Monthly Archives: September 2011

And The Packing Begins…Again

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We will be heading home in just a few short days…5 to be exact. Today I began pulling out our bags and making piles of things we will not be using the next few days. I have not been very homesick since we have been here, but I think being forced to think about going home has made me get excited about some of the things we have missed here, not important things, just things…like my own bed, my own bathroom…ya know, things like that.

We have had such an amazing time in Swaziland. I am so thankful for the opportunity our family has had to share this experience together. We have seen so many things…some great and wonderful things, and some heartbreaking things. It has not always been easy living here the past couple months, but we have been more than blessed by our time here. We have met some really great people that will be hard to say good bye to when we leave. We have learned many new songs and even heard many songs we know sung in a different way. We have been able to worship with several different churches here and have had different experiences and each one. The girls and I have been able to spend a lot of time with the younger children on campus and they have a special place in our hearts. It makes me smile just to think about their smiles and seeing them come running to babysitting each day! They are precious!

We have a lot to be thankful for both here and at home. We will never be able to fully explain what our time in Swaziland has meant and what we have learned or gained…it is just a “you had to be there” kind of thing. We did not come with many expectations and that is probably good. We leave with full hearts. It is sad to think that even if we were able to come back sometime the same people would not be here. But it is so great to think that we have friends all over the world that will be going to their homes around Africa and teaching and showing the love of Jesus to others around them. ACC is a really neat place and the work they do is pretty incredible. I wish you could all come and visit and see for yourself!

I’m not sure how busy the next few days will be, but I imagine they are going to be pretty full. We may or may not get to post before we make it home. Thanks for all the well wishes, prayers and comments during our time here. We appreciate each one, even though we are not able to comment on all of them. Please continue to keep us in your prayers while we travel the long way back home. We leave Swaziland on Monday and arrive back at DFW on Wednesday, then have to drive back to Abilene.

And by the way, Brad has a birthday on Saturday the 24th.

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And The Packing Begins…Again

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We will be heading home in just a few short days…5 to be exact. Today I began pulling out our bags and making piles of things we will not be using the next few days. I have not been very homesick since we have been here, but I think being forced to think about going home has made me get excited about some of the things we have missed here, not important things, just things…like my own bed, my own bathroom…ya know, things like that.

We have had such an amazing time in Swaziland. I am so thankful for the opportunity our family has had to share this experience together. We have seen so many things…some great and wonderful things, and some heartbreaking things. It has not always been easy living here the past couple months, but we have been more than blessed by our time here. We have met some really great people that will be hard to say good bye to when we leave. We have learned many new songs and even heard many songs we know sung in a different way. We have been able to worship with several different churches here and have had different experiences and each one. The girls and I have been able to spend a lot of time with the younger children on campus and they have a special place in our hearts. It makes me smile just to think about their smiles and seeing them come running to babysitting each day! They are precious!

We have a lot to be thankful for both here and at home. We will never be able to fully explain what our time in Swaziland has meant and what we have learned or gained…it is just a “you had to be there” kind of thing. We did not come with many expectations and that is probably good. We leave with full hearts. It is sad to think that even if we were able to come back sometime the same people would not be here. But it is so great to think that we have friends all over the world that will be going to their homes around Africa and teaching and showing the love of Jesus to others around them. ACC is a really neat place and the work they do is pretty incredible. I wish you could all come and visit and see for yourself!

I’m not sure how busy the next few days will be, but I imagine they are going to be pretty full. We may or may not get to post before we make it home. Thanks for all the well wishes, prayers and comments during our time here. We appreciate each one, even though we are not able to comment on all of them. Please continue to keep us in your prayers while we travel the long way back home. We leave Swaziland on Monday and arrive back at DFW on Wednesday, then have to drive back to Abilene.

And by the way, Brad has a birthday on Saturday the 24th.

HIV/AIDS in Africa

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I wish I had copied a couple of my students papers from when we discussed HIV/AIDS and an African Christian Ethical response to this tremendous challenge. Several commented on the overwhelmingness of the challenges of HIV/AIDS. I think particularly of a Swazi student who wrote something like this:

The presence of HIV/AIDS is so common and the challenges around it are so complicated that you just want to give up because it is so big. The challenges are so great you begin to feel helpless and that there is nothing that can be done at all.

The tiny Kingdom of Swaziland has the greatest per capita ratio of HIV/AIDS as any country in the world. It is not relegated to those in poverty. Homosexuality (at least open homosexuality) is uncommon. Most people get the disease through heterosexual intercourse. Obviously, this is due to sexual promiscuity, but is often passed to spouses because of unfaithfulness by the spouse; or passed along to children born to mothers who are HIV positive (though there is available medicine and treatment to prevent this—when the mother knows she is positive). On top of this, there are other ways—shared needles, blood transfusion, etc. that lead to its spread.

For many years in Southern Africa, the existence of HIV/AIDS was denied by the leaders. Within the last five years, the president of South Africa and other high profile government leaders in other countries (including presidents) publicly denied it and claimed it was an imagined disease of the West to exercise more control over the continent. Often it was diagnosed and treated (very unsuccessfully) as TB. Because of its common relationship with homosexuality and promiscuity, being HIV positive or having AIDS has been shameful and therefore secretive. For many, that has also led to self-denial and a refusal to be tested—which leads to spreading the disease to others and not receiving any treatment.

In many ways, this is changing. There are medicines that can help and they are (usually) available. There are many nonprofits, NGOs and government organizations working to educate people. Which leads, of course, to the ongoing Christian debate of—do we teach condoms, abstinence or both? Condoms are readily available here. We often see places to pick up free condoms at the border posts and in public restrooms everywhere (churches must even decide whether or not to distribute condoms in their toilets/bathrooms).

Another way of trying to reduce the practice is found in a recent US-Swaziland effort to have the men of Swaziland circumcised because a study found that circumcised men are less likely to contract HIV during sex than uncircumcised men (circumcision has long been out of favor in Swazi culture). There are billboards and full-page color ads in the paper about getting circumcised (they are targeting the 16-32 year old men—the common age of getting HIV/AIDS)—we even encountered a prominent booth at the Swaziland Trade Fair—right next to the line of booths of children’s toys and carnival rides—that promoted and scheduled circumcision appointments (fortunately, they did not appear to be performing it at the fairgrounds).

It doesn’t appear to be a lack of knowledge (you cannot avoid signs, ads, etc.) or unavailability of protection—but the culture of denial (“It won’t happen to me” or “I don’t have it”) and the stigma and accepted practices of sex outside of marriage have fueled its growth.

As my students noted in class and in their papers, it doesn’t just lead to the often premature death of people (and most wrote that everyone knows someone or has a relative who has died of or is dying of AIDS). This disease and these deaths leave a huge wake in their path. That wake includes the obvious—families without a provider or, worse yet, children without parents left to grandparents or relatives or to the oldest sibling to take care of themselves. But, as almost every paper noted, it leaves a devastated community: it’s the doctors, community leaders, college-educated, pastors, teachers, engineers, and business owners who are just as likely to die of AIDS.

The hope for some of these communities, dashed by HIV/AIDS as it takes those who are positioned to make a difference.

Two weeks left – MOM Project

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Two weeks from right now, we’ll have just taken off from the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa to begin our journey home. It’s hard to believe the end of our time is so near. Please be in prayer for us these last two weeks!

Today we went to the MOM Project again (Mausoweni Orphan Meals) to help with serving the meals. I took some videos of the kids singing (I’ll try to post those in the future) and took the camera for some pictures as well. So I wanted to share those with you.

Again, about 75-100 kids walked over to the school (and the home of the church) to get their rice and stew. Ellianna joined Rachael and me and she helped serve the food with a smile. The kids had a lot of fun with me and the camera…but I can only share a few pictures of our time there today. Perhaps this will help put some images to our earlier descriptions of the orphan feeding project we’ve posted in the blog.

Updates from Ethics Class

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We’ve struggled with many topics this semester as I’ve tried to help us think biblically and critically about appropriate responses as African Christians in their various communities. We’ve had fun along the way and we’ve all learned a lot. It has been a joy to watch them struggle to explain their reasoning; to see them challenge each other’s thinking; and to be inspired to lead transformational ministries when they return home after graduation.

Here’s some shorter highlights on some of our topics.

Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking

The Christian culture in Africa not only looks down on drugs and drunkenness, but also a strong sense against smoking. There has been teaching against smoking but no reason has been given for it…so it was an interesting discussion. In the same way that American Christians advocate against all forms of drinking (though I’ve seen this change a lot even in my lifetime) because of the slippery slope or because of its “offense” to those who abstain, that is the stance they have traditionally believed in the church.

A major difference here, in my opinion, is that drinking brew (particularly homemade) is usually tied directly to spiritism and witchcraft. Though this doesn’t apply to all alcoholic beverages, it could actually make the case against drinking because of a brother/sister who is offended sensible because the cultural situation is more similar to that in Romans.

Abortion

There was a very, very strong sense in class against abortion—which is not only a Christian thing, but a cultural thing. We struggled with people’s arguments for exceptions – deformed babies in the fetus, dying mothers, poverty—and, of course, with when ‘life’ begins.

Proverbs are common in African culture and are often applied to making difficult decisions. You may have read some of them two posts back. They are often about something happening in life (in the following example: it’s the walk back from gathering water from the river each day) but then can be applied to other situations. So, here is one that was thrown out when discussing abortion when a mother’s life is in danger: “It is okay if the water spills out of the pot, but not for the pot to break.”

Homosexuality

This was difficult for the group. They have concluded it is a mental illness largely because it is uncommon to them and very, very few of them could identify even one person who is a practicing homosexual (that they know of). This led to a great deal of stigma and difficulty in identifying a Christian ethical response.

Incest

Incest is not common in Africa…with some exceptions (and these may be dwindling).

The most common practice of incest that was universally identified among the students in their various countries was a part of rituals advised by the witchdoctors. It is often recommended by witchdoctors for parents to have sex with their children in order to have a more prosperous life (easy way to get rich—have sex with your children?!); and a common “medicine” to cure AIDS is to have sex with a young virgin or a virgin relative.

Another example given by one Kenyan tribe (which none of the other students’ tribes practiced) was what I’ve come to call the “Auntie test”. If a couple has no children quickly then the husband is to go have sex with his father’s sister. Her role is to “test” the boy to make sure he “works right”. If they are successful in having sex, then the fertility problem is not with him, but with the wife. (They don’t do this anymore, obviously there’s a lot of flaws with this system). In some things I’ve read since then, if the aunt gets pregnant then the baby is aborted as well. The funny part for our class was that this student defended this as not incest—its tradition (which a similar argument is is also used with the abortion in this case).

What are the things we see as tradition, or “just the way it is” that would be obviously wrong to an outsider?

Traditional African Life stories, proverbs & myths

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I’ve neglected my posts about my Ethics class the past several weeks…but we’ve been having class four days a week and have covered many topics. Our time is coming toward an end. Next week is the last week of class and our last week in Swaziland. Time has flown by.

I told you earlier about the beginning of the semester when our class discussed the traditional African cultures and practices of their home countries and tribes. I said I’d share some of them. So, below are some I wrote down from their papers at the beginning of the semester—in no particular order.

Comments and Submissions about myths, traditions, stories, songs, proverbs in traditional African life

· Bad luck if disrespect parents – respect others to be blessed

· Black cats (or dogs) on path bad luck—avoid dark places for bad results come of it

· Song: I hate the person who brought money into the world because he brought suffering

· Paying lobola when getting married teaches man to work hard in order to take a wife

· If you walk at night you’ll meet a ghost and they will take you to their grave or just in the wrong direction (get lost). – Teach kids to be home when sun goes down

· A man had a cat and treated it badly. They both died at the same time and the man was punished because he was mean to the cat. – story to teach to love animals and everyone who is in God’s creation.

· “The cow can give birth to a son.” – Whatever you are saying is possible

· Women must submit to men and be meek.

· Mermaids exist to impart different gifts to people and also to chasten the stubborn. (The reason is to call people’s attention to a greater being in control of everybody.)

· Story of Marijata, the disabled girl who later saved the community by informing them of imminent danger. – Disability doesn’t mean inability.

· “An elephant will never fail to carry its horns.” — people should bear their burdens

· Clapping hands when children are receiving gifts teaches them to show gratitude and respect elders

· “One day cannot make a calf die” (or starve). – If the cow doesn’t suck milk for one day, it will survive. We can make a sacrifice, too.

· Mr. Hare prepared a banquet at his home. He invited Mr. Baboon and his family to attend. On the day of the banquet, Mr. Hare burned all around his house. The rule of the table was you can’t eat before inspection of your hands which should be clean. Each time Mr. Baboon’s family was caught always with black soot and they had to go back again and again because of their dirty hands while the banquet was in progress and until it was over. So Mr. Baboon and family went home without tasting any meals. They went home disappointed. Later on, Mr. Baboon also brewed beer and Mr. Hare was invited to attend. Mr. Baboon planned that the feast was taking up in the trees. So, Mr. Hare remained on the ground and never tasted anything because he could not climb the trees. He also went home disappointed. – This story teaches that you cannot always cheat, “the measure you give, you will also receive.”

· When a person dies, s/he will rest with the ancestors only after you brew beer after one year has elapsed (like a memorial). The beer takes 7 days over different stages. Just a cup is offered to the deceased to tell her/him that come back to be reunited with your (living) family as they need protection and guidance. They take turns in dancing drums and drinking the other beer with friends, relatives, neighbours who become witness to the event. Songs are sung during the same event. When the beer is finished the elders finally dismiss the people, they also discuss family problems and straighten issues or problems. During the event there is plenty of food, a cow is killed, goats, chicken is served. – The meaning of the programme is the resurrection of the dead who is now elevated above the living. A new mission is now with this one in life. This is the last remembrance since it is taboo to do it again. People can only meet again if there is a problem. This is a community project to show honour to the deceased. [Note from discussion: the wife cannot have sex with anyone after her husband dies until this ceremony a year later has passed.]

· One day , Nyauhango (a certain lady) went to the forest to fetch firewood. As usual she went with her baby since the baby was very young—maybe a few months old. This was her first child. In the forest, she placed her only child under the shade of a tree. She went on collecting firewood until she had a good bundle of sticks. The baby could not cry because of a nice breeze he was feeling under the shade. Nyauhango tied her bundle and went happily that she had what she wanted, leaving the child in the forest. Later, some ladies who were passing by heard the child crying. They went there and recognized the baby but could not see the mother. They took the child to their home which was about 5 km way from the mother’s home. Nyauhango realized that she had forgotten her child in the forest when she reached home. She hurried back to the forest only to find that the child is not there. She fetched for the child until it was dark, but to no avail. Those ladies who took the child brought him home while she was still in the forest looking for a child. She could not go home fearing what she would say to her husband and the rest of the family. To cut the story short, Nyauhango lost her marriage. Elders resolved that from then on all women should carry their babies on their back wherever they go with fear of repeating what Nyauhango did. – we should learn to prioritize things and not lose everything because we don’t care for the important.

· “The wild pig groaned while the trap was almost breaking.” – Don’t get weary! Sometimes we lose hope or give up while we are almost done with the problem, which is on our way.

· We grew up with the story that children do not eat eggs or they would be touched by epileptic disease. The only time a child eats eggs is when he/she is given by parents. When I was 15 I asked my mother several questions because I could not make sense out of it. She told me the reason they said this is that eggs are liked by children and easy to be prepared. So children would be eating them each time they find eggs, and the chickens would not hatch chicks.

· When women are on their monthly periods, they should neither cook for their husbands nor sleep on the same bed. The reason for not doing these is that their husbands would lose their teeth so easily. – trying to facilitate cleanliness and is strictly observed in many places to date.

· In my culture a tradition of male and female circumcision is influential in people’s lives. The people who are circumcised make a partnership in the community of age set. They believe that people who are of the same age set (those who were circumcised the same year) have greater respect for themselves and if you have a problem your fellow age-set members will help you. Also circumcision is a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, preparing you for the tough life ahead of you (i.e., marriage).

· If somebody does a mistake (i.e., murder), the elders of the community will meet and offer a sacrifice to gods and while they are in the process of offering they will be uttering curses upon the individual and at the end of it all that very person will be mad or he will kill himself (suicide). – It teaches that the elderly have power to bless or curse people if you don’t do according to the rules and laws that govern that very community.

· Long time ago there lived hyena. One day he was invited for a feast. On his way to the party, he reached where there were two roads heading to different places, so he failed to choose which one was heading to where he was invited because he felt a good scent of food from both sides. So he decided that he will go to both places. He tried but he burst into two halves. – This story teaches us that we should not be greedy. It will cost our lives. And we should be wise in making decisions.

· Long ago, cows used to stay with lions. One day, cows went to the stream to drink water in the absence of the lion, so he was very much upset. So he decided to chase him away and he swore to eat him. So the cow decided to run away and on his way he found guinea fowls who had dug a hole. So he asked them to hide him and he them that when the lion comes, don’t tell him that you have seen me. When the lion came, he asked them but they denied, so the lion went away. After an hour, the cow asked them to uncover him. He thanked them very much. As if that was not enough, he decided to sprinkle milk on them…and that is why guinea fowls have white spots on their bodies.

· Do not talk about an elephant before you climb on a tree.

· Do not overlook someone.

· Do not insult the midwives while you’re still giving birth.

· The man who has only daughters is advised to be a night-runner so that he can have a male child.

· Owl is associated with bad luck when it comes near your house and makes some noise, it is believed that somebody in the family will soon die.

· In some tribes when your first born is a baby boy, it is true that he belongs to your husband. If the baby is a girl, the husband can end up divorcing his wife with a belief that the child does not belong to him.

· I am not allowed to call an elder—or anyone older than me by his or her first name—even my own wife. But I have to call him by his first born son/daughter (or any of his children)—“Father so and so”—or just say uncle, aunt, grandpa, etc. [Note: except this is said in their native language—so for me, my name would be “Babe (baa-bay)-Ellianna” or Uncle (as the kids call me) or the women would be called Mage (ma-gay) or Auntie…older women with grandchildren would are go-gos.]

· If a quarrel with someone extends to a killing, the spirit of the deceased will return to revenge the whole family of the guilty one which saves a lot of people from murdering each other.

· Words for “morality” or “ethics”: tsika nemagariro– meaning how people should behave and live among others and emphasizes that people should behave well and not like animals among others who should stay well with concern for others.

· Native words for morality/ethics: Nkaro/umunthu– emphasizes the way a person conduct himself/herself that is acceptable by the community.

· Native words for morality/ethics: Ukuziphatha/isimilo– to behave in a certain manner and to have a certain character that is acceptable in the community. Emphasis on not bringing shame on him or his/her family.

· During a feast, a special house is built for spirits, where they put their food, because it is believed that if you don’t invite them something bad can happen in the family…so you have to appease them.

Kruger Park Pictures

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Tree planting family

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I posted this earlier today…but it didn’t seem to work. So I’m trying again.

Today before lunch, the girls joined SuSu and Papa for a tree planting next to the house. Just before we arrived in Swaziland, my mom put one of her avocado seeds into water for it to take root. It did…which is quite amazing. The seed splits in half and then a tree and roots just grows straight out of it. The avocados are much larger here, so the seed is also pretty big. The girls have their own seeds they started several weeks ago. They likely won’t be ready to plant before we leave– but Auntie Jenene here will take care of them once we leave.

As part of the planting, we made this little highlight video…it’s 50 seconds long and you can see the plant growing out of the avo seed.

Sad News

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Some of you may know that when we left Abilene to come to Swaziland we had five chickens. We have had someone taking care of things while we are gone and we are so thankful that has all worked out. We got our chicks a day after they were born and raised them so we would have fresh (farm) eggs. About a week or so before we left in July they laid their first egg. It was so exciting to go out and find there was a real egg in the coop. However, we have been informed that 4 of them have died and the last one went to live with one of our farmer friends.

I am sad that we have lost our girls. I was really looking forward to having fresh eggs when we returned. I guess we will have to start over…from scratch.

Where Does the Tooth Fairy Live?

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The big question around “our” house tonight is “Where does the tooth fairy live?” and “Will she know where to find us?”. I’m not sure if she will find us or not, but mainly because I don’t know if a certain someone is going to put a certain tooth under her pillow.

Tonight just as we sat down for dinner, Ellianna lost her 5th tooth. It has been loose for a while now, but as she was playing on the playground with her good friend Benjamin, she got knocked in the mouth. She was okay, but it loosened her tooth the last little bit that was needed. Pretty soon after the playground incident, we went on a very long walk to the bottom of the orchard and then even further, past the railroad tracks, and on to the river. (More on that in a minute.) As we were walking, Ellianna kept talking about losing her tooth when she ate her dinner. She actually sneaked an early bite and it just fell out…just like she predicted! So, like any good mom would do, (really it was just an excuse cause I wanted it), we pulled out the ice cream from the freezer and “celebrated”. The girls have had a good afternoon and I thought we needed a little something special.

Okay, about the walk that led to the railroad tracks and back. There was a fire on Friday evening and the girls really wanted to walk to go see it. So, after we walked to the bottom of the orchard, climbed through a barbed wire fence and got to the railroad tracks, just on the other side, I decided I did not want to go all the way to the river. There was not really a path and I did not want to walk through the bushes and stickers and stuff. So, I just sat down on the tracks to wait.

As I was sitting and thinking and enjoying an EXTREMELY rare moment of being alone (maybe it has actually been my first) I began to hear a faint sound in the distance. I had been hearing all kinds of other sounds and kind if even imagining some crazy scenarios in my head (does anyone else ever do that?) so when I heard this sound I did not pay that much attention. As it got a little louder I began thinking, I have hear this sound before. Oh, yes, it sounds like a train. So I began to look around. I did not see anything, but I was just past a curve in the track. It kept getting louder, but I could not see anything. I did not want to get up for no reason so I just kept looking and sitting. I realized I was looking more into the orchard than just “down the track”. I had this really brilliant idea that maybe I was looking in the wrong place and that since it did seem to be getting louder, maybe I should get up. And because I think maybe I have heard this before (or something) I probably did not want to stand just off the track. Just as I got closer to the fence, a train came right down the track.

I just stood there and waved to the driver as he waved back at me. I would love to know what he was thinking. He probably wondered why there was a white girl just standing there, but I guess he will never know. A little while later as the girls and Brad were making their way back up to the tracks, Caroline was very worried that I would not know the train was coming. I think she was happy to see me.

I have walked on tracks before, but I do not remember a time that as I was walking a train actually came. It was a bit of a creepy feeling…especially being separated from my sweet family on the other side. No one fell in the river and we all made it back home safely!