Saturday, April 21, 2012

Funeral for a Friend

Today Mark and I went to a funeral for a friend.  Awana was 90 years old, and he lived in the village of N’Djei.  We came to know Awana when our team began evangelism in his village, and got to know him even better as his oldest son, Jerome, became one of our dearest friends here.  Awana was baptized about a year ago, but we have been going to visit him for many years.  Whenever I would go to his village I would often make sure I walked down the road to his house to greet him because he had problems with his legs and could not get around very easily.  I loved visiting his home to greet him and Jerome’s grandmother.  There is something about elderly people in the village that has a great attraction for me.  
So this morning we headed out to the village to honor the memory of this simple man, but little did I know that we were also going to witness the collision of two worlds.  We picked up our friend Essowe, and as we got nearer to the village we saw more and more people going the same direction.  This is not very common for this remote place.  Upon arriving we parked our truck where all the other vehicles were parked, including a Hummer!  We walked along the road through the crowd of approximately 400 to the tent set up in front of Awana’s house, complete with music blaring from loudspeakers in this village with no electricity.  We were greeted by our dear friends, went to view the body, and then shown to our seats which were front and center.  
As I was sitting I wondered how many of these people were there because they knew Awana or his family.  How many people had come to honor this man who had farmed his fields, led in his community, provided well for all 19 of his children for 90 years?  How many were there to comfort and console those who will be waking up to live each day without the one they love?  I kept looking over at Jerome and feeling so sad for him.  
Jerome is a simple man who desires a simple life.  I remember that when we were planning a day of AIDS testing in his village the leaders from the clinic wanted to have a big banner made and bring in a large stereo system to draw people in.  Thankfully Jerome’s wisdom prevailed.  He said that bringing in all of those things creates a circus atmosphere and people come to party instead of taking things seriously.  AIDS is a serious matter and we ought to present it as such.  I was so impressed by that.  Jerome could have built up his reputation by bringing that kind of “glamour” to his village, but he doesn’t want glamour, he just wants to do what he can to bring blessing to his village.  So in the midst of all the mayhem and noise, I wondered how Jerome felt. 

After the funeral service we were asked to come to the graveside were we eventually had to leave because of all of the pushing and jostling of people who wanted to get up front to see.  Then we were invited by Jerome’s brother, Jacque, to the roof of his house to eat where it was more calm and peaceful.  
I like Jacque.  He is personable, kind, generous, and has taken care of his family.  He is very wealthy having made his fortune in selling tin for roofs, and is very well connected (hence the attendees driving Landcruisers and the Hummer!) It was on the roof of a three story house with solar electricity (the only one in the village of mostly mud huts) that we were invited to eat, and we went thinking that Jerome would be along in a bit.  
When we got there we sat down to a delicious feast with abundant food and drink.  We enjoyed visiting with Jacque’s friends and coworkers, and enjoyed the cool breeze and lovely view.  However, Jerome never came.  
When the meal was over we thanked Jacques and went to find Jerome.  We found him at his humble home, which is very nice by village standards, but made simply with mud and cement, and of course without electricity or any other amenity.  He was sitting, eating, and talking with his church family.  We explained the confusion of why we hadn’t come to his house, and he he was very gracious as he always is.  
The contrast of Jerome and Jacque made quite an impression on me today.  As I said, I like Jacque very well, and I really enjoyed visiting with the other “important visitors” as we ate.  However, looking at the hundreds of people who came today to be a part of the “big man’s” funeral, I feel like most of them really missed the point.  I’m glad that Jerome has his church family to surround him and step away from the chaos and showmanship.    I admire his simplicity, and I think that he really honored both his heavenly father and his earthly one today.  He is a great example to me, to not be seduced by wealth, luxury, or glamour.  His choices in life point to the things that are truly important, and he doesn't get sidetracked or distracted from them.  I thank God for giving me such a friend and brother!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Clean Clothes

Today we did laundry, and it was fun.  We have no washer or dryer here, so I had to fill up two tubs with water from my shower. Uh-oh! The shower ran out of water halfway through filling the first tub, so I had to get water from the big barrel of water that is kept in the house for just this type of thing!  
I set myself up on the edge of the porch with our box of dirty clothes, a tub of soapy water for washing, and a tub of clean water for rinsing.  This soon attracted the notice of our littlest campers, Annalee, Isaac, Abigail, and Aili.  Ahh, helpers!  Soon I had little hands helping me dump dirty clothes in the water, swishing them around, ringing out the soapy water and putting them in the clean water, more swishing, more ringing, and finally shaking out excess water and finding places for them to dry.  To them it was helping and water play on a hot day rolled into one.  They had such a great time splashing in the water and brought playfulness and laughter to an otherwise tedious chore!  
I’ve been thinking about my attitude concerning little setbacks, like starting to do your laundry by hand and finding out that you haven’‘t any running water, or starting to cook dinner for your family at the end of a long day just to find out that the stove isn’t working.    Initially, these problems can be so irritating.  We come from a country where we don’t deal with problems like this.  There would be public outcry in a community where water wasn’t readily available at all times.  When our stoves don’t work, we have them repaired or buy new ones.  However, after my initial frustration my problem solving side steps up, after all, the kids still need to eat and we still need clean clothes. Once I get to the problem solving stage, we always figure things out and there are no worries.  As I reflect on these things, I am deciding to start skipping the initial frustration phase of this cycle.  It’s pretty unpleasant and unproductive, and furthermore, experience has taught me that these things are inconveniences, minor irritations, but not real problems.   To prove my point, this morning turned out to be a lot of fun with my little friends, and Maddie, Michal and I now have enough clean clothes to last the rest of MK Camp! 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Daily Bread

When we decided to return to Togo to do mission work we knew that we were making a decision that is somewhat unique among missionary families.  We were taking our children to a place that is fairly isolated from other American children with the intention of staying through their high school years and without the intention of sending our children to boarding school.  The team we came to had several children their ages, but since that time they have all left.  Now Maddie and Michal are on their own.  
Each of our girls has struggled with this on their own, Mark and I have struggled as parents, and we have struggled with it as a family.  We have prayed, hoped, talked to other missionary families, reached out to families with children, and reassured our children that we will do whatever it takes to take care of all of their needs.  God has been great to answer our prayers in various ways.  For Michal, we anxiously await the arrival of her best friend as a permanent part of our team.  For Maddie, she has found a kindred spirit in Karissa, a missionary kid in Northern Ghana.  They are the same age, have the same interests, similar gifts, and they share the experience of growing up on the mission field.  
Maddie, Michal and I are currently in TamalĂ©, Ghana participating in MK Camp.  We are staying in a guesthouse with two other families, and during the day three more families join us so that we can worship, work, and play together.  The kids are working on a musical which they will perform next Wednesday.  We work together to use our limited resources to put meals together, and Maddie, Karissa, Michal, Colt, and often some of the younger kids talk and laugh and play their days away until they collapse in their beds at night.  
Next year Karissa’s family moves back to the U.S., and Maddie will be on her own again.  It makes me think of the Lord’s Prayer, that we ask God to “Give us this day our daily bread.”  THIS DAY, DAILY BREAD.  That means that we have to live in faith that he will give our daily bread again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year…   Looking back on life, I know that God has never abandoned us, or left us in need with no help.  God has given us these two weeks with playing and laughter and companionship for my daughter, and I know that I can trust that next year he will again provide.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

December in March

When we planned our furlough we set the dates to come back in the middle of February which is the start of the hottest time of our year.  I questioned our sanity several times as we prepared to leave the nice, cool weather of the U.S., and certainly since we've been back to endure the 110 degree days!  This hot season is shaping up to fulfill its promise to amaze us with how hot and oppressive Togo can be in the months of March, April and May.

But this morning is different.  While sitting at the breakfast table with the girls, we noted that there was a dusty haze hanging in the air, and that the morning sun wasn't pouring through the windows with its usual boast of how just how bright and hot it would shine today.  It was one of those mornings when harmattan comes back for a brief visit, clouding out the intensity of the sun for a few days before the rainy season chases it off for the year in May or June.  Ahh, reprieve from the merciless heat!

As I proceeded through my day I noticed that I was feeling nostalgic.  It occurred to me that the thick haze of dust and semi-cool air has become as evocative of the holiday feeling as Christmas carols, cold weather, and a fire in the fire place!  I feel like we should be decorating the Christmas tree and getting out the Advent calendar.  I can already smell the sweet scent of Christmas cookies promising an indulgent treat!

It's funny how become conditioned to respond to certain things.  If you'd told me that dust and 83 degree weather would give me the warm fuzzies many years ago, I'd have thought you were crazy.  Sometimes I feel a bit crazy with the ways that we've changed and adjusted to life here, but I love how God can bring life's little pleasures, like that holiday feeling, even in unconventional ways!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Relishing Time With My Children

We are in week three of being back in Togo, and week two of school.   Most of you know that I have been very active in ministry here for the last few years, but this year I decided to put most of that on hold while I focus on teaching the girls and building relationships with new teammates.  If I let myself, I can get pretty stressed out thinking of what I am NOT doing in ministry.  The needs thereof certainly haven't diminished in the least, but I remind myself that I am a finite resource while God is not.

I so much enjoy teaching Maddie and Michal.  We have our moments of frustration together, but over all it is such a joy to get to spend so much time with them.  When I talk to my teammate Julia I am reminded of how it felt to have babies and toddlers.  Just to be able to steal enough to to use the bathroom undisturbed seemed like a luxury, and I looked forward to moments when I wasn't engaging with them.  Now my girls are so grown up and independent that I realize how short the next five years before Maddie goes to college will be.

So it's a lot of fun to help them grow and learn, make discoveries together, and just to be together.  It is so amazing to see how God created them with their own thoughts, their own understanding, their own ways of going about things, their perceptions, and their senses of humor.  Homeschooling feels like an opportunity to relish in the creation of my children.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Losing Two Friends

Last Spring, while my mom was here visiting, I took her to visit a friend of mine.  Her name is Phoebe, and she has taken in 8 children who have no families.  While we were there I noticed that one of her sons seemed lethargic, and he had a pretty bad cough.  I inquired after his health and found that Phoebe was struggling to get him the health care he needed for various reasons.  I, along with some friends from the clinic, joined in in the fight to get Bienvenu the help he needed.

Through the months that followed Bienvenu had ups and downs.  He was in and out of the hospital, and several times I left visits with him preparing myself for the worst, only to find him bouncing back a few days later.  Before we left in September I spoke with the medical assistant who had agreed to start him on Tuberculosis meds.  The last time I saw him he was out of bed, walking around, and even eating.  I was amazed at how resilient this sweet boy was.

However, two weeks later we arrived in the States to hear the news that Bienvenu had passed away while we were in transit.  It felt a bit surreal to me, as life always does when I contemplate the huge discrepancy between life in the U.S. and life in Togo.  My mind was trying to assimilate and accommodate my home culture again, and I had little mental energy to spare.  I put my grief on hold.

We continued our travels in the States for about four and a half months, and in late December we learned that another young friend of ours here was having problems with her kidneys.  Over the years that we've known Massan, we have seen her become very ill, but she has always pulled through.  She too, lost her parents to HIV many years ago, and was living with her little sister and their adoptive mother Rose.

We began praying for Massan.  We spoke to people who might be able to help her.  We did the best we could from such a great distance to try to help her get the care she needed.  Four days before our flight left to bring us back to Togo she passed away.

Death is a part of AIDS work.  In Africa, death is a part of life.  People here handle it and move on with great strength, but I'm blown away by it.  I think of Bienvenu and Massan, and then I think of so many other orphans who are sick with AIDS and other illnesses, and many of them are never mourned.  Most of them don't have their names mentioned in blogs, they are forgotten.

I take such great comfort that these children have never been forgotten for even an instant by their Heavenly Father.  He has known and mourned all of their sorrows through life, and he redeems all injustice even in their death.  He overcomes every tragedy, every failing, and every grief.  I am saddened by the loss of my two little friends, but I don't bear the burden of healing their sickness or repairing the cruelty they have suffered.  I trust God to do all of that, and rejoice that he can do it perfectly and wholly.    I am free to offer what love and meager help that I can give and leave salvation and true restoration to God.  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Receiving Graciously

As of yesterday I am back in Africa.  Armed with new flip flops and a missionary haircut (I so wish I could wear a cutie pixie cut like my friend Grace can!) I am ready continue life and work in Kara.  In many ways, I am back in my comfort zone.

One thing I bring back with me is an overflowing cup of love and support from friends and family back in the U.S.  As someone who is in "the business" of ministry, it has been very easy for me to get used to the role of the one who helps others.  We listen to people when they need to talk.  We pray with and for people.  We help sick people get medical care.  We connect orphans to the generous support of people in the States.  We feebly attempt to share wisdom when we can.  We feed and house people when there is need.  This is our role.  It's our job, so to speak.  It is our mission.  It is our comfort zone.  

All of that changes when we go on furlough.  Since the month of October we have stayed in the homes of 20 families.  We were fed by more people than I can even remember.  People gave us money to buy food, clothes, gas, books, have a date, free medical care, we were hosted for a Disney World vacation, and many other things that do not fall into the category of "needs" but "wants."  It is so humbling to sit in the living room and visit while a friend is in the kitchen making dinner for you, and then to do the same while your friend cleans up.  It is humbling to have friends prepare special food for you because you have a stomach virus while staying in their home.  It is so humbling to have someone purchase luxury goods for you that you would not buy for yourself, just because they love you.  These things are outside of my comfort zone.

I have struggled on many levels with receiving the outpouring of love and generosity of others.  At times I struggled with being greedy (I am ashamed to admit that,) and at times I have struggled with refusing those outpourings because I felt like I shouldn't be given so much.  I have been on both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between.

As I gain a little distance from our time in the States, I reflect on the hospitality and generosity that we received and I land in the spot of amazement and gratitude.  I am so touched by how good people have been to us.  I am encouraged by their uplifting words and their sacrifice for us.  I am grateful that people were so kind even when we weren't the best guests.  I am grateful for honest words of wisdom from my friends Cathy and Linda.  All of these things are gifts from God, and they reflect how sweet God is to us.  He gives us to us generously and does not hold back.  He takes delight in giving to us beyond what we need and deserve.  I am determined to count my blessings, and to follow the beautiful examples I have seen in our friends and family across America to show that same love to the people in my community here.