Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Kids on the Block

In the last two weeks we have added eight new children. I am going to give you a brief insight into their lives and their experiences as new Angels. Cha Cha was the first child we added. We have already blogged about our initial encounter with him. However, now that he is adjusted we call him the female Nossi. He can be destructive and no one understands him because he does not speak Swahili. At other times he is the sweetest little child and all he wants is a hug or to be held. He is also extremely photogenic!

Second was Frenk Cha Cha. He is Bhoke Mwita’s cousin. Bhoke is one of our Junior Staff members who just graduated last year from boarding school. We call Frenk the “busy body” because he likes to get into everything…seriously! He tries to help with Derrick but ends up making him cry instead. Frenk is a good kid though. He tries to help you out and never forgets to come and get a hug in the morning or at night before bed.

Derrick was our third child to receive. You already know about him. He is the smallest and if he does not get a nap he gets whiny. But Eric and I are in love with him none-the-less. Eric can put his hands together and they wrap around his waste. He weighs 13 kg and we cannot find clothes small enough for him here. I found little VANS in town for 3,000 tshs (equivalent to about $2.75) and he absolutely will not let you take them off!

Rhobi and Bahati are sisters. They have been cared for by their grandparents. When we first encountered them, they were terrified of men. They would not respond to anything Mwita or Eric would say and cringe if they dared touch them. However, today Bahati will run into Eric’s arms wanting to be spun around in circles. They are both hard workers and willing to do anything to help out. Bahati wants nothing more than someone to hold her hand and walk around with her.

Siza has adapted better than all the rest. There are many other girls her age at Angel House, so they were able to give her clothes, shoes, toys, etc. She always has a smile on her face. Sometimes I wonder what she is getting in to…other times I know it is mischief.

Nyanokwe and Mwita are our newest members. They came to us from the Gamasara village (the village Angel House resides). Mwita is 5 years old and is still a little shy. He worries about not having what he needs to. He cried this morning because he did not have school shoes like all the other children. However, it is only the second day of school for him. Nyanokwe is going to be the next Prime Minister or President. On his first day of school he made all A’s on the work the school tested him on and then came home and studied all night, even during dinner time. Nyanokwe impresses me more everyday.

Having new children is fun but challenging. They all have their scaring pasts and a bright future ahead of them. They all eat way too much because they are afraid of not having enough later. They all hide everything we give them because they are afraid of it being taken away or not lasting long enough. Our prayer is that they realize that we will never abandon them. The will have what they need and much much more.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Reason We Came

When people ask me questions about why I do what I do I tend to respond with theologically deep or at least jargon filled answers. It’s who I am as an academic. Some people like it, many people don’t, and I am working on it. However, this past Friday the answer for why we are here could not be more clear or more simple.

God is a God of life and since humans have screwed up so much of the world he quickly became a God of redemption, redeeming both people and situations. Derrick is a little boy waiting for a second chance at life and I think Angel House is perfectly ready to be God’s second chance. Derrick is a true orphan in every sense of the word. His grandmother died last August leaving no known relatives alive. No one even knows his fathers name, which means in Tanzania that he has no last name. He was being taken care of by neighbors, or at least given a place to sleep at night. Derrick is the smallest three year old I have ever seen (we are pretty sure he is closer to two), and at least part of that lies with his last caretakers. They would put food out and then burn his stomach with a spoon from the fire when he dared to eat. His anxiety whenever he was around women was clear on his face and his heavily beating chest. This was Friday, the same day he won my heart forever.

I should preface the rest of this post with saying that I don’t get overly emotional (this is Eric writing). I certainly don’t get overly emotional about people under three feet tall, it just DOES NOT HAPPEN…until now. Derrick had my love the moment I heard about him, all the kids do. He had my heart the moment I picked him up and put him on my lap. Being the only adult male in the room, I was the only one he would look at or talk to. The day he came to stay at Angel House we had left and come back and Derrick came running up and into my arms. (embarrassing side note: I almost started crying). I was done for. And I started praying for Derrick’s redemption from the very early part of his life.

The physical redemption seems to come quickly at Angel House. Within two days we saw a smile and got a laugh. Sunday afternoon Derrick fell asleep in Liz’s arms which is quite a long way from not even looking at her his first day at Angel House. However, I hope this is not the end of his life’s redemption.

We have dreams for all the kids at Angel House. We pray continually for their lives to be full of God’s love and direction. We are not as fixated on creating the next President or research doctor (though that would be great and I think very possible), but to have children grow up under God’s care. The second part of Derrick’s redemption, like all the kids we work with, will come more slowly, but he will find a life of love, the discipline of older brothers and sisters, and the education needed to be able to make a life instead of living the one handed to him by chance. This is why I came, to help the kids, the community, or anyone that cares to take notice to see the redeeming love of God. A God of justice, mercy, and grace.

P.S. If you are interesting in sponsoring a child or a child’s education at Angel House please let me know. It could help us be able to take in the next Derrick so that he or she no longer has to suffer neglect, abuse, or even simply living without a family.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Life is Lived in Gray

Liz and I came to Tanzania to help. Specifically to help kids who had lost both parents. In the month since we came it has been an up and down roller coaster of happy and sad, easy and hard, fulfilling and disappointing. Such as ministry, but we came to help. This past Friday we had our first opportunity to add a new child to Angel House. We were excited as we headed to his village (minus the two hour bumpy ride that left us physically aching after driving Little Burtha). We had the funds in place, his bed ready, and our hearts open to a new child. I never thought it would the benchmark experience of this trip in terms of happiness and sadness all in the same day.

As we walked up to a small set of mud brick round houses we were greeted in the typically warm fashion of Tanzania. We met 8 kids, 2 grandparents, and 2 parents. The 8 kids were from the three sons of the grandparents. The youngest was the only one still alive and taking care of all of his brothers’ kids as well as his own. This is when the moist eyes started. As the family history was rolled out before us we realized the hurt they had endured and the gift they were giving us. The only child of the middle son whose mother had died two weeks after his birth due to complications because of AIDS and whose father died of AIDS two years later. His need was obvious. Cha Cha only speaks his tribal language, not needing before this to know Swahili (with English out of the question). He was also in need of quite a bit of medical attention since he seems to have malaria and worms. Mwita, our day guard and shamba man, went with us to pick him up because he was good friends with the boy’s father. Mwita explained to the family that we would provide his basic needs and education. His future got brighter and brighter the closer to Angel House he got on our 2 hour trip home, but it was tinged gray by a crying grandmother and aunt who remember the father and mother that he never knew. Tears streamed down Mwita’s face as he was filled with joy and sorrow, knowing what we can provide while also realizing the devastation of the parents of his best friend.

Life is lived in gray. We took pictures of a family Cha Cha may only grow up remembering, but his smile this morning (the first one we have seen since we picked him up) is evidence of a lot of light in the future.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where’s the Chicken?

“And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes a humble place – becoming like this child – is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

In this passage Jesus tells us that we must be like a little child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. We tend to always picture the sweet and innocent children who have a wide-eyed faith in us as adults, the tooth fairy, and God (the big guy up stairs who loves all the little children of the world). We discuss a child like faith or belief in God, who he is and what he can do. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I think that having a strong faith is important, even paramount to being a Christian. However, as I observe children in this culture I have been forced to rethink my mainstream impressions about this verse.

Tanzania in general, and Tarime specifically is an odd mixture of then and now. You get satellite phones in a little cinder block stall at the bus stand, the internet café runs on a generator half the time, and political accomplishments are measured by the government building projects which are posted on signs in front of the buildings themselves (kind of like ancient Rome). In the same vein children are treated much the same way as they were in 1st century Palestine.

In working with children as well as seeing their place in other families in Tarime I have began to understand the role of children in Tanzania. It is by and large to serve, learn, and be ready to take care of their parents or grandparents as they get older. The younger the child the less respect and attention they get. This is never more evident than at meal time.

One Saturday we were invited over to a staff members home for lunch. We received radical hospitality and Mwita is one of the most caring people we have run into. When we sat down to eat however I noticed that none of his kids where eating what we were eating. He had provided a spread of food including two kinds of meat and fresh fruits. His kids were eating rice and beans. When Holly offered them some of her chicken bones (she couldn’t find any meat on them, but was sure they could) they refused. That was not there place as children. The youngest even came close to missing out on having a soda, a very big treat, because there wasn’t enough left and they had to go buy another one (he got his last).

It was at this point that I realized what Jesus must have meant when he said, be as humble as a child. He meant being willing to be absolutely last. He meant not getting the best, but the worst of everything. He meant being okay with the hand me downs of others and to appreciate being last on this world in order to better understand the upside down nature of the kingdom of God. It had nothing to do with innocence or faith, but with social position or even caring about social position. He meant humility on a scale that we often struggle to understand, but which kids here intuitively get. To be like a little child and to welcome little children so that your house guest is not someone to get you ahead in life or even someone others would want to associate with, but someone whom you can serve in your humility. Next time you read this verse remember and think about Barack, a little child who got his soda, but in doing so gave me a whole new view of God’s Kingdom and the service we are to truly provide to others.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'm Going to Kiss My Car Hello

As a follow up to my last blog post about Kidogo Burtha I wanted to write about my’07 Camry that is waiting for me at home. After about two days of driving Kidogo Burtha I was driving along and thinking about how I was going to kiss my car when I got home. It was then that I realized there may be a difference between going somewhere to do ministry and going as a missionary. As long as you go as a missionary you tend to stay outside the culture. Some of our conversations in the very short time we have been here have included things we miss about America, the biggest one probably being the food choices. We haven’t yet been able to become part of the culture, though being the only white people in town may have something to do with that.
Now, as Christians we are called to be a set apart community that is a light to the world. However, right now I feel separate from all of culture, not just the “non-Christian” parts. When you work in a church in the US there are certain standards and expectations that are placed upon you above and beyond the expectations of the culture and I will be the first to say that I don’t think America displays a whole lot of Christian values in mainstream culture. But there seems to be a difference between holding to a different way of life and not becoming part of the place you live (and having no intention of doing so). At this point in time I struggle with how to become part of a culture that has a different language, customs, and standards for living, but every time I think of “me” and “them” I am leaving out “us.” It takes us to be able to do ministry. It takes Anna’s help with the schools. It takes listening to Mwita and his insight into the kids work habits. It takes Michael and his understanding of what is required for a good education. It takes Frank to help us with the local government. It takes the many people I have met thus far that really have a heart for the kids at Angel House and just want them to succeed, in ways beyond what these people have been able to do themselves (all of those mentioned are Tanzanians). Anna, who is hesitant to take on high, official leadership roles, fully believes that a Tanzanian president can come out of Angel House.
So, is missing my car a bad thing? I don’t think so, but is wishing Tarime looked or felt like Cookeville, Jackson, or Medina (some of the places I have called home)? Yes, because Tarime is special all of its own accord. There is much ministry to be done here, in a way that is special to this place and these people. The one common factor is God’s faithfulness to his children, of which I have already met several. Our prayer is always to let God shine through and for us to become just part of the team that nurtures all that Angel House is. I would ask that your prayer be our ability in God to do so.

“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might same some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

~1 Corinthians 9: 22-23

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What is Black, Purple, Blue, Red, Swollen, and Dirty?...My Ankle!

The first day we were at MAHOTT, the girls were carrying water on their heads so I thought “how hard could it be?” Umm…much to my surprise after I had walked with one bucket about a hundred yards to the house my entire body ached. I had a headache, my neck hurt, and my back hurt! I looked like such a wimp compared to all the girls, including some of the younger ones, who had carried at least three buckets already that morning! I learned a lesson that day that apparently I needed to learn again a couple of weeks later…

One Friday night, I was impatiently waiting for Eric and Holly to come and pick me and the five little children up from MAHOTT to go spend the night at our house. We planned a fun-filled evening of coloring and a movie along with a slumber party! Well, my impatience got the best of me and I decided that I wanted to play soccer with the boys. So, in our makeshift soccer field that was recently slashed (or cut) we played a game of five on five where I was the goalie. I lasted until the other team scored twice before Joseph Charles pulled me out of that position. I ran toward the ball and found a hole instead. My ankle immediately started throbbing, changing colors, and swelling. I thought I may have broken it because every time I stepped I wanted to cry! However, after Salma (who “says” she had training in nursing) twisted and pulled and banged on it…I did not feel from my knee down! It has been over a week now and I still cannot walk without a limp.

Colossians 3:12, 13a reads: “therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long sufferings; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another.” Both of these stories illustrate how much the children have humbled me in the short three weeks we have been here. Every day they remind me of how much there is for me to learn about life and hardships. I tried to be one of the girls and I failed miserably just as I tried to be one of the boys playing soccer. I have traveled long distances to teach them, and yet in just staying home they have taught me so much.

Monday, February 8, 2010

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

Too bad He didn’t share those plans with us!

The entire three weeks we have been here there have not been two days completely the same. Every day has a different “to do list” although you are lucky to get one thing done on that list. We usually get up around eight o’clock and try to get out and about. We have a staff meeting every Friday morning that is supposed to start at nine; however, we are lucky if it starts by ten. The staff meetings are at least two hours or more but are extremely productive because they are free to bring concerns and needs/wants to these meetings. One reason it is so long is because we have to have Anna translate everything for us. We spend every Saturday and Sunday with the children working in the shamba, playing games with the little ones, and worshiping. Monday through Thursday we meet with at least one head master and either the Minister of something or the District Commissioner about an issue. Eric works on construction stuff like getting solar power quotes or drilling quotes. We are all currently working on getting plans and paperwork done for the start of the new Secondary School project. Another thing is the finances since it is a big ordeal. Everything takes money and no one ever has any. We carry our own money as well as money for others on us at all times. We are trying to get Piki piki (dirt bike/motorcycle) licenses, so we have been getting eye exams and the paperwork done for that process as well.

The way that things go around here is that it may take you two or three times trying to do something before you actually conquer it. For example, we drove out to the Government Hospital to get eye exams and waited for a while before we found out that we had to come certain days between certain hours. So, Eric and I went the next day around seven thirty to get this done. However, we sat around until the doctor finally came after eight and told us that we had to go to another office to pay and bring a receipt. Then, after the eye exam we had to go to two other offices to get it stamped and recorded. Phew! Good news! Eric and I both passed according to their standards, although both of us missed quite a few letters and I definitely did not see any of the colors the doctor was holding up!

Anyway. Katherine has lunch on the table around noon and dinner on the table when she leaves around five o’clock. She has our laundry hanging up to dry and the house completely clean, including all of the cat hair off of the furniture! Sometimes we are back to eat lunch. We are never back to eat dinner until eight o’clock even though we try to be out at MOHOTT by four o’clock to hang out with the kids and help with homework so we can try to leave before dark hits because it is too dangerous to be driving after dark. We come home, eat dinner, and crash. Not having electricity most nights makes it much easier to just go to bed.