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Archive for the ‘Pictures’ Category
All the lattes in the world can’t compare to the sound of Wilson whistling and laughing in the morning.
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.
The International Peace Marathon is less than a week away. This is my third marathon and I am better prepared than in the past. And in much better shape too. As I stand at the start line in Kigali later this week I should feel some confidence. At least as long as I don’t think about 75% of the runners being Kenyan or reflect on the irony of running 26.2 miles in a place called the “land of a thousand hills.”
Fortunately for me, the race itself doesn’t really matter.
My running partner and I have run over 400 miles in preparation for this race. We’ve traversed many hills in Blantyre, run through countless villages and around mountains (notice I didn’t say “over”), and into valleys as the sun was rising. We’ve run in moonlight and in total darkness. On several occasions we’ve gotten lost in the bush. And we have been saved from being lost more times than I can count by asking for directions in our broken Chichewa. We’ve been greeted by barely-conscious drunks emerging from all-night binges at the bottle store, and been joined by numerous kids for portions of our runs. On our last (and final) run around Sanjika hill (location of the president’s palace estate), we were met by a machine-gun toting soldier who asked us where we parked our car and informed us, “You can’t go that way,” pointing in the direction from which we had just come.
In all of these runs I have been struck by the beauty of creation. A few times the beauty literally stopped us in our tracks. Jumping across a creek on wet wobbly stones, scrambling down a dirt path that is barely discernible, or running through a field of maize in a valley glistening at sunrise — I would just start giggling. I’m actually glad that I did not have my camera because taking time to compose the perfect shot would have distracted me and kept me from appreciating the moment. It’s all so impossible to describe or capture. The best I can do is realize what I have at that moment, receive the blessing, and keep going. Keep going. And try to be present for the next moment.
Also through this experience, God blessed me with a dear friend. In many ways Vince is the guy in development I want to be. He runs a terrifyingly ambitious NGO that is not afraid to learn from its mistakes while transforming a neighborhood with the next small idea. He is far too humble to claim any victory or much progress, which makes him all the more enviable. I am honored to know Vince. And my life is more deeply enriched because of our friendship. Vince and I have solved many of the world’s most intractable development problems over hours of conversation on the road. Sadly, we had no pen and paper to capture the solutions.
And this has been the past 417 miles of my life.
The greatest blessing is realizing that it had nothing to do with running. But I kept running anyway. And I will keep running after July 13.
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