. The children literally hugged life back into him, he would later say. He discovered a paradox, that the poor and oppressed have a more profound sense of God's love than Westerners who live materially privileged lives.

'How little do we really know the power of physical touch,' wrote Nouwen during his sojourn in Peru. He had just visited an orphanage where the children, starved for affection, fought for the privilege of touching him.

These boys and girls only wanted one thing: to be touched, hugged, stroked, and caressed. Probably most adults have the same needs but no longer have the innocence and unselfconsciousness to express them. Sometimes I see humanity as a sea of people starving for affection, tenderness, care, love, acceptance, forgiveness, and gentleness. Everyone seems to cry: 'Please love me.'

Living in the homes of the poor, Nouwen learned that we minister to the needy not only to take Jesus to them but also to find Jesus within them. Jesus said 'Blessed are the poor,' not 'Blessed are those who care for the poor.' By living among them, Nouwen received that blessing and began to recover from the damage caused by stress..."

Excerpt from the book Soul Survivor, by Philip Yancey

Friday, June 22, 2007


Today I saw Jesus in the face of a broken body. Amelia is 35 years old, but appears much older. She has been bed-ridden for the entire 8 months I have known her, and only recently has had strength enough to stand up and walk a bit. As I helped her to the car today to bring her to the hospital for tests, a teenage boy mocked her. Imagine! As Amelia hung her head in shame, I thought of how beautiful she is to God. Rotten teeth, failing limbs and all, she was created in the image of Most High God and I can see Him every time I look at her. In fact, I can imagine no one more beautiful! For that reason and many others, I am benefitting from our friendship far more than is Amelia. In 5 weeks I will be home after a year in Africa. But my life will never be the same. It's hard to remember exactly what I was expecting to do when I came here, but everything pales in comparison to the treasures I have received from the least of these... dear friends just like Amelia. God, may I never forget.