The old shepherd sat on a rock, looking out across the barren landscape. He shielded his eyes from the glaring sun and turned his head to keep the wind from blowing grains of sand into his face. He looked out again, scanning the hillside for his flock. Large boulders and small bushes dotted the landscape, with occasional tufts of grass growing where the topsoil had been eroded away. His flock was spread out across the hillside, diligently searching for the greenest blades of grass. A mountain towered above him and his flock, its shadow inching toward him as the day wore on. His mind started to wander; he hadn’t always been a shepherd in this remote wilderness.
He thought back to the day he’d first arrived in this desert. He’d been on the run, carrying little more than the clothes on his back. He remembered how thirsty he’d been after walking through that barren country. That day he had called out to a God whom he didn’t really know. It’s true he had some vague memories of his mother telling him stories about this God, she had said that He was the one their ancestors had worshiped. But he hadn’t seen his mother in years. Even so, this God was somehow different than the gods he had been raised with after being adopted into his new family. Maybe that was why when he really needed help that fatal day he had called out to Him, and He had answered and led him to a well there in the desert. There, he had met his future wife, the one who was now the mother of his children. He smiled to himself as he thought of how simple events could forever change a person’s history.
He was thankful that he’d found a family to take him in, though at first he’d had his doubts about their hospitality. When he arrived at the well that day, he’d found some other shepherds harassing her. Never afraid of a fight, he’d fought them off and helped her water her flock. Then she’d just left him there at the well, wondering where he would sleep that night. He remembered feeling relieved when she came back later and invited him to her father’s house. Now, she was his wife and the mother of his children. His mind drifted to his kids. How different their childhood was from his own. He’d been raised on some of the finest foods in the world, prepared by servants and served on elegant dishes, complete with flavorful seasonings. He had watched the most famous entertainers perform and had rubbed shoulders with celebrities. He’d studied in the best schools and under the most qualified teachers anywhere in the world, yet his sons already knew more about shepherding than he did when he first arrived at this far off corner of the world. Its true they’d never been entertained like he had, and that they ate meat from their livestock cooked over open fires, served with sour milk, and their palates had never tasted the rich variety of foods that had been so common to him when he was their age. His mind continued to wander. He didn’t miss those foods anymore; he’d already grown accustomed to the simplicity of his new life.
Yet, there was still something unsettling within him. The memory of his mother’s God would not die away. Was this the same God as his father in law’s God? They did share a common ancestor. But deep down, he knew he was different. All throughout his life, he’d wondered what his purpose was. He’d never really fit in back in the country where he was raised, despite his adoptive family’s efforts. But when he’d tried to help out his mother’s people, they had rejected him and tried to turn him into the authorities. Now, in this wilderness, he’d found a home with a new family, but even yet, he still somehow felt like an outsider. “God, who are you and what do you want with me?”
Suddenly, as he sat there, the sound of crackling brought him back to the present. He looked out again across the hillside, and there, tucked away underneath the mountain, was a bush which had burst into flame…
A few lines scratched in the dirt, a couple of towels, old shirts, or rags, and the kids are ready to play. For the time being, we’re staying at a guest house, and the back yard is full of banana trees, papaya trees, a fishpond, gardens, chickens, ducks, a couple cows, and clotheslines filled with drying clothes. It all makes for a good game of capture the flag, as there are plenty of hiding spots allowing for a fair amount of sneaking, but still enough open space to be able run. Like most games, there’s a certain amount of strategy involved, and the kids are always trying to get the grownups to play. There’s been a few times where they’ve succeeded, and sometimes it’s me who joins in.
Sometimes, I don’t pay attention to the little things, things like what the flag is. I know the object of the game, and I know all the rules to the game. I’m a little faster than most of the kids, and a bit sneakier. Yet is seems that every time I overlook this one little detail of the game (what we’re using for the flag), I never end up finding the flag, no matter how fast or sneaky I am. I’ll sneak around the back of the house, undetected. I’ll move over to the banana trees, scouting out the area. I’ll see several old rags, draped over a branch here or a tree there. I look across the garden to the clothesline. It’s full of towels, rags, and old shirts. I start to calculate the odds of picking out the right one, then I’m detected. I run back to safety, no closer to getting the flag than I was before.
Recently I got the chance to visit a neighboring country. While I was there, I met many different people from different countries who had a lot of experience playing a whole different kind of game. I met people who had experience ministering in cross cultural contexts. I met other people who had experience working in their own cultural context. They discussed together the object, the different factors, and some of the details of ministry. I felt privileged to be there and to be able to learn from their experiences. I was reminded that it’s important to know what the flag is, to know what we’re aiming for and what steps we’re taking to get there, in order to accomplish our objective. I was encouraged that even when things look impossible, like Moses we can see the invisible as we walk by faith holding on to what God has said in the Scriptures.
While I was there, I also visited a couple villages. Square mud huts with thatched roofs, spaced out with fields of beans, corn, and cassava in between them. We followed the narrow dirt road across creeks, cutting a straight line through the fields, then finally split off from the road onto an even narrower path leading to a cul-de-sac at the edge of a village. We were met by two families from the team there who prepared dinner for us, and although they didn’t speak English or Swahili, we were able to communicate with them through our translator. Later, their western co-workers arrived, and the next day they took us around the village. They showed us the translation work the team has done, and we got to see the translation being used in several places. One of these places was a small mud brick building with its thatched grass roof overhanging the entrance. We ducked down and stepped inside were met by a small crowd already gathered inside. They sat on wooden benches, but they had brought in plastic chairs just for us. We sat down, our eyes adjusting to the dim light filtering in through the small windows. One of the crowd, a teacher, sat in front and read from Luke 16. Some questions and discussion followed, all in their native language. The teacher had taught himself to read, but not everyone is able to do that, especially those who don’t already know how to read in the trade language. But the team was trying to help with that. The next day we walked into another dimly lit brick building, this one with a blackboard at the front. Next to the blackboard stood a young teacher holding a stick and pointing to the letters on the board. Facing him sat a group of around ten students, sitting on wooden benches. “Mwo, wo, wu, wi…” the voices of the students joined in unison as they repeated what the teacher pointed to with his stick. This was just one of several groups who are learning how to read and write. Several of the students have already gone on to read whatever materials available, including the translation of the Scriptures. The teacher himself had just learned how to read less than a year prior, and now he is teaching others. After visiting the class, it was time to say goodbye to the team we’d just met, but we left feeling encouraged having learned a little more of what the flag could look like.
Another day, another trip to another village. This village was dotted with clean, neat square houses with hip style thatched roofs overhanging the mud brick walls by about four feet on all sides and held up by wooden poles. This overhang covered a patio area which extended around each house. In between the houses were fields made of light sandy soil ideal for growing cassava but not a whole lot else. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed into a guest house where we got cleaned up and ate dinner. The next day we went out to meet with some of the people from the village. First, we met with some kings who told us about the time when the team first came. They told us how they had moved in and sought help in learning their language, and how they had provided people to help them learn. Later, we met with a teacher and a translator, and they told us how they learned how to read, and how they now teach others in the same way. They also explained to us the process of how they translate, and all the steps and people involved. Later that same afternoon, we went and visited a group of people gathered under the shade of a large tree and sitting barefoot on straw matts. One of them sitting in the middle read from a small booklet, a portion translated from the first book of Moses. Others took turns reading as well, and they discussed briefly what they read. When the teaching was finished, they held out their hands and took turns talking to God asking him to help a sick woman in their midst. This was just one of several small groups there who have learned through the Scriptures how they can talk with God. The team there now is mostly made of locals, and despite setbacks and challenges, they want to continue teaching and translating and bringing the Scriptures to others. We spent another night in the village, and the next morning it was time to leave again and begin our trip back home. Here, I’d learned yet a little more of what the flag could look like, and that while some of the surrounding factors and details may not all be the same from place to place, the objective doesn’t change.
Since then, I’m back at the guest house, reunited with my family. Just like in capture the flag, I’m seeing how knowing your surroundings in ministry is important, knowing your team is important, knowing what the flag is is important (what you’re aiming to do), having a strategy helps, and of course knowing the objective is important. Things like speed and sneakiness are only important if the other things are in place. And despite all the strategy in the world, if we can’t see the invisible and fix our eyes on Him, it’s not going to amount anything.
Listen as the earth cries out,
Put your ear down hear it shout.
What once was brown now starts to sprout,
It calls out for a crown,
What's it all about?
The barren earth, dusty and dry
Just like my heart,
Listen to it's cry.
Where did it start?
What's the reason why?
As it all falls apart,
Am I left to die?
Dry as sand and hard as rock,
Cracked to pieces, under lock
Out of the ground as hard as stone,
A plant sprouts up, I'm not alone.
It reaches up, in the wind it's blown,
It doesn't break till it's all grown.
There's talk of justice, talk of love,
Righteousness, sent from above.
Fulfillment of promise,
When push came to shove,
Covered by the wings of a dove.
The roots reach in, penetrating
Exposing all my secret sin.
The lost is found,
A new feeling, I'm coming round
The broken branch, broken no more,
The earth knows what you have in store.
In the wall you've made a door,
You picked me right up off the floor.
Some say that you're to far away,
For you to ever hear me pray.
They said you're too much Deity
To ever care for you and me.
Who told them that I'll never know,
They listened to their hearts of woe.
Shut out the sound of earth and sea,
Amongst themselves they couldn't agree.
They fought for power and control,
Their own glory strove to show.
Used to call out in the night,
But didn't bother in the day.
Didn't see a wrong to be made right,
Thought that they were made that way.
Won't give up without a fight,
Against the wind it's hard to sway,
The current carries me away.
Hold on! Hold on! The branch does say,
Come on in into the light,
In the darkness please don't stay!
The light, shine it on me bright,
Mold me just like you mold clay,
Take me from a place of fright,
I'll soar with you in perfect flight.
One day soon the birds will sing.
And in my ears this song will ring,
A song of greatness of the King,
Justice, love, kindness he'll bring.
Righteous, He'll encompass everything.
Today was the day we thought we'd be saying our goodbyes and heading back overseas. Our goal was to get back, begin forming a team, and start planning our next and hopefully permanent move to where we would begin learning our next language in order to translate and teach. Yet, plans change, as they often do. We've had to put these plans on hold for at least another few months, Now we're hoping to travel in late Spring. So instead of saying goodbyes and boarding airplanes, we spent the day resting trying to recover from a nasty flu bug we each picked up last week, making a puzzle, and staying home from school (Micah's first snow day). While we may feel some mixed emotions, such as disappointment, relief, you name it, God is still teaching us that it doesn't matter where we are, he'll be right there with us. As someone else who learned this lesson once said, "for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content." "For He Himself has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you." "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
“Fish and chips, onions and garlic,
our mouths are salivating!
All we have is simple manna,
Moses, can’t you do something?”
“God, what did I do to deserve this?
I can’t take it anymore.
Why don't they go find another,
how did I end up their mother?”
“Go get ready for some dinner, you’ll eat meat for thirty days.”
“But God, maybe you don’t realize, we've got a lot of mouths to feed.
Even counting all our livestock, I still think that more we'd need."
“Jesus, don't you see the time?
Don't you see it's getting late.
Everyone is getting hungry,
How long will they have to wait?"
"Why don't you go buy them dinner,
Maybe you could find some bread?"
"Did you hear what Jesus said?
He wants us to buy them bread.
If we worked for half a year,
I still don't think that we would clear."
"Hey Jesus, I just found someone
He has bread and fish with him,
Five loaves and two fish to be exact,
But I think we'll need more than that!"
Lord, What exactly are you doing?
I'd like to know my whereabouts,
The disciples faith was growing,
Yet even Moses had his doubts,
I remember all you’ve done,
But each new day I have to eat.
You’re the God who stopped the sun
Who made our enemies retreat.
You were stronger than the Pharaoh,
The water listened to your voice,
Yet your eye is on the sparrow,
Now you leave me with a choice.
I've seen your beautiful creation,
And you've given me your Word,
So when I come across temptation,
To believe just what I see,
Lord, Remind me all I've heard,
I choose dinner, you and me.
"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." - Psalm 23.5
Elaborate cathedrals, ornate mosques, ancient temples, and magnificent churches, structures like these, built with the finest materials, and crafted by the most skilled craftsmen, are found throughout the world today and symbolize peoples’ dedication and respect for their God. From ancient times, civilizations have used all their skill and expertise to create engineering marvels for their respective deities. From those times until now, people flock to these magnificent buildings to come and meet with their God.
There is a story of one ancient King who wanted more than anything else to build a temple for his God. This king had come from humble beginnings, and had no doubt spent many a night out in the elements, swatting mosquitoes or trying to keep the rain from running into his tent, before his fate suddenly changed, and he found himself living in a luxurious palace. He recognized of course, that it was God who had placed him where he was, and perhaps that’s why he felt the way he did when he saw that his God had no permanent house, nothing more than a tent to stay in. The story goes that this king summoned a prophet and told him his concern. The prophet agreed that this was a great idea and told the king to do whatever he had in mind. But later that night, the prophet had a dream. God appeared to him and reminded him that he’d never lived in a permanent house and that he’d never complained about it either. Then he told the prophet to go and tell the king that instead of him, one of his descendants would build a temple for him, and although he didn’t specify whom, he gave us a pretty good hint when he said that “he would secure his throne forever.” Yet, despite the hint, most people thought the prophesy was fulfilled when the king’s son went on to build a marvelous gold covered temple. This temple completed, the people continued to travel to this holy site to meet with their God. But the story wasn’t over, nor was the prophesy complete.
A thousand years later, a young teacher, passing by the site, commented that if anyone destroyed this temple, he’d build it again in three days. Most of the people around him once again didn’t catch the hint, but instead thought that he was crazy. It took this young teacher’s brutal death and the events immediately following it for people to finally understand what he was talking about. Finally, people started to understand that this young teacher was the one who would rule forever and would build the temple that the ancient king had wanted to build. This was a revolutionary concept for people. This young teacher was way more than just a young teacher, he was a temple in which the God of his people lived.
Throughout the world and throughout the centuries people have gone to buildings, groves, hilltops, and other sacred places to meet with their gods. Now, God had come in a human body to meet with people. But this was just the start of something incredible. After the temple of God was destroyed and then raised to life again after three days, he returned to where he had been sent from, but not before promising his people something spectacular. God was just getting started building his temple. This temple would be different than any human structure, and even after two thousand years it is still under construction. Built on the foundation of the young Teacher, intricately connected and intertwined throughout the centuries, it is a living, moving, and breathing temple made up of people from all walks of life coming from distinct and diverse cultures, so different from one another, each member having his own unique background and coming through his own unique circumstances, yet all stitched together into a great and awesome temple in which the same God of that ancient king has promised to live.
“If someone overpowers one person, two can resist him.
I was driving down the interstate, cruise on, a full tank of gas, and radio blaring. “I’m okay,” I remember thinking, yet I was still a little nervous. There was something unsettled deep within me. I tried to drown it out through the song on the radio. “It doesn’t really matter how hard you try…” “It might be nice to have people, but I don’t really need anyone” I mused, “besides, I’m going with the flow of traffic here, I’ll be fine.”
That was me, a year before I met two people who wouldn’t leave me alone. My life seemed to be going fine, I wasn’t always super happy but it wasn’t like I was depressed either. I was trying to find the status quo, a simple version of the American dream, after all I didn’t want to disappoint myself by setting the bar to high, and I was on my way. Things were pretty much under control. I had minimized the risk of failing by downsizing my expectations. I was going with the flow.
Then I met her. She was wearing a red skirt and a white shirt, with long brown hair and big brown eyes. Everything about her was unique, and she piqued my curiosity. Of course I was too shy to go up and talk to her, that would mean putting myself in jeopardy of failing, but I did do things to try to get her to notice me. About the same time, there was someone else trying to get me to notice Him. Up until then, I’d heard a lot about Him, I’d studied about Him in class, I’d read a book He’d inspired, and I’d enjoyed how creative and thoughtful He was. I’d even believed in Him to take my sins away and get me into heaven, but somehow I didn’t know Him. That was about to change.
A few months later…
Unnoticed, the volume on the radio had lessened. There were people talking, and I wasn’t as lonely. I was more aware now, like a driver who has just had a close encounter with a deer. We were visiting, the three of us, the conversation going from light hearted jesting to serious discussion and back again. “Don’t go there,” the girl would say, “By trying to protect yourself by avoiding others, you’re actually hurting yourself. Besides, Jesus loves you, why should you be angry?” Sometimes, I was like the two voices were one. I wanted to listen. I had been afraid, but they had pursued me. I didn’t run. How could I have missed Him before? After all I’d studied about Him, all I’d read. The sound on the radio was barely audible. My foot on the gas pedal… somewhere back there I was no longer on cruise control.
It was sometime during that year that I decided to pull off of the interstate. I don’t remember making a conscious decision to do so, it was more of a gradual change. My desire to follow my new friends had subtly grown stronger than my desire to maintain the status quo. It was easy for me at first, I was enjoying spending time with them. It wasn’t long though, until I realized now I had to worry about oncoming traffic. Still, the discussion in the car kept me alert. As we talked together I felt more and more sure that I was on the right road. I didn’t really know where this road would go, but I guess I hadn’t really known where I was headed on the interstate either, I’d just figured I’d be okay since there were lots of other cars going that way. Then, unexpectedly, I found myself talking to myself. “Where did she go? What did I do?” I had come to a fork in the road. “Do I go back or should I press on alone?” “Aren’t you forgetting someone?” I heard a voice. “All those times we spent together, was it just because of her? Will you keep following me down this road even if it means going alone?” He asked. “As long as you go with me, I’ll keep going.” I decided. “Okay,” He said, “Why don’t you stop and pick her up, she’s just up the road.” And so it went. That happened a few more times, but each time my resolve grew stronger to see where this road went. I wanted to keep following Jesus, I didn’t want to go back, I wanted to see what was around the next bend.
Three years after I’d met the girl, I asked her to marry me. She agreed, and that led to our toughest time yet. We were engaged for a year, and the road we were on seemed to be constantly under construction. The conversations between the three of us, and at times the two of us, became much more honest, and they started boring down beneath the surface. At this time, I was learning who she really is, and I was also learning who He is. It was like all the things I’d learned about Him were puzzle pieces in a box, facts in history, yet as I began taking them out of the box and searching for how they fit together, a beautiful, powerful, yet kind picture began to emerge. The first step in getting to Him was realizing that I could get to know Him. In fact, as I started putting the pieces together, I realized that He wanted me to get to know Him, and that has been part of his plan all along. Of course, that’s why He’d been speaking to me, I just hadn’t known it was Him. I was no longer studying facts about a historical figure, I was reading letters from a living Savior. His words began to sink into my heart and continued to change me. I found they gave me strength to love the girl, even as she struggled to find her way.
The next year, we were married. She was now my wife. The new proximity brought with it new challenges. She, who had been influential in getting me to turn off the interstate, although perhaps unwittingly, now wanted to live on cruise control. It was like we had each done a 180, and we were now on opposite sides of the spectrum from when we’d first talked. We met somewhere in the middle, and we managed to make it through that first year. Meeting in the middle doesn’t always imply unity, however, and in this case, it was more out of necessity than anything. Four years after our first meeting, we were further apart than ever, and it was usually just the two of us talking. Changes in life often bring with them the opportunities to develop new habits, yet instead of using this change to focus on building a strong relationship among the three of us, we coasted, and it wasn’t always pretty. Yet thankfully the third person among us, the one usually forgotten, Jesus, is not just beautiful, powerful, and kind, but also patient, and a little bit jealous. I think He missed those conversations among the three of us, and He was about to give us another chance by bringing another change into our lives.
We both saw the “road ahead closed” sign at about the same time. We had been talking in the car about a possible change of direction, but now we were sure, a detour it would be. We turned off the paved road we were on and for the first time felt the crunch of gravel underneath our tires. Coasting was no longer an option, as we were now driving slightly uphill. Animated conversation filled the car, “where would this road end up?” “Is this a dead end?” “Will we have to turn around?” “Trust me,” He said, “You won’t have to turn around, I know where this road is taking you.” We continued on driving, putting more and more distance between us and the familiar hills behind us. Many thoughts filled our minds. We knew we would miss the many people who had shared in our lives. We would miss the places where we used to hang out, where we made our first memories together. Yet, we knew we were heading in the right direction. With mixed emotions, we drove on. Eventually, the road led to a blue mountain lake nestled underneath a granite wall, with pine trees dotting the near shore. It was beautiful, and sitting around a fire later that night, we thanked Him for leading us there.
During the years that followed, we continued to grow in our appreciation for Him. I had gone from knowing about Him to knowing Him and from knowing Him to trusting Him. It’s funny how I’d had no problem trusting Him with getting me into heaven after I die, yet it took me so long to trust Him with my life while I’m still alive. In our minds we always want to think the worst yet seeing how He led us to that beautiful place inspired confidence in Him, and we could trust that He really did want what is best for us. We developed better habits, and we once again grew closer together. We made friends with new people, they welcomed us in and we learned from each other. We still had times where one or the other of us would struggle, but slowly we were learning how to fight for each other. We’d seen how Jesus had fought for us, instead of kicking us while we were down He’d extended his hand to us, and He was teaching us how to be a team together. Now, instead of turning on each other when things got difficult, we were learning how to watch each other’s backs. This would be crucial for what came next, as shortly after a new baby got added to our team, we’d make another turn, and we’d once again be driving into the unknown.
If that experience were a lake, then this next experience would be an ocean. In fact, we crossed an ocean in order to get there. Here, we were starting out brand new, armed with the promises that He was with us and the memories of how He’d been faithful to us in the past. The first few months, we flopped around like fish out of water. We didn’t know what to do and things were spinning around us at crazy speeds. We had rich conversations almost on a daily basis, but even those didn’t keep us from foolish decisions and fighting against each other. Forgiveness was an essential part of those conversations, and it no doubt got us through many difficult times that first year. That was still before it got hard though. Our second year started off in a valley filled with sand, houses, and colorfully dressed people, all speaking so fast we kept getting left behind before the train even left the station. Our first night in that place God blessed us with the gift of laughter, a tired ‘are we out of our minds?’ kind of laughter. Still, He was with us, and He gave my wife a promise from His word. That promise kept us going when everything else said ‘turn around now.’ Our conversations thrived here, the intensity was pressing the three of us together. Seventeen months later, we moved out of that valley remembering it as “the valley of blessing.” Sometimes blessings can still wear you out, however, and that’s what happened to my wife. We were about to head into a new phase.
Travel by bus is a lot different than travel by car. In a car, you have a certain amount of freedom over your situation, you can listen to whatever you want to, you can stop for food when your hungry, and you can stop to use the bathroom when the need arises. In a bus, you are at the mercy of the driver. Sitting in the back of the bus, with dust coming in between the cracks, the bus bouncing up and down, my stomach growling and my lips dry (my remedy for the infrequent bathroom breaks), the interstate sure seemed a long, long ways away. Still, I didn’t miss it, as I was enjoying talking with God right there in the bus. I needed Him to lead us to the right place again, and He did. This time we didn’t move into a valley, we moved on top of a hill. Here we could enjoy the view and feel the fresh air on our faces again. He always knows just what we need for each phase of the journey, and that was what we needed. It seemed like our list of needs just kept getting longer though. We were over our heads right from the start. Actually we were over our heads ever since we crossed the ocean. There were many times I felt like we were swimming away from shore instead of towards it. Well at this point we couldn’t see the shore anymore, and we were getting tired from swimming. Now we had to fight for each other, all three of us, if we were going to make it there. Sometimes days would go by, even weeks, where one or the other of us would get hit. Jesus never gave up on us though. During this time we were learning something else about Him. He has enemies, and they hate it when we’re together. They’ll do everything they can to divide us in hopes of conquering us. They focus all of their energy on destroying His plan. In this battle, however, we found that we also had allies, other people who were following Him just as we were. They joined us in our conversations and together we found strength to keep going. We found that by going by bus, we had lots of company.
We might be back on this side of the ocean, but the road we’re on still feels a little precarious. In some places its more of a path than a road. Large rocks litter the trail, and large portions of gravel have been washed out by the rain. We still need to talk together a lot, the three of us, to keep on the right trail. At times we’ve gotten off track, but when we go to Him He takes us back. If we look down over the edge we can get a little queasy, yet the view is amazing, especially when we look back over where He’s taken us. We still don’t know where this path is going to lead, but we do know that its bringing us closer to Him, and we’re privileged to be on a journey like so many others who have chosen to walk by faith in Jesus instead of living for the status quo.
I don’t know about tomorrow, I just live from day to day,
I don’t borrow from its sunshine, For its skies may turn to gray.
I don’t worry o’er the future, For I know what Jesus said,
And today I’ll walk beside Him, for He knows what is ahead.
Every step is getting brighter, As the golden stairs I climb;
Every burden’s getting lighter; Every cloud is silver lined.
There the sun is always shining, There no tear will dim the eye,
At the ending of the rainbow, Where the mountains touch the sky.
I don’t know about tomorrow, It may bring me poverty;
But the one who feeds the sparrow, Is the one who stands by me.
And the path that be my portion, May be through the flame or flood,
But His presence goes before me, And I’m covered with His blood.
Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand;
But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.
"Welcome back to the U.S.", the officer said, handing us back our passports. He barely looked up as he hurriedly waved us through. "It's nice being a citizen sometimes," I thought, "this is a little easier than being a foreigner." I whispered this to Rachelle and she nodded her agreement as we walked over towards the baggage claim. We walked through some doors and onto a tram, then out of the tram and up an escalator. At the top of the escalator we were met by some familiar and unfamiliar faces, many of which belonged to our little nieces and nephews. We gave some hugs and then got our bags and walked up to the top level of a parking garage, from which we caught sight of Mount Rainier, sitting up in a sky filled with passing airplanes.
We climbed into a car and descended down from the parking garage into a maze of asphalt and concrete, roads on top of roads going under roads. We weaved our way under bridges carrying electric trains and around corners leading on to on ramps and off of off ramps and eventually we conquered the traffic and approached my sister's house. As we pulled into the driveway Micah asked what the little boxes were with the poles holding them up lined up in front of all the houses along the street. For a moment I wondered myself, then I remembered about mailboxes.
After getting out of the car, I breathed in the smell of the Northwest, mostly pine trees. I thought back over our trip, how it had gone so smooth, how it was so different from three and a half years ago.
We left for the village last Tuesday. It was a gorgeous morning, with beautiful blue skies and puffy white cumulus clouds lining the horizon. The birds were jumping from branch to branch in the trees, singing their hearts out. A warm breeze brushed past my hair and lifted a few strands as I stood on our front porch, looking out at the view of Mbeya town which was nested at the foot of the green hills. I wanted to remain standing there all day and wasn’t sure I wanted to spend such a gorgeous day riding in a bus. But by 10:30 we were packed and ready to go, so we headed out. We climbed on a bus at the terminal and settled into our seats. Micah tried to get comfortable on his dad’s lap. We headed out on a bumpy dirt road. Mud huts and coffee fields lined the narrow road as we began to leave the town behind. Clouds of dust rose up as we bounced along, the dust coming in through the opened windows and coming to a rest on our hair and clothes. Something in a rucksack that lay resting on a rack above my head, at every bump and jolt, came showering down on us in a fine powder. I began to regret my decision earlier that morning not to wear a bandanna and I made a mental note, that on future bus rides to always wear one. Within five hours we had made it to our first stop.
As we stepped off the bus a man pushed his way through the crowd and with a broad grin welcomed us warmly. Neil introduced me to him as Mwenyekiti, who had been such a great help to Neil on his survey trips in that area. He led us to two motorcycles and we climbed on, Neil and Micah on one and me on the second. Before long we were cruising along the road towards Mwenyekiti’s house with Neil’s motorcycle leading the way. Once we arrived we were welcomed by Mwenyekiti’s wife, who we called Shem. She was tall and well built. I noticed how strong her arms were. Her dark eyes were kind and her shy smile pleasant. She took our bags from us as is the custom and led us up a path that was shaded with trees and that opened into a small clearing. A simple brick house covered with a corrugated tin roof sat to the left of the clearing. Corn stood tall in rows adjacent to the house and pumpkin leaves grew tangled up beneath the corn, their round green leaves standing stiffly upright as if to compete for stature with the corn. A table was sitting outside in the shade of the house and three plastic chairs were set around it. We were invited to sit and make ourselves feel at home. Soon after Shem brought out some water, glasses and a big silver platter piled with dishes and a pot full of Ugali, beans, and cooked pumpkin leaves. Mwenyekiti sat and visited with us as we ate but Shem sat on a stool further away playing with her children and watching us. Chickens were running around the table, which reminded me of the time I tried to butcher our rooster. As I recounted the story to them Shem heard me and chuckled, shaking her head and showing off her beautiful smile. Micah, at first quite apprehensive about these new surroundings, sat on his dad’s lap. But after a short time, he got down and began to explore. To our relief he found a few pieces from some old radios and entertained himself with those for the remainder of our time there. That night we walked to a guest house only a short distance away and began for the first time to feel the fatigue from a day spent traveling. My mind was feeling the strain from speaking Swahili all afternoon and I was thankful for a place to rest. As we walked in our room I noticed what looked like a broken fan standing in the corner. It was missing a few parts, such as a guard for the blades and a plug for the cord. As I looked at it puzzled, Neil, as if it was the most normal thing in the world to do, stooped down and inserted each wire into the wall outlet. Instantly the fan sputtered to life. I laughed then and shaking my head said the same thing I always say in situations like this, “Only in Africa.” We warned Micah to stay away from the whirring blades which provided us with a cool breeze in the otherwise hot room. I felt my hair then and noticed it was stiff with dust, so I went out to investigate the washroom. It was located close to our room but was shared by all the guests at the establishment. Armed with resolve to get the dust off and my trusty shower shoes I went to go wash up. I was proud of myself for braving a washroom such as that one and amazed at how far I had come since we had arrived in Tanzania from the States three years before. Finally, we arranged the blue mosquito net around the bed and turned off the light.
In the morning we emerged from our dark room to find the hot sun already climbing high in the sky. A heap of our dusty clothes from the day before lay in a pile and so I decided to do a bit of handwashing since each of us had packed minimally for this trip, only bringing a few pairs of clothes. Mwenyekiti came to greet us at the guest house and walked us back to his place where we saw Shem had moved the table and chairs to a pleasant shady place below their house. She brought us a thermos full of steaming hot chai and a platter heaped with bananas and mandazi. We sat there relaxed and happy eating our chai. After Micah finished his chai he ran off to play in a sand pile that was situated by the house door. It was a wonderful day. We sat around visiting, enjoying the relaxed environment. I held their youngest daughter who was about a year old and who was all smiles and Micah ran around with the older children. I took many mental notes about Shem’s hospitality, still having so much more to learn on this matter. Around 3pm we shouldered our bags once more and got on a bus toward the village. We waved goodbye to our wonderful hosts and I knew we would miss them.
On the side of the bus was printed in large letters the name Safina, which translated into English means, Ark. A faded picture of Noah’s ark was plastered on the back window. It was an ancient bus, being battered and dented but its engine still sounded strong and confident, no doubt a result of many hours of work beside the road while restless passengers stood by watching. We climbed up the steep steps towards the driver seat and looked down the long row of seats that were already filled with passengers. Relieved we found only three seats remaining and as the bus lurched forward we fell backwards into our seats, Neil in his in the back of the bus and Micah and I in the front of the bus, Micah sitting next to me. The road became more rutted and bumpy and narrowed as we traveled further away from the main towns. We followed the contour of the hilly land up and down, up and down until Micah exclaimed looking up at me with a smile, “It’s like we are on a rollercoaster!” On each descent the bus slowed, and we could hear the air from the breaks being compressed as we crossed bridge after bridge that had been placed over the creeks. We peered out the windows and saw mamas bent over in the shallow water washing their clothes while their children bathed. As we rushed over the dirt road I had a strange feeling come inside of me and I realized suddenly that what was waiting for us on this trip I had no control over. Although Neil had been there before and knew a few people and a place to stay, not one a single detail was known to me: what sort of a place we would be staying at, who we would visit with, what we would do, or even what we would encounter. Strangely this thought didn’t send me into a downward spiral anxiety attack, but I felt at total peace about it. I felt a curious mixture of excitement and freedom. As our bus rushed ever onward, I too felt as if we were rushing forward into something totally foreign and unknown, yet God already knew our ending destination. He knew what would take place during this trip. Nothing would take him by surprise and in that realization, came a great freedom. Looking back now I believe I had this presence of mind because of the many folks back home that were praying for us. As our trip progressed and as we passed through the villages the bus became more and more crowded. The people that began to fill the bus were fun to watch. Some of the men wore dark green rubber boots with plastic white and black rings encircling their calves, ankles and wrists. They wore what looked like Masai shukas although they were plain in color. I later learned these people were cow herders from the Sukuma tribe. A panga or machete hung sheathed at their wastes. The ladies climbed on with babies tied to their backs and red, white and yellow beaded necklaces encircled their necks, standing out beautifully against their dark skin. There was lots of Swahili being spoken on the bus but there were also some tribal languages that I was not familiar with. I heard two men from the village discussing me, whether I was married or not. I supposed because they couldn’t see Neil in the back since the bus was so full. I slumped down in my seat trying to look invisible, although not being successful, with me standing out like a sore thumb with my obviously white face. A kind older gentleman who I had been visiting with saw my discomfort and kindly informed the two men that I was already married. The bus was so packed that a man wrapped in a green checkered shuka stood pressed up against the side of our seat. I could smell the scent of cow fat that many in the villagers use to massage onto their skin. Eventually there was no standing room left. If people wanted to enter the bus they would have to do so by entering in through the windows. I was thanking the Lord for our seats.
Finally, around 7 pm we made it into the village. As the bus rumbled in children caught sight of Micah through the window and began running alongside us. I peered out, surveying the area where we would spend the next few days. Corn stalks as high as a house lined the roads and paths on both sides and filled the yards in front of the houses. So that all that we could see was the bright blue sky, the green of corn stalks, and the brown of the mud brick houses and dusty roads. The bus came to a lurching halt in the “downtown” part of the village. A dozen or so simple structures with open store fronts made up dukas or shops with everything a person living in this village would need. Clothing and shoes dangled from strings hung from the eaves of these shops and plastic basins were piled up in front, brooms and mops leaning against them. A small road side place to eat was directly across the street. We grabbed our bags and climbed off the bus. My heart beat wildly in my chest as I saw the villagers watching us with suspicious stares and I could only imagine what they were thinking. Children who acted as if they’d never seen a white women or child before followed us closely behind. Micah looked uneasily about him and took my hand, squeezing it reassuringly in his. It was an unreal experience. We left the main road and walked down a smaller path that lead us to our guest house. Our room was basic. At one time the walls had been painted a pretty blue, but now over time had faded. A twin-size bed lay pushed up against the wall and a blue mosquito net was stretched over it. Except for the bed there was nothing else in the room. The washroom was situated outside the guest house, in the back courtyard. Inside, next to our room was a bar, with shelves lined with various brands of African beer bottles and a flat screen TV hung suspended from the ceiling. We went into our room which was growing dim due to the fading light outside. I searched for the light switch and where it had been there were two short wires jutting out from the wall. The metal ends were bent indicating that to turn the light on one was to grip the two live wires where the plastic was and hook the metal end together. I refused to touch them, so like an old pro Neil walked over and in a split second the wires were hooked together, and the light was on. He explained that he had already stayed in that room on one of his previous trips. Only in Africa I thought. Neil went out then to inform his friend that we had made it to the village. There was no cell reception in the village, so they had no idea we were there. By dark Neil had returned with Mwenyeji, his friend and we were introduced. As we closed our room door to leave I realized that we didn’t have a padlock for the door, so we just stuffed our valuables in a backpack and took it with us. Then we left the guest house and followed him through the village to his house. As we walked along the entire village was dark because electricity had not arrived at the village yet. Our guest house had electricity only through solar panels that were fixed to the roof. Except the sound of our footsteps scuffing along the path and a chorus of barking dogs all was silent. I looked above me at the night sky of the southern hemisphere and gazed upward in awe at the stunning spectacle of the stars shining with intense beauty, like diamonds strung along on a beautiful necklace. Finally, we arrived at Mwenyeji’s house where his wife shyly greeted us. Three wooden stools were hastily gathered and arranged in a circle in their yard. Neil and I sat, Neil visiting with Mwenyeji and me sitting quietly surveying the dark scene around me. Mwenyeji’s wife was in a broken down lean-to type structure with a grass roof, her outdoor kitchen I assumed. She was stooping over a pot cooking something over the fire. A flashlight was set on a wooden rack used for drying dishes and it cast a dull glow into the darkness. Mosquitoes began to attack my feet fiercely and I realized again that I had left the mosquito repellent in my bag back in the room. Thankfully they were not bothering Micah or Neil. Eventually we were brought into their one room house and invited to sit. A dim flashlight was set on the table which illuminated a pot of ugali in the center of the table along with a bowel filled with korokoro which Neil explained to me was a type of small fish which resembled a catfish in appearance and which was cooked whole. We set ourselves down, the mama of the house poured a pitcher of water for us to wash our hands as is the custom and then she backed out of the door leaving us alone in the room. I picked up one of the fish by its tail. Its eyes looked back at me with vacant stare. It fell to my plate with a wet, slimy plop. I refused to talk bad about the food for Micah’s sake and with a determined gulp mustered my bravery and began to eat. Surprisingly, it was very tasty. Eventually we were full and went outside, thanking the Mama of the house for the delicious meal. Her daughter brought us hand lotion then to get the smell of the fish off our hands, a very considerate and thoughtful thing to do I thought. The lotion smelled like coconut and felt good on my hands. Shortly after that we saw that Micah was very tired, so we left then and headed back to the guest house and were greeted by a room full of rowdy guys watching a soccer game on the tv. We walked into our room and began to discuss the dilemma of the size of the bed. I could not imagine sleeping in such a cramped environment and with it being so hot there even at night, but, we made due. We turned off the light and fell exhausted into bed. Noise filled our tiny room until 1:00 am. Noise of men hooting, hollering and shouting excitedly in several languages. I was sick with exhaustion by the time the they all left, and they closed the joint.
The next morning, we got up and walked to the road side mgahawa or restaurant where we could get some food and drink our morning chai. We sat outside on the porch at a plastic table. A man brought us steaming hot mugs of chai and plates heaped with oily chapatis, freshly fried. Micah was overjoyed at the sight of the chapatis, those being one of his favorite snacks here and I was thankful that not everything was foreign here in this strange new place. A group of about ten youth sat on a cement wall next to us having a lively discussion about something or another in their native language with a few Swahili words inserted here and there. The sun was already climbing high in the sky and it cast its hot glow down upon the dusty street which was mostly empty, most of the villagers having already gone out to their fields to work. We walked to a Bibi’s house and greeted her. She had met Neil before but had not yet seen Micah or I. After we left Neil told me that while we had been visiting there he had suddenly felt very nauseous. Thankfully the nauseous feeling soon left him, but then he began to feel sick, as if he had a fever. Feeling slightly better, he decided to visit a neighboring village, about a 30-minute walk away. Halfway there was a shallow river with tall pointy grass growing up from the river bottom. People told us that at times crocodiles live in that river but at this time of year they were very few. We climbed in a boat and were rowed across to the other side. In this village the children reacted in a very similar manner when they saw us. They stared at us as if they had seen a ghost. They swarmed around Micah and he responded by jumping at them and running around them in circles. They jumped away from him and ran screaming and laughing hysterically. We had to watch Micah carefully because he didn’t quite know how to handle all the attention. We walked through the village towards some people Neil had met on his previous trip there. As we sat visiting with these acquaintances we began to hear distant singing grow louder and louder and it drew closer to where we were, I went outside to investigate and saw a crowd of young people and children singing a song as they walked together. Leading the procession were two tall strong looking men, one much older than the other. The older man’s eyes were blood shot and in his fingers was a smoldering cigarette. Both men were dressed in a skirt decorated with red and black satin. From all the Tanzanian shows I have watched I immediately recognized them as witchdoctors, the younger one probably being the apprentice. I leaned over to the mama next to me and asked her what was going on. She explained to me that in their village they had many problems with witches and were tired of them. A famous witchdoctor had recently come into their region who boasted he knew how to remove the curses and charms left by the witches. He claimed he could clean the witchcraft from a whole village by walking around, removing these things and burning them. The people that were walking behind him appeared excited and happy and they skipped down the road singing loudly in perfect rhythm. I stood there absorbing what she had just told me. What a different reality these villages were from the place where I had been raised, where there is no such thing as witches except in fiction and during Halloween when people dress up as them. In the West, only the tangible and the material make up the world in which we live in yet here the unseen spirit world was impacting these villagers in a powerful way and we were witnessing it. During this time, we went to go visit the elderly Chief of the village and his wife. We met the chief standing in front of his house. Despite his great age he stood tall and proud in an old white suit which had been decorated with yellow and green tie dye. His wife came out from the house and they both greeted us with wide smiles. I could tell as a young woman she had been very tall and beautiful. We took their hand and bowed low and greeted them respectfully. They spread out a mat and invited us to sit on their front porch. She patted her lap and invited Micah to sit there, which he did to our great relief. She was quite pleased that he had accepted her invitation. As we visited we heard the singing grow closer and we saw the procession of singers come down the path and stop only feet from us. The chief got up from his chair and his wife got up and went to greet them. The crowd parted and the Witchdoctor along with his apprentice stepped onto the porch and began talking in low tones to the Chief and his wife. I couldn’t understand much but I was so close to him I could have touched his red and black skirt. The crowd continued to sing in a strange rhythm that filled the air. In their hands they grasped chickens and ducks by their feet and they hung upside down squawking unhappily. The witchdoctors apprentice held in his palm a small black gourd which was polished till it shone. In his other hand he held what appeared to be the tail of a cow which had been fastened onto a wooden handle. I knew from my culture study that these were the things he used in his divination of the spirit world. The crowd chanted in unison about going to make sacrifices to prevent various misfortunes from occurring. large smiles on their faces. No doubt these birds would later would be sacrificed, their blood spilled to please the ancestors. I could not believe I was witnessing these events and I wondered at how it all had become possible. Eventually, the Chief’s house having been pronounced clean, the crowd and witchdoctors went on their way again through the path shrouded from view by the corn, no doubt on their way to the nearby neighbor’s house. After this we followed the winding path through the corn to greet another of Neil’s acquaintances. We heard a deep rumbling sound overhead and saw the clouds were hanging heavy and low over the village and had turned an eerie dark purplish grey. Bright flashes of lighting cut through the clouds and the air felt oppressively heavy. In the background we could still here the singing. The odd weather along with strange events we had witnessed made me feel as if we had descended into another world. After we reached the house we sat in the shade of a beautiful low hanging tree. Micah played with the children who were starting to realize that he was a normal kid just like them, although we still had to watch him closely. The villagers watched Micah playing with the children. They seemed happy that he was playing with their children and was already able to speak some Swahili. After only a short time we began to once more hear the approaching procession of singers. By now more people had joined the singers and about 50 people circled around us under the tree, blocking out the sun and the fresh air. The witchdoctor reappeared, walked through the opening in the fence and went into the yard of the mama we had been visiting with. She touched my shoulder and said in a kind and urgent voice, “don’t go!” and went into her yard which was hidden by view with a fence that was made from narrow bamboo stems tied together. What they were doing in there I was not sure, because I was looking around at all the black faces that were staring back at me and singing their eerie song. After the witchdoctor was done, the lady of the house gave him a chicken and they all moved on. Although a great number of children stayed behind to watch Micah. Seeing that Micah was a bit intimidated by all this attention, one mama scared them away with a stick. After these events we were all very tired and had many thoughts tumbling around in our minds. Micah as well had many questions for us. We decided to head back to the guest house and rest. When we returned Neil lay down on the bed and I felt his forehead. He had a low-grade fever and felt achy. Thankfully before we had left the house in Mbeya I had last minute grabbed a bottle of Ibuprofen. After taking the medicine he began to improve. That night we ate rice and beans and chicken at the restaurant and it was a welcome change from the usual ugali. As we went to bed that night the blasting pulsating music from the bar echoed off our walls and I wondered how we would sleep. Thankfully like the night before Micah fell into a deep sleep. I tossed and turned till 1:00 am when they finally shut the music off.
Once the morning light finally stole into our room I was very hesitant to get out of bed. But I gathered my wits about me and started yet another day. We went back to the restaurant to eat chicken soup and chapatis for breakfast and then returned to our room to ready ourselves for another day out visiting with people and walking in the hot sun. While we were in our room a young woman from the bar who also worked at the guest house came into our room. She did not appear drunk. She began telling us that she didn’t like Micah because he was too loud. She was saying all these terrible things to us about him, and I was shocked. This was not normal behavior for Tanzanians, in fact it had never happened the entire time we had lived in Tanzania. Eventually she left, and Neil went out front with Micah. I stayed behind in the room feeling crushed and discouraged. I could hear her yelling outside. Around this time, I also began to get sick, my stomach began paining me terribly. Journaling has become a refuge for me here, often when my thoughts are a jumbled-up mess in my mind, they seem to make more sense on paper. So, I decided to turn to my journaling during this discouraging time. While I was journaling, my door opened, and I looked up from my writing to see the same woman come in. She had obviously had two or three beers and was staggering about, crying and in a terrible state. Her words were barely understandable. She was very upset and told me her boss had yelled at her and said mean things to her. She also apologized profusely for her words towards Micah. I gave her a hug and tried to reassure her that we cared about her and we forgave her. But she was not enough in her right mind to understand. We decided it would be a good time to get out of there and walk to visit some family members of Mwenyekiti who lived there in the village.
We walked to their house, but they were still out working in the fields, so we continued on. We came to the house of a women named Agnes, whose husband was a mechanic who worked on motorcycles and bikes. A tree stood next to their house and behind it a tiny shop full of spare parts. Under the tree, in its shade, men visited on a bench and watched the mechanic fixing a bike. We sat down on the bench and greeted everyone. A small child was standing by her father and at the sight of us she burst into tears, terrified by our different appearance. She buried her face in her father’s lap, sobbing. He laughed then and reassured us she would eventually get used to us. They invited us into their home where we sat in their living room and visited with Agnes’ husband. He told us he had learned how to be a mechanic from watching other mechanics in the village. He seemed like a very kind friendly man and we enjoyed visiting with him. He also proudly shared with us that he and his wife had been married for 19 years. While we were visiting Agnes brought out a silver tray with Ugali, dagaa (tiny little fish cooked together in a tomato-based sauce) and pumpkin leaves cooked in fresh cow’s milk. I had never had Pumpkin leaves cooked like that, so I was glad for the new experience and they tasted delicious. Micah ate hurriedly and then dashed outside to play with the children. I was encouraged to see the kids playing nicely with Micah and that they had accepted Micah in as one of the kids. After this we went back to Mwenyeji’s house and we rested in the shade as the sun was at its peak and quite hot. They gave us roasted corn from their field and it tasted delicious. We noticed the people here were very proud of their corn, and told us how they grew it without using artificial fertilizer or chemicals.
After visiting for a while Micah and I went back to the guest house to rest. After a few hours, we could feel a fresh breeze blow in through our window and Neil came in and told us a man was there to see us. Apparently, we had stopped by his house that day to visit with him, but he had been out in his fields. I went outside with Micah and noticed the thunder clouds had passed, and it had rained somewhere because it was no longer so oppressively hot. The man took my hand and greeted me and then gave me a rucksack with a duck inside. “This is a gift for your family,” he said, grinning happily. I thanked him for the wonderful gift and satisfied, he left. I looked down at the rucksack, mentally trying to remember how to cook a duck. We put the duck in our room and went back out to say goodbye to the Bibi we have visited with the day before, since we’d be leaving the following morning. Once there I told Micah to go play over by some trees at a place where we could see him. But after a few minutes he was gone. Bibi got up, a concerned look on her face and began calling for him. His head poked out from behind the enormous trunk of a Boabob tree that was in her yard. Her expression turned from concern to fear as she yelled out for Micah to come away from the dangerous bugs and snakes in the tree. Micah, oblivious to what was going on, listened and went to find a new place to play, in the courtyard with Bibi’s grandchildren. Relieved, she explained to us that it was dangerous underneath that tree, and that there were snakes there. We were sitting there with Mwenyeji and he explained that baobab trees can live for thousands of years. He motioned towards the one in the yard and said that there was a good chance that it was about a thousand years old, and that their ancestors used those same trees. Suddenly I remembered from my culture study how baobab trees are tied in with ancestral beliefs and the spirit realm. All the details from our culture study began to come to life in a way I had not expected them to. In the courtyard around back, Micah went on to discover some ducks, chickens and pigs. Unknowingly, he told Bibi’s grandchildren that we had just been given a duck as a gift. One of her grandchildren ran out towards us to tell her Grandmother what Micah had just said. The Bibi or the Grandma got up and went in the back, soon we heard squawking and she came out with one of her chickens. I felt terrible because Micah, without knowing it had forced her into giving us a chicken. At that moment I was not so happy that Micah had learned Swahili. I mentally vowed that we would be having a long talk with him once we got back to the guest house. We turned down her gift, telling her that we had lots of bags to bring on the bus and she seemed hurt by our refusal. She tried again and asked if we would take some corn flour used to make ugali, and this time, realizing our cultural mistake of refusing someone’s generosity, we hastily agreed, hoping that this would make her feel better again. Looking back, we should have received her chicken, even if it was just because of what Micah had said. Even after living in Africa for three years it’s still hard to get out of our Western mindset. After this we went to Mwenyeji’s house for another meal of korokoro and ugali in the dark and then headed back to pack our bags for the journey the next morning. As we walked back in the silent night, I once again looked up at the night sky in awe of the beautiful stars and I remembered the One who had created them, that same God who set each brilliant star in its place was walking with us hand in hand in this foreign place, and that was a huge comfort to me. That night the guest house was blessedly quiet, which I found ironic since it was Friday night. There was no sight the girl who had been so drunk earlier that morning. We crammed onto the bed knowing that it would be just a short rest till we woke up again at 4 am to get on the bus. We fell asleep to the sound of silence and the smell of duck.
At 4 am our whole family was up, dressed and walking down the path towards the main road. We heard the engine of the Safina bus idling heavily. Neil bought our tickets and we boarded, this time both getting seats near the front. The duck was laying in the rucksack under Neil’s seat and let us know of his disapproval by occasionally squawking unhappily. People began to fill the bus again as usual. At one stop a beautiful young woman climbed on the bus with her baby tied to her back. She was carrying a large tote, and after discovering there were no seats left on the bus she put her tote on the ground next to my seat and sat down happily on it. We greeted each other. I noticed she was very friendly. At the next stop it seemed like 20 people crowded onto a bus, many of them older women who were headed to a funeral. The young mother had no chance but to stand with her baby crowded in so that it was even hard to breathe. She complained to the man collecting bus tickets, “we are going to die, stop filling up the bus!” I offered to take her baby and she happy complied, taking her out of the sling and setting her down on my lap. The little girl was beautiful like her mommy and very healthy. She wore a pretty white dress. After the crowd had reached their stop and had gotten off I was able to visit more with this new mama. She showed me a picture album that she carried with her. She showed me a picture of her in a wedding dress, holding her new husband’s hand. They looked very happy. I learned they had just gotten married this year. She showed me another picture of her standing sideways, proudly showing off her baby bump, like so many women like to do in my own culture. I looked at her then and realized perhaps we weren’t so different after all. The trip continued uneventfully except for a one instance where we stopped to fix a punctured tire. We were grateful for a chance to stretch our legs and dig medicine, which is the polite Tanzanian way of saying “use the bathroom on the side of the road.” While we were waiting for them to change the tire, Neil called Mwenyekiti, and as he wasn’t far he came to greet us. He gave me a bag full of fresh pumpkin leaves and peanuts from their garden. In exchange I gave him the duck, certain that it would be happier at their house then at ours. The tire fixed, we continued on our safari. As we neared Mbeya the police stopped the bus and told us there was a person of interest on the bus and they needed to see him. They called out his name and a man with rings around his wrists and ankles and holes bore into the lobes of his ears walked down the aisle. A young girl with a small baby tied to her back followed him. Once they were off and the bus was going again everyone in the bus became animatedly discussing what had just taken place. Some thought he had stolen someone’s wife and whoever had been stolen from had called the police to pull over this bus. Since there were so few buses that passed that way it hadn’t been hard for the police to know which bus to stop. Neil and I looked at each other with eye brows raised and shook our heads. Wife stealing, who had ever heard of such a thing.
After we finally got back to Mbeya and walked through the door of our house I looked around me, never having been so thankful to be home. The light filtered in through our lace curtains, reflecting off the yellow walls. I put down my bags and flopped onto the couch and emmediatly fell asleep. That night we had pumpkin leaves cooked with ground peanuts. The aroma and taste were wonderful, and it brought me back emotionally to the world in the village we had just left behind. I thought back to all the ways God had blessed us on this trip and all the answered prayers. I thought about the events that had taken place during our short trip and realized that God knew our time was going to be short, so he allowed us to catch a small picture into what being in a village is like and what reality is like for the people living there. For me, personally I was amazed that even though I had gotten so few hours of sleep, I had had so much physical and mental energy as I interacted in Swahili and in such a different culture all the while walking around in the hot sun. Our friends in the village had made us feel very welcome, blessing us with gifts of duck, corn flour, pumpkin leaves and peanuts. I thought on a passage I had recently read In Isaiah which seemed to confirm that we had not been walking alone,
“Then your salvation will come like dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. ‘Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your fingers and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out of the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring” (Isaiah 58:8-11).