Mozambican Border: Monopoly Money

Hailey and I were invited to go to Mozambique with the mission department of the Nkhoma Synod. Months ago, when asked if we would come, I may have been a bit over zealous with my answer. I said “yes” and committed finances to the trip without first consulting my wife (something I should have learned not to do A LONG time ago) or seeking the advice of our closest Malawian friend.

Needless to say, as we prepared for the trip, Hailey was less than excited about the idea of joining 40 Malawians in the bush of Tete. As I heard stories about past outreaches of the department I got increasingly nervous. We had visited the Malawian bush, but whenever I mentioned we were going to Mozambique the responses were equally shocking and depressing.

“Why?” “No one goes to Mozambique!” “Tete! There is nothing there!” A South African (also named Dave), who I met while getting my Malawian Driver’s License said, “Mozambicans are brutal to white people. Some, that live in South Africa, are even known to kill for just a few dollars.” Thanks Dave, real comforting…

I pictured all sorts of terrible scenarios. Sleeping in a car in the bush. Hot. Bat sized mosquitoes. Tribes, like wild African Dogs, circling us and barking “kill whitey” as they wait for Hailey or me to fall away from our comfortable pack of Malawians.

Some of our fears were relieved when Stephan, the director of the mission department (who also spent 20 years working with Campus Crusade for Christ), told us we’d be staying with a Nigerian missionary couple in a modern house.

We were supposed to leave at 7:30 in the morning, then it got pushed back to 9:00…We didn’t get picked up till almost 1:00 in the afternoon. We’ve learned that these things happen and you just have to shrug your shoulders and go with the flow sometimes. But it’s a lot harder to do that when you are anxious.

Eventually six of us got into a Nissan Pathfinder with all of our supplies and luggage (which quasi-comfortably sits 5) and made our way toward the Dedza border to meet with the rest of the team. We stopped on the Malawian side, got out and flashed our passports and drove across the border. The funny thing about the Malawian/Mozambican border is, in many places, it is wide open. Supposedly, it is okay to cross without passing through immigration if you aren’t going deep into the other country. But Tete is about 400 kilometers passed the border.

Hailey and I waited in line at the immigration checkpoint. As we were waved forward, we handed our passports to the officer. Stephan was standing right next to us; we didn’t think we’d have a problem at all.

Officer: (in an odd Portuguese accent that was new to me) Where’s your visa?

Stephan: They are with us, pastors working with the synod. They don’t need a visa.

Officer: Visa.

Me: We have a visa to be working in Malawi.

Officer: Mozambique isn’t Malawi, Visa.

Stephan: Can’t you do something for us?

At this point I thought we were going back to Malawi (Hailey would have been thrilled). It turns out we could get a visa for $75 each or 4,270 meticais (Mozambican currency). We asked if we could pay in Malawian kwacha. No. The angry officer stormed off with our passports–never a good thing.

A few minutes later, he called us to a back room. I stood to walk with Hailey and he said, “just the woman.” What?!? The only thing worse than running away with my passport was going behind closed doors with my wife. Our friend Jason could see the horrible thoughts that were running through my head and said, “she is fine.” I wasn’t convinced.

Twenty seconds later they called me into the same room. It was nothing. They just needed to take our photos to process the visas. The mood lightened a bit while the officers tried to figure out how to take a photo of someone with pale skin. Things seemed to be taking a turn for the better. Then they asked us to pay.

We had brought $200 for emergency money, but all the rest of our cash was in kwacha. After watching a fat officer struggle to add 75+75 (his friend had to tell him it was 150 and not 155), we handed over our two $100 bills. He examined them closely, sat the first one down and then looked at the second. “This one is no good, another one.” I explained it was all we had. He pointed to a red line on the bill. The ink that is often used in the states to check if it is a real bill or not had him convinced that we were giving him fake money.

I almost lost it. Our bill was straight from the bank, it looked brand new. I wanted to point out the colorful Mozambican monopoly money and say, “look at this crap!” Fortunately I remembered I was a pastor and on a mission trip.

I promised him it was real. He wasn’t buying it. He wouldn’t accept the bill.

He told us to go exchange the money for meticais (because if we had fake dollars, they’d accept it…). We asked him to point us in the direction of the exchange bureau; he pointed to a man on the curb outside. Great. Now we’d get screwed by two parties instead of one. Hailey went with Jason to exchange the money and I starred at the officers, who still held our passports, in obvious discontent.

We finally paid and got our passports back. I walked to the car shaking my head in disbelief. The bus with the rest of the trip participants had waited for us. It was now 5:30. I apologized to them all. They didn’t look surprised or bothered. Someone smiled and said, “That’s Mozambique.” What had I gotten us into…

 

Birthday Reflection: Thirty

Thirty. It once was a scary number. Five days ago, my sister (who turns 33 today), told me that she remembers being a kid and thinking, “I wonder what life is going to be like when we are old, old like our parents age.” Old, like 30 and 33.

Last year my birthday was depressing. Twenty-Nine was terrifying. It meant thirty was just around the corner. I wasn’t ready. For some reason I felt like a slacker–like I hadn’t fully grown up yet and, because thirty was coming soon, my time was running out (yes…I do realize how ridiculous this sounds). Then I came to Malawi.

The other day I heard a local radio show talking about how a member of parliament is still a youth. He’s 46. Malawi might have a different definition of youth than most places (an odd thought considering the average life span), but it has given me new perspective on age. My grandma is almost 95 and I was complaining about turning 29! Something tells me I’m doing just fine.

Upon finding out I was turning thirty, one of my friends told me that I could now talk about my life in decades. Birthdays, like, New Years, are a great chance for reflection and goal setting. A few years ago, as he approached thirty, a friend of mine put together a thirty before thirty list (How many did you get done Tom?) I thought it was a good idea, and since I missed that boat, I thought I’d make two lists of my own.

Rather than bore you with three decades of highlights, I thought I’d stick to five experiences of the last five years.  Of course, there are more than five things that have happened in the last few years that I am excited about or proud of—these are just the first that come to mind.  Then I wanted to set five goals for the next five years. These are things I’ve thought about for some time, but just never really put down on paper (if you can call typing ‘putting down on paper’).

Five in the Last Five Years

  1. Married my best friend (cheesy yes, but true)—Okay, it was almost six years ago…I’m cheating a bit
  2. Became an uncle—I know I had I nothing to do with my sister having children, but I’d like to think I’ve played a part in raising my nieces. These girls are precious to me. Missing a year of their life has been the hardest part about being in Malawi; speaking to them on the phone is often the highlight of our week.
  3. Graduated from Seminary/Getting Ordained—Seminary was a six-year mixed bag. I loved school and my experience at Fuller but hated driving from San Diego to Irvine and Pasadena every week. Graduating felt like a huge accomplishment, but it is one that was trumped by my ordination service. There is nothing quite like having your call confirmed by your closest friends and family.
  4. Learned to live with a disease—I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease just over six years ago. At first it was very difficult to live with (vertigo is nasty) but I think I have learned to manage it fairly well.
  5. Lived in a foreign country—We have six weeks left in Malawi. I am appreciative of the perspective it has given us. I have always loved traveling, but you definitely get a different experience when you actually live in a place. Hailey and I will always travel but I don’t know if we will take the opportunity to live outside of the U.S. again.

Five (or six) in the Next Five Years

  1. Become a Father—Why be shy about it? Hailey and I love kids and dream about starting a family. I also realize that some of the goals/dreams I have for the next five years may drastically change if/when a child enters the picture.
  2. Get back to (and maintain) a healthy weight—I’ve been told that a healthy weight is within 5-10 lbs of what you weighed when you graduated high school-I need to drop 20 lbs.
  3. Publish a Book—Writing has become a passion of mine the last few years. I have a few ideas of books I’d love to write.
  4. Go to a game at Wrigley Field—I’ve been to Fenway, Double Day and the old Yankees Stadium but haven’t witnessed a game at Wrigley. I visited it as a child, but remember it as well as I remember my mom and dad being in their thirties.
  5. Go to the Indy 500 with my dad—My pops grew up going to this race. I am not an open wheel or NASCAR fan at all. But every year, when Memorial Day Weekend comes around my dad gets giddy like a little boy.
  6. Cycle across a country—Hailey and I took a three-day self-guided, cycling tour in Ireland and it was a blast (for me at least). It is the perfect way to see a new place. I’d love to take a few weeks, load up touring bikes with panniers and slowly make my way across an entire country.

It wasn’t quite the Nordmarken Birthday song, but these guys sang me a sweet tune and brought me out a piece of cake…

Birthday Song in Malawi from David Rohde on Vimeo.

Conquered by Mulanje


Last weekend Hailey and I set out with two of our friends to tame the beast that is Mulanje Mountain. Weeks prior to our trip, when I told locals of our plans, they laughed and when they realized I was serious just starred and said, “no, why?” Most of them had never bothered with the tallest peak in Malawi; there was no reason to. And stories like this kept them away.

I didn’t think we had anything to worry about. Many had conquered Mulanje (which is more of a range than a single mountain), why couldn’t we?

Our friends, Ariel and Nathanial, picked us up on Thursday after our regular scheduled classes at Nkhoma (no one bothered to tell us that the school had been closed for a holiday—most of my students still came to class, Hailey’s didn’t). The plan was to drive as far south as we could, find a place to camp and then continue on our adventure. We stopped at a campground in Liwonde, set up our tents and ate dinner. Hoping to get lots of sleep we went to bed early, but were woken frequently by the grunting of hungry hungry hippos. There is nothing quite as unnerving as a one ton giant searching for food in a bush five feet from your head. I don’t care if they are herbivores.

On the way to Mulanje we stopped at Domasi CCAP. Nathanial is in Malawi working with the government on food fortification (adding nutritional supplements to staples) and wanted to visit a center that has been working with villages. The factory we stopped at was a former World Vision Canada (eh!) development project called the Micah Project and it happened to be on the grounds of a CCAP church. World Vision had started it in 2001 and stepped away in 2008; it has been running on its own for the last three years. I had seen plenty of World Vision projects, but this was my first experience with a completed self-sustained development program. Twenty-eight of the original thirty-one villages are still involved in the program.

On to Mulanje.

We got to the base of our hike around 1:30. Our plan was to meet our porters and be up to the first stopping point by sunset. The shortest way up was supposed to be 3-4 hours. We couldn’t find our porters, and before we did, it was 2:30. The sun sets around 5:30. Perfect.

And so it begins...

I knew Hailey and I weren’t in the best shape, we hadn’t trained at all and weren’t exactly world-class hikers. But that is why we hired pros to carry some of our stuff. How bad could it really be?

We started walking and within minutes, Dixon—our one-eyed guide, had taken us off a wide path into a thick jungle of tall grass. We had no idea how he knew where he was going. There were no signs or trail markings at all. And we were definitely the only ones on the trail. But Dixon said he had been up this “trail” 200+ times, so we followed.

Eventually we started ascending. I knew we would be climbing a mountain, but I guess I figured (1) we would be on a trail and (2) it would be a gradual incline. Neither was true. The truth is, we really only hiked about seven kilometers. Four and a half miles isn’t far at all. But climbing 5000+ feet in that distance is brutal, especially when you are carrying packs, climbing up and over boulders and racing against a setting sun. Oh and did I mention I am way out of shape? Less than half way up I had to hand my pack to Ariel. Any points I had left on my man-card I quickly (and gladly) handed to her.

Still climbing

We lost our race against the sun. The last hour of our climb was done in the moonlight. Dixon wasn’t phased by the lack of light. I couldn’t see a thing and was soaking. He didn’t seem to break a sweat the entire time and neither he nor Morris (our other porter) drank a drop of water the entire hike.

As we arrived at our hut Ariel got altitude sickness. Later that night Hailey got sick too. As we started our hike to the next hut on the second day, we soon realized it would be smart to head back to the first hut and rest instead. Nathaniel went on a hike with Dixon. Like the true mountain men they are, they raced to the top of one of the peaks in two hours; I stayed back with Hailey. “Husband duties” called.

The decision was easy—we would hike out on Sunday instead of continuing till Monday. Saturday night I actually dreamt that one of us fell down the mountain. We woke up and Dixon directed us down a different, more scenic, trail. We crossed over streams and saw a couple of monkeys. But nothing could make up for my screaming calves and crying quads.

Tired and sore we got in the car and drove four hours to Lake Malawi, which considering the state of our legs probably wasn’t the smartest idea. But it was well worth it. No steep climbs. No hippos.  A quick cold swim at sunset was just what my body needed.

Now, if only my legs would wake up and realize that they are only thirty years old…

We barely covered any of the mountain...

 

Jesus is alive, Bin Laden’s dead & Britain got the boot.

It’s been almost three weeks since I last posted a blog (And this one is being posted after 1 AM, so I blame any crazy statements or grammatical errors on the time). The truth is, any spare moment I have found over that time has gone to sleeping or eating. The last two Saturday nights I slept a total of 9 hours and then worked 14+ hour Sundays (sleep deprived sermons may entertaining to some, but they can be painful for the preacher).

Between teaching at JMTI, ministry at Lingadzi, getting ready for a Mission Trip to Mozambique and preparing for the arrival of a team from LJPC, I’ve had little time to process the world’s happenings or my own experiences. I haven’t written much, which is a shame because there has been a lot going on.

Jesus rose from the grave, Bin Laden was killed and the High Commissioner of Britain was kicked out of Malawi.

Easter was insane here. From Friday morning to Sunday night it was non-stop. I preached a ton, prayed with people and saw God move in ways I had never experienced. I’m glad I got to celebrate the risen Lord in such a different setting. God continues to show me how important it is to get outside of the bubble of Western Christendom. Too often, we get stuck on the church looking one way or another, and because of it we miss out on the diversity of the Already-but Not Yet Kingdom.

Almost exactly a week after celebrating Easter, I woke up to the news of Bin Laden’s death. I quickly turned on the BBC and, like many, had conflicting emotions as I watched people celebrate on the streets in New York and in front of the White House. The feelings continued as I read hundreds of posts, passages from the Bible taken completely out of context and mis-quotations on facebook and twitter.

I have plenty of opinions about celebrating the death of Bin Laden. I just don’t think a blog is an adequate place to talk about them (some of us still believe in face to face conversation…). I will say this, some of what was said, in both camps, was absolutely ridiculous.

In the last 8 months there have been a few days where I haven’t minded living outside of the U.S. May 1st can be added to that list. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be an American and I definitely miss A LOT about living in such a great place, but it is refreshing to be in a country that doesn’t think it is at the center of the universe. I imagine, for many, the world stopped moving when Obama made his announcement. I could be wrong (and correct me if I am), but I bet 99% of the conversations at work on Monday started with something about Bin Laden, Fox News’s many mis-haps or Seal Team Six.

Friends back home have asked me what the reaction was like here. The death was definitely acknowledged by Malawians. And while I heard a few conspiracy theories, for the most part it was “he was a terrible man, a threat to the entire world and he is now dead.” No cheering. No morning. That was it.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy sent out a few emails (because of both Bin Laden and the public’s recent frustration toward the Malawian President). Here are a few lines from one of them:

According to Embassy sources and police reports, the Embassy has learned that demonstrations may be held tomorrow…We remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.  We urge any American citizen to avoid large gatherings.

So, what did I do? I took a trip to a Muslim village to talk with a pastor about a future outreach. I’m not saying I’m some sort of crazy rebel or anything (far from it actually); sometimes things just need to be put in proper perspective. The pastor we visited talked about his fears he had before he moved to the congregation a year and a half earlier…and then explained how unreasonable they were. He loves his Muslim neighbors. Some have even come to know Christ.

No one in their right mind would argue with the idea that what occurred on September 11th, 2001 was tragic. But what is as close to as tragic to the actual event is the amount of right-minded people making completely irrational stereotypes and generalizations out of a fear of what (or who) they are scared of getting to know.

Altar Call Anxiety

I know it is a pastor’s job to introduce people to Christ. For most, the
chance to preach the message of grace is at the heart of our calling.

Yet, I’ve never felt completely comfortable with the “saved” terminology tossed out by most evangelical speakers at camps and conferences. We often throw it out like it’s one of those orange and white life-saving rescue rings. The chance to “get saved” is flung out over the side of the boat, and all the person drowning has to do is hold on for dear life.

For a moment the rescued feel safe. Tears of joy stream down their face as they are reeled in from the stormy waters. Death has been averted…for now. Once back on the boat they realize the boat isn’t really the safe haven they had envisioned. Open waters call their name and, soon enough, they’re back in the drink.

Again the life buoy is thrown out to them and, once again, they’ll be pulled back to safety.  Oh, to “be saved” once again. They’ll limp down the aisle toward the pastor and will hear the same message they heard the year before, pray the same prayer and re-accept the same Christ into their hearts. They are convinced; this time it will be different.

Tomorrow, revival season begins in Malawi. From Friday to Monday groups will gather in homes, churches and large fields. People will sing for hours on end. Both good and bad sermons will be preached. And people will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

This Easter season I will experience Christ’s resurrection in an entirely new way. At Lingadzi there are four preaching teams that will be sent out to each of the church’s places of worship. I am leading one of the teams.

At the end of every gathering my job is to summarize what the three preachers before me said (a difficult task considering they will all be speaking Chichewa) and to offer an altar call. I’m all for the message of grace reaching people in a new way. I’m all for people accepting Christ into their lives and having it change the way that they live. What I am not about (and am fact terrified of) is cheapening the death of Christ by turning it into a dog and pony show.

Jesus died once for our sin but the need for repentance is constant.

When guilt—more than grace—drives people to the altar, Jesus is nothing more than an artificial life raft. He may save us, but he is no longer the one who gives abundant life.

We need to preach that no matter what a person has done in the past—no matter how they have screwed up or fallen short—that they are still loved by Christ. Yet, at the same time, we need to preach that the grace that Jesus offers is costly and demands us to become imitators of the One who calls us to put on faith, hope and love.

Oh Death, Where is They Sting?

In life, “nothing can be certain except death and taxes.” Usually when people quote Mr. Franklin’s famous words during this time of year it is in a complaint about giving money to the government. While many tax themselves greatly to find ways to get out of paying one’s full duty, none of us can cheat death (unless we are Elijah, who didn’t die but rode off to heaven in a flaming chariot).

I am learning a lot about death in Malawi. For Malawians, death happens on a daily basis. Last Monday, the Masina family told me one of their cousins had just died from Malaria. She was two. Later that day I found out that one of my colleagues at the theological college lost his wife. She was 57. Africa is the only continent in the world where the life expectancy is still under 60 (I read today that in Swaziland it is 30…I turn 30 in a month).

As I sat with my friend Vasco at Mrs. Chikoti’s funeral we talked about the high mortality rate. He told me that there are hundreds a day in Lilongwe alone. He also said funerals are expensive and a burden to most families. He said, that before he would be able to actually mourn and grieve his father’s death he would be expected to take care of all those coming to the three day service.

The National Aids Commission did a study and found that, for a poorer family, a funeral costs between 120,000-140,000 Malawian Kwacha ($800-950). That’s a lot of money when you make less than two dollars a day. Wealthier families spend as much as a million kwacha ($6,700) per funeral. Many people here spend more on dying than they do on living.

I didn’t grow up where someone I knew died every other week. One in seven African children die before the age of five. Those that die have brothers and sisters. On Thursday a friend told me there were ten children in his family, there are now five. He just turned 29. Everyone here deals with death from a young age.

I preached this morning on Jesus’ death (an odd feeling—while most of the churches in the world were celebrating the Divine King’s Jerusalem entry, I was asked to preach on His execution…).  Jesus may have conquered death, but He still had to die. Before we can approach the empty tomb we need to come to grips with the magnitude of Jesus’ death. And before we can know what the power of Christ’s resurrection means for our own lives we have to come to terms with our own suffering and our own death.

During this last week, while I was thinking about death, I read an article written by Donald Miller. When Don’s book Blue Like Jazz blew up in the pop Christian scene, I’m not gonna lie, the pretentious theology student in me was a little turned off. But then I read his A Million Miles in A Thousand Years and I was taken aback by his desire to live a life that is worthy of a story. In this article he asks if we know how to trust God with our lives, but also with our death.

I’m not sure if anyone knows all there is to know about death. But my Malawian friends are teaching me a lot about how death is an unavoidable part of life.

Cape Town: Vacation

My dad has a silly little song and dance that he does when he finishes his last day of work before a vacation. I have fond memories of, before going to Lake Powell, Church Family Camp or some other place, him coming home and saying “I’m on vacccaaaation.” His giddy routine is stored in the family section of my brain’s memory bank right next to grandma’s standard “It’s a party” line that is recited every time she is with a few of us.

The moment our plane left Lilongwe’s Kamuzu International Airport I wanted to stand in the aisle and scream “I’m on vaccccaaation” in classic Brian Rohde form. By the time we sat down at our Bed and Breakfast with cheese, crackers and tasty drinks late at night in Cape Town it was a party.

I don’t think I really knew how tired I had been. I had assumed that the different pace of life in Malawi had kept me grounded and given me plenty of time to rest and recover. I was wrong. The truth is, simply living in a place so different had emptied my emotional storehouse.

My parent’s and uncle spoiled us in Cape Town. We took adventures, we read and, in standard Rohde/Brusch fashion, we ate. Oh did we eat. Seafood. Steak. Salad. Great Wine. Don’t get me wrong, we are eating well in Malawi, but the fare in Cape Town is so close to what we are used to in San Diego it is eerie (and San Diego has GREAT food).

Usually vacations fly by too fast for me. I feel that usually, by the last day I find myself looking back saying, “where did the time go?” It wasn’t that way with this trip. Everything slowed down. By the time we departed on Friday I couldn’t believe how much we had done in a short six days.

Two days ago I was talking with my friend Vasco. Vasco is a true friend. I can share anything with this man and he gets it. I shared some of the frustrations I had prior to our vacation (some of which I have written about, some that will be written about later and some that are not appropriate for the blogosphere at all). He said, “Why didn’t you call me?” and then “you need to take another break in two months.”

It is amazing what getting away has done for how Hailey and I function. Petty annoyances that had bogged us down no longer are a hindrance. Now, if we let them add up without taking a break again we might be in trouble. But this time, I think we’ll listen to our wise friend Vasco.

Here’s a few photos from our trip…

Malawi: Meet the Parents

Hailey, Mom, Dad, The Phulas and The Masinas

I’m not shy about it at; I’m a mama’s boy. I had marked March 25th on the calendar as soon as we knew for sure that my mom, dad and uncle would be visiting Malawi.

Seeing my mom and dad’s faces at the airport was a relief. Hailey and I knew they were tired. Flying from San Diego to Malawi is no small feat, and (despite my dad’s small illness) they still had giant smiles on their faces. They were in Malawi and we, after a long LONG time, were finally with family.

We drove from the airport and my dad couldn’t believe how much had changed since his last visit in 2007. We pulled up to Manse #2 and they met the Masina family. Dad took a nap and Hailey and my mom chatted. By dinner time we had watched the videos my sister sent of Lindsay and Becca riding their bikes and reading to our cousin Rich.

Saturday we woke up early and headed to Nchinji for a wedding of one my students at JMTI. Right away my parents got to experience village life. For the first time in their lives they ate rice, cabbage and meat with out utensils. They saw traditional dancing and participated in the Malawian wedding tradition of Parakani Parakani. My dad quickly did his best impersonation of Hailey when we were asked to take photos for the bride and groom.

With Blessings before the ceremony

Sunday we went to Church. I preached on The Last Supper and then led the service of Holy Communion (which is done completely different here than it is in the PCUSA.

Dad visiting the Lingadzi CCAP Pre-School

Monday and Tuesday were full of school and church visits, gift sharing, an electrical short in the kitchen, a birthday dinner and long walks (I may have gotten us lost once or twice). Uncle Dave arrived on Tuesday afternoon and we took him straight to the central market for a fun cultural experience.

After seeing a bit of the frustrating and ugly side of the country (you’ll be able to read about it in my next blog), we headed to Lake Malawi on Wednesday for lunch. My mom, dad and uncle reminisced that the fish reminded them of what they ate from Lake Michigan as kids. We enjoyed the beach and than drove back to Lilongwe, stopping along the road for crafts, wicker sofas and tomatoes.

Thursday we went to the theological college in Nkhoma so Hailey and I could teach our classes. Our family practiced English with Hailey’s students before touring the Nkhoma hospital and visiting with some of the synod staff.

We also went to Nkhoma village to visit our World Vision Sponsor Children. I have never been more impressed with the WV staff. Hailey and I were able to visit the boy we support, but there was a mix up with getting to the girl my parents sponsor. She couldn’t be found. Apparently her family had a crisis of sorts (which we later found out was mix up and that her family was just fine) and the WV staff would find a time for Hailey and me to visit when things got sorted out.

Our plane was to leave for South Africa on Friday afternoon. We got a call from Dave at World Vision at 7:30 in the morning letting us know that the girl had been found and that she would be coming to our house to see my mom and dad. This girl rode on the back of a motorcycle out of her village, to the WV office in town and then to our house to meet my parents.  It is a big deal for these children to get visits from their sponsors and the WV staff went the extra mile to make this rare opportunity possible.

In a short week my parents and uncle got to see much of what life is like here for us. They can now put a face to the names we give them, can picture daily activities and know that we are safe and being taken care of very well. Thanks for coming!

 

Assimilation Realization

I feel like I’m going to burst. We took off from Johannesburg about a half hour ago and will be landing back in Malawi in an hour. I’m not sure if it is my body dealing with the 2:45 a.m. wake up (really, I never fell asleep) or the realization that Hailey and I are heading back to a place where normal is not normal at all.

I know we only have three months left in Malawi and that we’ve already been there nearly seven. Mostly, I know what to expect. And I know we will make it, but the pit somewhere between my stomach and heart remains. We had a great time with my parents and uncle in Malawi and thoroughly enjoyed our vacation with them in Cape Town (blogs and photos to come).

As our plane sat on the tarmac, Hailey and I discussed the reason behind my thumping innards. We realized that for the last seven months I have been trying hard to assimilate to a culture that is uncomfortable and foreign. And in doing so I have sacrificed a bit of who I am as individual and a bit of who Hailey and I are as a couple. I enjoy drinking wine and beer, cooking, watching baseball and wearing shorts. I can do none of those things freely or easily in Malawi (there’s a good chance some of them would get me kicked out of the church). Hailey longs for privacy, to not be viewed as a second-class citizen by men and to wear jeans. Again, none of which are had or done with ease.  Unlike most married Malawians, we actually like holding hands with one another when we go on a walk. Is it too much to ask to be able to hold my wife’s hand in public?

I get that Malawi is a different place. I am reminded of it every time I wake up, step out of the house or utter a misunderstood word. But I think I am just now learning I am trying too hard to be someone I am not. I will never get used to clerical collarsobtrusive music, blatant corruption or the brown haze that is a result of dust, the burning of plastic and exhaust.

Our friend Davidson has said on a number of occasions that when you take a fish out of water it won’t live. We need to have a few things around us that feel familiar. Time with visiting family and friends, phone calls to our nieces and things as small as a dinner alone or holding each other’s hand in public. But most of the time we feel like there is a drought of comfort.

Pray for us. Pray that God would bring more water—familiar things, space and people. If we don’t find it I’m afraid this rotten feeling will turn into a hardened and calloused heart.

James Bond Has A New Pastor

Some believe that the way out of poverty for a developing country is private entrepreneurship and NOT foreign assistance. These same people argue that aid agencies do little to “teach a country to fish” and instead fuel the growing fire of disparity between the poorest of the poor and the rich.

I’m not going to pretend I know the first thing about global economics and international aid (though being here has definitely got me thinking about it more than ever) but I do know that Malawi is full of entrepreneurs.

Last week I went to a wood market that I had been to a handful of times. I was with a friend, Johnny, who was looking to trade some personal belongings for a few things to take home as gifts. The guys that sell their crafts in this place are aggressive. When walking across the street they will run out and say, “My name’s Spiderman, what’s yours?” Before long you’re in a circle talking with James Bond, Fred Flintstone and Bill Clinton.

I had known of this tactic from previous trips to Malawi. I remember thinking it was funny and a bit awkward. I didn’t know how to respond, but now I do. When I am approached, I answer questions in broken English with equally poor Chichewa and then laugh when the salesmen try to figure out what just happened. On Saturday while the masses were trying to make a deal with Johnny, I got talking with Chicken Legs. He told me his real name was Peter, but that there were hundreds of Peters in Lilongwe, but only one Chicken Legs—People remember Chicken Legs. Fair enough.

As we walked away James Bond screamed something to Johnny about how I was “his pastor.” Johnny asked if he really goes to the church I am serving.  I’ve never seen him on a Sunday morning, but it’s still kinda fun to say I am James Bond’s pastor.

But business ingenuity doesn’t stop with the craft sellers. Whether it is a hand painted sign on the side of the road or an advertisement written on the side of a wall, each entrepreneur tries to get a leg up on the competition. Some business offer as many services as possible (we frequently pass by building that says, “mini-mart and drivers education—a perfectly sensible combination”), others claim their product is better than the competition (like the car garage that has painted on the wall, “not corrupt”) and some steal popular store names that are used elsewhere (I bet hundred’s of visitors go into the local 7/11 looking for a slurpee only to be disappointed that it’s a butcher shop).

Sadly, the most successful private businesses are not owned by Malawians. They are South African, Zimbabwean, Indian or Chinese. If entrepreneurship is really going to help Malawi become self-dependant, something has to be done about the market poaching that continues to hinder development. James Bond and Chicken Legs need to be given an opportunity to compete with the big boys of distant lands. And something tells me they’ll need help to get that chance.