Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Of Composting Toilets and Life in Community

Many parts of life in Mozambique differ greatly from the lives of our friends and family in the US.  From strange foods, to odd customs, to the challenge of juggling multiple languages, we end up having plenty to share about as we try to explain just what exactly we do over here.  But when we talk about daily life in Africa the thing that provokes the most grimaces from listeners is the fact that we do not have a flush toilet.
Our family is using composting toilets...which is just a nice way of saying that we go to the bathroom in a bucket.  

The main reasons why we decided to do this were that we had experienced severe water shortages, and that I was tired of dealing with Mozambican plumbing parts.  They constantly leak and break, and in our last rental house especially the plumbing system was so poorly designed that it always smelled bad.  So, when we built this house we decided to go with composting toilets. Our friends, the Caldwells and Holtons had used this method for years in another part of Mozambique so that made the concept a little easier to implement.

So how does this actually work? Well, I will try not to be crass with my descriptions... I know how quickly this post could start to go down the...bucket (?).  In our bathroom, we keep a bucket of sawdust nearby (teak shavings from the local sawmill, typically) and anytime someone makes a deposit in the bucket, they scoop up some sawdust and cover it up.  The sawdust soaks up all the moisture and the lack of moisture knocks down the smell. It is then my job every week to take the buckets outside and dispose of the contents.  I empty the buckets into a little fenced-in compost pile, I cover everything up with leaves, dirt or more sawdust.  After the waste has sat for a full year it becomes ready-to-use compost.  

It was brought to my attention recently that I had hurt a friend's feelings, so a plan was made to sit down and talk it out.  It took some time between realizing the need to work it out and actually making the meeting happen, and I was nervous.  I dreaded the uncomfortable pauses in conversation, and part of me wished we could just leave things be.  But ultimately I had confidence that we would be able to clear everything up, I just knew we would have to deal with the mess first.

It just so happened that both my composting duties and this conversation happened on the same day. 

So, in the morning while I was taking out our family's buckets I reflected on the fact that later that day we would be taking out the buckets in that relationship.  It is not always pleasant work but it must be done.

In his book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer writes that, “The brother is a burden to the Christian, precisely because he is a Christian. For the...(non-Christian who is not interested in life in community) the other person never becomes a burden at all... (because) he simply sidesteps every burden that others may impose upon him."

There is a cost to living in community. 

It requires vulnerability. 

It requires trust. 
But most of all it requires a willingness by everyone involved to get their hands dirty - a willingness to bear each others burdens.  Rachel and I have felt that being a part of a mission team - a community that lives, works and prays together - has brought us both some of the greatest blessings and some of the hardest challenges over the last decade or so.

I am thankful to be a part of a group that is willing to take out the buckets with me, willing to do the hard work of being a community - the hard work of truly being the church.

Grace and Peace,

Monday, January 21, 2013

The danger of having parents

Orson Scott Card's book, Ender's Game, tells the story of Ender Wiggin: a child prodigy who is being groomed to lead an army. The book has some interesting things to say about the development of leaders and how to create resilient people (but that is a topic for another post).  At one point two teachers are discussing young Ender; how best to train him and whether it is okay to come to his rescue.

"He can never believe that anybody will ever help him out, ever. If he once thinks there is an easy way out, he's wrecked."

"You're right.  That would be terrible if he believed he had a friend."

"He can have friends.  Its parents he can't have."  

One of the challenges involved in cross-cultural missions is the danger of paternalism.  This happens when leadership and direction stays in the hands of missionaries or someone outside the local church context.  Instead of an outsider acting like a parent, the goal (that was articulated to me as a student) was for the new churches to be self-propagating, self-supporting, self-governing and self-theologizing.  While this was an easy concept to grasp in the classroom, it has been much harder to implement in the field.  The reasons for this are varied, but I wonder if it is mostly due to the cultural make-up of the Makua people.

A few years ago, one of our missionary colleagues, John Isiminger, interviewed a number of Mozambicans trying to get at the heart of the Makua-Metto culture by naming and describing its' key values.  The results... (drum-roll please...): the top value was 'dependency' and the runner-up was 'conformity'.

To American ears this is incredible - we value the exact opposite!  The Makua people we work among are not part of a warrior tribe like the Massai or the Makonde.  They are not dedicated to their religion like the Mwani or the Yão.  Instead, they value dependency and conformity!  And the embodiment of that value of dependency is the patrão or patron: An enviable Makua-Metto person is somebody who has a patron - one that they can 'depend' on to bail them out when life gets rough.   

Last week, after our meeting, the guys from the churches in the Chipembe area lamented the fact that few church leaders (besides myself) from the town of Montepuez come and visit them.  They  wondered what will happen when Rachel and I leave Mozambique - who will they look to for advice, help, counsel and instruction?  I responded by telling them that that is the reason that I continue to visit them -  teaching and equipping them now - so that they will grow in their abilities and be able to 'do it' on their own and that they won't have to look to the city for leadership/salvation.  I am trying to get them to see God as their patron.  I am trying to get them to lean on each other as friends when they need help.

Then, I brought up the example of Cahora Bassa - the huge hydro-electric dam that powers all of Mozambique.  We talked about how Cahora Bassa is not located in Mozambique's capital city.  It is not even  in the capital of its' own province. It is out in the 'bush' and yet it provides power to light up the whole country.

My dream is that these believers and their children will not look for a patron, or a parent, from the 'city' to lead them, but that they will take the lead in reaching their communities and partner with friends to be a light from the 'bush' will reach all the way into the cities as well.

The danger of having parents, the danger of paternalism, is in looking to others to provide the power that has already been given to us by God - the power to love, serve and bring light to the world.

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Don't judge Caesar by his pajamas

What would you think if a man addressed your church wearing red and blue striped pajamas?  Would it make any difference if they were too short and you could easily see that he was wearing tall black socks with his white shoes?

I spent this past weekend with some of the churches in Chiure and our friend Pinto introduced me to his uncle Caesar.  This man has had a big influence on Pinto's life.  He has faithfully led another church in that area for many years.  Caesar has taught my friend a lot about church leadership, the importance of prayer and fasting, and how to serve a congregation. So, when  Caesar decided to go with us to worship with the church in Nacivare, I was happy to have him along.

Our friends here in Mozambique are only a couple decades removed from a brutal war, so standards for dress are pretty different.  Most of the clothing in this part of the country comes in bales from the United States or Europe. On a number of occasions I have struggled to keep a straight face while talking to a chief, or King, or King of Kings who looks like he happens to be wearing my grandmother's bathrobe. So, while I am used to a different kind of dress code, I still have to admit that seeing Caesar exhort the body of Christ to take their faith seriously while wearing striped pajamas did make me chuckle.

It made me think of one of my favorite stories in the life of David.  Saul has proven to be a failure as a king and God instructs Samuel to go to the town of Bethlehem to anoint a new one.  Upon arrival he tells Jesse to call his sons together.

As I imagine the story, the firstborn Eliab is a tall young man, with bulging biceps who can easily be pictured wielding a sword.  And Samuel thinks to himself, "Ah, surely this is the one."   But God tells him, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV).

Next comes Abinadab, I see him as the family scholar.  He's wearing spectacles and carrying some parchments and scrolls under one arm.  He has ink-stained fingers and seems mildly annoyed that his study time has been interrupted.  Samuel wonders if maybe this one's intelligence might not help Israel outwit the Philistines.  But, God does not choose Abinadab.

Then comes Shammah, and I picture him as a gregarious people person.  He greets Samuel warmly, asks after Samuel's family and makes some appropriate comments about the weather.  Samuel can imagine him kissing babies and working the political machine much better than poor old Saul.  But, God does not choose Shammah.

Jesse parades seven more sons before the prophet and not one of them is chosen. Samuel awkwardly asks if, by chance, Jesse doesn't happen to have any other sons.  So, the shepherd boy David is found and brought into the house.  And when he comes in the room, the Lord tells Samuel, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one" (1 Samuel 16:12 NIV).

So, as a listened to Caesar, I squinted a bit and tried to look past the striped pajamas.  And I wondered, what does God see when he looks at Caesar's heart?

Grace and Peace,