25 April 2013

In Memoriam - Stacey Hartfeld

For the past ten days or so, I've had a distraction.  In the back of my mind as I go about taking care of Innocent and Wesley, cleaning house, checking Facebook, and sending a Mother's Day present to my mom, in my mind is the thought that Stacey can't do these things any longer.

Stacey was my friend since we were three years old.  We went to school and church together until we graduated from high school and went off to different colleges.  When I think back over those 14-15 years and remember Stacey, I'm brought smack up against some of the ugliest things in my own character.  I have memories from as young as six of getting in trouble at recess for not letting Stacey play with me.  I remember in middle school teasing Stacey mercilessly to impress older, "cool" kids, and in high school I resented her for calmly accepting the poor performance of our volleyball team while I rode emotional highs and lows along with our wins and losses.  Essentially, from the time we were in first grade, Stacey was a kind, gentle, sweet girl, and I was bossy and controlling.  Yet, we were friends.  Actually, aside from the low moments that stick in my mind because of my own bad behavior, we had a fantastic friendship.  We sang in ensemble and in a duet together, we played PACEbowl together, we played volleyball together and co-captained the volleyball team our senior year.  We were the only two 8th graders on the girls' high school basketball team.

I remember Stacey for her gentle and quiet spirit, her love for other people, regardless of their "cool" factor, her hard work--I think she was the first in our class to buy her own car--and her faithfulness.  She was so faithful to be at youth group, at ensemble practice, at volleyball practice, and work, but I remember her the most for smiling.  As I've been looking through the few photos I have with me in Africa of our childhood, she's smiling in every single one...a giant, ear-to-ear, full face smile.

I remember the time Stacey came to Physical Education without any shorts on, because the way she was wired, it was worse to be late or skip a class than to show up half-dressed.  I remember a slumber party at Stacey's house and the crazy pictures that resulted.  I remember the time Stacey and I shared a dorm room at George Fox University, as middle-schoolers, and made friends with various Mennonites and home schoolers from around the state at the very first Convention that our school participated in.  I remember Stacey, a careful and cautious driver, never, ever winning the inevitable race from off-campus lunch back to chapel on Wednesdays our senior year.  I remember how proud Stacey was of getting to go deer hunting with her dad.  I remember when Stacey started dating Jacob, so quietly at first, and I remember their wedding day and how beautiful she was that day.  I remember how diligently she kept in touch with me as travel and moving and life created separation, and how excited she was for our first, informal class reunion.  I remember how she rejoiced over the birth of each of her five children.  

Vividly I remember how bravely Stacey announced that doctors had found cancer and that the prospects were grim.  I remember how bravely she wrote updates about treatment after treatment, travel after travel, tumor after tumor.  I remember seeing her when I first got back to the States last October, and I wouldn't have recognized her, except for that gorgeous smile.  I remember how the only shadow that crossed her face  during that lunch was when she told us that she'd not be able to have any more children.  I remember the last time I saw Stacey, in January, after a brain tumor had caused some paralysis in her face, and how she loved looking at the photos of our childhood.  I remember how she cried when Angie announced that her daughter, born last week, would have "Stacey" as her middle name in honor of our friend.  I remember hugging her goodbye, thinking that this might possibly be the last time I would see her.

It was, indeed, the last time I saw her.  Stacey's aggressive brain tumors finally took her life on 14 April while she was home with her husband and children.  She was in so much pain at the end, and was not herself.  Her memorial service is tomorrow at Athey Creek Church, and I'm sorry not to be able to attend and pay tribute to a wonderful woman, a great friend, and a loving, faithful daughter of our Heavenly Father.
Photo taken from Facebook, credit to Debi Criss

06 April 2013

Visit to Shinyanga and Mwamalili

Last Friday Wesley and I went down to Shinyanga last Friday to work with Path of Hope again and to see the Blakeman family, some American friends who are working with Lahash in Uganda and were visiting Tanzania. Edwin also came over to Shinyanga so that we could meet about a few projects. We got to celebrate Easter with the church at Nguzo Nane in Shinyanga. This church is the location of our first group of Lahash-sponsored kids. I really enjoy this church, because, although it is small, it is young and vibrant. (Children were nearly half of those present on Sunday.)

As always, we loved staying with the Nyakyemas. Wesley got lots of time playing with his buddy, Christopher, and I benefitted from the wisdom and cooking of Jeanette. The first morning we were in their home, Wesley sat on the Bishop’s lap all through breakfast eating his pancakes and sipping tea, like such a big boy!

One of the real highlights, though, was a visit to Mwamalili village to register 25 new kids for the Lahash program. You will remember, Mwamalili is the church that just lost their pastor, Msiba Masatu, whom I wrote a tribute about last week (find it by clicking here). We drove out to the village for a 4pm meeting. We had to leave at 3pm, because the “short cut” road has a lot of holes from recent rains. To get to Mwamalili, one drives to Old Shinyanga (where the town used to be before they moved it closer to the highway). Just past town, one turns off the road onto a dirt track (I won’t even call it a road). From that point on, if I were told to find my way to the church, I couldn’t even remotely tell you. There isn’t much of a road, or trail, even, and to the unfamiliar eye (like mine!), it appears that we’re just driving off into the middle of nowhere bush. The directions are along the lines of “continue along the dry river bed, look for the row of shrubs, just past the cattle path, with the new rice field on your left, but be careful of the ditch they have dug to drain water into the rice field.”

When we arrived at Mwamalili church, I was reminded of the other hardship this church has faced: on Christmas Eve, some wind or some hands pushed in one wall of the building. The believers have been experiencing a lot of opposition from the local witch doctors and their followers, so, although no one can say for certain, it is strongly suspected that theirs are the hands responsible for the damage. It is impossible for them to meet in their building now, so they meet under the tree outside, right next to the damaged church they had built with their own hands and the pile of rocks they have been collecting for a foundation for a permanent building. To repair the existing mud brick structure would be approximately $300, and to build the permanent church would cost an estimated $2,500 to $3,000, but both of these figures are far beyond the capacity of this small, poor congregation.

The congregation had been told that some guests from Lahash were coming on Tuesday afternoon to meet with the children and their parents. Actually, they were reminded of the “American lady with the little baby who came here before” and when they heard that I, or more probably, that Wesley was coming back, they cheered. One of the biggest needs in this village is for the parents to prioritize their children’s education. In an agricultural and livestock community like this one, school-aged children are very valuable shepherds, cattle herds, diggers, planters and babysitters while the parents work. It is completely logical, in the short-term, to keep their children home to support the family, but we are trying to give them a larger vision for their children, who could come back to be doctors, entrepreneurs, politicians and pastors and build the community.

Edwin and I are the only Lahash representatives who have been able to visit Shinyanga so far, but we are so grateful to have another great partner. The team at Path of Hope is facing so many obstacles, but they are united in caring for the kids and looking for ways to serve them and their families. We’re really excited to see the children in these two chapters, urban Nguzo Nane and rural Mwamalili, grow and mature!