Sunday, June 29, 2014

Kid Update

It has been a very fun month with the kids! After months and months of rehearsal, Frankie performed as an Oompa-Loompa in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Johnny celebrated his seventh birthday and received three academic awards and a medal at school. The kids are also really enjoying watching the World Cup, and are very excited about their term break. 

Needless to say, we all had the "Oompa-Loompa Dupity-Doo" song in our head for an entire month.

Frankie was the one to carry in the giant chocolate bar.

He had a lot of fun!

Johnny's birthday: There was no power and no water, but he did have a birthday apple crisp topped with seven tea-light candles.

The principal and vice-principal awarding Johnny with his academic medal.

The awards were in literacy, math, and science.

Johnny's birthday party

Six happy children; much easier than the 30+ at last year's party :)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Dandelion Has It

In his book, Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh writes a meditation about smiling. He closes with this paragraph, "Our smile will bring happiness to us and to those around us. Even if we spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in our family, nothing we buy could give them as much happiness as the gift of our awareness, our smile. And this precious gift costs nothing. At the end of a retreat in California, a friend wrote this poem: 'I have lost my smile, but don't worry. The dandelion has it.'"

Awhile ago, I wrote that I had lost my joy, that sadness seemed to rob me of my smile. In truth, this rough patch had lasted a few months, and I was really ready for the dandelion to give me my smile back! But that image of God coming out to find me, lifting me on sturdy, steady shoulders, placing my feet on solid ground, kept assuring me that I would find lush pastures again. And looking around today, I find that I am in such a field, and that I am surrounded by dandelions. So many smiles, such abundant joy, that I can pick any dandelion I choose and offer up my bubbling thanks to God.

On Friday, a lovely family came to our home for dinner. We spent hours talking and sharing, their son playing with ours. After eating together, the boys set up a tent in the backyard and had a sleepover. We could hear them giggling with their friend throughout the night. A dandelion. 

On Saturday, we had dinner at the home of good friends, who prepared a feast of vegetarian Zambian food for us. Our family has been vegetarian for 15 years, but when they came to eat at our home, we had served them chicken, knowing that in Zambia, special guests are always offered meat. But when we arrived at their house over the weekend, they had prepared seven different dishes, all of them meat-free. After the meal, they read a letter, a beautiful testament of love and friendship, and we spent time talking about culture, sharing stories, and laughing together. Another dandelion.

On Sunday, we celebrated Father's Day with worship and communion, followed by a meal and a rare opportunity to watch a polo match at the Italian Club. We spent the afternoon playing soccer in our yard, which was full of laughter and about a million penalty shots. Dandelions all over the place.

Over the week, we had a very productive meeting of the HIV/AIDS department, I was able to complete a twenty page grant report, and finish up some lessons. Dandelions bloomed as I worked with colleagues; even writing the grant report was a joy, a reminder of what has already been accomplished in our synod. More and more dandelions.

And tonight, we will have a good-bye dinner with friends we love, and it will be hard, but also lovely. Also a reminder that we are so, so blessed to have these friends, so, so blessed by the wonderful, inspirational people in our lives. 

And tomorrow, we will go to another friend's home, and Saturday, to yet another friend's home...Dandelions, dandelions, and more dandelions....

It is not the case that we have five dinner engagements in nine days on a regular basis. But, being the extreme extrovert that I am, perhaps this is God's way of reminding me of all the love that is in my life, all the joy that surrounds me, all the human beings who act as dandelions for me, holding my smile and mirroring it back to me. And I begin to remember who I am, and whose I am, and where I am. And how blessed I am. 

It is nice to have my smile back. Thanks, dandelions. Thanks, friends.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Party for a Prisoner

They were speaking rapid Nyanja, and while I could pick out a few words, I was completely unable to keep up with the discussion. I could tell that they were speaking about a man in prison, a man who would soon be released. And as the church vestry continued its heated discussion, I filled in the blanks. 

Of course there would be nervous debate about a prisoner soon to be released into the community. I guessed that they were figuring out if they could let him back into the congregation. Would they be safe? Would the community be safe? I remembered similar conversations about ex-offenders in my previous congregations. What to do when a person gets released from prison? How does a church behave?

I watched them continue to speak, and was surprised by the smiles on their faces, the lightness with which the conversation continued. I had completely stopped listening as I imagined the content of their discussion, and finally, my colleague turned to me. “Were you following?” she asked. I admitted that I had not understood the majority of the discussion and she was happy to explain.

“Very soon one of our members will be released from prison. He is getting an early release and we are very happy. So, we are planning on throwing him a party. We are figuring out how to throw this party.” She returned to the conversation and I nodded as if that was exactly what I had expected. Of course. They weren’t debating whether or not this man could return to their community. They were discussing the details of the party they would throw for him, and how they would raise the funds.

I spent that morning with the congregation, and by early afternoon it was time to begin the long drive back to Lusaka. As we were ready to depart, the minister asked us to wait outside for just a few minutes. We complied, and I wondered what they needed to discuss without us present. It took longer than a few minutes, and I began to feel a bit impatient. I don’t like driving in the dark and I really wanted to leave, in order to get home before nightfall.

Finally, the minister came out of the church building and said farewell. As we were getting into the car, she shoved a wad of money in my hand. “Please, use it to buy food and soft drinks on your drive home,” she said. I began to protest, but she stopped me immediately. “Please. You must. This is for you.” I accepted the gift, realizing that they had been taking a special offering to collect this money. 

We did not need soft drinks, and we had traveled with a bag of food and water in the car. That money could have gone to feed someone else - someone who was hungry, someone who did not have a couple of chocolate chip cookies hidden in the glove compartment. But we had to accept this extravagant generosity - from this church full of rural Zambians who throw parties for prisoners and collect money to feed Americans.

There was a woman - an unnamed woman - in the gospels, who poured out expensive perfume, all over Jesus. She came to him and spilled the whole bottle on his skin, she wiped it with her hair. And when the disciples protested, “What a waste! This could have been sold and the money given to the poor!” Jesus said, “Why do you trouble her? She has done this beautiful thing to show her love. What she has done will be told again and again, in memory of her.”

This little church, in this little town, in south central Zambia, is pouring out perfume. They are throwing parties for prisoners, they are collecting money to buy soft drinks. They are singing and dancing and wiping in ointment with their hair. They are showing love - joyous, crazy, grateful, faithful love. And I can see Jesus smiling and laughing with them, saying, “Let their story be told over and over again, in memory of them.”

There is no doubt that this congregation is caring for its neighbors. It already runs a small community school, where kids can come and learn for free. They are beginning plans for a Home Based Care program, to provide assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS. They provide clothes and sustenance for those who are struggling. But they also throw parties for prisoners, they also shove cash into my full hands, they also dance and celebrate and trust in God.

I believe that extravagant generosity is closely aligned with unwavering faith. People who truly trust that God will provide are better able to give sacrificially. People who truly believe that God loves everyone are better able to love their neighbors. People who truly believe that God has a plan for us are better able to release their plans, their resources, their intentions, and practice the radical hospitality of God. People who truly believe that God is like a prodigal parent are able to throw better parties.

I deeply want to trust God like that - to have a faith that allows me to engage in such extravagant generosity, such reckless hospitality. Because even though I did not need the money for soft drinks, I certainly needed the lesson. Thanks, friends.