Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Is it love?

I have just started reading a book I received for Christmas from my lovely uncle and aunt, called, “Love Story” by Nichole Nordeman. I have only read the first chapter (on Creation), but she expressed so well some of the questions that I often ask myself, that I am looking forward to reading more, and understanding more of the depth and breadth of God’s love for us. Shortly after reading this chapter, I listened to a Christmas sermon that focused on the death of Christ. As I held together in my head Creation and Crucifixion, I wondered, “Why?” Why would God create a world that He knew would lead to the cross? Where is love in such an act?

But then it was as if I could overhear a conversation that took place in heaven before the beginning of time, as God and His Son talked together about their plan to make the world. As they got excited about making a beautiful Earth, filling it with life, making people in their image that they would be able to interact with and enjoy being with, delighting in loving them and receiving their love, God said, “But you know what this will involve, don’t you?” And Jesus said, “Yes, I know.” It didn’t need to be put into words. They knew that if they made people in their image, with the potential to love in great measure and with the ability to make choices, that some would choose not to love. That some would not choose God and His Son, but would instead look for their own ways to love and enjoy life. And those choices only lead to death. And ultimately those choices would lead to the death of God’s Son. Because His love wouldn’t stop when human love did. His love would mean that He would die Himself, rather than give up on us. He created us with potential, He created us in His image, and His love means that He will not abandon that potential, but rather die Himself to bring about new life, eternal life, greater potential. Renewed hope.

And so God said, “You know what this will involve, don’t you?” And Jesus said, “Yes, I know.” He did not back out when He acknowledged the cost. The cross. Instead He said, “Let there be…” And there was. And we came into existence. And when the time came to pay the price of love, He became like one of us, like those He created. Yet perfect. He fulfilled His potential and loved unselfishly. He loved us to the point of dying for us, in that most terrible event and yet that most wonderful display of love, at the cross. So yes, it is love, that God should make this world, while knowing that we would destroy it. It is love, that God would make us to know Him, while knowing that we would choose not to. It is love that God would pour out His love, while knowing that He would be unloved. It is love that God would create life and beauty, while knowing that He himself would have to die an ugly death. It is love. And we can choose to love Him back and enjoy Him and delight in and thank Him for all the potential He gave us to be like Him and be loved by Him. Or we can choose not to. But oh what a sad choice that would be, to choose not to love our Maker and be loved eternally by His unselfish love.

It is love
When you consider freedom together with fighting,
When you consider life together with loss,
When you consider joy together with judgement,
When you consider creation together with the cross,

I wonder, “Why?”

I wonder why our God made the universe,
I wonder why he put life on the earth,
I wonder why he created humanity,
I wonder why he made us of worth.

I question love.

Is it love that makes what will be destroyed?
Is it love that forms relationships that will break?
Is it love that breathes life to what will die?
Is it love that gives, only to take?

It is love.

It is love, that led God to agree
With His son, before time began,
That though love would not be returned,
They’d still go ahead with their plan.

It is love.

It is love that made man in God’s image,
It is love that said, “Come and love me”,
It is love that allowed us to choose,
It is love that took God to the tree.

It is love.

It is love that though we made choices
That destroyed the potential God gave
He never stopped loving and giving
When giving led Him to the grave.

It is love.

Friday, 11 December 2015

A trip to train Sunday school teachers

Location: Magamba, Chunya District (1.5 hour drive from Mshewe, my village home). Most people there speak the Nyiha language and some speak the Safwa language or other languages such as Sukuma. Nearly everyone is also able to speak Swahili.

I picked up Amani (my Safwa colleague who lives in Mshewe) at 8am, or at least, I arrived at his house at 8am and he wasn’t quite ready, and our Nyiha colleague, who was supposed to be coming with us, hadn’t arrived either and wasn’t responding to phonecalls or text messages. We decided to leave without him. I played with Amani’s little girl while I waited for him to get ready and we set off quarter of an hour later. The road is a graded dirt road, and for the most part is rough but in reasonable condition, but some bits were very bumpy and made worse by recent rain.

As we drove, Amani told me he’d had a phonecall from the pastor who was arranging things for us in Magamba, to say that there was a funeral. This may not sound so significant to you, but I know what that means. It means that many people who I would have expected to see at the seminar will instead be at the funeral, which typically lasts three days. At some point on the journey we picked up three people to give them a lift to Magamba, as they were going to attend the funeral. When we arrived, we found out the person who died was a fairly close relative of the pastor who was hosting us, and so any hope of starting the workshop that day was lost. No-one would have turned up anyhow. Instead, we went to the funeral. There were crowds of people, women sitting in one area and preparing food and men sitting in another area. It was very much an open-air event, though thankfully we got ushered into a house away from the loud speakers and out of the hot sun. You wouldn’t have known that it was a funeral from the music being played, it just sounded like a typical gospel event.

We were joined by a group of pastors (as usual, though being a lady I wasn’t expected to be with the ladies) for chai and mandazi. For us the funeral involved a lot of sitting or standing around and waiting. I got a chance to chat with some people and show them local language Scriptures and later we got a chance to chat with the pastors who had come (it seems that pastors from all the local churches will come to a funeral to pay their respects and to preach) about our work. Can you imagine using a funeral in England as a platform for advertising what you do?! But here it was fine, and indeed a good opportunity, because at no expense to us, we were able to meet with pastors from various places that we might otherwise never meet.

The funeral in general seemed to start with lots of church choirs and music, followed by some preaching and then the burial, which took place in the back yard of the person’s home. Before covering the body, people were able to pass by and say their final goodbye. After covering, as we do in England, people could throw dirt in the grave and finally place flowers etc on it. I just observed all of this from a distance – I couldn’t really see anything, but asked Amani for explanations. After the burial, people gave their condolences in the form of money and they added it all up and announced the total sum. This may seem very mercenary to us, but I think we have to remember that a funeral is an expensive event – the family have to feed everyone that comes, and that could literally be hundreds of people (I don’t know how many people were at this one, but it looked like well over a hundred), so people’s condolences help cover the costs. (We got fed there too, even though we didn’t know the deceased. I got a plate of rice with a bit of cow that I tried not to look at or smell but just eat, it was offal of some kind – it tasted okay but the texture was far from pleasant).

We returned to the pastor’s house after food and sat and chatted about the Bible with some people that were visiting him, before returning to the funeral for a while to see the pastor. Now they were preaching. And when we visited the funeral again the next day, there was someone else preaching, so I get the impression that after the main event, the rest of the three days is taken with preaching and music and just being there with the bereaved people.

That night it poured with rain, a real thunderstorm. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep particularly well! Despite the rain it was still pretty hot, though by morning the rain had cooled things off. I was worried it might affect the roads, but thankfully it didn’t. So on day two we were able to hold the workshop, although the pastor was still at the funeral, and I think a number of others must have been too. Instead of the twenty plus participants we had at the first one, we had just six, and they were late. I tried not to be discouraged, and actually taught the children for a bit while I waited for the teachers to turn up – there were a lot more children there than teachers! They came and sat through most of the workshop, just for something to do. Sometimes I was able to involve them in games and songs, but mostly they just sat and watched.

The workshop went okay, but I had to squeeze 1.5 days of teaching into one day because of the funeral, so I had to do some rethinking! It felt a bit like they hadn’t learned anything, as the way that they did the exercises didn’t seem to show any improvement form the first workshop, and two of the teachers hadn’t done any teaching since the first workshop. But I just hope and pray that it has had some small impact. I was encouraged by one of the pastors at the funeral who said that he had noticed a difference since their Sunday school teacher had attended the first workshop. The six participants I had were an enthusiastic bunch and we had some lively conversation over lunch, so the day passed quickly and I enjoyed it despite having a headache and despite the heat (it got pretty sticky in the afternoon). And we had two little visitors – hedgehogs! First there was one, which I took outside, but it came back. So I took it out again, further away, and it came back. In the end we gave up, and it found a dark, dry corner of the church to hide in, behind the electric guitars, and later it was joined by its friend.

Before leaving we called by the funeral again to say goodbye to our host-pastor. The preaching was still going on. He took us to the market as he wanted to buy as a gift of fish, which are plentiful there as it is about an hour away from Lake Rukwa. I really enjoy the fish, despite the bones. They fry them so that they will keep for a while, without refrigeration. We gave three people a lift back to Mshewe, arriving back in the village around 7pm, and the evening sky was just stunning. As I drove the last little bit back to my house alone, I just stopped the car in the middle of the field I was driving through (on a dirt track) and watched the glorious sky that no photo could do justice to. Breathtaking.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Back in Mshewe

Yesterday I arrived back in Mshewe and I confess I wasn’t looking forward to returning to the village, even though it’s only for a couple of weeks. I had started to settle into town life and was enjoying some measure of routine, which comes with more office-based work, as well as the delights of electricity (most of the time anyhow), easy access to shops and the companionship of a housemate and other English speaking friends. However, I reassured myself with memories of the beauty of the Mshewe countryside and the fun I have with some of my village friends, and so drove back to the village with at least some sense of anticipation. My pleasure grew as I bought myself some grilled corn-on-the-cob and left the noise of the town behind, driving past buckets full of mangoes being sold at the side of the road before turning up the dirt track to where I live.

Arriving, I opened the kitchen door. My friends had kindly left me a bunch of bananas, but some other very unwelcome ‘friends’ had also been at work. The kitchen was a mess. Someone had left a bag of peanuts on the worktop – a fatal mistake. Mice love peanuts and the result was that not only were peanut shells scattered across the counter but they had also sampled the label on the bottle of oil, a pen lid and a box of matches, among other things! Entering the main house to check the situation out there I found the usual pile of bat droppings behind the sofa and had an unpleasant surprise in the bathroom – a filthy mess around the bath. When I turned on the tap to clean up the dirt, the water that came out was black and took about half-an-hour of running to become just about clean enough to shower in.
A couple of hours of cleaning and unpacking later, I finally took a shower in the almost-clean water and felt refreshed and ready to face living here once again. The sunset was stunning. My friend popped over to say hi. I cooked some food. I lit my new scented candle. I sat down to write this blog post to the music of the cicadas outside. It’s not so bad being here after all!
Waking early this morning to the dawn chorus and someone calling “Hodi!” at my gate, wanting to speak to me, I wasn’t so sure again. He wanted money for a sound system at his church! Did he have to come and knock before 6am in the morning for such a request?! I feel weary. But it’s a beautiful morning, I am working with my faithful colleagues today, with the chance to read the Bible together, and so there is much to be thankful for.

I know that I need to trust God to strengthen me for whatever lies ahead. The line of a familiar song comes to mind once again, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” Amen to that!