Retreat…continued

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The restaurant cooked all our food, simple rice and beans for lunch and rice and chicken for supper.

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Judson and Kasia listening to the evening story time.

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Evening story times are a highlight for the children!

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Organized play time with the children

00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20191129183219207_COVER Josh and Lydia Nolt came from PA and surprised everyone, especially Josh’s sister Kim and family! They planned and brought supplies for a lovely couple’s time.

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Filling out the couple’s question game. Fun and hilarious.

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Simon and Kathryn Mast are coming to every retreat now….and we love the feeling of having ‘parents’ and are so thankful for the accountability and guidance they bring. Here they’re telling stories from their marriage.

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Our family….

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The Masts brought ham, cheese, and snacks for a picnic lunch for everyone. It was exceptionally delicious, especially after a hike, but our children had a bit of culture shock.

Winston: “What are these, carrot sticks?” (cheese curls)

Jeshua, after a wry glance at a package of turkey ham, “how on earth do they get HAM from a turkey?” ‘

This group of visitors had packing space for some treats for us and Kasia who hasn’t been to the states yet and hasn’t tasted a lot of american food, violently opposes anything with cheese on it, gagging and protesting. She loves her millet porridge every morning and glares at oatmeal as if she can’t figure out why her porridge is so lumpy. I guess we’ll keep working on it so she won’t have too much culture shock when we do go back to the states. =)

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Our pastor, John Nolt, (on the left) also came. We had hours of  communication and reconnecting.

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All the men met three different times thru out the week for brother’s meeting. Making decisions, asking questions…

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And all the ladies had a sister’s time too….complete with tea and chocolate, of course. =)

And now it’s a week later… we’re all scattered to Zanzibar, Ngara, Kiwira and Mbeya again. All of us back to lonely places and routines, but so thankful for times like this to reconnect and realize we have a place to belong.

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Psalms 133:1 ESV

November family notes

November has had a unique personality the past few years, as if the year is trying to squeeze all the things still on it’s bucket list into the few remaining months. This year was no exception. It feels like it’s time to cozy down into the snow drifts and take a deep breath, because November is over and done…but no, the rains have come and all is green and growing. The garden is being taken over with weeds and waiting to be tilled and planted.

But that will be later, hopefully next week. As for November….

Justin and Esther Hochstetler from northern Tanzania arrived to spend the month and to help with the seminar and retreat. We so enjoyed having the guest house occupied again and the children were delighted to have playmates again. Here we are eating out at Mama Maziwa’s place, who serves food in her little ‘mgahawa’ for less then a dollar a plate.

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Jeshua and Ethan with huge plates of food.

The Barnabas team arrived to hold a seminar for all the SALT facilitators. We were blessed to have Bro Vince and Bro Kevin  come to do the teaching, plus Samuel Kauffman who is in charge of the SALT program here in Mbeya region.  It was a full week with three families living in the compound here, plus the 14 men that arrived from Zanibar, Ngara, Tunduma, and Mbeya. Mama Maziwa was the main cook for the seminar, which was such a blessing.

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The day the last of the men left from the seminar, we had a baptism here with Jeshua and Samweli getting baptized.

The row of children waiting for the service to begin.

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It was a challenge to know where to go for water as it was the end of dry season and most of the smaller bodies of water were dried up and the nearest river a long ways away. So the men built a narrow trough in an empty cistern and filled it with water….

Such a happy day!

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The boys: Kevi, Medson, Joesph, Judson, Ima, Kashbeti, Samweli, Jeshua, Bazi, and Anodi.

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November is also the month when the mangoes are in season. We ordered 3 massive sacks of them and Kim and I (with the help of our children and husbands and assorted people that happened to be around) canned and froze over 200 quarts. I’m so thankful for this beautiful fruit, one of the super foods of Africa.

Tim and the boys discovered an interesting area at the base of the mountain that hosts an abundance of adventure. So on quiet Sunday afternoons they go exploring caves and climbing scarily steep mountain sides and discovering all manners of boy delights. They always come home very muddy but with huge grins.

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One of the newest blooms in my flower bed. IMG_5251

 

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I’ve seen a lot of different flowers in Mbeya but Violas were never one of them till one mysteriously popped up in my flower bed. That little plant is such a special little gift! A reminder that after long dry seasons the rain does come, bringing with it fresh life and new surprises.

November ended with all the missionaries at Ifisi for the Fall retreat.  So incredibly thankful for these people who give a place to belong and accountability we all need so much!

The Tanzania residents

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Including all the visitors from state side: Simon and Kathryn Mast, John Nolt, Joshua and Dorcas Lichtenburger, Sara Neil, and Josh and Lydia Nolt. Thank you for all the many ways you blessed our week!

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More retreat pics to be continued…

 

The anniversary…continued.

And now…three days later, I get to finish the anniversary story. Because it didn’t end with clogged septic tanks and hurried breakfasts. Even in the middle of an incredibly busy week, we blindly forgot everything else and took off, just the two of us, for the nicest restaurant in town. Kasia took a two hour nap while the rest of the children finished their school work and had quiet time at home. After three hours of eating good food and talking in a quiet, lovely atmosphere, we drove home and picked up the children for an evening at Maua Cafe. The boys thought celebrating anniversaries as a family was a really good idea.  Because it included chocolate milkshakes and chocolate milkshakes are always a good idea for growing boys. =) I think they were also amused and delighted at their parents, still rather crazy and in love.

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While the girls shared a strawberry smoothie and they all ate hamburgers.  This is a very special little cafe that features american food (with a price=) so it’s a fun place to go for a special occasion.

“Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, and rejoices that such a wonder should even exist…”  ~C.S. Lewis

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The Tale of an Anniversary

Tim and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary on the 20th.  It’s been the busiest week of the month, probably the busiest of the whole year. The Barnabas seminar was in progress with over 30 people housed in this compound. The morning of our anniversary we woke up to a septic system badly clogged due to the heavy use. I had made a special waffle breakfast, but Tim was slogging around in the gray water that was flooding the drive way, instead of drinking coffee and enjoying a good breakfast.  It didn’t feel very anniversary-ish.

Judson hung up red balloons, because children love celebrations even more then the parents. And Tim gulped down one waffle before rushing off to the seminar.

No, life isn’t perfect. But the imperfectness of it is what makes it interesting. And just the fact that we have each other is a celebration, no matter if things go as planned and the waffles get proper attention.

I wrote the story below a few months ago and post it here in remembrance of the nine dusty anniversaries we had in the village, and of the many memories we created. It’s been 15 years and I couldn’t be more grateful for the love of my life and the adventure of living life together.

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When you live in a remote village hours away from any large town,  it’s a challenge to create meaningful celebrations.  Thus it was for us for nine anniversaries in a row in the month of November, which happens to be the hottest, driest, dustiest month of the whole year in our village in East Africa.  The sun shone relentlessly with a fierceness that is hard to describe, the winds blew as if fighting to conquer the dry season and bring in the rain, the wind whipping the dust into whirlwinds and blowing trash and skiffs of dust into the house. Don’t ask me how a fastidiously clean German girl ever ended up in a place like that. Ask my adventurous husband.

Our 5th anniversary happened to be one that I wasn’t morning sick and the rains had come early that year. Farmers were plowing with their oxen, the women were hoeing up the garden spaces around their huts and the river was flowing. The grass was four inches tall already and the whole village seemed to be having a moment of silence over the miracle of rain. Tiny corn shoots were popping out of mounds of black earth and fresh courage seemed to seep into my bones. The earth was alive once again.

True to his adventurous nature, my hubby had been dreaming up plans for an outing, somewhere peaceful and beautiful where just the two of us could be together and enjoy a whole day of quiet. Our compound was snuggled in closely with many neighbors and we also had a house full of youth volunteers which rarely gave us any time alone.  When he told me he found the perfect spot, I, true to my nature felt apprehensive. I didn’t think there was any spot for miles around that someone wouldn’t wonder what we’re up to. After all I couldn’t even go on a walk without people wondering where I’m going and scratching their heads over the strange phenomenon of a lady walking down the path and saying she’s not going anywhere.

But we packed some food, books, and a small tent into a plastic tote with a tight fitting lid, partly to hide its contents and partly to keep it dry should it rain during the tight. Even though we strategically left at mid morning when more people were at their farms, we decided against going out our main courtyard gate and down the usual paths to the river in order to avoid anyone asking the all familiar “Waya Kwi” (where are you going?)  Yes, we are going nowhere, in order to sit beside the river for a whole day. No, we are not going to be doing anything. Just sitting there. Yes, we will sleep there…because well, sleeping on the hard ground is what we do when we want to have fun. And celebrate anniversaries. (I don’t blame the people for thinking we’re strange)

We wanted to avoid that inevitable conversation at all costs. So we slipped silently out the back gate, down the orchard path, and around the neighbor’s corn fields and mud holes.  So far so good. Till we came to more fields with farmers and plowing oxen dotting the fields. Trying to appear inconspicuous and innocent we skirted around the field as quickly as we could, trying to hide the tote between us which, of course, was impossible.

What are the white people doing walking thru our fields carrying a strange looking box?  Probably putting a curse on our crops…or maybe digging for gold. Their stares followed us all the way to the river path.

We finally reached the river and no one was in sight, as we had chosen a more deserted path. Splashing across, we felt rather gleeful that we had actually accomplished this. And Tim was even more gleeful when he showed me his prize. A beautiful little cove tucked between two bends in the river, covered with lush green grass, which we were still enamored by after so many months of dry season. Trees, freshly dressed in new leaves, cast a lovely shade over the whole area. We smiled. We had found our place.

The afternoon ticked by, with us absorbed in the quiet. We talked and communicated about tough things. We rested on the grass and ate the food we brought along. The grass whispered it’s own little language in the warm breeze. The trees tossed their new leaves as if showing off the glory of them. And all was quiet.  There was no one around, no one, and that in itself was a gift.

Suddenly I tensed. I tried to melt into the grass as I saw a person walking up the river bed. “Tim, I whispered, there’s someone walking past.” I looked again and my eyes widened. “It’s the chief!”  We lowered ourselves into the grass. Of anyone in the whole village, we did not want the chief to find us. How would we explain ourselves?  To our relief he never lifted his eyes to look in our direction. Clothed in his usual chiefly garb of a long robe and a cap on his head, he quietly walked past and around the bend.  The grass went back to whispering their secrets, this time about the strangeness of the chief walking down the river bed this far out of the village and at this time of day.

And we went back to our talking. Deep heart wrenching stuff tried to find it’s way out of my heart, things that had been building up for many months during the rigors of life in this village.  Darkness settled down. A lone dog barked in the distance and the sound of the corn mills grinding everyone’s evening ugali corn was the only indication that we were close to civilization of any sort.  There were no more signs of anyone walking down the river bed and we drifted off to sleep. An hour later we popped awake to strong rolling thunder and the sound of a great rain. One of those rains all too common in early rainy season that dump inches of rain in a very short time.  In no time at all drops of water were making their way into our tent and as the tent was only a one- man pup tent, we had nowhere to go to stay dry. We wryly grinned in the dark and decided our best option was to pack up and make our way back to the house. We’d have no trouble with meeting people on the path and wondering what our strange box was about if we did it at night. And the rain protected us even more.

Sloshing thru the river bed, which was now a treacherously uneven sand bed, full of water holes and rocks, we somehow made it up the river bank.  We only had one very dim flashlight and we were soon wet to the skin and muddy. The paths between the house gardens were narrow and muddy, but quietly, quickly we ran. We crashed onto our porch out of the rain. And then we laughed.

We snuggled into our dry warm bed, which after all was much more comfortable then camping, listening to the whisper of rain on the grass roof and the clatter of the palm fronds as they celebrated the rain.  We had successfully celebrated the 5th anniversary of our love and nothing was left but the soggy books in the totes, remnants of food, and fun memories.

Or so we thought.

The next morning one of the men from the chief’s compound called at our door. The chief was asking Tim to report to the ‘Ikulu’, the primitive chief’s palace. We looked at each other, wondering if perhaps it had anything to do with our outing to the river.  We found out soon enough.

As Tim reported to me later, the chief greeted him cordially then launched into his story. He had gotten a report from someone who had seen two white people heading towards the river carrying a strange box. He decided to go check it out right away and had gone down to the river, walking along the river bed, looking for any signs of white people.  “And as I was walking I suddenly saw two white people back in the trees a-ways. I don’t know what they were doing, but I thought you should know and give an explanation if you have anything to say.”

Tim assured him that it wasn’t anyone on to any trouble, but that in our country and in our culture we celebrate the day we got married and we think in order to celebrate well we have to leave our house and go somewhere else to be alone. The chief nodded his head, trying to understand this very strange way of celebrating marriage. But he accepted Tim’s explanation and promised that this would be confidential and we don’t have to worry that other people would hear about it. Which we thanked him for and secretly marveled that he respected us enough to communicate about it rather then spread rumors.

And that was the end of our anniversary.  And never again did we plan a river outing.

*I should explain a bit about the social climate of this village. The chief and the people welcomed us but there was also a lot of suspicion. They had never seen white people choose to live in such a remote area and so far from a town. The only other white people they had seen in the area were doing gold mining or doing research. Most everyone had reservations and suspicions on the reasons we were living in their village and we were often told rather sarcastically that we were, after all, living there simply to mine gold. When we spent months learning their tribal language, we were often asked if we’re taking it back to America to print books to sell. It simply didn’t sink in that we were there for their good, and not for our own profit.  So whenever we did anything out of the ordinary, the villager’s suspicions  were confirmed. We were digging gold and doing strange things in the bush. Thus our precaution and thus the reason we never went camping again. As after all, we did usually try to fit into their culture as best we could. Except for 5thanniversaries.

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November 2009

Hope

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Four months without rain, dust everywhere and the cloudless skies still expressionless and blue gray, the sun shining hazy thru the dusty atmosphere.

But then, the explosion of color. A brilliant promise of rain to come. It’s as if God knew the Southern Highlands will need an extra splash of inspiration in October and splashed a purple paintbrush over the landscape.

These Jakaranda trees speak of hope. When there’s no visible water keeping these trees alive, they give off the sweetest blooms. When the hills are brown, the fields bare they shine the brightest, their long tap roots finding the treasure of water stores deep underground, giving us all the signal that the season is about to change, the rains are soon coming. The farmers will soon be able to hoe and plant and reap a harvest. We’ll be able to breathe clean air again and watch tiny plants pop out of moist soil.

There’s hope in the air this November. The rains are coming.

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“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who HOPE in his steadfast love.” Psalms 33:18

October family notes

  It’s Wednesday morning with the usual blue skies and crisp mountain air. The rose bush is going wild with brilliant blooms as if it smells the rain on the horizon. The added humidity in the air seems to be giving it new energy. We’re all looking forward to the rainy season and this year it’s promising to come early as we’ve had a few rains this month already which is unusua.  One not so good thing that the change of seasons brings every year is FLU bugs. Perhaps its all the dust collected in our lungs or perhaps it’s simply “hali ya hewa” (the weather) which is what all the local people blame it on. Whatever it is, it made for a few weeks of coughing and fevers around here. As of today, it seems all the children are well again.
   There’s a new goat in the compound. After weeks of shopping around and waiting for the perfect goat to show up, J and J decided to buy the one young female that was available here in town. The oldest son is constantly busy unraveling Skittles’ rope from the entanglements she gets herself in while the other son scratches his head over any feared negative scenario that might happen to this goat. I’m busy adjusting to the rasp of it’s constant noise as it rebels against it’s lonely social status. The first night it’s pen happened to be right under my bedroom window and I lay awake till nearly midnight. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work to command a goat to be quiet. And neither does it work to open the window and stare at it. I, of course, proposed that the goat sleep in the opposite side of the courtyard the next night to give us all a needed break, but I tried to be gracious. This is a Very Important Goat and it wouldn’t do for the mom of the house to disapprove.  It’s a business venture for the training of young men and they have high hopes of selling the milk to hospitals for babies, which is a good market here in town, they were told.
   We all hope Skittles adjusts and doesn’t grow thin from it’s strangled cries of loneliness and will find it’s fulfillment in producing a lot of milk.
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   This past week Kredo from Ivuna informed Tim that he’s coming out to town for a week to help the Wycliffe Association in the new Bible translation project they’re starting for the Wanda/Sichela people.  Wycliffe had recruited 14 people from the valley and brought them out to town for training for this Bible translation project. The training lasted only a week, but Tim was able to spend some time with Kredo and the others. We also had them over for supper one evening, which was a very lively evening full of intense conversation. It was lovely hearing the swirl of KiSichela and seeing the familiar faces of those village people again!  We’re intensely interested in this project as it’s affecting the people group we were with in the valley, so this morning Tim quietly lifted the lid of the tote stored in his office marked “Sichela language archives.” We don’t often open that tote, preferring to keep it buried deep. The stack of papers and notebooks are smudged and dirty, confessing to the life style they lived. I’m sure if I looked closely enough I’d see tear smudges on some of the pages. A mixture of handwriting, some hurried jotted notes and others orderly lists of words, and stacks of Matthew’s language assessment notes, all making a brave effort at putting this language into writing for the first time and understanding it’s complex tenses and aspects.  So many memories all tied up in that one bundle of papers and notebooks, so many in fact that breakfast was a very quiet affair. We look deep into each other’s eyes, seeing a raw mixture of joy and pain. Joy, because of those beautiful, difficult years. And pain, because of what isn’t to be, because of the people who have yet to know Christ. Because of work so far from finished.
   But it doesn’t depend on us. It depends on God. So we smile at that stack of papers, thanking God for the growing it all did in our souls and for the simple fact that He has promised to finish a work that he began. That is a promise for every person there who is seeking him. That is a promise for us.
    It doesn’t mean there’s no sadness. ‘Our’ house and compound is still full of army soldiers. They’re using one of the rooms as a village jail, which is so heartbreaking.   It’s incredibly sad to hear of unfaithfulness and people falling away into sin again. But there’s always those glimmers of hope and the assurance that God has not forgotten those people. That promise is still true. And God holds it all because he understands and knows all.
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  Latifa and Sophia are coming to our house a lot these days for Bible stories and to play with Amy. They live with their grandma in one of the poorest houses in the neighborhood. Sophia especially has a very tragic past, so we are loving the chance to bring a little love into their world.
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  Ikupa, my faithful house helper, started a business baking and selling banana cake. It’s going very well for her, which means she’s only working for me three mornings a week anymore. She’s very happy to have something more independent to provide for her and her two sons.
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  This small child is 18 months old now. She’s talking a lot of words and surprises us daily with some new expression. I always think at this age I’ve never loved a child more… this time I think it’s probably true. And then i remember each one of the others at this age, and I know I loved them all the same.  A Mama heart has the ability to love intensely many times over, it seems.
   Tim and the translators have been very busy getting a few books back to Grace Press for the final lay out and doing printing orders. Judson started working in the print shop this week, as the main worker we have started college, so that is making for full days for Judson. He’s very happy if he has some work other then house chores and school work, and that makes me happy.
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    Jeshua is studying thru the book “Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics” and enjoying all the hands on experiments. This one was a smoke bomb made with a mixture of sugar and potassium nitrate and was such fun that they made one three times bigger for the next day!
   In a sense our world is predictable and mundane as one day gives way to the next. It’s a simple world when the biggest event in the week was a bank of black clouds that produced real, honest-to-goodness thunder and a few hundred golden drops of rain. It’s also a simple world when I learn to let go of the fear of the unknown and an uncertain future, absolutely no strings attached. This teaches me contentment. Contentment with the unknowns of the future and the soul growing monotony of the now.
   And that is a peek into our October so far.  Blessings and peace to all of you!

Gratitude

The past weeks have been full of sadness, grief, sickness and all those things so common.  My precious aunt died after a long fight with lung cancer.  A dear sister from our church at home was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and died only a few days later. We had to take Amy in to the clinic to deal with a horribly infected hand. All the children got the flu. There was a terrible fight and abuse scene outside my bedroom at midnight when Tim was gone, with screaming, shouting and drunkenness.  We woke up to a earthquake tremor in the wee hours. A dear lady from the Ivuna church gave birth to a baby girl and is having a relationship with another man after years of living in faithfulness to her unfaithful husband. Another man who had seemed so full of desire for truth and righteous only a few months ago, is saying he wants to marry a second wife and is full of dishonest and angry behavior.

And my heart wrung itself into a ball of grief and fear. The groaning and travail of this earth waiting for deliverance, could almost audibly be heard in my ears. The mortality of our existence is a roaring reality, and right now God wants me to see that. He wants me to see our lives as a short span, like a breath and the fleetingness of it all.

And then God wants me to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. My hope is not in these earthly things, but in the hope of another world to come, in the promise of deliverance. My joy is in the reality of a Living God stooping down to touch my need. My inspiration is in His voice, His word.

Eternity is coming when all will be immortal. But in the meantime…”We are just jars of clay easily broken, here for a time and then gone.” -Doriss Fortson

And in the meantime, we get to rejoice in a Living God. One of the ways I chose to focus my mind on Him and His goodness, is to keep a gratitude journal. Opening my mind to the many little blessings thru out the day is a way to develop a heart of gratitude. It’s life changing and turns my focus on God, my only true security and peace.

A few notes from my gratitude lists:

*the two tiny birds splashing in the spray of water coming from a leaking hose.

*for a 13 year old son who was super responsible and helpful when I had a headache.

*clouds which mean rainy season is one day closer

*a little voice calling “mama!” at 6:30 in the morning

*for Isaiah 40

*for two precious little neighbor girls who love Bible stories

God’s word to us today… “Lift up your heads for your redemption draws near!”

“So we do not lose heart…for this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. As we look not on the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen, for the things which are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  2 Cor. 4:16a-18  ESV