Sunday, March 28, 2010

It’s Not About the Garden Yet, It’s About the Path

When people are asked to stop the rush of life, to look around and consider what they want out of life, or where they want to go that they are working so hard to get to I think you will find many different answers. However, I think at the heart of those answers would be the kernel of a better life. People want a better life or a more comfortable life. With parents I think it is safe to say that this desire extends even more to their children than to themselves. They want things that make life easier or to make life changing choices that enhance their lives instead of making them more difficult. The people that are good at these kinds of choices are known to “have it together” while the rest of us struggle to find out how they did it.

This is not just an American thing, though I think we as a country have perfected this mind set, this is a human thing. A desire to always be improving the quality of our living. If you are a Christian you could say a desire to return to the Garden of Eden and the peace and ease of life that is portrayed as normal before Adam and Eve were banished and told to struggle with the earth and fight against the animals. Before Cain introduced killing and human warfare.

I doubt that much of what I have said is surprising, and Paul said that all should “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die (“If there is not God”).” Herein, however, lies the rub, I do believe there is a God and I think that he also desires a return to the Garden, but I think he knows that to do so more is required than just for each individual to pursue as much of the good life as they can get a hold of. God, in the form of Jesus, even said that “to be first we must be last, and to be greatest you have to be a servant of all.” The path that is already paved and heading to the Garden is not one of ease and pursuit of happiness; it is one of service to others and the realization that personal ease does not lead to peace. On this Palm Sunday with Easter only a week away lets remember that Jesus was killed for the political and religious statement of loving people who society said should not be loved. This is not an easy gig, but it is gig many have claimed, though fewer have actually followed.

As Liz and I have explored our vocation in the context of living in Africa we feel there is much service to be done and hopefully even some peace to be found. As we have announced to family and friends that we plan on coming back to the states for a short time (May – August), but then returning for a year the responses have been mixed. Some happy, some amazed, and some concerned for our plans and future. We are returning not for the fun, the enjoyment, or the ease of life, though there are times of all of that here. We are returning because of what we feel like we can do for others and because of the great amount our creator did for us.

Please do not worry for us and even strive yourself to find the path to the Garden. It is not an easy path, but the glimpses of the end are all the more sweet because of what you do on the hike there.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Unnoticeable Gifts

As Eric and I continue with our conversation about what each of us will be doing upon our return here, I have become very discouraged. Eric’s gifts are quite obvious: he is gifted in spiritual formation, connecting the church as a whole, preaching, leadership, character development, and now…construction! Holly is very gifted in teaching, loving others, remaining calm in tough situations, languages, and many other things. Mine however do not stand out. There are many things that I have done while we have been here and yet I look back and often think, “what was the importance of that?” or “what do I have to contribute to this team?”

Eric reminded me the other day of Mother Theresa. She invested in one life at a time and yet she made such a remarkable impact on the world. First Corinthians tells us that there are different gifts and that each is important. I may not be gifted in teaching or construction or have a passion to connect everything to the local church, but I do have my own gifts. I have a passion for health care. I cringe when a child is sick and I have to take them to a hospital. I long for the day that all of them are cured of the unknown diseases. I have a gift for organization. I have put together a short term team packet for when people or churches want to bring teams over. I keep track of the monthly expenditures, staff meeting notes, all the necessary paperwork that MAHOHTT needs to stay open. I ensure that the daily operations are taken care of and not forgotten in the hustle and bustle.

Gifts are given to us by our Heavenly Father. He decides in which contexts we are to use them and how. We are not to judge one another as to how important each gift is but to accept the fact that all are needed. Some gifts are noticeable and some are unnoticeable…they are all still gifts.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Pleasure Center

I started thinking about this blog post when I asked one of our kids at Angel House what he was going to do over Easter Break (the equivalent of our spring break). His reply was obviously obvious to him, but it caught me slightly off guard. He is planning on studying. That is it. There are no plans for lounging around or playing soccer (though I am sure some of that will happen). Easter Break is not a time to have fun or go on great trips, it is a time to work around Angel House and study for examinations. This got me thinking about our overwhelming focus on pleasure and entertainment in America.

In Tanzania there are very few things designed solely for pleasure, and most of them are populated by American and European tourists, not Tanzanians. In America I can’t think of a city of any size without thinking of a dozen things in it that are meant to be purely enjoyed. There are things for kids, things for adults who think they are kids, things for teenagers, and even things for adults who have so largely forgotten how to have fun they have to go to extremes to find it. There are so many things designed for pleasure and entertainment that kids no longer find fun in entertaining themselves, unless it involves a TV screen. They certainly would not get as much pleasure out of an old tire and a stick as the kids here in Tanzania do. We in America seem to have risen so far above a true daily struggle for life that we have had to invent hobbies, passions, and interests in order to entertain and occupy our time that is no longer spent on labor or survival.

I count much of our ability to spend time just having fun as a blessing, especially after watching how hard people work here. However, I have also noticed an honesty about life that does not always exist in America. We as Americans spend time having fun for the pleasure of it, but we also spend time distracting ourselves from life problems that much of the time we don’t even really have to endure. Someone once said that life in America is easy but complicated while life in Tanzania is hard but simple. I think this is true and that this simple truth goes a long way toward explaining America’s overwhelming desire for entertainment.

We are hoping to take our kids to a small beach for a day over their Easter Break. Hopefully this will not be a time for distraction, but for the pure joy that comes from spending time with friends in play instead of work. May you take some time this coming summer to play with a stick and old tire, to find the simplicity of living honestly (being honest with yourself and others). What may be going on that you need a distraction so badly, what might you be able to change in your life so that life itself, instead of your entertainment, is what brings you pleasure.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

First Fruits

Three weeks ago Mwita, Baba Shamba, began selling our green vegetables out of the Shamba because it is producing too much for the kids to eat. The kids are already eating green vegetables about three times a week and have agreed to eat it more. Mwita was so proud to hand us 10,000 TSHs he received for selling the green vegetables. This was the first fruits of his and the children’s labor. Since then, he has continued to sell the greens to St. Jude Primary and he is bringing people in from the villages. The children realize that the work they do daily is paying off in so many ways.

A few weeks back we were able to purchase two plowing cows along with the yoke and chain. This week Mwita, along with Magige, Anna, Salma, and today Eric, have been plowing the field so that we may plant this week. We really should have planted a few weeks back but we had difficulties with the first cow we bought and eventually had to sell it to be slaughtered. Mwita and Magige finished the first two sections of plowing on Monday and we had the children plant corn on Tuesday afternoon. Eight boys lined up with jembes and dug holes about a foot and a half apart while a person went behind each of them and dropped two corn seeds in the hole and covered it back up. It was a wonderful experience to be apart of as they all took pride in what they were doing. They realize that in the next few months we will be producing enough corn for them to eat and will be saving the orphanage money.

The Shamba is the beginning of MAHOHTT becoming self-sustaining and capable to provide for the surrounding villages in a physical way. In the book of James, it states that it is God who gives us “every good gift and every perfect gift…Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.” God has blessed us with a faithful man who is not only faithful to us and his work but to God and the family of God. The children have worked hard to see that the Shamba produces good vegetables and fruits that they eat weekly. This month we have seen the first fruits of physical labor in the form of food and then shillings. What are we doing to be the first fruits of God’s creatures?

Sunday, March 14, 2010


So at some point in my life I felt the pull to be a minister. I won’t bore you with details, but my belief in the strength of the church universal and my hope for a role within the church has grown. It is with that growing sense that I have felt a desire to help with the church at Angel House. The church at Angel House is just that, a local church consisting of the staff and kids of Angel House. The kids provide the music and prayers with help from the staff and sometimes the missionaries. A different kid leads the service every week, letting everyone know when it is time to pray or sing, or that awkward time every week when it is time for me to preach, but I don’t realize it because the rest of the service is in Swahili. There is even an offering, though I still am not sure what is done with the money. There are kids that seem to get into it and get more out of it than others, as is typical anywhere, but regardless it is always a lively affair.

I think what strikes me every week is the simplicity of the service. There are multiple choirs based on the ages of the kids and they all sing, every week. Very rarely though do the kids need the song books since the songs are ingrained in their minds through repetition that has only enriched and not dulled the music of praising God. All the songs are accompanied by the percussion of water containers and sticks, which I will learn to play before I leave.

It is simplicity and purity in worship that is accompanied by a desire for the truth of God. My first sermon I ever preached at Angel House was bad. I don’t just say that to be modest, but I mean that my translator messed up most of what I said, and it was only five minutes long even translated. I just wasn’t used to any part of it; yet even with all the mishaps the kids loved it, because it contained a statement or two of God’s truth. They desire God’s truth in worship, in prayer, and in Word in a way that only comes about when the distractions of the world are put aside. I do not want to portray perfect kids, because they aren’t, but they hunger for the mystery of life that only God holds, in a way I have not seen many other places.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

On Earth as it is in Heaven

This Sunday I am preaching on the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and while I think there are some things the kids could do to better follow this command, I can’t help but think that they are in many ways far beyond us.

The kids at Angel House are blessed and when you compare them to many other children around Tarime they seem like they have all they could ever want. Despite that most of them could fit all their belongings in one, maybe two, big suitcases. This past Friday however they showed how much they really had and how much they were willing to give. We had eight new kids who had shown up with either the clothes on their backs or maybe one extra set of clothes if they were better off. As always money is tight in nonprofit work and we knew from previous generous donations that our kids had more than one of some things. So we asked. Who had shoes, blankets, towels, or clothes that they could share with our new kids?

The response from these kids was amazing. It happened during a house meeting, with all the kids sitting together. Possessions starting forming a pile on the floor. Some kids were shy about it, while others were excited to be able to help out. Some gave one thing while some gave many, but to watch them bring stuff in to meet basic needs of their new brothers and sisters made me think about Acts 2 and what church basics used to look like (they didn’t used to start with a secretary or building fund). By the time everything was done we were left looking at a pile of shoes, sheets, blankets, towels, and clothes that was big enough for every new child to have what they needed.

While I can never do justice to the vision I saw that Friday evening I hope that we can learn something from these kids. Kids who probably all together could not fill an average America house, but can still take care of their brothers and sisters, their neighbors. Can we?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Health Care Reform!

Malaria symptoms include: fever, headache, body ache, vomiting, diarrhea, dream-like state of mind. Severe cases also include hallucinations and foaming at the mouth. Things that are not malaria: third degree burns on the leg, the common cold, a severely sprained ankle.

The health care system really is not as bad as many countries and there are four major hospitals here in Tarime. However, each has strengths and weaknesses. My first run-in was when I took Joseph Charles, Chu Chu, and Edward to the Tarime Dispensary. The Doctor is extremely polite and it is open twenty-four hours! However, every time we send children there they have to spend at least a day getting fluids. The staff has chosen not to send our kids there unless we have to because they feel it is a waste of time. Also, I am not a huge stickler for cleanliness but they did not use gloves to take blood and they mixed Edward and Chu Chu’s blood samples when transferring them to the light bulb in the corner that was heating the blood. UGH!! The Government Hospital is where most people go because they have a Labor/Delivery section and it is cheaper than most. I had the fortunate opportunity to experience Jenn Williams while she was in labor. They had three women to a bed all of whom were in labor. No men were allowed in the building and every so often they would check and see if she was ready to give birth. However, she had to vomit and endure the pain all alone. I decided that I would fly home to give birth if I ever got pregnant here. The Catholic Hospital is where I now take all of our children. They are clean and efficient. However, they do not ever touch the patient. They ask what the symptoms are and write lab tests down. When the lab results come back, they prescribe a list of medicines that match the symptoms or the lab results. The lab tests include: mbs (which gives the amount of Malaria bacteria in the blood), sometimes a urine sample, sometimes a stool sample. They only take a syringe amount of blood to test for Typhoid and HIV. No matter what the symptoms are the patient is always tested for Malaria. I was absolutely shocked the other day when I took a child, who I knew had a common cold, and they tested for Malaria and it was NEGATIVE. The look on his face was priceless!

The only hospital in town that we go to as Americans is the Goodwill Hospital. They are good. Holly and I go about once a month to get weighed to see how much we have lost being here. Most of them speak English and realize that we are used to a specific amount of medicine. I took Eric yesterday to get his third degree burn looked at. Of course, it is infected. However, the doctor wrote the list of medications and the nurse giving out the medications read them and said, “Oh! You have Malaria.” Really???

I write about this not to go off on a tangent; although I did anyway, but to inform you all what it is like here. Everyone assumes that when you are sick it must be Malaria. I know that it is because the death rate for Malaria is extremely high and it is safer to assume that than to allow a child to die. I have become extremely aware of how much this country needs Health Care Reform and only wish that I had the expertise or training to do so. It breaks my heart to take a child to the hospital only to be told that it is Malaria, knowing very well that it is not. Last month I took seventeen children to various hospitals for tests and treatment. I pray that one day they will really be healed and there will be no more suffering.