Our Sweet Furlough Season

Many thanks to all of you wonderful saints who have hosted us, prayed for us, fasted for us, played with our kids, humored us, listened to us for hours, and blessed us over this furlough season. The Downtown family threw us a lovely shower with delicious food and company then sent us home with dozens and dozens of cards filled with gifts! The Lexington church held a fundraiser for our team, let us lead a class, and listened to us preach on a Sunday. We soaked up your wisdom at restaurants and in homes. Our Kellis family let us crash their home and bought the groceries for two months. Anne made a special trip to nurse Heather through childbirth so that Heather could nurse the baby. She also moved rooms in her own house so that we could have our own family suite. Heather’s Dad took Addie to the Zoo, the children’s museum, and taught her to swim.

As you can see, we have had so many blessings rained on our heads that we cannot even mention or count them all. We just praise our good Father and are full of joy for all that we have received. Thanks to you all, our hearts are refreshed and we are ready to return. Here are some family snapshots of our recent months. Thank you, body of Christ. You are beautiful.

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Grandmother Snuggles

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Getting to Know You

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IMG_1379Daddy time!

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Eleanora was born June 13th

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Wonderful big sister!

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Ross and his dear cousin, Gian

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Visiting with grandparents

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So many beautiful aunts!

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Downtown shower

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Another beautiful aunt!  Twinzies!

IMG_1448American pastimes

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Children’s museum

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Nothin better than mama’s cookin’

IMG_4209Uncle Hunter, always a favorite

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See how it’s done, gentlemen?

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Cousins and bubble baths are the best!

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Pop pop’s got the magic touch

IMG_4405First Smiles!

Our new home!

We’re renovating a house.  The house has a yard, three bedrooms, an open living room and kitchen (we knocked out two walls to make this happen), a pantry, a laundry shed, and a new roof!  We feel as blessed as can be and cannot wait to set up house at this new location.  We are also walking distance from Lauren and Travis’ house and in the same neighborhood as the other teammates.  We thought we would share some pictures of the renovation just for fun.  Thank you all for your prayers for us as we have been on this house-hunting and house-fixing journey!

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Your Summer (Our Winter) Update

This season, Ross has been busy writing and delivering a series of sermons on the local radio station, which broadcasts the sermons throughout Makondeland on Saturdays at 4:45pm (9:45 am your time, if you want to pray).  The sermons follow up on and complement the series of Bible readings that we built to lead groups of people from Creation to Christ.

 

The radio sermons have been a great tool for creating interest in the Torah and the prophets. We are trying to form groups of interested people to listen together through these sermons. Such groups we see forming in three villages.  He is currently on the fifth (40 min) sermon so far; please pray that he would be able to continue in strength of body, mind, and spirit to finish the task!  Also, please pray that many people of peace would surface through this radio ministry to bring openings in their villages for the Gospel.

 

Heather and Adelaide continue as ministers of domestic life and helpers to Ross.  We enjoyed a long stay from Heather’s Mom in June, which included a quick trip to Zanzibar for fun.  Heather enjoys the many heavy responsibilities and duties associated with her role as official team party planer; is taking a course on carpentry from the local community college, and continues the adventure of cooking.  Like normal, she continues in her commitment to our friends, neighbors, the team kids, our house worker, her writing, and hosting visitors.  We have also decided as a family that we would like to move, so please pray that God will provide the resources for our new house renovations.

 

Please pray for our protection and strength as our family moves out into the community in a more public avenue of ministry.  Also, please pray that God would reveal himself through Jesus in dreams and miracles to our friends.

 

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This is a picture of our new house!  Isn’t it lovely??

 

Back to School

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Well, recently I (Heather) have gone back to school, folks.  I’m taking a class in Mtwara at the vocational college in woodworking.  I didn’t really know what to expect when I first went, but it turns out that the main thing we are working on so far is joinery.  I mean, like old-school joinery with a handsaw, chisel, and mallet.

Needless to say, I am getting my daily workout every morning from 9am to 12pm.  It’s been refreshing to get out and away from the house for a few hours while Ross and Mariam take care of Adelaide for me.

I am enjoying the extra Kiswahili practice and the challenge of making mortise and tenon (in Kiswahili, that’s Mortisi and tenon) joints out of little scraps of wood by hand.  It’s all much more difficult than it looks, and I have a renewed affection for our Lord and Savior who was not above making the same joints by hand himself.

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IMG_0617                            The sweet smile that greets me when I get home!
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Look, no glue!
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                     You yourselves… …are being built up as a spiritual house (1 Peter 2).
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To the Kitchen

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My kitchen is on the second story of a concrete apartment in the middle of an East African costal town.  Walk up a flight of stairs, pause in the open porch, and take a hard right into the nearest building from which the sizzling scent of garlic and onion is wafting.  That’s where you’ll find me; spoon in hand, poised over the little white gas stove there in the corner.  It’s four pm, and I’m starting supper.  My hair is piled on top of the head, and I’ve got a splattered red apron over the neck and double knotted in the front.  You’ll notice the aged terrazzo floor and counters, the third-world imitation stainless steel faucet over the sink basin, and then the pots and pans lined up on the top shelf of the far wall like soldiers at the ready.  Those genteel tarnished copper Mauvel soup pots, heavy and solid, sit side-by-side with the same flimsy aluminum “sufria” assortment you would find in the kitchens of the Makonde women, and together they make a strange collection.  The lineup reminds me so much of myself–two far removed selves in a strange assemblage, used interchangeably.

This place is where you’ll find me so often throughout the day with Adelaide toddling around, pulling stuff out of the cabinets.  The room’s not pretty, but I like to think that at least it’s got character.  Maybe it’s the baby-blue trim that circles the door and windows that was ubiquitous when I moved in and has become so characteristic to the house that I can’t bring myself to paint over it.  Navy roman shades sown lovingly by my mom and aunt Mckay hang over the windows.  There are antique Zanzibarian designs carved into the cabinets which were constructed when Mtwara was a young town without electricity or internet.  For better or for worse, I’ve painted over them in glossy grey.  Rows of glass jars filled with dried grains, raisins, nuts and the like file on the shelf below the pots along with several open baskets filled with spice jars.  Clear containers of rice and beans, which I buy in bulk at the ghala ya nafaka are at the ready for feeding friends.  A basket of tomatoes sits on a lower shelf of the far wall.  My row of oils and vinegars also are on the far wall at eye level for an easy grab.  My wooden spoons wait in a large pitcher with the handle broken off like a cluster of old friends by the stove.  And in the other corner of the room is the most glorious of all kitchen utensils, my beloved Vita Mix, which my mother bought me.

This is the forgiving space I stumble into each morning at 7 am, hair a jumble and still in my pajamas as I flip on the coffee maker (which may be brewing ginger tea, just depends on what’s for breakfast), and I fumble around for something to scrape together for breakfast usually involving eggs and or yogurt.  This is where I make mistakes and experiment with that new daring recipe from Pinterest.  Just as much of the time as there is American food simmering on the stove, you will find Mariam, my friend and house helper, cooking up some tasty Tanzanian dish for a crowd.

One thing you should know is that this is an African kitchen.  Open the door, and you literally step out into the open air, so flies, mice, and mosquitoes are not strangers here.  I will not lie, an occasional large cockroach skitters away when I open the cabinets, and lines of marching ants are my little garbage pick-up men.  Dust flies through the open windows on the breeze, which means that every shelf and counter must be cleaned at least every week, if not more.  I seem to always be wiping down counters and shelves.  Above all, this place must be swept every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and I’ve worn the bristles off of many a broom trying to keep the floor clean.  Street noises, apartment noises, waft through the window–a baby crying, the buzz of a passing motorcycle, a chuckle from the women washing clothes on the neighbor’s flat roof, the chortles of small African finches pausing on electric lines.  A caucophany that once irritated me as noise, but now I enjoy as a constant, faint reminder that I am not alone.  Each evening, I look out the window at this patchwork of aged concrete roofs with palm trees brushing the blushing horizon.

When I first moved to Mtwara, I hated this kitchen.  The annoying noise from the street, the scary black city night out my window, and the crumbs that stuck to my feet when I walked in barefoot grated on my nerves.  I thought the kitchen was ugly.  Hours spent over this burning stove in midst of hot season had me constantly muttering under my breath that cooking was a strange torture meant for keeping women down in the trenches.  My little gas oven scorched everything I put into it.  I resented my work, and my food came out as sour as my attitude.  I don’t think I cooked anything that actually tasted good to me for more than a year.

But something softened me during the nine months of gestating a child and the following year of nursing her into toddlerhood, or perhaps it was that during that time, I was slowly coming to know dozens of Makonde women who did nothing but food prep for life and were perfectly happy at the fact.  Time passed, and I began to dance with that little hot oven and make it bake cookies.  I learned to simmer tomato sauce from scratch in double portions so I could save some for later, pound out the meat before marinating it, and brew nourishing, gelatinous chicken broths to stock the fridge.  Meal-by-meal, I grew thankful for a ministry as savory and tactile as rice-to-the-belly, sweet infant breath, and morning coffee.  I grew respectful of food, stove, and butter, as it supports a family, a culture, and a mission work.

When I was in college, I thought that one day, I would have a smart, stimulating, and sexy job which brought security and benefits.  Most days these days though, I find myself shoulder-to-shoulder with Mariam, I chopping onions while she washes dishes, swapping stories or being silent, and just as comfortable with either option.  Likewise, I might bring in a load of fresh veggies in a basket with a toddler on the opposite hip, or find myself perched on top of a traditional coconut grater making coconut macaroons.  This funny room is hour-by-hour filled with smells, memories, and always, plenty of food to share with anyone who is hungry.  This is the place from which the heart of my ministry flows.  When I go back to my 10-year high school reunion and I tell people I am a homemaker, I’m not sure many will really get it.  To truly understand you need to step inside, pull up to the table, and have a bite of what I made you for dinner.

Rice in the Pot

The rice grains scattered rhythmically onto the floor of my aluminum pot with each flick of my wrist and the metal cup.  I placed my pot into the sink and let the faucet fill it with water.  Plunging my hands into the bed of heavy wet grains, I worked my fingers around the bottom, loosening the white starch and clouding the water.  Swish, drain, rinse, swish, drain, rinse, and repeat.  With my hands in the pot, I watched out my window, a small finch perched on the laundry lines of my neighbors.

 

I have been on a quest to decode the perfect pot of Tanzanian rice for a long time now.  Whenever I try to make rice, it always turns out mushy and bland.  The grains stick together and have no body in the mouth.  However, perfect rice seems to consistently and effortlessly appear under the pot lids of every Tanzanian woman who has ever cooked for me.  I know that their effortless, rice-cooking grace is hard won since girlhood, but maybe I could get in on the secret?  The problem is, rice cooking is so natural to most women here that they don’t even know how to begin to tell me how.  Little things like “rinse the rice until the water runs clear,” which my teammate Sarah clued me in on, must have seemed too common sense for my friend Mariam to mention during my cooking lessons.

 

When I arrived in Tanzania, I did not even really care for rice.  Rice was a white, tasteless extra starch, a lot of calorie with no taste.  I would have much rather substituted rice for another starch more flavorful if I had the chance, and I avoided reaching for it at the church potlucks.  My idea of rice was the stuff that comes packaged so that it cooks in the microwave in five-minutes.  Also, a long time ago, I learned from the back of the Walmart discount brand rice package that I should cook the stuff at a 2:1, water to rice, ratio, and I stuck to this religiously.  Open package, dump contents in pot, wait for the boil, cover, cook on low heat until “done” (whatever that was), then “fluff” with a fork (however you do that).  So accustomed was I to machine-cleaned, ready-to-cook rice that took me almost a year of living in Tanzania and a few chipped molars to realize that I should be picking out the rocks and sorting the rice before I even cooked it.  When I first came here, a Tanzanian missionary who grew up in Tailand told me, “I love rice.  I could eat it at every meal.”  I was appalled.  “What kind of pallid diet does she have that she prefers rice to all other foods?”  I thought.

 

Now I know that the perfect pot of Tanzanian rice is eaten in the cool of the new evening in a mud hut, steaming hot.  Rice is a special treat like pizza or dessert would be for American families—most Tanzanian families don’t get to eat it every day.  They pile it into a cloudy white mountain on a metal tray, and the whole family sits around the plate, plunging their right hands into the steaming stuff.  First you take a handful of rice in the finger-part of your hand.  Then, you squeeze it against your palm, squishing the grains into sort of a ball, and then rolling it loosely back to the tips of your fingers, you tip your head back ever so slightly and flick the morsel in.  Each bite is barely nutty and toasted, with a hint of wood smoke from the fire; each grain is separate and slightly chewy, with tinge of salt and an aftertaste of soothing coconut.  I have grown to love this stuff more than bread, and stuff my mouth with it by the handfuls.  Rice like this tastes like no other rice I have ever had in the world because it is freshly hand-gathered from the field, sundried, hand-pounded (to remove the hull), hand-sorted, hand-washed, and finally cooked in a family-sized portion over an open wood fire.

 

“What kind of rice do you want?”  They asked me pointing to five different waist, tall rice-filled bags on display on the warehouse cement floor the last time I went to the ghala ya nafaka (grain warehouse) to buy in bulk.  To my untrained eye, each type of rice in each bag looked the same.  I strained to make out differences as I peered at each pile.  Maybe one type was smaller and had more broken grains than the others?  Finally, I gave up.

“I don’t know.  What do you think?”

“Give her the good rice, rice from around here.”  An older lady said, gesturing to a half-filled bag of glossy, long grains in the corner like a secret stash.  I picked up a handful and somehow knew that this was the good stuff.

 

I filled the pot with a final portion of water and put it over the flame on my gas stove.  I scattered two generous pinches of salt over the mixture and poured in a few tablespoons of oil.  I am very much a novice at making rice, and there is still a world of cultural and culinary knowledge have yet to gather, but at the same time, the soothing, tactile acts of cleaning, pouring, washing, and setting a pot on a flame in the quiet of the afternoon links me, I know, with my Tanzanian women friends and a world of other women spanning into the East with whom I long to be joined.  At times, I feel that there is so much cultural distance and so many differences between us that simple acts like these grow increasingly sacred to me.  In this respect, we are the same: the rice still needs to be cooked.

They Haunt Me

In honor of national poetry month, I thought I would post a recently penned poem.  –Heather

 

They Haunt Me

 

From where he left them.

Twin handmade crutches,

poorly fixed with dirty bands

at the broken joint.

All I could offer

was a modern, metal pair

I paid too much for

The same ball and chain;

it was

no real gift.

I wonder

How it would be if

He who spit in dust and

wiped it over that

Blindman’s eyes;

Sighed,

Up to heaven

With warm fingers in the ear holes

of the deaf,

Had answered the door.

Oh to shed this

wrinkled

skin

With one leap

Into the heavens!

My Friend Bewitched Me

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I have become good friends with an old man named A. He cherishes our friendship so much that he actually went to the witchdoctor to bewitch me to magically influence me to stay in Tanzania.  I learned about this the other day when A was explaining to me how bewitchment is done. He gave me his own example, “You go the witchdoctor, give him $40 and tell him, ‘Bewitch my white friend to stay in Tanzania, so that he never returns to America.'” I said,

“A, is this story true?” “Yes, it is; I bewitched you, but last December after I bewitched you, you immediately went home to bury your grandfather.” A realized his bewitchment was unsuccessful and he admitted, “Bewitching is sinful; we should not do it.”  I said, “I agree, but bewitching doesn’t work on a follower of the Messiah.”

And that is how my friend bewitched me. 

New Spectacles

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My darling.  You are the reason I pulled on boots and jacket, braced, myself and you, against the winter drip.  Drip, the clear raindrops fall one-by-one from the rusty barn roof.  I wanted to show you, you see, this old barn where my Mother’s horse (she named him Mr.) once lived.  The dusty old feed bin, the place where they once stacked hay, and it still smells like a horse in there.  The smell is brown, slightly sweet, like something living, though the hay is long gone and Mr. has been dead for oh so many years.  I think they pushed him into the gully when he breathed his last, it was on my 16th birthday, and he was 32 years.

See, my dear, I thank you for giving me new eyes.  You peeled off those old scales when you were born.  When they placed you on my knees, you sat there red, staring, no need to cry–you just took it in with big round saucers, quivering your arms a little.  I knew then that you were wiser than me and sent to tell me something different.  I see now like the blind man.  Now the Christ spit in dust and wiped it on my blinds.  Open—I see the trees like humans walking.

I stare freshly at the old magnolia, the one I climbed when I was seven.  Now I see it as a beautiful statue.  You are in my arms, and I trace again and again the shape of a magnolia leaf with my eyes because I ached for it but had not known for what when I was away.  It may be two years till I return, but I will to remember, to burn the outline of that magnolia leaf against the sky into my brain, and I stroke the turquoise lichen like aged copper crusted on a straight skeleton.

See, we walk on a thick carpet of rich rotting life matter.  I never knew what jewels the dead leaves were underfoot until I walked years in desert dust.  I see it like a pirate treasure chest now, that rotting log sprinkled with white mushrooms.  The electric green moss I run my hands over, drinking in the living carpet.  It is emeralds, and I breathe in the wet brown-gold smell.  Oh, thank you for these new spectacles.

IMG_8897–Heather

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