Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Worlds Apart

So I keep thinking I'm going to write a blog to tell you all about everyday life here.

Discuss the water turning off at 8pm, and all the adventures one endures when it turns off a little early. Especially when the electricity is ALREADY off, thus making it that much harder to navigate your way to the kitchen to find your boiled water to rinse the rest of the shampoo out of your hair.

Or talk about my weekly duties, which have come to enclude going to Chongwe village 2x a week, and visiting the Lusaka homes 2x a week, and enevitiably having another day set apart for errand running or meetings.

I could talk about what it is like to live with all Zambians during the day, and yet feeling like I'm surrounded by all Americans in the evening....when all I have for entertainment are the emails and messages you all have sent me.

Or I could tell you how the office staff declared that I was officially Zambian this week, because I had eaten Nashima (a corn mealish substance that reminds me of cold cream-of-wheat that you dip in vegetables/chicken/ect) with my hands, and enjoyed it.

However, I never have too much time to write about all these things, because there is never just anything mundane. Instead, weekly, I have had something that looks me in the eye and begs to change my life forever. And this week, it happened yesterday.

It has taken me a full 24 hours to dare to even start this entry. A full day from the moment I arrived back home to consider how I could possibly capture yesterday events, or do justice to the goodness of a God that literally had me bawling on my knees for hours last night. But, because I have the ability to live this reality that I am about to relate, I feel an equal calling to relate that reality. Because the world needs to see. And right now, we're world's apart.

This week given a tip by Social Welfare that there were 2 kids in a remote part of Chongwe who were being abused heavily and whos lives were in danger. According to the source, in addition to the two above mentioned children, there was a small baby who had been cut with razor blades by the mom.... but that child was young enough to be accepted into the Moses' House, a local orphanage. The two older children, however, were out of luck. Except for maybe us.

At the moment, every single one of the My Orphan Homes is at full capacity. Every bed is taken. But, we certainly couldn't leave these two kids where they were. So at 7am yesterday morning... we went.

After a few hours of getting lost while driving through fields on dirt paths, we finally found the dwelling that the family was calling home. There was a single mud hut standing, with no windows. Coming close to the closed door, I could smell the stench from inside. The small hut that would normally be used as a kitchen was completely caved in, and there were simply 3 or 4 rocks placed together in what must have been the fire place. (Though the only way we could tell this was due to the ashes.) No source of clean water, no food storage, no bathrooms. It was deserted.

However, there was a small neighbor boy who had been passing boy, and informed us that the grandmother had to take the children to the Social Welfare office that morning, despite her daughters protests. Thus, we were back in the car, headed to Social Welfare.

Nevertheless, when we arrived at Social Welfare, they weren't their either. Back in the car, we headed back to the dwelling, hoping to find them since they must have turned back. At 98F, it was hot.... with dust flying everywhere.... and the roads are not a pleasant drive. But as Humphrey put it, "There's no getting tired when you are trying to save a life. I'll drive it a million times if we just find them." Nevertheless, on the way back to the home, Mama Harawa received a phone call from Social Welfare.... the family had arrived. Another u-turn, and we were one step closer to our mission.

At that point, I got to admit that my heart was racing. Here we were, on our way to change these kids lives. Did they even know it? In 15 minutes time, life would never be the same again.... and I got to be a part of it. I could couldn't help but smile.

We pulled up to Social Welfare again, and there sitting on the porch were the kids, the grandmother, and the mother. The entire time we had been driving, I had been trying to envision this family. I had envisioned two beautiful kids.... and I was not disappointed. For the first time in my life, the term "beautiful" even seemed too anorexic of a term for the lives that were sitting on that bench. It was hard to tear my eyes off of them... but there was one other person who I was very interested in observing. The mom.

What type of lunatic mother would cut her baby with razor blades? Or beat her children? What about how I had heard she she had burned down her own hut (apparently the dwelling we had visited was actually the grandmothers), all of her belongings, and all of her kids clothes in an angry rage? I wanted to hate her. I wanted to blame her for the hurt she had caused her kids. I pictured a vicious, seething woman who deserved next to no grace... or would have to be pretty damn sorry in order to earn the grace of our King.

But, instead, when I looked at her.... her eyes seemed close to empty. She looked lost, and downcast. And she was pretty. Very pretty. She simply sat on the ground, with her hand folded in her lap, looking as if there was something missing in her life. And for the first time, I started wondering what her story was.

As a disclaimer, if you are reading this with younger children, or are easily squeamish or offended... you might just want to skip the next 7 paragraphs. But for those of you who are willing to face the truth... read on.

Her story (which we found out from the grandmother while still in the social welfare office) completely changed my perspective on trying to point fingers. I wanted to hate this woman. But I can't.

She had married young. And apparently shortly after her 3rd child was born, her husband died. Looking at how gaunt the young woman was, I wondered if she had AIDS, and if her husband had died from the disease. There are some things we will never know. However, after her husband died, the woman was doing OK. She was still capable of raising her children, and in a village where there is so much disease... single parenting is almost the norm. However, one night she was walking home alone in the dark. As I have mentioned in previous posts, this is not a safe practice in Zambia. She was spotted by the Police force and thus, as I understand it, picked up by them for her own protection. Why they didnt bring her directly home, I will never know... but she was instead brought to spend the night in a holding cell... to keep her safe.

However, apparently she was not alone in that holding cell. There was a pornographer also being held that night. With camera in tow. Being a pretty young woman, she was abused... and made to have intercourse with a dog. Even as I type those words I have to keep from vomiting, and I cannot fathom the hurt and degregation that she felt. After that night, she was never the same. She spent a year in a psychological hospital, was released, but never 'better'. How could she be? As I sat watching her on the step of the Social Welfare office, I had to wonder if she was suffering from a severe depression, with anxiety outbreaks causing the rage and abuse of her children? Or had she developed a bi-polar or schizophrenic personality? Again, there are some things we will never know.

Where was the police force while this type of abuse was occurring? Couldn't they have intervened? How did they let this woman be put in a cell with a man? And one who still had a camera nonetheless!?

Who was this man? And where is he so that I can personally cut off his testicles? And where is the tape, because it deserves to burn in hell with him.

I want to hate them. I want to blame them. But then, when I truly ask myself where the police force was, I come to the conclusion that they were probably in the other room, unaware; or simply shrouded in corruption themselves and afraid to intervene. And the man? Probably trying to fill a quota of tape, in order to keep up with the American market.

How is it that we try to point fingers at the brokenness of our world? But it makes us feel better, doesn't it? Because as long as I can blame them, I can't blame me.

However, I can try and change me... and I can try to change the world.

As I approached the children, they were stone faced. No ounce of emotion showed. I smiled at them, waved, said hello. Still nothing. I reached out my hand to greet them, as is proper in this country, and they robotically shook my hand, certainly out of duty more than anything else. This is not what I had pictured. All of the other children who I had met (whether in the MFHs or on the street) had always smiled at me... or at least sent a curious glance my way! How in the world could I get these kids to smile?

Mama Harawa took the grandmother inside the Social Welfare office to start looking at the paperwork, and I stood on the porch to start looking for a way to get the kids to trust me. Through Humphrey, we learned that they kids names were Boyd and Naomi. They didnt know how old they were, but my guess was that Boyd (older boy) was around 10, and Naomi (the younger girl) about 7. Obviously talking was not going to be the way to break the ice. So I relied on the one thing I know best: games. I took out a small rubber ball that Mom and I had purchased in packs of 3 from the dollar store right before I left. Could $0.33 change a life?

I bounced the ball at Boyd, expecting him to catch it. Instead, he let it bounce off the top of his head, and again off his body, and as it was rolling to my feet I realized he still hadnt moved. I tried to signal as best I could that he should catch it.... and tossed it again. Same result. What child doesnt know how to play catch? I asked Humphrey to try to explain to him.... but the child sat looking bewildered as Humphrey explained the concept in the native language. A few more gestures to try to instruct, and I again tossed the ball. At last he moved. He didnt come close to catching it.... but he tried. And he smiled.

At that moment Boyd was called inside, obviously to help contribute to the the legal matters occurring. However, as her brother made his exit from the porch, Naomi sent me a shy smile. And then, much to my surprise, she cupped her hands, ready for the ball. A single bounce and she trashed around violently, trying in earnest to catch it.... which she did, on approximately the 15th throw.

For the next half hour Naomi and I would play bounce. She learned to catch, she learned that if she threw the ball harder it would go higher, and she learned that it was OK to laugh when either of us missed picking it out of the air. Her joy was electrifying. More than anything I wanted to take a picture. My camera was burning a hole in my pocket... but I resisted, as her mom sat watching us and I did not want to upset her. I couldnt help but wonder what she thought of this albino stranger playing with her daughter. Did she know that I was going to take her away from her?

When the door to the Welfare Office opened again, the grandmother emerged with Boyd and said something to the two of them. Mama Harawa translated into my ear.... apparently she had instructed them to go live with EOH 'and learn English'. The kids nodded. No smiles. No tears. Simple acceptance. Or maybe a lack of understanding. As the mother rose, I waited for her to hug the kids goodbye or put up a fight.... but instead she just strolled off the porch. The kids didnt run after her, nor did they hug their grandmother as she shook their hands in the same way that she shook mine. Together mother and grandmother walked off, not looking back.

At that point, I bounced the ball at Boyd again... and he caught it. We continued to play catch as the office staff finished whatever it was they were doing, and it started to occur to me that this was really it. In a few moments these children would be in the car with us, going to a different life. Personally, I was ready to cry.... but it seemed as if I was the only one.

When the time came to get in the car, the kids looked afraid. So I reached into my bag of dollar store toys and pulled out a small stuffed dog and handed it to Naomi. She looked confused at first, but eventually took hold of it. Then I grabbed a small matchbox car, and drove it up and down Boyds arm. He also looked uneasy at first, but a small twinkle caught in his eye when I handed it to him. Their first toys. Ever.

As we rode in the car (with the windows rolled up so that the mother would not see the kids) the two children hung onto each other for dear life, and hung on to their new toys. It was at that point that I realized that the things they held in their small fists were the only things they were bringing with them from this day forward. They had no other possessions, and probably would never be spending any significant time with their other family members again.

When we arrived at the Chongwe MFHs, the usual flock of children danced around the car, eager to greet us and hug us as we climbed out. However, as I reached back inside the car to unbuckle Naomi, I couldnt help but notice the slight dip in noise as all of the children recoginzed what was occurring. And why wouldnt they? They had all come to this place of hope in much the same way. With reverence and joy, they greeted the new children... and for the first time all day, my heart felt at peace.

We then filed into the living room of one of the MFHs. The house moms were waiting, and greeted both children with a hug. After a few moments of orientation, Boyd was escorted by a group of boys to the room he would be staying in, and Naomi was taken by the hand to another one of the houses where she would be staying. I didnt see either of them from that point on, and I couldnt help but smile. Kids making friends and being excited about life... isnt that how its supposed to be?

However, our day was long from being over.

As I sat with Mama Harawa and the house mamas, we then started discussing how to make this work. We have two extra children now in the houses. Five children sleeping in a bedrooms with only four twin beds. Two more school uniforms to buy, never mind regular clothes in order to replace the ones they were wearing that had been supplied by Social Welfare earlier. Two more mouths to feed, and to buy toothbrushes for.

Toothbrushes. Such a mundane thing had slipped my mind. For the first time in their lives, these kids were going to have toothbrushes! And they were going to wake up in a home where they were safe, and valued. They were going to be able to attend school. And they were going to be taught about a man named Jesus who changes everything....

As we were talking, one of the Mamas admitted to Mama Harawa that she actually knew of another family who was in desperate need of our help. So, as natural as can be, we jumped in the car again. However, there was no road to this house, so we walked a quarter mile from the last possible place we could squeeze the car.... and came upon another humble mud hut to find 2 more beautiful kids.

A small girl; who was apparently 3 1/2, but looked like she was 11 months. And a boy of 10, who looked to be 5. Both parents had died, and malnourished was an understatement. However, the grandparents had arrived and claimed responsibility.... thus the case must go to Social Welfare before we can step in. So, instead, I just hugged the little girl... and tried to give her a stuffed animal too. However, she was terrified at the small fuzzy thing, and I realized that the only thing small and fuzzy she had probably ever seen was a rat. I would be scared too. The boy, however, gratefully except the small token of love I could give, and his eyes glowed as he petted it and rubbed it against his cheeks. Walking away from them would have been impossible if I hadnt remembered that my God who looks after me looks after them as well.

But I cant help but ask, how is our God going to look after them if not through us?

There is currently another MFH in the process of being built, an opportunity to bring 16 more children like Boyd and Naomi into a place of hope, but the work on it has been suspended because there are not enough funds to continue. Last Monday a portion of the roof was torn off by a huge rain storm, and thus the building structure is deteriorating everyday that we dont keep building. But it takes $33,000 to build these houses, and $800 a month to keep them functioning, so we wait.

And as we wait, we watch little 3 1/2 year old girls sit slumped against the side of trees, because they have no energy to stand or play. And as we wait, we see mothers slumped on porches hopeless and out of touch with reality because of a great abuse that could have been prevented.

Last night I returned back to the plush EOH office that I call home. And as I sat in my bedroom that contained not 1 but 2 beds..... it was taking all that was within me not to shout up to God, "HOW LONG WILL BE TOO LONG!" And yet, I heard him echoing back, "How long will be too long?" There havent been too many times in my life when I have literally fallen to my knees, but upon hearing that.... last night was one of them.

I look beyond the empty cross
forgetting what my life has cost
and wipe away the crimson stains
and dull the nails that still remain
More and more I need you now,
I owe you more each passing hour
the battle between grace and pride
I gave up not so long ago
So steal my heart and take the pain
and wash the feet and cleanse my pride
take the selfish, take the weak,
and all the things I cannot hide
take the beauty, take my tears
the sin-soaked heart and make it yours
take my world all apart
take it now, take it now
and serve the ones that I despise
speak the words I can't deny
watch the world I used to love
fall to dust and thrown away
I look beyond the empty cross
forgetting what my life has cost
so wipe away the crimson stains
and dull the nails that still remain
so steal my heart and take the pain
take the selfish, take the weak
and all the things I cannot hide
take the beauty, take my tears
take my world apart, take my world apart
I pray, I pray, I pray
take my world apart
(Worlds Apart - Jars of Clay)

Oh God, just take my world apart. Just take my vision of the world from me. And let me see yours. Because its ALREADY been too long.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Today I sat in a hospital with Esther, the director of the MFHs, and Danny- a 14 year old boy, who at 68 lbs probably more resembles a 7 year old boy.

Danny, a boy who is HIV positive.

I think that the AIDS pandemic is something that we have all heard about, all read about; but in reality, know nothing about. Today, that all changed.

I sat in a hospital, waiting with Esther to see a specialist doctor who could help Danny become more mobile, as his knees and hips have been extremely sore and have stopped him from being able to attend school, as it requires walking too far. Danny doesnt know that he is HIV+, as the staff here agree that he is not mentally stable enough at the moment to cope with his reality. That news shocked me at first, how could he not know? But then I remember what Lugasi, one of the elder 2 children who had questioned me on my first full day here, had said: people hear they have HIV and just commit suicide, because it seems as if their is no hope.

But what is there no hope for? A long life? A good life?

As we waited for the specialist to come, we sat in the waiting room. A TV was playing music videos, and there was a table of magazines. I went and picked one up called "Zaran", because the cover captured me. On it was an article grieving the fact that America's PEPFAR plan (President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, 2007) had stipulations that kept it from being highly effective in Zambia. Stipulations that encouraged 'Abstinence Only' sex education, instead of a comprehensive sex education that would encourage condom use in order to prevent HIV spread. In addition, the plan excludes reaching out to sex workers, of whom approximately 70% are HIV+ in Zambia.

As I read the article, my thoughts were spinning. I am all for abstinence. I think it's what God calls for when one is not in a marriage relationship. Yet, in this culture of rape and abuse, knowledge of a condom could go a long way. Plus, sooner or later (hopefully after marriage!) a couple will have sex. And what then? The article on the back page of the magazine addressed this, as the husband was HIV+ and the wife, not. With condom use they could still have a normal, husband-wife relationship; but without it, he could end up killing his love, and once again all of the children would become orphans. I am also very much against sex workers. Beyond prostitution, pornography makes me sick to my stomach when I think about the abuse that takes place during production, degregation of humanity and sexuality, and just pure slime that the industry is.... never mind what they produce and how it influences our culture. Nevertheless, even in America there are laws set up to keep pornographers somewhat 'safe' from HIV by requiring monthly testing. To have sex workers in Zambia be excluded from prevention programs and programs designed to create hope for those living with the disease seems almost inhumane. But yet, Zambia doesn't have money to invest in prevention programs, so it relies on America... and thus, it is done the American way.

Why does everything have to rely on America?

One of the other articles in the magazine highlighted the recession in America, and the effects it was having on the world-wides fight against AIDS. With the economy down in the Western World, organizations were not donating as much to the cause anymore.... and thus individuals are being pulled of ARVs.. which (like any antibiotic that you stop use of too soon) actually creates a resistance to the drug, and continued hopelessness for a normal life.

Why did I have to pick up this magazine? Why couldn't I have just watched the music videos like everybody else?

As I sat there contemplating the Western World's effect on everyday Zambian life, I couldnt help but remember the staff meeting yesterday morning.

We start everyday at EOH with devotions. Singing (usually in Bemba... I'm getting better!), praying (everyone praying, normally quite loudly, all at once) and a reading and discussion of Oswald Chamber's "My Utmost For His Highest." Yesterday's subject was that of Abraham trying to help God solve problems. Abraham had been promised descendants... lots of descendants. Yet, Sarah was unable to bare children. So, Abraham and Sarah went ahead and solved the problem themselves--they gave Hagar, Sarah's maidservant, over to Abraham to have babies with. And thus there was Ishmael. Ishmael, being a descendant of Abraham, was blessed by God. Yet, he wasnt the answer to God's promise--Issac, the son that God had planned to give to Abraham all along, was the fulfillment of the promise. So God had told Abraham that Ishmael would surely fight against his brother all of his days.

I had never really thought about that before. All the problems that the Israelites faced, were probably mostly due to Ishmael's descendants. Essentially, because Abraham had tried to solve his 'problem' in his own way, this eternal hindrance was in place to God's true plan.

Upon finishing devotions, we started talking about orphan sponsorship more in depth. Although I won't go into too much detail, we were discussing what occurs when a child is no longer sponsored. Mrs Harawa painted a much different picture for me than the simple phone call that would 'cancel' my subscription to any sponsorship program in the USA. She explained how someone has to go into the home of this previously starving, uneducated child... and look them in the eye... and tell them that they are no longer going to be sponsored, and thus will no longer be going to school, or no longer having full meals. The child will cry, the parents will be distraught, feelings of unworthiness and 'what did I do wrong?' will abound.

To me, it seems more loving for the child to never be sponsored in the first place.

But in America, we don't think about these things. We see a name, with a cute little face, a set sum of $32 a month.... and decide to give up our coffee money for a year and support a child instead. All along, we forget that it's actually a child on the other side of that $32 a month. And we forget that $32 isn't a set amount that will mysteriously and divinely meet all their needs. $32 here buys about as much as $32 at home. Honestly, I think some basic foods (cheese for one!) are even more expensive here. Never mind healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Plus, even public schools require expensive school fees, uniforms, and examination fees (which are required for students to pass onto the next grade). But we set ourselves up as self-righteous people and play 'savior' to a kid for a while--until we lose interest in that program, or our 'hearts are pulled else were', or we realize we miss having our daily $5 cup of joe from Starbucks. And a kid in Africa sits and cries, feeling more alone, abandoned and hopeless than ever before.

We try to solve the problems in our own way, and end up with an Ishmael. A thorn in the side of God's true work.

As I sat in the waiting room with Danny, I couldn't help but wonder if America was creating another Ishmael. AIDS prevention in Zambia has to be done in a Zambian way, or it will never work. But we're Americans. And we like to see results. We like to see percentage points and graphs and smiling faces of all the 'good' things we have accomplished. So we try to do it our way.

By the time we finally got in to see the doctor, I was already feeling sick to my stomach. It is pretty common for me to get woozy in hospitals. Especially when talking about blood diseases. But this was a different type of woozy. It was an anger, mixed with sickness at the state of our world. Before the appointment was over, I had to step outside to sit on the curb. But this time, instead of trying to recover from blackouts over my blood-phobia, I sat trying to hold in the tears and crying out to God.

In the Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne makes an adage to the old quote that says 'Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime' by pointing out that not only must we teach a man to fish, but we must break down the walls around the pond and ask who polluted it.

I'm at the point where I want to know who polluted it.

I want to know why this quiet, smart, adorable boy is suffering so much pain by a disease that most people consider a curse. I want to know how it is possible that he doesn't know his own birthday (a fact that is heartbreaking when I consider the 100+ birthday messages I received yesterday via internet, as well as the huge chocolate cake and chocolate-chip muffins that were presented to me as a birthday feast). I want to know how such incredible misconceptions about HIV/AIDS can exist that would make a person commit suicide the day they have been diagnosed, or cause an infected person to rape a virgin (as it was once said that sleeping with a virgin would cure an infected person of the disease). I want to know how I can HELP instead of just create more Ishmaels. And I want America to wake up and realize that these are real people living and dieing according to her whims.

A few evenings ago the power went out. This is a fairly typical occurrence, so I went into my bedroom and read for a bit and slowly drifted off into a nap. Eventually I woke up, and wandered out into my now-lit kitchen... where I saw something scuddle across the floor. A lizard? A rodent? I wasn't super sure, but I decided I didn't really need to eat at that moment, and decided instead to walk into the office portion of the house and check to see if the internet was working. While sitting at the desk, a huge (5 inches long, minus the tail) rat darted from one side of the room to the other. Freaking out ever so slightly, I grabbed my computer and cord (didn't want it getting chewed!) and made way towards my room. As I did so, I saw what was definitely a 2nd rat of the same size dart across the kitchen floor again. Safely huddled in my room (with a towel shoved under the door to prevent rats from sneaking underneath) I sat and contemplated how Zambians probably wouldn't be upset by this, but I was freaking out. It took me approximately half an hour of praying and pumping myself up (note: 'All the Above' is actually a rather good pre-rat killing song) before I emerged from my room with my rain boots, long pants, jacket and head lamp on... swinging a broom. I tried to shoo the rats out, and the guard outside helped... but it was to no avail. I slept with a towel under my door, and my heaviest shoes and water bottles shoved against the towel to make sure no rat could push through.

The next day I discussed my escapades with the other EOH staff, fully expecting them to ridicule me. However, instead, all of the women surprised me by saying they would have been equally freaked out. Equally freaked out? Isn't this normal Zambian life?

Or maybe Zambians are just like Americans. Maybe we are all just humans, trying to follow a God who we can trust is mighty to save. Even if we're not sure why he's not stepping down in this place and time to save those whom we want to see saved. He's waiting to create Isaac--his perfect plan.

Friday night was a pretty lonely night for me. Those of you who know me well know that I am a 'night person.' When the sun goes down, I go out. It is common for me to be up till 2 or 3 in the morning laughing with a plethora of friends, playing games, watching movies, and just generally loving life. Here, at nightfall, I must be confined to the office, as it just not safe for a women, never mind a white women, to be out alone after dark. So I sat all Friday night, with the internet not working, no movies to watch, and the realization that the one and only deck of regular playing cards I brought did not in fact have all 52 cards (thank you in10sity! haha), thus even a friendly game of solitaire was out of the running. I prayed in earnest that God would give me another option for socialization, and started planning out ideas as to how I could find people to hang out with... all of which were rather far fetched, but it made me feel better to have a plan. My Ishmael.

Saturday morning I was woken up by a pounding on the outside door. I listened for a moment, as I did not think that any of the office staff were supposed to be coming in, and did not want to open the door for a stranger. And after a few moments I realized that the voices were indeed strangers, but somehow familiar. They were American. And they were calling my name. I jumped out of bed and ran for the keys.... and on the other side of the door were two more tall blonds, one a Hope College student and the other a grad from a school down in Mississippi. I had never met them before, but they were quite obviously my answer to prayer. Sophie and Mary-- two girls who had interned with EOH last summer, and had come back to work with the GEMS program, and were living a mile away from me. Sophie and Mary-- my Issac.

So what have I learned?

I honestly have no idea.

I'm learning to wait for Issac.
But I'm eager to see the pond free from pollution, and am learning that someone has to stop it from being polluted in the first place.

I learned a long time ago that I want God's guidance.
But I also want to see proper health care and a non-corrupt system.

And thus I am learning that I have no idea as to when we need to just 'let God', and when we need to become his hands and feet.

Orphan sponsorship is necessary for some of these kids to survive. But how should it be done? HIV/AIDS prevention is necessary for this awful state of emergency to be ended in Zambia. But what should we be teaching? More money is needed for EOH to continue it's work in Zambia. But do we invest in trying to make programs sustainable, or cry out to our loved ones and just ask for the money needed to buy school uniforms for a group of 24 students in Chongwe?

I'm sure you haven't heard the last of this internal debate I have going with myself. And you are all welcome to add your point of view. But, in all honesty I feel like I need to stop looking for the answer so hard, and just start looking at God harder. So I ask for your prayers. And you will all be in mine, as perhaps this now has you thinking too.

"And if we follow our dear sun to where the stars are not familiar.
Faces turn to numbers, numbers fall like manna from the sky.
Why, oh why? Oh Father, why?
One village in Malawi now has water running pure and clean.
One church alive in Kenya's full of truth and love and medicine.
We put the walls up, but Jesus keeps them standing.
He doesn't need us, but He lets us put our hands in.
So we can see, His love is bigger than you and me.

And we all can feel the calling,
to make the world a little smaller.
And so a girl got on a plane,
for two weeks in Africa." - Caedmon's Call

It's been almost two weeks now; and I praise God that in all actuality, this journey is just beginning. I think when most people come to Africa, it is for a short term mission. Just long enough to get them to ask the important questions. But I'm hoping that by being here for 6 months, I might start to find the important answers as well.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

All the time.

Right now, more than any American luxury, I simply wish I had enough bandwidth to post a video or picture of the Zambian orphans; for these are the kids I have already fallen in love with. And, in reality, this is the world I have fallen in love with.

Saturday I arrived in Zambia. I watched wide-eyed as we traversed a country side that was characterized by children running barefoot along dirt paths, men using sickles to cut down tall grass, street vendors and an incredible green landscape that left me wondering if Africa is really the 'disadvantaged' of our two nations. Running barefoot in green grass seems like a pretty swell plan to me.

However, Saturday I felt rather out of place. Where do I go? How do I act? Am I just going to be a stereotypical loud American (we all know I'm rather good with volume).... or how will these people perceive me? Will I ever be able to stop watching and being watched, and just be?

Sunday morning I was picked up by yet another unfamiliar face to attend church. As we bumped along roads filled with potholes, I wondered what this church was going to be like. And, to my surprise, once we arrived I was met by the nicest building I have yet to see in Africa. A choir was singing a song I did not know, and the pastors were praying in Bembe, the local language. I was also the only white person, and many people pointed and waved. There was no hiding now.

As I stood in church, trying to sway in rhythm to the unfamiliar music, I started to consider what was actually occurring in my life. A place I didn't know, a culture I didn't know how to fit into, not a single person I could talk to to ask the little questions about which greeting is proper for what type of persons or why everyone was laughing at certain things. What in heaven's name was I doing here?! But yet, somehow... I liked it. Which also confused me. I was fighting fear, but embracing reckless abandon. Fighting loneliness, but embracing new relationships. Fighting the doubts, and looking to God.

At the exact moment that I had finally come to the conclusion that I was indeed happy in this place, the pastor got up again and began to speak in English. I dont remember the first of what he said, but I was caught when he boldly proclaimed, "God is good!" ...and I couldn't help whispering under my breath the words "all the time" in response. However, there was no need to whisper... as, while I was secretly participating in worship the way I knew how, the entire congregation then spoke just as boldly as the pastor to also declare, "ALL THE TIME!"

Who is this God of ours? I couldn't believe it, and laughed.

The pastor then went on to the second half of the greeting: "And all the time!".... and I also gratefully declared with a host of Zambian Christians: "GOD IS GOOD!" From that moment on, it's been pretty hard to deny God's goodness, faithfulness, and purpose.

The rest of the 3 hour church service seemed to fly by as we sang in such a way that would put any CRC congregation to shame and listened to the sermon (complete with an English pastor presenting the word, and then a translator translating [almost] every word into Bembe..... though the translator kept cracking jokes that I wish I could have understood!). After the service I returned to the EOH office to get a nap, and then I was woken by Mrs. Harwara who then took me to the first of the My Father House [MFH] Orphan Homes. 'Lusaka Houses 1 and 2'.....

The Lusaka Houses 1 and 2 were the first houses made by EOH. Thus, for the past 6 years, the orphans in the homes have grown up together, surrounded by the local church and loved on by a house mom. I was blown away by the bright, smiling, amazing faces that met me at the door. Big hugs, laughs, and a tour of the house were immediately followed by teaching me their favorite games. However, the thing that will take me a long time to forget about Sunday was the conversation I had with the kids after wards.

Two of the eldest sat me down and started asking me questions that I was completely unprepared to answer, and the younger ones chimed in from time to time to ask for clarification that I was afraid to give. Questions about America, and faith, and what religion looked like where I came from, and what I hoped to do about it when I went back. What I hoped to do about religion in America?? Are you serious? Who has any power to change the situation of religion in America? God himself would have to step down to give America the wake up call she needs! But then, aren't we supposed to be God's hands and feet? What was I doing in Africa, when my country's heart is breaking right now? A million questions continued to circle through my head as they continued to ask (what they meant to be) simple questions about my home.

My education of both myself and Zambia continued this week. Chongwe is a village town, slightly removed from the more 'city-esk' Lusaka, where there are 4 more MFH Orphan Homes. Upon my first visit there, I was greeted by yet more hugs and 'Aunty Annika!!'. (That's a name I could get used to.) The kids in the Chongwe homes are all somewhat younger, and have come to EOH more recently, thus it was easy to identify a few of the kids who were a bit more tentative... and made my heart break as I considered the reasons why they would be hesitant to love as quickly as the rest. Nevertheless, all of the kids were eager to play more games and teach me their songs. In return, by the end of the day there were 30 kids in a little African village singing a newer version of Jesus Love Me, complete with 'Na na na na nananana Hey! Na na na na nananana Ugh!'s.... as they also wondered at some of our songs.

Tuesday I began to work in earnest with Esther, the coordinator of the MFH's in Lusaka. I am very, very excited to report that it is with her that I will probably be able to be the biggest help... as she is looking to implement a few programs into the MFHs (such as Bible Studies, sports' days, and even an AIDS lifestyle training... I guess that after being at LaGrave, growing up with my mom and all of my other desensitization towards talking about sex, it's only God's humor that he would have me teach a sex-ed class in Africa!). However, up to this point Esther had been a little unsure on how to start planning and facilitating such programs. And, though I don't claim to be an expert in too many areas of life... that is one area that I have come to feel rather competent. I guess God knew what he was doing when he brought me here to help before sending me back to my own country to 'do something' about religion there.

Wednesday I woke up.... puking. (As many of you probably already knew from my facebook! Thanks for all of the prayers!) The previous day I had been at MFH's 3 and 4 in Lusaka with Esther, and one of the generous and loving house moms had offered me a 'local juice' (made from roots) after we had been playing outside with the kids all afternoon (soccer... in long pants... in 80 degree heat). I gratefully took the drink, as Esther gave her nod of approval that it was in fact safe for me to drink. However, when I woke up with huge stomach pains on Wednesday, Mrs. Harawa realized that the drink was probably prepared with unboiled water.... oops. More than a few meds, a long nap, and I woke up Wednesday afternoon feeling quite better. By the end of the day I was feeling as good as new. Praise God. (However, there was no internet available to update anyone on my health, so I apologize to all of you who sat in worry all day for me!)

And then there's today. We woke up extra early this morning because of a very important errand: we had purchased school uniforms for the students in Chongwe the day before... and if we got to Chongwe early enough, the students would be permitted to go to school for the day! Up to that point, the orphans in those MFH had not been allowed to go to school... the terms here started on Monday (they take a month off every 3 months, instead of one just 'summer break'), and the school where the kids were attending decided to make a rule that all kids had to have uniforms... whether or not they could afford them. No uniform, no school. So we descended on Chongwe with brand new uniforms for 24 children.... and if you have ever seen a child on Christmas morning, multiply that reaction by about 10,000... and you have the electricity in the air as the kids were handed their 'smart suits' (as I heard one little boy refer to his new clothes, haha). It hit me then that these were quite possibly the first brand new clothes any of the kids had ever received... as the MFH apparently rely on many clothing donations. I quietly looked down at my brand new skirt that I had bought for this trip. The $7 I spent on it now felt too much.

It all feels like too much. A year ago I would be given $15 for dinner at Track and Field meet, I receive $15 a day as my stipend for food, water, travel expenses, ect; total my $400+ a month that that $15 a day gets me... and all of a sudden it seems exorbitant compared to the measly $500 a month that each of the MFHs has to operate on in order to feed, clothe, protect, provide healthcare and an education for the 8 orphans and mother living in the home.

Welcome to perspective.

There are a million other things that I could talk about:

The corruption of the education system that I have already come face to face with as Esther has tried to put students in their right grades... but been denied and asked to pay more money 'in order to get grade completion forms re-sent'.

The fact that when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, at least 30% of the kids at MFH Lusaka 3 and 4 reported that they wanted to be soldiers.... so that they could help people by protecting them; as apparently Zambia is known as a Christian nation now, and all the kids want it to stay that way.

Protection itself is an issue as well. I sit here writing this behind my locked bedroom door, inclosed in by huge wooden doors over the back and front entrances of the office, followed by iron gates that close over the doors. Outside the front gate is the guard, who patrols by the 10 foot wall surrounding the office that is topped with broken bottles and an electric fence. It scares me when I think about why such security is needed. And I almost peed my pants last night when I couldn't get the back door to lock correctly... and woke up suddenly, hearing things in the house. (I eventually went and looked outside my bedroom... maglight in one hand and cell phone in the other... and there was no one there. Praise God. Must have just been the wind blowing a door.) I was grateful to see that they had the lock fixed today.

....this was all taken in sharp contrast to my realization today (again, as we were driving through the countryside) that, despite all of the corruption, I think the world here is more beautiful and joyful than the hard nosed, fast paced culture that too many American's bow to.

Then there was the incident this morning when we stopped in a rural part of Chongwe at a man's home.... and his daughters cried and ran from me... and the man had to explain that they had never seen a white person before, and that he hoped I was not offended that they were afraid of me. Offended? I have always grown up thinking color didnt matter... but maybe for the first time in my life, it did.... but I hadn't even noticed it. What a crazy world.

Last but not least, it would be hard to speak of Zambia without talking of the amazing faith that everyone here seems to have. Maybe it is because there is a need for such faith, or maybe it is because they simply have more time and less distractions to enable them to actually listen to God.... but everything that is done around here is done trusting in God's providence. Even just talking about it gives me goose-bumps. I love that.

And, although I am inclined to apologize for the length and sporadic inclinations of this post.... if all of these words are beginning to overwhelm you, then maybe I am beginning to capture my life over the past week. So many encounters, thoughts, faith stories, God moments.... and it's only been 5 days. But, I think I can sum in up in this way: I am loving Zambia, loving our God, and I love you all... (but I am somewhat lonely at times, so keep the emails coming updating me on your lives!) and I pray that God gives you the same blessed assurance that he has been giving me here day by day.

God is good.... ;-)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Adventure Begins - Ministry Update

It is with great joy that I can say I am officially (and safely!) settled in at the Every Orphan's Hope (EOH) office, which will also double as my home for the next 6 months, in Lusaka, Zambia!

On Tuesday, January 5, I left Boston and flew to Texas where I was able to meet Gary Schneider (the founder of EOH) and Paul and Kim Lueders (the other couple that makes up the rest of the American side staff!). Then, Tuesday, Wedensday and much of Thursday was spent getting properly 'orientated' as to what I should expect in Zambia, and what will be expected of me. (Though I did manage to find time to watch the Calvin v Hope basketball game over livestream. Ya Knights! I apologize if anyone heard my screaming from my hotel room!)

Thursday I was then off to the airport again... this time destined for London, England. With long layover (11 hours), the staff of EOH had put together an entire walking tour of London for me; thus I was pretty excited to get off the ground, as I was going to have more than enough time to make it to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. However (inevitably) the plane was delayed due to icy conditions in the UK. We did eventually get off the ground..... with the slightest hint of possibility that I could still make it to the changing of the guard if I took a faster and more expensive transportation method (!!). Nevertheless, once we arrived in London after a 9hr flight, our plane sat on the tarmack for about another hour and a half, shooting that plan :-( . I tried not to be disappointed, and still headed into the city for the rest of the tour.... which was fantastic. Getting to stretch my legs while seeing Buckingham Palace, the Royal Park, Westminster Abby, the Parliament building (including Big Ben) and an up close and personal look at London's Eye (the carousel) was a perfect teaser... and gave me every reason to want to go back. (Who want's to ride a giant carousel alone?!)

After walking around for about 4 hours in freezing temperatures....while dressed for Africa (what would I have given for a pair of gloves?!)... I was ready to head back. Getting through security was a breeze compared to the States, and I headed for my gate. Thankfully, our plane to Zambia boarded on time. However, we then sat on the tarmack for another 2 and a half hours as we waited to be 'de-iced'. (I think I would have rather just had the flight delayed and had more time in London, or at the very least been permitted to walk around in the airport! But oh well...such is life.) Eventually we were on our way... for another 10 hour flight.

I woke up this morning (Saturday) bursting with excitement. As we got closer to Zambia I began praying in earnest that I would be able to make a few instant connections and find some community with the Zambians. It was about that time that my seatmate, Laura, and I began chatting. In her late 20s or early 30s, she was a Canadian who taught in a school for international students. She then asked me if I played volleyball... and I could feel God's love pour over me as I realized that this could quite possibly be my first connection. Apparently she, and a few coworkers play volleyball on Monday and Wednesday nights at the school she teaches at... and she lives close to the EOH office. We exchanged email addresses and she encouraged me to come check it out 'if I at all loved the sport'. :-) At this point it is unclear how it will work out for me to play... but it is needless to say that I am very, very excited at the opportunity.

Flying into Africa is like nothing I have ever experienced before. All green. No concrete. America could learn a lesson.

At about 8am Zambian time we departed the plane on a staircase that was brought right out onto the only runway, and we were able to walk across the lawn into the airport.... with loads of family members waiting for their loved ones right outside. (Even before we got to the border control/Visa station!) I was slightly relieved to see a woman standing with a sheet of paper with my name printed on it.... as I knew instantly it must be Mrs. Harawa, the Zambian director of EOH. Although I would love to go into detail, let me just say for the sake of brevity that she was very welcoming and helped immensely in the process of getting the proper Visa. After that, it was a wait for my luggage, which (after quite some time) did eventually show up. It must have been in the back of the storage, because I was starting to get nervous and almost let out a shout when I finally spotted my suitcases.

From the airport we walked outside and met Humphrey, an EOH volunteer who does most of the driving around town. As I'm sure I'll tell you much about the country side in future blog entries and such, let me just say... I loved the drive.

We then went straight to a supermarket to get me my groceries... and just 2 quick observations on that: it was alot more Western than I was expecting (yay!), but I do not understanding Zambian pricing/money exchange rates at all (boo!). I was glad to have Mrs Harawa there with me.

Then it was (finally!) onto the EOH office... my new home! Bright pink, surrounded by huge walls with electric barbed wire on the top; I have a bedroom with 2 twin beds and a bookcase.... and what looks to be my own shower room, bathroom, and kitchen. (It's going to be interesting to try to get a system down for meals when I cannot use any non-boiled tap water for cooking!) After arriving, Mrs Harawa and Humphrey left me to get 'settled in' and do some more errands.... and I have been pretty much alone ever since. Except for the gaurd outside. (That's right.. the office has a guard. Seems a little odd, but apparently its' standard because of expensive computers.... and hopefully it will help my Mom and Dad feel a little better about me being alone here too. :-) Haha. )

So there you have it. Tomorrow is my first church service, and an opportunity to meet many more people, including (hopefully) some of the kids from the Orphan Homes!

A few prayer requests:
-That I will 'mesh' well with all of the personalities in the EOH office.
-That I won't make myself sick as I try and prepare food in ways I've never experienced before! (Eek.)
-An open and willing heart as I try and figure out what a routine is going to look like and how I can best help out around here!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

And Christmas came running.

So I have to admit something to you all:

I had all but forgotten about Christmas.

Trying to tie up everything in GR, preparing for Zambia, moving everything home... I had just not really grasped the fact that Christmas was actually happening. Which, honestly, felt a little weird to me. Here I have been thinking more about God and Jesus' mission while he was here on earth more than any other year.... and I was having a hard time feeling 'Christmas-y.'

I had driven into a Massachusetts winter wonderland and seen the lights, I had run around and bought all my presents, I had accepted my pastor's request to read Luke 2 in church, I had seen the friends, and my family was all back together (my brother from Japan, my sister and her fiance from Florida, me from Michigan), and I had enjoyed the smell of a real Christmas Tree set up in our living room.... but even as I hurried to the front row of good ol' Fairlawn CRC to sit with my family on Christmas Eve (candle in hand), I still wasn't really feeling it. Christmas? What is Christmas?

And then it happened.

On Christmas Eve, my church decided to take the entire evening offering and use it to finish all of the fund raising needed for my trip to Zambia. My mom had told me a little earlier that evening that it was happening so that it wouldnt be a shock in church, but for the most part it had been a complete surprise. And, as I sat in church and my pastor announced that it was actually happening and sent a smile my way... I was simply overwhelmed by God's presence, providence, and love.

Don't get me wrong, the money was a nice bonus as well.... but I dont think I will ever be able to really describe the feeling of realizing that God had provided not just the means for me to actually go to Africa, but had done it through the work of a community that I had grown up in and loved. I wish I could describe the crushing love that I felt from my church family as I was watching baskets of money come forward and realizing that I no longer had to worry or stress about the trip. I think it must have been what Paul felt all those times when he started his letters to the churches that supported him with "I thank God every time I think of you."

By the time Pastor Coffey opened his sermon with the rhetorical question of 'What is the true meaning of Christmas?'.... I realized that I finally knew the answer to it.

It's about love. A love so great that God came down as a baby to save us. A love that made him choose to come down in a stable (which, if you look at what an inn's stable was in those times, was actually a place of lowly community; as only rich people and those in extreme circumstances actually stayed in the inn.... Mary should have been in the inn due to her pregnancy, but of COURSE our God would choose to come into the world in a place of community, with everyone gathered around and all the women helping!). And a love that is going to follow us to the ends of the earth.

I realize that it is now January 6 and may be a little past due for a Christmas message..... but tomorrow I leave. I am currently writing from a Texas hotel room, and over the past few days I have been sufficiently orientated and trained. And thus, after months and months of preparations, in a few hours I will get on a plane and finally head out into the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace. However, I realized on Christmas Eve that I certainly do not head out alone.

I may have almost forgotten Christmas, but Christmas did not forget me. Christ stopped me in my tracks just in time to remind me that he has everything covered already, and I only need to walk with him. And thus, walk I shall.

Here we go.