Thursday, December 27, 2012

Photos of our December

We started the month marching on World AIDS Day

The kids were in the school Christmas play
Johnny was a shepherd and Frankie a narrator
We visited an elephant orphanage with friends

On our drive to Western Zambia, we saw many monkeys and baboons

A mother with her baby

With children in a Chewa village

Bulls pulling a hoe in the fields

Learning how to plant maize

A Chewa village

A home visit in one of the villages

The homes have no electricity, so it is very dark inside

A very welcoming family

Another village

At the market in Katete, buying mangos and practicing Chichewa

They were very patient and helpful with my Chichewa!

On our way to Malawi to visit friends for Christmas

On a mountain in Malawi on Christmas Eve, looking for a Christmas tree
With Rachel Stone, trying to avoid snakes while finding the perfect tree                  

And we found it...

Driving through Zomba, Malawi with a tree on the car

We decorated it with construction paper ornaments

The kids worked hard to make it beautiful!

Christmas 2012!

The boys had a wonderful Christmas

Malawi is really beautiful!

Waterfall on Zomba Plateau

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Can you see how beautiful they are?

“Frankie, please finish your food!”

“I’m trying to, Mom, but I keep getting distracted because I have to pick out all the bugs...And I don’t eat bugs, because I am a vegetarian.” I looked over at Frankie and realized that he was dead serious. “Oh, okay, honey. Just do your best.” Yes, there were a few bugs in Frankie’s food and so he continued to pick them out, as he ate. 

We are staying in Eastern Zambia for two weeks, doing intensive language learning. It is very different here than it is in Lusaka, and the poverty levels are extreme. Food security is a serious issue, and Frankie was going to finish his dinner, bugs or no bugs.

But later that night, the rains came, and there were swarms of iswe, a type of moth with big white wings. They flooded our entranceway, attracted to the light on our porch. As night wore on, we turned off the lights, to try and keep the bugs away. However, every 30 minutes or so, someone would sneak onto our porch and turn the lights back on. By 11 at night, I saw some women, waiting across the path, for us to go to sleep. Once we turned out our bedroom lights, they turned our porch lights back on. And then we heard them, on our porch, collecting all the bugs. It turns out that people eat iswe; they pluck the wings off the bugs, and can eat them fresh, or they can cook them in their own oils. So, the very night my son was picking bugs out of his food, other women were waiting for us to go to sleep, so they could harvest the bugs from our porch, in order to feed them to their children.

It is a convenient excuse; I can’t eat bugs, I am a vegetarian. But, it also testifies to the choices that we take for granted. What will we eat tonight? What will we refuse to eat? Food security is not an issue for most of us in the United States, and so we forget that even choosing what we will have for dinner is an incredible privilege.

We have also been blessed to do home visits in Chewa villages. The homes in the villages are small circles made of mud, with grass roofs. There is a little, low wall dividing the inside of the home. On one side is a grass mat for sleeping. On the other side are two small wooden stools and a bucket or two. It is incredibly cramped, and we were in one home when the rains came. The grass roof began to leak immediately, and the area surrounding the mud hut became flooded. Joel and I were given the only two benches, and the family sat on the dirt floor, hosting us with incredible kindness and grace. How do I sit on a simple wooden bench, in a mud hut, under a leaking grass roof, and listen, as those sitting on the dirt floor proclaim the unending goodness of God, thanking me profusely for my visit? There is so much for me to try and understand; hope, joy, and faithfulness that I cannot yet grasp. 

Back in our temporary home, we take bucket showers, and boil the water in order to have a warm bath. We lose our water sometimes, and have to wait in order to flush the toilet, wash our hands, or purify some drinking water. But the homes we visit have no water or electricity; the women walk to a well in the center of the village, and they carry buckets of water back to their homes, balancing them on the top of their heads.

Water, food, a bed, a light in a dark house. These are things we often take for granted. I hope that I never take them for granted again. 

In a different Chewa village, the Village Head Man spent a lot of time with us, very patient and kind as he let me practice Chichewa with him. We gathered around the cow enclosure, a little circle of log poles near the front of the village. We spoke with many of the families, and after some time, the headman declared that we must go into the fields. He wanted us to see how the village survived. And so we traveled awhile, and came to a beautiful place, where fields stretched on and on, and the mountains towered in the distance. 
An ox-cart transported workers into the field, and two bulls pulled a plow to dig up the earth. Further down, women pummeled the land with hoes, breaking the soil and throwing in seed. The headman suggested that I, too, learn to plant maize, and so the women worked with me, showing me where to plant the seed and how to cover it. It was one of those magical days, surrounded by beauty, and gracious people, taking the time to teach a Muzungu how to plant maize. We all did a lot of laughing, especially at my very, very broken Chichewa, and my very, very slow planting! 
Frankie and Johnny got a chance to plant, too, but they mostly played in the dirt with the children, using sticks and imagination to draw pictures in the mud. 

On Sunday, I preached at the small village church, made of low dirt walls, with a grass roof, and pews made of packed earth. I preached partially in Chichewa, and mostly in English, with a translator. I feel so blessed to be a part of this church, that is working so hard to shine God’s love in a land that struggles with so much poverty. I am deeply grateful that CCAP is here, in this town, because I know that they are trying to help people, and to show God’s love, especially where there is pain and hunger.

Planting seeds in the land is worth the effort; there is a lot of rain now, and the soil is fertile. Walking together with the Chewa women, planting in solidarity, I could feel God’s powerful presence. Alone, there is nothing I can do. But together, working with, and in the Zambian church, there is hope, there is change, there is transformation. The maize will grow, the hungry will be fed, for hope is strong among the people of Zambia. O God, may it be so, as we plant seeds and walk the earth together.

One more thing about Frankie’s buggy dinner. Right after he finished his meal, we walked out under the night sky, and saw more stars than I have ever seen in my life. Frankie was in awe, and kept spinning in circles, looking up at the magnificent heavens. And as he spun around, he ended up falling in the dirt. He got up, laughing, covered in mud, but focused on the stars. “Can you see them?” he asked. “Can you see how beautiful they are?”

Friday, December 7, 2012

When The Lights Go On

One of the advantages of frequent power outages, is that our whole family gets really excited when the lights go on. When the electricity disappears, it is often in the evening, right after dinner time, and so we get out our head lamps, our solar lights, and some candles. We get ready for the next day, packing lunches, doing homework, taking baths, reading stories, all in rooms that are pretty dimly lit. And so, when the lights go back on, and we never know when that will be, we all get pretty excited. In fact, our family has a little “electricity” dance that we break out, after especially long power outages. Sometimes, they only last a few hours, once we went almost 48 hours. But, regardless of how long they last, we are all very happy when the lights go on.

Life is sort of like that here in Zambia. We celebrate the little things together, and it makes life a lot more fun. For example, the first time that Joel drove to the store and back, we all sat in the car applauding wildly. When we figured out how to cook rice on our very temperamental stove, it was the best rice we had ever eaten! And when, after two full days of visiting governmental offices, filling out forms, and tracking down signatures, we finally got our car officially registered, my boss suggested framing and hanging the registration certificate. Really, it felt like a momentous accomplishment, and we were overjoyed to officially own our car.

There is good reason to find joy in the minor, and major, triumphs here. It is true that there is extreme suffering; 43% of Zambians live in extreme poverty and 1 out of every 7 adults is HIV positive. But, on World AIDS Day, I joined thousands of people, marching through the streets of Lusaka, declaring that they would end this epidemic. And then, later that night, I learned that rates of new infections for HIV have gone down by 58%, and that the percentage of HIV infected infants born to positive women dropped from 39% in 2005 to 5% in 2011. Individuals receiving treatment for HIV rose from 3,000 in 2004 to 400,000 in 2011. Far fewer new infections, far fewer children born with HIV, and many, many more people accessing treatment. This is a real reason to celebrate!  

Sometimes, it is dark, and we cannot see, and the rooms are dimly lit. When we think of the realities of HIV/AIDS in Africa, it can feel that way. But then the lights go on, and we see that new infections are decreasing, effective treatment is increasing, children are being born without the disease, and people are living longer, healthier, happier lives. The lights go on, and we do have reason to celebrate. Yes, there is still work to do, and we still march, we still journey, together. But we march, knowing that the lights will go on, knowing that we must celebrate the progress, even as we fight to continue the momentum in addressing poverty and AIDS.

Yesterday, I did home visits again with the wonderful women of Mandevu CCAP congregation. We went into two different compounds of Lusaka, areas that struggle with extreme poverty. I was honored to be welcomed into the homes of women who were suffering from diabetes, tuberculosis, HIV, blindness, and cardiac disease. While there, I saw the ways in which people cared for one another, and the love that surrounded all those who suffered. At the same time, the woman who was HIV positive, for example, was healthy, receiving medicine, and introduced us to her three beautiful grandsons. Mrs. P also served her community, helping others who are HIV positive to get the treatment that they need, and supporting them in their fight against HIV. The lights will go on. Even with these women, diagnosed with severe illness, the lights go on in their lives, as they are surrounded by love, support, and care, as they even offer support and care to others.

One of my visits was to a new little baby, a one-week old boy named Vincent. As I entered Vincent’s small home, there were flies all around, and the little room was dark and cramped. I sat down, and began to talk with his mother. Her smile lit up the room as she spoke of her new baby, and pretty soon, that beautiful little guy was in my arms. She asked me to bless him, to pray for him, and so I did, asking our God of grace and hope to surround that little child. I do not know what his life will be like, growing up in a country where the under-5 mortality is 119:1000, where malnutrition rates are 45%. But, I do believe that the lights will go on, and as I prayed for that little boy, I knew that God had a wonderful plan for baby Vincent, just as God has great plans for us all. And God will work in us, and through us, to bring health and hope to the children and Zambia.

The lights go on and there is reason to celebrate. There is reason to rejoice in the small things: in a smile from a stranger, walking through a street market in a dusty, dirty road. There is reason to celebrate the big things: a new clinic offering care to those who are sick, saving lives and offering hope. But most of all, there is reason to rejoice in God, who shines light in and through us. To rejoice that God can offer others love, care, compassion, and hope, through our very lives, as we let our light shine. Sometimes, the power goes out, and the rooms are dim, and we cannot see all that well. But the light is still there, and the light is coming, and the power of God will shine again.

So, thank you for being on this journey with us, for being a light for us, through your prayers and your friendship, and thank you for celebrating with us - the little things, the big things, the many blessings we see, in the light and grace of God.

Monday, November 26, 2012

And Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting...

Yesterday, there were sixteen children in our front yard, and yes, everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting. In fact, the older children were even singing the song while practicing their high kicks and some very impressive backflips. There were hours of laughter as older children flipped the tiny ones, and then, of course, there were breaks to kick around the futball. While it is true that I tend to resist any sort of violence with all my might, this was just pure, hilarious fun, and the kids were all smiling from ear to ear.

Frankie and Johnny have such lovely friends here, kids who spend most of their time outdoors, and find entertainment in doing backflips, kicking around a ball, dancing to improvised drums, and climbing trees. The boys are learning where to pick mangos, how to rock out using sticks and a metal slide, and some pretty impressive dance moves. When the rains came a few days ago, I stuck my head out the door to call in our kids. Frankie, however, couldn't come, because his rear end was stuck at the top of a mango tree. Joel had to go and pull him out, and they came inside, drenched and laughing.

While we find enormous joy at our home, surrounded by wonderful children, and very kind neighbors, we are also able to continue our work with CCAP Zambia. I continue to preach in congregations, and I have started to do home visits with the Home Based Care Program. These women go every week to visit the homes of those who are sick, and those who are HIV positive. As I learn more about their work, I am incredibly impressed.

On the days when they are not doing their visits, the women of the church make embroidered cloths and clothing to sell in the market. With the profits that they earn, the women buy food and medicine to bring to the homes of those who are sick or struggling with HIV. So, each week, they can provide food and medicine, as a way to testify to God's love for all people.

When I first met these women, I saw their beautiful embroidery and they shared stories of those for whom they cared. Mrs. Phiri explained that she visited someone who was sick, but very afraid to go to the clinic alone. And so Mrs. Phiri provided money for bus fare, and accompanied the woman to the clinic. This woman is now able to get the medication that she needs, and Mrs. Phiri visits her regularly to provide support, and to bring extra food to help in her healing. There are 15 women, in one congregation, who each visit 5-6 people. Just in this one community, the Home Based Care program is providing love, food, and medicine to over 60 people. It is exciting to think that this loving care is happening all over Zambia, through CCAP's HIV/AIDS programs. It has been a great blessing to work with these women and accompany them on some visits!

As I continue to learn Chichewa, to watch the children play and thrive, to work with Joel on exciting projects, to see CCAP Zambia touch the world with love, I can't help but feel enormously grateful. We are so blessed to be here, to be with such amazing people, and to learn from the generous and faithful hearts of our partners in ministry.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Pregnant Women

The pregnant women were laying on a grass mat, on the dirt, surrounded by cows and chickens. The clinical officer had been transferred, so the Ministry of Health was taking advantage of the opportunity to re-roof the clinic. The roof had been damaged by previous wind storms. Not wanting  to completely close the clinic, the Ministry of Health had moved clinic care to the home previously used by the clinical officer, and had left the "cleaner" to administer basic health care and first aid. She administered medication from a closet, using a large book to determine what drugs to provide.

This was my first exposure to the health care system in rural Zambia, and to issues of maternal and infant mortality in Zambia. Needless to say it made quite an impact on me! Unicef estimates that the lifetime risk of maternal death for a woman in Zambia is 1 in 38; rural Zambia has one of the worst maternal death rates in the world. I was relieved to learn that Zambia is in the process of implementing a plan to improve maternal mortality, and the Lundazi area where I was visiting is one of the targeted implementation areas. 

The next day, I traveled to another clinic. This one had a functional building, but was also in transition as again MOH had transferred the clinical officer and public health officer who had worked there for many years. Maintenance was required on the home provided for the clinical officer before the new clinic staff person could move in. 

During the trip, members of the CCAP Zambia synod office invited me to join with them as the offered condolences to a CCAP Zambia pastor who had just lost a newborn baby. I experienced the traditional process of condolence. We sang and we prayed and we sat together. The pastor explained that his wife had high blood pressure, and the baby was born prematurely. The story is not unusual. Often, when I talk to people here about their children, they tell me how many kids they have that are living, and how many are dead.  

My visit to rural eastern Zambia,birthplace of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian/ Synod of Zambia lasted four days. During that time, we visited the two clinics, 4 schools, 2 churches, a theological school, and one community health evangelism site. I enjoyed 6 department presentations, and learned about the courageous work that CCAP Zambia is doing to address the incredible challenges in Zambia. We heard from the Relief and Development Department, the Health Department, the Education Department, the Protected Water Department, the Lay Training Department, and the Evangelism Department. The Relief and Development Department is working on agricultural programs, adult literacy, orphans and vulnerable children, and home based care for those who are HIV positive. The health department is working hard to address  maternal health and other issues. There is great work going on; however, the challenges were incredibly apparent every time we visited the program sites. 

The highlight of the visit for me was the invitation to preach at the licensing of 12 new CCAP Zambia pastors, graduates of CCAP Zambia's fledgling Chasefu Theological College. These new pastors will continue to work for  God’s kingdom here on earth. They will go out, all over the country, and struggle for justice, for health care, for compassion, for healing, for hope. And they will comfort those who mourn, and they will speak of God’s love, and they will offer hope in the name of Jesus.  

I feel blessed to work with CCAP Zambia, and humbled by their amazing commitment to fight against incredible odds. I am humbled by all that they give in order to create the Kingdom of God here on earth. I am humbled by their ability to face incredible pain, and keep on following Jesus. I will walk with them, and learn from them, and pray with them. And I ask that you will, too. God is at work here, and God needs us to be a part of this work, to walk with CCAP Zambia. 

Thank you for your partnership and prayers. Thank you for your love and compassion. And thanks be to our God of grace, of hope, of healing. 

Beautiful sites in Lundazi

A CCAP Basic school

Girls at Mphamba Basic School, run by CCAP, where they run an excellent program to keep girls in school

Girls at a CCAP Boarding school; they are in front of the kitchen where they make their own food

At Chasefu Theological College, they make their own bricks as they rebuild the school

The licensing service for 12 new pastors

After the service, with two of the new pastors

The only woman in her graduating class, Naomi was beaming throughout the service

The second clinic we visited

Women waiting outside the clinic