Wednesday, February 29, 2012

a day in January

For this newsletter we wanted to share with you one example of a day can be like here in our corner of the world - enjoy!

009 On Fridays I go visit and study through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with some women I love north of town, alternating Fridays between the village of Newara and the village cluster of Chipembe/Omeringue/Nkunama. Friday January 20th I got up early because I was going to Omeringue. I had packed my backpack the night before to save time – I have the scriptures in Makua and in Portuguese, my own drinking water and toilet paper for the day, vitamins to share with my friends (a frequent request), a few pieces of candy for their kids, and a couple empty sacks, since they never fail to send me home with corn flour or mangos or cassava or beans.

One of my friends from Chipembe had gotten a ride with me back into town two weeks earlier (January 6th); her name is Juliana and the church in Chipembe worships at her house. She has a lot of health problems, and was scheduled to get an injection at the hospital in Montepuez on January 17th. Even though getting a ride on the 6th was way earlier than she needed to come, it was a free ride and she knew I wouldn’t be back in Chipembe again until the 20th, after her scheduled appointment at the hospital. When she is in town she stays with her mother Filomena, who has a house in one of the large neighborhoods in Montepuez (when I say neighborhood, you need to picture thousands of mud huts with grass roofs all close together, with narrow mud paths between, and limited mud paths wide enough for cars to pass). Juliana had polio as a teenager and can’t walk without a long walking stick, but even then her legs are so wasted and twisted that she really can’t go far, so we had agreed that I would go get her at her mother’s house early that morning, and then we’d leave for Omeringue together.

013 I had only been to her mother’s house in Montepuez once before; I was mostly confident (and only a tiny bit doubtful) I could find it again (many of the mud huts look exactly the same, and here in town they are often on a grid, which can make it tricky remembering whose house is whose.) Unfortunately, soon after entering the neighborhood I came upon a huge, old mango tree that had fallen across the path in the strong winds the night before. At this point it’s about 7:15 a.m., and I was still so far from Filomena’s house that I knew they probably didn’t know about the tree that was blocking my path to reach them. A crowd of people had gathered around the fallen tree all discussing what should be done about it and how it should be done, but I knew that the tree wouldn’t be moved in time for me to get through that morning.

013 So I was stuck there with the truck and a crowd of strangers staring at me while I tried to decide what to do. I told a few folks standing around that I was trying to go get my friend because she can’t walk and we were going somewhere together, and they tried to help me find an alternate path, but none were wide enough, and I wasn’t confident enough of my knowledge of the neighborhood to go blundering around with truck and get lost in the maze of mud huts (it is a big neighborhood) or get stuck in the mud somewhere. So I locked the car and started walking, following the path I knew to get to Filomena’s house, all the while hoping (and mostly sure) that I was on the right road. After about twenty minutes of walking, a lady that I had seen way back near the fallen tree calls out to me from about six houses away “Hey, you’re going the wrong way; I found your friend you’re looking for!” So because of that tiny seed of uncertainty in my knowledge of that neighborhood I turned off down a different path to follow her, and we walk together for about 15 more minutes. She took me to a house that I didn’t recognize, and said “here’s your friend that can’t walk!” And there was a lady in the yard who couldn’t walk well, using a walking stick, with legs wasted from polio, but it wasn’t my friend Juliana, and it wasn’t Filomena’s house…

So I left, slightly annoyed – not at the lady who had tried to help me but at myself that I hadn’t stuck with what I had been mostly sure was the right path. The helpful lady walked with me, which was kind, and we backtracked to the path I had been on, and, to keep me humble, we discovered I had only been about four houses away from Filomena’s house when I had been called away! Juliana was waiting, and her children ran up to hug me, and together with Filomena and some more of her children we all laughed about how late it was and about my adventures trying to get to them that morning.

As we began picking up small children and all Juliana’s things to walk back to the car, she mentioned that she actually hadn’t gotten her treatment at the hospital yet. She went on the 17th, the scheduled day for the injection, and was told they were out of that medicine and to come back the next day because they were sure they’d have it then. She went back on the 18th, and again on the 19th too and was turned away each time, but the people at the hospital were of course very confident they’d have the right supplies the next day on the 20th. Another thing to understand about life here is that there are always a couple hundred people at the hospital’s clinic every morning, often waiting hours to be seen, so at this point I’m shaking my head and wondering what else is going to happen that morning to keep us from getting on the road to Omeringue.

We loaded up Juliana and her children and her parcels of food and clothing into the truck and drove to the clinic, and I waited out front and called Alan to explain why it was 8:30 and I hadn’t even left town yet. I was expecting a long wait, but surprisingly (and thankfully!) Juliana had asked the people in line if she could slip in at the front of the line, and (also surprisingly) they let her, and she was back in the truck in less than ten minutes, and we got on the road to Omeringue.

004 The road north is the least-travelled road out of Montepuez, and the rains had beat down hard on it those past two months, leaving lots of mud, deep puddles up to the width of the road, and other places where fast-draining rainwater has washed away half the road, leaving a very small space to pass by the gaping holes. Driving to Chipembe usually takes about 45 minutes (about 16 miles), with another 5-10 minute drive to Omeringue. We pulled into Chipembe with lots of mud splashed up on the truck, and Juliana got out to put her things away, and I walked to the house of another friend Hajira, to tell her we’d arrived and were ready to go to Omeringue. I went to say hi to the wife of the chief of the Chipembe, and she asked if I had room for some passengers when I returned back to Montepuez that afternoon, so we agreed on a spot where I would pick them up later that day. Hajira and Juliana got in the car, and four of their children with them, and we drove a few more minutes to Omeringue.

003 There is a broken bridge just before Omeringue, but the part of the bridge that remains intact is just barely wide enough for the wheel base of our truck, so we can cross, but it still makes me a little nervous. Laurentina and her daughter Benedita were waiting for us, and we all greeted each other and chatted for awhile while a small crowd of children from Omeringue gathered to watch (a white woman speaking Makua is a strange sight); they especially enjoyed hearing the story of why we were so late leaving Montepuez that morning. There was a funeral going on for another family in Omeringue that morning; a young mother had gotten sick with a virus and severe diarrhea and had been taken to the hospital in Montepuez and died there. Laurentina pointed out a couple of the neighbor children who had gathered as the children of the woman who died, the youngest of which still didn’t believe that his mother had died and was still claiming that she was in Montepuez. Two of the six women from that church cluster who usually study with us did not come that day; Elisa and Elena from Nkunama were out working in their farm because they have a serious problem with baboons coming and stealing seed and crops.

014 After about an hour of fellowship and conversation, we sang a few songs and prayed together and opened up Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. That day we studied Matthew 4. 21-30, which includes the section where Jesus puts hate and contempt at the same level as murder, and lust at the same level as adultery, as well as the sections on prioritizing forgiveness over religious ritual and humbly resolving disputes with a neighbor before it gets out of hand. Of these six friends, only two can read, Juliana and Elena, and only Juliana was there that day. So we take a more oral approach when we study together; I read the passage aloud two or three times, and then I go back and read it phrase by phrase with them repeating each phrase, and we end up covering the same passage up to seven or eight times so it really sinks in.

012 Some of the content that day was pretty straightforward; when Jesus said anger, contempt, and insulting someone are the same as murder in the heart of the perpetrator, while provocative it’s not hard to understand what he’s getting at. Other sections, though, were trickier – Jesus didn’t really mean for his listeners to cut off their hand if it caused them to sin, but he was trying to show that you could cut off lots of body parts and still have evil in your heart, and that it is what is in our hearts is the true cause of sin and selfishness.

We talked for a long time about what we had heard; I mentioned that Jesus is calling us and teaching us to go beyond actions (not killing anyone) to having hearts that love (not insulting or having contempt), which of course takes care of the actions, too (without contempt there is no murder, without lust there is no adultery). The longest discussion that day was about adultery; three of the women shared how they used to sleep around, but that since beginning to follow Jesus they hadn’t done it since. The fourth woman (who has been a Christian the shortest amount of time) joined in the discussion pretty freely saying she had done that some but didn’t realize she wasn’t supposed to, and the other women encouraged her to stay faithful to her husband.

007 After we finished discussing what we’d heard, we prayed for each other and then Laurentina went and finished cooking lunch. We ate xima and matapa; xima is a stiff porridge made of corn flour, and matapa is whatever you eat with that, which that day was two different types of greens – leaves from the cassava plant and leaves from bean plants. We made plans for the Friday two weeks from then to come to Omeringue, leave the car, and walk to Nkunama since it is so difficult for Elisa and Elena to get away, and the road isn’t passable by car this time of year.

One of Laurentina’s grown sons wanted a ride into Montepuez that day, and when I asked if it was just him, he said he wanted to take two goats with him to sell. So he tied the legs of the goats and got them into the back of the truck with help from a friend. The road back to Montepuez, of course, didn’t get any smoother on our return trip, and the goats screamed at nearly every bump in the road. If you’ve ever heard goats bleating loudly in protest, you know that they can sound eerily like a person who is very incoherent but crying and wailing really, really loudly. One other older man from Omeringue asked for a ride into Montepuez, and in Chipembe we picked up the three passengers (school teachers) who needed a ride.

005 Returning on the muddy roads that afternoon with our screaming goats, we came upon a truck stuck in the mud. The truck belonged to the large cotton company in Montepuez, but the driver that day had decided to blaze a new trail through the soft mud on the edges instead of straight through the middle of the puddle, and he was really, really stuck. Up until that day I had always let Alan be the one to use four-wheel drive; I’ve had a weird phobia of getting the truck stuck in the mud and not being able to get out. So that day was my first time to go into four-wheel drive to try to pull the other vehicle out, but unfortunately we weren’t successful! I left our tow strap with him before I left, and thankfully about ten minutes down the road I saw a tractor on its way to pull him out. (With all the rain we’ve had since that day I’ve had a lot more practice using four-wheel drive!)

002 Back in town I dropped off the passengers (and the screaming goats!) at a few different places, and headed home; it wasn’t long before the guy from the cotton company came to return our tow strap as the tractor had successfully pulled him out of the mud. I always really miss my girls after being gone all day, and it’s fun to come home to them and be greeted by squeals and hugs!

Thanks for taking the time to hear about what a day here can be like! For those who’ve asked us, “What’s a normal day like for you guys?”, now you’ve got a glimpse!

We miss you when we are far away; and we are very much looking forward to furlough in a few months!

Much love and peace to you!

Rachel and Alan Howell

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happy New Year 2012! Whew!

Hello friends and family!

Greetings from the rainy season! The rains are in full swing here in northern Mozambique; which means that the corn and the rice and the beans are growing, the roads are a muddy mess, and many of our friends are spending a lot of their time out in their fields hoeing and weeding the grass and weeds from around their crops. It also means that the cloud cover is keeping out the bulk of the heat most days, which is a relief. Unfortunately at this point in the rainy season the mosquito and fly populations have exploded, bringing an increase in malaria and diarrhea with them, and a lot of people are sick. And of course while we are praying for sufficient rain for the crops, we also know that flooding is always a risk; recently a tropical storm in the Indian Ocean caused a lot of flooding in the south of Mozambique. Many people died, and roads, houses, and livestock were washed away in the floods; please pray for the families in the south who are trying to rebuild their lives right now. Still, we are praying for the rains to continue through February and March, just without flooding. We have been here long enough to have been through a year or two when the rains stopped in January, which is too early, causing many of the crops to die. So pray with us for the rain!

In November I started going north every other Friday to regularly visit with some women I love and study the scriptures together. Six women from the three small village churches of Chipembe, Omeringue, and Nkunama had been asking to study together, and we decided to go through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Those three villages are very close to each other; we meet in a different home each week, spend some time singing and praying together, and then read/listen to/discuss a passage. We also always share a lot of fellowship and conversation and a meal together of xima (stiff cornmeal porridge) and matapa (usually beans or greens). Only two of those women can read, so we do everything orally and with a lot of repetition and then discussion about what we’ve heard. Since we’ve started studying in Chipembe, the women from the church in Newara asked to study together as well, so since the New Year I’ve been going to visit and study with the five women there on the alternate Fridays.

Hearing Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount is so rich and deep – I love watching people hear it who haven’t heard it before: hearing who is really blessed in God’s Kingdom is different than who the world thinks is blessed, hearing Jesus say that insulting or hating someone is the same as murder in his Kingdom, hearing Jesus say that they are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. My prayer is that what my friends learn from Jesus they will not keep to themselves but share with their families and neighbors.

We had a fun but busy holiday time. When we are in Mozambique, we celebrate some American holidays but not others; our team has been joined for Thanksgiving by a few other American families for several years now, and it has turned into quite a large event with its own traditions that we look forward to very much (this year included a small talent show and a piƱata turkey!) For Christmas we chose to share several meals together and then have a Nativity drama together as a team, with all adults and children having parts, except for the napping babies, of course.

In late November God answered our prayer for drilling a well on our land. There were several weird delays and setbacks, but after a couple weeks of the crew sitting on the land, the well was finally drilled, cased, and capped. The drilling company has had some more delays in returning to install the pump, but that will hopefully be completed soon (in the mean time we’re catching rain water off our roof).

Despite the delightful holidays, overall November and December turned out to be exhausting for our family. We had a deadline of the end of the year to be out of our rental house, and our landlord already had a new tenant lined up and waiting to move in as soon as we left. We knew we would be moving into an unfinished house no matter how much we got done, so Alan worked long, hot days starting at 4 a.m. and hired extra crews to finish certain parts of the house so as much as possible could be completed before we started actually living there. We moved in during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we are relieved to have it over with. Our teammates were such a blessing to us, swooping in to help unpack, watch our children, move furniture, hang shelves and mosquito nets, and provide meals, and we are so thankful for all their help! A few things remain unfinished on the house (no running water yet!), but we’ve put those things on a list and we’ll get to them when their time comes.

We have felt so loved and supported finally living in this house that God and you built! We have been especially aware of God showing his love through his children, knowing how much generosity and sacrifice went into the giving to make this construction possible – we are overwhelmed with gratefulness even in ordinary tasks, because your love from God is written all over the walls. So thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Our teammates the Westerholms had to vacate their first rental house back in June (it was owned by the municipality, and there were new regulations regarding municipal properties), and just a few weeks ago the landlord of their second rental house asked them quite suddenly to vacate (to make room for high-paying clients). The availability of finished housing is very limited in Montepuez, and there are a couple big companies in town who can afford to pay high prices for housing for the employees that they bring in, which puts the rent far out of our range. This has been a confirmation to us and the Westerholms that building on the land was a wise decision.
Alan is thrilled to be coming to the end of this season of construction – his ministry activities were pared down to a few key ongoing activities for the past few months due to the building and the way life changes here around the rainy season. He has a few new Bible studies that will start this month; one of these studies will be with our guard Beto and his family. Beto is from a Muslim background and has been working for us for about five years now, only recently though has he become interested in studying the scriptures together. A couple of months ago he got sick and went to a magical healer here in town, and after going to this healer he showed up at our house covered in black sooty markings, feeling even worse than before. A couple days later he and Alan talked about how ineffective that trip to the magical healer was, Ellie and Alan prayed for God to heal him, Alan gave him some medicine, and he recovered quickly. Not long after that he expressed his desire to study the scriptures together, but asked to first go and talk to the leaders of his and his wife’s families. This morning Alan and Beto picked a day to start their study together, and Beto mentioned that a few of his neighbors are also interested and asked if it was okay for them to come too. Please pray for Beto and his family and the other groups we’ll be meeting with in and around Montepuez.

The school year has been going wonderfully, and we are daily thankful for Robert and Allison Berger coming this year for Allison to serve as our team teacher! Their beautiful baby girl Miriam is almost eight months old now, and we’ve really enjoyed having them as neighbors now that we’re living out on the land. The Bergers serving with our team has been a tremendous blessing in a year of high stress and multiple transitions; in addition to Allison teaching the team kids, Robert has been helping develop maps and other resources to help keep track of church growth. As we look ahead as a team we are already praying for God to continue to provide teachers for our children; please spread the word that we are recruiting!

This summer we are scheduled for a furlough in the States May through August to be with family, reconnect with friends, and share about the work God is doing in Mozambique. We are very much looking forward to enjoying the sweetness of being together in person with those we love from whom we are normally so far away. Our time will mostly be in Memphis, Dallas, and Nashville, with a couple of short trips to other locations; we would love to see as many of you as possible! We are also praying for God to provide a reliable minivan-type vehicle for the four months we are there; if you know of an available vehicle, please let us know!

Abby and Ellie are growing and loving school, and Katie Joy turned two a couple weeks ago. Katie is already quite passionate and outspoken about what she thinks and wants, which we think is wonderful, though of course it comes with its challenges. I am very thankful for how sweet and patient Abby and Ellie are with their little sister (though some days I wish they’d be more patient with each other!).

We are currently having technical difficulties with our computer whenever we are online, which we suspect may be due to a virus. We’ll be sending out this newsletter via email, and then attempting to post this same newsletter with pictures on the blog ; hopefully the pictures will post! We also will have another fun update coming to the blog in few days sharing an unusual day I had recently with a lot of Mozambican interruptions and adventures; look for it on the blog by the end of the week!

Please join with us as we pray for:
• Much praise and thanks for house construction winding down!
• Rains to continue steadily through February and March, but without severe flooding
• Healing for those with malaria and diarrhea right now
• For God’s Kingdom to come and take root in the hearts of our friends and neighbors here
• Peaceful transitions for the team and for our family with furlough this summer
• Teachers to come teach our children!

We love you and thank God for you!

Rachel and Alan and girls