family Malawi photography Travel

Zambian Animals

My father-in-law is a hunter. When I was in high school and first started showing up at the Nordmarken house, I quickly noticed the many paintings that hung on the wall. Bears and elk. Birds and fish. Horses and wolves.

My father-in-law also likes to talk. Not long after Hailey and I started dating, I began hearing all sorts of stories about hunting trips to Alaska, Mexico and Texas. When Hailey and I got a bit more serious my greatest fear was that he was going to ask me to join him on a hunting trip. I’m not sure any 20-year-old kid would be thrilled about walking around the forest alone with his girlfriend’s rifle-carrying father. Especially when that 20-year-old kid has never fired a (real) gun…

As I got to know Mike, I learned that his love for animals didn’t just include killing them. He was (and is) obsessed with how they live. This love wasn’t lost on the family. The Nordmarken kids grew up with ducks, rabbits, fish and the snakes their dad had caught in nearby canyons. When Hailey and her siblings were young, while most kids enjoyed the sound of a crunching snail under their feet, they would catch and race them. To this day, Hailey points out interesting animals when she sees them.

So when mom and dad Nordmarken decided to come to Malawi for a visit it was only natural for us to spend a few days in the Zambian bush. Hailey and I had been on safari before, but only in Malawi. We were thrilled to be seeing a new place and (hopefully) new animals.

A part of being an animal aficionado is enjoying the hunt and paying extremely close attention to detail. Mike and Sarina (mother-in-law) were fascinated with a lot of what we saw. They wanted to know about every little bird, bug and fruit. At first it drove me crazy; I wanted to see lions and leopards. I couldn’t care less about knowing how old an animal is or was by how hard its poop is or how its skeletal remains are put together.

The truth is, again, the journey is important. What you see and hear along the way is usually want leads you to your goal.

On the last night we were winding down our final game drive and still hadn’t seen a leopard. On our way back to camp Hailey heard dogs in the distance. But it wasn’t dogs. Turns out the bark of a baboon is quite doglike.

The frantic barking was a warning to the rest of the animal kingdom. A leopard was on the prowl. We radioed over to the other car and found the hunting cat. Had we not stopped to listen, there’s a good chance we would have missed it. Here is a small sampling from that night (and the rest of the trip as well):


shooting in the dark is difficult, even though it's a bit blurry this is my favorite shot of the night
nice kitty...

Thanks for a great trip mom and dad!

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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.

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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…

family Malawi Ministry Travel

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!


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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.

family Malawi Travel

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?’

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Son of a…teacher

My mom is a teacher. It is more than her profession; she’s an educator at the core of her being. As a child, it never really bothered me that she worked at my elementary school…most of the time.

Sure, it was annoying that she taught my friends. And it was definitely unfair that teachers could threaten me with my mom’s proximity when I’d get close to doing something ill advised (which happened rarely, I promise). But those things were negated by the occasional quarter for milk and the face that she made when my friend, Colin, would call her “D-Dawwwg” instead of Mrs. Rohde.

The worst part about mom working at my school was how close she was with the teachers. I loathed her friendship with the principal. This principal was evil. Bright red nails at the end of long pinchy fingers and a stare that would make John Bender cringe. At the time, I had no idea how large of an impact Evil Mrs. Dinsdale had on my family, but I don’t think my mom would have become a principal without her influence.

As the son of a teacher I never truly understood the extra hours that went into bettering the lives of students. The grading, meetings, continued education and debating over resources—it all seemed pointless, especially when the job paid so little and was so thankless. Why would someone choose this career? Why choose the heinous torture?

Before I began studying to be a pastor I was given a brilliant piece of advice. “In all honesty, if you can do anything else do it. This job will beat you up, it has to be an honest calling.” Simply put, some are called to be educators—called to be beat up and under-appreciated.

For many, if they could do anything else they would, and not in the, “those who can’t do, teach” sort of way. People that believe that statement to be true know nothing about the abilities needed to prepare children for the jobs they currently have (or wish they had).

It’s not the “know how” that keeps most teachers from taking another career. It’s that they really can’t do anything else.[1] My mom taught me that when your vocation and calling fit together, you have no other option but to run toward it with reckless abandon.

The world would be a better place if more of our passions matched our professions.

[1] I’m not talking about everyone who works in education (we all know there are plenty of terrible teachers). Usually those who end up teaching on accident don’t last that long anyway.

D-Dawg reppin her school with the Bolts
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Christmas in Malawi (Part 4): Holiday Hangover

Most of the Christmas dinner crew

The Christmas season is nearly over.  Decorations are being put away and children are preparing for the inevitable return to school.  Eggnog is being replaced with champagne and resolutions are rattling around in brains full of nostalgia and the anticipation of new beginnings.

If I were at home, in San Diego, I’d be trying to squeeze every last drop out of Christmas.  Stealing cookies from mom’s cookie tins, enjoying left over Stromboli (sandwiches I dearly missed this year) while suffering through the end of another disappointing Chargers season and sneaking away to the movie theatre for one last holiday flick.

I’ve already written a bit about how different Christmas is here. Instead of spending Christmas Eve with family and friends, we were with a few hundred strangers commemorating the opening of a tomb for the former wife of the current president. I was supposed to preach Christmas Eve, but it turns out the Malawian government has as little regard for other people’s time as the rest of the country (the event started four and a half hours late—we didn’t get home till 11:30 pm).  And instead of opening presents with our nieces in the comforts of my sister’s house on Christmas morning, we sat in our room and cried over the works of art they sent us (which are now proudly displayed in the dining room).

Abi & Love baking cookies

A lot of our Christmas celebration was frustrating. But much of it I will never forget. We baked cookies for neighbors while singing Christmas carols in the kitchen with our Malawian family. We cooked a Christmas feast for twelve with everything from turkey to sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. After dinner we sat and watched the Grinch on TV—Hailey and I were the only ones not encountering Dr. Seuss for the first time. We experienced some of our standard Christmas traditions again for the first time through the eyes of our new friends.

The Christmas hangover can be a beautiful tool for avoiding the inevitable pangs of returning to normal life. We loathe moving forward because it means going back to work and separating from family until

the next holiday. We hold on to the lights, nights and sites of Christmas because, for so many of us, they represent what is right and good in the world.

As a child I wondered why the celebration had to stop. Living in Malawi has taught me that it doesn’t. I am not proposing that we should live in a constant euphoric dream world full of sugarplums and fairies. I am simply saying that family meals, gift giving and celebrating Jesus’ birth should not be pinned to one calendar day (or month for that matter). The joy of living in community is one that is a gift that we must cherish daily.

Memorial Service of the Former First Lady
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Christmas in Malawi (part 3): Christmas Letter

Moni ku Malawi, Nonsemu tikufumira Christmas yabwino! A year ago I sat down to write the Rohde Christmas letter full of worry. My job was about to end, a new one—the one I had been for training for my entire adult life—was nowhere to be found and the thought of living off one salary hung heavily over our heads.  We longed to start the next chapter in our lives but were stuck. The uncertainty was numbing.
As I write this year’s letter I am still overwhelmed by the path in front of us. But the uncertainty no longer haunts me; it gives me hope.  It’s often the adventures we least expect that draw us near to God.
We celebrate Christmas because of the unexpected gift of a vulnerable yet mighty infant. The paradox has left us dumfounded for ages. It doesn’t make sense.  It’s not how I would have written the story. It should have been simpler. Instead God chose to teach us through the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ—a journey full of blind corners and unending horizons.
Most of you know that Hailey and I are living in Malawi, spending a year pastoring a church and witnessing how God is moving on the other side of the planet. It is both trying and eye-opening. It’s not the place we would’ve chosen to end up (for over a year I said I’d never spend more than a few weeks here), but we couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in the world at this time in our lives.
We love being here, but hate being away from you all. We joke that if we could just move our family, friends and the comforts of home to Africa we could stay here forever (don’t worry Grandma, we’re still planning on coming home in July). We dearly miss family traditions, laughing with friends around the dinner table and celebrating Christmas surrounded by the beauty of San Diego. But in the same way that we are called to look forward to uncertain adventures, Christ calls us to remain and rest in the present. It would be easy for Hailey and me to dwell on what we don’t have this holiday season, but that would defeat the purpose of why we are here.
This Christmas we have been forced to look at the essentials of what we celebrate. It’s eye opening not to be surrounded by what the western world has made of this holiday and refreshing to see the story of Jesus’ birth from a different perspective. Our prayer for you this year is that, as distractions surface, you would each be able to take a few minutes to be awed by the wonder and joy of God’s love.
May the Grace and Peace of Christ guide us all, Dave and Hailey
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Christmas in Malawi (Part 2): Where’s Rudolph and the Drummer Boy?

Growing up, one of my favorite family Christmas traditions was going to our friend Bobbie’s house and walking around the neighborhood singing carols. Much of the magic of Christmas is connected to the songs we all know and love. I mean what would Christmas be without Rudolph’s red nose or the drummer boy’s parrrupumpumpum.  Can Christmas exist without classics like Oh Holy Night?

Hailey made her international debut as a choir conductor last week. She worked with children from the church for almost a month to teach them carols for the Christmas production.  They had never heard of Joy to the World or Angels We Have Heard on High. I didn’t get to see the production, but was told by many that it was a hit (especially the hip hop Christmas dance; I saw it in rehearsal—there’s nothing quite like thirty kids busting out with MJ’s Thriller…to Christmas tunes).

To be fair, Hymns for Malawi does have a few familiar songs (Oh Come Let us Adore Him and Silent Night) and has many Christmas songs I have never heard before. In some ways I am hearing Christmas anew, which is kind of refreshing.

Generally, I enjoy Christmas music. But there are a lot of bad renditions of good songs. When you leave a good thing to be butchered by bad musicians and a consumer driven society it’s hard to get excited about hearing new Christmas carols (I still can’t decide how I feel about these guys…).

However there are still a few newer versions of well-known Christmas songs that are brilliant. Josh Wilson’s instrumental version of The First Noel, Shane Barnard & Shane Everett’s Glory in the Highest and Uncle Daddy’s An Uncle Daddy Christmas (this year’s favorite by far) have been on repeat and have soothed any holiday home-sickness I have experienced.

I have also been listening to the holiday album released a few years ago by The Bare Naked Ladies. It’s all over the place. Some songs are great, some are okay and some are horrible. On it they sing a song called Do They Know It’s Christmas. One of the lines is:

“There wont be snow in Africa this Christmas time, The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life. When nothing ever grows, no rain or river flows—Do they know its Christmastime at all?”

Yes guys, people do know it is Christmas here and they celebrate with fervor (Christmas Eve involves fireworks!).  Also, it does snow in Africa (I’m guessing they haven’t been to Kenya or Kilimanjaro) and Christmas is celebrated in December (the rainy season for those that live in the southern half of the world).

I won’t deny that Christmas is different, nor will I say I don’t miss my family. But Christmas is not made for carols; carols, even foreign ones, were made for Christmas.