25 March 2013

In Memoriam - Pastor Musiba Masatu

"Mch masatu wa mwamalili amefariki leo jioni."

The above message arrived in my phone inbox last Wednesday night.  During the moment or two that it took my Swahili to kick in and decipher this message, my stomach was dropping.  "Pastor Masatu of Mwamalili has died this evening."  Tears sprang to my eyes.

I've had several acquaintances, clients and children in our program die over the past several years, but this was a death that really hit me hard.  A little context: Mwamalili is a village near Shinyanga, and is a chapter of the newest Lahash sponsorship project, Path of Hope.  When the Lahash East Africa staff members spoke at a seminar for Path of Hope last July, we met Pastor Masatu and he brought us out to his tiny church to meet the children in his program.  Many of you heard me mention this church during our recent visit to the States, because they had really inspired me.

The Path of Hope and Lahash East Africa teams in July 2012
Photo by Will Campbell
"This is the pastor of Mwamalili.  His name is Musiba, which, in his language means 'lion' like the Lion of Judah!"  I was introduced to Pastor Masatu at the seminar last July, and while I smiled at the "Lion of Judah" comment, I was struck by the quiet intensity of the man.  Over the next several days, Masatu's smile, his attention to the complex issues we were addressing in the seminar, and his obvious pride in his church came to compose my strong positive response to the man.

I don't know a lot of his history before the past two years, except that he married a lovely nurse and they have several beautiful daughters.  His eldest daughter is the secretary for the diocese and has her own beautiful daughter.  So I do know that Pastor Masatu was a husband, father and grandfather, and I know that he was an evangelist when he first went out to the small village of Mwamalili.  The village had no church, and  they appreciated his ministry so much that they invited him to come and start a church.  A couple donated land, and Pastor Masatu rallied the other members to build a small, mud-brick church with very simple seats.  Every week the members bring large rocks, which sit in a large pile near the church building.  These stones will one day be the foundation for a permanent church building.  That is the faith he was teaching and modeling for his congregants.

In Tanzania, as in many other places, the smaller and more remote the church, the less the pastor gets paid.  It's not uncommon for a pastor to receive 10,000 TSH as his monthly salary, which is approximately $7.  At the same time, these pastors are exposed to the intense challenges and needs of very poor communities.  Pastor Masatu was no exception.  He was so moved by the needs of the orphans, widows and very poor church members that he contributed the idea for fundraising for a grain mill that would be income-generating for the church and a much-needed service for the village.  He also assisted in identifying 25 vulnerable children in the community who are pending acceptance into the Lahash sponsorship program.  Although those children have no sponsorship yet, he was bringing them together each week to learn Bible lessons and be prayed with.

About one month ago, Pastor Masatu became sick.  The illness was hard to identify, but involved difficulty breathing and then fluid in his lungs.  When Wesley and I were in Shinyanga a few weeks ago, we went to visit him at his home.  (It's very common to visit sick people at home.)  We were with the Bishop and his wife, and we found another pastor there.  Soon after we arrived, four more well-wishers from the church arrived, and we crowded into his living room, telling stories, encouraging him and enjoying sodas together.  He seemed a bit tired, but still strong.  We prayed for him before leaving...the impassioned, confident prayer of servants of the living God, asking for healing for another servant of God.  Before we left, he said he was feeling better.  Yet, less than three weeks later, he has died.

Sometimes I feel like I understand a bit of why people die, especially when that person has been chronically ill for a long time.  Often, though, there is a corner of my mind that yells at God "WHY?! We prayed for this man!  He was serving you so faithfully, being Your witness in a needy place, caring for his family.  He was strong and brave and he put it all on the line for You, and yet You let him die."  I despair a bit, and I wonder if healing prayer really has any power at all.

In the midst of my own grief, I remember one of my first friends who died, back in 2004.  Karissa drowned in the Pacific Ocean while on a college retreat, and I was devastated.  She was another person who was so dedicated to living out a remarkable submission to God, and two weeks before her death, I heard her prophesied over that the impact she would have on the world was different than anyone would expect.  Her memorial service packed out George Fox University's auditorium, and after the open mic testimonies, several people came to know Jesus for the first time and many, many others rededicated their lives to continuing a lifestyle of on-the-edge faith.

In the midst of my grief for Karissa, I began to understand a bit of what happens when a child of God dies.  I remember the very spot I was sitting (on a sofa on the ground floor of Underground Coffeehouse) when I realized that at the same time that God was with me in my grief, sad with me, He was rejoicing to have Karissa at home with Him.  That picture of God rejoicing with His "lion" has comforted me in the past few days.  I hope that his death, as tragic and confusing and difficult as it is for all of us left behind, is also inspiring.  I pray that for me, for you, for his friends and family and the members of his church, this is a moment of vision and hope, and maybe, just maybe, Masatu's legacy of faith and love for the people of Mwamalili will materialize in the projects he cared so much about.

Pastor Msiba Masatu - September 2012
Photo by Will Campbell
Thank you, Lord, for sharing your "lion" with us.

18 March 2013

What I'm Working On

I have a Word document on my desktop called "Current Projects" which is 3+ pages long.  Some are personal, some are for Lahash, and some of them are extra work--helping Fred or other people on projects I'm excited about.  Here's a random sampling of the list, interspersed with some photos of my distractions:

I finally found a pizza recipe that works for me!  I used the
last of my pepperoni stash on this baby.  It was worth it!
 Update Wesley's baby book. (update=start)

We had a delicious dinner and birthday cake with
the Soards, UMC missionaries in nearby Tarime.
Write children's spiritual development outline for Lahash partners.

Finish partnership team letter. (Are you on our mailing list?  Email me your address ASAP to get the big news being revealed in this month's letter!)

Meet the Blakemans in Shinyanga after Easter.

Clean out email inboxes.

Write grant proposals for "Tea Service" (nutritional tea for HIV+ clients of Shirati Hospital), Mwamalili church reconstruction (a village church which was severely damaged in wind), and Shinyanga Training and Outreach Program (SHINTOP - an evangelism and discipleship school).

Innocent showing me how he is a soldier.

Clean up computer for our electrician.  (Random, I know.)

Write Hope is Alive article for May edition.

Fill out Round Two of Rapid Funding Envelope grant for "Combating Gender Based Violence in Mara Region".  (During Round One application, I learned that 58% of women in our region have suffered some form of physical or sexual abuse.)

Write blog post.  (Check!)

We had breakfast at the Nyakyemas' Shirati home.
Photo by Innocent.
Type field work reports for nursing school students.  (I make about $5 per 20 page report, and the nursing school student who works as my go-between makes about $5 each as well.  Works out okay for both of us.)

Continue working on Innocent's formal adoption.  (Could be he's calling me "Mama" instead of "Auntie" by May, if we're lucky!)

08 March 2013

How Wesley Spent His First Birthday

Wesley started the morning with diarrhea, which promptly leaked onto his last clean pajamas.  (Note: first article of clothing changed)  This diarrhea would continue through the day, although it's over now.

Then a tumble down the front steps resulted in a nice face scrape.
It didn't seem to bother him too much once the shock was over, and, strangely, the scrape on his nose was the only mark on him.

Then, at lunch, he poured an entire bowl of water on himself.  I wish I could say this was a unique experience, but the boy is fascinated with water, and we have to lock the kitchen to keep him from drinking dirty dish water (which leads to diarrhea).  His shirt came off at that point to dry. (Note: second article of clothing changed)

After lunch Innocent and Wesley played together in my bedroom while I mixed up a birthday cake, or as Innocent calls it: Wesley's Happy Birthday.  First I made six cupcakes, and while they were baking, I filled a small glass baking pan with the rest of the batter to make the cake.  Then I made my major error: I turned my back to start washing dishes.  Like a ninja, Wesley came from the bedroom, went straight to the table where the cake pan was waiting, and pulled it down on top on himself.  He was not harmed at all...very much the opposite, in fact:
I had to fight my initial urge to shout and yank him out of the mess and cry a little bit.  Instead I thought "I should take a picture."  The benefit of this camera-crazy age is that things are much funnier when you've taken the moment to get out your phone (or grapefruit...Mike Birbiglia fans?) and take a picture.  Please note the batter all over his feet.  He was dipping his hands in the batter and using it to give himself a foot rub.  Innocent helped me remove his shorts with minimal transfer of mess (Third article of clothing changed), and while I bathed Wesley, Innocent mopped the floor like the very good little helper he is.  Fortunately all that excitement plum wore out the birthday boy, so he went down for a nap.  Innocent watched him sleep for a moment and said "Wesley's not a baby anymore, he's a monkey!"  I couldn't have said it better myself.

When he woke up, things were pretty calm for a while, aside from a small incident in which he screamed bloody murder because I took dirt out of his mouth.  Then we had another blowout diarrhea diaper, leading to a change of trousers (fourth article changed) and the combination of smeared dinner and sweat led Daddy to take his shirt off (fifth article of clothing changed).  Thus, when the time came for Wesley's "Happy Birthday", he was sleepy and shirtless.

By the time he was bathed and put to sleep, he was wearing only a onesie, having somehow made filthy the last pair of trousers (sixth article of clothing changed).  They couldn't have gotten that dirty in two hours because my house is dirty, right?  That couldn't possibly be it.

So, all in all, Wesley celebrated his birthday by proving to us that a) he is a boy with all the dirt and bugs and mischief that entails, b) he shouldn't drink dish water, c) he is active and strong and ready to take on the world, and d) almost every surface in our house is within his reach now.  Happy 1st Birthday, little man!
Wesley on the banks of Lake Victoria with the ferry in the background

05 March 2013

There and back again

I didn't have a chance to update last week because of my crazy life, but here's what's going on in the Otieno household!
Wesley and Fred on the bus
Last week Wesley and I went to visit our Tanzanian partners, so we were traveling from Sunday until yesterday.  Although Wesley is still a trooper on the long bus rides and sleeping in strange beds and missing Daddy, it has become much harder to travel with him now that he's walking.  He really wants to get down and run around, and when we're on the bus for the eighth consecutive hour, he reaches the end of his long-suffering patience.  Even so, we had a good time seeing a bunch of friends and making some new ones.

"Babu" Bishop teaching Wesley to drive

The first place we went was Shinyanga, the home of Path of Hope, Lahash's newest partner.  Path of Hope is the ministry of the Shinyanga Diocese of the Tanzania Mennonite Church, and is headed by Bishop Joseph and Jeanette Nyakyema.  I think I've talked about them before, but our family feels a particular connection to the Nyakyemas because the Bishop is a Luo (like Fred) and Jeanette is an American (like me).  They married a bit later in life and don't have children of their own, although they care for several of their many nieces and nephews, including Christopher, who is 10 years old.  Wesley has a great time at their home, because they are like grandparents to him and Christopher makes a great playmate.  I also have a great time at their home because I really like the Bishop and Jeanette, and we have very encouraging and enlightening conversations together.  Although they've been serving in the church for several decades, they are still very humble and want more than anything to see the Gospel preached and the church strengthened.  I love our times together.

Wesley looking out the bus window near Dodoma
The next place we went was Dodoma to visit friends at Grace and Healing Ministry, as well as the Angotes.  The time in Dodoma was so brief, but we got to visit the children at the main campus (100 kids) and the children (25 kids) at the expanded chapter out in Ipagala, one of the suburbs of Dodoma.  I met with Edwin a few times, saw his family and their new home, and had a fabulous dinner at Mariam's home.  I tried to encourage Mariam and Olipa, the social workers, and Mama Neema, the accountant, and Pastor Mwita of Ipagala, who volunteers to teach Bible classes for the kids.  Although the time was short, and this was the hardest part of the trip for Wesley, we enjoyed seeing everyone and hearing their comments about Wesley: "Amekuwa!" and "Yeye ni mjaLuo kweli!" and "Anafanana baba yake." and "Mtoto mzuri! Hongera!"  (He has grown!  He is really a Luo! He looks just like his father. and What a nice child! Congratulations!)

Sleeping on the ferry while "Bibi" Jeanette rubs his feet
We left Dodoma early Saturday morning and stopped in Shinyanga again, and even before the bus had stopped, Wesley spotted Bishop and Jeanette and started getting excited.  With them were a missionary couple, the Bontragers, who had spent ten years in Kenya and Tanzania way back, and now they have returned to do Theological Education by Extension (like seminary in a seminar).  They reach out to pastors who are serving their churches although they've never had the benefit of formal training.  To Wesley's delight, Joe looks a bit like my dad, so Wesley got to pretend to have two grandpas (Bishop and Joe) to hang out with.  We got to ride with the Nyakyemas and Bontragers up to Musoma on Sunday, and spend the night at Joe and Gloria's home there.  Then Monday morning the Nyakyemas and I took the ferry across Lake Victoria to a town called Kisesi, where Fred picked us up.

It was a good, but long and hard trip, and this was my main takeaway from it:

Path of Hope Ministry is just starting up their children's programs with very few resources.  Lahash came in to start sponsorship, and we could really use additional donors to support this great organization.  The first group of children we're sponsoring is at a small church in the urban center of Shinyanga called Nguzo Nane.  I got to worship with them on Sunday, and I believe the church is supporting more children than there are members in the church!  Please go to http://lahash.org/work/care/sponsor/ and choose Path of Hope Tanzania as your desired location.  It's only $25 per month, and will really encourage them in their ministry!