Friday, April 29, 2016

Read These Books

My favorites from the last six months or so....

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Elijah is a boy living in a Canadian colony of escaped American slaves.  This is a book for young people, but is so well written, highly entertaining, and deeply moving that I recommend it for adults as well.  Parts of it are emotionally intense (as a book on slavery should be), so we're going to wait a year or so before letting Grace read it.  (She is ten but pretty sensitive.)  

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

If you like historical fiction, you will enjoy this post-World War II novel.  It's full of fascinating historical detail, but also absolutely delightful storytelling.

What's Your Worldview? by James Anderson

Anything with "worldview" in the title always captures my interest.  This one is particularly useful, as it reads like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, helping the reader to understand his own worldview.  This would be an especially good book for older teens and college students.  

Prayer by Timothy Keller

I read this one slowly, over about four months, because every time I would read a few pages, I would want to stop, digest, and remember what I just read.  I wanted to cling to every word; it was that good.  I highlighted about half the book.

This book was fascinating!  The author digs deep into Joy's story, bringing out detail not found in the sugar-coated Shadowlands.  Joy was a brilliant writer, but also an ex-communist, brash, somewhat rude and selfish woman who fell in love with (and pursued) C.S. Lewis while still married to her first husband.  How God used their relationship and her cancer to bring out the best in them both is a wonderful story of redemption.

The Pastor's Kid by Barnabus Piper

John Piper's son wrote a book about being a pastor's kid.  This was a quick read, but useful for any parents who are involved in full-time ministry.  

Dreams of My Mothers by Joel L.A. Peterson

I read this one during our recent Zanzibar trip, and it's the kind of book you don't want to start unless you have a good chunk of time available--because you won't be able to put it down.  This is a semi-autobiographical story of a Korean child adopted by American parents.  But instead of pretending that the child's story began with his adoption (as happens often), the story gives equal time to his years living in Korea with his first mother.  The book is brutally heart-breaking but ultimately redemptive.  
*Please note:  This book contains strong language that may disturb sensitive readers.

So I know that I already plugged this book in my series on corruption in international adoption, but I just can't shut up about how good it is.  If you, or any Christian you know, is involved in international adoption or orphan care (even in a small way), this is an absolute must-read.  No other book on adoption (and I've read dozens) even comes close to the importance of this one.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Jackson Got Married

Jackson is a student in our theological training program.

He and a few others have a ministry where they go to high schools all over Tanzania and teach about God's plan for sex and marriage.  It's pretty awesome, especially considering that adultery is pretty much expected around here, even in the church.

So we think Jackson is pretty great.  And when he got engaged to Jehovah, he asked our partners, Mark and Alyssa, to stand in as his surrogate parents for the wedding.  

Which then led to the wedding itself being held at our training center.  

Since in Tanzania, the groom's friends and family plan the wedding, and Alyssa was the surrogate mother of the groom, she found herself thrust into the middle of wedding planning.  And I got to help her a little bit--in fact, I even had a title:  Secretary to the Mother of the Groom.  It's a real thing over here, and it meant that I got to give the prayer at the reception.

As the secretary to the mother of the groom, I learned all sorts of important things about weddings in Tanzania, like you must have toothpicks to serve the wedding cake (which led to a mad scramble to find toothpicks), and the parents of the groom are supposed to give a gift to the parents of the bride (which led to a mad scramble to find a gift), and that we better have a pen ready because the marriage certificate is signed during the ceremony.

It was one of those really happy days.

(Gil is not in any of these pictures because he was behind the camera.  Didn't he do a great job?)

The secretary and the "mother" of the groom

The best dressed guys at the wedding.  (Just don't mind the shoes.)

His "Aunt" Lauren

Photobomb #1

Photobomb #2 (Johnny ended up in a LOT of pictures)

After the ceremony, pretty much everything is about the dancing.  The bride and groom danced out of the car, the guests danced their way up to present their gifts, and everything in between.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When Her House Was Scheduled for Demolition

Lucy came home one day in January to find a large red X spray painted on her house.

This was not the work of some teenage hoodlum.  This was the work of government officials.  And the red X meant that her house was marked for demolition.

Because of a lack of city planning for the last 16 years, the new government is trying to make up for lost time.  Hundreds of thousands of people in this city of 5 million are living on land that was never designated for residential use.  Many of them are squatters.  However, many others, like Lucy and her husband, bought their land legally, fair and square.  Maybe it should never have been sold to them in the first place.  But that wasn't their fault.

Lucy cooking for us at her house

Lucy's house is on a flood plain.  She knew that when they bought it, and they have ingeniously built their house to avoid becoming water-logged.  But according to the government, the land is uninhabitable, and needed to be cleared of residents.

Late last year, that's exactly what happened in other parts of the city.  Thousands of houses were knocked down.  The people who lived there don't have anywhere else to go, so many of them are now living in shacks on top of the wreckage.  Lucy told me that many of them committed suicide.  

So on that fateful day in January when her house was marked, Lucy knew this was not an empty threat.  She knew that her house could be imminently be knocked down.  All the renters in the area immediately moved out.  The owners stayed.  For many of them, their house was all they had.

For Lucy and her family, this house represented years of hard work and laborious saving.  In a country where it's difficult to get a loan or a mortgage, she and her husband bought their land with cash.  Then they scrimped and saved again, and they built three rooms and an outhouse.  Even though Lucy cooks outside and buys water by the bucket from a neighbor, they are doing pretty well for themselves.  Just a few weeks before the red X appeared, they paid to have electricity installed.  

Demolition would mean the loss of everything they have worked for.  And here, there are no safety nets, no insurance plans, no welfare programs.  

When Lucy first told me about the red X, a cloud covered her normally sunny personality.  The stress had kept her from sleeping or eating well.  I had no words.  What could I possibly say?  I was weighed down by the utter unfairness of life.

I saw Lucy again a couple of weeks later.  She told me that hundreds of land owners from her neighborhood had made an appeal to the court.  The court promised to let them know in two months if they would get to keep their houses. For two months, anxiety would hang over the entire area.  

Lucy's demeanor, however, had entirely changed.  She told me with confidence, We will be okay.  We are young.  (Lucy is mid-30's and her husband 10 years older.)  We are strong.  If we have to start over again, we can do it.  God will take care of us.  We are trusting him.

Once again, for entirely different reasons, I was without words.  

During those two months, Lucy's faith did not waver.  She told me that she resonated with the story of Job.  God gives and God takes away, she said.  We will bless the name of the Lord, no matter what happens.  

Lucy had already been well acquainted with suffering.  Her childhood was marked by loss.  Her first pregnancy was twins, and she lost them at seven months gestation because of a doctor's error.  But when she decided to follow Jesus, there was no turning back.  And her life has reflected him since then, in how she loves her children, in how she loves her neighbors (she always adds extra rice to the pot to feed a few extra kids), her work ethic, and her joy.  

My kids and Lucy's girls

And now, God is evident in her faith.  Even in the likely prospect of losing everything, her faith in her God did not waver.  And as I listened to her and saw her joy, I couldn't help but wonder if my savings account and my health insurance are keeping me from something I never knew I was missing.  

As promised, at the end of March, the court gave their answer:  They decided to reverse the decision.  The houses would not be knocked down.  

I rejoiced with Lucy when I heard the news, but I couldn't help but notice that she didn't act very differently than she already had been.  She already had her joy; so this good news was just icing on the cake.  

A.M. Royden wrote, Learn to hold loosely all that is not eternal.  Colossians says, Set your eyes on things above, not on earthly things.

Lucy helps me see that I still have a long way to go.

Alyssa and I with Lucy on a visit to her house

Sunday, April 17, 2016

That Time It Rained in Zanzibar....But There Was Bacon

Back in December, Gil and I won a raffle prize at HOPAC's Christmas Family Fun Day.  We won two free nights at the Doubletree Hilton on Zanzibar Island.


Then I found airline tickets on sale, and spent $56 total for the two of us to fly to Zanzibar and back.  

Double score.  

The hotel voucher was only good for the month of April.  Quite certainly, this is because April is Zanzibar's rainiest month of the year so the hotel would have lots of empty rooms.

But hey, we didn't care.  We farmed out our kids and packed our bags and enjoyed three days and two nights on Zanzibar.  Sure, we didn't get to swim with dolphins or sea turtles or go snorkeling, because....African Rain.  But we enjoyed the limitless supply of air conditioning and hot water and all-you-can-eat bacon for breakfast.  

And guess what?  Zanzibar is beautiful even in the rain.  

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Great Battle of 2016 for Dar es Salaam (and the Soul of Amy Medina)

It was an Epic Battle.

The Heat had dominated for long enough.  Summer in Dar es Salaam is always dominated by Heat, but this year, El Nino gave it an extra boost that turned it into the worst season we've experienced in our 12 years here.  Days that turned into weeks that turned into months of temperatures well over 100 degrees, with a heat index of around 120.  Yep, for months.  And this in a place where there is very little air conditioning, and usually you are lucky to just have electricity.  

These past few months, almost every afternoon I would need to lie down in a heap of sweat and frazzled nerves, submitting myself to the Heat, picking up all the shreds of my resolve just to stand in front of my oven and cook dinner.  I told the Heat, You've won!  You've won!  I give up!  And yet still, relentlessly, it sought after my life, sucking away my patience and my brain cells, like The Machine in the Pit of Despair.

And so we all waited and prayed for our Rescuer to come:  The Rain.  It came in timidly at first, giving us a shower here and there, but the relief would only last a few minutes.  Then, in the last few weeks, the showers would last longer.  We would prop open our doors and put fans in front of our windows, desperately trying to suck in as much cool air as possible.  We would breathe deep and almost cry with relief.....but it would only last an hour.  The Heat would push the clouds away and reappear in full vengeance, angry from losing a battle.

Until yesterday.

It was morning, the clouds were out, the drizzling had begun.  But I needed flour.  I figured, Eh, the rain is just playing around again.  I can just walk to the nearest duka.  So I got out my umbrella and set off for the duka that's about 100 yards away.  

No flour.  I pushed onwards, thinking that someone in some duka has got to have flour.  Isn't anyone cooking chapati or mandazi today?  I checked another duka, then another.  Still no flour, and now the rain started to mean business.  Thunder and lightning flashed around me.  But I had come this far, and I didn't want to go home without flour.  By the time I got to the fifth duka, the bottoms of my pant legs were soaked.  This duka did have flour, but only in 25 kilo sacks.  Um, that's not going to work.  

In defeat, I turned around and headed home, but now I realized that I was right out in the middle of the Epic Battle with The Heat.  This was no sprinkle; This Was Rain.  And if you've never experienced the Rains Down in Africa, well, they're amazing enough to write a song about.  My umbrella became useless; in vain I tried to pull my pant legs above my knees as I picked through the mud.  By the time I was almost home, no one was walking on the road anymore.  Some men beckoned me to come stand with them under an awning and I politely declined.  I'm sure they all got a good laugh at the mzungu who looked like a drowned rat and who never did find her flour.

It rained for eight hours yesterday, and the battle wasn't without its casualties.  The Rain forced itself through schools, homes, and even walls, making rivers for itself in places where it wasn't invited.  The roads flooded and snarled traffic for hours.  It took me 40 minutes each way to pick up Johnny from pre-school, only a mile away.  HOPAC closed an hour early to get their buses on the road so that the kids could be home before dark.  

The power went out in the middle of the night.  But for the first time in months, we didn't wake up from suffocating heat.  The sun came out this morning, and the power is still off as I write this.  Most of the world would still consider this weather stifling.  However, my hair is not in a ponytail for the first time in months, and I am not sweating.  The Heat is losing its resolve.  

It feels like a miracle.

The Rain Won.

Collectively, Dar es Salaam breathes a sigh of relief.  And I might just get my brain cells back.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Imagine Your Children are Black

In his book, Under Our Skin, Benjamin Watson relates the story from the book/movie A Time to Kill, when the lawyer presents his closing argument. The lawyer is white, the jury is white, but the brutalized child-victim is black. The lawyer describes the 10-year-old girl walking home from school. Two grown men jump out of a truck, grab her, and viciously gang rape her. Then they throw beer cans at her, urinate on her, attempt to hang her, and throw her over a cliff.

The lawyer says to the jury, 'Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she's white.'

Watson writes, "The tragedy of the racial divide is that it simply isn't personal enough. For so many, it's just an argument, a philosophy, a political position....But these people are not really human lives to us. Those lives remain distant from us. And they are lives of a different color. Now imagine it's your own child."

That is me.

When I think about racial problems in America, it is personal to me. Because it is my child.

So when Watson writes, "You simply need to know that in the black community, police abuse and brutality are givens," I think about my own son. Watson continues, "The threat of police to innocent black people is assumed, something everything knows is true. And the black community knows that the white community is blind to it.  Why? Because they don't experience it. We do. White people have no idea of the fear that black people feel towards the police. I cannot say that strongly enough, loudly enough, or forcefully enough."

One day when he is living in America, how will I feel if my own son is needlessly pulled over and harassed by the police?

How will I feel if my daughter is trailed by a sales clerk at a high end department store?

How will I feel the first time my child is called the N-word?

I realize that my children are not African-American; they are just African. They do not share the heritage of the vast majority of black people in the United States. But one day, they'll live in America, and it's not going to matter where they are from. All the stereotypes and prejudices that African-Americans experience will be heaped onto them simply because of the color of their skin.

So racism is personal to me. But it should be for all of us.

I realize that I'm never, ever going to completely understand. There is always going to be a part of my children's life experiences that I won't be able to relate to. But I am certainly going to try.

If I am going to be brutally honest, I must admit that I don't know if I would have been so interested in the topic of racism if I didn't have black children. I've always known I wasn't a racist, so I figured I wasn't part of the problem. Couldn't we all just be color-blind?

But because I have black children, I've determined to listen better. And harder. So when I read the words of Christian Professor Jarvis Williams, "The color-blind theory of race denies the racialized experiences of those marginalized," I pay attention. When my gospel-centered and African-American friend Wendy tells me how hurt she is when white Christians tell her they are color-blind and thus don't need to discuss racial issues, I listen.

Watson writes, "You'd think that after all this time we'd have reached real parity between the races, that there would be truly equal opportunity, and that we'd be seeing and experiencing fairness in society between blacks and whites. A lot of white people believe that's actually where we are. A lot of black people know we aren't."

Wendy explained to me, "The seemingly mistrust of blacks in general is unfortunate... and it is real. The negative stereotypes and perceptions are real, and hurtful." Wendy is helping me to understand how I can be a better mom to my kids, but just as importantly, she is helping me become a better American Christian.

And that is exactly where the rubber meets the road. White American Christians have got to come to grips with the fact that the church is "the most segregated institution in America.  Christianity Today reported in January 2015 that 'Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours in American life, with more than 8 in 10 congregations made up of one predominant group.'" (Benjamin Watson)

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr, wrote, "I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian...brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the...Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."

As a white American Christian who has learned the hard way that I have not actively listened enough, cared enough, or tried hard enough to do my part towards racial reconciliation, I am making a plea to my Christian brothers and sisters to learn from my mistakes.

This book is an excellent place to start. My main purpose for this post is to strongly encourage you to read Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson. It is short, readable, and relevant. Watson is gospel-centered, humble, and exhorts Christians to examine ourselves--no matter what our color--because all of us can work harder towards reconciliation. His words are fair, balanced, and convicting.

He writes, "The solution to the problem of race in America will be found by ordinary people, 'good' people, looking inside themselves, being honest about the assumptions and biases that have formed, and beginning to change what's in their hearts."

Would it matter to you more if your children were black? Then imagine they are.