Saturday, October 18, 2014

October 2014 Newsletter

Greetings from Montepuez!

The weather here is warming up and the green mangoes dropping onto our tin roof from the tree in our backyard are getting larger and larger - sure signs that a new season is upon us.  We've started using fans at night to keep cool under the mosquito nets and we know that it will only get warmer...  If you need a break from the bitter cold in the northern hemisphere this winter, please come sweat with us in Mozambique!

Life for our African friends has been "hotter" in other ways as well recently.  Just this week, Mozambique held its presidential elections, and leading up to that important event there has been a lot of activity and campaigning.  We've been praying for peace and encouraging our friends to pray for peace, and we have been thankful for relative calm so far as the results have started coming in. 

Over the past few months, Alan has continued to be involved in his regular studies in village churches.    The churches in Chipembe, Nkunama, Omeringue, Ncororo and Namuno clusters continue to study the series of lessons on leadership, and Alan has enjoyed very positive feedback from the series on poverty in Nakuka, Nekhwaya, Khambiri, and Balama clusters.   He has also made a few overnight trips out - he had a great visit to Cuamba to visit Armindo, a young man he has been discipling who is in his first year in college (you can read more about that here), and Alan's visit with the church in Maxoka was positive as well.  The classes he is coordinating with Jeremy for leaders in the Chiure district are starting back up and we're excited about their commitment to disciple and train emerging leaders in those congregations.

Another recent highlight has been Alan's experience of memorizing a large section from the book of 2 Corinthians with Cruz.  This young man is going to secondary school far from his home and Alan has been discipling him for a number of years now.  He has helped start a small church in the village where he is living and it has been enjoyable to watch him grow in maturity and commitment to Christ.  He has a talent for memorizing scripture and Alan does his best to keep up with him!  Memorizing and walking through that text was a great way to help Cruz explore the Apostle Paul's heart for ministry and apply it to his and our ministries as well. 

We also have had some sad news lately.  In the past few weeks two older men who had become Christians in churches in Mirate passed away.  Raimundo was one of the first members of the church in Chipembe and that young body of believers met at his house in the early years.  A loud and colorful character, we have clear memories of Raimundo insisting that he be baptized.  Though his story took a sad turn in the last couple years as serious health problems and conflict with his wife caused him a lot of pain, we were proud to see the church step up and minister well at his funeral.  We lost another friend, Havara, just last week.  His wife had attended Rachel's study in Ncororo for over a year and they both were baptized on the same day back in January.   Havara was a man who exuded calm and was well respected in the community; he had served for years as a school teacher in the village and a few months ago the church moved and began meeting at his house.  Havara was someone we had grown to love and appreciate and it is hard to imagine the church in Ncororo going forward without him.  Since he didn't have any blood relatives in that village, he was buried here in Montepuez, and because funerals are so important in this context, we were really grateful to see the church here in town help out and bless his family even though most of them had never met him.  These events are a great opportunity to show the love of Christ and often other plans have to be put on hold to respond appropriately.  Alan and I figured out that in a span of three days we spent about 15 hours at the funeral or helping out the family.  We are grateful for the way the team and teachers helped out a lot so both of us could be there for Havara's wife Susana; please pray for Havara and Raimundo's family.

A few other projects have been using more of Alan's time lately.  In coordination with the Leprosy Mission, he helped design and develop a series of recorded conversations in Makua-Metto sharing over 50 Bible stories in ways sensitive to a Muslim audience.  Alan was only minimally involved in the recording process, but now that most of them are done, he's been spending his Fridays (while I'm out in a village) listening and marking places that need correction.  We know that the recordings will serve the leprosy self-care groups as well as being a great resource for the churches for many years to come.

The construction of the bridge near the village of Bandar is under way and Alan has worked closely with Will Zweig, a Peace Corp Volunteer and engineer who is heading up the project.  Thanks to generous donations we are fully funded and will hopefully complete the bridge by the end of November (just in time for the rainy season!).  Alan's role has focused on community relations, organizing the labor and transportation of supplies.  Chad and Jeremy have been a big help too, taking cement to the site and lending their construction experience as well.
Not all of our projects to bless our Mozambican friends involve so much of our time, but they can have a big impact.  This year's round of sustainable agriculture seminars is finishing up and participants are getting ready to plant once the rains begin.  The goals of the project are to form 10 associations of farmers using these principals in their communal plots with the end goal of seeing 100 Mozambican families implement them in their own personal farms.  We've heard a number of good reports lately that indicate we are well on our way to meeting those objectives.  Praise God! 

People from Alan's parents' church in Germantown, TN collected reading glasses and sent them over with the interns back in May.  For the last few years, donations of glasses have been a big blessing to our Mozambican friends in the churches and the community.  It is a joy to be able to give away glasses to people and help them be able to read and see well.  We received about 50 pairs and they were quickly given out to friends and neighbors.  About once a week we will have strangers come by the house or stop us on the road and ask us if more glasses have come in.  One of the church leaders commented on how Jesus' power to give sight to the blind continues to be evident as his people share what they have to help others see again.  Giving out glasses is a simple way to bless our friends and they very much appreciate it.  If you would like to know more about helping out in this way, let us know.

At the end of August, we had a meeting of church leaders from all over Cabo Delgado to share the suggestions from our consultant visit by the Huffard and Cox families.  That meeting went well and it was agreed that all of us need to move forward with a plan to recognize deacons in the churches all over the province.  It was also decided that our team should meet regularly with three Mozambican missionaries who serve in this area.  These men and their families come from the "Bible belt" of Mozambique and while we have worked well with them in some ways, there has continued to be a lot of tension in our relationship, mostly regarding one of the men and issues related to finances and support.  We committed to address this issue with them and lay out a process for naming deacons in the near future.  Please pray for the churches in Cabo Delgado.  It seems that we are entering into a new stage of development that is very exciting...albeit one that we want to see bathed in wisdom and unity.     

The three women's groups that I study with are going well; the Chipembe cluster is studying through a booklet of Jesus' teachings and parables, the Newara cluster is studying through a booklet on Jesus' healings and miracles, and the Nekwaya cluster is studying through the Sermon on the Mount.  We've got about two months to go before we pause our studies for the planting season in mid-December.  I love these women and their children, and my prayer is that their roots are growing down deep, like a tree planted near the riverbank. 

Abby, Ellie and Katie are doing well and we are all really enjoying getting to know the new team teachers!  Rosemary Perry and Amber Roe have begun settling in to life in Montepuez and it has been very fun to have them living next door.  We've been talking more with the girls about our extended furlough to the U.S. next year to live in Searcy, AR and serve as the Visiting Professor of Missions at Harding University.  While the three of them are excited about seeing family and making new friends, they also have shared how they'll miss their teachers here and the other team and neighborhood kids.  While we've spent over a decade now (gulp!) dealing with the reality of living far from family and friends in the States, it will be a new experience to have a long stretch over there missing everyone over here in Africa!

In other news, it looks like we will to take a quick trip to South Africa next month.  Abby and I were already planning to go to continue her orthodontist treatment/dental work, but just a few days ago Alan cracked a lost a big chunk of a tooth.  Thankfully he is not experiencing any pain at the moment, but we'll be glad to get that taken care of sooner rather than later.

Thanks so much for partnering with us in this ministry - there is no way that we could do it without your encouragement and support!  

Please pray with us for:

  • God's Kingdom to keep coming here in this place
  • team transitions an relationships
  • Mozambican leadership to be service-oriented
  • good, healthy rainy season starting in December

Grace and Peace,
Rachel, Alan and the girls

Friday, October 17, 2014

Story Warren - Playing Favorites: The Napping House

"Not all of them are the same.  And as much as I try to hide it, I play favorites.

When my little one brings over a book to read at bedtime, I admit it, sometimes it’s hard to suppress the cringe.

Not all bedtime books are created equal.

Surely you feel the same way…right?  I mean, we all love you, Amelia Bedelia, but if I have to read about you more than twice in a week, it kinda makes me crazy.

There are a few books, though, that I don’t mind reading over and over again.  And my children can tell.

The Napping House by Audrey Wood is my favorite children’s book.  It is a joy to read.  The book’s artwork is rich and playfully detailed.  The text is lyrical and descriptive."
To read more, check out my Story Warren post, Playing Favorites: The Napping House.


Grace and Peace,

Friday, October 10, 2014

more than a pipe

"Lord, please help me get out of the way of what you are trying to say here."

In the past, whenever I was getting ready to preach or teach, that's what I used to pray.  I had this impression that the best form of help would be for me to be an impersonal distributor of the living water found in Scripture to other people.  I thought that ideally I should be a pipe that served only to channel God's truths to others.  Like some sort of human PVC tube, I imagined that my primary task was to simply make sure not to inhibit the living water from flowing to those around me.  In that way I would be certain to deliver it untainted and altered.

I guess there is some merit to that way of thinking, but now I've come to realize that the "pipe approach" to preaching and teaching is off the mark.

At every step along the way, God has wanted human fingerprints on what he's doing.  Instead of using a heavenly megaphone or dropping pamphlets from the sky, God has wanted humanity to be deeply involved in his redeeming work.  From the job description given to us at creation, to the work of the prophets, to the incarnation of Jesus...all the way to his decision to use the church as his primary witness, this preference of God's for human involvement has been evident.  So, it seems clear that his desire is not only that we point to his word as the source of life, but that the living water welling up in us would participate in sustaining and serving those around us (John 4:1-42, 7:37-38 and 15:1-17).

God doesn't seem concerned that we'll dirty or smudge his plans.  He genuinely wants us (yes, our imperfect human selves!) in on his salvation and transformation initiative.

So, instead of seeing myself as a pipe, I'm trying to see my life and work more like a fruit bearing plant. 

Like a plant, I am nourished as I feed on God's word.  Therefore what I have to offer in terms of teaching and preaching are filtered through my experiences and interests.  And amazingly, somehow in the divine economy, when done correctly, that Word has the potential to become something else - something that further benefits the recipient.

A famished person who spots a fruit tree at a distance may also rightly expect to find a source of water near its roots. That water nourished a plant which provides him with a different or derivative source of sustenance.  And in the same way that the tree points to the source of water and additionally offers something of value to that person, a ministry of teaching and preaching at its core serves to take the living water and turn it into a further kind of blessing.  Our hungry and thirsty person really benefits from the plant's fruit as well as the water that allowed it to grow. 

So, what I'm realizing now is that my work of teaching and preaching is less about getting out of the way and more about using everything at my disposal - heart, soul, mind and strength to enrich and fortify those I serve.  That perspective honors our place as coworkers and co-creators in God's kingdom.  We are called to be more than pipes, simply shuttling God's word to others.  By God's grace, our lives and experiences, when rooted in good soil, adds to the gift and further blesses those we encounter.

May we know that we are more than simply pipes.  May we be fruit bearing plants, firmly connected to the vine and may we recognize the way we bear real, unique fruit that has the potential to bless those around us.

Grace and Peace,

Friday, October 3, 2014

bitterness and the crafty rabbit

I've had a rough week.  A Mozambican ministry colleague made me feel like a punching bag.  He spoke in ways that made me feel unfairly attacked, misrepresented and just plain yuck.  Though it was a painful meeting, I did my best to respond appropriately.  Instead of reacting in kind, I tried to summon up as much kindness as I could muster.

The next day, though, those same bitter feelings lingered in my mind and heart.  I texted a different Mozambican colleague asking for prayer, sharing that I still felt stung from the previous day's insults - one's he too had witnessed.  That friend called me back immediately.  He said this: "Brother, did you forget that a servant isn’t greater than his master?  Jesus was misunderstood, abused and suffered – you came to Africa to do good in his name – should you expect any better along the way?  Don’t give up.  Don't lose heart."        

A few minutes later, as I headed out to meet with a cluster of churches in the Mirate posto, I reflected on how most of God's commandments are (at least in theory!) easy for us to follow (most) of the time.  The instructions to honor our parents and love one's spouse, for example, are usually accepted and appreciated on a given day.  But, the call to love those who hurt us...phew, that's different.  To receive bitterness from others and obey our master by paying them back in sweetness is tough for all of us, all of the time.

Even Jesus seems to have struggled with that.   

We don’t have much evidence that Jesus struggled with his mission and sense of calling.  The only story where he wrestles with what he's asked to do happens on the night before his death (Matthew 26:36-46).  Jesus has spent the past three years healing, teaching and doing good.  And now the human race is about to pay him back for all that love and sweetness, by offering a bitter cup for him to drink.  Talk about a bitter pill!  Even for Jesus, this will be tough to swallow.  So he prays.  He's emotional.  He asks God if there is any way possible for this cup to pass from him.  And to make things worse, his three closest friends don't have his back! He asks them to pray for and with him, but they mostly doze through the darkest night of his life.  In the end, though, Jesus resolves to take and drink that awful cup of bitterness.

Peter is there – he sees it all (or maybe more accurately, he sleeps through it all).  Peter has been a witness to the goodness that Jesus consistently gave to those around him.  And he was a witness to the way Jesus intentionally chose not pay humanity back for its bitterness.  Instead of calling down 10,000 angels, Peter saw his Lord take that bitterness and death and turn it into the sweetest thing imaginable - resurrection.  

So, it shouldn't surprise us that in Peter's old age, as he writes a letter to Christians that are suffering, he would tell the church not to give in to fear and return evil with evil, but to follow the example of Christ (1 Peter 3:13-22).  As Peter points them to Jesus, though, he does do something surprising.  In verses that have provoked much confusion and heated debate, Peter references the story of Noah and lets us in on the fact that at some point before his resurrection Jesus made a detour and preached to evil spirits in prison.

What?  Where did that come from?

Now, the best approach I've seen to this strange text is that after his death, Jesus is not making a surprise "door-knocking campaign," or some kind of an "evangelistic outreach program to POW demons."  No.  It seems that instead, Jesus' purpose is to proclaim God's triumph over death to those evil powers and spirits who are awaiting God's final judgment in jail.  Jesus has won the victory.  And Jesus informs those spirits that their attempts to keep the Lord of creation down have backfired.  They are the ones who are on the losing side.
Now, we may be wondering about this line of reasoning.   What would make Peter go from "don't give in to bitterness when you suffer" to "follow the example of Jesus" to "Jesus proclaimed his victory to imprisoned evil spirits"?
As a walked through these texts with that cluster of churches from Mirate, I brought out an example that they are all familiar with.

Decades of suffering and war seem to have caused the Makua-Metto people to forget many of their traditional stories.  But, one kind of story, or better said, one essential character, has not been forgotten.  People still enjoy and remember tales of "hukula," the rabbit. 

Now, for some background, there are three main words for intelligence in the Makua-Metto language.   There's one that has positive connotations - "ankhili" meaning wisdom, experience and knowledge.  There's one that is more neutral in orientation - "uwalala" – meaning smart.  And finally there is "ulavilavi," a word with more negative connotations meaning crafty, cunning, and tricky…sometimes bordering on deviousness.

The tales spun in our neck of the woods are similar to those of Br'er Rabbit. The rabbit is a crafty and tricky character.  At worst he is devious and cunning (ulavilavi), but at best his craftiness is simply used to get him out of a jam (uwalala).

So, I asked one of the men there to retell a specific story of our friend, the crafty rabbit.  Everyone sat up and listened closely.  The tale he shared goes something like this:

Once upon a time, a group of hyenas celebrated that they had finally captured the rabbit.  Making a prison for him out of branches, they left him to go find more firewood plotting the best way to cook and eat him.  A little while later, a different hyena came walking by and the rabbit realized this would be his only chance for escape.  "Excuse me" the rabbit cried out, "I need your help.  Your fellow hyenas have decided to make me their king, but I am too young and inexperienced for that.  They've gone in search of food and fire and want to throw a big party for me.  But, I'm not worthy of this honor.  Why don't you come and trade places with me?  Then you will be chosen king and you will be part of the feast."  The hyena's pride swelled and he agreed to the rabbit's offer.  The rabbit ran off and the hyena sat in the brush jail waiting for the others to return.  When they came back and looked into the brush, one of them remarked, "Terrific, this rabbit of ours is even bigger than we remembered.  We will all have plenty to feast on tonight."  Ignoring their prisoner's protests, they cooked and ate him.  The rabbit watched all this from afar and then smiled as he skipped off home to his burrow.

Admitting to my Mozambican friends that this could be a risky analogy (obviously, I don't want them to be deviously smart!), I asked them to consider thinking of Jesus as the crafty rabbit.  Those hyenas thought they had the rabbit trapped.  To switch animal kingdom metaphors on you - they assumed that his goose was cooked!   And yet his craftiness gave him a way out.  Like our stories Br'er rabbit, this one succeeds in "outfoxing the fox."  He's the underdog (sorry, again switching animal kingdom metaphors), that we root for to come out on top in the end.  And the rabbit's cunning is the reason behind the respect and admiration given him in Makua-Metto culture. 

One of the reasons that I want my Mozambican friends to consider this metaphor of Jesus as the rabbit is that if they think of Jesus as simply smart, then he may not be honored or respected.  But, if they can see him as possessing some cunning (albeit a cunning used for good), then they will have a greater sense of admiration and respect for him.  In the gospels, Jesus is constantly outwitting the religious leaders' attempts to trap him.  So there is some precedent for this way of seeing Jesus.  I want my Mozambican friends to see the "craftiness" of the Christ under the surface of his choice to respond to evil with good.  I want them to see his acceptance of the bitter cup of suffering and death as an act of cunning.

Like the hyenas in the story, the evil spirits thought they had nailed the Son of God down at the cross.  They thought they had trapped him and won.  But, as Peter reminds us, Jesus escaped and showed them their folly.  Now the shackles they had thought would bind the Lord of Creation are what is used to entrap themselves and all they have left to do is to sit and await their final judgment.    
When the world offers us bitterness, it is extremely difficult to respond with sweetness.

So, as I try to convince and encourage my Mozambican friends to consistently respond to evil with good, it seems to resonate with them that followers of Jesus will need more than simple intelligence.  We need the same good spirit of craftiness or cunning that our Lord possessed.  That way we'll be able to see and achieve a greater endgame - one that furthers His kingdom even in the face of abuse.  It is a way of orienting ourselves to the world in a way that can help us consistently turn bitterness into sweetness.

May we have a greater measure of "godly craftiness and cunning."  One that allows us to follow our master Jesus and respond to mistreatment with determination and grace.

Grace and Peace,