Little did I know when I got on that first plane from SFO, nearly bursting into tears over who got to the trolley stand first, that I would still be here six years later. I don't think I could have imagined making that kind of commitment so the Lord was good and allowed me to come for a year at a time!
People often ask me how much longer I'll be here and the simple truth is, "I don't know." I trust that God will show me when it is time to go back to the USA. Until then, I try and live here as though I'm not going anywhere, giving it all I've got. The last thing I want to do is think "oh, who knows how long I'll be here so I shouldn't start that new project . . ."
I'm so grateful that the Lord continues to give me "divine strategies" as I call them, ideas that pop out of "nowhere" (ahem!) that make my job easier and my ministry more fruitful.
In honor of six years, a list of sixes:
Six Boys Who Stand Out Over the Years:
1. Selso - my little one who ran away to the street and continues to live there over a year later. My heart breaks still when I think of all the love and care he is rejecting out of his own rejection. It hurts to see him filthy and skinny and almost wild on the street corners, begging for money from passing cars. It hurts worse when he runs away when he sees me or others from Iris. How I'd love to give him a hug.
2. Edson - I've not written much about Edson but he was (and is!) a delightful boy! So smart, so funny, so joyful and helpful. Everyone loves Edson. His parents were killed in a car accident but thankfully, we were able to reintegrate him last year to live with both sets of grandparents who take great care of him. I just miss him!
3. Thabo - my honey! The first child I have personally loved and cared for and then lost to death. The first child I have personally known to suffer horribly from the terrible illness that is HIV/AIDS. The first child I have seen who had to fight so hard for the smallest pleasures, yet he enjoyed life so much. I'm so glad he isn't suffering and is in the arms of Jesus yet I would dearly love to hold him in my arms again.
4. Betinho - what a lovely young man! Betinho is still living with us but moved up to the next dorm last year. Betinho is quiet and easy- going and never the center of attention. But he is just a delight! He is smart, kind, generous, thoughtful - he doesn't seek his own gain and he never fights with the other boys. Sadly, Betinho came from another center with no information and is one of our few kids who has no known family. For six years, I have been praying to find his family and it will be very difficult to find anyone or what happened to them as he was separated from his family when still a toddler. But be looking for a later post that will share a story that you will have a hard time believing, but gives me confidence that in God's timing, we WILL find Betinho's family. And won't they be proud of the young man he is!
5. Tome' - oh, Tome'! He has been the source of a lot of frustration and a lot of rejoicing! Tome' and his three brothers came to our center when he was barely older than a baby. He used to just sit in the dirt and cry out of sorrow. He still carries with him such hurts and sorrow and rejection. But it has been my privilege and joy to watch him grow as well over these six years, to see him learn to control his anger, to see him forgive and ask forgiveness, to see him accept a hug and love. . . He is a boy desperate for love and affection, yet afraid of wanting it as well. Some of my greatest disappointments in my own ability (or lack thereof) have been with Tome' and some of my most fulfilling moments have come thru achieving milestones with him. He lives in the next dorm now, as of last month, and I am curious to see how our relationship evolves.
6. My darling Pedro - the son of my heart. He is the boy I came to Africa to find. He is the boy I had on my heart for years to come and love and hug and pour my life into, to see him loved to life, to see him come to know how precious he is and how he was created with a purpose by the God who loves him and calls him by name. It has been my greatest joy in life these last six years to have the privilege of loving and raising Pedro. Although we found his family and he lives with them now, I am still very much a part of his life. It's different and I miss him all the time. Honestly, I have asked God on occasion why he can't be "mine" but I trust in God's plan for both of us. I will be forever grateful for having the opportunity to know and love my darling Pedro!
Six Things I Have "Sacrificed" To Be Here:
1. Day to day closeness with my mom. Although we can email and talk on the phone every week, it is nothing like the ease and frequency with which we can communicate in the US. I serve here with the knowledge that it hurts my mom that I am gone and that is without question the biggest sacrifice of all.
2. Living life with the rest of my family as well, my dad, sister, nephews and cousins. I miss a lot of big and small milestones and I am not there for the day to day interaction that makes up a growing relationship. It sometimes hurts to think of the parts of their lives I have missed out on these last six years.
3. Current, growing, intimate friendships. Friendships aren't just about the big things, they're about the details of one another's lives. I'm missing out on those details. A laptop is a poor substitute for a shoulder if a friend needs one to cry on. I have missed weddings, births, celebrations, challenges . . . my friendships are solid and they aren't going anywhere but they often don't feel current.
4. Comforts and ease - although I miss things like smooth roads and relatively clean public restrooms, it's really the ease of life in the US in general that I have given up. Now before everyone reading this starts protesting in their heads (or in comments!), "hey, life is hard here too sometimes!" will you trust me when I tell you that it is nothing like Africa??? I'll suffice with one example - how many times have you ever gone to an ATM in America and not been able to withdraw any money (and I don't mean because you don't have enough in your account!)?? Once? Once a year? Once a month? How 'bout once a week or so? How 'bout a 50-50 chance?? That's what I'm talking about! Let that one example stand in for the myriad of ways that things simply don't function very well here and you end up with not very much "ease" in life!
5. Anonymity - oh how I sometimes miss just being one of the crowd. How I long to be able to walk out my front door without 40 little people asking me where I'm going. How I long to drive down the street without someone at nearly every corner thinking I can give them something they want - money, my shoes, a ride, a job . . . How I would love to go for a walk in the morning without people calling out "Mulungu!" as I pass by. How I'd love to buy cabbage (tomatoes, clothespins, buckets, you name it!) at the market and be given the normal price and not the Mulungu (white person) price. There are times I feel desperate to be just like everyone else or at least known for who I am and not for being the white person/stranger/missionary.
6. Variety and Options - I think this is a bigger issue than I realize sometimes. Although during my six years here I have had a WEALTH of experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise, simple day to day variety that I always just took for granted, never even realized I had, is lacking. Variety in food, restaurants, people, entertainment, books, learning, conversations, etc., is sorely lacking. I am so thankful for how much of the above I DO have (after all, I don't live in the remote bush and am 40 minutes away from the capital city and my favorite Thai restaurant!), but it is nothing compared to the US. I'm a girl who likes my options! I don't even go to the beach without three books because who knows what I'll feel like reading when I get there? My life is nearly the same every day and sometimes that is just draining. At the very least, it isn't energizing. I look for ways to keep growing and learning new things, for adding variety but let me tell you, it is an EFFORT. I miss having so many options and such variety at my fingertips without much effort at all.
(Disclaimer - I realize that most of the above "sacrifices" come with an intrinsic benefit as well and I spend a great deal of time focusing on those positives!)
Six Unusual Things About My Life in Mozambique:
1. I can smash a cockroach, big or small, with my bare hand without blinking an eye.
2. Two nights ago, I bought a small, hanging drying rack, a three-function knife and two Portuguese children's Bibles while pulled over on the side of the road waiting for friends to find an ATM they could use. I love the sidewalk shopping! (but don't like being harassed!)
3. At 72 degrees, with long pants, a hoodie and two cats on my lap, I am freezing!
4. I've had nearly every one of my pairs of Reef flip-flops repaired over the years for about .50 cents each! Much better than $20 for new ones!
5. I can buy soft tortillas here - for about $8 a package!
6. I live in a dorm with currently 28 but has been as many as 50 boys! I think that in itself is fairly unusual!
Six Things I Love about Mozambique:
1. Driving! Although there are rules and there are police, I can do just about whatever I want when I'm driving, including drive on the wrong side of the road, or up on the median or thru a red light. Of course I hate when other people do this! (I only do the above when absolutely necessary - tons of people do it as a matter of course and that's what I don't like!)
2. The friendly and helpful people. Relationships are totally important here and people will drop nearly anything to help you and are more than willing to strike up conversations. When in the US, I often wonder at the grocery store why people look at me so strange if I strike up a conversation in the produce section! (This positive is in contrast to the desire for anonymity above - no one is really anonymous here!)
3. The beaches and natural beauty. Mozambique is a lovely country and the beaches (coastline nearly twice as long as California) are stunning! And undeveloped! With whales!
4. People's ability to be joyful with very little. Although people do indeed suffer here, the majority of people have very little and yet are very happy. Because they eat rice at every meal, they wouldn't consider a meal without it so they don't long for the variety that this spoiled American does. Children are just as happy with a stick and an old can to play drums with as they are plastic garden toys. Case in point - Elias with old fabric softener balls for ears! People are happy talking together by candlelight, late into the night with loud music and lots of dancing and don't seek to be entertained. When I am at my best and not complaining, I can learn SO much about contentment here. The philosophical challenge is pondering the difference between contentment and complacency but that's a different story!
5. The lack of focus on appearances. Please don't misunderstand, Mozambicans can take great pride in their appearance but in general, it is not a focus of culture. Last years free calendar with a pretty flower on it will continue to be a perfectly good part of the decor! Clothes are clean but it doesn't matter if they are worn every day or nearly every day. Dishes are clean but it doesn't matter if they match or not. The dirt in the garden is swept indicating pride in one's home but a water jug functions just as effectively as a seat as a chair does. The event or the people are more important than the look. (For example, a simple but pretty preparation for a wedding.) I'm not saying people wouldn't like to have nice things. Simply that the way things look is not of the utmost value here. The longer I'm here, the more I realized how completely ingrained this value of appearances is in the US. I like nice things as much as anyone else but I've really enjoyed the loosening grasp of the trap of appearances.
6. My boys! They are far and away the best part of being here! I love my little darlings!
Six Unimportant Things I Miss About Life in America:
1. Taco Bell
2. Tortilla chips
3. Dollar Stores, Thrift Shops and Yard Sales
4. The Library (well, that is kinda important)
6. Free refills on fountain soft drinks
Six Words to Describe the Last Six Years:
Six Verses God Has Blessed Me With on This Journey:
1. James 1:27 - Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this - to look after orphans and widows in their distress.
2. Proverbs 19:17 - He who is kind to the poor, lends to the Lord and he will repay him for what he has done.
3. Micah 6:8 - He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
4. Jeremiah 9:24 - "but let him who boasts boast about this; that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the Lord.
5. Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
6. Psalm 91:2 - I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."