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.