Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Cat, the Rat, the Goat, and a Hundred Chickens

So, a goat moved in next door. A very loud goat. And while it is fun to peek over the fence and see its beard and horns, it is somewhat inconvenient that the goat chooses to lament his situation very early in the morning. At some point, I am sure, we will be no longer be troubled by the noise of this particular goat, but at that time, we will probably have some deeply sad children, as the neighbors consume their cute gray friend.

However, in my office, there is another gray companion who is not so cute, and really not a friend. He appeared running around the rafters, an enormous rat a few feet above me; yesterday and today, he decided that the area right above my desk is a good place to hang out. As I pointed out our visitor to my colleague, he suggested that we get the cat. It took a little while, because the cat didn’t want to enter, but after some time, we were able to shut the cat and the rat in my office, while I waited patiently outside for the execution to take place. It didn’t.

Instead, the rat escaped into the chicken coop attached to my office, where it terrorized a hundred chickens, all of whom are waiting to be killed in the next seven days. The red truck appears, the chickens get loaded, and the number slowly dwindles. They are now fully grown, so this flock will soon disappear. In any case, after the rat ran around with the chickens, and the cat gave up in disgust, I returned to my office, and we continued our work on a grant application. This particular grant would offer funding for an income-generating project, to sustain feeding programs in five of our community schools. 

Many of you know that our family is vegetarian; Joel and I haven’t eaten meat in fifteen years, and our children have been vegetarian their whole lives. And so, the impending doom of the goat, the chickens, and even the rat should disturb me. But it doesn’t. So many things are different here, and different now. So many of my thoughts are gray and uncertain. I am delighted that the chickens are being sold and slaughtered; the income from their sale will support amazing projects in the church. And our neighbor, the goat, will provide protein for people who need it. And I am glad the rat is gone, dead or alive, so that my colleague and I can continue working on a vital grant application, to feed children who are very vulnerable.

I love the way I am challenged here, the way my assumptions and way of life are questioned by the circumstances that I live in. My theology, my world view, my issues with trust and self-confidence, my dogmatic perspectives...almost all of the truths in my life have been expanded and nuanced through daily life in a developing country, with peers who see the world in phenomenally different ways than I do.

In any case, I am not going to mourn the goat, or the chickens, or the rat (if the cat finally does her job). Instead, I am going to celebrate getting the grant application done. I am going to celebrate the young adult volunteers working in the community schools. I am going to celebrate the initial stages of translating the curriculum. I am going to celebrate the HIV/AIDS youth training. There is a lot to celebrate here, and a rat-free office is one of them, God willing.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Building Together

Take a look at what our partners are building in Zambia....

And check out the new Synod website that Joel built...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jumping In

It is a good thing that laughing in church is a perfectly acceptable behavior here, because I couldn't control the tears of mirth flowing from my eyes, and Joel simply doubled over in a coughing fit brought on by too much laughter. The source: one of the YAVs passed over her camera as we were waiting for worship to start. On the camera was a video of her dancing at a Zambian wedding. It was funny. Really funny.

It wasn't that she was dancing in a particularly humorous way. Instead, it was because she was dancing for all she was worth in front of a crowd of strangers, who were also laughing hysterically, while moving forward, to join in her dance. This was her explanation, "Well, they asked me to come forward and dance, and I figured I could just do some simple swaying from side to side. Or, I could really dance. I decided to just go for it." The crowd of strangers soon became friends, as person after person came forward, among cheers and laughter and shouts.

These past two weeks, the three young women have decided to just go for it, over and over again. They immersed themselves in a village stay, spending three nights sleeping on woven mats, hauling water from streams, learning to grind maize by hand, learning to eat properly and sit properly and dance properly. They have led Bible studies and given speeches. They have learned to wrap chitenges and eat with their hands. With only two weeks in Zambia, they have stood in front of hundreds of people, to offer their greetings in Chichewa. These three YAVs know what it is to jump right in, to choose courage over fear, to just go for it.

Even after two years here, I still worry about getting it right. Before I stand up in front of a congregation, my stomach rumbles with nerves: Will I get the grammar right? What if I forget the Chichewa word? Can I remember the order for a proper greeting? There are even times when I have avoided eye contact, in hopes that I am not asked to stand and address a church. 

And yet, when I do, something amazing happens. It is not that I get it right. In fact, I frequently get it very, very wrong, especially when I try to branch out and try a Timbuka word or two. But when this happens, and the congregation is roaring with laughter, because I said the word for "forgiveness" while acting out the word for "tree," I am laughing, too. Being wrong is not the problem, but being scared of other people...well, that is a problem.

I am so proud of these three young women, who are willing to risk being wrong, who are willing to risk looking silly, who are willing to risk discomfort, in order to build something beautiful, to trust a community with their vulnerability. They have not had an easy two weeks. But they have certainly jumped right in, with singing, with dancing, and with lots and lots of laughter. It bodes very well for their year in Zambia. 

When we offer ourselves, our real, silly, crazy, fun, flawed, grammatically insufficient selves, that is when laughter and love flow. That is when we show that instead of being scared of one another, we are united with one another. Brothers and sisters dancing our lives, calling one another into the dance. I am grateful for the inspiration of these young women, and for the reminder that being vulnerable, being real, is what leads to real relationship. And I am also really grateful for that video. Because it was funny. Really funny.