Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Theme Song

"The music of goodbye again..." Out of Africa Theme Song

I sit thirty-five thousand feet above terra firma. The odd shaped portal to view the world from is quite familiar to me. Not quite large enough for a grand view - but one sized to remind me I am looking out at a bigger picture, one I often don't understand as I leave one place to head for the next.

I struggle.

My eyes fight back the tears, and the napkin that accompanied my airline meal serves to stifle the cries that long to escape. Erupting into a primal roar of grief would hardly be appropriate on a 747.

And so...

I kept my face turned toward the view, the vastness of the horizon, the clouds held by nothingness, the shrunken landscape, the issues and problems now dwarfed by my departure.

Leaving... my thoughts return to the unrequited love a Karin Blixen (Out of Africa) and the plaintiff theme song written for her life's experience in Kenya for the move: "The Music of Goodbye Again".

My life is filled with great joy, kingdom rewards, His strength when I am weak, but thousands of goodbyes. I confess they take their toll.

"Faith is the thing hoped for, as yet unseen."

While I carry on, from faith to faith knowing the hundreds of thousands of hellos that are promised one day - it is still hard.

There is something in goodbye - again... that express a position of movement. I am here for a time and then I go. The friendships formed, the uniting as a body of Christ working toward a common goal, I understand better the prayer of Christ in John 17:

"Make them one as We are One."

To enter into the suffering of the world, to see first hand, to be the voice of those living in the "wilderness" of circumstance is daunting. the responsibility is not taken lightly.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Consider the Birds

"We have so many ladies who are now waiting to hear from you. They are like small birds with their mouths open waiting to be fed by their mothers."
Reverend S Lumwe - March 2006

Our tears have now mingled with the African sisters we have come to know and love. It will be difficult for the angel stenographers in charge of counting tears to separate which one goes into which bottle!

The eighty plus women have been fed and nurtured, they have grown in spirit and in truth, we have already seen a small portion of the harvest when the attendees gathered an offering of rice and staples, for us to take to the orphanage for the children.

Our return ride from the Irente Center (the compound housing the blind, disabled and baby orphanage) brought another potentially terrifying drive - but I would break into the African chorus with our three African members:

"Hallelujah HAH, Hallelujah HAH, Hallelujah HAH..."

Maria, the oldest, kept at it for me to learn to carry the tune, while Margaret and Joness would giggle at my efforts to ward off my fears with praise. Then Maria broke into a song of her own making. Each chorus she would make us a verse regarding a member of the team or something concerning the conference. The other women would offer the responsive chorus:

"wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.."

At one point, her chorus stopped abruptly, interrupted by tears of joy, thanksgiving and sadness at our soon departure. S took time to explain some of her refrains: "Thank God for sending C to us we pray she comes again. Thank God for sending D to us..." Thank god for His mercy and love toward us, may it never end."

We have had the humbling privilege to travel (by bus) the long steep mountainous roads these women walk daily. We have experienced their servanthood through bucket after bucket of boiling hot water that has been carried down the 100 yard precarious path so six white women could bathe in hot water born on the burden of the third world each morning and evening. Our hunger has been satisfied by a cook and housegirl who arrive before dawn to begin preparations in virtual darkness and stay well into the night cooking by candlelight a hearty meal. We sit enjoying a leisurely dinner and conversation while they wait - so they can clear the table, and set the table for the next day come the following sunrise.

They were described to us as "birds" waiting to be fed the spiritual food of the Living God. At times I have felt like a beast - our tender feet, sore backs and bones from traversing the cobblestone incline up to the church each day. We have consumed more water individually than they probably see in a month. And as for the toilet paper we have used - at each request for more rolls, a quizzical look would come across their face - I'm sure they could not imagine wasting so much of such a precious commodity as paper.

"Even Solomon in all His glory was not clothed as these." Matthew 6:29

Twenty or so of the conference Queens arrived to bid us farewell. They shook our hands, hugged us, blessed us and sang. Eager to send us off with songs of Thanksgiving and praise to the God we all served well over the course of our time together.

And their faces were like that of angels.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Numerous Naomis


"There was a famine in the land..." Ruth 1:1

Africa is a nation in crisis. Of that there is little doubt, with the plethora of statistics that tend to numb the rest of the world into inaction. The first and second worlds have stood by during the wholesale slaughter of cultures and tribes. We have failed to pass on the abundance of resources in technology and education, while robbing the Continent of its natural resources that benefit our consumption.

A famine exists not only in food, clean drinking water, accessible medical treatment and education, but also in time.

The women at the conference had to gain permission from husbands and family to attend. Someone had to agree to assume at least a portion of their chores during their time away. Someone had to tend to the animals, watch after the children, carry and heat the water needed for the household. And while a portion of their responsibilities were taken care of they still had to walk (some for two or more hours) over the hills and precarious pathways to the church.

"yeah thou I walk..." Psalm 23:4

The last day of the conference was a reality check for our American team. As we looked out at the congregants beauty, new found worthiness and joy, we also had to acknowledge this "retreat" on the mountain would close and the daily "valley" life of our amazing new friends would resume all too soon.

"Call me Mara..." Ruth 1:20

The last topic before lunch was on Naomi. When JA presented it at the 2004 Nakuru Conference, the floodgates of forgiveness and release broke open. We expected no less to happen on this hilltop.

The rest of the team acted out the theme as it unfolds in the Book of Ruth. There was wailing during the deaths of the husband and sons, and the anticipation at the departure of Ruth and her embittered mother-in-law for their homeland.

"I will go wherever you will go, your God will be my God..." Ruth 1:16

As the lesson ended the women broke unto small groups for discussion on cultural limitations, harboring bitterness and tragedy unexplained. When S reconvened the session and asked for women to share, over 10 women raised their hands. S looked at us with surprise and said, "we will have to limit this." Most of the women that stood to share were older, "Black Naomis" but purified hearts.

It gave testimony of the power of story. We each have one to tell, one of God's hand on our circumstance, His mercy and grace through tragedy, and His unfailing love and faithfulness to those who love Him.

Here is their witness:
HEAR

1) One of the oldest women came forward: "I have five children, when my husband became sick and died. I was living with my relatives, then several of them fell ill and died. I became sick and thought "who now will help me?" Then other relatives came and gave what they could and people from the church came to cook and help with my children. I thank God for giving me more family in the church."

2) One of the younger women had left Vuga for a good job cooking. She was enjoying life when she was called in and fired. The same day a storm destroyed her house. But she trusted God and still gave thanks.

3) A mother-in-law spoke of her joy when both of her daughters found good husbands, but one of them came to her home and died. Tragedy struck, but the Christians in the community kept coming and providing.

4) A young mother had tow children die before the reached one month. Church workers encouraged here to read the 23rd Psalm. Now she has 2 more healthy children.

5) With hesitation but humbleness a women stood holding fast to the back of the pew. She shared the tragedy of her husband's alcoholism and after 2 of her children died she turned to the comfort of alcohol and tobacco herself. She finally turned to God and prayed for His help and now has been soberly giving thanks to the King.

6) The last of the women to come forward kept repeating, "Naomi, Naomi, Naomi," Her utterances were interpreted as her personal association with the woman of the book of Ruth. Through tears and a breaking voice she told of her own "famine" tale. She had three children, then her mother and one of her children fell ill and died. She raised her hands, as did many other "Naomi's" in the audience -

"but Christians kept encouraging me to pray, and now I am praising God."

"The women said to Naomi: "Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer." Ruth 4:14

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Royal Crowned Cola



"You are a royal priesthood, co-heir with Christ." 1 Peter 2:9

After the closing ceremony concluded with eighty-plus Queens adorned in their newly acquired crowns, we shared our last afternoon tea time.

The sun was shining on our little spot of hillside and although simple plastic, the crowns glittered like gold! As the women made their way down to the courtyard in front of the Bible School they steadied their headpieces like newly crowned beauty queens. Faces shone with pride. Laughter filled the air and their abundant joy was filled to an overflowing.

What a sight they made as they gathered as a group for a parting photo. Once all the digital cameras had been passed forward and faces framed for posterity, the women lined up again to go through the ceremonial hand washing. They passed by the table set outside and selected their tea biscuits and today, for a special treat, a SODA.

The ritual of afternoon tea is one of those strange echoes of colonialism still practiced in a remote village hillside. Stopping to "take tea" is an extended and expected form of hospitality. Tea the common, coke the extravagant.

As our team sat down and scanned the crowd of crowned black beauties seated on the small retaining wall, we chuckled under our breathe, thinking it was too bad the drink offering wasn't R.C Cola (Royal Crown)!

As it was we were quite content gazing at the harvest.

We "had a Coke and a smile."

Friday, August 04, 2006

Broken

"Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for such a time as this.." Esther 4:14

Each time I look at I (the youngest member of our group) my eyes tear up as I remember her call to me regarding the subject matter she would teach on. She said, "Really, I have never taught, I'm a young believer, I'm happy just to be your assistant, I'll carry things, just to be going is an honor."

I laughed, and encouraged her, "I, you have something to share with these women. God has prepared you for this, God will use you. You will see how big the God you love so much is, in Africa!"

With hesitation, she agreed to work on a subject. She sent me her testimony, that of a broken life restored and redeemed. I knew, combined with her youth, she would be a great witness to the glory of God. God was right in a big way!

The time came for her presentation "Forgiving Yourself". She chose to come into the chapel covered in ashes (representative of her past sinful life) wailing and crying out, she walked among the women. They were moved visibly. After she shared her testimony of Christ's mercy and love - she dramatically washed the ashes off.

We allowed time for questions and testimony. The women stood giving thanks, praising God for her courage and her youth to teach them. To show them true repentance by kneeling. It made the most impact among the women. They stood and gave lengthy testimony. The oldest among them (76 yrs) cried saying "You a young girl, knelt before us to show us how to repent and forgive."

The daughter of the oldest women approached us when we broke for tea. She wept openly, and with perfect English said, "Thank you Jesus, thank you Lord."

"...put Thou my tears in a bottle: are they not in thy book?" Psalm 56:8

Through her tears and thanks JA and I wondered how we could minister to her brokenness. We had ears to hear and a heart to listen.

The vulnerability of I, her desire to be broken before these African women, opened all of their hearts. They spoke of a new willingness to repent, to feel forgive, to begin to learn to forgive themselves.

"But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering ..." 2 Timothy 4:5-6

Thursday, August 03, 2006

On A Hill Far Away


The guest house sits at the bottom of the acreage where the Bible schools is located. The French doors open up on a stone porch with a view of the mountains and valleys surrounding us. There are faithfully tended flowers and shrubs of all sorts. Rev C explained the compound was built in 1912 as a German Mission post. It was obvious God had protected this place on a hill and long used its sanctified ground as a place where His light had gone forth into a dark nation for close to a 100 years.

"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill... Now that I've put you on a hilltop..." Matthew 5:14-16 The Message

S explained, our afternoon tea time would be spend with different groups of leaders. And on our first day, the eight leaders sat on the stone bench with the beauty of the backdrop and took tea and biscuits.

We were able to ask them questions, and they were able to do likewise. We began by asking, "What is your day life?" It was hard to keep our mouths from dropping open as they said, "The day starts at 6:00 am, letting the animals out to pasture, gathering firewood, boiling water, preparing the meals, getting the children off to school. We finish at sundown to begin again when the sun rises."

They asked if we had children, husbands, etc... and we asked the same. The oldest in the group had 14 children (none born in a hospital) - again our mouths strained against dropping as they shared one by one just a few facts about their life.

Off in the distance, we began to see the roads fill with women that had left the conference. The sun was setting. S and the women began to point to the farthest mountain and share, the women were walking up that mountain, down the valley and even past the farthest hill in the distance.

If hearts could drop in humility ours certainly would have. The sight of miles away women walking up a hill to return home to tend to the animals, gather the firewood, boil the water, tend to the children and rise the next day to hear what WE would have to say!

"Come and see..." John 1:46

Asanti Yesu


Thank Jesus in Swahili

"And all the peoples of the earth shall praise Him"

S and the women in the diocese, came to our abode early to welcome us officially to the conference and inquire if we were ready to begin the day. We walked up the hill, and saw the women were waiting and gathered outside of the church. One by one as the white women arrived the African women waiting began singing. "Asanti Yesu". The harmony of their voices echoed through the hillside, the beauty of the language, the joy on their faces, brought tears to our eyes. S translated the song "We are here to welcome you in the name of Jesus."

I had to walk inside the church to gather my composure, for soon I would be "on" to begin the day and to welcome THEM from us. S kept saying over and over, "We thank you for coming, we are happy you are here."

I introduced our six: the four who had returned to Africa and the two who had dreamed of Africa. As the team stood and remembered the Swahili saying S had taught us the night before "MOO - WED - DAY", the women laughed and responded "TOO - WED - DAY" ( how are you - I am fine)

S translated the instructions for our creative time "Polaroids and Name Tags". The women spread out as the team passed out the stickers, markers, and frames. As expected, it was chaotic, but as the women gradually began to feel freedom to write, to draw, their laughter became infectious among each other. And as the women came forward to have their picture taken, they expressed the same shyness any American woman would. They turned to one another "My hair..., my clothes..., my smile..., No I can't..." They had to be encouraged to step forward. As the pictures developed the women started laughing AND started making comments just like American women would" "Look at my hair, look at my face... I look old..."

Later in the evening as our team shared, it was with a sense of connection as well as amazement. We are more alike than we are different.

Each of the presenters (D2 on being uniquely created; M - studying the Bible; JA on intimacy with God; and D1 on prayer) did the work of the Holy Spirit, sharing, testifying and giving the gifts God had given to each of them for this time and place. Each session ended with a time of questions and testimony. Towards the end of the day, more and more women stood and shared their hearts. This ordained time will truly be life-changing for us all.

The conference day ended in time for the women to begin the long walk home. They rose with gratefulness, and left with a song, "Asanti Yesu, Asanti, Yesu.."

Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus.

"All together now - applause for God! Sing songs to the tune of His glory, set glory rhythms to His praise.." Psalm 66:1 The Message

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Church Bells Ring

I thanked God for the darkness!

As our transport, (which don't misunderstand - was a complete blessing) strained around hairpin mountain roads, we all held our breath. One corner we didn't quite make and the bus had to pull the emergency brake, shift gears and hit the gas, (as we all gasped) to make the incline!

We arrived long after dark, but were met by a contingent of churchgoers and workers who had been alerted to our imminent arrival by the headlights coming up the hillside. Rev C looked at the darkness and said, "the generator is not working." We had not even considered our final destination would be in such a place as this.

We were led down the steep cobblestone pathway to the guest house. Of course we were the only ones with flashlights, but then again we were the only one who seemed trepidatious in the dark

"Darkness is not dark to you."

S greeted us warmly in the guest house and explained by candlelight the generator was being worked on and we should have electricity soon. Her graciousness humbled us. "You must be so tired, you have brought us so many gifts, we are so thankful to God you are here."

It was hard to be concerned with no electricity, no running hot water (they boiled water over a fire pit for our baths), rodents in the night, and 60 degree temperatures with only thin blankets to warm us, when we heard some of the women would be walking 2 to 3 hours the following morning to get to the conference. Our inconvenience was insignificant by compare. But all of our eyes filled with tears as S said "Many of the village women waited as long as they could for your arrival, but they had a long journey to return home. They asked us to please ring the church bells when you arrived so they could start praising God."

And praise Him we all did!



A Long Way from Tipperary

With the speed of our trip to the South African airline flight - we made it but our luggage, unfortunately/fortunately did not. D1 and I agreed to get up and go to the airport and the South African Airline office early the next morning with Rev C. We looked at each other and thanked God that we were not arising a 4:30 to make it to the 6:00 am public bus! Since ALL of the plans had now changed Rev C was working on "Plan B" (bus or no bus). After a night of restful prayer, the team was all assured that God was in control. He was still on "Plan A" His plan all along!

Our original intent was to leave and be at the airline office when it opened, but the transportation now had to be worked out, AND our luggage would NOT arrive until the SAA flight came in at 2:30 pm.

Add the time to unload the luggage, find 13 pieces, get loaded, checked up and checked out, and on the road, it was going to be a long day.

Rev C and his friend J, secured a bus large enough to accommodate all six of us and our 700 pounds of "stuff". I'm sure when Rev C actually saw the amount and size of our sizeable suitcases, he was thankful for not having to take public transportation.

It took us over 1 1/2 hours to get out of the capital city. It was Africa all the way. Dirt roads, dump sites and multitude of merchants. For those returning and for the two that had never been, there was silence while we took in the surroundings. Words do not express the depth of the "other" world, barely considered "third" by most standards.
"Now listen daughter, don't miss a word. Forget your country, put your home behind you. Be here - the King is wild for you!" Psalm 45: 10-11 The Message

The scenes were wild, and we were trying to keep our minds occupied from the danger and impending dark around us. We had 6 1/2 hours to stay with our minds fixed on everything but what "could" happen at the top of the next hill.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It's a Big Big World

Around and down the world! We arrived in Frankfurt with no problems but with a long long time to wait in between flights. M sat quietly in her reserved wheelchair and we all wondered how exactly we would negotiate the wheelchair, the security and all else to kill our time with.

We napped and ate in shifts, went to the bathroom in shifts and finally reluctantly gave up our benches as the time for our departure got closer. The trip has a touch or unreality to it, although I see it finally coming together after months and months of preparation.

Little sleep, personalities, SMOKERs in the EU all add up to a degree of irritation and "hurry up and get there" attitude. As our departure from Frankfurt became a cramped reality on the full plane to Jo-berg, I knew it would be a long night for us all.

We were coming in for a landing across the Kalahari Desert, and the realization of one hour in between flights, customs, passport control or no? M's wheelchair would either catapult us onto the aircraft we needed to get to or it would result in catastrophe trying to make later arrangements, phone calls, etc..

As our angels would have it, we were whisked through the right channels (we would have had a hard time figuring out on our own_ and onto a bus waiting to take us to the aircraft. Martha got the special "bus" but we all got "onboard"!

Just as the engines cranked up the captain announced there were 4 passengers to Dar es Salaam who shouldn't be on the plane - I looked back D2's eyes popped "honey, are we on the right plane?" Turns out we were and now we set forth, up above the clouds to our next stop. Perhaps this night of rest is not such a bad idea considering we haven't been in a bed in over 50 hours.