Friday, May 24, 2013

Dirty Letters

Written last week, before leaving for Canada to attend our son's wedding, SAM Ministries' annual banquet, etc.:

After a considerable degree of effort, the teachers at the school and I managed to get the kids to fill in letters to their sponsors. These letters aren't complicated or lengthy. Mostly, they're a drawn or colored picture. Maybe a circled or written word or words, depending on what grade they're in. Depending on their level of ability.

It can be very hard to connect this world with other worlds. This world is rather basic. We have bugs and dirt and low-end technology (when it works). Other worlds are super-hygienic, bug-free (a luxury where, as my daughter put it, is to ask oneself "how did that bug get inside??") and have high speed internet. I'd like to say that the term "high speed" in Moz is used in some capacity, but that's not characteristic of most of life here. That's not good or bad. It's just different. Where we live, it is buggy, dirty, and has slow-end technology. It's a part of the world that tugs at your heart. It's a tough place to live, but I love it.

Anyway, back to the letters. Lots of them were soiled by the hands of children who don't have running water in their school yet. I had thought to pack plastic basins, water, soap and towels, but forgot since my time was taken up with packing food to keep tummies filled, sight words for the next week, medicine for the school clinic, etc. Sending dirt-smudged letters is never our intention, but it seems an inevitable and normal part of life in Africa. The dirt is as hard to avoid as the oxygen we breathe.

Tomorrow is my last day here before I head for a different world with the luxury of running water, fast internet, and being shocked to see a bug or dirt anywhere but outdoors where they belong. But part of me is sad to leave the "real" world behind. There is so much humanity and value in a hand written note, though it's smudged with dirt and erased misspellings. Those are the elements that shout, "Real people with real needs live here!"

I would like to keep these letters before me as a constant reminder that the fast, developed world is good, but there is another world that calls my name. It's the world that is still struggling to develop; the one that suffers hunger, poverty, and death from treatable illnesses--things I don't want to experience, but others must. Lives I can impact as long as I don't shrink back.

This is why these dirty letters mean what they do to me. Each one represents a sweet face, a unique personality with its own quirks, mischief, and vulnerability. A loving heart, and a life full of potential, still "under development", that hopes for change. Most importantly, a life that can be changed.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

In honor of my mom on Mother's Day

I thought I'd post a few pictures of my mom. These are taken during my childhood and are the few I have with me here in Africa.

This one was taken, I believe, before our lives got crazy (aka we moved to Dallas, Texas, then later to Brazil).

Here, we were your average Canadian family at a family picnic. My mom comes from a big German family of 14 surviving children, so I think our picnics pretty much took over the entire park :) When I was young, I thought all normal families consisted of 100-ish people... Anyway, this is us. My older sister, our sweet younger brother, mom, dad, and me (the tow-head at the back, left).

This photo is of my 11th birthday (I think). It was my first birthday in Recife, Brazil.

 It had been a very difficult year for us as a family adjusting to a drastically different country and culture. If someone had handed us return fares during the first year, I think my parents would have happily hopped on a plane to return to their normal world! That option didn't exist right then, and oddly enough even when the opportunity eventually did roll around, they decided God had called them there to stay and fulfill the calling on their hearts: care for abandoned and needy children. So even though there wasn't much "feel-good"factor in those early years, they stayed. I don't even know how to place a value on the impact parents have on their kids when they don't quit--when they refuse to run away from difficulty--when they stick through the tough times.

Back to the party though, there was a good mix of my American and Brazilian friends at my birthday party. I recall that my mom really knocked herself out to make this birthday a huge smash. She even did my hair in an up-do (yep, that's the back of my head). It's pretty sweet how my little brother is looking at me and smiling and clapping his hands :)

This last photo was taken several years later, after much adjustment and assimilation. After our lives and family grew to accommodate a number of children who had no family and who needed to be sheltered and loved. I remember the names of over half these kids. They were my first "additional" sisters and brothers. I like to tell Mozambicans that I have black brothers in Brazil. :)

The little girl in the front had health issues and her spine was fused when she was very small (you can tell by her posture). She came to stay in our home for awhile and was she sharp as a whip! That was an interesting adjustment. I was about 17 at the time and she loved to snoop through my drawers and test my make-up and chew the Wriggley's gum sent to me especially from Canada. After I left home to study nursing in Canada, she and my little brother became good friends and thick as thieves. It was cool that they had each other, and that together they kept our parents on their toes. Several years after that, my brother (in striped pants on right, above) got sick and, sadly, lost his life. Later on, the little girl did too due to complications from her condition.

In a perfect world, children should not be abandoned and suffer the break-up of their families, and they should not die. But this world is not perfect. It is made a better, however, by the love and self-sacrifice of moms who are willing to love their own, and to love those of others as well.  

Thank you, mom, for the love you shared and for the example you were to not only me but to the many children who are and were part of our lives and family as well. My prayer is that this legacy will be passed on many times over. May the generation to come be a big one with hundreds in the family.

That is normal after-all :)

I love you, Mom. Happy mother's day!

Thursday, May 09, 2013


We went to the school yesterday and took pictures for the kids to color. We started with Grade 1 and 2. I managed to capture a few moments of the fun so I'll post them here.

This first picture isn't real sharp but it was the best of this boy (on the left) performing for the photo by stuffing crayons in his mouth.

He is one of my "best" Grade 1 friends. I've taken care of him a time or two at the clinic, and as a result, I have his undying love and devotion. When I go to the school, he is often the first one at the car door to grab me by the hand and walks everywhere with me. And if he can't do that, he carries my bag of supplies for me in and out of every classroom. Anyway, this seemed to be where the focus on crayons started.

Here I got a cute wrinkle-headed smile and and pointed at with crayons.

Then, a row of girls held up their crayons for the shot.

But that wasn't good enough, so they held them higher. (And I never did manage to focus on the crayon tip.)

Next row, same thing...

And so on

This little boy didn't bother. I guess he figured his winning smile was good enough :)

Kyra and Jackson helping out and catching the action on video.

The kids loved Sharon's attention!

Dwight helping distribute sweets and brightly colored pipe cleaners when they were all done.

There may be noise and dirt and goofing off and mayhem at times at the school, but you can't help but love these kids.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Tetanus, Rabies, Youtube, and QWERTY

We were supposed to have our monthly health worker meeting today but two of the health workers couldn't make it so we postponed it until Thursday. While we were all sitting around chatting, the topic of typing came up because a new health worker needs to learn computer skills. I drew a diagram of a keyboard and he filled in the keys he could remember. He did well considering he's only on day 3. We then went on to discuss what QWERTY means and how cell phone dial pads differ. I thought this may help him a bit as he learns to type. Mostly, it's just kind of interesting to me.

From keyboard layouts, we went on to discuss dog bites (which we've seen recently), rabies and tetanus. Although we've all learned about these conditions, no one has ever actually seen someone with rabies or tetanus. There are only pictures or rough sketches in medical textbooks. So I had a novel idea...look up videos on youtube. There are a surprising number of videos of actual rabies cases, considerably fewer of tetanus cases, but still, enough to get a good visual so it would be recognized more quickly if ever witnessed. These aren't fun to watch, but the essential things in life aren't always fun. They do tend to be very useful, however.

My other task (while Bob and Dwight had a meeting, Kyra painted ox carts, Jackson worked on Joao's roof, and Sharon did laundry) was to figure out just how to merge a Word document with an Access database table. This is a huge learning curve for me, and oh how I dislike huge learning curves while I'm going through them! If I can't figure out the merge procedure, Kyra and I will be doing lots of hand printing of preschooler and Grade 1 kids' names on their artwork pages tomorrow before heading to the school to get them working on them! I'm thinking close to 100 names--that's lots of writing. So pray my mind can wrap its way around this learning curve real fast. Don't suppose QWERTY knowledge will help with this one.

Friday, May 03, 2013

A baby, a puppy, and prayer

We were sitting in a circle having a chat with some dear people the other night while a cute baby with beautiful, bright eyes played on the rug in front of us. He was wearing a bright red sleeper, the all-in-one neck-to-toe kind, but the sleeper was having a hard time keeping up with the busy little body within. It sort of stuck to the rug as the baby inched his way forward. The toe and foot compartments, left flat and empty by the baby's forward movement, followed along obediently. Whenever the baby lay down or roll over, the empty sleeper toes twisted and flopped nonsensically. This attracted the attention of a cute little puppy that was romping on the rug as well. At 6 weeks old, the puppy was cute as a button and small as a bug. He had been minding his own business until the jerking motion of the floppy red fabric caught his eye. That was about the point in time when we were called to prayer. As I closed my eyes, I noticed the baby headed my direction with the puppy in hot pursuit of the red cloth trailing behind him. I only closed my eyes momentarily in compliance with the group, but opened them again quickly in order to intervene in what was coming. 

The baby got to me quickly and I reached down to help him stand just as the puppy caught up. The baby turned and took a playful swipe at the puppy, and the movement made one of the empty sleeper toes flip tauntingly. This was too much for the puppy and as he poised to pounce on it, I hoisted the baby up.  I wasn't quick enough though and the puppy caught the tip of the empty sleeper toe firmly between his teeth. I didn't want a tug of war to ensue, so I lowered the baby and tried to "shoo" the puppy away from his new toy. He relaxed his grip a bit and I lifted the baby again. But that puppy was quick on the uptake and grabbed the sleeper tip before it got away. I decided to set the baby on my knee so I could free one hand for dealing with the persistent puppy.  But as I lifted the baby higher, the sleeper fabric stretched, and that stretching brought out the puppy's reflex to lock all 4's, pull backward with all his might, and swing his head from side to side like only a determined dog will do. The baby's mom, sitting next to me, stifled a snicker. Everyone else managed to ignore the circus and kept on praying. Thankfully I managed to lean over and pry the puppy's jaws open quickly and release the now fairly stretched empty sleeper toe. I pulled the sleeper toe and leg back into proper position on the baby and tried to bounce him quietly on my lap. But he was too far into the game by then and was reaching and kicking for the puppy on the floor--who by then had moved on to chewing on my purse's strap. Seeing the puppy was distracted, I decided to try and set the baby on the rug again to crawl. But as I did so, the puppy bounded toward the baby again and the baby's eyes sparkled with delight! I quickly pulled the baby back to myself and realized this wasn't going to be an easy game to quit. People were still praying (somehow) so I decided the best policy was to hand baby off to mommy.  Thankfully that settled things down for a while so I could put in at least a few moments of earnest prayer.

That's what life is like. Some moments don't have a "stop goofing off now--this is serious" button. And that is probably what saves our sanity. I'm sure glad God hears our hearts either way. 

Paul, we miss you. And these and many other fun and fond moments like them remind us of you. We will see you again one day.