My beautiful, vibrant, loving Mom died on August 5th. She went into the hospital for a heart bypass surgery her doctors assured us and we believed she would sail through because she was so strong, so vital for her eight decades of living, but there were serious complications during surgery and finally, after a week of machines and medicines and prayers for healing it became clear that physical healing was not going to come, so my sister, brother and I made the decision to release her into the hands of God, the only one who could give her the ultimate healing of death and the new life to come. I am profoundly grateful that my sister and I have now shared the experience of sitting at the bedside of both of our parents as their lives drifted away; that we have prayed for them, held their hands, shed tears of loss and grief but also of gratitude and thanksgiving for the gift of their lives and their love. I will be forever grateful that when our mother’s heart finally stopped its beating and she took her last breath, my sister and I both reached out our hands at the same moment and touched her head and said the words of Commendation from our Book of Common Worship as we gave her back to God who had given her to us. Our parents were present when we came into the world, and it was a gift to be present with them when they left the world. My faith is deep in its assurance that they are both well and healed and whole, living eternally in God’s loving presence, “lost in wonder, love and praise.” But, I have not been able to “blog” since her death. I have made some attempts but my words, that so often flow so easily, seem to have left me and I find I do not have words to give voice in any meaningful way to what my soul is experiencing as I walk through this particular “valley of the shadow of death.”

First, there is this truth: my mother was my heart’s true home. She was my true North, my best friend and closest companion. Because I lived in the same city with her, and because we both lived alone, we were in daily conversation with each other—at least once, sometimes a few times a day. When my parents divorced when I was sixteen, my Mom and I lived together, just the two of us much of the year as both my sister and brother had gone off to college, and a relationship that had always been close became even closer. She grounded me, and when our family life was changing around us she remained my constant, the center of my sense of home. Through all the changes of my life in the years since then, she remained that grounding force for me, she continued to be the center of my sense of home as I moved from place to place for school and work. Whatever joys I experienced in my life, whatever griefs I may have known, she was always there: steady, loving, strong, shining like a beacon in times of darkness so I could find my way back home, back to life and love and hope. When our father died four years ago, the powerful connection to our Mom as our true home only grew stronger.  Perhaps because I do not have a spouse or children of my own, she was the very definition of “family” for me. No matter what else might be happening in the world or in my life, I knew I always had a safe place with her, a soft place to land where I would be loved and welcomed and encouraged to be my best self.

And now, she is gone. When she first died, I did not have any real sense of her presence—she was simply and entirely gone. In her place there was a profound silence and to borrow a saying that I have discovered again to have so much truth in it: there was “the presence of an absence” that was palpable and overwhelming. I did not dream of her; I did not sense her presence; I could not “locate” her no matter how I longed to be able to feel her with me. She was simply and profoundly “gone” from me. That has eased somewhat as time has passed. I have dreamed of her in more recent days. I am beginning to have a sense of her again as the deepest sadness begins to lift a bit.

But still, I feel “untethered.” I do not know a better word to describe it. I feel as if the ties that bound me to so much of life have come loose and I have a sense of being alone in the world in a very real and profound way.  I have other family: a wonderful sister and brother, loving nephews and nieces, beautiful friends who are family to me as well, a supportive church community, work that I love and is important to me and sometimes important to others, a faith that sustains me, but those things have not lessened the sense of loneliness I feel in the wake of my mother’s absence. There is also this strong desire in me for the world to just slow down, to give space and time to mark this loss properly—how does the world continue to spin without her in it? Everything feels too noisy, too fast, too busy as my spirit longs for quiet, and space, and stillness to heal.

I know that I will find my way again. I know that I will be able to engage fully in life again. I also know that the world never stops spinning; it goes on with its busyness, its clamor, its relentless march onward. The same is true for all of us—when we are gone the world will not stop its spinning either. I know that somehow, life does and will continue to go on without the woman who gave birth to me, who nurtured me throughout my life, who always believed in me, who has been my closest confidant and constant companion and heart’s true home. I know that eventually I will stop picking up the phone to call her; stop thinking: “I need to tell Mom about that”; stop looking for her in our familiar places. I know that eventually the knot in the pit of my stomach that never goes away will eventually ease and perhaps even disappear; the panicked feeling that I have forgotten or lost something important will fade. I know that eventually I will no longer be surprised by sudden tears. I know that our family will survive the firsts that are looming for us—the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays without her. I know that joy will find its way back into my heart. I know this, in part, because I have watched so many others that I love walk this same journey and they have lived to tell of it. All of us experience grief in this life if we live long enough and love anyone deeply. It is one of the things that binds us together as human beings–this experience of grief. I have grieved before, deeply, and have survived to find my way back to life and joy and hope and so have so many of us. So many of those who walked this path of grieving their mother before me sent me beautiful cards and notes assuring me that this particular loss was profound but that life would find its equilibrium again. I know I will find other things to “tether” me to life. I know that God is with me in the midst of this grief. I know that someday, my words will return to me and flow more easily again. I know that my Mom, though she still feels so far from me, is with me all the same and that her legacy of strength, love, integrity, intelligence, compassion, faithfulness, and grace will point the way as I continue down this path, providing me with a model for a life well-lived. I know that Mom is in the presence of God, reunited with others she and we have loved and lost. I know she is “well” in the deepest sense of that word. And I know that, in time, I will be able to sing again: “It is well with my soul.”

I know all those things. But, for now, I just miss my Mom.

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The Long Goodbye

Today was filled with goodbyes for our team. We spent the day moving through the mission saying farewell to new and long-time friends at the hospital, at the OVC, at the church, and just folks we know from all around the mission and village. Other people made their way from the village to Simba House where we are staying to bid us farewell. It is always a bittersweet day. We volunteered for one last devotion with the children at the OVC with the help of a beautiful book on the Creation story with the scripture retold in the words of Desmond Tutu with gorgeous illustrations. We also had the help of two puppets brought by the Deloziers—an elephant and a lion. The children were enchanted. Then the children ate and we had some play time and took a last big group photo with lots of children and members of our team.

We also took last gifts to Kandiana, the home for the elderly. We took them sweet potatoes and sugar for a treat and scarves for each of the men—we had already given scarves to the women. They were thrilled with all of it! It was so good to be able to visit one last time with the gentle folks who live at Kandiana and their caregiver, Catherine. We always wonder which of them will still be with us when we return in a year’s time.

Other friends were able to bid goodbye as well. This evening, we took Lawrence, our project manager and host who is from Zimbabwe but lives now as the Facilities Manager at Mwandi and his sister who is visiting from her university in Namibia to a local fishing lodge called Shackelton’s for dinner. It was a veritable feast of a dinner under the open sky. We met a group of fisher-men and -women from South Africa who are staying at the lodge to fish for the famous tiger fish which is a real fighting fish in the local freshwater. It was a wonderful evening of good food, drink and fellowship. At the end of the evening, we went to pay the bill (we have paid with credit card there in the past and so we had said all anyone needed was a credit card) only to discover they no longer take credit cards! We gathered in a panicked huddle as people began throwing in whatever U.S. dollars and Zambian Kwacha we had and managed, by some miracle like the loaves and fishes, to come up with enough money to pay half the bill in U.S. dollars and half in Kwacha! At least we did not end our stay in Mwandi washing dishes all night long! It was actually a great moment of comedy in our day of goodbyes.

Tomorrow morning, we leave for Chobe Game Park for two nights. We will spend Saturday and Sunday seeing the beauty and grandeur of this part of God’s vast creation. The past eight days here in Mwandi have been beautiful, terrible, joyful, profoundly sad, moving, awe-inspiring, hopeful, seemingly hopeless, and filled with love, faith and grace. We all leave so much richer than when we came and filled to overflowing with gratitude for the profound gift of this time in this sacred place. Thanks be to God.

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Mission Accomplished!

With the sunrise this morning, God gave us a new day, refreshed spirits and a new sense of energy and hope. We had all three devotions today at the OVC: the paid staff devotion at 8:30AM, the Nutrition volunteers at 11:30AM and the children’s devotion at 1:00PM. Those were our last devotions with the OVC, though we will go back tomorrow to see the children and say our goodbyes to children and staff and volunteers. The devotion with the Nutrition program volunteers was so wonderful today. There is a man named Lemmy who we think is somewhere in his 30’s and is in a wheelchair who makes his way from the village to the OVC every day and works as a volunteer with the feeding program, and mostly as an encourager of the children. If you can imagine going through deep, unpacked Florida sand over a few miles in a wheelchair, you can imagine Lemmy’s journey to and from the OVC each day. He has a couple of folks who help basically carry his wheelchair with him in it over that distance each day. He has such deep faith. Three days a week, he leads a bible study for men in the village in his church. Today, after my little devotion using Matthew 25—the story of the separation of the sheep and goats: I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; whenever you have done it to the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done it to me…I talked about the vital importance and faithfulness of their work at the OVC every day all year long, work that goes so far beyond the physical feeding of the children to the feeding of their hearts, minds and souls, helping them know they are known by name and loved and valued; today after that devotion, Lemmy gave us the REAL devotion of the day by saying he felt moved in his spirit to tell us how important our presence is as a means of encouraging those who work here all year. He said that people who visit from the United States and other places always say that we are inspired by the faith of the Zambians we meet, and it is true, we say that in every devotion with the staff at the OVC because it is true!; but Lemmy said we should not underestimate the importance of our being here with them. He spoke of how the journey we make to be WITH them from so far away gives them hope. Truly, he said, our hearts are one and we are a part of each other. He thanked us for taking time to come and see them and be with them, to get to know a bit about their lives and their struggles first-hand, to know them face-to-face, to learn their names, talk to them, share faith and worship with them, pray with and for them. It is true that very often we feel we have so little to offer and that we learn and receive so much more than we give when we are here. But Lemmy reminded us that our relationships here really are reciprocal—it is a give and take of learning, inspiring, encouraging, and deepening faith. IT was an important word for our team today when so many of us are feeling we have “hit the wall” with being overwhelmed by all that we see, feeling as if we do not have power to effect much change for the better, and just being tired from travel. Those few minutes with Lemmy made our time here feel very worthwhile.

The rest of the day found us completing our work on various projects around the mission. The crew that was painting in the staff housing for the hospital completed that job today under Phil’s excellent leadership, and they cleaned up after themselves and tidied the house. The house looks great and clean and ready for the new staff person to move in to a home that is truly ready for a new inhabitant! In addition, the crew that was working in the hospital on the unpacking, categorizing, separating, labeling and shelving of supplies finished that task as well and there are now three very well-organized supply closets at the hospital, filled with supplies they thought they did not have to treat their patients! In terms of our work today, we all felt a sense of satisfaction and “Mission Accomplished!” at the end of our day!

There were improvements in some of the patients we have been following as well. Mafubu, the little boy with severe malaria, pneumonia and HIV was well enough to go home today! So, we said our goodbyes and hugged all around and I took some photos of the family as they left. The hospital staff member who was burned was much better today and Allie and Phil helped change his dressings this morning with appropriate supplies we found in the boxes we unpacked! The elderly woman who had struggled so to breathe yesterday was still alive and her breathing had eased considerably. It still seems she is nearing the end of her long life, but if she can die with dignity and in comfort, that will be a victory. The young woman whose procedure Allie helped with a few days ago who had gotten an infection seemed much better by this afternoon after Allie pushed strong antibiotics. Her name is Queen! And Queen was up smiling and walking the halls this afternoon. Unfortunately, we learned late this afternoon that she was headed back to the OR this evening for another procedure following an ultrasound, so we are all very worried about what that might mean for this beautiful teenage girl. Please say a prayer for Queen today as she undergoes another procedure. She needs our prayers for comfort and healing!

So, the sun is beginning to set here and we are gathering to discuss the day and get ready for the evening meal and the night’s rest to follow. One more full day in this sacred place. We are awash in the grace of God. Blessed be.

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How Can I Keep From Singing?

Virginia Jones from IPC posted a link to this song (the Eva Cassidy version) on my timeline on Facebook this morning to tell me what we had missed the Choir singing in church on Sunday. I first learned this song from the version Enya sang on one of her CDs a number of years ago, and Janet Ort, an IPC Choir member, posted that link as a comment on Virginia’s post. It was a very appropriate song for our day today-at least for my own experience of it. “My life goes on in endless song, above earth’s lamention; I hear the real though far-off song that hails a new creation. Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing; it sounds an echo in my soul; how can I keep from singing?”

Some of us heard and felt much of the earth’s lamentation today. The day began with our team doing morning chapel in the hospital chapel at 8:00AM. I used a passage from Mark 1:29-34 about Jesus healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and then many others who were brought to him at the home of Simon and Andrew. The passage speaks of how he reached out and took Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand, lifted her up and healed her; and then how he looked with compassion on the crowds that came for healing and touched and healed them as well. I talked about their role as healers in the hospital—that they are the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus for those who come seeking not only physical healing but also a kind word, a gentle touch, a sliver of hope, a bit of compassion. Sometimes physical healing is not possible in the difficult circumstances in which they serve here in Mwandi, but it is always possible to treat people with dignity, with compassion and with gentle caring and love.

After chapel and a good breakfast, some of our group moved on to continue the painting job at the staff housing we are trying to ready for a new staff member to move into; others went with our nurse, Allie, to the hospital to do a job Ida Waddell, one of the Scottish missionaries who is serving as the acting Hospital Administrator had asked us to do—to find the many boxes of supplies that had been delivered and were stashed in closets around the hospital but needed to be unpacked, sorted, labeled and shelved. Those of us who went to the hospital found boxes stacked more than waist high in a jumbled mess. We began to dig in and try to bring some order to the chaos. After several dirty, dusty hours, we had managed to sort, regroup and label all supplies we got out of today’s closet, and put them on shelves we labeled in a store room. There are more closets of supplies tomorrow!

It is hard to articulate the depth of need and deprivation at the hospital. The new building is bright and shiny and ready to take on patients. But the supplies and medicines are very limited. Today, of course, we learned that many supplies they said they did not have to properly treat patients they DID have, they were just in a jumbled mess of unlabeled boxes that had not been sorted. It is hard to understand how such supplies, sent to the hospital by caring people from around the world, can sit unopened, unorganized and unused by the hospital staff. We heard a lot of “That is not my job” lines today. It needs to be someone’s job on a regular basis to take supplies given in good faith, unpack them, organize them, label them, shelve them and USE them for the good of the patients who need them for proper healing to take place. It is endlessly frustrating to come face to face with such need alongside such inaction on the part of staff that seemingly could do these simply, unglamorous jobs to make a positive difference in the lives of the patients.

While all this unpacking was happening, there were patients in distress and no doctor present much of the time. One of the doctors, the one we all feel we know and can trust, has gone to Lusaka to a conference along with Ida, the acting Hospital Administrator who seems almost single-handedly to keep the hospital operating  in an orderly way. In their absence, it seems the staff felt the opportunity had come to be a bit lax in their duties. There was a very elderly woman who had come into the hospital in respiratory failure and was moaning constantly in distress and needed oxygen and some kind of pain medication to ease her distress. The reality is that she is most likely dying and it will be a miracle if she is still there when we return tomorrow, and to be honest, my own prayer tonight will be that she be released from her suffering. In addition, the young teenager Allie helped the doctor perform a procedure on a couple of days ago had developed a terrible infection. It really took Allie’s insistence to get the doctor to come back to the hospital and help care for these two patients this afternoon. Both of them were directly across from where we were sorting supplies and their distress was almost more than any of us could stand.

On a better note, the little 3 year old with severe malaria, pneumonia and HIV was improved today and though still quite weak, his eyes looked clearer and he was more conscious today, much to all of our relief. The premature baby is also hanging in there, so keep praying! Above earth’s lamentation today, we all tried hard to hear the singing. I know that God is present in it all, and that God’s grace is over all of us and all of those in such dire need here. But it can be difficult to remember that grace in the midst of the weight of sadness that is so pervasive around us. The pain in this place is palpable.

The day ended with rides in a makura (dug-out canoes) on the Zambezi River and a stunningly beautiful sunset and a good dinner. We are soon headed to bed with hearts full of joy and sorrow, with fulfillment and frustration, to refresh ourselves for another day’s work tomorrow. Please pray for this beautiful, terrible, joyful, heartbreaking place tonight!

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Going in Deep

Today, our hearts and minds are full of all that we have seen and heard and learned. The morning began with two of our team, Joe and Allie, going to Grand Rounds at the hospital. They had a very interesting and eye opening morning of learning about patients, the challenges of treating various illnesses and injuries with such limited resources in a hospital in a place of terrible poverty and need. We learned the little three year old boy who has been fighting severe malaria and pneumonia is still alive and fighting, though we learned that he also has HIV, which complicates everything. The premature baby is also still alive and is thriving better using the “kangaroo method” of having the baby strapped skin to skin to its mother’s chest. So, please keep the prayers coming! Also, a little girl came into the hospital with a hemoglobin count of 1, which should be around 13. They are trying to determine what is causing her to bleed. They had only one pint of blood in the whole hospital, so when our Scottish missionary Keith Waddell went to Livingstone today to get paint and supplies for our next maintenance project, he picked up blood as well. This child needs our prayers as well.

The rest of the team spent the morning on two errands. We went on a tour of the Agriculture project which provided the comic relief of the day. We had seen the chickens, the cows, went into the piggery and saw the pigs. A couple of us had lagged behind looking at a group of adorable tiny piglets and the rest of the team had moved on to the fish farm. I headed out the back door of the piggery and headed straight for the team in front of me with my eyes on nothing but the team I could see directly across from me. I confidently stepped out of the piggery and stepped into a field of pig $%&* up to my knees!! Both feet were well sunk in. One of the Agriculture Project workers with a horrified expression on his face came to help me out and as he pulled and I lifted my left leg to move out of the muck and the mire, my shoe on that foot stayed behind, and I had no choice but to take the next step to get myself out so now I had one foot in sock feet in the poo. The rest of the team was roaring with laughter. When I finally got out of the quicksand (so to speak), I made my way back to the guest house thinking I could not get there fast enough to clean myself up, only to discover that the water was off again at the house!! I told the team it was a life lesson: Sometimes, you step into a pile of $%&* and all you can do is clean up the mess as best you can!

After cleaning my legs with the bucket from the toilet brigade and changing shoes, we went on to Kandiana to give gift bags of toiletries and goodies. The elderly at Kandiana beamed and danced with joy at these simple gifts: combs, soap, lotion, Vaseline, flip flops, lip balm, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. We were humbled to remember that gratitude comes in many forms and it is good to be grateful for the simplest gifts of grace that fill our days—even the things we take for granted.

On to the OVC for devotion with the children, help with feeding and painting the inside of the room where they do the feeding. There was, as always, much singing, laughing, hugs, children running their fingers through our hair, and all the usual tokens of affection children love to give and receive. There is a baby we have all fallen in love with named Florence. She has a mother who is very ill and cannot care for her, so her big brother carries her on his shoulders everywhere. Florence is two years old but does not walk or talk. Her face has no affect—she does not smile or laugh or do much to interact. We have all held her and she will lean against us to snuggle but we can get no other reaction from her. The workers at the OVC think all of that is simply due to lack of any real nurture. So heartbreaking…

Allie worked the rest of the day in the hospital helping with procedures and had a close up view of the difficulties of medical care in this system where there are so few supplies, so few medicines, and so much deep and urgent need. We learned much about those needs in a conversation with Ida and Keith Waddell tonight, as well as with Dr. Isaac Tembo. We learned that all supplies and medicines have been frozen by the government and they are trying to determine what is happening but in the short term, they simply do not have what they need to treat people. There is a brand new hospital that is ready to serve patients, but no supplies, medicines, etc to practice good medicine. The Waddells and Dr. Tembo are headed to Lusaka tomorrow for the remainder of the week, so we said our sad goodbyes tonight. We are so very sad they will not be with us the rest of the week, but they are off to fight the good fight with the powers that be in Lusaka, to try to advocate on behalf of the needs of the schools, the hospital and the churches here in this part of Zambia. We pray for their wisdom and their success.

A few of us also went to see the sewing group at the Waddell’s house. We took them a sewing machine we brought to donate and they were so excited they danced around the yard with it! We talked with them about the malnutrition in the village due to the crop failure resulting from the drought. There is so much need everywhere, so little we feel we can do. So, we ask your prayers for this place, for these people, for those who work at the mission, and for us to have wisdom to know what needs we can meet while we are here, and to prioritize how to help in larger ways once we get home to alleviate the needs we have seen while we are here. We are overwhelmed at times, but so grateful to be here!

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In Africa, the Sabbath Day is taken very seriously. There is no work on the Sabbath, only worship, rest and fun! So, our group has done all of those things today. The morning began in typical African fashion as we all awoke quite early because we were supposed to be at the church at 7:30AM to teach Sunday School. As we awoke to dress for church, we discovered we had no water! So…no baths for us; flushing the toilets become the work of a bucket brigade and we all felt a bit dirty as we dressed to go before the Lord in worship! We have no guest house staff on Sundays, either, so we also had the experience of not being able to figure out controls on most of the African appliances, so breakfast was a hurried feast of some of the snack foods we brought with us. This is Africa!

We arrived at 7:30 at the church and we had been told there were 215 total children on roll, so we did not know what to expect. Upon arrival, there were only about five, then they slowly trickled in to be 15, then 25, then 50…finally we had a group of about 65. We were frankly relieved not to have all 215! The Sunday School teacher (yes, there is currently ONE teacher for 215 children of all ages) remarked that she was not sure why we only had 65 this morning. I sheepishly told her that it might be because we all prayed at dinner last night that we would NOT have 215! But this spirited group of 65 sang, danced, laughed, played and smiled as we told the story of the Baby Moses, which was the United Church of Zambia Children’s Sunday School curriculum story for the day. We used the felt boards and felt bible characters we had brought—luckily, we had a felt set of the baby Moses story. We read it out of the Desmond Tutu book of Bible stories, used the felt board to retell it, then we acted it out. A long piece of blue felt served as the Nile River; children were the reeds on the riverbank; a basket and shawl served as a pretend baby Moses, one little girl played Miriam, another the Pharaoh’s daughter, and still another the mother of Moses. The children laughed and giggled. I talked with them a bit about God’s desire to save the baby Moses from trouble because God loved Moses and had a plan for Moses’ life. We talked about how God loves each of them, knows them by name, and has a plan for each of their lives, ways in which God wants them to use the gifts he has given them to serve him and one another. Then, it was on to singing. “Allelu, Praise Ye The Lord” with the two sides standing and sitting was a big hit, especially as we sang it faster and faster. Then, Jesus Loves Me, with the familiar chorus from the children: each time you sing “Yes, Jesus loves me” the children yell out, “Yes, I know!” Even one tiny little 2 year old girl in a “Drama Queen” t-shirt sang with the best of them!

At 9:00, we walked across to the lovely new church that has been constructed with a beautiful, airy, African sanctuary. Worship lasted from 9:00-12:00. Folks of IPC, no more complaints if our service runs 5 minutes long! Three hours of spirited music, singing, drumming, praying, and offering. I plan to tell Bobbie Epting, our Director of Stewardship at IPC about a new scheme for stewardship. At this service, they took up two offerings: the first was for the church itself, the second was a love offering to help provide money to send the Youth Pastor to seminary. We had been prepped for that offering by long remarks of the Pastor, saying there are not enough ministers in the UCZ and that this youth pastor is one of their own and they need to support her! So…they passed the baskets once with the choirs singing lively music to the beat of African drums. They counted it, announced the amount which was clearly underwhelming (we had all given all of our offering in the first offering for the church as we were unaware of this second offering!), then the pastor announced the amount and said, “So, we continue.” And they kept singing and drumming and passing the baskets. We went through three rounds of passing the baskets! So, Bobbie perhaps we just need to lock the doors of the sanctuary on a Stewardship dedication Sunday, have the Choir keep singing and keep passing the plates until we are satisfied! The youth pastor preached today about being “stewards of the gospel” using the Great Commission passage from Matthew. The service ended as always with a long greeting line. We saw old friends and had joyful reunions with them.

This afternoon has been a time of rest, reflection, play and fun. The “youngsters” of the group went to the village and watched a soccer game and generally played. Others slept. I am afraid I am a bit of a hapless leader at the moment with some kind of upper respiratory infection with fever, so have been taking drugs and after the long morning, I snoozed the afternoon away in hopes that would help with recovery for the work ahead this week! The group is down now at the craft market at the church buying some souvenirs. When the wood carver brought our commissioned carvings of Jesus the Good Shepherd and several sheep earlier in the week, I bought a beautiful elephant and baby he had, so my souvenir buying for the trip is done! Tonight, it will be breakfast for dinner, then on to bed to prepare for a work day ahead tomorrow. I love this practice of Sabbath. It is one we have forgotten about in our fast-paced culture and observing a true Sabbath is pure grace! I hope your Sabbath day has been full of grace as well!

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This is Africa

Today has been a long and somewhat frustrating day in which we were reminded of one of the phrases we have to say from time to time on these mission trips: “This is Africa!” It is a phrase meant to remind us that African culture is quite different from American culture. We “can-do” Americans can sometimes get very frustrated by how slowly things happen here. Very little happens on the schedule you expect; some things don’t happen at all; and problems that we would think we could easily find solutions for in America by throwing our money and energy into a solution can feel almost insurmountable in this place, where there is little to no money to throw at problems, no supplies you have easy access to, and not enough people to work on solutions. Today was one of those kind of days—nothing went as planned, and we saw many problems we would dearly loved to have been able to solve quickly but could not as much as we may have wanted to find simply, quick and easy solutions.

The day began simply, with the sorting of all the supplies we brought for various parts of the mission. But then came the first theme of the day: heartbreak. We went on a tour of the recently renovated hospital. Indeed, the improvements at the hospital are wonderful and the newly renovated building is bright, open, airy and well-planned for the most part. But, when we got to the pediatric ward, we came upon a father sitting by the bedside of his extremely ill son who was 2 years, 3 months old and suffering from severe malaria with pneumonia as a complicating factor. The child was listless, could not focus his eyes on us, was being fed through an NG tube, was feverish and seemingly desperately ill. We asked his father if we could pray for him, and his father said yes he would like that, so we gathered around his bed and prayed for his healing, for his parents’ strength, for the Great Physician to be with him and bring him to restored health. I struggled to finish the prayer before I could walk away to weep, and the whole team was in tears to see one so little who was so sick, with his worried father keeping a sad vigil. Please pray with us that this precious child will recover. Then, we entered the Maternity Ward to find one very healthy baby boy and his very happy mother, next to a premature baby boy and his young mother. He is too premature to be out of an incubator, but the hospital’s incubator was not functioning, so there is great concern over whether this tiny infant will survive. Again, please pray that this baby will survive and thrive. Adding to these difficult health situations with these two children, there is the reality that the pump that brings the clean water into the hospital has broken down, and so the hospital currently has dirty water coming into the hospital. Babies are being born into dirty water; this tiny premature baby who is so susceptible to infection is being bathed in dirty water, a man with burns is having his burns cleaned with dirty water; surgeons are scrubbing for surgery with dirty water. This hospital visit was a lesson in the daily realities of life in this impoverished part of Africa.

The second phrase of the day was: hurry up and wait. We were slated to start our first painting project at the Orphan Center this afternoon after devotion, but some miscommunication on the part of those organizing the projects for us meant that we were unable to start work this afternoon. Since tomorrow is Sunday and Mwandi observes a true Sabbath of no work, that project will have to wait until Monday.

So the day was a lesson in the realities of life and work in Africa. For some of us, the feelings from today were not unusual, for “first-timers” to Africa, it was an emotionally overwhelming and frustrating day. We are all doing well, and the team is having fun and getting along beautifully and everyone is game to do whatever is needed. Pray for us to continue to roll with the punches and be a faithful witness to Christ in this place.

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