the chaotic quiet

A few weeks ago we had a family debriefing session with a couple who specializes in helping families successfully reorient themselves after a major change. I think that is a long way of saying “families in transition” but I’m tired of that word. Transition. They drew a picture of a bridge; on one side we were settled and on the other side we were settled again. In the middle was a chaotic muddle. I thought we would be considered settled, we’ve been here over two months, after all. But they seemed to know that we are still in the middle–in the chaos. I think they were right.

I like to be in control of my world. To unpack as quickly as possible and make the first scary trip to the grocery store. The empty totes are stacked, the cupboards scrubbed, and a place found for all the shoes. So…we’re settled, right? I’m learning that is not the case. It is like being 40 years old with five children starting from scratch. We hunker down in a small rental waiting till house prices drop. But they don’t drop. The bank account creaks as we buy vehicles and school books and everything in between.

I have not yet found my writing equilibrium in the chaos. I wonder if I lost it altogether somewhere over the Atlantic ocean. I am still dizzy, trying to reclaim a sense of belonging and purpose. Before moving those ten-thousand miles, I read, “You should never compare the beginning of a new thing to the end of the last thing. It took time in the first place. You had to figure it out, you had to meet the people…you had to set things in motion and find the rhythm. None of that is in motion when you move into a new thing.” -Jerry Jones

Yes, he is right.

“Transition changes personality. It attacks normalcy. It assaults identity.”


I complain about the too-small house and about the musty basement and the sagging clothesline. The weather is blistering hot. This transition feels every bit as hard as the initial one into a village in Tanzania. It’s not really about the actual circumstances, because we all know life in East Africa can be tough, too, but it’s all about CHANGE. My whole person doesn’t like change. I can live in a mud hut just fine…as long as I’ve been there for a few months. I think I can also live in PA. (after the first few months are past)

I miss the busy Isyesye compound with its people and personality. The roads teeming with people and voices. There I stayed at home and homeschooled my children, but there were endless people to greet, to talk with, to reach out to. Here I stay at home and homeschool my children, but I see no one. I think America’s people must be hiding. There’s lots of people at the grocery store, but everyone silently passes each other, each in their own world. I don’t know what is rude and what isn’t rude in this culture, so I’m quiet too. I peer into cars as they pass mine, hoping to see people. (Am I complaining?)

Instead of finding a practical solution, I grieve the loss of compound life and the daily interactions. I cry a lot and feel altogether dysfunctional. I can tomatoes, and peaches, and green beans. ( because there’s an unbelievable amount of food around). I get a ridiculous amount of joy out of my five children and their school books and I pray a lot that God would help me find one needy soul here in this Garden of Eden. Statistics tell me they are around, but I can’t seem to find them. I just see perfection…perfectly manicured gardens and well-oiled communities of smiling people. I know this is just the bubble that I see, but I don’t know how to break out of or into the bubble.

Maybe my friend is right. She just looked at me and said, “Sheryl, you’re way too intense! Just relax for awhile.” I haven’t figured out if that was helpful advice or not.

Then I hear stories about women in danger, terrified of the control of evil men. They are leaving their homes, their jobs, giving away their babies, facing brutal abuse and atrocities. Some are dying or watching their loved ones die. This is not just a far away story that we can safely tuck away and forget about. This is actually happening to real women who are every bit as human as I. They love their husbands and children as much as I. They are screaming in terror, enduring things I cannot imagine.

According to statistics there are 12,000-15,000 children in foster care in the state of Pennsylvania. That’s a lot of grieving parents and an unfathomable amount of disoriented children. There’s a constant need for people willing to invest in these children.

These are only two places is a groaning world. And my heart kinda breaks.

But I am like the widow with her two mites or the young lad with his small basket of food. My energy and resources are limited.

Perhaps I need to wait till this chaos season is past and we’ve stepped gratefully off the bridge into settledness. More likely, I have lessons to learn about worship in the quiet, people-less places. Where the being is more than the doing and awe is more than work. Where contentment in the ‘here’ is more than enough.

“Yes, we must not fret about not doing God those supposed services which He in fact does not allow us to do. Very often I expect the service He really demands is that of not being used, or not in the way we expected, or not in a way we can perceive.” C. S. Lewis

How have your exercised awe in your quiet chaotic places?

A Slice of Michigan

I knew Michigan was beautiful. Even the license plates declare it as “pure Michigan”. But I had never come from a dry season in Africa and gone to a Michigan summer. It felt like a piece of heaven itself. These two weeks were a cushion, softening the harshness of adjustments and homesickness.

The sweetest of mothers and I. When we’re together I can’t fathom how I survived years without seeing her.
Or how the children grew without grandparents. What a gift they are….
Kasia getting to know her Babu for the first time.
Northern Michigan’s roads are in square mile blocks….straight and wide. With very few cars. We took walks, sniffed the pine laden air and rediscovered wild sweet peas and queen anne’s lace. And squirrels and deer.
And ate overloaded ice cream cones.
And smiled at the fondness that just is… in this thing called family.

Now we are back in Myerstown. Tim and Judson are roofing through some blistering hot weather (or so it feels to us southern highlanders). They come home exhausted and drenched in sweat, but happy because men are made for hard work. The children run next door to grandma’s house and help her in the garden or splash in the creek. It’s a gift to be so close to one set of grandparents. I finally feel like this little house is home since we moved things around and arranged and cleaned.

I light candles and nibble on chocolate covered coffee beans. I place my favorite books in a basket (there’s such comfort in books) and bake sour dough bread. I run in the rain till cool drops fall off my eyelashes. Slowly I feel like myself again. Which is a mercy as intense homesickness becomes quite debilitating after a while.

I also learn about homeschooling in Pennsylvania and do all the required things. I learn how to do grocery shopping and how to spend dollars, many more of them then shillings. I’m grateful for organic limes and anything healthy that manages to survive beside the aisle after aisle of junk food. I am intensely intimidated by doors. Every place we go has a door or many doors, most of them automatic, and oh, the panic of figuring out which one is in and which one is out, or if I have to wait, or push, or pull. Do people just memorize every door in every store? Doors are important, I remind myself. Winter is coming. Outdoor markets and small shops with doors flung wide open in welcome wouldn’t do here.

I drive in the long Amish lane for fresh jersey milk and find a new friend in the energetic little woman who fills my jugs. We eat green beans, sweet corn, peaches, blueberries, nectarines and apricots are in abundance. I tell Kasia she will get a tummy ache from eating nectarines, but she just grins. We see friends and family till we feel like social gluttens and yet feel lonely in our house, because there’s no hodis (the swahili knock) at the door. We blink back tears, the ones that come suddenly in the middle of prayer meeting, and wonder how to live with two worlds so alive inside. Maybe we will learn eventually.

And we say, God is good, all the time. Because He really is.

The children think sweet corn is the most amazing thing about America

Scattered thoughts on Reentry

“He inhabits the praise of His people.” This verse was my verse as we winged our way across the ocean. The only home we truly have is HIM and He lives in our praise. This stabilized my soul.

“Expect delays. Expect challenges. Expect frustration. Expect hiccups and speed bumps and problems along the way to a fully functional thriving life where you are not only enjoying life, but also pouring out on the people around you…. Plant the seed, set the right environment. Put the right things in and keep the wrong things out. Start with some tiny roots, then give yourself space and time and grace to emerge in due time. You’ll get there–even if you haven’t yet.”

“Transition (and reentry) challenges personality. It attacks normalcy. It assaults identity. But when you know who you are in your core (and who you belong to) you can go anywhere with confidence. When you don’t you will be stuck in the anxiety of a missing identity because you’re relying on the outside stuff to define you.” -Jerry Jones

Goodbye Mbeya

We said goodbye to Tanzania to the ring of pastor Korosso’s words, “Taabu yetu haitakuwa bure.” (your work and challenge will not be in vain). His eyes were full of tears and he kept making the small exclamations and sighs that Tanzanians do so well when emotion overwhelms them. Trying their very best to hide it all. Mama Korosso refused to “sindizia” us but hid away in her room as we left. Kim and I procrastinated for as long as we could, stared at each other not believing that we had to say goodbye…then sobbed our hearts out. We haven’t recovered yet and don’t dare make any phone calls yet due to overmuch emotion.

The last of a string of goodbyes. And my heart felt ragged and raw and ached so intensely it took my breath away.

There’s nothing like the dazed body and emotions of traveling 10,000 miles in 24 hours. The children fell into a deep slumber the whole three hours from the airport and they slept all night through all week long. So no jet lag, which was a first for us. We arrived at the familiar little house on Williams Road and set to work settling in. Kasia soberly sat on the top of the basement stairs that first morning, staring down into the basement. “Mom, a SHOP in the HOUSE. That is gross.” She had never seen a basement before. She still doesn’t “take baths” but rather “goes swimming” as the bathtub is so huge and wonderfully fun. The first week she had no tolerance for people and almost stopped eating. When we asked her what she wants to eat, “just rice and beans, and maybe some porridge.” She lost weight, but thankfully since has learned how to enjoy a bigger variety of food.

In ‘our’ house and in our storage, we found bits and pieces of ourselves. Memories and reminders that this, too, is our life and a place we have belonged. And will belong again. We unpacked and shopped…and are still in the process of making it home. But it will come.

Hello Myerstown


When Jesus sent out the 72 disciples to heal the sick and declare the kingdom of God, they returned amazed at their exploits. But Jesus immediately silenced them by saying, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy and nothing will harm you. However do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)

Perhaps Jesus discerned that these zealous disciples were focusing on the wrong thing. The work they did. Perhaps they were attaching their identity and worth to their success and the thrill of seeing God at work. And Jesus was jealous of their focus. He simply said, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

In the ache of letting go, the shock of change, the groping for identity, I am comforted and chastened by a whisper from God. “Rejoice that your name is written in heaven. That is enough.”

According to a survey done with various pastors, (Reentry by Peter Jordan) cross cultural workers often return to their passport country with a tinge of restless criticism. The materialism and problems in the church are like burrs under their collar and many set out to change things. Hmmm. Many of the pastors surveyed said “returned missionaries” are hard to work with. They become learners in another culture, go through agonizing months of language learning, and often a host of disappointments and set-backs. They grow a lot of spiritual muscle. But then seem clueless on how to gracefully become a part of their own culture again. The better-than-thou spirit and criticism only further alienate them from their church, often making the reentry stage harder then any of the cultural learning they waded through in their host culture. Reading this book helped me identity problem points in my own heart. I learned a foreign language and culture, often working through misunderstandings and frustrations because that is what I was supposed to do in order to thrive there. Perhaps taking on the same learner mindset in the church and culture stateside would aid in the adjustment between two worlds and help me thrive here as well. That is really exciting to me. I don’t need to compare cultures, love one and react to the other. In each there’s beautiful expressions of God’s church and His people. In each place there’s beautiful people doing his work. To be a part of two diverse cultures, two places where God is at work, is a gift. And I am so thankful for both of our worlds.

“The universe is Thine. I am at home… to Thee this land is well-loved and known.” -Marilyn F. Martin

Notes on Transition…

“Transition: Movement from one highly functional place to another with a completely dysfunctional dip in the middle.” -Jerry Jones

I smiled when I read this. It feels all too true. We are in that “dip in the middle” when the goodbyes and losses echo in our hearts like the empty hollow rooms of our house. One child sobs into his pillow as his loyal heart tries to let go. The tiniest person in the house needs to be rocked more than usual and wails in distress over empty clothing drawers and bookshelves.

But I’m remembering something this morning as I sit with suitcases all around me and my pantry shelves empty. I’m remembering that we deliberately chose this life. We could have chosen to stay in Pennsylvania forever and be surrounded by all things comfortable and dependable. But we didn’t. Our dreams were undoubtedly rose-tinted, but we are living the life we chose. So no complaining, I remind myself.

We chose, but our children didn’t. They were born into this kaleidoscope of culture and language. Compared to my small world as a child, they have had an enviable and colorful childhood. But they also have a lot of challenges to work through that I never had to.

During the inevitable transitions of this life overseas, there are also inevitable losses. Especially for our children. All quotations in the following paragraphs are from TCK-Growing up Among Worlds. (I do not usually call my children kids, but TCK is the commonly used expression for third culture kids)

“Loss of their world. With one plane a TCK’s whole world can die. Every place that is important. Every tree they’ve climbed, every pet they’ve had, and virtually every close friend they’ve made are gone with the quiet closing of the airplane door. TCK’s don’t lose one thing at a time, they lose everything, and there’s no funeral. In fact, there’s no time or space to grieve, because tomorrow they’ll be in ——-to see the sights, then fly to other exciting places before getting to Grandma’s house to see the relatives who are eagerly awaiting their return. And everyone says, “Welcome Home!” Not realizing that the United States is not home anymore for these children.”

“With that one plane ride also comes a loss of status. Many TCKs have settled in enough to establish a place of belonging for themselves. They know where they belong in the current scene and are recognized for who they are and what they can contribute. All at once, not only their world but their place in it is gone.”

“Loss of lifestyle. All the patterns of daily living are gone with it the sense of security and competency that are so vital to us all.” (No more running next door for sugar, salt, or candy. No more going to “Mama Maziwas” for milk with the plastic jug. No more bike rides up and down the dirt roads and trails outside our house. No more lugging a large basket of produce from the produce market down the road. No more…..a lot of things.)

“Loss of possessions. Because of weight limits on airplanes, favorite toys are sold. Treehouses remain nestled in the foliage. If a move is made within-country everything is loaded up and taken along. But TCKs say goodbye to bikes, dogs, familiar and loved bedding, dishes that hold a host of family memories and history, and all the furniture. There is very little sense of connectedness to the past as they resettle.” (this is why there are ratty teddy bears and an antiquated quilt in our luggage)

“And the most unsettling thing of all is that reentry back to their passport country is usually the hardest of all transitions. TCKs expect to be like their peers at ‘home’ and finally fit in. After all, this is their home country. If they were true immigrants no one would be surprised at the teen’s ignorance of common practices, but because they look like everyone else, they are expected to think like everyone else. And they don’t. They are hidden immigrants. “

“Instead of assuming it’s everyone’s task to understand them, TCKs need to make an effort to understand the world view of their home peers. Thoughtful questions and listening more actively (instead of only talking about their life) helps them to understand that the TCK story is simply one of many.”

All these things apply to adults too, but these issues are most intense in children and teens as they struggle to have the maturity to handle the difficulties well.

And now as I sit at my kitchen table, aching for my children, I also thank the Lord for the difficulty of transition. Because it is showing me how small I am in God’s whole scheme of things. Seeing God at work in two culturally diverse places is a gift. It is showing me how little worth these earthly things really have. Our true home is coming. And that entry will have no culture shock–our hearts will be at home.

It is all good because He IS.

Africa’s Children

The other evening at the supper table Winston commented, “I think it’s strange how some people think all children in Africa are poor.”

They read sentences in their school books like: We must remember to pray for the poor children in Africa. And they ask, “Mom, who are they talking about?” They look around and all they see are children, not necessarily poor children, in their minds. A mud hut is normal, it is not poor. What does poor actually mean?

In this town they also see affluent families with their beautiful houses, new vehicles, and western clothes. The 27 children coming into Korosso’s school every morning with their chubby, well-oiled cheeks, clean clothes, and sparkling eyes are a picture of some of Africa’s children. Some of them are brought to school in private vehicles. Some of them have lovely parents who care about them.

A chubby happy little market girl

The run-down, tiny, mud house neighboring us with the five neglected, hungry children is also a picture of some of Africa’s children. But it is not the mud hut that makes them poor. It is the desperate lack of attentive parents and emotional care. Neither do the private vehicles make these school children rich. Affluent children can be completely bereft of the things which matter most.

No matter if a child lives in a mud hut and eats ugali and greens every day, if the basic needs of parental presence, hygiene, and emotional care are there, that child is rich. He belongs to a community and his community belongs to him. If a child peeps out of a mud hut with a sparkle in his eyes, his parents are home or working instead spending thier days in the village pub and thus have money to buy the corn and fish they need, that child is rich. The “poorest” people are sometimes the happiest people. The poorest children here in Tanzania are the most unselfish children I have ever met. If one child gets a biscuit, he will share it with a whole group of his fellows. This makes them rich in some really important values. Values in which the rich are often poor.

Tanzania, like the United States and probably every other country in the world, is a complex mixture of rich and poor, the lines not always falling where we think they are. We tend to think of poverty as anything less than the American dream and it’s consumerism lifestyle, but true poverty is the lack of belonging to family, church, and community, and the care that provides. True poverty is a life taken over with sin and selfishness.

The eradication of poverty is not to get rid of the mud huts. It is to see people’s hearts being opened to the truth of Jesus and thier lives being changed, bringing love, joy, and purpose into their lives. Pombe (local drink) and its devastating effects will be replaced with purpose and a work ethic that will enable them to provide for their children. Anger will be replaced with compassion.

I stood outside our neighbor’s house the other day. We had just notified Social Services of the neglect these little ones were experiencing, being left at home all alone some days, while the mother takes classes somewhere and the bibi sells greens at the market. “Oh yes,” she said uneasily, “we are planning on moving over to the new house soon. I know this place is a mess.” I assured her that the house was not the issue. “You have three rooms here with a good tin roof and you can live well here. It is the way you do not care about your children, by leaving them with with their bibi and running off with no concern for them. That is the problem.”

From my kitchen I can hear their front door creak open. I watched the comings and goings all week. The Social workers who visited, the tiny ones as they went about their day, the one little boy limping badly from a burn on his leg from falling into the cooking fire. And the fact that their mother was there all week. “I decided to stay around this week, instead of going back to class, because I agree that this situation is not a good one for my children.”

One tiny step. Her face is a picture of incredible sadness and I suspect she is only mirroring the neglect she experienced as a child. She needs Jesus to open her heart to the things that matter most. Not the new house down the road–that will not change much of anything for those children. But Jesus and His transforming power is what they need.

A newborn baby with a wrist band to ward off evil spirits.

A few weeks ago the Social Services put us in touch with a desperate situation only a few miles from our house. The mother is far away from any extended family and mentally ill. Suzi, the 4 year old is healthy as the neighbors have been kind to her, but she is emotionally neglected and much too independent for a child. Yosufu, the three year old has not been weaned from his mother and spends his days on her back, as some sort of comfort for her, I assume. His communication skills are mostly limited to screaming, biting, kicking, and hitting. His occasional smiles are beautiful on his thin, pinched face. Suzi and Yosufu are poor in almost every way, and their needs so intense that there is very little we can do at this point to make a difference. But the Social Services is actively working on the case and trying to find suitable family members.

Africa’s children are not all ‘poor.’ But some of them are. We need to drop our own definition of ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ in order to properly evaluate how we can help. Helping the poor children is not always adoption, but helping these strong and beautiful people help their own children in their own country. It is arrogant to assume that we are the only ones who have what it takes. It is not giving them an affluent lifestyle, but showing them Jesus. It is rarely in big things, but in cups of water and bandages and kindness. The ‘rich’ need help to understand the lowly Jesus of the Bible and the real riches.

Rich or poor, African or American, these little ones matter to Jesus. They are all precious and beautiful. And they all need to see the hands and feet of Jesus being put to action.

March Splinters..

…just a few ragged-edged splinters from the log I have kept of life. That is all this will be. It seems life mainly consists of collecting as many memories as possible, at this stage of winding down and saying goodbye to a country and people we deeply love. It is the season of rain, which is East Africa at it’s finest. Every day I tuck the beauty into my heart–the endless beauty of green, growing things, and children catching bugs and picking guava. The throb of music, the scent of eucalyptus, the sing-song call of vendors selling greens, and ‘my’ patchwork mountain. The array of personalities and people and God’s wonderful workings in the children of men. Open air markets where I buy mounds of fresh food, the Strange Long House we live in, and the flow of KiSwahili. I might even miss dry season, who knows?

I’m packing. I try to pack the ache deep into one of the totes, but it never stays there, insisting on watering my eyes and twisting my heart at random times. I have decided it is okay to ache and to cry. It is all good for the soul. C. S. Lewis once said, “By the way, don’t weep inwardly and get a sore throat. If you must weep, weep a good, honest howl.” I like that advice.

Before the howling truly begins, though, we have nine more weeks of beautiful living here in Isyesye. We are trying to capture it, mostly in our hearts and a little with the camera. Only a little because the best moments are impossible to capture with a piece of technology.

A passion flower bloom–a small hidden marvel.

Swinging in the rain mixed with sunshine
A picnic, just because the sun was shining.
Kiwira baptism–a piece of heaven under the banana trees.
when a mango is so juicy you need to eat it in the bathtub…or outside. =)
baby bunnies

Before the packing (and the howling) begins in earnest the Kiwria, Ivuna, and Isyesye churches came together for an Easter seminar. The group was small, but so precious. Definitely my favorite moment of the three days was after communion, singing “Wana Baraka.” All the hearts in the room were nearly bursting with joy. It will be a precious memory tucked away in my heart forever. Those are the moments when i wonder how we will ever say goodbye, till I remember that God is the hub. What God owns is safe and cared for. I have discovered that the perceived loss of letting go is not a loss at all. The ‘grasped’ is a selfish poison whereas the ‘ungrasped’ becomes a gift to be fully enjoyed. Our work is meant to give us joy but it is never meant to fill our souls.

This past week the new Water of Life office and library was finished and opened! We had a few days of uncertainty as the day Tim was planning on opening it, the newly renovated building was marked with a red X, which means it will need to be torn down to make way for a new market road. After all the building and fixing up, that was disconcerting. They tore the roof off a neighboring building, but that is as far as they got. And Tim was told to move in…”it could be a few years till they actually do it.” So that is what we did, hoping that perhaps they will come up with a better idea for a road eventually.

And that is the end of the splinters I gathered. The hustle and the bustle of the past few weeks was inspiring and beautiful… but now I’m enjoying the quiet. I’m glad that life is a combination of rest and work, because I really need the rest when it comes. Time to gather my thoughts and fluff my feathers, kiss my babies and weave words.

Mbarikiwe! (Be blessed)

My God, I Thank Thee

“My God, I thank Thee, who has made,

The earth so bright

So full of splendor and of joy,

Beauty and light.

So many glorious things are here,

Noble and right.”

“I thank Thee, too, that Thou hast made

Joy to abound

So many gentle thought and deeds

Circling us round,

That in the darkest spot on earth

Some love is found.”

“I thank Thee more that all our joy

Is touched with pain,

That shadows fall on brightest hours,

That thorns remain–

So that earth’s bliss may be our guide,

And not our chain.”

“I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou hast kept,

The best in store,

We have enough, yet not too much

Too long for more.

A yearning for a deeper peace,

Not known before.”

“I thank Thee, Lord, that here our souls,

Though amply blest,

Can never find, although they seek,

A perfect rest.

Nor ever shall, until they lean

On Jesus’ breast.

– Miss Adelaide A. Procter

When it Rains…it Pours.

The weather in Southern Tanzania hasn’t yet learned temperance. We have gone from dry parchedness to floods of rain, for weeks on end. The front porch steps are growing moss and I think our toes will too before long. Most days it feels cozy; I pull the curtains and turn on the lights and make tea. The dripping rain lulls us to sleep at night and wakes us in the morning. And sometimes roars in such fury that lots of the flower bed soil gets washed onto the patio and the whole lawn is under standing water. Some days it feels as if we need some sunshine to cheer the soul, but only a few months ago we were wishing for one drop, I remind myself.

The strength of East African rains is one-of-a-kind. When I stepped into a puddle of water in our bedroom the other day it brought back flashbacks of similar downpours in the village. We loved our grass roofed bedroom because of the cooling effect, but oh, the rain. Even with six inches of grass, put on by a professional grass roofer, we most always had drips and drops and puddles in our bedroom. We kept a piece of plastic on top of the mosquito net frame and the sound of drops of rain hitting plastic was our music during nights of rain.

It might sound primitive, but we still felt like the rich ones. One morning after an especially hard rain, we sat at the breakfast table, listening to the rumble of falling latrines and house walls. Our little neighbor girl couldn’t walk for a long time as part of their house wall had fallen on her. Many latrines fell every year. On those sodden mornings our whole world felt slightly unsteady. And then one morning our latrine fell too, with a horrible sickening thud. Without choosing to, we could suddenly relate to many of our neighbors as we dealt with the aftermath. The next one we built survived through many rainy seasons and is still standing there, as far as I know.

Perhaps by now, there’s enough baked mud bricks and tin roofs in use, to make the Ivuna houses safer. But this year the rains are heavier then ever and brought a new problem. The river flooded more then any of the wazee (old men) ever remember, ruining the crops beside the river, flooding out the wells and shorting out the solar pump system. The river banks eroded, uncovering and breaking out the water line. So, for an indefinite time, Ivuna village is back to dipping water from shallow wells beside the river and carrying it up the embankment to the village. We can hear the roar of the river in our memory as if it were just ten minutes down the path as it used to be… but in fact, we’re 100 kilometers away and can’t even go help make repairs on the water system.

So we look out the window at one more day of fog and rain. We make cinnamon rolls and do Math tests and dishes.

Maybe the sun will shine tomorrow.

Our drowning garden.

Musings from the New Year…

Hundreds of small fire crackers explode on the street outside our house. It’s New Year’s Eve. We’re all lined up on the deck at midnight, greeting the neighbors. The Swahili New Year is always filled with joy and cheer. “Heri ya mwaka mpya!” (new year blessings to you!) “Asante, tumevuka salama!” (Thank you, we have crossed over safely).

It’s January 2021 and I feel a sense of relief. For too long I felt like a frightened horse when I thought about facing this year; the frightened horse who refuses to step into an unfamiliar barn. Standing there, nosing around, staring into the dark doorway. The problem is, I’m not a horse, even if we do share a phobia of unfamiliar places. The horse can refuse to cooperate and everyone will forgive him because, after all, he’s just a horse. But, of course, I can’t run and neither do I want to. Time moves at the same pace, relentless and unsympathetic to any fears we might have of it’s future uncertainty. But in the space of time we’re in, God IS.

I wanted to dance through that doorway and feign an exuberance familiar to carefree personalities, but alas…I still hate change and cling to the old with desperate sentimentality. And 2021 will be a year of change for our family. And as I often do, I overthink the change and it becomes worse then the actual thing I’m fearing. The future is always scarier than today.

Today there are floods of rain and tiny minutes of golden sunshine. The surprise of happy bean sprouts that I thought were all going to rot. The quizzes and tests written in boyish scrawl. Kasia’s sweet voice singing “I have decided to follow Jesus.” Books and words. Lemongrass tea and chickpea coconut curry. God and His eternal rule over this broken world. Joy is being handed to me because God IS.

The journal I was using conveniently filled itself the last day of 2020. On the cover it says, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her.” At the beginning of the year I read that verse and hoped the Lord would fulfill some of my fondly held dreams. One of them was adoption. I assumed that if we make ourselves available to God in His cause and passion for the orphans, He would certainly take us up on the offer. But I found out that they were only my dreams and not His promises. Instead we had crushing disappointments to wade through. But God did fulfill His promises. I learned that He is unchanging, absolutely trustworthy, and dependable. Often God felt disturbingly silent. I had to absorb the fact that yes, bad things do happen and things can be absolutely confusing, and God doesn’t rush down to explain it all. I can throw hissy fits or go silent, but when I choose to look at God again, He is there. Tender and agonizingly unchanging. He does not coddle us, or quickly pacify us, but teaches us to redirect our longings, straight to Himself.

If there is one lesson which 2020 taught me, it has been that we are not in control. We had plans and hopes, giving heart and soul into things which ended so differently. Like Claudia Lehman wrote in her book Under a Silent Sky, “God has shattered my cage of tidy theology and expectations… It is a terrifying and beautiful experience. There is no truer worship then to honor Him for who He is when what He is doing disappoints us..”

Or, when people disappoint us. God cannot be held accountable for the devastating choices of people. He grieves over this world’s brokenness too, and being part of the fight for righteousness will mean carrying a portion of His grief and a portion of His joy.

And even when we disappoint ourselves. There’s plenty of our own brokenness which teaches us to lay aside expectations of ourselves and focus on the one Stability and Goodness there is–Jesus Christ. The upside down year of 2020 taught me my own undoneness.

2020 will go down in history as the year of Covid-19 and rocky elections. Our security and normalcy was disrupted. We don’t know what this year will bring us. But that’s okay. What God has promised is all we need.

~Patience, when travel and plans are disrupted.

~Strength to stand firmly on the truth of God’s word no matter the laws and leaders of the land.

~Joy and excitement, because we have a better world coming.

~ Peace, no matter what, no matter where.

~Eyes to see the wonders of GOD and what He is doing across the world. Faith to believe that His grand purpose is being accomplished.

And some day soon we will “vuka salama” (cross over safely) not only into another year, but into His glorious presence.

Cheers! He has promised.

Christmas in Isyesye

We listen, amused, to Jingle Bells blaring from the village music center… “Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh.” Horses are almost non-existent, and no one knows what a sleigh is. There’s no classic snow-covered pine trees and soft, golden light streaming from cozy homes. There’s no glazed ham, cookies and candy, family togetherness and reunions.

Christmas in East Africa comes with the sound of roaring rains. The landscape is water logged and bursting with green. The streams and rivers roar their muddy way down the mountains. It’s time to plant lettuce and peas and beans and carrots as soon as the sun shines enough to dry out the garden a little. Instead of family reunions there’s seminars, the Tanzanian church tradition. Instead of huge elaborate meals, there’s large practical pots of the basics just to keep the crowd feed.

I stepped around the many mud puddles on my way to the produce market, my basket swinging and my eyes drawn to the mountain, which is now a patchwork of green fields and gardens. I buy a watermelon from one vendor, some tomatoes from another, and a bowl of peas from yet another. I stop at the butcher for 2 kilo of fresh beef and take a bucket of wheat berries to the mill to get ground, and to yet another shop up the street for a gallon of milk. The beef is humbly submerged in greasy broth and the classic Tanzanian ‘mchuzi’ simmers on the stove. Five loaves of bread rise in the oven for chai the next morning. We lay out student mats in the school for the 20 visitors coming…one big room for the ladies and another for the men. It’s time for the Christmas seminar!

A whole van load came from Ivuna, which was an incredibly special treat. We were so blessed that they sacrificed their time and money to travel during their busy farming season.

the first day was open for Maji ya Uzima students (Lamp and Light students) About 25 students came.

The second day was focused on the Ivuna, Kiwira, and Isyesye churches.
Our faithful “Mama Maziwa” cooking brought lunch both days. That was so helpful as cooking supper and morning chai for the visitors spending the night was about all Esther and I could manage.
Jeshua, with his three favorite friends: Henry, Joseph, and Medson
Amy and a few of her friends at the Deeper Life seminar.
Squeezed into the week was a baptism in Kiwria for Anodi and Kashbeti…such a happy occasion. And communion services. All so poignantly meaningful together with the precious Ivuna people. It’s hard to describe the joy on each face, the tears of love and gratefulness, and the overwhelming beauty of brotherhood.

The happy times were mixed with burdens for those vacillating between right and wrong, for those making wrong choices. Sometimes the battle to make a difference in this old world seems discouraging at best. But this Christmas week was a gift. The joy and peace on these faces was a gift greater then anything else could have been.

And now the week is over and gone. The heavy gray skies are drizzling rain for the past 24 hours and I’m doing nothing, except all the everythings of keeping my people fed and clothed and happy. We’re also cleaning a lot of termites out of the house as they come winging in by the hundreds after a rain. Frying them in oil would be some practical protein, but I decline. The rainy season flu hit most of the children, so there’s many cups of tea and lots of garlic rubs and cozy quiet. I’m thankful for people and seminars and action and then…I’m thankful for rest.

Cheers to the New Year!