Thursday, March 29, 2012

Going Home

Over the last couple of weeks, I have at times felt like a stranger in a strange land. Every place that we have visited has been new to me. All of the cities and villages we have entered are places that I have never before set foot. That is, until yesterday, when we arrived in Gondola, the site of the new Gondola Training Center. Our arrival at Gondola was a little bit like arriving back home. You see, Gondola was the site of my first journey to Mozambique in October of last year, and it was here that my team spent most of their time. And so, when I was greeted by the community there yesterday, it was kind of like I was being greeted by family.

Carol and I had the opportunity to dedicate the new dining hall that my team worked on in October, which has since been completed. We planted fruit trees around the property to symbolize all of the spiritual growth that will take place here at this center of learning. The women from the surrounding community worked under the nearby tree all afternoon, cooking us a fabulous, celebratory dinner. In the evening, the district superintendent hosted a special service for us at the church in the nearby city of Chimoio and presented gifts to both Carol and me. The day brought with it feelings of familiarity and I was wrapped in warm memories and bright hopes for the future.

Tonight is our last night in Mozambique; we fly out of Beira tomorrow afternoon. I'm ready to go home in many ways, but part of my heart remains here with this new family, in my new home. I am confident in all that God is doing here through the Mozambique Initiative and I can't wait to see how this family grows in the coming years.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I'm learning that there are days when this job can be lonely. Days when you're hot and tired, and it seems that you are the only one in the whole wide world who knows. I'm tired today after waking up at 4:00am to catch our plane to Beira, which makes me a little sullen and missing the folks in my life who just get it. I'm living into this feeling and realizing that this is just a small window into the lives of the widows I visited at Hanhane and the children I met at the Carolyn Belshe Orphanage. We all long to know and to be known. We all feel lonely - perhaps some more than others.

As I sit and reflect by the beach tonight in Beira, I am filled with gratitude for those who truly know me and who are truly known by me. It's this small circle of individuals who recharge my battery, provide inspiration, send prayers, spend time, and give generously of themselves to me. I'm grateful because not everyone has these kinds of people to hug and kiss on (sometimes virtually, from across an ocean). This week I have met many individuals who have lost these kinds of people in various ways. This small, insignificant sliver of solidarity I'm experiencing is sobering, centering, and gratitude-inducing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Last Day in Maputo

We have been in the city of Maputo for the last few days attending meetings and working at the United Methodist Conference office. Since our arrival, it's been 14 hour days trying to cram all of our buisness in before we leave the city. Tomorrow morning at 7:00am, we fly up north to Beira where we will visit the Gondola Training Center and continue our tour of the various projects of the MI.

The Bishop of the United Methodist Conference of Mozambique took us to lunch today as a farewell celebration. She is kind, intelligent, and thoughtful, and she had many interesting things to share about the culture of Mozambique and the work being done here. The opportunity to work with a woman of this caliber is inspiring and I am honored to know that on this journey, we began a friendship that will bear much fruit.

We were lucky enough tonight to have electricity and a strong internet connection, which means that we were able to check in with friends and loved ones. Both Carol and I were able to skype with our respective the same time. This is what us missionaries call a "double date" (see romantic screen shot). Though we were slightly slap happy from exhaustion, it was nice to touch base with home.

Thank you friends for all of your continued prayers, good vibes, and support during our journey. It truly means the world to us. Hopefully I will be able to post updates from the north, as internet connections allow.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Song and Dance

I am a music person, through and through. And I'm finding out that Mozambique is a music country, through and through. In some ways, I'm like a hand in a glove here. In every village that we enter, we are greeted with a song. At every departure, a dance. When we were driving down the country, all the Mozambicans who accompanied us sang the entire time. Back home, this is actually how I function every day, singing my way from one location to the's just that in the US, everybody looks at me funny when I do. This is not the case here. I fit in quite well.

Today we attended an epically long worship service in Maputo, where a new chapel, called Macedonia, was dedicated. This was a celebration of epic proportions, and the accompanying musical presentation was beyond words. It was singing, dancing, and call and response for hours - 7 hours to be exact.

This service was followed by a concert featuring the local youth, which was astounding. I heard live, local, Mozambican hip hop as well as R&B and gospel. I was then asked to sing with the house band, and after a quick 10 minute rehearsal, we brought the house down! What a day. What a country! The event wasn't complete until we danced our way out into the night and whistled our way to dinner.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Widows, Orphans, the Sick, and the Thirsty

"Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." Isaiah 1:17

It's not for lack of stories that posts have been missing from me during the last 4 days. In fact, there are not enough words to adequately express all that needs to be said about these latest adventures. There have been no posts because we have been out in the bush, hunting down tiny villages and visiting projects in various remote locations throughout Mozambique. When I say that we were off the beaten path, I mean that literally. Internet access was beyond our reach.

Be forewarned that I will never be able to adequately capture everything that has taken place this week, but I will try to pick a few stories to demonstrate how my heart has been exploding at every new village and under every coconut tree.

Hanhane Women's Shelter

The Hanhane Women's Shelter houses 26 women who have been dispossessed by their families. They have literally been cast out of their homes and villages with absolutely no recourse due to accusations of witchcraft. There are no jobs available for these women. There are no houses. There are no provisions. They were literally left to die, and so they would have, if not for this haven.

We visited this oasis on Monday and were greeted with singing and joyous celebration by the women who were overjoyed to see us. Hand-made flowered lays were placed around our necks as we arrived and we were given cassava trees as symbols of their gratitude for their homes. Th MI provides shelter, food, and safe water through a well to these women who otherwise have no options.

Carolyn Belshe Orphanage
The first child I met at the Carolyn Belshe Orphanage was cradling the head of an old broom and lovingly wrapping it in a blanket as she pretended like this was her baby. She has no dolls or toys to call her own, but her imagination made up for the lack of material items. Luckily, I came equipped with teddy bears donated through my church and was able to supply a new baby for her.

Despite the lack of toys, the children living here are provided safe housing, food, and water, and they are given access to education. Though the budget is always extremely tight and the needs are great, these children are loved and cared for by house parents who have a passion for these children.

The MI recently provided a new arts center for these children and is continuing to work hand in hand with other organizations to meet the ongoing needs of these children who have no other families.

Chicuque Rural Hospital
Linens at the Chicuque Rural Hospital (CRH) are washed on big slabs of concrete using bleach (when they have it), and then dried in an open-aired room. Obviously, these are far from sterile conditions, but this is all they have. Although there are about 200 births that occur at the hospital per month, there is no OB/GYN on staff because they have been unable to find one. The incinerator for bio waste is a big brick oven on the back of the property. Although a proper incinerator was given to them by the government at one time, it has long since broken down and it has not been able to be repaired. Although these conditions seem rugged, this is one of the premier hospitals in the area. And people are treated and cared for to the best of their ability. The CRH also runs public health programs in the local villages and teaches people about hygiene and sanitation, malaria prevention, and provides testing for HIV/AIDS. They do amazing work despite the challenges.

Safe Water at Sahane
This is one of the places that I think of know when I say that we were off the beaten path. The MI has a four-wheel drive, off-road vehicle, and there were times that I thought that we honestly weren't going to make it. The "road" to Sahane is more like a suggestion of where people might think about passing through. We bounced along through coconut groves and sandy terrain until we came upon the village.

Once we arrived, we saw that although this community had previously suffered illness due to unsafe water and back breaking work carrying water for miles and miles, after many frustrations and years of difficult drilling situations, their well was finally completed last year.
There are no words to express the gratitude of these people. And they are amazing stewards of this gift. All members of the church contribute regularly to a maintenance fund for the well and have a storage of parts in case something goes wrong. They also have a safe water committee that maintains the well and makes decisions about upkeep.

Friends, this is the heart of the gospel. This isn't just something interesting that we do because we are kind and like traveling. As Christ followers, all of us are called to defend the orphan and plead the case of the widow. We are called to give, and serve, and go, and be lights in an often dark world where people are sick and lonely and abandoned. Consider this your challenge during this lenten season. How can you defend the orphan today? How can you plead the case of the widow this week? How can you be with the sick and provide water for the thirsty? How can you be a light in the darkness? The MI is just one opportunity. Go forth and shine.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Road Trip!

If you know anything about me, you know that I love road trips. Like, completely adore them. I love seeing new places; I love listening to music for hours on end as the world flies by; I love being in conversations that drag on and on without interruption. Yesterday was perhaps the most epic road trip I have ever taken. Carol, Ezequiel (who is the MI representative here in Mozambique), and I drove about 400 miles up the coast of Mozambique landing in the small village of Inhassaro. We started in the capitol city of Maputo and just kept heading north for about 10 hours. Ezequiel gave me full reigns on the music selections played in the truck and I was a happy camper. Along the way we saw unending sugar cane fields, acres of coconut trees, crazy kinds of birds I have never before laid eyes on, and ocean as far as the eye could see. It was awe inspiring to say the least, and I again found myself overwhelmed with praise - overwhelmed with the creativity of God and God's unending willingness to let us participate in it all.

Inhassoro is a beautiful little town right on the ocean and we woke up early this morning to worship with the local UMC there. This was the first church that Carol visited when she became the MI Coordinator, and it is now the first church that I am visiting as the new MI Coordinator. I love this tradition. Worship was inspiring and we were honored guests. The church members and leaders poured forth gratitude as they reflected on the years of service that Carol has given, and they wait with anticipation as they begin to look forward to the next phase of this partnership. The lunch to follow was made by the women of the church and was an all out feast consisting of fish, shrimp, calamari, and some kind of coconut, pumpkin-leaf stew...delicious.

We left Inhassoro in the afternoon, heading down to another coastal town called Vilankulo. Here we met with local pastors and the area superintendent to discuss the building of wells and proposals for sustainability projects to be started by local churches. The church leaders were gracious hosts and we shared ideas about how to continue this work together, hand in hand, as we anticipate this new chapter of the MI.

Tomorrow morning we leave early, heading to the Massinga district to explore more of the projects happening here through the MI. Stay tuned here for updates, which I am trying to be faithful about posting whenever we have an internet connection. Continued prayers for health, safety, and grace are appreciated. Boa Noite!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Best. Birthday. Ever.

Today is our first day in Mozambique. It also happens to be my birthday. The bishop and local pastors here in Maputo had an opening welcome ceremony scheduled for our arrival and it doubled as just about the best birthday party I've ever had. Mozambicans love ceremony and they also completely rock at hospitality. They are overwhelmingly warm and friendly, and will bend over backwards to ensure that guests are taken care of. Somehow, the entire Mozambique Methodist Conference got wind of my birthday and it was game on. I was given a full hand-made Mozambican outfit, complete with a headdress. There was cake-cutting, the youth choir made a special appearance, toasts were made, the entire room joined in singing (over and over again), and there were all kinds of celebratory vocalizations made after every speech. It was breathtakingly, eye-popingly, heart-meltingly beautiful. Not only was this a celebration of my physical birth - a pastor in attendance tonight said it so lovingly - this is a celebration of my birth, my first day as an official, honorary Mozambican. Today I was grafted in.

In addition to the lovely birthday party, Carol's 13 years of service were honored and celebrated, and her retirement was acknowledged. The torch was official passed as she explained their reasons for choosing me to continue the mission. The Bishop gave her blessing and reminisced about all of the wonderful things that Carol has done for their country, for Missouri, and for her personally. It was truly a moving experience, and I grateful now, more than ever for these partners, this new family into which I have been born.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


It is not often in this day and age that one learns a job through apprenticeship. A new hire attends a few job trainings, reads the policies and procedures manual, and then jumps in. The training for this new job of mine is quite different. What I began in January and continues until Carol retires is what I might classify as an old-school model of apprenticeship. For me, part of this apprenticeship comes in the form of a 3 week journey to Mozambique, which started yesterday. Apprenticeship happens during back to back to back to back flights where long hours are spent listening to stories and hearing about the tricks of the trade. Apprenticeship happens over long birthday dinners with dear friends in South Africa. Carol has 13 years worth of information about this job to share with me and it's something that is shared slowly and with great intention. It's fortunate then that we've just landed from a 16 hour plan ride, with more to come. This is uninterupted training time.

Carol is a fascinating woman, and if you haven't met her yet, I encourage you to fly to Africa with her (or perhaps just grab a coffee sometime). She's tough as nails, but tender of heart. She keeps lists and spreadsheets and detailed agendas, but is as fluid as water and flexible as playdoh. She always gets the job done, but never to the detriment of relationships. And she talks your ear off, telling amazing stories about songs sung in far off villages and water flowing where the land had been dry. I have been soaking it all in, or as much of it as possible between fits and starts of restless plane sleep.

During dinner tonight in Johanesburgh, I met long time friends of Carol's who had pearls of wisdom to share. This insight could only be found among those who have walkd these paths and blazed the trail ahead of me. These types of individuals are few and far between, but so precious when they are discoverved. Tomorrow, training in Maputo where I will meet Bishop Nhanala (the Bishop of Mozambqiue). She will bless our trip and send us forth into the country. This is the best job training ever.