Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

My plane touched down in Atlanta last Monday and my life has been spinning ever since. The first thing I see as I am walking toward baggage claim is two security gaurds riding alongside each other on bicycles wearing helmets. I laugh out loud to myself and wish I was with someone to say "I am definitely back in America." :)

The transition has been ok, fortunately jet lag has not really effected me. But I am experiencing a little reverse culture shock. The other day my mama, sister, and I went Christmas shopping and I realized just how quickly and easily one can slip back into that consumeristic mindset. I saw this dress and it was like something came over me and in my head I was like "i NEED that dress!" I started thinking about the shoes I would wear with it, the jewelry..oh that would look so good... I resisted buying the dress and as soon as I got to the car I was fine and back to the mentality of I have way too much stuff already. But it did not take long to slip back into all the temptations we face here in our culture to have something new, to get dressed up and look pretty.  

I know many of you are wondering what my next step is... And as of now I am not entirely positive. The one thing I do know for sure is I will be returning to Africa, I am just not sure when. My heart is for the country of Zimbabwe. I know it is in the news a lot right now and with the violent tactics of the thug militias and cholera outbreaks all over the country it makes it a scary place. But what the news does not report is that 1 out of every 3 children are orphans! And everyday at least 20 corpses of newborn babies are found thrown away or even flushed down the toilets and that is just in Harare ALONE! Unless you have access to USD or the South African Rand it is impossible to buy even the simplest of necessities, they can't farm because they don't have seeds. They are STARVING! Thousands of orphans...NO FOOD! 

During my last week in Arusha I was able to attend a conference with Young Life leaders from all over Africa. By His grace, six leaders from Zimbabwe were there. I had met all of them during my time at Chris and Norma's farm in 2007. It was a beautiful reunion! We talked a lot about the situation on the ground and what some of the purest needs are. Nkosi, 23 year old who grew up as a child head of the house himself said what the children need even before food is just someone who cares. He said the people feel like the world has turned their backs on Zimbabwe. Even while he was in Tanzania, all people wanted to talk about was the inflation rate and cholera....no one really asked "How are YOU doing?" 

Please join me in praying for this country. Pray that the Holy Spirit would nudge the hearts of other African leaders to step up and challenge President Robert Mugabe. Pray for courage for all of the people living under these harsh conditions and that they would continue to hold on. Pray for the mamas and widows who are doing the best they can with the overwhelming numbers of children in their villages. Pray for the NGOs who are still there trying to make a difference. And lastly pray mightily that Jesus would pour His grace upon the whole country; that he will bring his people back from captivity; he will bring health and healing to Zimbabwe and let the people enjoy abundant peace and security just like he did for Israel! 

Have a Merry Christmas and may you see His blessings always!

Nkosi, Sindie, Lims, Nkotula, Quentin, and Patson
My Heroes!!!!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lusaka, Zambia

Hallie has gone back to America and I am now flying solo...I am in Lusaka, Zambia staying with Chris and Norma Ferguson. I met Chris on my first trip to Africa, where he spoke to our group about the horrific conditions of his home country Zimbabwe. His bold words of the basically negligent western world and our obsessions with ourselves were extremely convicting. He challenged us with TRUTH and filled our hearts with the words of Jesus where he calls us to the poor and suffering.

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. Proverbs 14:31

Last summer, I was blessed enough to go and visit Zimbabwe and see for myself the state of the country; and it is most definitely a struggling nation. But it was wonderful to be there...I met Chris' wife Norma and spent an incredible week on their farm, feeding orphans, transporting people to clinics, and praying with the dying. It was heavy...but I felt God there in a way I had never felt Him before.

Chris and Norma now live in Zambia due to the crisis and I will be here with them for two more weeks! We have visited three orphanages here and having lived in Africa for most of their lives, they have a plethora of knowledge to help me with Takes A Whole Village. I am so grateful that God has brought them into my life.

I will be home in December in time for Christmas and I look forward to sharing more with each of you in person. I continue to thank God for all of you...what an amazing group of supporters...im humbled.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I always have to steal my kisses from you

Since leaving Cradle of Love, we have said goodbye to Christy and Stephanie who have gone to spend the rest of their time in South Africa. We miss them, but know they are continuing to impact the kingdom through their love for the children of Africa!

Hallie and I meanwhile have left Arusha as well and are currently in Kigali, Rwanda. Let me just say every time I think an experience cannot be topped (cradle of love) God just goes and outdoes Himself. :) Luckily, one of our YL committee families happened to go to Rwanda in June and told me that I had to meet the director of this organization called New Hope. The idea is to put orphans in a home with a family like setting as opposed to an orphanage. The idea is absolutely brilliant and is similar to what i had in mind for my own organization: Takes a Whole Village. To get to see how this idea is played out on a daily basis has blessed me immensely and has provided a great model for my own initial vision!

The older children preparing to sing us a song...

Hallie and I got the awesome opportunity to actually live in one of the houses. There were ten kids ranging in age from 1-8 years old. It was a little awkward at first as none of the adults spoke any english - NONE! Our only communication was through hand signals and facial expressions...it got pretty humorous at times. The older children were kind of intimidating and to be honest, Hallie and I were a little nervous.

We woke up on our first morning to find most of the kids gone. The mamas were busy doing laundry, cleaning, and running around while several of the smaller children tottled around
outside or simply lay in their cribs. We did not know what was going on or what we were suppose to do and we finally realized the older kids must be at school. After playing with the babies for a little while we decided to hop on motorcycle taxis (sorry mama) and go to town to get some groceries. When we got back, thankfully the older kids were home and we could finally speak to some people in english and start trying to get to know them a little better.

The next day we met the Director, who is from Rwanda but speaks fluent English and was incredibly helpful in explaining how the organization works. She has hired a primary school teacher to teach all of the children of New Hope and their classroom was just up the street from where we were staying. She encouraged us to go to school and help out in the classroom. This is where we really started bonding with the children. We played heads-up seven up, hang man on the chalkboard, read with them, did arts and crafts and just loved on them. W
e would walk them home from school and then eat dinner with them...walls starting coming down and next thing you know I'm attached to a whole new set of children. Oh great......I can already tell im going to have to experience another bout of separation anxiety.

But I do have to say that there is something about these children that surprised me. I was absolutely obsessed with the older boys in the house..Typically, im more drawn to girls...I have never been very good with boys, not really knowing what to do with them. I am about as girlie as it gets and I have always found little boys to be too rambuctious for me. But there was something about these four that i just loved! Isaac and Sande are 8 years old and Lionel and Innocent are 6 years old. And they just stole my heart...especially Isaac. As the oldest, he was the most responsible and you could tell was the house leader. He was the one that would
 always come get us for lunch or dinner and he was the mama's little translator for us. I could spend hours outside with them just kicking the soccer ball until it was time for dinner. I began to notice what a difference there is between little boys and girls. One of the little girls who I loved, named Peace, always wanted affirmation and affection. She was constantly looking for open approval, but the boys were so different. I would look over and see Sande or Isaac holding one of the babies or loving on the younger ones and I would just want to go smother them with smooches because it was so cute, but I know they didnt want attention in that way. But I would catch them answering a question right at school and when they would look over at me and smile as to say "did you see that?" I knew they did want affirmation but just in different way. I just loved how they were such boys! :) When Isaac would come in to to say goodnight it was all that much sweeter because its not as expected.

Peace and My Isaac

One of my favorite memories (maybe of my whole life) was at the end of a school day when the teacher asked Sande to pray. I watched every single child in that room (4-8 year olds) either bow their head, put their face in their hands, or simply lift their heads to the sky while Sande prayed for literally 4 or 5 minutes. It was so long that Hallie and I kept hitting each other and wondering what this precious child was praying. I was humbled at the fact that an eight year old was this thankful and this prayerful...it was BEAUTIFUL!!!!! It was such a wonderful reminder that I too must enter the kingdom this way - like a child.

Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom 
of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth anyone who does not recieve the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. - Luke 18:16-17

On our last night we threw them an ice cream party with cookies and the whole room started cheering with excitement. I think maybe the mamas and aunties were more excited than anyone. :) We attended one last day of school with them and after walking home chanting a cheer we made up for them we had to start packing up. When Isaac came to tell us our taxi was here...i thought "Already?!" I wasn't ready to say goodbye. But we put our packs on and for those who did not understand when we said we had to leave, understood now. They all followed us to the car and while we were hugging each of them indivdually I looked around a
nd did not see My Isaac. So I went back inside the gate and saw him on the other side. I grabbed him and just told him what a good boy he is and how much i would miss him. But he uncharacteristically pulled away from me and then I realized he didnt want me to see him cry. Which of course only brought tears to my own eyes but I just walked back outside the gate because i didnt want to lose it in front of him in fear it would only make the situation harder. Gosh, I can't keep doing this goodbye thing. It's horrible!

As our car pulled away Hallie and I watched outside the back window only to see Innocent who is the "toughest" of all (He would always duck our goodnight kisses and squirm when we tried to hug him) fall to a squat with his face in his arms and he too was crying. This was in a lot of ways harder than leaving COL because the children are older and they understood. Plus I 
dont think they get as many volunteers. This experience was extremely influential for 
me and God revealed himself to me in so many ways here in Rwanda. I give him all of the thanks and all of the praise! Stay tuned.........

Sande (the future pastor), Doreen, and Fabiola

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The night before life goes on....

I can't believe our time at Cradle of Love is over. It seems like yesterday when we were the new volunteers just trying to learn all the names of the babies and nannies and now we are leaving family. I tried to savor every moment of our last night with them. The last time we would give them their nightly bath, the last bedtime story, the last time we would watch them run around in their matching pajamas doing the hokey pokey. And the last time I would lay my sweet Neema down in her crib. My heart literally aches when I think of how much I am missing them already...

Some of my Favorite Memories:

Stepping out of our apartment and coming down the stairs with the children in the backyard chanting our names.

Taking one or two of them with us down to the street shop and letting them be adored by all the people that passed them on the street.

Going out at night and passing the window to the kitchen where the nannies would sit around the table after the kids are in bed and they would "Ohhh and Ahhhhh" because they were so used to seeing us in scrubs.

Picking berries and fruit off the trees and hearing all the little voices "And me..." "And me..." because the two fist fulls were just never enough.

Our gaurd forever trying to teach us kiswahili by making us tell him where we were going every time we left the gate.

Singing the blessing before every meal and how the babies would clap their little hands and shout "yayyyy."

I could not have been more blessed by my experience these past three months. Despite the fact that there is a little hole in my heart as I move on, I am so grateful that I am getting to live a life that is so rich that it can evoke emotions as deep as this one has for me. I will never forget these little people or the incredibly strong women who care for them on a daily basis.

To all of you who have contributed to my being here, I am eternally grateful. I can't wait to see what God has in store for my next few months! He is ALIVE and humbles me daily! Thanks for walking with me through this amazing journey...

Joshua at bath time...loving it!

You have no idea how hard it was to get this picture. I must have taken 20 and this one the only one I got where where they were all in the frame. They thought it was so funny to keep running around. Such hoodlums....Love them!!
From Left: Big Maria, Rachel, Salimu, Joshua, and Neema

The day these sweet nannies presented me with a traditional African Kitenge (cloth)

Nanny Neema who took especially good care of us. I will miss her so much.

Baby Hope and Baby Lawrence in their bunk cribs. Look at those little eyes!! :)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Too Many....

Today was an amazing day. Let me preface it with a little background information...

Meredith has become a friend of ours because she was planning to adopt a baby girl from Cradle of Love. However, Helena was one of the ones who we took to the clinic to be tested for HIV. (Please see post "Dream Maker"). Well, we got the tests back and all FOUR babies tested positive for the virus. It was a heart-breaking day at COL and Meredith was of course devastated. A couple of weeks later, we took them all back for a follow-up visit, and a different doctor told us that we may have been misinformed about the kind of test they were given. Turns out that three of the babies viral loads (Bahati, Clinton, and Helena) were so low that it led the doctor to believe that it was simply infected anti-bodies received from their mothers, and there is still a chance they could be virus free! 

So we immediately contact Meredith to tell her that there is a glimmer of hope that she could still take Helena home. Only Meredith who thinks Helena is no longer an option, informs us that her social worker has discovered that there is another pregnant woman with AIDS who has agreed to relinquish her baby to Meredith. In addition to that, the social worker also introduced her to two orphaned children 3 and 6 who are living with their 90 year grandmother in a mud hut that may fall down if there is one more storm. 

Ok this brings us up to date with where we are today. Meredith, Hallie, and I took Ema (6), Opportuna (3), and Helena (4 months) to all get tested for AIDS. It is extremely difficult to bring home to America an AIDS baby, so Meredith just wanted to know what she was up against. Helena's mother was infected, delivered vaginally, and breastfed which gives her a 40% chance of contracting the disease. We do not know as much about Ema and Opportuna but they are cousins. Ema's mother died when he was only 7 days old and they never knew who the father was. His grandmother is the only relative he has left. Opportuna's mother and father are both still living but the father is in his seventies and unemployed and the mother left her with her grandmother never to be seen again.

We pick up the social worker and the three of us drive out on horribly bumpy roads until we reach the sticks and mud "house" where the family lives. The grandmother sits in a chair peeling greens surrounded by neighbors and the two precious children. Ema is eager to come with us, but Opportuna is a little more cautious. We explain that we are going to get them both tested at the clinic and then we will bring them home. 

We all pile in Meredith's tiny Rav 4  with each of us a baby on our lap. When it was our turn to see the doctor, I felt terrible as I held Opportuna while they pricked her finger and squeezed the blood onto a test kit. She was crying probably wondering why these white strangers have come and taken her away from all she knows to hurt her. We bought them lollie pops as we waited for their results. About 10 minutes later they come and inform us that baby Helena is still testing positive, but she is still so young that there is hope she will end up being healthy. And as for Ema and Opportuna, they are both NEGATIVE. We were so excited.

I have to tell you a little bit about each of these children. Ema is a very special little boy, I was with him for only a couple of hours today but I can just tell there is something different about him. You know he is bright and he is longing to be loved. He smiles and snuggles and would have gone home with any of us. You can tell he is ready for more. For six years he has lived in a tiny mud hut never having any parents...can you imagine it? He has this special spirit that just makes you want to be near him. I wondered how I could already love someone so much that I had literally just met.....

Opportuna is younger and a lot more unsure of her surroundings with us. She would not smile, she simply observed cautiously. But she is beautiful and with a little love and attention I know she would blossom into a bubbly little girl. She has grown up not being held, never rocked, hardly touched, you can understand why she seems so distant and emotionless. 

Because of Tanzanian law, Meredith can only take two. She feels committed to the new born and if Helena turns out negative she will most likely take her as well. But she wants to help Ema and Opportuna because their situation is desperate. She is looking into orphanages for them...but that is not enough!! They need a mama and a daddy. Or atleast one. Tears stream down my face as I write this because sadly this is the situation of so many children here. The social worker knows many many more children in USA River (where we live) living with elderly grandparents who are just too old to properly care for them and will most likely pass away before they even hit their teens. I think about all the children in just this village who live this way, and then I think of how many there are in all of Tanzania. It's too overwhelming to even think about the numbers on the whole continent. And in a way these children are worse off than even those in orphanages because as their grandparents pass away they will just disappear into who knows what...street life, prostitution, deeper poverty, etc. 

My life is better today because of meeting these two children because it reaffirms why God has called me here. To be a voice for these children, to be a light for them, for them to be a light to me. Between the three of us, we are going to in some way help Ema and Opportuna, but for all the others I hope and pray for a more promising future....

Ema, Opportuna, Helena all with the 90 year old grandmother

At the clinic, after we discovered they were negative! 

Ema and I in the waiting room...He would sit with me and hold my hand. At one point I put my arm around him and he scooted closer to me. I just wanted to scoop him up and keep him forever. He is so dear!! 

The mud hut where Ema and Opportuna are currently living with their grandmother. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

When it rains, it pours

We spent an interesting day with the Tanzanian immigration department as we have just been informed, now that we have 10 days left of volunteering at Cradle of Love, it is mandatory for us to apply for $120 work visas. So we went into town and had to go have passport pictures taken, filled out applications, and took a letter from our director. When we got there, turns out we need five pictures...not four like they had originally told us. We also need a resume, our college diploma, organization constitution and a bunch of other useless paperwork just to give us the run around. It took forever, we missed lunch and when we got back to the baby home, our director comes to the gate and warns us "brace yourself the whole apartment flooded"

We go upstairs and our sweet new roommate, Emma, and our gardener, David, are mopping water outside the door...all of our bags are on the porch. Unfortunately, Emma's computer was ruined but the other three computers along with cameras and journals all survived, thank you Jesus. Here in Africa, the water often shuts off and we can go hours without it. Apparently, Emma had tried to turn the water on and there was none and she just forgot to turn the knob back off, so when the water came back no one was in the apartment and it flooded about 1 inch deep.

A lot of our bags and clothes got wet, but all
 in all things could have been so much worse. When we got home from our porch we looked out on to the backyard where all the babies and nannies were sitting outside watching us go through our wet stuff...they all shouted "Pole Sana" (I'm so sorry) It was a great reminder to be thankful for what survived and not be upset about the things that didn't because what we have is so plentiful. So even though we sit in our apartment with clothes hanging everywhere and bags, books, and papers below fans trying to dry everything out...I will look to him and say Your grace is sufficient for me.

David who worked tirelessly to clean up the water and salvage our belongings...Asante Sana Bwana!!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hiasha Lord!

Something interesting about African women...when they are pregnant, you should never ask them when the baby is due or what they are planning to name the child...in fact they do not really like to talk about it all. You see they focus much more on getting through each day at a time and do not want to "count their chickens" too soon. We have several pregnant nannies, and I never even know until they are like 7 or 8 months along because no one talks about it.

But when we got here on August 1st, there was one nanny you could tell was pregnant because she was obviously showing in her little scrubs. Her name is Juliet, and we have gotten particularly close. (see 'Nanny Time' post) One day a few weeks ago, Juliet tripped down this small flight of stairs straight on to her stomach. She was immediately helped up by other
 nannies, as she wiped away tears from her face. Helen, the grandmother of the home, was telling her she must go to the hospital and make sure the baby was ok, but she refused. I wondered if it was a financial issue and I was worried about the baby's health, so I went to talk to Nanny Neema and I told her what happened. So at that point we both approached Juliet and we tried to convince her to go to the hospital. I told her I would go with her or pay or whatever. But she just shook it off and said she felt fine. She was not budging. So I just asked her if I could pray for her and the baby...She accepted so I put my hand on her tummy and she and Neema and I all held hands. 

The weeks went by and it was time for us to head to Zanzibar for a week. I told Juliet she could not have the baby until I got back. She promised she would "wait for me." :) But sure enough when we got home, I heard she had given birth to a healthy baby girl! Thank you Jesus!!  

So today Neema took Christy, Hallie, Stephanie and I to see her and the baby. She is doing really well. In her tribe, it is customary for a woman to live with her husband's family for the first month after the baby's born. So we visited her at her sister-in-laws house.  The baby's name is Beyonce Hiasha. Hiasha means 'Thank you' in her tribal language. She is a beautiful baby and I am so thankful she arrived here in good health and that her amazing mama is doing so well.  

The girls with Neema and Gertrude (two other nannies from COL) as we cheers for Juliet and the baby! 

Juliet and me holding precious Beyonce! 


Sunday, September 14, 2008

God in the huts

Hallie and me at dinner in Stonetown

We just got home from a lovely little vacay on the island of Zanzibar!! It was amazing! We spent a day snorkeling, enjoyed hour long massages right there on the beach, and in Stonetown went on a guided spice tour. It was a wonderful 6 days, but I wanted to share with you what the Lord taught me during our trip. 

As we drove from our beachfront bungalow where we marveled at crystal blue waters and relaxed in hammocks to get to our quaint bed and breakfast with balconies off the rooms and a roof-top terrace that looks straight out to the Indian ocean; I noticed how different life was for the people who live in between. We passed street shops selling fruits and vegetables, little shacks with kangas hanging on clothes lines, men gathered at woodshops talking in the shade, children resting on giant banana leaves...etc. Seeing these people living out their daily lives, made me miss the Africa that I love. Don't get me wrong, it was great sleeping in a big comfy bed, standing under hot water with pressure, and not having to brush my teeth out of a water bottle, but I realized that while I was "living" it up, I didn't see God as much. At least I didn't think about Him as much. I see God with those bibi wawili (grandmothers) trying to sell fruit to support the children of their children who have been stolen by AIDS. I see Him with widows and orphans. He is with those who must walk for miles to get water. 

Everyone wants to know how to get to know God better and how to have a stronger relationship with Him...I think the way to get closer to God is to get farther from yourself. We must strip ourselves of the comfortable robes we wrap ourselves in. It's a tricky culture where everything is catered to us but those "conveniences" are blinding, deafening, and worst of all numbing. We can do a good deed here and there and I believe that is pleasing to Him, but to truly know the heart of our Savior, we must go where He is. And He is with the poor and suffering. When Jesus lived as man on the earth he was never comfortable. He was born in a manger, humbly rode into Jeruselum on a donkey, and died on a cross! I am so thankful that we have a Lord who is not only drawn to the poor materialistically but also to those with poor attitudes, poor behavior, and poor intentions. 

Zanzibar was awesome and I am grateful that I was able to experience it. And as the saying goes "all good things must come to an end" But we must find a new good. For me, I am excited to be back to the babies, to the women on our street who are selling the bananas, to the Violets, to the people who will live in my heart to no end.....

Sweet Violet

One night a couple of weeks ago after the children had all gone to bed, I was hanging out in the downstairs kitchen with some of the nannies. Nanny-Neema seemed not her usual spunky self so I asked her if she felt ok. She said she was sad because her sister was very sick.
"What's wrong with her?" I asked. She described her symptoms as strong stomach pains and headaches. I told her I was sorry and that I would pray for Violet.

Throughout the following days, I asked Neema how Violet was feeling. Unfortunately she came to me with a grim report...Violet had gone to the clinic and been diagnosed with malaria, tuburculosis, and HIV.  Turns out her husband had passed away recently from the disease as well. 

A few nights later, Neema and I were giving the toddlers their snack before bed and she invited me to come to her house and meet Violet. I felt so incredibly humbled and honored that she would welcome me into that part of her life. I told the other three girls and they wanted to join as well. So sweet Neema rode the dala dala (public transportation aka broken down van that carries a minimum of 30 people) to COL to pick us up and take us to her house. Going to someone's home here creates such a bond and they are so grateful...In America, it is often the other way around, you feel so honored when you are the guest. Here they are the honored to have you in their home. But I know we felt just as blessed to be there as they did to host us. 

When we arrived they were of course so welcoming. "Karibu! You are so welcome..feel at home!" First, we meet her mother who hugs us and gives us the double cheek kisses. :) Then we meet her brother, sister-in-law, and finally her two little nieces who could not have been more precious. Lightnus and Joyce were their names and they were nine and seven. They came up to us and curtsey and say "it is so nice to meet you." in their gentle but perfect english. They have one little hut, but they are pretty "well off" with two cows and several chickens running around. They set out little stools outside for us and after getting a little more acquainted, Violet comes out to meet us. She appears to be doing pretty well, despite looking weak and tired...she is lovely. 

Then they serve us cokes in bottles and Neema asked Lightnus to pray.

"Dear God thank you for these drinks. Amen."

It was so simple but beautiful. Why do we make it complicated? Prayers do not have to be elaborate or super spiritual, just be thankful, like Lightnus. After a little while, I asked Neema if we could circle around Violet and pray for her. I held her hand and asked God to heal her and bless their family...I don't really remember what all I prayed but I tried to keep it simple and and just believe. 

At the end of the visit, I gave Lightnus and Joyce each a miniature candy bar and I was amazed as I saw them both pinch off about half of it and give it to their aunt Violet. Sharing, giving...never-ending theme. 

There were some moments that were a little awkward when no one was talking (the language barrier kicks in at times) but I have learned to embrace those moments all the same because it means so much to them for us to be there. Surely I can handle a few uncomfortable moments of silence, if Neema's mother who speaks no english can sit there with us for hours not understanding a word we say but be so incredibly grateful that we are there. Neema translated for her several times that they were so blessed to have us. 

Gratitude is not something they lack, Lightnus and Joyce profusely thanked us for the candy with hugs and kisses and holding our hands. They kept saying, "Asante for the yum-yum." We took lots of pictures and there was lots of embracing. They all walked us back down the long dirt road to the dala dala stop and Neema's brother was thanking me for coming and thanking me for my heart for the orphans of Africa. But I told him that Africa blesses me maybe even more and he said,  "We depend on each other." Amen!!!!!  

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Things I have seen and loved about Africa

1) You do not pass people on the streets without speaking

2) You greet people with the double cheek kiss

3) You can get a cold coke in a bottle for 35 cents

4) Men hold hands when talking to each other as a sign of friendship

5) You can walk outside and pick nuts, berries, and fruits off of trees and eat them right then and there

6) Mamas carry their babies in kongas on their backs everywhere

7) How simple it is for the poor to find joy in all circumstances

8) The sense of gratitude among the people. Their welcoming spirit..."Karibu, Karibuni!" (Welcome, you are welcome here!) The way our very presence blesses them and how expressive they are with their thankfulness...

9) The eyes of the children...it's like looking into their souls

10) People are not afraid to pray, worship, or talk about their Jesus!!!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dream Maker

This is Clinton and he has the cutest personality. If you just say his name he starts grinning. He is so laid back and easy. I love him to pieces!!
This is Bahati. I think COL must have the cutest babies in all of Tanzania! He has dimples on both cheeks and they just melt you!

Today Christy, Hallie, and I took three babies to get tested for HIV.  I have been to several clinics in Africa, but for some reason every time I go I am still surprised by the fact that its basically a hole in the wall. We took Clinton, Bahati, and Helena into an office where they recorded their information into the only little computer they had. They then weighed them on a scale that looks like what we weigh our fruit in at Publix and measured their length with like a yard stick. 
We were then told to go to the "waiting room." (waiting room in Africa = plastic chairs under a tent outside.)

We had been sitting for about 45 seconds before some other women also waiting came over and said "give me babies...give me babies!" and literally took Clinton from Christy's lap. Um...ok. It was funny...Then someone came and took Helena from Hallie. They would have probably taken Bahati if he hadn't been asleep in my arms. In Africa, people share food, water, and apparently babies. :) 

We waited for about an hour and then they finally started calling us in. When it was Bahati's turn, I took off his cloth diaper and laid him on a desk...(patient room/office i guess) The clinic was small and was very humble compared to our standards but I have to tell you that those doctors were so sweet to these babies. They are only 6 months old and can't understand anything going on around them, but there were three workers surrounding each one as they proceeded with the needle test just loving on and consoling the babies as they screamed! Afterward the male doctor picked up Bahati and was cuddling him. It was so cute. They may not have all the machines and technology, but the bedside manner was to be remembered. 

We could not put their diapers back on because their little punctures needed to breathe so the whole way home I held Bahati pants-less....made me really nervous. :) But he did great and did not go to the bathroom on me. Good Boy!! 

We will not know the results of their for another few weeks, but please pray with us that all three babies will be negative. We obviously hope they are healthy so they can grow to live long happy lives, but they are also potential adoptees and the process is a lot easier if the children are not HIV positive.  

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pictures for your enjoyment!

My Baby Neema....She is truly the love of my life. It's really hard to think about coming home without her. 

Agatha...i have no words....ill try to provide a video which will explain more than I ever could...

Here's Neema again...How beautiful is she?

On the playground with 2 of the 3 "big boys."
Simon and Cory. They are my little translators. I'm constantly like "how do you say this in kiswahili...how do you say that?!" How nice to be bilingual at three years old! 

"Ni busu" = Kiss me! 

The big kids before bed. I just adore them! 

Nanny time

Lately we have had a lot of day volunteers. It's been nice because most of the babies have been getting more one on one attention. Due to the increase in help, I have been trying to help the nannies do the more mundane tasks that keep the orphanage running, ie dishes, laundry, etc. I have loved getting to spend time with them because number one it helps me with my swahili :) but more importantly it just gives me the opportunity to get to know them and to be a witness to them.

Today Hallie and I went up the street and ate lunch at an African buffet. Its not the best food in the world but its a nice change from the everyday peanut butter and jelly. When I got back for my second shift of work at 3, Neema one of the nannies said she and Juliet had waited to eat lunch with me and pulled me into the kitchen. I was already so incredibly full but I saw three plates sitting there with rice, potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers...they were sharing THEIR lunch with me! As stuffed as I was, I could not turn it down. So I prayed that God would make a place in my stomach for more food.

During the meal Neema said something that really struck me. I was asking them what they typically ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner...and Neema said she tried to eat a lot of porridge (a thick creamy soup that is really filling- its an African staple because it "sticks to the ribs") because "she was too small." In America, girls worry so much about being skinny, but in Africa they are just trying to eat enough to get by. They don't worry about such frivolous things as weight or how their clothes fit. They just don't have time. They are too busy taking care of others to worry about themselves. They didn't even get lunch until 3pm because they wanted to wait for me!

Once again I am blown away at the servant hearts of these people and they are witnessing to me even if they dont realize it. God is teaching me so much about generosity here. The other day Liza and I, with two other nannies, took a few kids down to the park. On the way back, Liza and I stopped at a little street store and bought the nannies a muffin. The kids all wanted some but we were like "no, these are for your nannies." After we gave them each their muffin, we looked and saw that they were breaking them and sharing them with the children. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I'm not sure I would have done that. But thats just how it is here... "Ours..." I love it. I pray to leave here more like that...

Proverbs 11:24
One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Love Overcomes All

Rachel is on the right so happy about her purple balloon!!

There is a baby here named Rachel, who is probably almost 2 years old. She arrived at Cradle of Love about 2 weeks before we got here. Her parents fled Burundi with her and her young brother because of violence and unrest within their community. By the time they got to Tanzania, a woman found the 7 year old boy on the streets taking care of Rachel alone. From talking with the boy, she could only assume the parents were no longer living. She was brought to COL, but the brother was sent somewhere else since he was older. 

When we first met her, she was very reserved and somber. She never smiled. She was very obedient, but there was no life behind her sad eyes. She would let us hold her and hug her, but there was no love being returned. I often wondered what she has already seen and heard in her short little life. 

But I am happy to report that 2 weeks later, she is like a different child! She is starting to talk a little and is actually laughing!! When you call her name, her face lights up with the most beautiful smile. She has begun to start pushing some boundaries, but its a good sign because now she knows that someone cares enough to tell her "no." and to discipline her. It has been amazing to watch love bring this child back to life! 

What a picture of what Jesus' love does for all of us....brings us to life!! What a true honor to be here and to be Jesus to these children. Their kisses, their giggles, even their little rebellious spirits fill me with joy. I sat with Rachel tonight and she was playing with Liza's (another volunteer) watch and when she would push the button that would make it light up, she would shriek and say "Yayyyy!!" This is why I'm here.... 

Monday, August 11, 2008

Vinyard Church

We met a cute girl at the coffee shop the other day who recommended that we try a church in town called Vinyard Church. We have been to one church so far here in Arusha that didn't exactly thrill us so we were happy to hear of another option. I thought I knew where it was so we got the taxi driver to drop us off at the center of downtown. When we couldn't find it, I called our friend Hannah (International School Young Life Leader) and asked her and it turns out it was like 3/4 of a mile from where we were. Fortunately it was nice out and we had time so we had a lovely little Sunday stroll. When we got there, I again led us astray as I insisted on following some cute little Africans back into this neighborhood to their church. They had Bibles...so I thought we must be going to the same church. They are everywhere here!! In little homes, in big sanctuaries, fields, wherever...I think my roommates were about to kill me. But I just get curious...we had to back track a little but we finally found it. Oh Heath......

Once there, the experience was amazing. The worship was great..there was a big screen and we sang contemporary worship songs. We then took a break where they served us coffee, hot chocolate, and mondazis. (square baked bread - soooo yummy!) Then we broke into groups with people we did not know and talked about where God has showed up in our lives. People talked about how they were healed by laying of hands, their friends being persecuted because for their faith, etc. It was a rich time.

The pastor and his wife are from the States and they have lived in Africa starting churches like this for many years. Gary had an amazing message. He talked about how Nothing is impossible with God. He then went on to tell a story about a baby in Guatemala who was raised from the dead by a group of missionaries. The God in the Bible is the SAME God that is with us everyday. This story really blessed me as the journey He has me on right now often seems extremely hard and uncertain. But He is good!! And He is with us. If we believe...we can do anything in His name!! What an encouraging message. I felt like the Lord was speaking through Him directly to me. Like he was saying "Heath, trust me and follow me...I am with you wherever you go." Jesus says that if we have faith the size of a MUSTARD SEED we can move a mountain!! I pray for that kind of faith.

After church we went to lunch with the girl from the coffee shop and about 6 of her friends. Most of them work at another orphanage in town and they are from all over...US, Europe, Australia. It was so fun to meet new friends. We got another good meal at another muzungu restaurant. As we were eating we looked up to see some of our Young Life friends walking in with a big YL group from Arizona. So fun to get to see Alexis and Hannah and the other leaders.

Life here is good. God is faithful. Whatever He asks me to do....I am up for the challenge.

Breaking Free

Our German roommate, Nike (Nee-ka) leaves us tomorrow so we decided to take her out on Saturday night for a farewell dinner. Africa after dark is a little sketchy and we are on missionary budgets so going out is a special treat for us. First, it must be said that we have found quite possibly the best taxi driver in all of Arusha. His name is Abeli and he has been on time every single time we have called him. This is unheard of in Africa. Typically Africans have no concept of time or schedules. In addition to his punctuality, he blasts a "7th grade cheerleading try-outs" mix on his cassette tape player. A few of the songs: "Do you believe in life after love", "Where did you go, my lovely?", and "Be my lover" Now imagine all techno versions...its pretty amazing!

I think we chose the most mzungu (white person) restaurant in town - you can get hamburgers, french fries, pizza, and milkshakes! But you know what that is ok considering we have been making our own dinners for the past couple of weeks which usually consist of rice, beans, bread and peanut butter! And im embarrassed to admit that I burnt my rice the other night, so we needed some comfort food. But just as an fyi, burnt rice mixed with ketchep is not that bad...its kinda like well done hash browns at Waffle House. Ok maybe not....TIA!!!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Cradle of Love

Our First Day at Cradle of Love

Hallie, Christy, Stephanie, and I are finally all together and we are loving the baby home. It's pretty safe to say that we are all officially in love with these babies. They are absolutely delicious! There are three "big boys" (three year olds) who rule the place. Simon, Cory, and Ben..they speak english and swahili and I don't even know what to do with them..im just obsessed! :) Yesterday they ran into the play room all three buck naked and they could not have been more tickled with themselves...three little black bottoms running around. We were trying so hard to be serious when we said go put on your pajamas, but it was so funny!
The little babies are really fun too...they are just learning to walk and they are so cute when they take two or three steps than plop down on their behinds. A group of them were pretending to be dogs and they were crawling across the playroom barking...then as they realized they were going to make their great escape down the hallway they turned and looked at us and while waving all said "byeeeeeeeeeee" I wish I had caught it on video.
When we put them to bed, they all stand up in their cribs and wait for us to come hug each of them. (such a stall tactic...but I love it!) I miss them until I get to go see them again in the morning. I praise Him who created these little angels.


Sarah and I sitting high above the clouds. It was so gorgeous!!

My Porter, Noeli, who I must say was the greatest. Not only did he greet me with hugs at the end of everyday and take my pack from me as soon as I arrived at camp; he also wins the Best Dancer award. Hahaha he is awesome! 

Finally the day I had been dreading...haha just kidding. This mountain absolutely rocked my world! God taught me so much about his faithfulness. Through His grace, I reached the top of Africa! It was amazing. We spent 5 days above the clouds and the views were absolutely stunning. But what was even more beautiful was the way we were served by the guides and porters on this hike. Everyone had their own personal porter who carried their duffle bags up the mountain and then there were others who carried food, supplies, tents, BATHROOMS, etc. And every single one of them became my personal hero! Every morning two would come wake us up in our tents and fix us coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. They would bring us warm water to was and then we would be fed delicious meals to prepare us for the day's trek. The guides would heat up water bottles at night for us to put in the bottom of our sleeping bags so we wouldnt be cold. They took care of blisters, encouraged us with hugs when we reached camp, and just loved us so well. I have never been served like this. I can promise we were better taken care of than any 5 star hotel in the western world. It was such an amazing display of Christ's love. These guys loved us like their blood relatives...it humbled me to tears. One evening on the mountain we got to worship with them...we would sing a song in english with the guitar and then they would sing one in kiswahili. We ended the praise time with "Ill Fly Away" which they know and the most unforgettable dance party high in the sky! It gave me a glimpse of what the Kingdom might look like..people of different color, culture, and tribe all praising King Jesus!!

Legho Village

After time in Arusha, we traveled to Legho, a rural village about an hour outside of Arusha. We spent a few days working on the construction of a the first medical clinic in the whole village. We also got to spend some time in the classrooms of the primary school passing out coloring books and crayons. This was one of my favorite days. The children were so obedient and polite. The African culture has so much respect for thier elders. Whenever we asked them a question, they would say "yes, teacher." or "thank you, teacher" It was so cute! They sang us songs, said their ABCs, and showed us how they could count to ten in English. The school has very little supplies and the principal said that they do not know how to color in the lines. It was amazing to watch them split their crayons in half and share with each other. It amazes me everytime...in America I feel like the mentality is so often "me!! me!! me!!" where even at such a young age, in Africa it's "we!! we!! we!!"

Sokoni One

We spent a couple of days in Sokoni One (one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tanzania) and I got to see my "favorite" little girl, Esther. She was very sick so I was able to take her by taxi to the clinic where it was determined that she had malaria. :( Her doctor's visit including the cost of her medicine which we picked up at a pharmacy was a total of $8000 shillings (a little less than $8USD) Unfortunately, her family would never have been able to afford this cost. While we waited for her results, I saw several people being turned away as they did not have enough money. It was incredibly sad to see, I wanted to pay for everyone, but that is the American in me just wanting to "fix" the problems of Africa. So instead I just prayed for them. I prayed that God would meet them in their pain and heal them of their illnesses. After all, HE is the great healer. A few days later when I visited Ester again, I could tell she was feeling a lot better! Thank you Jesus!!