Thursday, July 25, 2013

Learning to Read

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

~Frederick Buechner

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

~Mother Teresa

For those of you who know me well, I'm a quote girl. I LOVE quotes. And, yesterday, those are the quotes that were running through my head as I taught 6 Yao adults a simple reading lesson.

Many people here have never been to school. Girls are needed at home to cook, clean, and take care of children. Most boys attend school - at least more than girls - but when they are needed in the machamba (field, or farm), attending school becomes a distant second. Even if they attend primary school - which the government provides for free - the school conditions are so horrible, that little, if any learning is taking place. Imagine a classroom with 50 or 100 kids. They're aren't enough desks, so kids sit on wooden benches or on the concrete floor. They're aren't enough books, so one book is shared between 3 or 4 children. They're are no teaching aids, no games to play......nothing. Their is only a teacher standing up front reciting a sentence and little voices repeating what has been said. No learning modalities. No learning styles or levels of learning. No explanation. Just repeating....for three hours a day - and then you go home.

If you are lucky enough to finish the fifth grade - which even if you do you may not know your alphabet or how to spell your name - you are promoted to sixth grade. But, at sixth grade you must pay tuition and buy your books. Most families do not have the money for this. If they do, their is all so usually a bribe of some sort to pay the teacher so that you can be promoted. If you cannot afford the bribe then you probably will not be promoted.

This sounds crazy.....but it is a reality. It's not just a reality here. It's a reality for most of the world. We, in the first world, are more blessed than we can begin to imagine. Until you have been to a third world and seen the reality of someone else, you just can't imagine. Seriously, Wal-Mart would overwhelm most of my friends. Our buildings, our churches, our restaurants......everything about our lives is excessive and completely outside the imagination of the rest of the world. We are blessed. Never once, until I moved to Africa, did I think about education, a bed to sleep in, clean drinking water, bathing water, cooking with a stove, food to eat, transportation......nothing like that. In our world, those are accepted realities. In this world, they are luxuries. 

Oh, how very blessed we are. And we don't even know it. When you turn on your tap today, when you pop your food in the microwave, when you take your shower, go to sleep in your comfy bed, please thank God for what you have. Say a prayer for those who do not have what you have.

Yesterday, our letter was "S." We talked about the sound that the letter "S" made. We then combined that sound with the vowels to make new sounds. We then added other consonants to make words like "soda" "dora" "Sara" and "soro." (Okay, so I was teaching in Portuguese - the first three words just happened to be the same ;0) As we talked about the sounds, I asked Mariana to sound out the word "soda." Ever so slowly she did "Sss," "Ohh", "Dhh" "Ahh." She looked at me shyly and then said, "Soda." YES! 

"Muito bom, Mariana. E isso!" (Very good, Mariana. That's it!")

She had read a word - probably for the first time in her life. I have never seen such pride in anyone's eyes. And, I realized, that's the look that God sent his son Jesus for. That's the abundant life Jesus came to give us. That moment when we are who he created us to be. That moment when we realize we have talent and worth beyond what the world has told us we have. That moment when we realize we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

It was a powerful, wonderful moment. For that look, I'd give up Wal-Mart and stoves and every other form of modern technology. That moment was why God created me! I don't have a lot of talent to offer this world or the King. But, what I have, I give Him with all my heart and soul!

Later on, I asked them to copy their newly learned words off the board. I then told them to write their name on their paper. None of them knew how to write their names. So, I wrote their names on their papers and then asked them to copy their names. For most of them, it was the first time they had ever written their names. Wow.......just wow. I have been writing my name since I was about 4 years old. Never before have I thought that I was blessed because I had learned to do that. But, as I watched these precious men and women write their own name for the first time in their lives, I was just lost in the wonder of the moment. They were so proud of themselves - and well they should be! 

I applaud them for their bravery, their eagerness to learn, and their desire to build better lives for themselves and their children. They are my heroes.

Today, I am armed with 3 cakes. I will take them out to the center and we will celebrate a birthday. As each person's birthday rolls around we celebrate with cake and singing. For some of them, we have made up a birthday because they don't know what month - or what year sometimes - they were born. For all of them, it is the first time that anyone has celebrated their birthday. Never before has someone taken the time to celebrate and thank God for their lives. 

These may not be earth shattering things - learning to read and celebrating birthdays. But, to these people, it is the proof that they are loved and valued. And, that after all, is why Jesus came.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gas Ovens and Guardian Angels

I’d like to tell you the story of how I caused an explosion and nearly burned my face off. There is, always, always something with me. I think I’d be more worried if something wasn’t a little off kilter in my life!

Last night, I decided that I would make some chicken casserole. So, my friend and I cut the veggies, boiled the chicken, made the topping - all of that stuff. So far so good. Then it came time to put that sucker in the oven. Now, my oven has been on the fritz for a few weeks now and we have to hold the button to get it to stay lit. Last night I was holding the button down while she bathed one of her girls.

I realized that I was smelling gas, so I opened the oven to find the flame had gone out. This has happened numerous times in the last few days. We just reached in, relit the thing with a match and continued holding down the button. No biggie.

Last night, when I did that there was this huge bang (people came outside to see what had happened) and this big fireball came rolling out of the oven. Of course, my face was down close to the flame because I had been trying to relight the oven.

My friend came running in the kitchen and I kept asking her, “Am I burned? Am I burned?”

At first she said no - and I guess I’m not really burned that badly. But upon closer inspection, my hairline is singed, my left eyebrow looks like it was waxed too closely, and my right eyebrow is just gone! My eyelashes have been falling out, so I’m not sure how long they’ll stay or how many will stay. The skin on my forehead is peeling. My chin and neck are pretty tender, as well as my cheeks and nose. I look like I got a bad sunburn. I think I must have swallowed some hot gas or something, too, because I’m on a cold-things only diet. Anything hot is just too much for my throat!

All that’s really not too bad. It could have been so much worse. If my hair had been down and not in a pony tail, I think it would have been worse (take note mom! For once in my life aren’t you glad I like pony tails? ;0)

Anyhow I just can’t tell you how completely grateful I am to have my face. It may not be the best looking mug ever, but I’m kind of attached to it, and I’m so thankful I don’t look like Freddy Krueger.

There are so many things to be thankful for today. First of all, my friends older daughter wasn’t anywhere near the oven. Usually she is right there peeking in, so I’m so thankful that she wasn’t last night. That would have been horrible.

I’m so thankful that my burns are not worse. 

I’m so thankful my hair was in a pony tail.
I’m so thankful my eyes weren’t burned. I’m thankful for my sight.

Without trying to be too dramatic (some of you will find that hard to imagine), I really think that I was saved from something much worse last night.

There are times in our lives when we just know that our guardian angels - or Jesus himself - protected us in a real tangible way. Sometimes, we don’t always get the protection we want. I think sometimes, like Job, Jesus allows stuff that we don’t like very much to pass through his hands to us.

Then sometimes I think Satan comes calling and Jesus says, “No way. Not tonight. Not like this.” I think last night was one of those times.

In our humanity that can only see the good in good things, we need to learn to be grateful for both. I’m not sure I would be so grateful if I was blind or had a horribly scarred face. I’m sure I’d have a lot of questions and I’d feel somewhat betrayed.

But, I’m trying to learn to be grateful in all things. God is good. That’s a statement. God is not only good when He sends good things our way. God is good. That’s not a compound sentence. There is no “but” or “and” in that sentence.

God is good.

So, as I sit here tonight, I’m thankful to Jesus and a little bit sorry for the angels that got assigned to keep me from “dashing my foot against a stone.” I’m quite sure they’ve asked for reassignment a couple of times already! 

I am so thankful for my Protector. So glad there’s someone stronger, more compassionate, and more loving than the evil one who has come to kill, steal, and destroy.

I’m so, so thankful for the One who came to give abundant life

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Communion and Coke

The other day, I saw  a meme on Facebook that said, “ We are not African because we are born in Africa. We are African because Africa was born in us.” Next time I’m in the states, I’m gonna get someone to frame that to hang in my house. I feel that, I feel that to my very core.

Africa is the home of my heart.

As many of you know, I’ve had the opportunity to live and work many places. For the tender - young, young (!) age of 33, I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of experiences. I’ve lived a lot of places that I have just loved. But, I had this feeling that I couldn’t explain -  this feeling that this place and this experience were temporary. As much as I loved New York - and as much as I loved and needed Florida to be a part of my life - I knew it wasn’t forever. 

Now, I would be supposing a lot to tell you that I know I will be in Mozambique forever. I’ve learned in my walk with God that He does a lot of things that I can’t begin to think of or imagine. He has a way of surprising even this nomad.

However, this time, I don’t feel that unsettled feeling. I don’t feel so temporary. I feel like this is what I was made for. I’m sure that I still see the culture with “rose colored glasses” to some extent. But, I see it for what it is, too. There are many things about this culture that I have to adjust myself to There are plenty of things that in my American culture are just plain weird. I HATE that people come visiting all the time. There’s no warning - ever. People just drop  by and chat while you cook and clean - or whatever. They stay for a a long time, and it’s always polite to offer them a meal, or tea, or whatever you happen to have on hand. Any time of day or night - people just drop by.

That is one major thing that I am having to adjust myself too. There are plenty of other things, too. It’s not bad, it’s just so, SO, different from my culture. There are countless things like that. I just have to count to ten, smile, and remind myself that this is a part of the culture I have chosen to live in.

But, on the flip side, I love these people. I love their gentle smiles and quick laughter. I love how passionate they are. Their lives are so hard, yet their is this joy that wells up from deep within them. I love that.

Recently, I have been attending an Assemblies of God church that is really close to my house. I have really enjoyed meeting people from the community and being a part of a regular fellowship. It is so good to fellowship with other believers and it is so helpful to get myself rooted in this community. It makes Lichinga feel even more like home.

Today is the first Sunday of the month, so the three Assemblies of God churches in Lichinga got together for communion. It was a really sweet time, and I so enjoyed the experience of having communion with them. 
When communion was served, it was these little pieces of broken bread - not the little wafers that we are accustomed to being served in our churches. The pastor spoke for a few minutes about why we take communion and then we each received our little piece of torn bread.

As I took that bread, and I thought about taking this in memory of Jesus, I remembered what Paul said about being the “chief of sinners.” Now, it’s easy to point the finger and say that he was. I mean, he was a murderer, after all. But, as I took that, I realized that I was the chief of sinners. I know how fall short I fall on a daily basis. I know how many times I choose myself over God - over the good of His people. I know how deep my selfishness runs. Paul didn’t say that because he had persecuted sinners. Paul said that because he knew how incredibly short he fell from reaching God’s standard.

If my selfishness had been the only sin, it still would have cost the Son of God his life. That’s enough for me to fall on my knees and thank God for his mercifulness and grace towards me.

And then it was time to take the cup. The juice was in these little shot glasses - which I thought was pretty funny to begin with. Then, when the pastor told us to receive the cup, it was coke! That is the very first time I have ever had coke represent the blood of Jesus. :0)

It was a fun, moving experience. And as we say, when there are no other words, TIA (This is Africa)!

What a blessed, joyful, fun, meaningful day.