Thursday, April 29, 2010

Putting a dent in life before we leave it

I never dreamed I’d one day traipse through African dust or dine on an ostrich egg or flee from a charging hippo.

But, unbeknown to me, my husband Dave sensed he wanted a different job. Maybe life felt too routine. Perhaps his career lacked purpose, or maybe he suffered from a mid-life crisis. All his life, he has yearned to avoid mediocrity, to break out of the status quo.

Back then, Dave posed questions and pursued answers that gave him a holy discontent with his circumstances. God created a longing in Dave to sign on the dotted line and head toward Africa with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Recently when I read Eric and Leslie Ludy’s book, When God Writes Your Life Story, I recognized my husband in their words.

Eric says:

“God wants us to know … why we are here on this earth, and He wants to … direct us out of the swamps of mediocrity … to live a life that truly counts.”

He says their book is “… written for those who are ready to do whatever it takes for their life to truly mean something.”

Eric and Leslie describe a “God-scripted life” which is “about packing up your tent, rolling up your sleeping bag, shaking off the sludge of mediocrity, and heading into unknown territory of a life-changing experience.”

Some people don’t ask questions

Some people drift through life—

without asking deep questions,

without wondering about life’s purpose.

They simply establish careers, buy houses and cars, buy bigger houses and better cars, get kids through college, enjoy the beach and the summer place and trips to Europe, and then they retire and play tennis and.…

Some, however, do ask questions

Other people ask questions like:

Why am I living upon this earth?

What’s the point?

Isn’t there more to life than this?

Why don’t I feel fulfilled?

Eric writes, “… Deep down, we … want to be someone who makes a difference—someone who puts a dent in life before we leave it.”

The Ludys write about “Christ-enabled living. Impossible living. Heroic living,” and about “a life scripted by the Author of true purpose and adventure.”

The Ludys pose many questions, questions like:

“What if there is more to the Christian life?”

Back in my husband’s pre-Africa life, that question gnawed at him and wouldn’t stop. He knew the answer. It burned inside him and propelled him into action.

What about you?

Has God given you a holy discontent over current circumstances?

What if there is more to your life?

Is God, the Author of your life’s story, hinting at what awaits you in your next chapter?

Is it burning inside and propelling you to make a dent in life before you leave it?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mother's Day: a way to help mothers around the world

Mother's Day is May 9, and you can honor the mothers in your life, AND support women like the ones pictured here, by shopping at Amani ya Juu’s online shop for great gifts. (15% off regular prices through April 30—see below.)

I have a personal connection to Amani ya Juu.

I’m so excited to tell you this! In recent weeks, God answered my prayer of many years: Among employee photos on Amani ya Juu’s Facebook page, I found Elizabeth!

If you’ve read Grandma’s Letters from Africa, you know how dear Elizabeth is to me. I’ve prayed for her every day, hoping God would provide for her and her daughters, and now I know Amani ya Juu is the answer to those prayers!

Amani ya Juu (which means “a higher peace” in Swahili) is a sewing-marketing-training project for marginalized women in Africa, and when I lived in Nairobi I often shopped at their store. (I still use their potholders, placemats, and eyeglass holders every day.)

Amani’s mission is to spread God’s peace by addressing physical, spiritual, emotional, and social needs for refugees, victims of ethnic clashes, famine, war—for women marginalized for various reasons.

Amani equips and empowers women to become agents of peace in their own families and communities.

I consider Amani ya Juu a celebration of what God wants to do—and delights to do—when people come together to help one another, especially the most needy.

I hope you will check out not only Amani ya Juu’s blog, but also their Web site and Facebook page.


That’s ELIZABETH pictured on the top right!

And her daughter Rahab’s picture is below. She, too, works at Amani ya Juu. In fact, Elizabeth’s other daughter, Hilda, also works there.

A couple of weeks ago I contacted Elizabeth through Amani ya Juu and she wrote back, saying that both Hilda and Rahab have children of their own now.

Amani ya Juu quoted Rahab in their blog about Mother’s Day:

"As women, we are the teachers of our children. That which we have taught them shall be passed on to their children too." - Rahab, a mother from Kenya and a leader in Amani’s jewelry department

Amani produces high-quality bags, jewelry, home decor, clothing, and accessories in original designs using local materials.

In honor of mothers everywhere, Amani ya Juu is offering 15% off orders placed through April 30th. Just use the coupon code "ASANTEMOM" when you check out. (Asante means thank you.)

A gift from Amani inspires hope, shares peace, and helps rebuild lives, families, and entire communities—for Elizabeth, Rahab, Hilda, and hundreds more like them.

I hope you’ll check out their online shop. Let me know what you buy!

Friday, April 23, 2010

A public apology

I knew I’d eventually have to make a public apology. I want to get it off my chest—to confess and have it over with. I want to say I’M SORRY!!! especially to my mother.

It’s about using a particular four-letter word in Grandma’s Letters from Africa.

My mother, my teachers, my friends, Sunday School teachers, Girls’ Club advisors, Campfire leaders—everybody!—especially my mother—taught me never to use the word. And I obeyed. For nearly half a century, I never used the word—until…

… until I wrote Grandma’s Letters from Africa, when I used the word “ain’t.” Many times.

I even subtitled the book Quaint I Ain’t.

It pained me every time I used that word. And believe me, typing those keys on the computer is one thing, but proofreading and editing the manuscript some 300 times intensified my guilt.

Susan’s wisdom

My friend Susan, a pro for many years and the first person to read the manuscript, hinted in a gentle way: “You will have to see how the Quaint I Ain't title and line flies … You could ‘lose’ that bit.…” she offered.

I felt her little nudge … but I held firm even though I knew I’d disappoint my mother, my in-laws, my teachers, my brothers, kids, grandkids, coworkers, friends. I knew I would embarrass them. Maybe even shock them.

Susan was correct, though. The publishing company’s Rising Star Board said if I wanted Rising Star status, I had to get rid of the subtitle. So I eradicated it from the book, and from the blog, and I hope from everything else. (I can’t delete the subtitle from the Facebook page though. The Facebook-powers-that-be say I can’t do that, so you’ll still see the offensive phrase there.)

And I left “ain’t” inside the book—in the text. The first chapter is even entitled “Quaint I Ain’t.”

I hear you

And I’m hearing from some of you readers. I realize others have not spoken up but are shocked nevertheless, devastated at my uncouthness. Dismayed. Embarrassed to admit they know me. Embarrassed for me.

And so, to each and every one of you, I apologize. I really do. I know where you’re coming from—you grew up according to the same standards I did. I recognize the humiliation I’ve dumped upon myself and, by association, upon you.

It’s Jenny’s fault

But I have to admit that turning 50, and then 60, has somehow given me permission to break out of the clearly defined lines of propriety that I lived within for decades.

I’m pretty sure my startling departure from respectability has something to do with Jenny Joseph’s poem Warning that became so popular in recent decades. You remember it –

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on … satin sandals.…
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells…
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.…
And learn to spit.…

Yes, Jenny Joseph led the way in freeing women like me to make up for the sobriety of our youth. So I went ahead and used the word “ain’t.” I couldn’t not use it—it rhymed perfectly with “quaint,” which was what I was not and am not—a fact you’ll pick up on when you read Grandma’s Letters from Africa.

In my own defense, let me point out that I have not pressed alarm bells or learned to spit, so think about this: When you know I have refrained from pressing alarm bells and spitting, doesn’t it make using the word “ain’t” less enormously offensive? I mean, what if I used the word “ain’t” AND pressed alarm bells AND learned to spit? It’s a matter of perspective!

Bottom line: I feel bad about using the word “ain’t.” When you read it in Grandma’s Letters from Africa, when you wince, when you wonder about me, please think of me as merely using poetic license—freely, deliberately thumbing my nose at acceptable practices in speech and writing. I think I can live with poetic license. I hope you can, too.

A special message for my grandkids:

I have this message for my grandchildren—Maggie, Emma, Claire, Chase, Finn, and Kade—never use the word “ain’t.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Germs? Or angel dust?

One Sunday during our orientation course on the shores of Lake Naivasha, Shel Arensen, a missionary with AIM (Africa Inland Mission), invited us to go to church with him and the Dorobo people. (You remember Shel—back on March 6, I told you about his novel, The Dust of Africa. I heartily recommend it!)

A few of us piled into Shel’s sturdy four-wheel-drive and we set out. Eventually the tarmac wore out, leaving just a lumpy, dusty track, but hakuna matata—no worries—Shel grew up in Africa. He patiently maneuvered the vehicle with ease—over, around, and through.

Eventually he pulled to a halt near the remote Dorobo village and we climbed out, a little nervous, wondering what awaited us.

A dozen people hurried down the hill to greet us with handshakes and broad grins.

Shy children looked up at us and then turned toward each other and giggled.

The adults spoke back and forth with Shel. We didn’t understand their language, but their smiles sent the message that they were pleased we had come.

Our new Dorobo friends led us up a dirt path toward their church. Along the way, children grabbed our hands and when they did, I heard the echo of our orientation director’s brief comment before we left camp. Brian had mentioned that some among the Dorobo have a reputation for poor personal hygiene.

Now, I’m a germ freak so when the children grabbed my hands, I wanted to pull away. But something—probably God—stopped me. Instead, I silently prayed the prayer my sister-in-law, Nancy, taught me, Oh, God, please cause my immune system to work well.

Shel told us the Dorobo Christians built their church with pride and excitement. He led us into a dim room about ten feet square, built of sticks and mud, with a dirt floor.

Under the corrugated tin roof, they had strung wires from corner to corner and had hung things on them—dried flowers, ferns, moss, squares of colored toilet tissue, and lined notebook paper on which someone had practiced penmanship.

On the walls, they had tacked pages out of European and American magazines—ads for coffee, panty hose, and nail polish.

They’d built hand-hewn benches around the walls and when our group joined them, we packed that little room.

The Dorobo worshiped God with their songs, sometimes in Swahili, sometimes in Maa. They listened to Shel’s Bible stories and studied his pictures. He talked with them at length to be sure they understood the lessons and knew how to apply them to their lives.

Looking back on it now, I never imagined I’d visit a rural village or worship in a church like the Dorobo church, but I’m so glad I did.

On our drive back to Lake Naivasha, it occurred to me that despite the remote setting and my germophobic tendencies, the Dorobo people blessed us.

They welcomed us and invited us to worship God with them. Nothing could be finer than that.

Maybe the stuff on those children’s hands was angel dust.

Like I said two days ago, cross-cultural living can have its “moments,” but it can also lead us to discover joy, beauty, and a richness that we would miss otherwise.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bemused, bothered, and bewildered

Cross-cultural living can be funny, embarrassing, annoying, humiliating, terrifying, and amusing—occasionally all at the same time.

Take, for example, this journal entry written by our former coworker, a Brit named Eddie, traveling upcountry in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) on a bus. I’m pretty sure his was the same bus company and route that my husband Dave and I took a couple of years later.

Eddie wrote:

The day started rather inauspiciously, good for parasites but not too good for homosapiens. I had been bitten badly by mosquitoes overnight, including a good few bites in a part of my anatomy that made the thought of sitting down for a seven hour bus ride rather unpleasant.…

The coach journey was no problem—I sat next to the window just behind the driver and was comforted to see that despite the impression of high speed, the speedometer never left the zero mark. I had an open window right next to me, which meant that I was sitting in a force ten gale all of the way.…

I found that the chap next to me was a Kouya. Hudson Taylor would no doubt have struck up a conversation with him, but what with a gale in one ear and loud reggae music … in the other, I somehow never got beyond, ‘Hi, how are you?’

As is the case with all journeys here, we were stopped numerous times at police check points as well as having regular halts for food and calls of nature. Every time the coach pulled up, a huge crowd would appear, as if by magic, trying to sell hard boiled eggs, plastic bags full of cold water and other delicacies.… At Adjamé … one of those ladies became the first African I have seen slip up while carrying a load on her head. With a huge tray of something balanced precariously, she misjudged the height of a roof, which surgically removed the tray from her head without her faltering in her stride.

Yes, cross-cultural living can have its … ummm … “moments,” but it can also lead us to discover:

joy, beauty, and a richness that we would miss otherwise.

I’ll tell you of one such experience next time. You won’t want to miss it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

An automatic cooling system for hair like stuffing that bursts out of a hole in a mattress

Many of us receive warnings ahead of time, “Pray! Pray for God to help you adapt!”

We see worried looks on their faces. “It won’t be easy. Give yourself time—and keep praying!”

Yes, most of us struggle, in varying degrees, in adjusting to new cultures and unknown customs. We sense disorientation. Stress. Confusion.

But Millie is one of those special, rare people—she doesn’t struggle with the newness of living in a foreign land.

“God gave me a total enjoyment of being there,” she wrote about her short-term trip to an orphanage in Tanzania where she served as her team’s cook.

“I loved ambling down to the main road through the village, through windy footpaths and quilt-patch cornfields and going to the roadside vendors to buy freshly ground flour, or barter for a pineapple.”

She learned that vendors charge wazungu (white people) higher prices than locals, so the first time she went shopping, she took along a Tanzanian girl, Lea, to see what prices vendors charged her. Good thinking, Millie!

“I could just soak in the sights: the people grouped by the roadside, the people on bicycles with amazing loads, the tailor with his treadle machine out by the road, and the overhanging bougainvillea. I would walk the 15-minute walk for every reason I could think of because I loved it so much.”

Millie is the kind of gal we all hope to have on our short-term missions team. She possesses an adventuresome spirit, a can-do mentality, a joy in living, and a sense of humor.

“I got my really curly hair braided, not to pretend to be African, but because my hair in the humidity looks like the stuffing that bursts out of a hole in a mattress. The braiding provides an automatic cooling system. When I went into the village salon, I pointed at Lea’s hair and then at mine. The owner and customers burst out laughing!

“I think the salon owner and customers laughed because they knew—by my pointing—that I wanted my hair to look like Lea's.

“The salon owner felt my hair and held it up and they laughed more, possibly because it is such a different color and texture than Lea's.

“The salon owner probably laughed because she knew she would make a lot of money from the mzungu (white person).

“I ended up laughing as I sat down on the floor on a stray cushion and realized salons all over the world are such a welcoming place to be and that ladies are the same at heart all over.

“After my ‘do’ I was walking back to the guesthouse and an African man said, ‘You look nice, mama.’ I have big hips and naturally curly hair, so I think they assume I am some sort of link between the two worlds.”

Millie leaves in a few days for another short-term trip to Africa—Guinea this time—where she’ll teach handicrafts to women. Currently she’s charting her crochet patterns onto graph paper because the ladies at the women's co-op don't read English or French.

She will also teach computer and internet skills and tells me she’s scurrying to find tutorials for radio station staff.

And oh, yes, she’ll also serve as the team’s cook. She’ll be a busy lady!

And guess what—Millie is growing out her hair so she can get it braided again.

I suspect, too, she’s looking forward to the camaraderie one can only find in a beauty salon—no matter where in the world that happens to be.

And who knows? Perhaps she’ll hear again, “You look nice, mama.” I hope so, don’t you?

Millie, I know you’re reading this: Please send us a photo from Guinea!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ants in your soup

Here’s something for you that’s really fun! It will take you only two minutes.

It starts like this:

“Sure, you know not to eat with your feet on the table at a fancy restaurant. But what about eating at a fancy restaurant in Khartoum in Sudan? Should you bring your camel in with you? … How about ants in your soup? Rescue them or let them drown?”

Thus begins the International Dining Etiquette Quiz.

This quiz will take you on a mini-tour through Austria, China, Iran, Spain, England, Germany, Canada, Poland, Scotland, and Japan.

And you’ll learn answers to questions like, “What’s the right way to ask a chef for ketchup in France?”

Click here to take this short, fun quiz. You’ll love it!

I suspect that a number of you reading this blog can add intriguing questions (and surprising answers) to the list.

Send them to me!

Leave a comment below or on Grandma’s Letters from Africa’s Facebook Page (see the link in the left column), or e-mail me at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NEVER say “ - - - - - pack”

Let’s get back to Chapter 1 of Grandma’s Letters from Africa.

Along the shores of Lake Naivasha, our orientation staff taught us how to live among Africans—or, they tried to teach us. Bless their hearts! We weren’t always quick to pick up on some things.

We discovered that what is polite in one culture could be rude in another—

In Kenya, we should never to use our left hand to give a person something.

Africans are people-oriented. In Kenya, everyone shakes hands when they say hello and goodbye. If we fail to do so, we offend them.

Kenyans will not look you in the eye, and they wish you wouldn’t look them in the eye either. They look at your shoulder, or off in the distance, while they talk to you. This is hard to remember because we Americans usually look people in the eye.

When Kenyans first greet one another, they take time to ask about each other’s health, family, and extended family. Only after a lengthy discussion do they get to business. Many of us Americans struggle within people-oriented cultures because we are goal-oriented—we have work to do.

My friend Sue was surprised to learn that the term “f.a.n.n.y pack” is vulgar in Kenya. No one winces, however, at “bum bag.”

And you never mention p.a.n.t.s in mixed company, but it’s okay to talk about trousers.

Sue called this “relearning English.” Apt description, Sue!

I learned only this week (!) that a good woman never crosses her legs. Oh, dear, I must have proven hundreds of times that I am not a good woman!

Just by reading this, are you feeling—a little …

… a little disoriented? If so, welcome to cross-cultural living! Adjusting to a new culture can be unsettling, but.…

… it can also be an adventure!

Come back tomorrow for more adventures—like … ants in your soup!

Beautiful Blogger Award, part two

A few days ago, Laura Frantz surprised me with a “Beautiful Blogger Award.” Thank you, Laura, and thanks for your inspiration!

Now it’s my turn to pass on a Beautiful Blogger Award to 15 others—though I’ve chosen only eight.

Yesterday I listed the first four: Kim, Wendy, Amani ya Juu, and Candie.

Today I’m honored to share the final four with you:

Grace Fox is a new friend I met online. She co-directs International Messengers Canada, speaks at international women’s events, and authored From Fear to Freedom: A Woman’s Guide to Peace in Every Situation. You’ll enjoy her blog, Leading Women in Fearless Faith, especially posts and photos from her recent trip to Poland and the Ukraine.

Currently Grace is praying for at least four more volunteers to go to Poland July 20 to August 3 with International Messengers. Interested? Go to the
IM web site.

Esther, my friend since 1976, a fellow writer and treasured critique partner, celebrates a new face and focus on her blog, Faith in Walking Shoes. Esther has traveled and lived around the world. She tells fascinating stories—accounts of her ancestors (dating back to the 1400s), stories about working in South America, and anecdotes of her childhood in central Africa. You’ll be intrigued by Esther’s post of April 9, “An Amazing Connection,” and her follow-up on April 12.

Your life will never be the same after you’ve read posts by the Compassion International’s Bloggers’ trip to Kenya last month. You’ll need to invest time in reading each person’s posts for their week in Kenya, but I assure you—it will be worth your time. They include excellent photos, too.

As a result of reading Compassion’s bloggers’ posts in Kenya, I “met” Lisa-Jo who writes The Gypsy Mama blog. With adoration and wonder, Lisa-Jo writes about her husband, their two sons, and her homeland, South Africa—and about Jacaranda blooms and cherry blossoms.

If you know me at all, you know why I contacted Lisa-Jo after she wrote this in a recent post:

“When you think of Africa you think of: hot, sweat-running-down-between-your-shoulder-blades-sun, red dirt, dust roads, and open pickups with folks crammed in back. You think veld fires and the smell of cooking in the open. You think of sunsets that burn up the sky like nowhere else and faces that could light up the night they are so full of hope and good humor when they have every reason not to be. You think of purple Jacaranda trees and mealie meal and chickens. You think of mangos and watermelon and giraffes carved out of wood. You think of the very middle of the heart of God when you think of Africa.”

Lisa-Jo also writes regularly for (in) courage, a blog run by Dayspring, the Christian arm of Hallmark. Check it out!

Seven things about me (my one remaining duty as a recipient of The Beautiful Blogger Award):

God and His grace mean everything to me. “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” —Anne Lamott

I’m eternally grateful to my mother for always taking me to church, starting in my infancy.

I’m a timid homebody but I married an adventuresome man, so, between my husband and God (who—in case you haven’t noticed—is also adventuresome), I’ve lived an … umm…. shall we say I’ve lived an interesting, non-traditional life on three continents. As a result, I have friends all around the world.

God longs for me to be braver than I think I can be; it’s all about trusting Him.

I adore my children, their spouses, and my six grandchildren.

I teach memoir classes based on Deuteronomy 4:9, “Always remember what you’ve seen God do for you, and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren!”

I love chocolate and I hope that in heaven, chocolate will have no calories.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Beautiful Blogger Award

Laura Frantz surprised me with a “Beautiful Blogger Award.” Thank you, Laura, and thanks for your inspiration!

Laura’s first novel, The Frontiersman’s Daughter, has garnered notoriety for good reason. Because of Laura’s ambitious, extensive research, her historical romance is rich in details, texture, and flavor. Add to that a compelling plot and heart-stopping heroes, and you have an epic novel!

Reviewer Julie Lessman wrote that The Frontiersman’s Daughter is among “the best in Christian romance today, rivaling the likes of Liz Curtis Higgs and Francine Rivers, in my humble opinion. I suggest we all keep an eye on Laura Frantz—she’s not just a rising star in the Christian market, but a shooting star who will go straight to the top.”

No wonder Revell hurried to sign Laura up for two more novels! Her second, Courting Morrow Little, will be in print in a few weeks, and I can hardly wait!

Be sure to check out Laura’s blog and her recent guest blog post at The Seekers.

According to the rules of the “Beautiful Blogger Award,” I now have the privilege of passing on the honor to 15 bloggers who inspire me. What fun!

Kim, my friend and former coworker, serves the Lord with admirable verve and pizzazz in less-than-ideal conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her delightful blog, Kent, Kim, and Kids: a little look at what the five of us are doing with the ten feet we’ve been given, inspires not only friends, but also keeps them in close contact with family back in the States.

Another friend and former coworker, Wendy, blogs about her recent life-changing short-term missions trip to Honduras. Wendy has taken both short-term and long-term missions assignments in Kenya, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe, but her March trip to Honduras was unique. In her blog, Live Like No Tomorrow, Wendy writes, “Ever since I returned from Honduras I have felt different. … What happened to me in Honduras?”

I could write pages and pages about Amani ya Juu, which means “a higher peace” in Swahili. It is a sewing-marketing-training project for marginalized women in Africa, and when I lived in Nairobi I often shopped at their store. (I still use their potholders and eyeglass holders every day.) I consider Amani ya Juu a celebration of what God wants to do—and delights to do—when people come together to help one another, especially the most needy.

I’m so excited to tell you this! In recent weeks, God answered my prayer of many years: Among employee photos on Amani ya Juu’s Facebook page, I found Elizabeth! If you’ve read Grandma’s Letters from Africa, you know how dear Elizabeth is to me. I’ve prayed for her every day, hoping God would provide for her and her daughters, and now I know Amani ya Juu is the answer to those prayers! I hope you will check out not only Amani ya Juu’s blog, but also their Web site and Facebook page.

Through Amani ya Juu on Facebook, I “ met” Candie, a young lady with a passion to help the most brutally victimized women around the world. I’m deeply moved every time I read Candie’s posts at Stitchable Sisters. I encourage you to start at the beginning of her posts last December. Her words and heart will change your life.

Oh, dear, this is getting long. You’ll have to come back tomorrow when I’ll finish my list. You won’t want to miss reading about Grace Fox, Compassion International’s bloggers in Kenya, The Gypsy Mama, and my friend Esther.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mommy, what IS that?

“We only saw one Easter Bunny at a mall, and he didn’t look very popular—Kenya kids mostly saying, ‘Mommy, what IS that??’”

That e-mail comment from Barb, a friend and former coworker in Nairobi, reminded me how much nicer Easter is there compared to in North America. In Kenya, Easter is less commercial. Less secular.

In stores here, for—how long?—a couple of months?—we pass aisle after aisle of Easter candy, Easter toys, Easter pencils, Easter games, Easter coloring books, Easter stickers, Easter baskets, Easter lilies, Easter decorations, Easter cards, Easter egg decorating kits, Easter clothes, Easter bonnets….

But the spiritual side of Easter is more prominent in Kenya. There you might hear someone say, Kristo Amefufukka! Kweli Amefufukka! which is Swahili for “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Barb went on to say, however, that the newest Easter trend in Nairobi, at least among a certain segment of society, is office parties over the four-day holiday weekend—she described “big-blow-out-type” parties.

She noted that celebrating Easter that way might seem strange to us, but then she observed that our North American culture’s tradition of celebrating Easter with chocolate rabbits is odd, too.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wanna have the time of your life?

“Yessss!” I cheered. My heart did a happy little jig.

Someone had just told me about The Finishers Project.

Even now, all these years later, my heart still does a tap dance each time I hear the words, “The Finishers Project.”

The Finishers Project meets a huge need in our Christian communities today.

It helps match mid-life adults with mission assignments in the U.S. and abroad, either short-term or long-term as a second career.

The Finishers Project helps you connect with organizations that match your skills, experiences and ministry preferences, through their:

Web site
monthly newsletters
Finishers Forums
The Journey Deepens Retreats

I encourage you to look into The Finishers Forum that takes place this month, April 23-24, in Albuquerque.

But, Forums are NOT just for mid-lifers! Even if you’re in your 20’s, there’s something for you!

Here’s info from their Web site:

These conferences are especially appropriate for you if you're in your 40's or 50's. Boomers are the healthiest and best-educated generation at mid-life in history. At 50 you're only halfway through your adult years. Come explore new ways to offer your time and talent to the Lord.

A Finishers Forum will also challenge you if you're in your 20's or 30's. See how you can serve in the Great Commission now, and how you can plan your life so that you will be ready to serve in missions full time during your second-half.

Over 60? This conference will show you how to make connections so that you can serve and play a role for the Lord among the nations with your lifetime of experience.

If single or single again, you will discover opportunities that fit your flexibility.

If a couple, you will find a fit for each of you among the thousands of options available.

If you serve on a Missions Committee, this conference will equip you to help others find a place to serve - from short-term assignments to a full time ministry. Time with agency reps will also provide insights from the mission agency perspective and ideas on how you can serve your missionaries better.

Your biggest risk is to not take the risk to explore.

Click here to learn more about Finishers Forums.

Click here to look into the upcoming Forum in Albuquerque.

DO IT! Do it now!

Click on those links! Explore how you can have the time of your life.

P.S. The Finishers Project’s CEO, Don Parrott, wrote a nice endorsement for my memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, and one of his quotes appears on the cover. Thanks, Don!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Quiet Moments With God

“Almighty God, Sovereign of the universe and Lord of my life … You who are everlasting Mercy, give me a tender heart toward all those for whom the morning sunrise brings less joy than it does to me, those for whom the beginning of a new day does not bring rejoicing, but anxiety, suffering or trouble. Free me to do all I can for all whom I can to communicate Your care.” (Lloyd John Ogilvie, Quiet Moments With God)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

An obscure burial ground

Recently my friend Esther blogged about Easter at a far-away place. Because she wrote of people I know and events I experienced at that same place, she said I could share them with you. (Be sure to check out Esther’s blog.)

Esther wrote:

Golden Cross

The only place on earth I have attended a true sunrise service was the mission center where we worked in South America. We gathered every year at six in the morning on the highest hill at the center, overlooking a long lake. With our blankets spread on the ground, we sang Easter songs and listened a brief devotional message.

One year an amazing thing happened. A breeze ruffled a narrow horizontal strip across the far end of the lake. We didn’t notice it particularly until the sun slipped up above the horizon at that far end. The next moment, a golden glow spread vertically down the length of the lake toward us—and the ruffled cross strip turned gold as well.

Can you see it—the golden cross on the lake … on Easter morning?

Photo courtesy of Becky Martin Anders

Resurrection—and Guns

Easter morning in 1981 was memorable in a different way. In January subversives had taken captive one member of our group and a few weeks later executed him. Our center was still under guard by the country’s military, and we were told it would not be safe for us to meet on the hill. Instead, we gathered at a central location, with homes and trees around us and only a small piece of the lake visible. Soldiers and a couple of machine guns were in clear sight. That year we sang with extra gusto, “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes!”

That remote, beloved spot

Esther’s words stirred up my recollections of that remote, beloved spot—a setting vivid with memories of on-the-edge living:

equatorial sun

cold showers

side-splitting antics

daring attempts

weak faith

God’s grace






answers (or not)

victories won

battles lost





An Obscure Burial Ground

The place is abandoned now except for an obscure burial ground.

Last Saturday, the day before Easter, Esther e-mailed reflections on all that’s left there:

“Tomorrow morning the sun will rise and shine on the lake and the high hill. No one will be there except Chet, Lolly, Doug, the little Gardner twin, and several others, but maybe the memories will whisper in the leaves of the trees in a morning breeze.”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

We’ve never heard that … Yes you have, but…

I’ll long remember the jolt in my heart and mind when I learned of the Sabaot people’s reaction to hearing the Easter story in their own language for the first time.

The congregation had gathered on the slopes of Mt. Elgon, an extinct volcano in western Kenya.

After church, a woman said to the pastor, “That was wonderful. We’ve never heard that story before.”

The pastor said, “Yes you have. It’s the same story we read every year but in the past, I’ve read it to you in Swahili. Now you’ve heard it in your own language.”

Think about that for a minute.

For example, what if Atgyfododd Crist! Yn wir atgyfododd! was all you knew about Easter? If you lived in Wales, those words could revolutionize your life.

They don’t mean anything to me, however, even though I’ve traveled in Wales. My husband’s family might understand part of the message, but I’m clueless.

What about you? Did you grasp the message? Can you apply it to your everyday life? Your eternity?

I need—we all need—Scriptures in our own language, our mother tongue—our heart language, the language we use when we need to speak words of love or urgent prayers, the language we use to sing our babies to sleep. The language we understand best.

I’ve financially supported or actively worked with Bible translation ministries all my adult life and, as a result, I’ve heard countless stories of the dramatic impact upon people when they have Scriptures in their own language—as opposed to struggling to understand them in a language they only partially understand or don’t understand at all.

Despite all my exposure to the ministry of Bible translation, I still only partially grasp the depths of the change—the profound difference in an individual’s life, a family’s life, a community’s life—that occurs once people receive the Bible in their heart language.

Today, I think of people groups around the world who, this past weekend, heard the Easter story for the first time in their own languages. The thought still sends a jolt to my heart and mind, and I smile.

Atgyfododd Crist! Yn wir atgyfododd! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

My cyberspace scrapbook

Fish Eagles’ shrill, whistle-like cries reverberated throughout our camp.… Superb Starlings lived among us in large numbers and their striking beauty caught everyone’s attention when we first arrived. Their black wings and back reflect a shimmery blue-green color. They have orange-colored bellies and black heads with bright white rings around their black little eyes. Before long, though, their arrogance and determination to steal our food soured our initial admiration. (from Chapter 1, Grandma’s Letters from Africa)

Above are pictures of a Fish Eagle and a Superb Starling, with special thanks to P and H Harris.

I’m bowled over at the massive new world the Internet opens up for “sharing” with you!

When I wrote my memoir, (a) I had no idea I would blog about it, and (b) I never dreamed I could show you a virtual scrapbook with sound effects! And just think—we can do this while I’m parked in my purple home office and you sit in your home or office—in Canada, New Zealand, Uganda, Romania, Brazil, the Philippines, England, Mozambique … (check out the long list on the Cluster Map on this blog).

If you’d like to hear a Fish Eagle’s distinct call, click here for a brief video clip. When I heard them at Lake Naivasha, I had no idea they made those wild-wacky moves! Have you ever seen anything so funny?!

Click here to see a 20-second clip of a Superb Starling singing his song.

Be sure to check out the P and H Harris web site. I really enjoyed it. You will, too.

Also check P&H Harris’s page on Lake Naivasha. If you scroll down, you’ll see links to other web sites about the Naivasha area.

Before I close the cover on this cyberspace scrapbook, I want to tell you about fruit bats!

At bedtime on the first night of our orientation course, our director, Brian Caston, warned us about fruit bats’ strange nocturnal noise. He said it sounded like someone striking a note on a xylophone, the same note over and over and over again.

Have you ever tried to sleep through the night with someone playing a xylophone nearby? Sigh….

Brian forgot to mention that the note was flat.

According to All About Bats’ web site, fruit bats are “furry, cute mammals and do not inspire the fear that some people have of bats.”

We owe bats a big asante sana (thank you), according to The Wild Ones’ web site, because they disperse seeds and pollinate flowers that result in fruit and vegetables for our dinner tables. In Kenya: bananas, mangos, figs, cashews, avocados, and dates.

Click here to see pictures of these “furry, cute mammals.”

It just occurred to me that I shouldn’t have been so grouchy about listening to fruit bats all night. It could have been worse. I mean—better a xylophone than a lion, right?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

But they are not MY ...

“More than a thousand bird species live in Kenya and almost four hundred species make their homes at Lake Naivasha. Each kind has its unique song and, at first, I didn’t like those songs because they weren’t the ones I knew and enjoyed back home.” (from Chapter 1, Grandma’s Letters from Africa)

I remember moving to South America back when I was … let’s see … 29 years old. (Wow! That was a long time ago!)

We lived in the middle of nowhere with soaring, wide vistas that went on forever. Evening after evening, blazing sunsets filled an enormous sky, silhouetting a mountain range in the distance. I recall catching my breath at the utter splendor of the scene—but then feeling a steely grip seize my heart, and saying to myself, “But they are not MY mountains.”

I grew up between two mountain ranges—the Cascades to the east and the Olympics to the west, and both ranges presented us with dazzling sunrise and sunset views. They were MY mountains and MY sunsets. The views in South America were stunning, but—I assured myself—they were not as stunning as MY views back home. (I took this picture from Mom and Dad Thomas’s deck last Christmas.)

Years later in Kenya, at our orientation course on the shores of Lake Naivasha, I marveled at the birdsongs—their warbles and chirps and calls—their variety, intensity, and volume. Once again, however, I felt that steeliness fill my heart and I said to myself, “But they are not MY birds’ songs.”

Mind you, people come from around the world to watch Lake Naivasha’s birds, but to my way of thinking right then, those birds were inferior to MY birds back home.

I suppose we all wrestle with it. It’s called ethnocentrism.

Ethnocentrism—it’s the assumption that “our” birds are better than “their” birds, the belief that “we” do things the right way and “they” do them the wrong way.

It’s the conviction that our way is superior while theirs is inferior—things like traditions, values, music, race, appearance, language, odors, religious practices, humor, marriage, child-rearing, medicine, and food, to name only a few.

And often our assumptions are not correct.

A North American arriving in Kenya might scoff, “People drive on the wrong side of the road here!” In fact, they don’t drive down the wrong side of the road—they drive down the left side of the road. Driving on the left is not inferior to driving on the right side of the road—it’s simply different from the North American practice of driving on the right side.

An important objective during our orientation course, then, was to recognize our ethnocentrism and take a fresh, positive look at the African way of thinking and doing, and often Dave and I concluded that Africans do many things better than Americans. Our goal was to humble ourselves, learn to honor Africans, and live in their culture without causing offense.

And so, I’m happy that I could write in Chapter 1 that within a few days, those foreign birdsongs sounded like a grand symphony, especially early in the morning. Still today, I cherish those birdsongs. Once in a while, I’ll hear one of them in a movie or TV program about Africa—and oh, the rich memories those songs stir up!

To my surprise, here in Missouri I hear one birdsong that I also heard in Kenya! I have no idea what the bird looks like or what its name is, but I pause and smile each time I hear that song—it transports me back to lovely Kenya.

What about you?

Have you experienced cultural differences that caused ethnocentric thoughts to break out in your mind and heart? If so, how did you handle it? Did the situation turn out well in the end? I hope so!

Share your stories with us!

Leave a comment below or on Grandma’s Letters from Africa’s Facebook Page (see the link in the left column), or e-mail me at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com.