Saturday, January 30, 2016

Never Trust a Dead Chicken

Josiah and Johnny came running into the house, slamming the door behind them.  "Leo killed a chicken!"  they yelled.

Not again, I thought.  I peeked out the window, and sure enough, the proud dog had deposited his prize right at the front door.  He looked at us hopefully as it lay there in a heap of feathers.  Um, sorry, Leo.  I'm not as excited about this gift as you are.

Since Gil was out at a training session, and I am quite convinced that disposing of dead chickens is men's work, I sent a text to our gardener (who lives on our property), asking him to come help.  The chicken most certainly belonged to one of our neighbors before it made the unfortunate appearance in our yard, and would most likely want to be eaten by said neighbor.

The children continued to examine the chicken from the window, and Leo picked it up and started playing with it.  Not wanting chicken guts all over my front porch, I opened the door to tell him off.

In that moment, the dead chicken came to life!  Leaving a trail of feathers and squawking loudly, it headed right past me, through the open door, and into the house.

Bedlam ensued.  I screamed; the kids screamed; the chicken ran one way and the kids ran the other.  I grabbed a broom and headed after the chicken, hollering at Grace to come help me.  We cornered it in the pantry, where it managed to fit itself into every possible nook and cranny.  We finally managed to shove it out the back door, while I hollered at Josiah to tie up the dogs.

In pure chicken-like intelligence, it still ran towards the dogs that had already killed it once.  Grace opened the gate, and while I tried to prod it towards freedom, it promptly keeled over and died.  Again.  Now its head was under its body while I attempted to sweep the lifeless chicken towards the gate.

The chicken, who should be commended for its remarkable tenacity, once again sprang to life.  Thankfully our gardener showed up, and in one deft move, grabbed it by the legs.  He put a ladder up against our outside wall and peered over it, looking for the owner of the infamous chicken. The owner thanked us for rescuing it, but I'm guessing that dead-alive chicken is still going to end up in someone's pot tonight.

I, however, would be very reluctant to try to put that death-defying chicken into a pot.  Boys and girls, we learned a very important lesson today:  Never trust a dead chicken.

Monday, January 25, 2016

How My Cell Phone Changed My Life in Tanzania (And Not How You Would Expect)

In Tanzania, paying bills used to be a colossal pain.

First of all, this is an entirely cash-based society.  Credit cards are slowly starting to show up, but still very rarely.  So in order to pay any bill, I needed to find cash.  That meant finding a working ATM, which used to be quite a challenge.  ATM's are more plentiful now, but almost everything still requires cash.

Electricity comes through the LUKU box in our house. Electricity is pre-paid; you get a receipt with a number on it, which you enter into the LUKU box, which recharges your house with electricity.  In order to buy LUKU, I used to have to drive to find a LUKU shop with a working computer.  Sometimes that would require two or three stops.

Paying for internet required a 40-minute drive into town.  Paying the water bill meant a drive to the water company.  Getting airtime on my phone meant picking up phone vouchers at a shop.  Sometimes I felt like my part-time job was paying bills.

I wasn't sure what it would take for this to change.  Most Tanzanians don't have a bank account, so the idea of a checking account or credit cards wasn't going to take off any time soon.  The only postal system is through post office boxes, and again, most Tanzanians don't have one.  Thus, the traditional western system of bills in the mail would never be an option.  The modern western system of on-line banking is generations away.

So without bank accounts, mailboxes, or credit cards, how would the bill-paying system change?  There is, however, one thing that almost every single Tanzanian does possess--a cell phone.  You can go out into the deepest, remotest reaches of Tanzania (and most of Africa), and find cell phones.  You'll see the Masai herdsman out in the middle of nowhere with his cattle--and his cell phone.  Even in villages with no electricity, you'll see shop keepers with a generator or a solar battery, making a business out of charging people's phones.

Source:  here

So some brilliant people--I don't know who--established a method of cell phone banking.  Every cell phone in Tanzania--and most other African countries--is connected to a sort of virtual bank account.  It's not really a bank account--there's no central institution and no interest accruing.  But I can go to any "Wakala" (Agency)--and they are everywhere--and deposit cash onto the account connected to my phone number.  For my phone service, this is called M-Pesa.  

This system, which has been around for a few years but has become increasingly easier and more accessible, has changed everything.  

Last week, I received my water bill as a text message.  I then went into my M-Pesa account and paid the bill through my phone.  I can purchase LUKU through M-Pesa.  I can pay for internet through M-Pesa.  I have sent money to local newspapers to run advertisements for our training program.  I have paid a hotel bill and an airplane ticket.  I have sent money to an electrician.  Last week, I was collecting money for a group birthday gift, and a bunch of people sent me money through M-Pesa.

And let me get one thing straight.  I have a completely dumb, $25 Nokia phone.  Smart phones are plentiful here; I just have no desire for one.  An American might pay for his water bill on his phone as well--but in reality, he is not using his phone--he is using the internet.  This is not on-line banking; it's an entirely different system that is totally based on the cell phone.

It's absolutely brilliant.  This is the kind of innovation that is changing the developing world.  Pay attention.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Once Again, Life is Not Fair.

The thunder woke us up last night.  Shortly after, the power went out.  The noise and the sweating kept us all up for a long while.

For us, big storms are just inconvenient.  The roads are flooded, we can't get our laundry to dry, and we deal with no electricity.  But as I lay there last night, inconvenienced, I couldn't help but think about the many in this city--just a few miles from me--who are genuinely suffering because of the rain.

There are tens of thousands of people in this city who live on flood plains.  Every time we get a big storm--and this is the tropics, so that happens often--five feet of sewage fills their homes.  Every year, dozens of people die from flooding.

In just the past few weeks, the government has been trying to get a handle on the flood problem by clearing the flood plains.  Bulldozers are coming in and knocking down thousands of homes.  Most of these people did not own the land, but some have title deeds, sold to them by unscrupulous men who should never have sold it.  Thousands of people are now homeless.  Some have committed suicide.  Some have put up shacks in the places where their homes once stood.

photo source BBC news, here
It would be easy to sit back from a distance and objectively say, "Well, they've got to solve the flooding problem somehow."  But I have a good friend who lives in one of these areas.  She and her family bought their land legitimately, and they have papers to show for it.  They built their house with their own blood, sweat, and tears.  They knew the were in a flood zone, so they elevated the house and built canals for the water.  The area floods, but their house does not.
They've created a good life for themselves, as both she and her husband are extremely hard workers.  Just a few weeks ago, they had scrimped and saved enough money to get electricity installed.  They were so proud.

Then, last weekend, some officials came by and painted a bright red X on their house.  Their house has been chosen for demolition.

I'm not casting blame in this situation, either on the government or anyone else.  I don't fully understand the intricacies of the system, so I don't know what justice should look like.  My friend tells me that the government has promised to relocate the people who have genuine title deeds.

I'm just sitting here, on my laptop computer, listening to the rain in my watertight house, wondering how I'm going to get my laundry to dry.  I'm thinking about the unfairness of life because I'm not worried about bulldozers suddenly appearing and knocking down my house.  I'm not even worried about my house flooding.

It's true that disaster strikes the rich and the poor alike, but the poor suffer so much more.  There just does not seem to be any good answers.  I'm conflicted, and sad, and tired.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

You Might Not Prosper....And Other Surprises From Context

If I want to be blessed, I need to pray for Israel, right?

What about the verse "by His stripes we are healed?"  Doesn't that mean physical healing?  

Won't God grant us physical healing when we take communion?

These are just a few of the questions that have come up this week as Gil has been teaching Bible Study Methods in our pastoral training program.  We are excited because we have a new class of 14 students this year--all who are already involved in ministry!  Gil is teaching them, Look carefully at what the verse is actually saying.  Consider the cultural implications.  And most importantly, Context, Context, Context!  

Then yesterday, I was reading an excellent post called God May Not Have a Wonderful Plan for Your Life.  The comment section disturbed me, as commenter after commenter used Jeremiah 29:11 as proof that God does, indeed, promise us a wonderful life.

Excuse me?  I know that the Christian community in general has an infatuation with Jeremiah 29:11, as it's probably the most printed verse on Christian greeting cards and refrigerator magnets.  I wonder if those who have made Jeremiah 29:11 their life verse have happened to read the entire chapter of Jeremiah 29.  For example, verses 17-18:

This is what the Lord Almighty says:  'I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten.  I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror.'"  

Hmmm.  I'd like to see someone make that their life verse.  Like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten just doesn't look nearly so good on a coffee cup as plans to give you a hope and a future.  As Gil always tells his students, it's all about Context, Context, Context!   

I'm not going to get into what this passage really does mean, because that's not my point today.  Suffice it to say that there definitely are applications in Jeremiah 29 for our lives today, but I'm confident God has promised you a wonderful life isn't one of them.  The truth is that just about all of us can use a bit more of Bible Study Methods in our lives, whether we live in Tanzania or America.

If you are a parent, this book is a fantastic place to start.  Gil is taking our kids through this great book, but I think that many Moms and Dads will benefit from it too. (I know I am!)

Monday, January 11, 2016

When Life Feels Like Drudgery

Some days, it's hard to get going in the morning when I am not looking forward to anything I have to do that day.  Drudgery, I think to myself.  

Maybe it's the weather these days.  I feel like a sticky, slimy slug most of the time.  Whoever invented the word sluggish must have lived in Dar es Salaam in January.

Maybe it's because the particular set of tasks assigned to me right now are not really my first choice in life.  I am in currently in charge of slogging through the paperwork to process our mission personnel's visas.  On our ministry team, I am responsible for accounting and marketing.  Both of which are not my strengths, and almost not even my weaknesses.

Of course, just trying to live in a developing country doesn't help.  It can take half a day to find the right-size light bulb.  The electricity doesn't always work.  The roads don't always work.  The water doesn't always work.  All my best laid plans for productivity often go to waste.

Some days, I just feel so tired.  I give up.  You win, World.  Congratulations.  Just let me lie on the floor in peace.

But I do get up.

This I call to mind:  Faithfulness in drudgery is what faithfulness is all about.  Most of life is drudgery, isn't it?  The messes, the commute, the weeds that keep growing, the bellies that need feeding, the clothes that need washing.

But the messes and the crying children and the electricity problems are just the individual puzzle pieces.  Alone, they seem endless and pointless.  But when I step back and give myself perspective, I remind myself that the visa applications and the search for working copy machines are part of a wider, much more glorious picture of what God is using us to do in Tanzania.  When I step back, I see that the cooking and the homework and the messes are part of the much more glorious picture of what God is doing in our family.

Every trudging step has meaning.
There will be an end, and there always is a point.

Wherever you are, be all there.  Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God. (Jim Elliot)

This life is the will of God for me right now.  So here's to living to the hilt.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

And Now She's Ten.

This girl......this girl made me a Mommy.  And now she's blessed us with her sunshine for 10 years.  

Ten is a great age.  Self-doubt hasn't hit her yet; she believes she can do anything without self-consciousness.  Her friends are the same; they love each other and cheer for each other without competition.  She loves her siblings, she loves sports and reading and crafts and trying out just about anything.  She can actually help me in the kitchen without being a liability.  She is a peace-maker and an includer.  She still holds my hand.  It's pretty amazing that I get the privilege of being her mom.  

Photo credit for both of the above:  Rebecca Laarman

We celebrated yesterday with her friends.  They made their own picture frames, their own pizza, and their own ice cream sundaes.  (Can you tell Grace is all about making things?)  They made a huge noise and a huge mess but it was a party to remember.  But I think my favorite part was when a Korean friend brought an entire plate of sushi rolls and all the girls scarfed them down.  True Third-Culture Kids.  

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Sometimes Heaven Looks Like This...But Just a Little Bit

The week after Christmas is probably our favorite week of the year. 

Just about the time when we can’t stand the heat and humidity any longer, we head to the mountains of Lushoto with our best friends.  It’s tradition now; we’ve done it almost every year we’ve lived in Tanzania. 

There’s clean, cool air, long, deep conversations, obsessive board game-playing, soccer, wiffle ball, Kindle reading, and no responsibilities of cooking and cleaning.  The kids play all day together outdoors, creating imaginary worlds and new games and getting fabulously dirty. 

It’s a little piece of heaven.  Except, this year we were reminded that it’s not actually Heaven, when one of the teens came down with Typhoid, and one family’s room was robbed of their valuables on New Year’s Eve.  So we all left a little bit sad, because even when we try to set up the Perfect Week, and even when we all really do have a great time, the brokenness of this world still gets in the way. 

On the way back down the mountain, we listened to the audio book of The Last Battle, our favorite Narnia book and perhaps, one of the greatest books ever written.  It was perfect timing.

“'[T]hat was not the real Narnia,” [said the Lord Digory].  ‘That had a beginning and an end.  It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia, which has always been here and always will be here:  just as our own world is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world.’

It was the unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling.  He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground…and cried:
‘I have come home at last!  This is my real country!  I belong here.  This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.  The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.  Come further up, come further in!’”

Yes, we love our Decembers in the mountains of Lushoto because it looks and feels a little like Heaven.  But the brokenness reminds us that it’s not.  So even during great weeks like this one, we remember we are still in the Shadowlands.  We look forward with anticipation to Aslan’s real world.  

It's really not that cold....we just like to pretend.

Our New Year's birthday girl....more about her later.