Wednesday, October 27, 2010

a week in the life of the Howells

Sometimes in the States friends ask us “So what’s it like over there?” No small question! =) Often the answer starts with “Well how long do you have?” (and often includes a “really you should come visit us and see for yourself!”) So here’s a slice from last month to give you a week’s snapshot of our lives in Mozambique!

Saturday, Sept. 18 – We spent the morning receiving visitors and getting ready for a celebration with some church leaders I have been working with. We bought rice and goat meat and set up a big tent in the backyard, and the guys started arriving around 10am. These ten church leaders are from six different villages; I studied with them in two different groups based on where they live (Chiure and Chipembe), but we decided that the celebration should be together. These men committed to memorize the book of Titus together, most of them memorizing in Portuguese but some using Makua-Metto or Swahili. We all gathered on our front porch to take turns quoting Titus to each other. Some had the whole book down perfectly while others struggled to finish the first chapter. After we each finished our turns we had a big celebration meal together, and after the feast we went around the circle and shared what we had learned from this book and how we would apply it to our lives. It was a good discussion and fun to see them so invested in the study. On a side note, our lives here include a lot of interruptions. Part way through the Titus recitations, the land lord from our old rental house pulled into town and I had to run over to meet briefly with him to turn over the keys (see previous newsletters!)

That afternoon Rachel had arranged to take the truck to go help her friend Gracinta bring in a bunch of harvested, dried cassava root from her farm way outside of town. Gracinta had asked for the ride for her cassava as a favor; they had agreed that Gracinta would go out in the morning to load it all up into sacks, and that Rachel would show up at two in the afternoon to bring Gracinta and her cassava back into town together. However, at eleven am Gracinta’s daughter showed up at our house saying “my mother is waiting for you.” Katie was napping well in her crib so Rachel went ahead and left to go pick up Gracinta and also visit another friend Delfina who was sick. On the way out of town, however, Rachel passed Gracinta and her huge sacks of cassava riding in the back of a truck coming into town. While waiting on the side of the road by her farm Gracinta had gotten worried that Rachel had forgotten (even though it was still three hours before the agreed upon time!), and so had flagged down a passing truck and gotten in with her huge load, knowing that the driver would charge her a lot for the lift. When the driver saw the situation – that it was a white woman who was the friend coming to get Gracinta, he immediately doubled his price. Thankfully, where they had met in the road, and where they had unloaded her sacks of cassava, was right next to another believer’s home who they both know well and who had come to join in the discussion. Rachel thought it would be smart if she went away for awhile, so she left and went to visit the friend who was sick and came back a few minutes later. The angry driver was gone by this point, and Rachel and Gracinta and Madalena discussed the situation. Since Rachel had helped Gracinta with money to buy sacks, the church was going to pay Gracinta’s debt to the truck driver, and Gracinta would donate large bundles of grass to the church as they are redoing a roof. Thankfully not all our afternoons are that complicated!

Sunday morning Rachel was sick so she stayed home with Katie and I took Abby and Ellie with me to worship in Chiure. We left about 7am and took the men from both Chiure and Chipembe with us – the Chiure group to go back home and the Chipembe group to visit an area that most of them had not been to before. We discussed scriptures from Luke 18 on Jesus’ parables of the persistent widow and the humble tax collector/proud Pharisee and how Christ gives us two keys for the life of prayer – perseverance and humility. We talked about how that actually happens in the context of their lives and then after worship we ate a lunch of xima (stiff corn meal mush) and fish (the girls loved it – me, not so much!). Unfortunately throughout the time of worshiping together I kept seeing fleas on Ellie, and then I realized that the little church building we were meeting in was full of them!

Chiure is a long way from Montepuez (it takes over 2 hours each way) and Abby and Ellie did great spending so much time in the car. On the way back I stopped at a vendor and bought some juice and a snack for them. Arriving home around 4pm we soaked our clothes in water to keep the fleas from invading the house, and we each took bucket baths. Sunday night is our family movie night, so we enjoyed watching Kung Fu Panda and eating one of the girls’ favorite meals - hot dogs!

Monday is our family’s day off or Sabbath. We spent the morning at home, played UNO with the girls; I fixed some of our wiring problems in this new rental house, and Rachel worked on a quilting project. Around lunchtime, some of our friends, the Salyers, came over from the village of Balama and we headed to a cafĂ© in the middle of Montepuez for lunch. All the kids had fun playing on the oddly shaped playground equipment, including the broken down airplane resting in the park while we waited for lunch. In the afternoon we rested at home and received a few visitors.

Tuesday morning I headed north out of town towards the village of Nekwaya, stopping for a few minutes in the village of Kambiri to pick up about eight of them to go on with me to Nekwaya. These churches are about an hour’s walk from each other and worship together frequently. In Nekwaya we sat in the shade of a big mango tree visiting and hearing how everyone was doing. After singing together for a while we discussed scriptures on forgiveness, and then we walked to the house of one of the older church members who has been sick for the past few weeks. After visiting and praying for her, we went back to the mud church building to share a meal together. Several people from that village had asked for a ride back into the city, so about 15 or so of us bounced down the road in the truck dropping off some along the way and picking up others as we go. At one stop we were sad to learn that the son of a church member had died the night before; I had been asked to name this child and had named him after my brother Aaron. So the father and a few of his family members loaded up some food (corn and beans) in our truck to take to the funeral. When we arrived in the village of Namwaciko we heard that they had already buried the toddler so we greeted the family and sat down with the small crowd next to the family’s house for about an hour. After awhile I went inside and greeted and prayed with Aaron’s mom. Then we said our goodbyes and left for Montepuez. After dropping off all my passengers in different parts of town, I made it home in time to help Rachel get the girls bathed and ready for team night at the Smith’s house (every Tuesday night our team gets together for a meal and worship time with the kids). After putting the kids to bed, the adults enjoyed playing a game together.

Every other Wednesday is a team meeting day. So, this morning Jeremy and Chad came over to meet about different ministry decisions, requests, and evaluation of our team goals. After the meeting, we go to eat lunch and to have our accountability time together. Then we head home to be with the kids so the women on the team could have a meal together and their accountability time. So while Rachel spent time with Martha and Amy, I played with Katie, and Abby and Ellie had some of the neighborhood kids over to play. Our water pressure has been poor lately, so when the water started coming out well, our guard and I filled up buckets and jugs in the yard, carrying some into the bathrooms and kitchen.

On Thursday morning I had to go to our team’s land to resolve a problem. Our guard dog had snuck through the bamboo fence and eaten a neighbor’s duck, and the neighbor was upset and wanted to meet with us about it. One of the guards and I walked over to her house to try and resolve the issue. We visited for a long time, talking about her poor health and then finally settled down to the business of negotiating the price of her duck. After paying for the duck, she started sharing about how impressed she was with the way the churches we work with handle funerals. An uncle of hers had died earlier this year, and she shared how hard it was on the family when they had to provide a huge meal and money gift for the local religious official in order to have a proper burial. She asked us why the churches we worship with don’t require payment and a huge meal for burial services. We talked about how the book of James says that true religion is to care for orphans and widows in their distress, so we see funerals as a time to show love to people who are suffering, not as a time to add to people’s suffering. She shared that she was interested in following Jesus, but that since her whole family was MusIim it would be difficult. We talked for a while longer and then she asked some questions about spirit possession and whether followers of Jesus could keep doing divination. At the end of our conversation I gave her a copy of the Scriptures we have in Makua-Metto and prayed for her to get well. Walking back to the land, the guard and I talked about how amazing God is that he can turn something bad and inconvenient, like a dog eating a neighbor’s duck, into an open door for someone to see the Kingdom of God come near.

Every Thursday afternoon Rachel joins a group of women in town who meet together for fellowship and to study the scriptures together. This year they are going through the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s Gospel, which has been really rewarding to walk through together. Rachel is one of five or six who take turns reading the section in Makua and facilitating the discussion.

On Friday morning, I took the motorcycle out to the village of Nkororo. The church there has been struggling over the past year because the leader, Victorino, whose house the church has met at since the beginning has fallen back into drunkenness and now his marriage is falling apart. During the Bible study a couple of us counseled him again that he needs to leave the alcohol behind because it is destroying his life, his family and the church, and Victorino promised that this struggle was now behind him. I told them that since we had finished the section of studies we had been doing, I wouldn’t be coming for a while until some of this church’s outstanding issues had been resolved. (Please pray for the church in Nkororo!) On my way home I stopped in a couple of other villages along the way visiting with friends and church members. After arriving home I sprayed our yard for ticks and fleas (it has been really bad this year), while Rachel received the blind and the lame that come by every Friday for some food or a gift. While I was in the middle of spraying the yard one of our friends, Maissi, came by asking for help. One of his wife’s relatives had just died out in a village and he asked if I could bring the body into town to be buried near their family. So about an hour later we drove about 40 minutes down a dirt road to the village of Unidade. Arriving at the village in the dark, we loaded the body in the back of the truck and drove back to town. As the truck pulled up to Maissi’s house all the women passengers started wailing and the family assembled at the house began to cry as well. We took the body into the house where it would be prepared for burial the next day. After paying my respects I said goodbye and left for home. Arriving home, we ate together, and the power went out for about half an hour, but came on in time for game night with the girls.

We hope this week-long glimpse has helped you picture what life and work here is like. We love and miss you all and appreciate your support and your prayers!

Friday, October 15, 2010

October 2010 Update

Greetings again from warm sunny Mozambique!

Our tropical “winter” has ended, and our temperatures are rising, and for the last week or so about once every couple of hours you can find Alan proclaiming “wow, it’s HOT!” Just to clarify, he’s not complaining, but describing the awe we feel knowing that it really is 95 degrees in the house at that moment. It seems like every year it always takes our bodies a few weeks to adjust to the heat at the beginning, so we’re waiting for our sweat glands to kick in…

Right after our last newsletter the national women’s conference for Churches of Christ was held here in Montepuez. About 150 women from multiple provinces and multiple churches gathered together for three days to study and learn together. Discussion topics ranged from loving your husband, teaching your children, building each other up instead of tearing down, not living in fear, and loving God and loving others. The conference went well, though we were a bit worn out by the end!

019 Unfortunately the non-profit chicken business had to be closed. There were a number of factors that made it difficult to stay in the black – being far away from our source of feed, chicken mites infestations, and too few clients. That has definitely been a disappointment, but it has also been somewhat of a relief since it was frustrating to try to keep it afloat over the last few months. For now our team is keeping the guards employed at full salary to guard the land. We did another sustainable agriculture seminar just this past Friday and had good participation, and we have another one scheduled for Balama next weekend. Our prayer is that a more sustainable method of farming can help communities in this area cope with problems like poor soil and low rainfall to make the land more productive, therefore increasing the food production for their families. For fun we also proposed a contest that whichever seminar participant produces the most crops from his or her farm will get a bicycle!

002 This year we’ve been going through the Sermon on the Mount in the weekly women’s study group, which has been great. Also, Alan just wrapped up his Titus study with church leaders from Montepuez and Chiure. Alan and 10 other men memorized (some or all of) Paul’s letter to Titus. It was a great experience and we celebrated by having a party here at our house a few weeks ago. We enjoyed generous portions of goat meat and rice and cokes! It was encouraging to hear what they learned throughout the study and what they felt like they needed to do to put it into practice.

Our August was busy and stressful! We found out in July that we’d be moving in August, so we adjusted our schedules and tried to do our part to be ready. Alan had to rearrange his plans in different villages, and I squeezed a month’s worth of homeschooling into a couple weeks. It’s been a long time since we moved, and our family has grown a lot since then… so we found out moving is hard work! The landlord of our new rental house was having trouble moving his things out of the house according to our original agreed-upon day, which meant our move-in date got moved back several times, but we were finally able to move into the new rental house at the end of August.

Trying to officially hand over the keys to the landlord of the old house was more difficult, however. To make a very long story short, it turns out he had never had the most recent contract officially registered at the appropriate government office (like he said he would and we had trusted him to do), so he was trying to hold us to terms of an old contract and threatening to take us to court if we didn’t do everything he wanted. Unfortunately, justice in this area often can have more to do with who you’re related to or how much money you have to bribe someone, so going to court is not a wise option. We realized the smartest option was to try to give him what he wanted (paint the inside of the house, leave the hot water heaters that were ours) so we could be out of that relationship as quickly as possible.

We are very grateful for the new rental house, mainly for being a peaceful place that has allowed us to leave the old house and landlord, and especially since there really aren’t many ready-to-move-in houses here in Montepuez. As a comparison, some things about the new house are a little nicer than the old one (nicer floors and a better paint job), while other things are a step back from where we were before (back to no grass in the yard and no running water!). We’re working on our water situation to cope with the ongoing drought, but mostly we’re relieved to have moved and be feeling “at home” again.

Our agreement with our new landlord is for one year, so we are still fundraising to build a house on the team land. So far $4,800 has been contributed towards the goal of $30,000 – we would love for you to prayerfully consider giving to this need! If a house is built with donated funds it will not be ours when we leave Mozambique someday but belong to the ministry. If you can give to this need, funds can be sent to Donelson Church of Christ, 2706 Old Lebanon Road, Nashville, TN 37214. Checks should be made out to Donelson Church of Christ and a note should be included that the gift is for construction in Mozambique. Please keep us in your prayers!

We are also asking for your prayers for RAIN. The past two years have had very low rainfall during the annual “rainy” season, and as a result the water table is very low. Many wells have gone dry these last two years, and people talk about how “everyone is thirsty.” Please join us in praying for a good, wet rainy season (December through March), enough for the rice to grow but not to the point of destructive flooding.

We were so happy to receive our teammates the Smiths back in early September from their furlough in the States, so we were finally able to meet baby Micah! Abby has started back to school (second grade!) with Luke and Andrew Smith with Martha as their teacher, and I’ll be teaching about one week a month. Katie Joy is growing well and babbling constantly to join in with her talkative sisters, Abby has lost her two front top teeth, and Ellie is learning to read and really enjoying our new puppy Yoder.

As we close, please join with us in praying for these desires:

· For the Kingdom of God to come here in our area!

· For a good rainy season

· For God to provide the funds for house construction

May God give you peace,

Rachel and Alan and the girls

PS – for those of you who’ve asked what our lives are like on a daily basis, we have another “week in the life” newsletter/blogpost coming up soon!