Sunday, March 25, 2007

Thoughts from Africa

We took a trip out to Siachetema Mission on Saturday. You’ve heard Jake mention it before, and it’s where our former Bible School professor, Rev. Mwikisa lives.

I felt so at home there. Their lives are just a bit differently from most Zambians in that they live in a simple brick home (as opposed to a tiny grass hut). They have a blocked in latrine and thatched kitchen (as opposed to using the “toilet”in the bush and cooking on an open fire out in the elements). They are good farmers, and since it’s harvest season right now, the food is abundant. I dug up sweet potatoes, ate fresh maize, and chewed on a sugar cane. Then we sat and sang and chatted. It felt so incredibly real. The reason I even attempt to express it through my inadequate words is that that realness is the very thing that I’m always trying to express to others. To you, at home. What is this realness? What does it mean? What does it consist of?

I can’t explain it, really. And it sounds insensitive when I try. It’s the reason I have a hard time carting around a camcorder or snapping pictures all the time. I mean, this is someone’s life. I can’t bear to walk around treating people like a tourist attraction when they carry water on their head and squat cooking at the fire. I know that you disagree with me. But can you imagine if an African man came and filmed you while you were heating up your TV dinner in the microwave and then running the water to take a bath? If they said, in an indistinguishable accent, “So, what’s this you’re cooking? Is it La-Sag-Na?” “Oh Look,” he would then say to his friend, “They’re cooking La-Sag-Na.” (Lasagna….get it?) First of all, you would think they were pretty stupid. Especially if you didn’t have the Discovery Channel that not everyone on the planet was not just like you and that not everyone eats lasagna. You would also wonder why they couldn’t just act like a normal person and put down the camcorder (which you’ve never really seen before, by the way). Then you could have a conversation, and they could taste the lasagna, and you would tell them about your life, and your job, and your kids.

Okay, really? I understand the fascination with different cultures. I myself am fascinated with different cultures…all of them. I just think we miss out when we spend so much time defining our differences instead of reveling in our sameness. If you ever come here to visit, I will encourage you to capture life on camera and take it back home. But you have to see beyond the experience and try to enter into life. You have to not worry about understanding every little thing (I am guilty of this). Just sit and listen to the old ladies talk. You might learn something. Remember, this is someone’s life. Not just some people, but most other people. Most other people on the planet live in a developing country and do not have access to electricity or running water. We’re really the oddity here. It’s just that they don’t have access to video cameras to run around capturing us while we do the strange things that we do.

By the way, I really admire the “white Zambians” who love Jesus and who have lived here practically their whole lives, except for no one walks around handing freebies out to them or congratulating them for their work on the mission field. Whenever I get a martyr complex, or when I miss home too much, I think, “This is their life.” I will always have another home. But this is their life. And obviously, they live here because they feel a connection to that realness that I was describing to you. They love the lack of pretense and serving the people and working the land that they live on. And they’re probably not really sure why we’re snapping pictures all the time either.

My point? Oh Lord, help me to still have one after all of that. It’s really good sometimes when I wake up and realize that the world is bigger than me. Bigger than my problems and my thoughts and opinions (the opinions, by the way, are increasing by the day…have you noticed?) There are a TON of people who don’t live like I do. Most don’t, actually. But I’m tired of feeling sympathy ‘cause they can’t live like me. I want to start understanding their culture so well that I understand what they want, not what I want for them. And I don’t want to understand it so that I can get what they want for them, but so that they can be educated to the point of being able to get what they want for themselves. This is easier said than done. I’m not claiming that the Lord would even use little ol’ me for such a monumental task.. I don’t know if me taking a day to dig sweet potatoes has anything to do with the huge work that it would take to straighten out this whole continent, this whole world. I don’t know what I think half the time. But I know that it’s really freeing to realize that you’re not responsible for saving the world. But, we are responsible for not becoming so entrenched in our own little lives that we forget that there is a world outside of us. There is a world where whole families live on a dollar a day. There is a world where people die of treatable diseases. And sometimes those things happen right in our own “rich” country! Let’s promise ourselves not to become so obsessed with ourselves that we forget that.

Sorry about all that, sometimes it all just gets to be a little too much not to let you know about. Please don’t feel condemned, I’m preaching to myself. Really, I just want you to come and eat a mango under a shade tree and try to learn Tonga so that everyone could smile and laugh when you make a mistake. And we could hang out and talk about all of this poverty stuff more.

Oh Lord,
I know so little. Please teach me Your ways and how to minister to Your people.

P.S. Speaking of thinking about yourself, can someone please figure out a way to overnight me a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder and a Dr. Pepper? That would be great.

(It’s really gross what you start to crave when you can’t get it!)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Eyes on the Prize

It's amazing how life works. It seems that we can go through months of peace and the usual hum-drum of activity and then other times it seems that the phrase "when it pours" could be quoted as scripture because of its truth! Lately it has been pouring on the farm. We've had struggles, trials, and frustrations that continue to pile onto each other. Nearly 40 elephants have made our fields their playground each evening, destroying the maize that our Zambian friends have worked so hard to maintain. Bush pigs (big, dangerous animals) have added to the chaos and ate what remains in several areas of the farm. There have been friends who let us down on the farm, drunks who have threatened us at night, vehicles that have broken down in very inconvenient places, and some who have betrayed our trust. The funny things is that this isn't at all peculiar to Africa. I'm sure many people are nodding right now saying, "i know exactly how you feel!" We had a very rough night two nights ago that involved discovering our driver was drunk AND driving...let's just say that his response wasn't very humble to my accusation at him being drunk and it turned into a long night. All that to say, Jess and I were feeling very down until a 22 year old Zambian friend of mine named Chanda approached me as everything was settling down. "Don't let any of this disturb the pursuit of your vision. The devil is always trying to distract us and he uses many ways to do this. The truth is that there is a great vision before us and all of this is happening to keep our eyes off of Christ." In that moment it made so much sense. There is an enemy who "prowls around like a lion, looking for someone to devour..." Yet we serve a God who has in all ways defeated and destroyed the works of the evil one. Scripture says that is why Christ came! I just want to encourage everyone right now who is going through a difficult trial...everyone who may feel they have been wronged or that injustice has been dealt to you...There is a vision before you that is great. The author and perfector of that vision is the Man Christ Jesus and the only way to fulfill that vision is wholehearted abandonment and commitment to our Lord. Many things will come against us, but it has already been dealt with, for "If God is for us, who can be against us?" I just want to say "Awake, Awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city...Shake yourself from the dust, arise...Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive of Zion!" (Isa. 51) There is a great Redeemer Who stands before us, beckoning us to continue on and fulfill the vision before us. It is a tiring journey and we will be put through difficulties, but don't get caught up in the chaos, get caught up in Christ! I love you all and pray that God would give you refreshing and a new zeal to take up your cross and follow Him hard today...

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Happy Birthday Brothers!

Happy Birthday to Zak and Henry! Turning 21 and 14, respectively. So sorry we can't be there to celebrate with you-we love you and miss you so much.

Age is a funny thing. In the U.S., it seems like 22 is still desperately young. It seems like it's a bit too young to be married, definitely too young to have children ("But you have so much tiimmeee."), and possibly to young to be making major decisions on an African farm. In Zambia, however, the average life expectancy is 40 years of age, and so 22 is middle-aged. Betcha never thought of it that way, huh? Needless to say, the Tonga people are surprised that Jacob and I have been married for less than a year ("What were you waiting for all that time?") The women are almost violently disappointed that I am not pregnant and touch my belly weekly to check and see if I am gaining weight (You think I'm kidding-by their standards I am a disaster, a woman is supposed to bear a child by the one year anniversary of her wedding). And most of the residents of this farm never stop to question whether we have any clue what I'm talking about as Jacob and I walk around making major decisions about the orphanage and farm life. They are great respectors of age and wisdom, there just aren't a ton of elder folks to go around respecting. The Zambian director of the farm is younger than Jacob and I, has been married twice (he found out the first wife wasn't a Christian), and his wife is about to give birth to their 1st child. The village supervisor has three children, has been married for 10 years, and is less than 30. These men bear the responsibility of much that happens on the farm, and yet they are young enough to be considered "rookies", if not "kids" in the "Western world".

So, Happy Birthday Zak and Henry. Zak, if you were a village Zambian, you would most assuredly be married with a child on the way. You would have built your own hut by now and be a farming expert. Henry, you would be trying to test out of 8th grade to see if you could go on to secondary school. If the tests were good, you would move away from your family and try to get someone to fund you for your secondary school education. If you could pass all of your tests, you would have a good chance of a higher paying job in town. If not, you would return to your village, get married, and start farming.

I don't walk around saying, "Praise God, I'm AMERICAN!" very much. But it is times like now that I remember to thank the Lord for the opportunity granted me just by growing up in a developed country. I am so thankful now for enough nutrition to grow up healthy and strong, for a good basic and higher education, and for parents who cared enough to talk to me, show me the world, and force me to think. It made all the difference in the world. I hate how cliche that sounds, but I am forced to admit that it's true even as I learn to integrate and accept the Zambian way of life. So, today marks me truly thankful to be born in a great country, and proud to be American...just don't tell anyone. ;)

Sometimes you just have to laugh...

I need to give everyone a little history on our neighbor, Mr. Mwahili, who owns a farm with hundreds of cattle. For the past ten years the former management of Sons of Thunder fought and argued with this man because his cattle would storm onto our farm (getting through an open gate that connects our farms) and eat a lot of the maize that is growing in our residents fields. Now this is no small problem. This maize is each families source of food for the entire year so they bank on this with their lives. Now when the previous management tried to deal with this and talk to Mwahila it always turned out very bad. Mwahila would storm off into town and bring back police officers who would threaten to fine Sons of Thunder for "lying and making trouble." (This is just a peek into the governmental corruption of Africa).
All of the Zambians on our farm have lived in fear of this guy for years because he pays of the police officers so that he can get away with whatever he wants. Well in the past few weeks his cattle have done a significant amount of damage and I decided that enough is enough. By the grace of God, I have made friends with one of the highest ranking police officials in this area. Her daughter is one of the patients at our clinice and her boy is my "right and man" for ministry. I gave her a call explaining the entire situation and she assured me it would be taken care of. Next i sat down our head men (7 men who represent the seven villages on our farm) and spoke to them about the power of God and how He brings justice to his children. They feared Mwahila because he has also hired witch doctors to put curses on people and I told them the gospel was clear that there is no higher power than Jesus Christ. We went through scripture and after all was said and done it seemed the head men were ready to act. Abson, one of our supervisors, decided to take initiative and approach Mwahila's supervisor about the issues and needing to be payed back for the damage done. To his amazement, the man was completely apologetic and agreed with all of the terms. Soon after we found that Mwahila was paying several workers to put up a very nice cattle pen to hold his animals at night - God came through - or so i thought it was one of those definite "God moments." It wasn't until this morning that i found the truth of the matter. Our driver, Christopher (one of the victims on the farm), happened to run into Mwahila a few days ago and upon seeing him he yelled out, "Mwahila, if we see one more of your cattle come onto our property, we're going to call your cattle herders to come and get them and when they cross onto our farm we will beat them until they quit working for you..." Mwahila instantly apologized for all past occurences and vowed that it wouldn't happen again.
Now I haven't seen Christopher yet today and at this point I'm not sure whether or not to rebuke him or congratulate him because this is the first time in 10 years that this serious problem has been dealt with. It gave me a good laugh this morning and I figured it would give you a good chuckle as well. Continue praying that God brings justice to all of the corruption happening in Africa and pray that our farm in Zambia is continually protected by our Great and Glorious King, Jesus Christ!

Here is a good scripture to leave you all with: "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid. For the Lord your God has gone ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor forsake you." Deut. 31:6