27 January 2010

Alert: This post is both very long and very sad. Please read.

Part One: Darkness
On Monday, instead of taking my usual Sabbath, I went home visiting with Leah and Mama Askofu and Mariam. (Don't worry, co-workers, I took my Sabbath yesterday instead.) We had a few families that we were planning to visit, but we have so many kids living close together out in that neighborhood that we ended up visiting several additional families, as well as meeting other parents along the way. All of the children were in school, as they should be, but we had valuable time with their families.

One of the unexpected home visits was to the family of a boy in our program called Saddam. Saddam's older brother has made a previous appearance on my blog, as he is the blind young man who sings so beautifully in the choir. His name is Chimanga. As we left the home of Timo Chidwele, we met with Saddam's mother. She is a very petite woman who is partially paralyzed on her right side. Her arm is almost completely useless to her. I see her often at the church, and greet her and Chimanga, but I'd never been to their home.

As we approached the house, the grandmother greeted us from her home next door. We entered the 10x15 foot room that the mother and her sons live in, and greeted Chimanga. He seems to spend most days sitting in the tiny, dark house, doing nothing. He had dressed very carefully in the much-worn suit he had received from the women in the church, and identified both Mama Askofu and Mariam from the sound of their voices, much to their delight. We sat down on the double bed that all three of them share, and immediately the mother burst into tears. Her mother appeared at the door, and I could tell just from the tone of her voice and the effect her words had on Mama Chimanga that she was being unkind. Sure enough, Mama Askofu politely but firmly dismissed the grandmother and murmured disgust at a woman who would mock her own paralyzed daughter and blind grandson.

Mama Chimanga shared, through tears, the difficulties of their life. While she talked, Chimanga carefully put on a tie, his favorite hat, and one sock, but failed to find its mate. I fought tears of my own imagining the difficulties of a young man with such obstacles, sitting every day in the dark, mocked by his own grandmother, unable to change anything for himself. Yet, this young man has hope in him, hope that is beyond human understanding. He smiles often, and gets great delight from small blessings. He was shining in that dark, stuffy room.

That hope and life has died, almost completely, in his mother. I didn't understand much, but Mama Askofu confirmed what I felt. This woman was on the edge of despairing, on the edge of being consumed with bitterness. I shared a bit that God put on my heart about how Naomi had found herself in a similar position, and had changed her name to Mara, meaning bitterness, but that God did not abandon her. Leah prayed, and all of us, save Chimanga, were wiping tears away as we exited the tiny room to the still-mocking glares of the grandmother.

The family had not eaten that day, and had nothing to prepare for later in the day, so Mama Askofu asked Mama Chimanga to meet us at the church so that we could find some food for her. In the meantime I gave her a bit of money, less than a dollar, to get a few things to eat. As we walked on to the next place, we planned for how we could find work around the church for Chimanga to do, not for pay, since there's no money for that, but at least to give him some hope and encouragement. We began planning to use his talents in working with the children's choirs and writing music, but all of our plans seemed very small in comparison with the desperation of their lives. My parents sent me some additional money this month, so Leah and I are hoping to buy some food for their family and a few other things that they need, and are planning some meetings to see if there are ways we can help them generate an income.

Part Two: Death
Last night I was on my way to Mama and Baba Askofu's home with them and their daughter Grace when Mama received an urgent phone call from our friend Shomary. Shomary is the driver for the church, and he's been a friend for several years. Mama cried out for Baba to stop the truck, and we whipped around and sped to the hospital. Shomary's 3-year-old daughter, Halima, had been hospitalized for malaria, she said, and Shomary was very upset. We arrived at the ward where Halima had been admitted and jumped out of the truck. As soon as Baba Askofu rounded the truck, a woman nearby screamed his name and fell over. It was Shomary's pregnant wife, being supported by her sister-in-law. Baba stood to one side talking with Shomary's brother, while Mama talked to the wife. Grace and I stood by Mama, holding hands and turning alternately from watching the prostrate, weeping woman to Shomary, alone nearby with his head in his hands, also sobbing. I didn't need a translator to understand that the precious little girl had died.

Grace and I climbed into the back of the truck so that there was room to drive Shomary and his wife and sister-in-law to their home. When we arrived, the family members rushed to the truck, having had no news of Halima. The grandmother screamed out, where is the girl?, at which Shomary's wife nearly collapsed again. Soon the all-too-common sound of grieving filled the air as relatives and neighbors heard that Halima was dead.

Baba took us home, then returned to the hospital to help them receive the girl's body for burial the next day. Shomary and his family are Muslims, but they welcomed the pastors who quickly made their way to Shomary's home to sit with the family and help with preparations. The funeral is this afternoon, and the staff of the church will all attend, although only men are allowed to attend the actual burial.

I wish these situations weren't so common. I wish that there was an easy way to help families like Saddam's. I wish that malaria didn't kill so many children under the age of 5. I wish this world was different.


I have to take a lesson from Chimanga. There is hope in the face of darkness and death. There is hope that doesn't come from the circumstances, indeed, it comes in spite of the circumstances. I can wish all I want, and dream of the day when there is no more poverty, no more disease, and no more despair. In the meantime, I cling to hope that there is purpose in all of this tragedy, and that there is opportunity for the peace and love of God to penetrate even darkness and death.

22 January 2010

Something small and light...things that have made me happy lately

- My roommate cooked Tabasco into the beans yesterday. Oh, heaven. I could have eaten the whole pot.

- Received a book and a picture of my brother in his uniform from my mom. Read the book in four hours that same night. Note: packages take ages, but I've now received two books sent in just regular envelopes that arrived within two weeks of sending.

- Received a notice that a package from one Rachelle Webster had arrived. One of the pastors is picking it up for me as soon as he gets tired of me pestering him to go get it.

- A new baby in the neighborhood! Our friend Rasta and his wife (she of beauty and grace, even while nine months pregnant), had their baby a few weeks ago. Gloria got a septic infection right away from the dirty knife the hospital used to cut the umbilical cord, but she was treated for it right away, and is now happy and healthy.

- Nursery school has restarted, which means that there are little boys and girls running around every morning. Last year my thing was shaking each kid's whole arm when I greeted them. This year is high fives. Some of my favorite kids are in the class, including Charles (he who eats any and everything), Rose (big sister to baby Gloria and perpetual grinner), and Pierson (son of my co-worker, Mama Seche). It's taken Pierson a few days to get used to nursery school, but he's stopped screaming and saying "I don't like Mennonite!" every time he gets dropped off, so I think he's adjusting. Every time Rose sees this picture, she screams "Rosie na Mzungu!" regardless of how many times her mother tells her to call me Auntie Leisha.

- Phone call from my grandma at 1:30pm local time, which equals 2:30am PST. At first I thought something was wrong, but then she just happened to be awake, and knew I'd be awake, so she called me. We could only talk for a minute or two because I was in a meeting, but it was funny to hear from someone back home in the middle of the day.

13 January 2010

"you talk like you're 40 years old" or something like that

I've been doing a lot of speaking lately. If you are part of my Facebook group "I Support Leisha Adams" and read the prayer update last week, you read that I began a 4 week, 12 sermon series on the subject of "shalom". I was rather nervous at the thought of preaching the Sunday morning services. I've done loads of teaching, in East Africa and the States, mostly to children and my peers, and the thought of full on preaching to an African Mennonite congregation was intimidating.

I've had plenty of opportunity to prepare, and this subject was something I'd already been thinking and praying about, so I got lots of prep time in, but it was almost too much. I have pages and pages of scribbled notes, and finally pulled out a couple of poster-sized sheets of paper and made Leah read my random thoughts out loud to me while I put them in an outline. On Sunday I preached an introduction to shalom, the Biblical concept of, not peace, as many believe, but God returning all things to His original intention. Naturally this complicated concept would be translated as "peace" in many places, because that is the main symptom of God's intended order. Shalom is something that we are waiting for in the "new heaven and new earth" of Revelation 21 when "nations will not learn war anymore", but it's also something we are to be working for in our own lives and the lives of those around us in the here and now. For this reason shalom is closely linked to justice throughout Scripture. This is a tiny bit of what I preached on Sunday, and at the evening service I taught from Matthew 5, re-examining Jesus' "Blessed are the..." statements in light of the shalom-oriented "Kingdom of Heaven" that Jesus was declaring.

I was meant to teach at the Wednesday evening service also, but I had an unexpected opportunity to take some time away from Dodoma, and I took it. Last Saturday I was introduced to the national director of Campus Crusade for Christ in Tanzania. I'm very familiar with CC4C from the church I grew up in, and when the director invited me to participate in their 3-day conference at a campground near Dar es Salaam, I took the opportunity. As I write this I'm at the campground, surrounded by 40-some Tanzanian members of the national staff. These are pastors, evangelists, campus ministry workers, and Jesus film exhibitors who are facing budgetary cutbacks from the States-side organization, so they have agreed to (and welcomed) the opportunity to begin fundraising for 20% of their budget. This conference is the first step of training these men (all but three are men, and the three women all work in the national office in administrative capacities) in raising their own salaries and ministry expenses from their friends, family members, and community contacts. It's the same system that I (and many other) ministry professionals in the States use to raise their funds, and the focus is on developing partnership teams, not a donor base.

I am speaking for three sessions here (two down, one to go), and after listening to the other speakers, I'm focusing on story-telling as part of engaging partners in your work. Although Africans are famous story-tellers (read _Things Fall Apart_ for evidence), many Western-trained ministry professionals have been taught a strong focus on reporting numbers only. I have a great translator, since everything is in Swahili. His name is John, and he and his wife work in Zanzibar. I've had a lot of translators, and, after Mama Askofu, John is the best I've ever had. He is not only translating all of the sessions for me, and hanging out with me after meals, he translated my sessions on story-telling with no prior preparation. It's quite a feat, let me tell you.

Now, in order to put my money where my mouth is where story-telling is concerned, here is a story from yesterday at the conference:

I asked the group to break into small groups to tell stories to one another, then a few offered to tell their story to the entire group. The effort was good, but lacking in the key piece: relating the story into your ministry and how your partner can be involved. The last volunteer of the afternoon, an older man called Eddy, began telling a story about a church in a village in Mozambique. In that village was a woman called Cristina, a very strange woman. She was unkempt and dressed very strangely. Her trademark was a red scarf around her neck. One evening she came to the church and came forward to accept Jesus as her Savior. The church leaders began praying with her, and she removed the red scarf and strange outer clothing to reveal cords around her neck, arms, chest, waist, and legs. Each cord represented the bondage of a demon. As the church leaders prayed and untied the cords, Cristina was delivered from the demons. She has been living a very happy and free life since that day, and was recently married. This story, said Eddy, makes me want to serve Jesus and see more people freed. I'm inviting you to join me in this work of seeing more people like Cristina living free in the love of Jesus.

Wow. This story just knocked it out of the park. It's an extremely common story in most of the non-Western world, so every person could relate to the story as familiar, and Eddy shared with such quiet passion that the man behind him mimed reaching in his pocket for money to give to Eddy. Even now as I think of it, I have vivid mental pictures, and I feel so grateful for people like Eddy who are sacrificing to serve those who are suffering from broken shalom, from oppression and violence and a lack of peace. I feel honored to be counted as a teacher in some small way to these incredible men (and three women).

Bless you, friends. You're a fantastic support team, and I'm really grateful for you supporting me to be here to hear these stories and meet these people.

P.S. The title comes from my new friend and translator, John. He and another friend were talking about my teaching, and they looked at me and said (in Swahili) something to the effect of me talking like I was forty or fifty years old instead of twenty-seven. I am really flattered by their appreciation, and I can see how much God has developed teaching gifts in me over the past few months. Even with translation, people are consistently grateful for my lessons, although I think that has more to do with the East African hunger for education than with anything I have to say being so profound.

05 January 2010

How I spent Christmas and New Year's - the Cliff's Notes edition

One of my most popular posts so far was the one when I did a highlight of each day in the prior week. (I'm too lazy to go find that and put a hyperlink to it, so you'll have to do a little old-fashioned looking on your own if you want to read it.) Since it has now been two action-packed weeks since my last post, I'm going to adopt the same, cliff notes style updating here. Commence.

23 December - No power at the church, so went to the internet cafe to use their power to make the schedule for the Christmas program. It looked lovely on my computer and wretched printed. (I've been using a lot more British vocabulary lately.) Leah and I spent hours organizing and personalizing the children's Christmas gifts. They each got a pretty nice t-shirt courtesy of a donation from the local bank.

24 December - Lahash Christmas program was a bang up success. The kids sang "The Little Drummer Boy" and did a fantastic job, despite my and Leah's jitters over the abysmal final rehearsal. These kids are true performers. I spoke a bit on the importance of children in the Christmas story, and we distributed the gifts to the children. I felt a bit like Santa. The new American volunteer from the Mennonite Church baked a cake, which I got to each a bit of, and it was fabulous. I took an hour long nap, then we had a four hour church service from 8pm to midnight.

25 December - After midnight, Leah came to stay the night, and we used the candy canes from her mom's care package to make peppermint lattes (ten minutes before we went to bed). My family called in the morning, then we had church again, and I had a fancy new dress to wear. I did manage to keep my dress clean although it was storming pretty fiercely for most of the morning. Some friends came over for dinner (fried chicken=yummmmmmmmmmm), and we played cards all afternoon.

26 December - Rested after a hectic week and watched movies. Played cards with my roommate Jacky and our friend Warioba.

27 December - Church, then friends over for lunch. Napped and watched the entire first season of Firefly.

28 December - Severely disappointing day because power was out all over town, so when I made a special trip to town to pay my power bill, they were closed until the power came back on. (definition of irony?) I couldn't even treat myself to ice cream like I had planned because the freezers were all off.

29 December - Was supposed to have a driving lesson, but didn't. Instead I cleaned my office and continued my preparation for a month's worth of sermons I have to preach, starting next Sunday.

30 December - Continued sermon preparation and watched the entire first season of Psych. Skipped out on the standard Wednesday church service because I was (ashamed to admit) tired of being in church.

31 December - Evening church service for four+ hours. Spent about an hour of that praying for a girl who had been committed to be a witch doctor by her family, but she now loves Jesus, so she's trying to fight some pretty severe demonic oppression. I know that sounds pretty out there to some of you, but that's normal life here, and that's what I was doing at midnight.

1 January - Church again in the morning for four+ hours, and again, I had a new dress for the occasion. I continued sermon preparation and watched a movie. (For photos of me in these fancy new dresses, you'll have to read my January/February support letter. If you aren't on that list, email me: ladams@lahash.net with your mailing address.)

2 January - I was meant to go to a picnic for the children in the Compassion sponsorship program, but I didn't go. Some friends came over for lunch, and I spent the rest of the day watching one of my new favorite movies: Lars and the Real Girl. My grandma called in the evening, and I spent most of the time whinging about the food that I miss. Honestly, she probably thinks I hate my life because everytime she calls I'm complaining about something stupid. For the record, I love my life!

3 January - Church again, a special long service for the new year (came in at over five hours long). After church, Baba and Mama Askofu took Leah and I with their kids to have a picnic at the University of Dodoma campus. The picnic food was PIZZA!!!! They bought two pizzas from the local hotel, and we got two slices each of veggie pizza with cheese on it. I think the last time I had cheese of any kind was in Kampala in September.

4 January - My normal day of rest, I spent my last day of holiday cleaning our kitchen. I watched the entire first season of Arrested Development while I did that and cooked myself some fried potatoes and onions.

So you can see that my holidays were neither glamorous nor all that fun. I didn't mind too much, although I did have a couple of rough moments of missing home. Fortunately Annie was always close by her phone to text message with during the tough times.

I received one physical Christmas present, two pieces of bubble gum from my sponsored girl Anjela, but when something that precious is my gift, what else do I really need?

I didn't make any formal resolutions, because I feel like all of 2009 was my resolution to be where I am for 2010. Everything was so difficult in 2009, from the physical to the spiritual to the emotional, and I feel like I've landed exactly where I'm meant to be for 2010. With that kind of conviction, what resolutions do you make, except to be grateful? So that is my "resolution" - to be grateful for finally being settled where I've been trying to get for so long. Moving forward and making goals doesn't seem right just now, I think reveling in this time is the right thing. So in spite of my complaints about running out of books to read and craving Doritos and chicken salad, I'm really blessed and grateful to be here. I have a great life.