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Archive for the ‘culture’ Category
Well I reckon this is it. Right now, it’s 5:30AM. I’m in the sitting room warming up next to a blazing fire with my cup of Mzuzu coffee. The jeans I hope to wear to Nashville are laid out in front of the fire drying. In the distance I can hear the morning rooster roll call. It’s probably 40 degrees outside which means its damn cold inside with no heating. It’s been really cold lately and dreary — good weather to match the mood of departure.
What words do I have at this moment? None. A few moments ago, I just started crying. Tears feel like unexpressed words that have concentrated and condensed. So I cried. I cried to God for protection and safe travel home. I cried for the friends and family in whose lives we now leave a gap. They are so grateful for our presence and touched deeply by our leaving. I cried for the kids who are the best example of how to let an experience like this wash over and permeate life. I can only hope now that the seeds planted will grow and be harvested for years to come. I cried for our friends and family back home who are so excited to see us. Their love, support, and anticipation is what gives me strength to put one foot in front of another. I cried for Wilson who thinks of me as a father but in reality is more a brother. It was easy not to worry about him when he was on our payroll. I cried for my Malawian mother, Lucy Kandioni, who wailed at our departure last week. It was the kind of wailing you only hear at funerals here, and I wonder if there is a reason for that. The increased frequency of her illnesses and general weakness worry me that she may be close to her final journey home. I cried for Daniel who serves tirelessly a church institution that gives little back. I would have cherished a few final moments together yesterday and today, but it wasn’t to be. I cried for my marriage which has been tested, stretched, deepened, and strengthened by and through these past two years. If you want to get to know your spouse, live and work with them daily for two years. Not many marriages are designed for this type of dynamic but ours is. And I am very fortunate to have that gift.
Most of all, I cried for Malawi – for all the things known and unknown that I will miss; for the people who can always smile “no matter no what”; for the intensity of the light, sounds, and smells; and most of all for the people who are not poor except that we label them so.
Yesterday morning as church ended, Pastor Kaunda told the congregation that next Sunday will be our family’s last Sunday at Galilea UMC. He invited me up to say a few words.
When I got to the front and turned around to face the congregation no words would come. My eyes filled with tears and I just stood there staring at the faces I love. After what felt like a couple minutes, I turned to Kaunda and said, “I can’t.” He put his hand on my shoulder and said I could sit down.
That’s all I can say about that.
A volunteer mission team of one has come and gone, we are in the midst of a staggered departure of the Belmont VIM team, two more teams arrive this week as well as the General Board of Global Ministries missionaries, Teddy and Sylvia Crum with their daughter Lily. In less than 3 weeks the conference will host a Round Table meeting with international partners and local leadership, followed by the 2011 Annual Conference meeting. Then three days later we will board a plane to come home.
The learning continues. Steve Riley helped us see how important it is to share and celebrate the great strides that are being made in Malawi alongside the challenges where we appreciate his medical knowledge and perspective.
We used that learning to shape the Belmont VIM team itinerary, visiting the new full-day, English only nursery school at Galilea UMC, the mushroom project at the same church and a local social enterprise, The Beehive. The team got to see the success, hope and inspiration of different people and projects.
Then they spent three days working side-by-side with church members painting the new conference office. They could hear firsthand about the challenges and dreams of youth and adult members. Jeff helped me to learn that the beauty of a VIM team is that the work is slowly abandoned over the days as people become engrossed in conversations and get so caught up in questions and answers that the paint brushes are forgotten.
The Belmont team continued on with the Oliver family and Moty Mhone to Lake Malawi. Time to relax, enjoy the beauty the lake and have extended conversations confirmed our heart learning that Belmont UMC is so much more than our church, but our brothers and sisters in Christ. I knew many of the team members by name only, but we laughed, prayed, sang and worked together quickly and easily because of the tie that binds us.As I type Jeff is posting pictures of a weekend with our friends at the tea estates. Another learning is the balance of work and play and letting go of guilt for enjoying time away. Our family has developed a rhythm of work and play that seems healthy. At first the time away and places to visit were spurred by necessity and exhaustion. Now we plan and look forward to time apart to recharge and sustain ourselves individually and as a family.
This week we will greet new teams, learn from their past experiences in Malawi and begin to dream together.
And we will try to share what we have learned with Teddy and Sylvia as they begin learning on their own.
And so much of what we have learned is still taking root, still growing. As the roots go deeper I pray they will break the hard places of my soul. And I wait anxiously for any fruits and flowers that blossom in the coming days.
Last Sunday after church Rev. Nkhata came and asked to speak with me. He touched my elbow and started with a small chuckle. He told me that a woman I have met in Mzuzu had a dream about me. She had called Rev. Nkata at 2:30am that morning. “Is Pastor Kara still around?” she asked. When she heard that I was she told him that in her dream I had planted a garden and was beginning to harvest but then I had left. She told Rev. Nkhata that I had gone back to America without finishing my garden and that I had to come back to finish. My garden had to be finished.
So I’ve been reflecting on this garden that I’ve planted here in Malawi. And I keep remembering Father, Nathan Price, from the The Poisonwood Bible and how his daughter, Leah, described his garden planted in the Congo,
“Back home we have the most glorious garden each and every summer, so it’s only natural that my father thought to bring over seeds in his pocket: Kentucky Wonder beans, crookneck and patty-pan squash, Big Boy tomatoes. He planned to make a demonstration garden, from which we’d gather a harvest for our table and also supply food and seeds to the villagers. It was to be our first African miracle: an infinite chain of benevolence rising from our garden into a circle of other gardens, flowing outward across the Congo like ripples from a rock dropped in a pond. The grace of our good intentions made me feel wise, blessed, and safe from snakes.”
The first year here we scattered seeds here and there and prayed that some would fall on the fertile soil prepared by the pastors in the circuits we visited. We scattered seed and then left, trusting that the lay leaders and women and pastors would do the weeding and watering needed for them to flourish. And the blogs flowed that year from all that was new and wonderful and different, heart-warming and heart-breaking. Ours was a ministry of presence, teaching sometimes, encouraging as best we could, learning, offending, being forgiven and deciding to come back for more. We were welcomed into the life of our friends here, recognizing ourselves as brothers and sisters in Christ. And “our good intentions made me feel wise, blessed, and safe from snakes.”
But as Nathan planted his garden, Mama Bekwa Tataba watched it all, warned about the poisonwood plant and quietly re-sowed the garden into hills once Nathan stopped for the day. And I wonder how many warnings we have missed and how much work has been done in our wake. What have the pastors had to dig up and re-cultivate after we have left? How much work are our good intentions creating?
The first year of our mission passed in relative peace, good humor and blissful ignorance. We were not told when we made a mess of things, did not know when we offended. The culture and the people are warm, forgiving and value relationships so much more than a completed project. Persons quietly thanked us for our efforts and formed ridged garden plots behind us after we had made the way flat and uniform.
But after a deluge – the first rains of the rainy season – all of Nathan’s hard work is washed away,
“long after dinner we could still hear the Reverend out there beating the ground with his hoe, revising the earth. No one can say he does not learn his lesson, though it might take a deluge, and though he might never admit in this lifetime that it was not his own idea in the first place. Nevertheless, Our Father had been influenced by Africa. He was out there pushing his garden up into rectangular, flood-proof embankments, exactly the length and width of burial mounds.”
Garden or burial mounds? So many of our preconceived notions have had to be buried so that they can be reborn more relevant and appropriate to the culture in which we find ourselves. I have brought the seeds of gender equality only to see newly empowered women shunned by their husbands. I have stepped in with extra dollars only to see the need multiply. I have misjudged the depth of cultural roots and tried to plant my theology in the midst of it only to discover how difficult it is for them to grow side by side. I have planted and planted without knowledge of season, soil and rain.
And so this year the blogs are fewer, the clarity rare and each step feels so much more precarious. This year we are supposed to plant, and to harvest. We have jobs and roles and expectations. But my fear is that my garden is like Father’s, “the plants thrived and filled the fenced patch with bloom like a funeral parlor, but would not set fruit”. Policy drafts, foot washing, youth devotionals and baptisms – the blooms are so beautiful. And bring me such joy. But fruits? Flowers can’t fill an empty belly, their scent won’t pay school fees, and the beauty is no replacement for medicine.
Father discovered that without pollinators to match the seeds that he had brought, the blooms would bear no fruit. Leah offered,
“’I guess we should have brought some bees over in our pockets too.’
My father looked at me with a new face, strange and terrifying to me for what it lacked in confidence. It was as if a small, befuddled stranger were peering through the imposing mask of my father’s features. He looked at me like I was his spanking newborn baby and he did love me so, but feared the world would never be what any of us had hoped for.
‘Leah,’ he said, ‘you can’t bring the bees. You might as well bring the whole world over here with you, and there’s not room for it.’
I swallowed, ‘I know.’
We sat together looking through the crooked stick fence at the great variety of spurned blossoms in my father’s garden. I felt so many different things right then: elation at my father’s strange expression of tenderness, and despair for his defeat. We had worked so hard, and for what? I felt confusion and dread. I sensed that the sun was going down on many things I believe in.’”
My confidence is waning like Nathan’s and my temptation is the same as Leah’s – to bring the bees. To bring the books, bring the communion sets, bring the experts. But it doesn’t work to bring the whole world here. And there’s no need to do so. But I’m at the point where I feel confusion and dread. And I know that the sun is setting on many things that I believed in.
Just about a year ago we were getting Carter settled back into nursery school during our furlough at home. One of the parents asked us what we did and as soon as she heard we were missionaries her eyes lit up and she said, “Oh! I’m reading The Poisonwood Bible.” I smiled and restrained from shouting, “We’re not like that!”
I recalled the images of this stubborn and headstrong pastor planting his garden against all local wisdom, misusing the local language, and scaring people to death by demanding that they go down to the crocodile-infested waters to get baptized. We have tried so hard to listen, to learn the language and not to scare people.
But the longer I am here, the more I feel like that missionary. And I wonder if I have “been influenced by Africa” enough to plant a garden that can actually bear fruit? I suppose only time will tell. And at this point in our journey, I only have 60 days to work on this garden. But there is some hope, some solace in the fact that this woman in Mzuzu thinks I can do it. And maybe some day I will.
“To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know.”
Orleanna Price, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver