You, Back Home


After church on a Sunday before Christmas, I lingered in the sanctuary between hardwood pews in the Oxford Church of Christ.  I wiggled my beige, hose-covered toes inside my new black pumps, unaccustomed how slick and cold they felt after two years in dusty flip-flops.

The drizzly winter drips on the windowpanes seemed to cool some dry hurt seared in me by countless days in the equatorial sun.  The sweet chorus of saints in the audience punctuated with the silver, quivering voice of my grandmother soothed a deep lonely hole in my heart worn deep by the thousand moments when I had felt to alone.  The sight of my one year-old daughter sound asleep on the pew in an evergreen corduroy dress and dainty white leather shoes warmed something dead tired inside.

One of my grandmother’s dear friends approached me.  She was one member of a small Bible class that my grandmother has attended for over 40 years. The group of women has met to share and pray over one another and one another’s family members through every stage of their lives from young motherhood to great grand motherhood, and for the past two years they have been following this blog.  Many of them do not have internet, so my grandmother prints out each post as it is written, photocopies it, and hands it out for the ladies to take home.  “But not until after Bible class; they must read it at home,” she says.

“I know you don’t remember me,” my grandmother’s friend said, “But I pray for you everyday.” She said it quickly, offhandedly, as if trying not to draw attention to herself, and then she changed the subject, but I could see in her face that she really meant what she had said.

My mind flashed to the moment of the wreck—I turned my head left to see a 50-passenger bus hurtling straight for my husband like a demon flying out of hell.  The steel bulbar exploded in ribbons, leaving the entire car and every passenger in it perfectly untouched.  I pray for you, she had said.

I recalled a common scene from our everyday life: Ross sitting in a group of Muslim God-seekers.  They are normal people like us, but they have not yet experienced or heard the Word of God.  They hear the story of Noah and drink it in like thirsty men.  “This story means,” they interpret through the power of the Holy Spirit “that we like Noah, should learn not just how to cease wrongdoing, but how to please God.”  Every day, she had said.

I remembered when I was sick at four in the morning.  Ross was away, visiting a costal island to share the Word of God.  I was so dizzy with some arboviral fever that I was afraid I would pass out leaving no one to take care of Addie.  She cried out.  I climbed under her mosquito net and curled in the crib with her until morning.  As I lay there, I thought about whether life in Mtwara was worth it, whether the Bible was true, and was I crazy to believe it?  I pray for you.

She had curly, white hair and a dark shawl draped over her shoulders.  Her hand was cool and soft.  I knew she was a saint, but she would never have allowed it to be said.  “You don’t know what that meant to us.”  I replied, meaning every word.



They came shouting and splashing water tinted rosy with setting rays, the whole lot of them.  About ten little boys clad in nothing but their sopping wet, raggedy underwear and big smiles on their faces.  I was sitting on the Mtwara beach, soaking in the view while Addie played in the sand in front of me.  At first, I was slightly annoyed by the noisy intrusion into my silent wonderings and the blocked view, but when I looked into the faces, I could not help but grin at the jovial lot.  Many of them had plastic water bottles tied to their bodies with random bits of rope or bags found beach side; I assumed they had rigged these contraptions to help them stay afloat.  And then I realized that most of the little boys who ranged in age from about four to six probably did not know how to swim, and they were all totally unsupervised, who knows how far from their mothers.

And they were having a ball.  I don’t think that I have seen a happier group of people since.  They jumped and kicked and shouted with glee, drifting aimlessly as a pack down the beach in the shallows of the water where the waves touch the sand.  Drifting as buddies without bills, responsibilities, rules, bosses, or any time constraints whatsoever save the setting sun.  One sweet boy approached Addie with a driftwood stick as a sort of friendship offer.  He tried to pick her up, but she was kind of big for him.

I came away from that scene with those happy faces burned into my brain.  I’ve recalled them to mind since, in the difficult moments.  They reminded me of a quote from Anthony Esolen about childhood games.  He says that “those [childhood] memories of play…are almost the only things an old man can look back on with complete satisfaction.”  As I remember, lots of children in America aren’t left alone long enough to really get lost in their games; their lives are scheduled with school, lessons, and practices.  Of course, they will be entertained by movies, which play in the car on the way.

Perhaps many accustomed to movie screens implanted in their car head rests would glance at my little gangly pack of friends and see poverty—the trash tied to the bodies, the lack of supervision, the nakedness.  But I heard shouts of freedom, saw satisfied faces, and shared in their joy which has no price tag.  Poverty has many faces.

Simply Not Simple

This may be too fundamental for many of you, but after two years of living in the “developing world”, I’ve come to something.  Are you ready?  Here it is: poverty is not simple.  For some reason, (I am blatantly projecting my stupidity here) I actually thought that there was an end in sight.  Maybe, I said in my subconscious mind, if we work really hard, some solutions will be found.  Some things will be better than before.

At this point, I’d like to quote Dorothy Day, the leader of the Catholic Worker Movement, in her book, Loaves and Fishes:

Poverty is a strange and an elusive thing.  I have tried to write about it, its joys and its sorrows, for thirty years now; and I could probably write about it for another thirty without conveying what I feel about it as well as I would like.

When I found this quote, I was strangely elated.  What? I thought, Another wrestled this distressing knot for longer than I and never seemed to find it’s ragtag end either.

Poverty is complicated because there are no easy solutions.

Poverty is complicated because it wears many faces.

Poverty is complicated because, paradoxically, it is commanded.

For the next few weeks, I will be posting several blog posts about poverty.  This is important, as Dorothy Day says, because “We need always to be thinking and writing about [poverty]; for if we are not among its victims its reality fades from us.  We must talk about poverty because people insulated by their own comfort loose sight of it” (Loaves and Fishes).

As our Messiah said, the poor we will always have with with us.  Always.  So let’s lay into that knot.  Together.

New Toy


Meet Bibi (Grandmother) and Babu (Grandfather), Addie’s new favorite toys.  We actually bought them in order to give to supporters in the States, but Addie was so taken with them that we couldn’t resist giving them to her instead.  I was so surprised by how much she connects with these little toys.

They are the first things to come out of the toy basket and the last to return.  If they “eat” ugi (her rice porrige), then she eats ugi.  I think she likes them because they look like the grandmothers and grandfathers with whom she interacts with every day.  They are symbols of the real, grown-ups whom she recognizes and loves.

As I was doing some Christmas shopping online a few days ago, it struck me that lots of the kid’s toys out there might not register with my kid like they would to an American.  How often (if ever) has Addie seen a red barn, play food in cans, a house that looks like a doll house, or a white baby (doll)?  As a person who is bi-cultural, I can read these symbols (toys) from both worlds, but my daughter, Addie, even at only one year-old is growing up in this one culture that I’ve created in my house which is an amalgam of Tanzania and the States.

Hmmm, what to do?  I’ve started dreaming up a line of new missionary-kid toys.  Different houses from different continents and multi-cultural doll clothes with matching luggage for the airplane.  🙂



Five for Five


Recently, I discovered a concept in children’s literacy called “five for five” which means that the teacher (or mother in this case!) will read a child five of the same books every day for five days.  This helps the child to become fluent in the story, to remember the pictures, and to anticipate or “read” the words to the book him or herself.

As Addie approaches toddlerhood, I have started reading books to her using the “five for five” method.  I like to choose very short books with rhyming, interesting language and bright, action packed pictures.  I was amazed at how quickly Addie began to grow attached to and respond to the five books of the week.  I was reminded of how much kids love and need repetition (even when we adults quickly tire of reading the same stories over and over again!).

See in the picture above, my recent favorite, Llama Llama Red Pajama, is a story about a little llama who kicks up some “llama drama” after his mother tucks him into bed for the night.  Very fun read, written in rhyming couplets, and has not grown old to me yet.


I donned my favorite head covering, a cotton scarf the color of fresh lime and wound it around my head and neck.  We were going to the funeral of a woman I had never met, Mama Katie.  According to my friend, Mariam, she had been a widely respected member of the community, and Mama Katie had died suddenly, overnight. Although I had other plans that afternoon, I decided I would push them aside and take Mariam’s advice to attend the funeral with her.

When I stepped outside of the door, Mariam laughed at my clumsily tied “mtandio” (head covering).  She straightened the scarf and in a motherly way laid the folds of fabric around my face.  I swung my one-year-old daughter onto my back, and Mariam helped me tie a long piece of pattern-printed fabric called a “kanga” around my back and over one shoulder as a baby carrier.  We flagged down a small three-wheeled vehicle (think a cross between a golf cart and a motorcycle) and climbed in.

When we reached the house of the person who died, the family members and men had already left to the graveyard to bury the dead.  The funeral party that was left was all women, about one hundred or so of them, quietly talking and perched under the trees that lined the house by the road.  As we walked down the line of women, I felt all eyes on me as they muttered to each other, “What?  A white person!”  “Ha! A white person came,” and with surprise, “White people bury?”

A group of women that seemed to know Mariam greeted us, and I said the normal greetings back with an added “Shikamo” (translated, “I touch my heart”) as a respectful greeting to the women older than me.

“Sit here,” said Mariam, and I made myself as comfortable as I could on the gravely side-of-the road by a thorn bush.  Addie crawled around in the road, ate pebbles, and grinned at the ladies.  A boy about two years-old approached to play with her, and as she began to crawl eagerly after him, he got spooked.  Crying, he turned and fled to his mother.  The former hushed and reverent tone of the funeral party was shattered with a ripple of laughter that spilled forth from the entire gaggle of women.  They looked at Addie and then at me, watching for my reaction.  I smiled and chuckled too.

An enamel plate was passed around with a paper notebook on it where guests were meant to give money and then write how much they gave.  I handed Mariam a 2,000 Shilling note and decided not to write in the book.  The women we were sitting with traded small talk with Mariam and were very kind and interested in Addie, “Is she walking yet?” they asked.

Every woman sported a colorful head covering, and many wore the traditional printed kangas around their waists.  The dazzle of colors that dance in a crowd of Tanzanian women is difficult to describe.  Sitting among the vibrant reds, pinks, blues, and teals is a special pleasure that is unique to my vocation.

Suddenly a white truck stacked high with family members all hugging and grabbing each other in the truck bed, singing a mournful funeral song, “Mama’s gone she won’t be back, Mama’s gone,” bounced down the gravel road.  The tune chilled my spirit, and I felt sorry for the family left so suddenly motherless.

They climbed out, one after the other, and I was surprised so many had been able to fit in the truck bed.  Most of the women were wrapped with the same white kanga printed with blue flowers and the message on the bottom, “We will never forget you.”  After the truck came a whole caravan including an ambulance, a bus, several personal vehicles, motorcycles, etc., carrying passengers who had gone with the family to the graveside.

After a while, Mariam said, “Let’s go inside and greet the family,” and I grabbed Addie and stood up.  The concrete house was built with rooms lining one large square courtyard.  Many more women were sitting in the courtyard.  We joined a long line pushing through the courtyard into a back room where all of the women family members of the dead were grieving.  There were so many women that I was being pushed into Mariam’s back and surrounded on all sides by people.  Again I heard the women murmuring to each other as if surprised, “Whites bury?”  I wondered if they thought that I couldn’t understand Kiswahili.

As we entered into the grieving room, my eyes had to adjust to the shadows from the blinding light outside.  The whole room was full of women and white kangas; some sobbed softly, many had eyes closed and were laying down (sleeping?).  The grief was palpable.  One woman, with another woman’s head in her lap, scooped water from an aluminum pot by her side into a plastic cup and handed it out to one person at a time.  It was oppressively hot in there, a few flies buzzed about, and beads of sweat rolled off of foreheads and backs of the bodies of people lying around.

I was struck by how different this was than the air conditioned, individual grief of America where people cry in their rooms or into their lone pillows.  I was reminded how close most African families are—sleeping together, sharing clothes and possessions, eating most meals from the same lump of ugali—I know that my Tanzanian friends live together in a sort of closeness I may never really understand.  And although, in a way, the room of bodies, the crowd, and the heat disturbed me, it all seemed human and fitting way to grieve as a family.

The line of women was headed directly to an older woman (supposedly a close family relation?) who sat in the back of the room with her back on the wall.  She was not crying, but her eyes were heavy with grief.  I felt sorry for her having to greet so many in her grief.  Each woman shook her hand and said something; I don’t know what.  What do I say? I thought.  Mariam in front of me greeted the woman with her head bowed low and voice low so that I was not able to understand.  Then it was my turn.  I clasped the woman’s hand and said, “Sorry.  I’m so sorry.”  I grasped for some other Kiswahili words of apology or condolence, but I only retrieved, “God bless you.”

That seemed awkward and too happy.  “What should I have said to that woman?” I asked Mariam, as we walked away.

“Just say, sorry,” she said.

“Sorry?  That’s all?”  Then she paused.

“Or maybe, God wills it.”

I thought about that as we walked down the dusty road in silence together.  But I couldn’t think of anything to say.

Our Tree of Thanks

This month, we have been keeping track of our prayers of thanks in a new and creative way with this thankful tree.  Every morning, we pin a new leaf with a new thanks written on it onto the branches.  We have enjoyed this visible reminder of all of the abundant blessings that God shades us with in life.

Here are some things that we are thankful for this month:

Plenty of clean water

Our nice air conditioners!

God seekers in the village Libolbe

Our family in America

Mariam, our good friend and house helper

Our great teammates

Our supporting churches back home



And the tree continues to grow every day!  Thank you, Father God!

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; His love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1


Here are some recent pictures from our celebration of the holiday, Eid, with our friends and neighbors.

We offered our home, and Mariam’s family (a group of 16+ women and children) offered their cooking skills.  They cooked for 50+ people by setting a giant pot over three cooking stones and lighting a fire in our garage.

Traditionally, on this holiday, a family slaughters a live goat and feasts together.  We had some difficulty finding a goat at the last minute, so we settled for beef from the butcher.

We invited this family from a village nearby.  This Mzee (respected old man) brought two of his three wives.  This special family is very dear to us.

They are leading a group which is reading word of God together with their close neighbors.

The Bio-Sand Filter at Majembe Juu Village



Recently I have been experimenting with plans for a bio-sand water filter than can be made out of a 5-gallon bucket.  See this previous post for how to make a bio-sand filter.  My trials at home were successful, so recently, Ross and I took the bio-sand filter plans, a few buckets, and some piping out to one of our friends, J., at a village called Majembe Juu up on the plateau in Makondeland.  This is the same village where we we rented a hut for the month of June.

Cutting okra leaves for dinner. Most of our friends eat greens like this every day with their cornmeal-mush called ugali. One thing I love about living here is that it is basically assumed that most people like vegetables!

My dear friend, C. I love this one of her.

J. and C. were very excited about the bio-sand filter.  Right now water resources are very tight, so C. walks twice a day to a riverbed about 2.5 miles away from her home to draw water and then carries 20 L (5 gallons) of water back on her head!  Talk about a work out–water is very heavy!  Most people drink this water right out of the river.  Although this does not make people as sick as you might think because they have been drinking it all of their lives, diarrhea and other water-bourne illnesses are a problem in the village according to some villagers we have talked with.  Many public health organizations recommend boiling water to kill bacteria, viruses, and amoeba before drinking it, but boiling is costly in terms of fuel (imagine carrying water as much as C. does, plus gathering all the firewood for cooking and boiling ALL your drinking water on top of that!), time, and human energy.  For this reason, I think that this bio-sand filter is a good water purifying option for most villagers.  This is made out of a plastic, 5-gallon bucket which is available in most villages.  Also, the filter is made of layers of rocks and sand which are abundant in the region.  Lastly, the plastic piping can be obtained in the closest large town, Newala.  If they wanted, I think that the village could send one person to Newala to get enough piping for many of them at one time because it is small, light, and relatively cheap.

J. and C. were very eager to start making the water filter as soon as possible.  They organized an outing to gather the different types of rocks and sand that they would need for the filter.  We gathered fine and fat sand from the river bed where C. draws water every day.  Then we washed the sand and removed organic debris in the stream of water trickling through the river bed.  In another area along the way to the river bed, we found just the right size pebble and rock for the bottom of the filter.

When we got back, we assembled the filter, and people started visiting to see what we were up to.  J. started to teach his friends about how the filter worked.  The villagers decided that the filter should be called the “Kienyeji Filter” or the “local” or “traditional” filter.  I hoped that this meant that it seemed like an accessible technology that was relatable and seemed usable to them.  Lots of people were surprised that normal “dirt” (aka. sand) could clean water!

J. teaching friends and relatives about the bio-sand filter.

One thing that I did not count on was how scarce and valuable water resources were in the village.  When I made the filter at home, I had plenty of water to wash the sand with before putting it into the filter as well as plenty of water with which to prime and start the filter.  When I was at home making the filter, I took this so much for granted that I had not even counted how much water I had used, but I had actually used a relatively large quantity of water to get the filter running.

However, in the village, the only water we had was the precious water that C. had brought on her head from the riverbed.  I felt terrible using all of that water in order to start a filter that deep in my heart, I was not absolutely sure would work!  We used our car to get J. & C. more water that afternoon, but the lesson learned was an important one for me.  The human and physical resources in the village are very precious, and when bringing a technology or project, there is much less room for error because resources are so tight.  Even a simple failed project could be discouraging and a real set-back in terms of resources.  That night, the filter was still putting out a dingy, muddy water (see picture above), and I could see that J and C were slightly let down that the filter had not worked instantly!  I should have prepped them better for what to expect, as well as explained how the initial setup would require a large investment of time and water resources.

That night, the filter was still putting out water that was more muddy when it came out than when it went in.  I was shaken and sad because the whole day had been given to the project, and I was afraid it would fail.  As I fell asleep under the starry sky, I prayed hard that God would have mercy and get that water filter working for the sake of J. and C. and the village.

In J.’s hut, Ross sat up with J. and his male friends, including the old man, C., J’s father.  The men sat in the small square room with their backs resting against the mud walls, still warm from the equatorial sun of the afternoon.  Their faces were bathed in dim, yellow light thrown from the smokey lamp in the center of the circle.  Each head was shod with different worn versions of the small Muslim hat, the “barakashia;” a silent testimony to the long devotedness of each man to seeking God.  A small radio projected the story of creation and the fall from Genesis.  They listened with their barakashias bowed and then talked into the night, discovering the Word of God together and what it might mean for their lives.

J’s father, Mzee (old man) C.

The next morning, when I woke, J. was already up and running water through his filter first thing.  I walked over to the bio-sand filter set up under a cashew tree.  This is what I found.

Clean, fresh, pure water.  Thank you, Father.

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst. And the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water gushing unto eternal life.” (John 4:14.).

The Key


Today, I thought it would be appropriate to post the entry of the day for October 16th from Oswald Chamber’s, My Upmost for His Highest, because it regards the role of prayer in the missionary task. Particularly, the entry is written regarding the verse “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest,” from Matthew 9:38.  At our prayer retreat last weekend, the team read together and prayed over a similar verse as this from Luke.  We were convicted that in our work, we should not just pray for the harvest but earnestly expect the harvest so much that we pray for the harvesters of that harvest!

The Key To the Master’s Orders

Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest. — Matthew 9:38

The key to the missionary problem is in the hand of God, and that key is prayer not work, that is, not work as the word is popularly understood to-day because that may mean the evasion of concentration on God. The key to the missionary problem is not the key of common sense, nor the medical key, nor the key of civilization or education or even evangelization. The key is prayer. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest.” Naturally, prayer is not practical, it is absurd; we have to realize that prayer is stupid from the ordinary common-sense point of view.
There are no nations in Jesus Christ’s outlook, but the world. How many of us pray with out respect of persons, and with respect to only one Person, Jesus Christ? He owns the harvest that is produced by distress and conviction of sin, and this is the harvest we have to pray that labourers may be thrust out to reap. We are taken up with active work while people all round are ripe to harvest, and we do not reap one of them, but waste our Lord’s time in over-energized activities. Suppose the crisis comes in your father’s life, in your brother’s life, are you there as a labourer to reap the harvest for Jesus Christ? “Oh, but I have a special work to do!” No Christian has a special work to do. A Christian is called to be Jesus Christ’s own, one who is not above his Master, one who does not dictate to Jesus Christ what he intends to do. Our Lord calls to no special work: He calls to Himself. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest,” and He will engineer circumstances and thrust you out.
See the following link to the My Utmost for His Highestwebsite from which the excerpt above was taken:’s-orders-classic/
Dear Readers, as our partners in the gospel of Christ, we ask you to join with us in prayer for laborers to rise up in order to reap God’s harvest worldwide.