Mozambican Waiting Game

We arrived in Tete just after 10:30. Exhausted, I flopped out of car and shook feeling back into my legs. We were taken to the house of the Nigerian missionaries and after a quick cup of tea went to bed.

The first thing you notice about Tete is the heat. Supposedly, it’s the cold season right now. Cold, like 100 degrees cold. After forgetting a few things on our journey to Mulanje, we didn’t want to forget anything this time. Naturally, I didn’t bring shorts. But at least I had jeans, a suit and a warm sleeping bag…

Thursday mornings blistering heat reminded us of what Lilongwe was like during the hot season. We sat out on the veranda of our new friend’s house, ate breakfast and reintroduced ourselves after the half-awake pleasantries of the night before.

The Gimba Family

Esther and Istifanus Gimba have been in Mozambique for almost three years. They work with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, which focuses on food programs, church development, disaster (flood/drought) relief, aids education and the empowerment of women. Their house was built by South African missionaries and is on the property of the Iglesia Reformada church (which we later learned is the local name for the CCAP).

The church in Mozambique is small and there is far less missionary and development presence than in most African countries. I’ve been told that bibles are so scarce that two people will tear it in half and one will get the Old Testament and the other the New.

After breakfast we rested and waited to hear about the day’s program. I was supposed to be leading a seminar for businessmen and executives. But it wasn’t going to start till Friday, so we had a day to rest.

Later, we visited two more of the small missionary network. Jenny is from the US and her husband, Michel, is from Switzerland. Michel works with the Wycliffe Bible Translators. Today he and his team had finished translating Exodus 40 into a local dialect. He discussed how difficult it was to translate the instructions for building the tabernacle in a way that makes sense (the whole time I was thinking, “I’m not even sure they make sense in any language…”).

They’ve been in Mozambique since 1995 and experienced what a country looks like right after almost 30 years of unrest and civil war. When they leave the country on furlough, their two elementary school aged boys ask when they are going home. Tete is all they have known.

The Church needs more families like this one. Instead of bringing a westernized version of Christianity (which, unfortunately often means colonization instead of Christianization), they are helping people see that Christ can be the answer to their unique questions and problems.

As we drove through the city of Tete two things stood out to me. Despite scars from the war and the obvious signs of poverty, the city was impeccably organized. The markets had clear lines and the roads were actually put together in a logical way. It was refreshing. I was later told that the Portuguese have a way about them that exudes order and structure. Mozambicans had absorbed this trait. It was fabulous.

Hailey enjoying the Zambezi River breeze
Hailey enjoying the Zambezi River breeze

The other thing I noticed was the plethora of men walking around in reflector-laden jump suits. These men were coming home from working in coal and diamond mines. As we were stuck in traffic on the Zambezi River Bridge, I debated rolling down the window and calling out “I think I’ve got the black lung pop!” to one of the men. Then I realized (1) I’d be the only one laughing—Ben Stiller, who is that?—and (2) it would be highly inappropriate.

The truth is, though it is brutal work and the employees are often under-paid (the average salary is between $150-200 a week, a generous wage for African standards but terrible considering the risks of the work), the discovery of these resources has quickly provided the Tete province with a way to generate their own income.

Fortunately, on Friday we woke up and it was much cooler. And there was actually a breeze. This time, as we sat on the veranda, coffee and tea actually sounded appetizing. We were told to wait for instructions about our program. 9:00 am came. 11:00. Lunchtime. Around 2:00 I finally found out I would be speaking that night at 6:30. And then, two hours later, found out I wouldn’t be because the people to whom I would be speaking were in a meeting to plan this year’s Independence Day Celebration for the city. But they’d be coming Saturday night. Great. Another day of nothing, another day of waiting.

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…


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.

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.

4 Months

Miss this place and this girl...

Sixteen weeks from today, Hailey and I will be back inSouthern California.

Before we left San Diego I made it clear that we were only going to be gone ten months. When I made a statement about the length of our stay, someone would point out that I also said I would never move to Malawi.

On more than one occasion, I emailed the General Secretary and Moderator of the Nkhoma Synod, making sure one school year was an adequate amount of time and they always assured me it was. Once they responded, “Dave, in the Lord’s eyes one year is the same as a million.”

But I’m not so sure the rest of our friends in Malawi share the same sentiment. Over a month ago, I was a guest preacher at Mbuka CCAP. When I was welcomed and introduced, the man giving announcements said, “San Diego may be your first home, but Malawi shall be your last.” I knew what he meant, but couldn’t he have put it in terms that didn’t make me feel like the congregation had a hit man lurking in the shadows?

We have completed just over half our stay in Malawi, and I am torn. I could spend the rest of my life here. Could. Won’t. But could. Frederick Buechner says that one’s calling “is where your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.”

It is obvious that my gift setting is needed in this place, that there is great need here for my greatest passion. It is also blatantly evident that I don’t completely belong.

Could I see myself ministering here for years? Yes.  There is so much to learn and to teach. So much to celebrate and experience. Sharing life with Malawians is something I will forever cherish as one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

But do I see myself raising a family here? Do I think I will get used to the culture oddities that still, after almost six months, make me uncomfortable? Will I ever feel like Malawi is home? No.

Last week, while waiting in line at the bank to withdrawal money to get our plane tickets home, one of the church members who we have gotten to know well said he had hoped we would stay longer. I told him we were extending our stay two weeks. It wasn’t enough. Whenever our departure comes up, it’s the same painful song.

There will always be needs here. And we will forever be involved in God’s desire to see them met. But there are plenty of needs in the U.S. as well (here the majority of people actually know they need Jesus…that can’t be said for the states).

So Mr. Beuchner, riddle me this, “what do you do when your greatest passion meets a world with more than one great need?’

I wanna hold your hand

You can call me shallow if you want.

There are just some parts of Malawian culture with which I will never be completely comfortable. I have grown accustomed to the tasteless pastelike food of nsima, I’ve come to expect loud music and conversations, and I’m somewhat used to (but still not okay with) the rigid gender roles.

I’ve been told you’re a real Malawian when you can walk down the street hand in hand with someone of the same gender without feeling awkward. It’s a sign of friendship.

My current record is about a minute. Sixty seconds of bliss for a local feels like hours of horror for me. It’s not that I am against holding hands. I enjoy interlocking digits with my wife and don’t mind holding hands with one of my nieces or grandma. But a grown man?

Here’s how the whole hand holding ordeal goes down: Man sees man (or woman sees woman), reaches out for a handshake and, after a long greeting and grasp, the position of the hand rotates from a firm shake to a gentle clasp. It’s like the sly stretching to arm over the shoulder move that happens on first dates—you never see it coming but once it sneaks up, you’ve been clung to and can’t get out.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but every time I fall victim to the man-clasp I havethesudden urge to start skipping and singing “La-la-la-lala-la-LA-la-lala-la.” And though a spontaneous Smurfs musical might look awkward in most places, something tells me it would be fine here.

The irony of the whole thing is that public displays of affection between married couples, let alone dating youth, are completely unacceptable. On top of that, being gay is illegal.

In some ways, it is nice to see public affirmations of platonic relationships. In the U.S. the only acceptable male-to-male physical contact is the brief handshake to hug. But I still don’t know if I will ever get used to the all too common act.

I hope, when I get home (for the sake of my friends) I remember where I am. Just know that if you are in public with me-at a baseball game, at the beach or walking to a restaurant-if I reach out to hold your hand I’m not making a pass at you…I just forgot I wasn’t in Malawi anymore.