Friday, June 27, 2014

Home--For Now

You can't fix people, not in a lifetime, and certainly not in thirty days. But you can walk through life with them and encourage them by pointing them to the One who can fix people. That's why someday I want to go back and live in Zimbabwe. I've met some of the most gracious and resilient people, and I've made some amazing friends, but Zimbabwe is a difficult place to survive and I want to be there for the people, for my friends. 

Let me tell you about two of the best friends that I made while I was there. Their names are Anna and Amanda and they are both sweet, wonderful, hard-working girls. They have a sewing business in a building behind the house where I was staying, and they make beautiful clothes. I've really enjoyed talking with them and getting to know them. We all love to sing, so they taught me some songs in Shona and I taught them some songs in English. They also taught me--or at least tried to teach me, how to make sadza, the staple food of Zimbabwe, but it's really difficult to make. I showed them how I make spaghetti. Most of the evenings that I wasn't busy I spent with them, and I absolutely loved it. 

On Tuesday we were up at six in the morning climbing trees. The trees are rough and scraggly--great for climbing. Amanda's the brave one. She climbed to the very top to watch the sunrise. The morning was fresh, the air was cool, the sky still gray and yawning, and there were a couple of birds singing, but we sang louder. We sang "Hakuna Wakaita Sa Jesu"(Shona for "There's no one like Jesus") and "This is the Day that the Lord has Made" and then "These are the Trees that the Lord has Made" (no, that's not a real song...but we sang it anyway). Six o' clock in the morning is prime tree climbing time, especially with friends like Anna and Amanda. Life hasn't been easy for them, but those girls are gems. And it's because of them and others that I have met, as well as God's calling on my life, that I want to go back. 

When I became a Christian, I gave all of my life to Christ. He gave up His life for me before I even knew Him and while I was still His enemy, so it was a small price to pay. Zimbabwe is where He led me and I think it's where He wants me to return to. If not, that's His choice. Until that time, Zimbabwe is where I'll be aiming for. It's where I want to go.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Laughing through Life

                “They took my farm away, my home, and now I’m living with my daughter,” said the old man, his hands pale as he clutched his walker. Red blotches stained the top of his cheeks and the wrinkles on his face were like crumpled paper, but I’m sure some of those wrinkles were exclusively laugh lines, because this man likes to laugh. But of course, he wasn’t laughing now. “Yes, they took away my home,” he repeated.
                “There’s a new home waiting for you in heaven,” Doug reminded him gently.
                “Yes, yes, there is,” said the man, and he laughed a big laugh that showed all his white and not-so-white teeth, a laugh that made his old face handsome.
                “The best is yet to come,” said Doug.
                The old man laughed again, his face shining. “Yes it is, and we’ll all be there together. I’ll see you there!” he said to me as he hobbled away from the church building. “I’ll see you there.” 
                I'm looking forward to it. He'll probably get there long before me, but some day I'll be walking along those streets made of gold when I'll bump into him. "Do you remember me?" He'll ask, throwing aside his walker and doing a little jig. 
               "I know you, you're that laughing man!" I'll say, and then we'll both laugh. And as we laugh we'll hear a thunderous laugh that shakes the golden street as God laughs with us, a laugh that makes us fall on the ground clutching our sides, our hands pressing against the smooth street, and we'll laugh even harder. Maybe for a minute. Maybe for ten minutes. Maybe a whole week, or month, or year, or a century. Why not? We'll have all eternity to laugh. 
                But in this world, laughter doesn't come so easily. Life crushes us and threatens to make us bitter. But I'm determined to never live in bitterness. I plan to have at least as many laughter wrinkles as this old man someday. Whenever life breaks my heart, I hope I’ll remember the home waiting for me in heaven and the one who’s walking me through life to get me there. I hope I’ll always learn to laugh again. Don't think that I'm naive. Don't think that I've never had my heart broken and therefore I don't know how hard it is to pick up the pieces afterwards, let alone laugh. Trust me, I know.
                 This man knows, too. He had his home unfairly taken away from him, and living in Zimbabwe, you can be sure he's faced many other heartaches as well. I'm not going to go into all the political and social reasons for this, just do a little research on Zimbabwe and you'll find out quick enough why. The point is, God has given him a reason to laugh again.So I'm going to laugh and dance and sing through life, because God will always help me find joy again.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Kitchen Knives and Teachas

Zimbabwe. Not only is it a great country, but it also has the best name ever. Zimbabwe. Zim-Babwe. ZZZZZZiMMMMMM-bob-wayyyy. Zimmmmmm-baaaaaaaaaaaaaab-we. Seriously, say it out loud. I'm handing you hours of entertainment here. I wish I'd thought to do it on the plane, it would have passed the time faster (although it probably would have driven the nice guy from South Africa sitting next to me nuts).

Now, I could give you a minute by minute description of my time here in ZIIIIMMMMbabwe, but that would take both hours to read and to write, time that could be used to say things like ZZZZim-Bop-way and Zoooommmmm-bab-we, so I'll just give you the highlights.

First of all, I'm staying in this great big house that TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) uses to house short term missionaries. Except for two nights when a church group from Tennessee was here, I've been here by myself. For one person, it's huge. There's four bedrooms, most of which are fairly large, a large kitchen, a large dining room (actually, except for the bathrooms, just assume the room is large), two bathrooms, another living room/dining room area, a veranda, and a hallway. But even though I'm alone in this house, I'm not alone on this property. My Perfect and Bubba Perfect (which literally means 'mother of' and 'father of' Perfect, although it's probably spelled differently), live on the property with their three children: Elizabeth, Matthew, and Perfect. Next to their house is the house of four girls who started their own sewing business. The entire property is surrounded by a wall-like fence, which is pretty typical here in Zimbabwe. The property, like every property I've seen in Zimbabwe, is beautiful. There are palm trees and trees I don't know, colorful flowers, a strange sort of short, shrubby grass, butterflies, foreign sounding birds, and always blue skies and sunshine. Except at night, in case you were wondering. Even though it's nearly winter here, it's still quite warm, which came as a surprise to me, because my contact told me to expect 40 degree weather. I didn't realize that he was talking about nighttime when he said that. The days are beautiful. Thankfully I do have summer clothes for the 70 degree days. 

I have to admit, nights alone in this great big house can get a little creepy. On one of the first nights I thought I heard something, so I searched the entire house with a kitchen knife in my hand. Don't worry, though, I put that noisy fridge in its place. 

But enough about the house. I'm actually doing something here in Zimbabwe--you know--besides intimidating empty closets with a kitchen knife. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, I go to a place called the Shalom House to tutor the kids. It's an orphan home, but different than most. Instead of the kids all being together, the place is set up more like long-term foster care, with each group of kids being raised by one of the volunteers. The mom I'm helping (Sue) has six kids: two are her own, four aren't biologically, but are still treated as her own. I don't know which is which, nor do I plan to ask. The moms working at this home find it very important that none of the children feel like orphans, and the kids are being raised in a family setting. For the most part, I'm helping the kids with math, reading, English, and whatever other homework they have (except for Shona homework, for obvious reasons). Not only does this help the kids catch up in school (they are a little behind), it also gives Sue a break. Which, with six kids, is very necessary.

On Thursdays I'm helping at a Christian preschool for children at risk down in Wingate. Trust me, there's nothing more adorable than a classroom of 53 Shona preschoolers calling out "Present, teacha!" during role-call. Since I don't actually speak Shona, and the preschoolers speak very little English, I'm mainly assisting the two main teachers with whatever they need help with. However, I did get to tell the story of David and Goliath, which was then translated. I also taught them the hippopotamus song. In the afternoon the older kids come for homework club. Since they speak some English, I'm able to help them more. 

Every evening I spend an hour tutoring My Perfect's children in English. I'm pretty sure they are the most well-behaved children in the world. Ever. Unfortunately, they're a little behind in English, which is a problem when so much of their schooling is English. They're bright children, so hopefully a little tutoring will help. 

So, that pretty much sums up what I'm doing at the moment. But I want to tell you about the people, because they are so cool. I have never met a group of people who are so gracious and friendly. They love to smile and laugh. Considering the recent history of the country, they are incredibly resilient. They are hard workers and early risers--six in the morning, in case you were wondering. Whenever I walk past the girls sewing, they always wave and greet me--always. And they love it when you try to say something in their language. Even strangers greet me on the street and are very friendly (although I have to admit, some are too friendly. I've been warned that I'll probably be proposed to at least once before I leave). It's like all the people here are radiating warmth. Their culture is relationship-based, and I love it. 

What surprises me most about Zimbabwe is how un-foreign it feels. Yes, it is a different country with strange customs and sights and foods. The Shona people usually eat a sort of corn mush (sadza) with vegetables and/or meat--eaten only with the right hand (no silverware). Instead of sidewalks, people walk on dirt paths by the side of the road. The language is different. But cool. Really cool. Once you're finally done playing with the word "Zimbabwe," have a go at "mangwanani" or "sarai svakanaka". There's another three hours of entertainment. Your welcome.

Despite the differences, being here feels so natural. Maybe it's because I'm used to being a stranger in a country. I'm a citizen of two countries but culture-wise I'm not completely American or Belgian. Maybe it has nothing to do with that. Whatever it is, I don't think the culture shock has hit yet, because I'm loving it here. 

Most importantly, I want to tell you what God is doing. There hasn't been a mass-revival since I got here, nor did I or do I expect one. I don't think God usually works like that. But God has been teaching me. The people here are so relational. Since God is relational, I think that in this aspect, the culture reflects a bit of His nature. Relational people aren't cold and hard and unforgiving; they're warm and forgiving and gracious. And I think this is true for God as well. And I still have so much to learn. I hope that as I continue to learn, God will use me. This is a beautiful country, but a very broken country, and only God is the perfect remedy.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Last to Go

I'm sitting here in Wheaton Illinois next to the TEAM headquarters on a bench--outside--because I can't seem to get my Internet to connect anywhere else. That's all right, though. The sunset was beautiful.

I know what you're thinking. "I thought she was going to Zimbabwe--did she take a wrong turn? Why is she in Wheaton?" Well, I'm so glad you asked. Let me tell you.

Before flying out to Zimbabwe (which I'm doing tomorrow at the crack of dawn), I had to go through orientation with TEAM.

Yesterday there were about ten other short term TEAMServe missionaries here with me. Not anymore. They've all gone to Asia and Mexico and Ireland, among other places. I'm the last to go. But even though we've known each other for less than a week, we've had some good times together. Like buying a VCR at goodwill for five dollars so we could watch Disney movies. And eating lunch with sleeves that made it impossible to use elbows. And walking around Chicago. And of course, we learned about mission stuff as well.

And now it's quiet. Too quiet, because I really don't like being alone, but my flight was two hundred dollars cheaper if I flew out Sunday. I'm not really alone, though. God is with me now, and He'll be with me on that plane, and He'll be with me in Zimbabwe. I hate being the last to go--but I won't be going alone.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why I'm Going

In less than two weeks I'll be standing on completely foreign ground--Zimbabwe ground. No amount of reading up on Zimbabwe and Google picture searches can help me understand just what it will be like. I'm okay with that. Not knowing is exciting. It would be terrifying, but I serve a God who will be with me wherever I go, and actually, He's the reason I'm going in the first place.

Although it would have been really cool, there was no burning bush or dark cloud commanding me to go to Zimbabwe. I mean, I'm from Portland, so there have been plenty of dark clouds, and in fact every kind of cloud that you can imagine, but so far, I haven't heard God shout, "Hey Esther, I'd really like you to go to Zimbabwe," out of any of them.

Instead, I read a verse: "Go out and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). And ever since I went on a short term missions trip to Mexico my sophomore year of high school, I've had a strong desire to go to Zimbabwe. Why Zimbabwe? Good question. Let me know if you find out, I'd like to know.

But the more I heard and read about it, the more I've wanted to go. So I got connected with TEAM, a missions organization, when they came to my school, and now I'm going to go. I'll go help with reading and English in an orphan home, but more importantly, I'm going in the hopes that helping these kids with their education will open the door for me to share the Gospel.

I'm not going with the expectations that my short month in Zimbabwe will radically improve the lives of everyone around me. Believe me, after my family's experience with foster care, I've learned my lesson: you can have the best intentions and you still might fall flat on your face. The Beatles hugely oversimplified matters when they said "All you need is love". Instead, I'm going with the expectation that, if I depend on God, He'll work through me for His good purposes, and He'll work in me, as well. Whatever good comes out of this trip is His work, not mine. In less than two weeks I'll be standing on completely foreign ground--but because the God who made Zimbabwe and every country will be with me, it will be good.