Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Me, I'm Hungry --by Regina

How is it that, when confronted with a suffering person, my initial compassion sometimes morphs into irritation? What part does guilt play in our giving? These are the questions that weary me lately, living in a land where jobs are scarce and beggars are plentiful and (sometimes) manipulative.

A tattered schoolboy leads an older blind man around downtown Livingstone by the hand, asking for spare change. Gift is another 14-year old boy hanging out on the village’s dusty paths, hoping we can help with school fees so he can continue his education. But donations, instead of being met with gratitude, only seem to elicit more requests. When our team begins building a mud house for a poor elderly man, villagers eagerly pitch in to help us haul the wood—and then, one by one, come to us saying, “Me, I’m hungry”, as their thin arms and legs would testify. It feels like manipulation, and one young man becomes angry when we say that we are not giving money or food, that our job today is to build a house. What would YOU do?

We are instructed to give to he who asks, to be generous with the poor, especially with widows and orphans. We see the plight of the poor in this country, the many people who are painfully thin, who struggle daily to provide for their families. There are also stern words in the Bible for those who are idle, or do not care for their own relatives. “He who does not work should not eat.” The character of Zambians varies as widely as in any other country—some are industrious and motivated, some love to make excuses. What a wearisome task it is to be the judge, to continually be watching for the “deserving poor”. It is easier to just give indiscriminately, but that doesn’t always seem right either.

Author Sarah Lanier speaks of “power points” which come to us by virtue of our culture. Count yours up—one point each for being white, male, tall, being educated, having a computer, cell phone, driver’s license, etc. etc. It felt a bit uncomfortable hearing her teach this, sitting next to some of my African friends who have very few power points. Now, being faced daily with power-less people who see only my white skin and the Landcruiser we drive (never mind that it doesn’t belong to us), these power points can start to feel like a curse. Unless we rid ourselves of our advantages (if indeed there is a way), we can never really be seen as One of Them.

Dan and I have been challenged in our thinking by visiting several organizations working with the poor:

--St. Francis care-workers, in developing income-generating programs with HIV/AIDS clients, require each would-be businessperson to invest K5000 ($1 USD) in order to join—perhaps equivalent to asking a struggling American single mom to come up with $25 or $50 (difficult but not impossible).

--Foundation for Cross-Cultural Education makes it a policy to never give anything away, always expecting a contribution of labor, materials or money from those benefitting, even the very poor. Judging from their thriving teachers’ college, experimental gardens and job-training programs, this policy has served them very well. The locals have a sense of ownership and responsibility.

--Overland Mission works at empowering locals, with a five-year exit strategy to ensure that partnership rather than take-over is the goal.

A one-time tourist encounter is far simpler than living here, establishing relationships with those who view my white skin as an easy mark (perhaps giving friendship is more difficult than giving money). Can we actually go beyond helping the poorest of the poor, to look at changing political and economic structures? How does self-respect and economic self-reliance begin to be restored in Africa? We want to explore long-term solutions, ones that don’t set us up as benevolent white Santas but instead foster partners in creativity, as well as encouraging us Westerners to give sacrificially to these who are struggling. We have so many more options to fall back on, and so very much yet to learn!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Kingdom Come!

How can you just pray for a person when you hear a story like that? But we trust our prayers will accomplish something, right, God?

Katherine is an old widow – old - and cranky. Worse, she has no family living around her. The social security system of Africa is family – the grannies take care of the grandkids; the kids take care of the old ones; and; any one in the family that gets a job or somehow makes it to South Africa (land of promise) is immediately responsible to send money, no matter how far away or how distant a relative.

But Katherine has no one to care for her. So she pesters neighbors, and they reluctantly dole out a few sweet potatoes.

“Come, Kingdom of God; be done, will of God – right here in this village, as in heaven.” So after telling her God’s Story and ours, we ask if we can pray for her – she says NO! “Satan is stronger than God!” Then it comes out – she has been going to “church” for years dancing and shouting trying to get rid of the demon on her back – she cannot stop drinking and smoking. She has tried so many times and failed, she is convinced Satan is stronger than God. So we counsel her – “tonight when you lie in bed talk to God. If you really want Him and all He has, open your heart to follow and trust in Him. When you wake in the morning you will be a new woman!” Whoa – did I say that? Do I believe it? Is Jesus really stronger than the devil?

We hold our breath and pray until we can return almost two weeks later. The neighbor fills us in – “no, she is not here. Someone from another village came and married her!” Answer to prayer #1. “And how was she doing with drinking?”, I ask. “No, she does not drink now”, he says matter-of-factly. Regina and I start dancing!

I talked in my last post about the Kingdom of God transforming a village. This is it. Well, this is the start of it. Next we could help her become a disciple who disciples her neighbors. Then we tackle the poverty spirit she lives under. Then some micro-business loans, some education, some garden training. Maybe she will be a health care worker – going around caring for orphans and HIV patients. Maybe she will be a “mama” to a small household of orphans, or an assistant in the school or pre-school. What ways will the Kingdom of God break into her life and her village? There are so many possibilities. Just imagine…

This is what we are imagining (knowing it is just a glimpse) … and seeing some doors open for us. We are looking at land for Home Base – nice land on the beautiful Zambezi – and talking to headmen of villages – they all are very eager for us to come. This will be a place for our Kingdom workers – long term, one year, short term - a small village of orphan homes with their grannies, and a school.

But most of our Kingdom building will be done in the villages in a 50 mile radius.

Our introduction to the villages will be simple church planting teams – many of you reading will be able to assist in this. First Base.

Second Base - a school. This will be our platform for ministry in a village – first, simple reed buildings to begin (same as at Home Base – ministry above structure), but excellent instruction and attention shown to the children. The goal is transformation. Young one year interns can have a place to minister here. As the school grows each year we are finding responsible locals to train. Our aim is a 5-year exit strategy.

Then, as we do school and discipleship we will find the many ways to build Kingdom initiatives.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Luanshya Project


One World Vision has a vision that extends well beyond their humble beginnings in Luanshya, Zambia. They want to take the gospel of Jesus to many villages in Zambia, then to the Congo, Tanzania, and beyond. To Aaron Mulenga, their young, dynamic leader, sharing the gospel means not only inviting people to a living relationship with Jesus, but also caring for the orphan and widow, feeding the hungry, and uplifting the downcast.

Aaron knows well the plight of the orphan, as he has walked the same lonely road. Early on he began working with organizations that cared for orphans. But he saw there the underbelly of humanitarian efforts - a group who were padding their own pockets in the name of helping orphans. In disgust and outrage he quit. As he left, he took along eight young orphans to care for by himself. At 24 years of age, and a diminutive height (smaller than some of his “children”), he still stands taller and wiser than most in the outworking of his faith.

Thus the birth of One World Vision. Aaron gathered a board of like-minded concerned citizens, willing to do something about the plight around them. Together they formed an NGO and began a feeding program in an impoverished area of their town. 160 children in rags showed up! They would offer food at noon each day, but most of the kids would show up at 7am and just hang out - they were not going to school! So in September of last year they started a school. Now 90 children are going to a very very basic school - for free!

But because of the horrendous cost of food in Zambia, they are not able to sustain their feeding program - even for the ones in school. Some who were eating their meals had other food at home each day. But some did not. So some now are really going hungry. Can we help them?

They have been donated land for a new school, but until they are able to build, they want to start raising maize (corn) so they can again feed the little ones. They need tools, seed and fertilizer. We have talked with Aaron and his board about self-sustaining projects that will allow them to maintain their programs without subsidy, and they are committed to this direction.

So we want to do two things - bring support for feeding the neediest children at school until the gardens are productive, and help them with their garden project. It will cost $300 per month to feed the children at school (simple mush there costs three times what it costs in the US), and it will cost $1200 for the seed and tools to build their gardens. 15 sponsors at $20 per month for a year; plus some one-time donors for the garden. Will you consider sponsoring this project? Simply click the donate button and specify on the paypal window what the donation is intended for. We will keep you updated on the progress.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Death and Life in Masi

A little sparrow fell to the ground, and yesterday thirteen people clustered in an empty church to remember him. Kenneth (names have been changed) struggled through six months of life on this earth, in spite of several holes in his tiny heart. He conquered meningitis and a lung infection, but never gained the weight necessary for corrective heart surgery. His weight at death was less than eight pounds.

Kenneth’s mother, Iris, is one of a handful of whites living in a township of 30,000 people. Although raised in a middle-class South African home, Iris and her husband Douglas landed in Masi through a series of misfortunes and poor choices. They had their share of relational troubles, and barely managed to keep their rented one-room shack through Douglas’s occasional work and their landlord’s good graces. Add to that a child with life-threatening problems, and you’d think Iris would be a nervous wreck.

But she was amazing. Call it coping skills, call it denial, call it grace given to a mother who desperately loves her fragile child—but Iris was calm and mellow, exceedingly tender with Kenneth but not anxious. My social worker-friend took me along to visit them in the pediatric hospital, where tiny Kenneth lay still like an island in the great sea of his crib, breathing through oxygen tubes. We would say things like, “Yeah, that Kenneth is a fighter,” and Iris would barely murmur assent, then just calmly smile and stroke his little misshapen head.

The doctors sent him home, saying there was nothing to do until he gained weight. Iris continued to breastfeed, tried formula, and the weeks went by. Douglas told me later that, toward the end, they would often have to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in the morning “to get him going”. And one day that was just not enough.

What a sad little scene I came upon in their shack the next day. There was barely room for my friend and I to maneuver between belongings and wedge ourselves onto the bed where Iris lay, the bed in which all three of them had slept. Both parents were distraught and broken. They somehow always thought Kenneth would pull through. Iris told of waking that first night he was gone and feeling for her baby, “but I couldn’t find him.” Her voice trailed off into tears.

I laid with Iris on the bed, hearing the stories, soaking up the sm
ells of poverty (smells that lingered hours later, even after a good scrub), watching cockroaches scuttle up the sides of a teetering shelf. As Douglas painstakingly worked through a pile of baby clothes picking out fleas, he told me of his concern for Iris in her emotional state. We wept together for little Kenneth, who without question is “better off now.” And yet his mother’s heart wonders, “Why couldn’t he have been whole here?”

There are no easy answers, but I thought of Jesus’ words, “God sees even a sparrow falling from the nest. And Kenneth is worth more than many sparrows.” And I thought of a God who “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message). There are such limits to my willingness to be incarnational, to become one with the people of Masi. And yet this is Jesus’ example. While we were yet sinners, with the smells and dysfunction and cockroaches, Christ became one of us.

Douglas and Iris have talked about the possibility of this being a turning-point for them, and they want to meet with us to proceed. May life spring from death! From the most unlikely of places, this is how transformation begins, one heart at a time.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Day in the Life...

After two weeks of all-consuming pressure from every direction in preparing a new residence for 50 incoming CPx students, I was desperate to get back into Masiphumelele, the township we have come to love. Going to Masi is always an adventure—you may have a plan at the outset, but you can be certain it won’t happen the way you think!

Thulisile (names have been changed) was first on my list, a young pregnant mom who recently discovered she is HIV-positive. She was initially discouraged at the news, but now says “I am fine”-perhaps a bit of denial going on. A knock on the bright yellow door of her one-room shack roused her—she was sleeping at 10 AM, in spite of the music and clatter of township life. I told her about an HIV/AIDS support group in the area, and she agreed to go with me the following morning.

Next stop was Nomfundo, another young mom with two-year old daughter, Alizwa. Anita is my special friend, ever since I brought her a tiny hard-paged book with animal photos in it. I learned from her that English dogs may say “woof woof”, but Xhosa dogs say “huhm huhm”. Nomfundo recently suffered a painful miscarriage—she was also sleeping when I arrived. I stopped to remind her of our women’s Bible study that afternoon. She has said that she doesn’t know much about God, but wants to learn.

I had hoped to visit a Life Skills class for preschoolers taught by Natalie, a resident of Masi who works for Living Hope, a Christian community development organization. But Natalie had gone to a doctor’s appointment when I stopped by—I considered what to do next, and called Nomandhla, another young mother with HIV. In Masi, no one privately wonders what you want if you happen to stop by. Relaxed, spontaneous visiting is common—they live for the moment.

Nomandhla was delighted to see me. She met me at the entrance to the Wetlands, where we rich white people are not advised to walk alone. Masi-proper has its share of shacks among the cement-block homes, but the roads are paved and it is a legitimate settlement. The Wetlands, on the other hand, is illegally occupied on the back side of Masi, shacks of wood and corrugated tin and cardboard somehow cobbled together with narrow helter-skelter dirt paths between them. The shacks are on the edge of a marsh and water seeps in every winter, creating mud and mildew and respiratory problems.

I followed Nomandhla past the community water tap, trying to ignore the smells of feces, rot, and poverty that broadsided me—through the maze of shacks until we reached her home, recently constructed by a visiting team. It is built up off the ground with a nice wooden floor. Nomandhla’s life has literally changed—she is now on antiretroviral drugs for HIV, she has a new shack, and has been accepted in an art-training program. She looks to Jesus as the source for all these things. She was eager to tell me of a plan she has to earn money. She wants to cook and sell hot food to passersby on the main road where the taxis stop, but will need some capital to get started. We will talk again about this. There are many things to consider, budgets and sales projections to make if this venture is to be successful.

She took me to visit Biza and Lulama, Thulisile’s parents, who were both recently baptized. Biza was miraculously healed several months ago of injuries from a past car accident. He is so excited to know more about this Jesus and wants to attend any meetings he can. Lulama speaks very little English but we asked her to our women’s group later in the day. Biza invited himself as well but we were able to gently steer him towards a men’s group. We hope that Lulama will benefit from some time with only women.

Nomandhla and I then went looking for Zukiswa, mother of Phila, an eight-year old in the Vulnerable Children program. We wanted to invite her to our study, but she was not to be found. However, a withdrawn middle-aged man sat by her house rocking back and forth who answered (in Xhosa) every question Nomandhla put to him with “I don’t know”. Finally she asked me to pray for him, and prayed herself as well. I felt to ask about his father, which of course he has none. I told him that every person needs a father, whether young or old, and was able to tell him about the Father who waits for him with open arms. Nomandhla (and Joseph) will come back tomorrow to speak with him further.

At our women’s Bible study later that day, we Westerners listened in amazement as both Nomfundo and Wendy told how they initially were not interested in Jesus, but now see their own hearts changing. They are seeing that they need Jesus not only as a friend but also to save them and restore them. Nomfundo was drinking and depressed when we first met, but now her boyfriend is noticing changes in her and their fighting has lessened. They are finding life, and are on the Journey with us to become what we were made to be.

What an encouraging ending to a great day! When I stopped the next morning to take Thulisile to the support group, she had gone to the hospital the night before and now has a beautiful unnamed baby girl. Is there a way that this fragile child can walk a different path than that of her mother, and countless others in Masi? Is it foolish to think that she might learn to respect and value herself, to keep herself for one man, to allow her heart to be shaped by the love of Jesus? We pray for God to do the work of transforming a community, one life at a time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Zimbabwe millionaire!


The second day of my trip to Zambia and Zimbabwe I became a millionaire! I was walking the littered streets of Vic Falls, the border town next to the exquisite Victoria Falls, when I noticed a scrap on the ground that looked like money! It was all crumpled and dirty and smelly, but sure enough, it was a 500 million dollar bill!! I’m rich! Not quite. Someone had wisely used this worthless bill as toilet paper!

Claims to Shame:

Zimbabwe's education system, once one of the best in Africa, has disintegrated over the past year. Towards the end of 2007, 85% of children were still at school but by the end of last year it fell to 20% and is now expected to fall much lower. Thirty thousand teachers dropped out of the system in 2008.

Dozens of young professional Zimbabwean women slip across the country's border to work for a few days or weeks as prostitutes. In Zambia they sell their bodies, and lives, for $2 USD.

The rate of HIV in border towns like this is 48%. In the rest of the country it is 30%.

The unemployment rate is 80%.

A cholera epidemic has killed nearly 3,000 people, with 40,000 sick as untreated sewage flows into water supplies.

Estimated 50% of doctors and nurses have quit or left the country. Most state-of-the-art hospitals are closed.

In February, the price of a loaf of bread in the country was less than 200,000 Zimbabwe dollars. In August, that same loaf of bread cost 1.6 trillion Zimbabwe dollars.

Inflation has surged from the rate of 2.2 million percent recorded in May, in August at 11.2 million percent, in November the rate of inflation is 230 million percent. Now annual inflation rate tops 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent - 65 followed by 107 zeros. Prices double every 24.7 hours. The currency is basically cheap toilet paper.

Zimbabwe introduced a $100 billion note in August 2008. January 2009 they issued the world's first 100 trillion dollar note.

Summary: Zimbabwe is crumpling under the oppressive weight of despotism. Pray for the downfall of this terrible leader.

So I went to Zimbabwe to see for myself. I met with a pastor and some leaders of a large church in Vic Falls. They were ashamed to tell me that they are unable now to even feed their widows and orphans. In better times they developed a feeding program from their own collections as a church – now they struggle. Yet the orphans increase with an almost unbelievable HIV rate of 48%. They would love to start feeding them again – can we help? So I am working out a plan to help them from a distance. Oh, I wish I lived there. Or perhaps we could fund a business that would help support some of the widows and orphans? Yes, we will work it out. Is there anyone who can say no to such a request? Is there anyone who will go and start up such a project?

Later that day we talked with Bright, a street kid. He looks street-wise – cool shades, nice clothes, good English, yet he is soft spoken – not dramatizing his tragic story, sounding matter of fact as he tells how his dad died when he was very young, then his mom moved from the village to this tourist town to find work. Soon she died as well. “So was there no one to take care of you?” “No.” – that’s all there is to it – moved away from their relatives, mom dies, the nine-year old is on the street to fend for himself. He and the other street kids fought off the baboons to get the scraps from the restaurants. That was when times were better, and tourists would come. Now kids are moving back to the villages – looking for somewhere to find food to survive for another day. “So can we pray with you?” “Sure” – and we pray and give him some of our South African currency. What can one do?

Zimbabwe has been on my heart for a year now. I read the news about it daily and pray for an opportunity to take the gospel of love and hope into this place sinking into despair. Pray that we may be able to take a team there this summer and bring hope for a few.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Can You Imagine?

Eight years ago, when he was only 19, Justin Samba found the children from Ngwenya Village digging thru the landfill garbage for scraps. Something galvanized him into action – he and his family began to feed them a daily meal when finances allowed. Then they added games and music. Then prayer , worship and the Word. The passion today is infectious – “Some of them get up at 6am and go up to the hill to pray – by themselves – no adults are even there!” brags Justin. An epileptic boy was having a bad day, so a ten-year old girl began pounding heaven’s doors with a prayer that would make a pastor ashamed and devils cower! Now the children are reaching their parents and neighbors as well. They are still in rags, ill-fed and facing all the problems of abject poverty, but there is a light in their eyes that we have come to recognize so well – the True Bread has filled their belly with Life that hunger cannot quench.

I spent five short days near Livingstone, Zambia in December. Can I give you a glimpse – a collage of encounters, and impressions? Start with 85 to 95 degree F, add 85% humidity, subtract drinkable water in most places, times the square root of the number of kilometers we walked dusty paths – just try to feel that, you North Americans encased in a snowy winter! The nice thing is that I was able to keep my shirt and shorts damp most of the time with my automatic internal sprinkler system that worked quite well.

I was able to meet people like Justin Samba in Ngwenya Village, Pastor Dennis struggling to care for the most vulnerable ones of his flock, Jamba, a righteous father of 9, living in village simplicity, yet in a prosperous compound of 4 homes, 12 cattle, lush fields of grain and a family that is educated and honoring of their family values. We saw well managed villages, dilapidated and diseased villages, street children, professional women become prostitutes selling themselves for $2. We saw the most awe inspiring water fall on earth, surrounded by herds of elephant that torment village gardens. We saw cob houses in every village, and the coolest backpackers lodge I’ve ever visited.

Could you imagine coming here with some health care workers, some good gardening techniques, some homes for abused orphans, some church planters? Could you imagine building a school, serving the least and the lost in a place like this? I can!

More reflections on this trip next week:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Singing in the Rain

“His ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts.”

In September ’07 we started construction on a spec house, something we hadn’t done for at least 10 years. Upon completion in December, we put it on the market, hopeful that the proceeds would allow us to pay off some debt and live in Africa for a period of time.

We didn’t realize that the economy was taking a nosedive, with housing sales coming to a virtual standstill over the course of 2008. Despite the continued prayers of many people, that beautiful house crafted with such high expectations remained empty all through the spring and summer, through the time when we were nearly forced to return home early from Africa—the Lord provided through the sacrificial giving of some of our friends.

When we arrived home as planned in August, we immediately put the house up for rent. Although there was interest, things fell through a number of times, and we returned to Africa in November with it still empty, trusting that we were acting in faith and not foolishness. Finances were tight--towards the end of December, we were not sure how we were going to make it through the month and keep our bank balance in the black. What do you do when you sense God’s direction but it’s not logical?

Dan had a dream about the story of Elijah several weeks ago—when he said, “Go…there is the sound of a heavy rain. Go and look” (I Kings 18:41). The servant had to look seven times before he saw the tiniest of clouds in the sky. Elijah told Ahab, “Hitch up your chariot and go, before the rain stops you.” Then the sky grew black, the wind rose and a heavy rain came down, and Elijah, soaked to the skin, outran Ahab’s chariot.

Dan felt that God was saying, “You better run, because the rains are coming!” He took the rains to mean financial provision, but not limited to that. Here is what happened:

--We just received a $900 kicker-check from IRS after our accountant told us, insisted back in March when we were depending on it to keep us in Africa, that we weren’t getting anything back.

---We have just signed a lease/option agreement for the spec house with a couple who are believers with great references, at a time when building/housing is at an all-time low and the economy is very bleak.

--We were still waiting to confirm the deal when I checked email last night. I found one saying that rental and down payment money would be deposited in our account today, plus another stating that friends have given a hefty donation for our personal support.

Run, because the rains are coming! What does it mean to run? Maybe part of it is Dan’s Zambia/Zimbabwe excursion that came into being before we knew the extent of this rain. It sounds like the pace is being stepped up; time to push in. Two times, in my consecutive Bible reading and in a separate devotional book, I read this week about Israelites (the Danites!) scouting out the land. “Arise and go, you will find a spacious land that God has put into your hands” (Judges 18:9,10). This is not about colonialism, but about stepping out, of seeing dreams become reality.

Run, because the rains are coming! We’ve been watching for the rain, for the clouds even (regarding the spec house) for a year now, and suddenly there’s a gathering storm. Jesus, you have so faithfully sustained us in the desert, walked us through the doubting days, and now we just want to stand in gratefulness and let the drops pelt us, wash us, soak our clothes! It’s partly about finances, but there’s really so much more. We long to be immersed in knowing Jesus, in intimate friendship with him—we desire to be swept along in the flow of his work here on earth. So drench us, Lord, we want to run in your rain!