Saturday, January 24, 2009

happy new year from mozambique!

Greetings again from northern Mozambique!

Thank you so much to all of you who have joined us in praying for rain. The rains started just before Thanksgiving, but then right around Christmas, the rains stopped for almost three weeks, and we were nervous that we were seeing the beginnings of a drought. We contacted a few of you to join us in prayer for God to send rain to Mozambique, and he has answered our prayers and sent rain, and we are so thankful. Many of our friends here are subsistence farmers, meaning they grow all the food for their families for the year during Mozambique’s one growing season, and so drought and floods can be catastrophic.

Right before Thanksgiving we drove 12 hours through the bush to Lichinga to visit our friends Rusty, Ann, and Hallie Caldwell and see their resource center/ development farm there. We hadn’t seen them in two years, and it was a lot of fun to reconnect with them and get to experience their lives and work in person. The Caldwells, along with their teammates the Holtons (who are in the States teaching at Harding University this year as the missionaries-in-residence) have worked hard setting up their development center, and are investing in their community through co-ops using various community development projects. It was exciting to see what they are doing and brainstorm ways we could implement some of there ideas over here in Montepuez.

We are always reminded during this holiday time of year that even though we live so far away from our families in the States, God has given us other families in our teammates, colleagues, and friends here. We returned home to Montepuez just in time for Thanksgiving with the Rolands and Westerholms, and just a few days later the Westerholms left for the States for an extended furlough and childbirth in February (we are really looking forward to hearing the news, whenever he or she decides to make an appearance!). Also, the Rolands left for the States on December 20 for a few months to visit family and get some rest and recuperation. We enjoyed our Christmas, though it was unusual, since the girls both had stout cases of giardia and felt pretty crummy – we had to drag them out of bed to come open Christmas presents! For New Year’s Eve we had wanted to try and replicate the fondue tradition from Alan’s family, though we realized at the very last minute that we didn’t have the right kind of plug adaptor for the fondue pot we had borrowed. The food was still yummy, though, and then on New Year’s Day we enjoyed going to a party at one of our workers’ homes.

At this time of year our weekly schedules change as the rains come and the people here start planting their crops. From the times the rains begin in earnest, we cannot get to several churches in villages that we normally spend time in. We visited Nekhwaya and Khambiri a few extra times in early December, knowing that it would be awhile before we could go again. Since Alan can’t get to Khambiri right now, he has begun the Train and Multiply leadership course in Chipembe on Tuesdays, and is continuing to teach in Nkororo on Thursdays; both are places we can still get to even on muddy roads. There is also a group in the village of Namwaciko that would like to be a church, and we started teaching there last week. Every other Saturday Alan and Jeremy are doing Train and Multiply with a group of men from the churches here in town, but the weekly women’s study group is suspended through January and February, since so many people are spending almost all their time out on their farms during the week.

This time of year is also the time of hunger before the harvest gets underway in March and April. Thank you again for all of you who contributed extra funds last year to help us help people here who have run out of food. Also, we are looking to start our small chicken project in April when the chicken feed will be a little cheaper. Alan has been looking at different properties in town to find one suitable for the project and should be meeting with government officials about this non-profit business this next week. Alan has also been building a lot of Lorena stoves lately (see previous newsletter!), teaching different friends how to build these efficient stoves out of local material, and many of the guys he has built stoves with have begun building them for their friends and neighbors.

Last week we had two baptisms in Nkororo; one woman who was baptized got a ride with us back into town because her baby was sick. They took the baby to the hospital, but a few days later her baby died, and they went back to Nkororo for the funeral. The lack of sufficient health care is huge here in Mozambique, and the mortality rate is high – we have a hard time thinking if we know anyone who hasn’t had a child die. Even so, there has been even more sickness and death in the last month than we normally hear about or come in contact with; many people are suffering from severe diarrhea, and a lot of people are talking about cholera. We often get people showing up at our house asking us to help carry a dead body back to their village, or sometimes it is someone who is near death and has been told at the hospital that there is nothing to be done, and so they want to go back to their village to die there at home; sometimes we know these people, sometimes we don’t. Last week one of our night guards showed up for work and told Alan how tired he was, and Alan asked if he had gone to work in his farm that day. But he said no, he was tired because he had had to help dig three graves that day because three of his neighbors had died. And then one of our other workers had a baby son die just this past week on Thursday night. Death is always sad, whether you are an American or a Mozambican, but here in Mozambique we are around death more often. We struggle not to feel numb, but we hear of death so often that it can be overwhelming.

Recently, though, there have also been some things worthy of celebration. In December we had a small wedding at one of the churches in town – it was really the first church wedding that we have been to between two Makua-Metto new believers who are from here locally. Getting married in this culture is usually little more than moving in with someone and beginning to sleep with them, and while that is different than the culture we came from, that alone does not make marriage weak. However, marriage is very weak in this culture, rarely involving strong commitment, and very easily and quickly dissolved for a variety of reasons, and we can’t help but think that publicly celebrating the beginning of a marriage relationship with other believers could be helpful in redeeming marriages and bringing them into the kingdom of God. This really isn’t a foreign idea around here, but too often people don’t have a wedding ceremony because of the cost involved of feeding so many people at a big party. So we were encouraged when our friends Victor and Julieta, each from different villages in the area, told us they wanted to get married with the church, and that they had the courage to keep it small and manageable, so other people can see that it doesn’t have to be a huge party with a lot of cost involved. We enjoyed celebrating their commitment to Christ and each other and hope that many others will choose to follow their example.

This weekend I will be getting together with women from two churches in town are joining together to do an ikoma, an initiation ceremony, for one of the women’s teenage daughters. Initiation ceremonies are a big part of life here, for both boys and girls, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, usually done sometime around puberty, though the age range varies. Initiation ceremonies around here often involve a lot of negative traditions, including beating, verbal abuse, instruction on sexual intercourse and encouragement of sexual promiscuity, and we have recently been told that even in a few places nearby they are still practicing female genital mutilation (we had previously heard that “oh, nobody does that anymore”). While in the past some churches’ response has been to declare that ikomas are bad and insist that everyone in the church forsake that tradition, we are seeing more openness to the idea of redeeming the ikoma in ways that glorify God and build each other up. After all, there is nothing wrong with celebrating the transition to adulthood with a ceremony involving the community. The opportunity is wide open to reclaim ikomas for the kingdom of God, replacing insult and beating with love and encouragement, replacing teaching of sexual promiscuity with teaching of sexual purity, faithfulness in marriage, and what it means to be a Godly woman. The interest among women especially has been high these last few months to do ikomas within the church, and we are hoping to make that a big part of the women’s conference later this year.

In March we will make a trip down to South Africa for a missions meeting, and also to have some work done on the truck. Our truck hasn’t been back to South Africa since we brought it up five years ago, and we are looking forward to getting it worked on. We will also take some of our family vacation time to get some rest and enjoy some of South Africa’s amazing scenery.

As we close, we ask that you continue to pray for the two requests that we mentioned last time:
• Pray first for a good rainy season so people can eat in the coming year. Enough rain for the food to grow, but not so much that fields and flooded and crops ruined. And long enough that each crop gets the water it needs to grow in its time.
• Please pray for everyone, especially those of us with more than we need, to work together to share deeply and together end poverty (physical and spiritual). Pray for the imagination needed to make this happen.

With love in Christ,
Rachel, Alan, Abby, and Ellie Howell